Thursday, December 31, 2009

It All Fits Together Somehow

There it was lying face down in the parking lot. I was leaving work this evening and it caught my eye in the almost darkness. A single puzzle piece. I stopped to look at it. I didn't turn it over nor did I even touch it. I just looked at it.
A single puzzle piece.
Isn't that what life's all about? Don't we spend most of our time and our energy trying to find the pieces of our puzzle and place them where they fit?
I left that piece for someone in actual need of it to find and place just so in their own puzzle. Right now the pieces of my puzzle seem to be fitting together quite nicely.
As this year ends and the next begins I wish us all gentle success in our search for the pieces of our own puzzles.
Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bottom Line is -- Happy Birthday

The origins of "Happy Birthday To You" date back to the mid-nineteenth century, when two sisters, Patty and Mildred J. Hill, began singing the song "Good Morning To All" to their Kentucky kindergarten class. In 1893, they published the tune in their songbook Song Stories for the Kindergarten. However, many believe that the Hill sisters most likely copied the tune and lyrical idea from other songs from that time period. There were a number of popular and substantially similar nineteenth-century songs that predated the Hill sisters' composition, including Horace Waters' "Happy Greetings to All"; "Good Night to You All", also from 1858; "A Happy New Year to All", from 1875; and "A Happy Greeting to All", published 1885. The copyright for both the words and the music of "Good Morning to All" has since expired and both are now a part of public domain.

The Hill Sisters' students enjoyed their teachers' version of "Good Morning To All" so much that they began spontaneously singing it for birthday parties, changing the lyrics to "Happy Birthday". In 1924, Robert Coleman included "Good Morning to All" in a songbook with the birthday lyrics as a second verse. Coleman also published "Happy Birthday" in The American Hymnal in 1933. Children's Praise and Worship, edited by Andrew Byers, Bessie L. Byrum and Anna E. Koglin, published the song in 1918.

So, thanks to the Hill Sisters for giving us something to sing about.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Decade Is It, Anyway?

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote an article in Sunday's opinion section entitled, "The Big Zero" in which he analyzes the economic history of the 2000s. It begins as follows:

"Maybe we knew, at some unconscious, instinctive level, that it would be an era best forgotten. Whatever the reason, we got through the first decade of the new millennium without ever agreeing on what to call it. The aughts? The naughties? Whatever. (Yes, I know that strictly speaking the millennium didn’t begin until 2001. Do we really care?)"

Yes, we do. I am one of the people who really cares, and if you knew me ten years ago, you heard it then; I just didn't have access to a blog at the time. The last year of the twentieth century was not 1999, it was 2000. The first year of the twenty-first century was 2001. Accordingly, the last year of whatever this decade is called will be the coming year, 2010. We will begin the teens, as I assume they will be called, in 2011, just a couple of days from a year from now.

Think about your birthday, for instance. Say you are going to be 58 tomorrow. That means you will have completed fifty eight years of life, and the day after your birthday - New Years Eve - you will begin working on year number fifty nine. So if on New Years Eve someone wishes you a happy 58th year, you should tell them that you have already completed fifty eight years in the world. If they then change the subject and opine that they are looking forward to the coming decade being better than the last, you should tell them that the decade for which they are so eager won't begin for another year. Or perhaps you should just say, "Thank you and happy new year to you", drink your champagne and shut up.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

So Many Books, So Little Time

The Other Family Human and I are both great lovers and collectors of books. When we merged households a few months ago, the bookcases which held her volumes were joined by boxes and boxes which held mine. We went out and bought more bookcases and made room for them, and not long ago, every book had a place on a shelf. But there was no order to them, and we had to go through every bookcase every time we were looking for a particular volume. So, we decided to organize them on this long holiday weekend.

Often, I walk into a library and find myself overwhelmed by how many books there are in the world and how few of them I have read. But it's even more humbling to stand in your own home and be overwhelmed by how many books you own that you haven't yet read, or read but don't remember, or would love to read again, that is if there weren't so many that you'd never read.

So now we're organizing, and before too long I'll be able to say, "oh, we've got that" and walk right to it on the shelf. In the meantime, I'm getting acquainted with the books of the Other Family Human and reacquainted with my own. We paused for a break yesterday, and opened some holiday gifts. We received some gift certificates--how nice! To Barnes and Noble. Uh-oh. More books.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Let Us Praise - Teachers

In a town where classical composers were called 'those long hairs' and where high school graduation was considered the ultimate academic achievement, Elizabeth 'Betty' Jerles ignored circumstance and possibly common sense and taught music. She taught my Uncle Collins music. She taught my mother music. She taught my brother music. She taught me music. And she was still teaching music when I returned to stand for a class picture as a teacher on the same steps and practically in the same position I stood as a first grader. Mrs. Jerles cowed her students and the school administrators and possibly the entire little Arizona town of Wickenburg into believing that a bunch of seemingly hick kids could not only attend and endure symphonies but could, with patience and frequent stern looks, appreciate pieces they would never in their wildest imaginings hear in their own homes. Through out her long career she never lost energy or focus or passion.
For example -- She provided free of charge after school private piano lessons. I studied with her even though my family had no piano. No piano? That seemed a trivial blip on the radar scope of her enthusiasm. She gave me a card board mock up of a piano keyboard and told me to sing the notes as I practiced. She then invited me to come to her home any time to practice on her piano. I became the best cardboard piano player in Arizona. I know because she told me and even though I had little competition in that particular niche, I felt accomplished and excited and special.
For example -- Each Halloween she and her elderly mother (with whom she lived during my childhood) asked every trick or treater to sign their guest book. Then both Mrs. Jerles and her mother made much of guessing what student cowered behind each mask even though they probably knew who we were before we even rang the door bell. Both she and her mother knew how to make a fuss.
For example -- Every December she mounted a Christmas production open to the community. The first half of the production was a play. One year I was an angel in Hansel and Gretel. During a final rehearsal Patty Purdy turned to say something to me and instead vomited all over my costume and most of me. After making sure Patty Purdy received appropriate medical attention, Mrs. Jerles turned to me and while wiping whatever meal had just escaped from Patty assured me that shows must always go on. And so that show went on without, for obvious reasons, Patty Purdy. The second half of the presentation was all Christmas music and featured those of us who had just performed in the play. After all, her talent pool was pretty small. Off went the wings and on went the robes. I was convinced that our little rag tag choir produced the richest, fullest music ever heard. I'm pretty sure most of the people who attended thought the same thing. Of course, the evening ended with the Hallelujah Chorus.
The moment Mrs. Jerles stood to direct her choir in that final piece, the entire audience also stood. And there, the tallest, was my father, his hat off and held to his chest and his face almost as stern as that of Mrs. Jerles. We were amazing. As a teacher I stood in the back of the auditorium and listened to a final rehearsal of the Chorus. The choir didn't sound quite as astonishing as I remembered but still and all it sounded pretty impressive.
And a final example -- I really liked Mrs. Jerles. I wanted to give her a gift to show her how much I appreciated all that she did for me. I was in the second grade when I presented her the finest gift I could imagine. We'd just finished round up on my father's ranch and with the gift already planted in my mind, I had saved all the tips of the ear marked calves. My gift to her was a bag full of those retrospectively revolting calf ear tips. I couldn't wait for her to open her gift. When she did her eyes behind her thick glasses did blink a few times and then she just looked at me, smiled, and said, "How thoughtful. Thank you so much."
Let us praise teachers. They don't come into our lives very often.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Let Us Praise

That's the meaning of the Hebrew word 'hallelu'. If you add 'yah' or more commonly in English 'jah' you've got 'Let Us Praise God'.
I knew a woman, a committed Jew, who lived her life surrounded by books and the love of art and literature and knowledge and Judaism in several different languages. She also spent her very long life not believing in the existence of a god.
I did not meet her until most of her amazing mind had betrayed her and most of her memory had abandoned her. She lived in a nursing home and said little except 'Good idea' in response to something of interest and 'Hallelu' when something really warranted her praise.
Never, though, did she say 'Halleluyah' because not even dementia could create in her a belief she did not possess.
Let us praise integrity.
Hallelu and Good idea.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Little Kindness

An agency in the area where I used to live and work hosted a holiday dinner party for a group of people who have fallen upon hard times. There are a lot of such people around these days. It was a great meal. There was fried chicken and rice, potato salad and green salad, two kinds of cake and a bowl of fruit. I was invited because I had recently done a presentation for this group. The person who invited me asked me a religious question: one of the participants is an observant Muslim. Would she be able to partake of the chicken that would be served at this meal? Maybe she would, I said, but to be sure, I would stop by a nearby Mediterranean restaurant that I knew served halal meat (meat which has been prepared in compliance with Muslim dietary laws) and pick up a portion of chicken. This simple act took about fifteen minutes and cost about seven dollars.

All those who participated were grateful for the dinner, but the person for whom I bought the chicken was overwhelmed. She could not stop marveling that her personal religious needs had been taken into consideration. Her gratitude caused me to think about how very little out of the way we need to go to make someone else's day. It makes me want to do it more often.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Shortest Day - Longest Night

Today, officially the first day of winter though family members in New York and New Jersey might have a few things to say about that, marks a turning once again toward light. Even tomorrow we will notice the days have become longer. Tonight, though, darkness will hover around our tiny flames of warmth and hope and light if only on a metaphorical plane.
In darkness we seek light and the Winter Solstice has historically created light and mystery and even magic all to get us through this oh so long night.
I don't think we are all that far removed from our bonfires and drums and primal fears. These days we tend to mask the fears and silence the drums with all the brightness electricity can offer but still at comfort's penumbra flicker the flames of our sputtering torches.
We know that darkness threatens even now.
Tomorrow, though, we will turn more toward the sun's warmth until finally in the middle of summer we will say enough of this light and heat and yearn once more for the cold, shortness of our dark December days to once again as always turn toward light.
It's a circle and a cycle. Life is like that. The light always comes. It will again. In the meantime, let's huddle together to tell tales of remembering and surviving.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Keep The Light Burning

As the last light of Channukah burns let us never forget those who -- deprived of social justice -- continue to live in darkness.
And as the festival of dedication ends let us each dedicate ourselves to keeping the light of justice so bright that it can never be ignored.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Now This Is What I'm Talkin' About

Interestingly this piece of the oratorio has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus but, instead, with his death and is based on passages from the Book of Revelation in the Christian New Testament.
Go figure.
Did the cough drop fly out of my mouth? Hang onto the visual because I'm not telling.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lessons Learned From The Messiah

#1 - Words Matter
For example, last night we did not see the Messiah at the Disney Concert Hall. The event we attended was not a personal appearance. Had it been, they probably would have given us those nifty seats at the rear of the stage that I requested when I ordered our concert series because the place would have been full. But, no. The Messiah did not personally appear. Here's what happened. We attended a performance of The Messiah by George Frideric Handel. You see, words do matter.
#2 - Two hours and forty-five minutes is a really long time to sit listening to anything. I suspect that in 1743 people's attention spans had not been destroyed by television and twitter and, dare I say, blogs.
#3 - When sitting in the front row of the top balcony at the Disney Concert Hall it's important to try and not sneeze -- especially if you happen to have a cough drop in your mouth at the time of the sneeze. Such events really distract the guy on the stage playing the kettle drums.
#4 - It's hard to hold your cough until the short pauses between the sections of oratorio but you have to on account of the amazing acoustics at the Disney. If you can't hold the cough, trust me. Everyone in the concert hall will hear you including the counter tenor just beginning to sing about behold a virgin shall conceive.
#5 - It is possible to pull out of a deep depression and compose a chorus so moving people stand and weep when they hear it. And if you don't believe me, listen to the most famous piece in this very long composition. The Hallelujah chorus is not, I assure you, at all depressing. So one trick to managing depression, it seems, is to create. Especially if you happen to be named Handel.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I Have No Excuse

It's true. I'm reading yet another Patricia Cornwell novel in which the central character is Kay Scarpetta. I've tried to avoid these books because, well, for one thing they are so badly written I'm ashamed to admit that I read them. But come on. Kay Scarpetta needs me.
Perhaps I can find a Twelve Step group to help me move beyond this pathetic pleasure. Or if I wait awhile longer I'm sure I can take a medication to ease if not wipe out my unquenchable desire to follow the exploits of the good doctor.
In the meantime, when you speak of this -- and you will -- try to be kind.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Chanukah

The brisket is in the oven, the cousins are on their way, and ten pounds of potatoes are waiting to be turned into latkes . It's cold and rainy, perfect Chanukah weather. In this moment, I am grateful for a warm home, plenty of food and loved ones to share the holiday. Wishing everyone else the same.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

G'mar Chatima Tova

The traditional Jewish greeting between Rosh HaShannah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is G'mar Chatima Tova -- May the final writing be for good.
The day after Los Angeles Police Department Officer Kenneth Aragon -- a nineteen year department veteran -- died from injuries sustained in an early morning December third motorcycle accident, the Los Angeles Times devoted less than a dozen lines of print to his life and death. Those few words presented the barest of information about this life lost.
This morning's Los Angeles Times devoted far more space to Officer Aragon and even a bold face large type headline: Officer killed in crash had been drinking at Police Academy bar. The caption under the photograph of Officer Aragon states that his blood alcohol level was over the legal limit. Nowhere in this four column article replete with references of careless karaoke and ninety minute disappearances and drunken debauchery is there any mention of a life well lived in the service of family and community. And certainly in the few sparse words the day after his death was there any mention of Officer Aragon as former marine and constant mentor.
The day before he died, Kenneth Aragon participated in a toy drive to help children in need have holiday gifts to open. He was an integral part of the explorer program at the Northeast Police Station where he helped with events and fund raisers to benefit under privileged children. He helped children and adolescents achieve physical fitness. He coached a girls' softball team. And he adored his five children.
Was he a flawed person? Of course. But then, aren't we all flawed in one way or another? Of course.
And yet the Times made no mention of the gaping hole this death leaves in lives and communities and chose, instead, to make its final writing of him focused on a flaw. Those who never knew him will remember him not for the life he lived but for the death he died. And those who did know him must wrestle with the words the Times chose for its summation of his life.
G'mar Chatima Tova. May the final writing be for good.
Ordinarily this greeting speaks of the final writings of our own lives and our hope that the words of those writings will be if not completely positive at least fair.
The Los Angeles Times teaches us a new meaning of that ancient phrase. When we speak of our fellow travellers on this narrow bridge of life, may we speak not only of flawed moments but of lives lived remarkably and well.
That is certainly the least we can do for those who spend their lives standing between us and danger.
May the memory of Officer Kenneth Aragon be for his family, his friends, and for the community he served a blessing.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Calf Named Moses

Last week a Jersey Holstein calf with a cross shaped patch of white on it head was born on a Connecticut farm. The farmer, Brad Davis, sees this as a definite sign of something but he can't put his finger on what, exactly, that definite sign might be. At first the farmer didn't notice the unusual markings but a few hours after its birth, he saw them and decided immediately that the calf had a cross on its head. Hopefully crosses are easier to bear there. At any rate, later that same night Davis witnessed something that made him even more convinced that the calf had a thing or two to tell him.
"The moon was out that night and there was a little bit of the moonlight coming in through the windows and his cross was the only thing that showed," he said.
Until he deciphers the exact divine message, Davis hopes the calf's cross will bring attention to the plight of struggling dairy farmers.
"I think he may be here to open people's eyes and get a message across," Davis told Fox 11 News.
While Farmer Davis was scratching his head trying to conjure up cross messages and meanings, neighborhood children named the calf Moses.
The name stuck.
The kids have more problems than the calf, it seems to me.
In the JudeoChristian narrative, I just can't see Moses getting too involved with crosses and if he did I can't imagine they had much meaning for him. I mean, let's face it, crosses didn't have much meaning for anyone until Christianity came on the scene many, many years after Moses died on the wrong side of the Jordan River.
I hope once the bovine cross code is broken Farmer Davis can take a moment to consider that his cross headed calf should be named Matthew or Mark or Luke or even, God forbid, Jesus.

Imagine If We Spent The Money On Something Else

Christopher Steiner is a civil engineer and staff writer for Forbes and wonders how our lives will change when -- not if - the price of gasoline peaks at twenty dollars a gallon. His book is not intended to frighten us out of our wits but instead comforts us with the speculation that when the price of or the availability of gasoline no longer consumes much of our economy, our conversation, and indeed our lives things will become much simpler -- eventually. Of course until that simplicity arrives things will probably be pretty tense.
This is a book worth reading.
I'm a big fan of living simply, of growing food, and of going about our collective business within the resources obtainable without ruining lives or biospheres.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cold Front Almost Threatens Southern California

Why the temperature must have dipped to forty or so last night and possibly got as low as, perhaps, sixty-five today. People are walking around wrapped in all sorts of coats and jackets and weird hats that seem normal in New York. Lips are blue and arms are covered -- where flesh has dared to be bare -- with goose bumps.
If you doubted that we here in Southern California are too precious for words look around you on days like today and then fly immediately to New York where such outfits are finally beginning to be almost needed.
No wonder people laugh at us.
Now if I could only find my hat. You know the one with the fuzzy flaps that come down around my ears. I need it. No. I really do.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I Swear Under Whatever

I've never been much of a joiner so this might not have crossed your mind anyway, but I feel compelled to state that I am not now nor have I ever been nor do I intend to ever be romantically involved with Tiger Woods.
I thought you should know.

It Generally Doesn't Rain In Southern California

But today it is. The news folk got it right. Ordinarily driving to work in the rain is an adventure in madness. This morning wasn't so bad for me. I had been dreading the experience but the 210 East was easy. The drivers maintained sane speeds and behaviors. Wait a second. Is anyone who gets into a car to drive on an oil slick, wet freeway really sane? I'm thinking not. Present company included.

Friday, December 4, 2009

I Virtually Have No Time For Reality

I recently acquired two twenty foot rows in a community garden. It's wonderful to contemplate all that I can plant in those rows. The drip irrigation is automatic three times a week. All I have to do is plant the seeds, remove the weeds, watch the garden grow and pick the plants in their time. Except that I don't have time for all of that. You see, I recently became Farm Town and Farmville farmers on Face Book. I have neighbors who depend on me to fertilize their crops and chase away their raccoons. I missed a few days tending to my gardens and my eggplant withered. I lost money getting rid of my shame. Who has time these days for life when pretend is so much fun.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Jet Blue Wisdom

After the flight attendant finished the usual safety instructions -- fasten your seat belt, reach under your seat for the life vest but don't open it in the cabin, put on your own oxygen mast first -- he told a story.
"I'm going to tell a story," he said. Generally by the time the safety instructions begin I'm finished -- ready to get off of the plane. I listened to the story, though, and I'm glad I did.
This is the Jet Blue guy's story. Realize, of course, that I've made it my own and am telling it myself with my own twists. It's his story, though.
Picture a glass container. The container is round and perhaps a foot high and maybe a foot in diameter. Imagine filling it with golf balls. When you've put all of the golf balls inside it that the container will hold, ask yourself if the container is full. It will look full but if you start dropping little pebbles into it -- pebbles like we put in fish tanks or around plants -- you'll find that when the container just held the golf balls it wasn't full at all because there's lots more room for pebbles. When the container won't hold anymore pebbles, ask yourself if it is full. It will look full but if you start pouring sand into it you will discover that even with the golf balls and pebbles, there's still a lot of room of sand. When you've put all of the sand in the container that it will hold, ask yourself if the container is full. It will look full but if you start pouring water into it, you'll discover that there's still plenty of room for water. Keep pouring until the water spills over the side of the container which is now pretty full of golf balls, pebbles, sand and water.
Would the container have held as much if you'd put the water in first? Or the sand? Or even the pebbles? Of course, the answer is no.
The passengers were then asked to consider that the golf balls represent what is most important to us in our lives -- health, family, dreams. We were then asked to consider what the pebbles, the sand, and the water represent. I chose to think that the water represents anger and bitterness and all the negative stuff we or at least I hang on to like it was worth something. I'm still thinking about the sand and the pebbles and what they represent in my life.
The flight attendant then asked us to imagine where the golf balls would be if we first filled the container with the water or the pebbles or the sand.
And then the plane took off.
I'm still thinking about that unexpected story and those amazing questions.
Your turn.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Yo, Tiger

Really, what Tiger Woods does with his life is none of my business. He can run into every tree along his drive way. He can be faithful to his wife or he can cheat on her. I don't care. But, come on, man. Common sense would whisper to any rational person to not leave a voice mail message on your girl friend's phone asking her to block her cell phone number because 'my wife' saw it. Common sense would shout to that same rational person to not leave his name attached to the message as in, "Hi, this is Tiger....". Perhaps if the caller were named Sam or Joe or Sue. But Tiger? Was he thinking that Tiger is a fairly common first name? Guess what? It is not a common first name.
Wait a second. I just remembered something.
I once had a cat named 'Tiger'. He ate my parakeet during a moment of compromised impulse control.
That moment was no feather in his cap either.

All Good Things Must End Apparently

But apparently they don't have to end well. Such is the case with 'The Associate" by John Grisham. I haven't read many of his books but I do recall that those I have read have read well. Not so, here. Well, that's not quite accurate. The fact of the matter is that I couldn't put this book down. From the first page until almost the last page it was a good read. You know the kind of read I'm talking about -- a book that makes a long plane flight seem shorter and smoother and not quite so terrifying. "The Associate" was definitely that kind of a book until fifty or so pages from the last when it definitely began to unravel. By the last page all I felt was a sense of frustration mainly because there was no ending just a gradual eroding until it was gone plot. Had I written a book with this kind of fall apart at the end ending my friends would have called me on it and said stuff like give me a break or what were you thinking. I'm no friend of John Grisham. In fact I've never met him. But, come on, John. What were you thinking?


We've been in New York and New Jersey visiting Family Humans and Family Dogs for the last week-plus, but not so many Family Computers. We're back now.

The flight from Burbank to JFK is never a trip to which I eagerly look forward, but it is a great opportunity for people-watching. We took our seats and watched a man and his three little children, all under age of five, board the plane. He asked them which toys they wanted for the flight, took them out, and then collected all their little coats and backpacks and stowed them in the overhead compartment. He spend the five-hour flight getting snacks and drinks for his kids, taking one or another to the bathroom, getting them a book or a toy they requested. On the rare occasions when he took a seat, he would look at them from across the aisle and smile. The children were very well-behaved for their ages, but by the time we reached New York, they were beginning to decompensate. As the plane arrived at the gate, one of them needed the bathroom. As her father led her up the aisle through the standing passengers (all of whom were very obliging), the other two started crying. They all went back to the bathroom together. Upon returning to their seats, the eldest, about age five, prevented her younger brother from crawling over her to look out the window, and both started to cry. The father, in a very soft voice, said to her, "That's not sharing. Let your brother look out". She obliged, and with no further fuss, the father began the task of handing out their little coats and backpacks.

We saw them again in the terminal, heading to baggage claim and this time it was the third who was crying her head off. The Other Family Human approached the father. "Do you need any help?" she asked, "I think you're fabulous". "No, I'm fine," he replied, "they're usually really easy, but it's been a long trip".

Well, no wonder they are usually really easy, with that sort of parenting. When we were telling the Next Generation Family Humans about them, it was suggested that we should all carry around some sort of award certificate to give to people we run across in life who we think are something special. If we had had one with us, this man would certainly have gotten one.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Back In The Saddle, Metaphorically

I don't own a saddle. I once did but now I don't. Nevertheless, I'm back in it. For the past several days I've been practicing what I preach and spending time recharging and reflecting and most importantly counting my blessings of which there are many.
Talk to you tomorrow.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Thing About Birthdays

Birthdays are kind of neat. Or least I think my birthdays are kind of neat. People congratulate me and wish me well as though I had actually done something -- put out some effort or given the matter some thought -- to get myself born. Actually, I had nothing to do with being born and all the credit goes to the two people who started the whole thing that is me going. When they were alive, I used to thank them on my birthday for their amazing creation. I still thank them while considering the fact that I exist.
So, Ira and Bunny, here's to you.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Live And Let Live, Perhaps

Come to find out, allowing same sex couples to marry is not the threat to traditional marriage some thought. Or at least that's the point those sponsoring a voter initiative to make divorce illegal in California are thinking.
Divorce, according to these folks, is what really harms and threatens to end traditional marriage.
If these forward but concrete thinking people manage to get 700,000 signatures, this initiative will be on the 2010 ballot and if it passes divorce in the State of California will be illegal by virtue of a constitution amendment which would end the ability of married couples to divorce. Apparently those couples could still seek an annulment.
Even if this bill passes, the new law probably won't take effect in time to save the Los Angeles Dodgers from the damage Jamie and Frank McCourt are doing to that team.
Jamie McCourt wants to keep the Dodgers out of the divorce hearing and has asked the court to throw out papers filed in the team's name that 'unnecessarily' attack her. She wants to be reinstated as the team's chief executive. As you may or may not recall or care, Frank McCourt, her estranged husband, fired her from that oh shall we venture to say honorary position. Meanwhile, Frank McCourt claims sole ownership of the Dodgers. Jamie, an attorney, claims she didn't understand the papers she signed.
Meanwhile, back to the ban divorce petition. If couples like the McCourts couldn't divorce would we still be able to laugh at them?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Come Find Me, I'm on Huntington Drive

I have lived and worked in the 210 Freeway corridor between Glendale and Pomona for about fifteen years. This means that, from time to time, I have to go somewhere on Huntington Drive.

If I receive directions to a place, and those directions include Huntington Drive, I ask if there is another way to get there. If there is not, I allow an extra half an hour travel time to get lost.

Huntington Drive runs from the merger of Soto Street and Mission Road in L.A., and nominally goes east through South Pasadena, San Marino, Alhambra, San Gabriel, Arcadia, Monrovia and Duarte. In reality, it goes in every possible direction, some of which haven't been thought of yet. It coils, it straightens out, it intersects other streets. It intersects some streets more than once, more than twice, even. In some places it runs parallel to streets that it crosses elsewhere. In every city that it runs through, the street addresses change, so you can't even figure out where you are by the building numbers.

Today, I learned that I have been accepted to a Clinical Pastoral Education internship. That is very good news. The internship will be at Arcadia Methodist Hospital. The address of the hospital is 300 Huntington Drive. Oh, dear. The internship begins in January 2010. I think I'd better start driving now.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Unconditional Love

I have two adorable loving male cats and one beautiful loving 16 year old female dog. Dakota (my dog) is ailing and my cats (Sami and Romeo) know things aren't quite right with their dog. Sami runs circles around Dakota when she's standing with his tail flipped up to the longest extent and he purrs and purrs. Then when she lays down, he rubs and rubs against her, licks her ears and gives her a love bite. Romeo does much the same. We know Dakota's days are drawing nearer and nearer and her two companions are not letting her go without expressing their true and undying love for her. Animals are remarkable!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Road Trip Treasures

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I love road trips. Although it had not been my intention to drive cross-country twice in six months, I thoroughly enjoyed both trips. However, I don't think I have yet mentioned one of the subsidiary joys of that kind of travel, and that is the treasures to be found at travel centers. Yes, travel centers. That is what they call truck stops these days.

Although the main purpose of truck stops--excuse me, travel centers--is to provide fuel, restrooms, and food for the traveling public, they also stock an astonishing assortment of stuff, and you can find some real treasures in their aisles.

I am a small person. I have small hands. Sometimes, I do work which requires me to wear work gloves. You try finding work gloves which fit small hands. I don't mind naming names. OSH, Home Depot, Virgil's Hardware, all have huge displays of work gloves, and they are all sized "large" or "larger". They slide right off my hands. Today, in Lost Hills, California, I stopped for lunch on my way home to L.A. from the Bay Area, and I found a treasure. Work gloves for smaller hands. I'm thinking of projects already.

Friday, November 6, 2009

At Any Rate, Happy Birthday

Today might be my father's birthday. Yesterday might also have been the date on which he was born or perhaps tomorrow is the correct day.
Here's the story.
My father was born at home in the Aravaipa Canyon near Klondyke, Arizona. There was a lot of stuff going on when he was born and no one bothered to look at the calendar. Some time later the family tried to remember the date and couldn't. What they could remember was that on the day my father was born a big storm hit the canyon hard and dumped several inches of water. While no one could remember the date of that storm, the sixth of November seemed like a pretty good collective guess.
And that became my father's official birthday.
So happy birthday, Daddy.

What's in a Name?

The City of Upland is in a quandry not knowing which street names are correct.
Is it Base Line or Baseline?
Is it 16th Street or Sixteenth Street?
Which is correct? Even City Council doesn't know which is which.
Isn't this just like city governments?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Every Pitch Begins With A Bow

Mariano Rivera did it again and so, finally, did the Yankees.
Okay. Wouldn't it have been nice if this had been a Dodgers and Yankees World Series. And wouldn't it have been just too good to be true to listen to Vin Scully tell us about such a series.
The Dodgers are held hostage by the marital disaster of the owners and will probably wind up shaken and traumatized by that mess.
So since the Dodgers couldn't be the other team tonight at least our other team won the series.
And the best part about tonight was that I knew once he'd won, my favorite baseball player would finally smile. Some things are just worth the wait.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Those Air Drying Things

You know the ones. Public restrooms sometimes use them. You stick your wet hands under them and in an hour or so your hand is sort of dry. It never much mattered how long it took or if your hands actually got dry because most of the things were broken anyway.
Times they have changed, though. I noticed this change when -- I forget the larger location (theater, restaurant, library) -- I put my wet hands under one of those things and watched with combined awe and horror my skin practically pull away from my body. It was fascinating, really. I wondered how long I would remain intact. Even more surprising was the realization that my hands were dry. Imagine.
Apparently those machines were developed to save trees (paper towels we used to call them), water, and to keep the washrooms cleaner. All of that is well and good and even quite admirable except for recent information which indicates that all that hot air actually gets us dirtier than we were before we washed our hands.
Here's the low down on that:
-- after washing and drying hands with the warm air dryer, the total number of bacteria was found to increase on average on the finger pads by 194% and on the palms by 254%
-- drying with the jet air dryer resulted in an increase on average of the total number of bacteria on the finger pads by 42% and on the palms by 15%
-- after washing and drying hands with a paper towel, the total number of bacteria was reduced on average on the finger pads by up to 76% and on the palms by up to 77%.
Next time I use a public bathroom I think I will just haul out my own bath towel. I can still save a tree or two. No one will have to empty my trash because the towel will go with me. And I won't have to wonder how securely the skin on my hands really is attached.
Either that or the above quoted study was just a lot of hot air.
Anything's possible, you know.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Doctorow's March

Okay. So it's not a new book but, since I just finished reading it, it's new to me.
Here's the book's first sentence:
"At five in the morning someone banging on the door and shouting, her husband, John, leaping out of bed, grabbing his rifle, and Roscoe at the same time roused from the back house, his bare feet pounding: Mattie hurriedly pulled on her robe, her mind prepared for the alarm of war, but the heart stricken that it would finally have come, and down the stairs she flew to see through the open door in the lamplight, at the steps of the portico, the two horses, steam rising from their flanks, their heads lifting, their eyes wild, the driver a young darkie with rounded shoulders, showing stolid patience even in this, and the woman standing in her carriage no one but her aunt Letitia Pettibone of McDonough, her elderly face drawn in anguish, her hair a straggled mess, this woman of such fine grooming, this dowager who practically ruled the season in Atlanta standing up in the equipage like some hag of doom, which indeed she would prove to be."
My high school English teacher, Miss Blanche Kennedy, loved to diagram sentences. Had she not lived years beyond an early grave, that first sentence of "The March" would surely have sent her to just such a resting place.
I learned a lot about writing from reading this book. I also learned a lot about the Civil War and about the socio-economic problems left in its wake and from which we have yet to recover.
And though I needed no reminder of this, "The March' nevertheless pounds home the relentless truth that war is the height of madness.

A Disney Halloween

Classic, silent horror movie and the Disney Concert Hall aren't phrases I ordinarily see walking hand in hand through my mind. Last night, though, they weren't just in my mind. They were there, together, up close and personal.
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror is the 1922 masterpiece directed by F. W. Murnau. The story and the film are based on Bram Stoker's Dracula with names changed because the studio couldn't get the rights to the novel. Vampire, thus, became Nosferatu and Count Dracula became Count Orlok.
Aside from the film and the concert hall, the real star of the evening was the organist who played mood matching and mood creating music for an hour and a half non stop.
At least half the audience obviously wore costumes and the other half may or may not have been wearing costumes. I mean, who can tell if a man in a business suit is only pretending to be an attorney. And what about the surgeon in the bloody scrubs? When you have a ticket to a classic horror film shown in a world famous concert hall accompanied by one of the greatest pipe organs around you really do drop just about everything to attend.
And you know what?
That put together with spit and shoe polish movie is one scary way to spend an evening.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Took So Long?

Today, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that expands the federal hate crimes law to include crimes against a person because of his or her sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. The bill was originally proposed by Democrats in the House of Representatives in 1998, when a gay college student in Wyoming, Matthew Shepard, was found brutally murdered by a group of young men who had seen him in a bar earlier in the evening. Their defense included the statement that Shepard had tried to "come on" to one of them.

For more than ten years, conservatives in Congress have blocked this bill and only now have there been enough votes to pass it. Conservative groups such as the Traditional Values Coalition said the legislation would turn "homosexual behaviors as well as cross-dressing, transvestism, and transsexualism into federally-protected 'minority' groups." Come on, really. You don't have to like gay people, you only have to admit that they have a right not to get murdered.

Matthew Shepard's mother Judy attended the signing ceremony. USA Today quoted her as saying that she never dreamed it would take 10 years for the new law to become a reality. Well said, Mrs. Shepard. My apologies to you for this country taking an unconscionable amount of time to pass a law that gives hate crime status to the murder of your son, who was killed because some people hated him for his homosexuality.

All or Nothing

I have this application on my computer called a "Network Repair Wizard". Although I have never asked it for anything, it helpfully pops up when I start the computer and attempts to evaluate my connection to the internet. Instead of a DSL or cable connection, which is always on, I use broadband, which must be manually turned on after starting up the computer. When I start my computer, my Network Repair Wizard busily goes to work and informs me that, woefully, I have no connection to the internet. Yes, I knew that; I haven't turned it on yet. Sometimes, after I have connected the broadband, it decides to re-evaluate the connection and informs me that my connection is just fine, and what did I think was the problem? The thing is just determined to constantly evaluate my network connection and let me know how things are going. And its news is always either all good or all bad.

It reminds me of the way people sometimes act. If things are going well, all is perfect and wonderful and nothing could go wrong. But when things are going badly, everything is woe and nothing will ever be good again. It's okay for a computer application with a one-track mind, but human beings really ought to have more perspective, and throw in there some shades of gray.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's What We Do

Another commute story. Oh, come on. Stop groaning. You know you love them.
If you've never seen law enforcement's swerving, unnerving maneuvers to begin and implement a traffic break you're really missing a basic wonder of Southern California freeway driving. I've previously described the lights flashing patrol car beginning its 'S' turns in front of traffic to eventually slow the cars and then stop them right at the exact spot required. It's pretty amazing.
This morning this feat of daring precision was performed by an officer of the California Highway Patrol on a motorcycle. No protection of steel and seat belts. And right where the officer needed traffic to come to a complete stop we did. A wreck farther down the freeway had left a debris trail. The officer got off the motorcycle and simply started clearing the lanes, tossing this and that to the side of the freeway. Five lanes of traffic waited until eventually the officer mounted the motorcycle and sped away thus giving traffic permission to resume.
I am always astonished at the precise bravery of those people who can do such a thing.
On the other hand, if perhaps five lanes of traffic ever watched me convince a person experiencing psychiatric crisis to at least for today not commit suicide perhaps one of those drivers would say 'Wow!' too.
And then I'd go back to the mountain of paperwork patiently waiting on my desk because that sort of thing is what we do.
Here's to us. All of us and all of you. Keep up the good work.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Empty Is Just A State Of Mind

I am deeply offended by the fact that my Jeep requires fuel. Taking the few required minutes from my day to fill its tank with the fifteen or so gallons of gasoline necessary for forward motion seems like such a waste of time. It is also an expensive endeavor.
I often wait until the last possible mark on the fuel gauge to give into the Jeep's needs.
Yesterday I may have pushed this delightful quirk of mine (and of my Jeep's) to the limit.
You see, a new Chevron station just opened at the corner of Foothill and Garey in Pomona. Anytime a new business dares to give Pomona a try speaks of either foolishness or bravery. Friday on my way home from work I couldn't help but notice that once again the Jeep was getting low on fuel. So low was it getting, in fact, that I wondered if I wouldn't have to back up the final hill home just to give that amazing two hundred nineteen thousand mile engine enough fuel to make it to my parking space.
Nevertheless, since I had to go back to Pomona yesterday to work, I decided to try and make it to that new Chevron just to show support for brave foolishness.
I didn't make it quite to that station. I figure the glide ratio for a Jeep just out of fuel is not very far. On Foothill I could almost see that new station. I was that close. But the sputtering coming from the engine convinced me to coast into the Shell and abandon the day's folly.
It's important to know your vehicle. It's also important to know the location of every service station along your route.
Somewhere tucked in the importance list I'm also sensing that it may be important to know when to change plans.
I'll have to give that one some more thought.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Day at the Opera

Going to the opera has always been an expensive undertaking. After you pay for all that scenery, costuming and make-up, soloists, choruses, extras, orchestra members and everything else, it's a wonder anyone can afford it. In fact, opera attendance all over the world has been waning because many people don't have the price of a ticket.

There is nothing quite as wonderful as dressing up and going to an opera house, but there's something almost as good. The Metropolitan Opera in New York has started to do simulcasts of its Saturday matinees and showing them in HD at movie theatres around the country and the world. During the intermissions, a famous opera singer serves as MC and conducts interviews with various members of the cast and crew, and you get to see the backstage area as the techies set up for the next act. Not just any movie theatre may do this - they have to have a sound system that passes muster with the Met, so that you can enjoy the quality of the voices as much as those sitting in the expensive seats in New York.

So, today at 10:00 a.m. I paid my $22 at the Edwards Renaissance theatre in Alhambra, California and took a seat in the third row to enjoy Verdi's Aida. I sat in the third row because everything behind it was filled. My friend Alice, who has been attending these showings since they began last season, said that the theatre used to be only about 40% filled. Word is spreading. And what a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning--and half of the afternoon, given the length of this particular opera.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wasted Advice

Anonymous and I presented wonderful ideas for trading baseball staff for supreme court staff. Perhaps the Angels will pay more attention than did the Dodgers who, after all is said an done, are the Dodgers. Any other team and tonight's excuse for a play off game would have been surprising. Alas!
Hopefully in the spring the team will have jettisoned both Manny and Broxton.
Don't give up hope, Sonia.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Trade Time

Here's a thought. In these waning days of the Dodger's Almost Glory Season, Joe Torre ought to make a quick trade with the United States Supreme Court. Closer Jonathon Broxton for Justice Sonia Sotomayor. At least she can throw a strike.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Telephone Revisited

On November 19, 2008, the co-founder of this blog posted a hilarious entry on dealing with the phone company about repairing her land line. Now, I am living in the home with that land line and now it's me who is dealing with the phone company. It was much funnier reading about it than it is doing it.

First, it took me quite a while to wrest the repair phone number from the phone company website. The phone company makes it hard for you to talk to them by phone. No wonder they are in trouble. Then, the recording - I never did speak to a living human being - asked me to choose a date when I could be at home from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. "We're sorry," said the recording, "We do not have a four-hour time slot available on this date". Yeah, I'll just bet.

On the Laugh-In show, Lily Tomlin, used to play a character named Ernestine, a telephone operator. One of Ernestine's routines included the phrase, "We are the phone company. If you don't like us, try using two dixie cups with a string (snort of laughter)."

Ah, but that was the 1970s. I lived in New Jersey for six months last year with nothing but a cell phone, and it was just fine. If the phone company wants us to keep paying them for our land line, they'd better start acting as if they do.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Man's Best Friend

For several years, Randy has been rescuing man's best friend. He seeks out abandoned and homeless dogs and has rescued over 5,000 animals successfully finding homes for each of them. He loves what he does. When he arrives home after a day's work, he is greeted by 5 or 6 loveable family dogs who treat him like he's a rock star. He feels inspired by his love of animals and feels he's a better human being.

The world dearly needs more people like Randy.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Feeling Swinish

It seems as if fear of swine flu has affected the habits of the public in Southern California. On a shopping trip today which took me to three establishments in two different shopping centers, I observed cashiers wearing latex gloves and, at the supermarket, a mob around the sanitary wipes dispenser next to the shopping carts. The religious school at which I teach sent out a memo to remind students to cough and sneeze into their elbows, and to wash their hands frequently. An article in this week's L.A. Times discussed steps that churches are taking to make it safer to take communion without infecting or being infected by other congregants.

Swine flu may turn out to be as pandemic and dangerous as the media is predicting it will, or it may be yet another in a series of flu scares which don't live up to their billing. However, we'll all stay healthier if everyone keeps up with the healthy habits. I'm all in favor of swine flu precautions if they keep us from being pigs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Cat's Approach to Water Rationing

This just in from witsendblogger Marnie who suggests that we all try to multitask when it comes to conserving water.

Dumb Cat Can't Figure Out How To Drink - Watch more Funny Videos

So noted, Marnie. And thanks.

By the way, the folks who prepared this video chose to call the cat dumb. I disagree. There's no such thing as a dumb cat. Many people, however, are too stupid to know this. Marnie, had she been able to post this herself, would definitely agree.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

2007 Sangiovese

Here's what the folks at the Maurice Car'rie have to say about this particular wine: "A distinct cherry nose introduces you to this medium-bodied dry red wine. Cherry and cranberry flavors are maintained through the mid palate, with a slight crispness typical of a good Sangiovese. It pairs beautifully with a rare to medium beef steak."
Here's what I have to say about it: "Wow! That is a really good wine."
They go on to say that it is 15.3% alcohol, was in the barrel 18 months, and is 2% Cabernet Franc Blend.
Okay. Whatever.
I'm hoping to become one of those wine snobs. You know the kind. We still enjoy Two Buck Chuck but only privately. This 2007 Sangiovese from the Maurice Car'rie Vineyard definitely is a public wine.
The Maurice Car'rie Vineyard, established in 1968 on 46 acres, was one of the first in the Temecula Valley. The owners, Buddy and Cheri Linn, and winemaker, Gus Vizgirda, focus on wines ready to drink at an early age. After all, it's kind of hard for a vineyard less than fifty years old to compete with the centuries old European vineyards.
The on line wine magazine,, tells us that Italian immigrants from Tuscany probably introduced the Sangiovese grape to California in the late 1880's. Sanguis Jovis, the Latin origin for the grape's name, literally means 'blood of Jove'.
Which is why I say, when I'm trying to be snooty, "By Jove! That's one good wine."
Also, forget the steak. Our bottle paired beautifully with a plate of spaghetti.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Mistake Anyone Could Make

The Other Family Human and I were driving around this afternoon when she saw a truck with a sign on its side which read, "We Deliver AAA Batteries". The OFH commented that she wondered who was lazy enough and wealthy enough to have triple-A batteries for their appliances delivered to their home, and how many would a person need to require delivery, and why just triple-A and not double-A or C or D, not to mention 9-volt.

I reflected upon the problem and suggested that AAA stood for American Automobile Association, that the truck probably delivered car batteries, and the reason that they needed to be delivered is that if your car won't start you can't get to the store to buy one. The Other Family Human agreed that that was probably the explanation, although we both preferred her first impression. But you must certainly agree that it was a mistake that anyone could have made.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Out Smarting The Recycling Regs

We can help save the planet by recycling our stuff. I totally believe that to be true.
However, the city of Glendale, California, doesn't exactly make it easy to recycle. The city provides wheeled containers and that's really neat. The city sends out lists of acceptable things to recycle and the numbers on plastic containers that can and cannot be put in the containers. All of that is well and good. What they make tough is the amount to be put in the containers before said containers can be wheeled to the curb and emptied by the trucks which come around each scheduled day of trash pick up. The containers have to be filled to or above a certain line. If there is less than the stated level, the container is not emptied and worse than that a huge note is permanently affixed to the top of the container marking that resident forever in violation of the container level rules. My next door neighbor got one and each Thursday morning the entire street is reminded of her shame.
Needless to say, I live in fear of violating accidentally the container level rule. I have even destroyed perfectly good cardboard boxes just to make my mark. I have ordered merchandise I didn't need just to have more cardboard to put in the container. Of course, I then give the merchandise to Good Will because I'm also trying to lighten the personal possession load under which I've found myself feeling crushed. I've subscribed to newspapers and magazines in which I have no interest and which never make it into the house.
Clearly I've complicated significantly the recycling issue.
This morning, though, I came up with yet another plan.
I'm going to buy a bunch of large paper bags. I'm going to gather in the open ends, blow air into them and quickly tie the ends off with string which I have woven from the shredded bills and stuff. That way my recycle container will always look full even if it isn't.
If that plan proves to be too much trouble or too stressful, I may consider just putting out my recycle container every other week or so and let it fill up with the stuff I've actually used.
I don't know, though. That seems like the coward's solution to the situation.
I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Things Aren't Always What They Seem

When the Station fire burned through the Angeles National Forest a few weeks ago, you heard a lot about people who defied a mandatory evacuation order and had to take shelter in a hot tub, where they suffered serious burns. Governor Schwarzenegger chastised them, and they were held up as an example of what not to do during a fire by TV reporters on every channel. Living near the fire zone, I overheard and partook in a number of supermarket checkout line conversations which all agreed that, if told by the police to evacuate, we would not hesitate to do so.

Well, now it turns out that things may not have been what they seemed. Julius Goff, who has recently been released from the hospital, told the Los Angeles Times that, when he was ordered to evacuate, he first went down the road to check on a neighbor who uses a wheelchair, and helped him get out. When he tried to go deeper into the canyon to inform other neighbors who had not received the evacuation order, sheriff's deputies stopped him. He asked them if they were going to inform those residents that the evacuation order had changed from voluntary to urgent, and they told him that they were leaving. He checked on those neighbors, and when he returned to his own home, parts of the property were already on fire. A new resident was still there, crying and terrified. Having no other choice, they immersed themselves and their landlord's dog in the hot tub. Goff spent 1 1/2 hours in the tub, with a dog on his chest, and was badly burned. If he had evacuated when he had been ordered to do so, ten people, a dog, and a coop full of chickens (which he opened to release the birds inside) would be dead. He is not a defiant homeowner; he doesn't even own the property on which he lives. He is the Paul Revere of the Station fire.

It's hard to remember this, but there are at least two sides to every story. When a situation appears to be too simple, it probably is.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Not a Leg To Stand On

Have you ever felt that you have absolutely no support whatsoever?
Years and years ago on the ranch of my childhood a man claiming to be a distant or shirt tail family cousin arrived to tell my father of his plan to fill the Grand Canyon with water and then freeze the whole thing. He would then corner the ice market. His plan involved a shit load of refrigerators with the doors open, as I recall. Judging from my father's expression, it was clear that the guy's presentation did not win the endorsement or support of my father. In other words, the guy's logic left him without a leg to stand on.
No offense to those of us truly lacking actual legs on which to stand. I'm making a point here.
A good wine always has a leg to stand on.
That's my point.
Ever notice anyone swirl the wine in their glass? Ever done it yourself? No, I'm not talking about swirling the wine with the straw you've been using or even shaking up the box really well. I'm talking about gently swirling the wine, raising it towards the light, and watching the wine's legs appear on the glass. Legs indicate the wine's quality. The more legs, the higher the quality.
The legs actually are more a factor of physics than vineyard.
Wine is a mixture of alcohol and water. Alcohol has a faster evaporation rate and a lower surface tension than water, effectively forcing the alcohol to evaporate at a faster rate. This allows the water's surface tension and concentration to increase, pushing the legs up the glass until the surface tension pushes the water into beads. Finally, gravity forces the liquid to tear down the glass in an almost magical streak.
Still and all, swirling the wine around in your glass is a really fun thing to do and it impresses the hell out of your friends who are still shooting their straw wrappers at each other.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Temecula What?

No. It's true. Temecula, California, is wine country. According to some, it's almost perfect wine country with its warm days and night time ocean breezes. Vineyards along Rancho California Road offer tastings and clubs. Wilson Creek serves great lunches along with a Zinfandel so rich it can be a meal in itself. South Coast's spa is magnificent and its rooms amazing. Earlier this evening a friend remarked that the Hart Vineyard looks like nothing more than boards across saw horses. The staff seems surprised to discover they work in a vineyard but offer a sampling guide excellent in scope and selection. Wilson Creek, in addition to its amazing lunches, boasts of Golden Retrievers who wander freely throughout the facilities with the only rule that they can't tussle in the tasting room. Probably a good rule for every one.
Really. Temecula Wine Country.
Give it a try.

Blue Skies Again

As if things haven't been grim enough lately here in LaLaLand, for the past several days it seemed that even the Dodgers had given up and lacked sufficient energy to claim what so clearly belonged to them. Finally, though, at if not the eleventh hour last night then certainly at the tenth and three quarters hour they shut out the Rockies and reminded us to at least try to remain hopeful even when history and current events insist hope is fruitless folly.
For the most part I am not a fan of professional sports primarily because most of the salaries could, if directed elsewhere, solve a lot of this country's and the world's socioeconomic problems. On nights like last night, though, I get it. A home team can guide us toward our finest possibilities if we only hang in long enough to follow.
Yay Dodgers.
Go Blue.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Crazy Cargo

Perhaps you recall a previous post in which I announced the designated days at least in California for odd driving behavior. In that post I referred specifically to the multiple Stupid Driver Days. I thought that was the only true designated day until a recent commute redefined the whole situation for me.
But first some background. One way, my commute each day is about thirty-five miles and about forty minutes. Naturally, I have a round trip commute but you get the picture. On the aforementioned recent commute, the first leg of the round trip took well over an hour because each vehicle behind which I quite literally found myself first off drove no more than thirty miles an hour and second off carried/contained/beheld an astonishing and inexplicable cargo.
I, for example, found myself in back of an old pick up truck loaded with rusty hand lawn mowers. Secured with what appeared to be twine, the load threatened to mow down anyone in its wake. I passed that precarious pile of scrap metal to find myself in back of a cargo van whose back doors had opened and were swinging open and shut. The cargo hold appeared to be empty but the swinging doors didn't promise pleasant outcomes. Down the road a flat bed truck escorted by a pick up truck transported a mobile home. The walls, floor, and ceiling of the home had ruptured and pink insulation dragged on the asphalt, blew in the wind, and cotton candied the freeway lanes.
This cavalcade of crazy cargo continued all thirty plus miles of my commute: Tree trimming trucks leaked leaves. An old Buick dragged its muffler behind as sparks threatened to send Southern California into yet another flamed, smoke filled fire storm. Rocking chairs swayed on flat beds. Tangled bicycle tires hung from the sides of wooden truck racks. An Andy Gump portable, industrial toilet transporting truck on its way to the Fairplex stopped suddenly and the plastic toilets slammed into the truck's cab.
Not even the normal and predictable city streets saved me. A cement mixing truck stalled at the intersection and I sat mesmerized by liquid concrete oozing from the spout. I wondered if I would be cemented onto Garey late forever to work.
Unbelievably and thankfully I did not wind up behind an ambulance nor did I find myself in a funeral procession.
That commute did end and I did park and I did walk uncertain steps into my office. My work day began and ended without unusual incident although normal incidents where I work are generally unusual incidents for others.
Even though I feared the drive home, the only unusual vehicle on the road appeared to be my own.
That's life in the fast lane, I suppose.

Letterman's Moral Obligation?

Yesterday while driving to work I briefly tuned in to a local news radio station to check on traffic. Too early to find out why motorists on the 210 east were sitting motionless with our engines running, I heard, instead, the latest Letterman drama. Unable to simply report recent events, the station interviewed people at some early morning coffee shop thing. Really. If I weren't curious about why I was going nowhere, I would have switched back to NPR or at least the Stephanie Miller talk show. Here's what I heard before I really did switch stations without ever knowing why traffic once stopped completely suddenly started moving again.
"David Letterman," said the outraged man, "has a moral obligation to his audience."
A moral obligation?
I thought he had a contractual obligation to entertain. Moral obligation? I think not. Legal obligation? Yes, definitely, but no more so than do all of us. Follow the law or risk arrest or fines or other unpleasant stuff. Moral obligation? Get serious. Which, of course, Letterman can't do because he's paid to crack jokes.
Here's what I think. The lines between entertainment and politics have become blurred to the extent that we actually believe actors can become competent state, national, and world leaders and political leaders should be constantly and consistently entertaining. At this point do the people in coffee shops being interviewed by radio staff even know the meaning of 'moral obligation'. If we expect our entertainers to be morally responsible, we must first decide whose morality runs the show. Should we expect basic morality from our political leaders? That's also a slippery slope because morality is not constitutionally defined.
So, coffee shop guy, have another cup of Joe and enjoy the show. After all, what could be more entertaining than a professional comic dealing up front and center with a blackmailer?
Now that's funny.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What's Eating You?

Well, we counted our eggplants before they hatched. A few days ago, I went to look at the two beautiful little purple orbs and found that one of them had been gnawed to the nub by some sloppy creature who left shreds of its lunch in the dirt below. Aside from losing the fruit of our labors, I was a little discomfited by the thought of something big enough to chow down a small eggplant in one meal hanging out on the balcony next to our bedroom.

Well, I'll show it, I thought. One of the groundskeepers at Claremont told me that a good non-toxic way to protect fruits and vegetables from pests was to spray them with a solution of water and dishwashing liquid. He explained that they don't like the taste so they leave them alone and all you have to do is wash the soap off before you eat it. I tried that. Our creature went ahead and ate the other eggplant in the same manner. Apparently, he or she thought we had a special on the menu that day and were serving it a la parmigiana. Okay, I don't know much about gardening and I'm stumped. But we've got two more incipient eggplants and I'd really like to protect them. Any ideas out there?

Monday, September 21, 2009

I'm Worried

What if Dr. Gregory House, after his discharge from a New Jersey psychiatric facility, returns to work just a nice, brilliant doctor?
Someone needs to tell him that sanity is not all it is cracked up to be.
Oh, wait a minute.
He isn't real.
Never mind.
Still, sanity is not all it is cracked up to be.
If it were, the people who claim to be sane would be a lot happier.
And so I worry about Dr. House. If he's sane will he still be able to enjoy misery?
Stay tuned.
I know I will.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bathroom Graffiti

I like reading the graffiti in public bathrooms. I get a sense of the cosmic yearnings and the petty jealousies of a neighborhood.
Yesterday I found myself in a bathroom in a convenience store/gasoline station somewhere along Interstate 15 south of Ontario and north of Escondido.
Written on the walls were the usual I loves and I hates. And then there was this: Never stop believing.
Never stop believing.
Having no idea the intentions of the author of that particular graffiti, I chose my own meaning. Taking that meaning to heart, I will try to never stop believing in miracles and in my own ability to create those miracles.
Words can change lives. Even words written on the bathroom walls of roadside convenience markets.
Here's to hope.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Awake Ye Sleepers

At this mandated time of renewal rejoice in life's possibilities.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Social Justice Doesn't Just Happen

There was a time when songs changed the world -- songs of peace and hope and protest. There was a time when social justice was the agenda and not simply shouted sound bites. The sixties remain the watershed decade for social action on behalf of social justice. That agenda informed coffee house discussions and sit ins and peaceful marches.
The death yesterday of Mary Travers silences an amazing vocal gift. It also represents the beginning of another silence -- the voices and the energies of people who created a national awareness of sorrow and a national desire for change.
We all have hammers. What we do with them matters.
Let us continue to hammer out justice.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What A Voice - What A Loss

Mary Travers


The answer will always be blowin' in the wind.

Conception Day

Anyone in the mood for a meaningful romance? A city in Russia has set aside one day a year for conception. The population of the city has been lagging for quite some time so the residents of the city came up with the bright idea of creating a day for conception and made it inticing by offering to those parents bearing children a new car, a new home, scholarships plus many, many more intriguing gifts. This should help boost the town's citizenship. Good idea? What do you think?

Heaven Sent

I happen to live in one of the best neighborhoods ever with the greatest of neighbors. I have a special needs son and whenever there's an earthquake, fire or some pending disaster, they are always there - checking on us to make sure we're safe from harm. At night when they're home, they turn on their patio light. When I see that lit, I am at ease knowing someone is watching out for us. I have a specially equipped minivan, the main purpose of which is take my son to and from doctors' appointments. The van isn't driven every day, of my neighbors drives it back and forth to work one day a week to keep it in proper running order. If that isn't "being there", then I don't know what is. All I can say is thanks - your thoughtfulness and kindness makes life much easier for us! Heaven must have sent you.

Appearances May Be Deceiving

Today, I had an appointment in Beverly Hills and on my way home I thought it would be a good time to stop at Kosher Club on Pico and LaBrea to pick up some goodies for Jewish New Year, which will begin on Friday night. I anticipated that, two days before the holiday, it would be crowded. The aisles at Kosher Club aren't wide enough to get two carts by one another, so there is a fair amount of jostling.

Everyone was very nice to me. As I headed down one aisle, a woman with a cart was about to start on her way up the aisle, and she backed up and let me pass, with a pleasant smile. I was also getting a few sidelong stares. I was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans but that is nothing unusual for Kosher Club, where women's garb runs the gamut from my outfit to long skirts and hair coverings worn by Orthodox women.

When I looked in the mirror over the restroom sink, I realized the reason for all the glances. My t-shirt was imprinted with the words, "Presbyterian Disaster Assistance", a souvenir from my week working in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. The word "Presbyterian" has probably never popped up at Kosher Club before. Everyone was polite because they thought I was an outsider.

As I was checking out, one of the managers came out of the office, and looked at me. I recognized him from my days as a Hillel director, when we spent a fair amount of money on Kosher Club's food. As I saw he was about to recognize me and call out, "Hi, Rabbi, how are you?", I took my cart and left the store. A Presbyterian rabbi might just be too much for the folks at Kosher Club to take.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Speaking of Schisms

Once the dust had settled on the pitch pipe schism both new churches of a previous post seemed to settle down in new digs. Of course, one had music pitched to a particular starting note and the other had songs sung in whatever key happened to sail by. Time passed and then for whatever reason, the church on Deveraux Street vacated its premises.
Alortha Aston bought the property. Single handed and in her late seventies she started remodeling the place to turn it into her dream home sunken tub and all. I only saw the place once and it was looking pretty good. So did Alortha, for that matter all decked out in her work clothes and tool belt. Not a small undertaking for anyone -- turning a spiritual home into an actual home though one would think they should already be one and the same. At any rate just as Alortha was finishing her dream house it burned down and she wound up living in a mobile home on the barren banks of Roosevelt Lake.
I never knew what started the fire. Maybe Alortha accidentally hauled out the pitch pipe once owned and used by her brother-in-law. The rivers of old schisms apparently run deep.
Either that or she wasn't the electrician she tried to be.
Life like electricity is a risky business.

It's No Secret

A couple of weeks ago, Mary Walker Baron mentioned a secret parking street near Dodger Stadium that a friend had told us about. Two days after that, our friend tried to park on that secret street, couldn't find a space and accused us of spilling the secret. Never mind that, of the fifteen people who read this blog only five of them live in Southern California and only two of those care anything about baseball. Also, we never gave the location. Apparently, just thinking about a secret while blogging gives it away.

Turns out it's true. We were early to last night's game but just barely got the last space on the secret street and had to walk about a mile, thereby earning all the junk we ate at the ballpark. I warn you. Do not think while blogging. It won't be a secret any more.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Go USC Trojans Apparently

We got to our seats, free Dodger dogs and beer in hand, just in time to remain standing for the National Anthem played by -- go figure -- the USC Trojan Marching Band. There in front of the band, clenched fist raised to if nothing more force victory from defeat's grasp, stood the horseless Tommy Trojan himself. Come to find out the My Town section of Dodger stadium was full of USC folk. And there I was just across the aisle up until that moment of getting it oblivious to the whole USC night at Dodger stadium thing. That's what I get for throwing away all of those solicitations from my Masters in Social Work graduate school. So we didn't get the nifty t-shirts or the lanyards or the little pennants. In fact, to make that aisle even wider, we couldn't even exit the closest entrance on account of we didn't have the right ticket.
That's okay. Most of the marching band wound up sitting in close to our section. I've never attended a ballgame with a Sousa phone before.
And no aisle is wide enough to take from me the fact that I knew - actually knew in person - one of the early Tommy Trojan drum majors. He wore the helmet and everything and I knew him. In fact, during my sophomore year in high school I lived with the aunt of said Tommy Trojan drum major. Alortha Aston's sister, Omega Watts' son Cloin was that very guy. Quite an accomplishment for a young man from Globe, Arizona, in a day and age when young men did not openly yearn to become a Tommy Trojan drum major much less actually realize that yearning. Luckily Cloin came from a family celebrating unusual names as well as unusual behavior. Cloin Watts doubtless got his musical ability from his uncle Loather Hamilton who defied tradition by using a pitch pipe in the church for which he was a song leader. That pitch pipe created such a stir that the church divided into those who supported the pitch pipe and those who refused to embrace it. One of the factions moved to another town. Through it all Cloin just kept his helmeted, feathered head high and marched on.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Break's Over

Sometimes you just gotta step back and take stock. Stores do it on a regular basis. I used to help my Aunt Cassie take inventory at Brayton's Commercial Store where she worked for years. I was a regular after school fixture. During inventory time I got to read the numbers off of the shoe boxes and count the number of yardage frames left unbroken while Cassie logged what I reported. It was as awesome task. Sometimes the store even closed for a day or two so inventory could be completed. The job was that important.
So close up shop for a day or two and put your life marks in the ledger. Make sure they accurately reflect what you've done, what you've got, and what's on the to do list.
Without inventories Brayton's owner -- an affable guy named Sky Thurber -- would never have known the true life of his store.
Inventories tell us what to reorder and what to forget about.
All you need is a clip board and a sharpened pencil.
It's that time of year.

Missing The Point

In this summer of screaming and cavorting during which we turned what should have been and indeed what deserved to be a critical debate on social justice and social need into a carnival midway I think the main point was lost.
We don't need more health insurance. Health insurance is neither a fundamental need nor a fundamental right.
What we need is health care.
Health care is the issue and the need not health insurance.
There. I said it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Because That's The Way Things Work

At the beginning of this summer, we started a vegetable garden on our balcony. If it had been our main source of food, we'd have starved by now, unless two people can live on one tomato or pepper every week or so.

So on Sunday, as the previous post indicates, we joined a CSA, bringing bountiful amounts of fresh vegetables and fruit into our home.

Word apparently reached the balcony garden. Who says plants don't communicate?

This morning, I picked five tomatoes. The pepper plant is undergoing a growth spurt, and will likely produce a bumper crop in a week or so. And the eggplant, which till now has done nothing but sit there and soak up water has now produced two incipient fruit, see above.

Now if only the zucchini would get the message.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Support Agriculture In Your Community

Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.
That's all there is to it.
At the Eagle Rock Plaza's Sunday morning farmer's market a box of CSA produce costs $15.00 and is filled with melons and okra and squash and greens and herbs and cucumbers -- more than enough produce for two people.
Our particular CSA is the South Central Farmers' Cooperative based out of, you guessed it, South Central Los Angeles. The South Central Farmers' CSA program started on a 14 acre piece of property on Alameda at 41 Street and now links
locally grown produce to all members of Los Angeles, regardless of race, ethnicity, background, and economic status. By the way, those original 14 acres were bulldozed in 2006 to doubtless make room for yet another empty lot in South Central Los Angeles.
Local farmers need our support and we need organically grown produce. It's that simple. Check it out. Find a farmers' market near you and then locate the CSA booth.
You'll be doing yourself and the planet a favor.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Amarone and Murder

Some people might say than an Amarone is a wine to kill for so imagine my surprise when the wine showed up in Tess Gerritsen's most recent murder mystery, The Keepsake. But there it was almost at the end of the book. Regular Gerritsen character Maura Isles thinks of her uneaten grilled cheese sandwich left at home and the glass of wine now offered her. "It was a rich Amarone, so dark it appeared almost black in the parlor's firelight." I kind of had the book's ending figured out so there were no surprises there but imagine my surprise at the mention of this wine. I'm thinking that since Tess Gerritsen is a physician turned writer most of the medical stuff in her books is fairly right on. So is her description of and I'm assuming appreciation of Amarone.
The wine itself is a fluke. It was originally supposed to be a sweet wine called Recioto but the guy in charge forgot about it and allowed the grapes to continue fermenting until it lost all of its sweetness. Not wanting to toss the whole thing out, the new brew was named Amarone which apparently acutually means big bitter. In the scheme of wine things, Amarone is fairly new. Despite its new comer status, it's already made its mark in popular culture.
In the book Silence of the Lambs, Hanibal Lecter eats the census taker's liver with fava beans and Amarone. I know, in the movie he enjoyed a Chianti. Go figure.
If she had only mentioned the wine earlier in the book I might have poured myself a glass of Two Buck Chuck Red and pretended. The real stuff is pretty expensive.
It's still a good wine. And the book was good, too.