Naming Conventions

I met Chris for dinner after I went to the bank about some of our money matters. We were catching up on each other’s day:

“The guy at the bank kept calling you my husband. I told him you weren’t…”

“Old habits die hard.”

“I guess ‘significant other’ hasn’t quite caught on. It’s kind of formal, anyway.”

“What would you want them to call me?”

I smiled adoringly at him. “You would be my ‘old man’.”

“Oh right. Then would they call you my ‘old lady’?”

“I prefer to be your ‘queen’….I guess they could call you my ‘prince charming’.”

Chris got that funny look on his face, the look that means his funny bone is clicking into place. “…do you think that if a real royal family, and you had a son…?”

“NO!” I said. “That’s not allowed.”

“Why not? there could be a prince charming the first…”

“No, it’s against the rules.”

“What rules? If you were King, you could do what you wanted.”

“You could not! The same rules that let you be King would dictate what sort of names you could use to name the princes.”

“…and then he would grow up to be King Charming…”

My turn now. “Of course if it were an Emperor…maybe in China…”

“The Ming Dynasty?”

“Yeah…Emperor Char Ming.”

_Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim_ by David Sedaris

Sedaris’s writing makes it okay for all of us losers to admit we are. His “SantaLand Diaries” was an expose of humiliation. He was like superhero, with a big ‘L’ on his chest.

He managed to take all the embarrassing things, the sorts of things we don’t want to admit to, and make them so wickedly witty they are badges of honor.

It inspires me; makes me brave to try to write my humiliations.

This latest offering, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, reaches a little deeper.

The fact is, there are some humiliations that you can be funny about, and some that you just can’t. This book takes it there. David opened a vein for us.

There are some side-splitter stories, more of Christmas in “Six to Eight Black Men” that made me laugh till I cried. But Sedaris goes on to talk about his first pubescent sleepover, a terrifying experience fraught with danger for a fledgling homosexual. The tension of his fantasy-come-true triumph during strip poker was genius.

He told a sad story of his estrangement from his youngest sister, of his hopelessness at being the kind of brother she needed. He visits his fears and anguishes over being gay in a very straight world. His obsessive-compulsive disorders take him places he does not want to go.

I like this book. I love Sedaris. I am so glad that he keeps writing. I hope he never stops.

Christmas eve dinner

It never occurred to me before, but there are some people who do not celebrate Christmas Eve. For some people, it’s just the day before Christmas.

In my family, there has been a big set of traditions regarding Christmas Eve.

First of all, we open our gifts on Christmas Eve. It has to do with my family’s rejection of Santa Claus, based on religious grounds that he takes away emphasis from Christ. I think my oldest brother was permitted the myth, but by the time I came along the religious fever had pitched a battle against the jelly bellied father of Christmas.

Not given the opportunity to believe the story, I didn’t really miss it. The fact was, we opened the presents a day earlier than some others, and that seemed a good trade off.

Since we did not do away with the stockings, I felt that it drew the festivities out nicely, to have presents on Christmas eve and then extra little presents in our stockings on Christmas morning, and candy!

The stockings always had a mandarin orange in the toe, to weight it down, and the rest was filled with candy and little toys. Naturally, we ate the candy for breakfast. And we’d eat the orange too, to get something healthy in there.

We could also eat any leftover cookies or anything given to us as Christmas treats for breakfast. Mom would make a real breakfast too, but that would take a long time to actually hit the table. The cookies, candy canes, and fudge would be the first course.

That’s not to say that there were not non-sugary traditional Christmas goodies in the mix. But those types of things would be served as appetizers after Christmas Eve dinner and then later, before Christmas dinner itself.

That was part of our Christmases; we always had lots of hors d’oeuvre-y things sitting around to snack on. Our appetites were never in danger of being spoiled; my family could always eat.

This Christmas I spent away from my family. But I take my traditions with me.

This year I made Christmas Eve dinner for Chris’s family. They had no Eve tradition. So I made our traditions for their dining pleasure.

Of course, you can never go home again. Things have to be changed with the times.

First of all, Chris’s family is not the gluttons mine are. The have appetites that can be “spoiled” for dinner.

No hors d’oeuvres.

But there is the traditional Caesar salad my mother always use to make. I can rip up the romaine myself and mix the dressing, and grate the hard boiled eggs and fry the bacon crumbles.

Wait. Maybe these people don’t like the eggs, and I’m sure one of them doesn’t eat pork. Better put the good stuff on the side.

Okay, I can still make the clam chowder. Clam chowder, very American, very familiar food. Hey, even Marie Callendar’s serves Clam Chowder. These people will like it.

My family’s tradition of clam chowder is a modification of a previous tradition. Apparently, in the “Old County” (I don’t know if that was supposed to be Germany or England, my grandmother had a mix of both) the tradition was oyster stew. Mom made it for us once, and us kids were horrified at what appeared to be a boiled eyeball floating in broth. After rejecting the instructions to swallow it whole, I cut a slice off. Black gritty stuff oozed out.

We talked Mom into creating a new tradition of clam chowder, as an alternative shellfish soup. It took, especially since my mom and brothers enjoyed going clamming. We would often have clam chowder made of the clams we had caught and gutted ourselves.

But with Chris’s family, when this menu item was revealed as the main course, someone asked if there would be ‘something else–in case I don’t feel like clams.”

Great. So, I’ll need another course for these delicate appetites. What can I be sure that these people will actually eat? They are a foreign culture to me, really. What do Middle Americans eat?

Hamburger Helper?
Some kind of Velveeta product?

I went for Shake ‘n’ Bake, green Jell-O, and white rolls. I do want to respect their traditions.

As it happens, there is a tradition of green Jell-O from my mom as well. For many many years, mom would always make green Jell-O with shredded carrots. It wasn’t until my brother married, that my new sister-in-law finally asked the question, “If you never eat this stuff, why do you keep making it?”

It was true. We never quite ate the shredded carrot Jell-O. It just comforted us with its presence. We switched out the carrots for pineapple, and voila, a traditional comfort food became edible.

So we have soup, we have salad; we have a main course, and two side dishes. But we still need a dessert.

My first impulse was to make plum pudding. I have a really easy recipe for it, and many people are surprised to discover this much mentioned and seldom seen traditional food is actually cake.

But I am in a warm and gentle climate; L.A. in December is citrus country. People have been shoving grocery bags of grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, lemons and pomellos at me all week.

It is not an option to refuse these fruits. People feel guilty that they cannot consume the fruit of their yards, and feel strongly that if only everyone could do their part, the fruit would be eaten no problem.

So, I came home on Friday with about two dozen lemons in three varieties. What do you do with so many lemons?

Since it was 80 degrees outside, lemonade seemed like a good choice, but then, I thought a lemon meringue pie would be perfect.

I took special care with everything, and spent a full day and a half, making the soup and the salad and raising the dough for the rolls, and shaking the chicken and whipping meringue.

The piecrust took the longest, I will confess.

In my own mouth, everything tasted glorious. Except the shake ‘n’ bake, but some things are acquired tastes. I got to use herbs from my own garden in the chowder–sage, thyme, and marjoram–and I used smoked clams for extra deliciousness.

We opened a bottle of Riesling that I had purchased on our last trip in Germany. It was yummy, even if the flecks of burnt cork floating in my vintage wine glasses were blamed on dirt from the poinsettia centerpiece.

Never fear, there is enough in the bottle to pour the offending dirt speck/cork fleck-tainted liquid down the drain and get a new glassful. I choked back my objections to such waste, and things proceeded apace.

The final result came in, with no one audibly complained or making those little breathy noises that indicate disgust. Everyone ate something of everything, too. Chris himself, as instructed, told me everything was good.

I responded, “Once more, with feeling.”

“It’s good, baby.”

I think it was a success. Truly, my only regret is that there were not more leftovers that I could enjoy later.

Merry Christmas, Everybody!

_A Gene Autry Christmas_

I love Gene Autry. “The Singing Cowboy”–I sometimes think how the world would be different if America had chosen to embrace Autry instead of John Wayne. If a seranading, happy, snappy-dressed Autry could have been the standard of manhood instead of the Taciturn grunting John Wayne, the world would be so much more beautiful.


Well, Autry made the hit “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, so of course he would have a Christmas album. He had his hand in two other top christmas songs: “Frosty the Snowman” and “Here comes Santa Claus”, taking three spots on the top 20 most played Christmas songs.

This is a great album from a great artist. Merry Christmas everyone!

Talking and Listening– _The Art of Conversation_ by Benedetta Craveri, translated from the Italian by Teresa Waugh

There was a time when formal conversation was a highly respected and desirable art. For the rich upper class with nothing better to do than entertain themselves with their own exclusive company, being interesting, inoffensive and, if you can manage it, witty, seemed just about the epitome of human grace.

The period of the salon it was, an era described in The Age of Conversation by Benedetta Craveri, translated from the Italian by Teresa Waugh. My heart squeezes with envy at the thought of those drawing rooms. There is a reason they called that time the age of enlightenment. Conversation is one of the very best ways to learn anything. To be exposed to new ideas and perspectives.

America was born during the enlightenment. Interestingly, the age of conversation and enlightenment was a thing that suggested its own demise. America’s crazy ideas spelled the end of the upper class. The concept of a class who did not need to produce anything but conversation was rejected by the conversations that ensued.

America had work to do. America, and everywhere, had projects to start and research to do and the world to change. They did not have time to merely sit and converse. That has continued forward to this day.

But that didn’t mean the conversations had become unnecessary. Humans need to talk. They need to clear their psychic buffers and build on half conceived ideas. I think it might be nearly as essential as sleep.

It might be time to take a page from those salons again. Craveri writes “talent for listening was more appreciated than one for speaking. Exquisite courtesy restrained vehemence and prevented quarrels.”

I, for one, would like to prevent quarrels. World peace would be a little closer, if we take this idea as true, if listening could have that effect.

There are two people who have been working on this exact issue. I don’t know if they have read Craveri’s book, but Bill and Liz have taken a chunk of their lives to bike around the U.S. and wear a sign that says:

Talk to Me

These guys knock my socks off. I first heard about them on “This American Life”, the “Say Anything” episode. Bill and Liz sat on a busy Manhattan street holding their sign. People just came up and talked to them about anything.

Imagine my shock and delight to actually see with my own eyes these two fabulous people at the Los Angeles Book Fair last year. They sat with their sign and I walked over and talked to them!

I asked them about TAL, what they thought of Ira Glass, and barely restrained myself from asking for their autograph. They did, however, ask for mine, and my email address.

They surprised me with their sweetness. They really seemed sincere and interested in what people had to say. How could people maintain that kind of interest after so long?

I really wanted to get them to talk to me, actually. I thought they were fascinating. When I told them where I lived (Glendale), Liz told me she was part Armenian and had promised to go visit Glendale on their trip(Glendale’s population is more than 50% Armenian). I recommended some busy spots and a bus line to take to get there.

I tore myself away, at last. These guys are so great! I can barely get my mind around what they have chosen to do. I asked them about what was “next”, what they wanted to make of their experiences. They seemed not to have concrete plans.

In some ways, I think that’s good. Commercializing their endeavor could ruin the integrity of it, and they seemed to be so sincere.

I got an email from them. They have circled the lower 48 states on their bikes with their sign. Check out their website:

Ponder this, my friends. What does it mean to really listen?

No school like the old school–Jam On This! The Best of Newcleus

In that dark age when Disco was ready to die but not quite dead, Newcleus came on the scene. All the fun silliness of the disco era is wrapped up in this album, but none of the tired stale air of what disco became. This album is full of all the excitement of what rap and hiphop became.

It is dated, but to my mind it doesn’t detract at all. According to the liner notes, these guys still loved the Disco music. They were only trying to take it to a new level.

Newcleus, of course, is famous for saying “wikiwikiwiki”. That was their vocal imitation of record scratching, which they themselves avoided. The other MCs of the time were consantly scratching at the turntable, and Newcleus just mocked it.

I love their self-referential sarcasm. This is now one of my favorite albums. Electronic music is one of my most favorite kinds of music, and this is some proto electronica. It seems to me to be like a sort of acoustic electronica, if there could be such a thing. It’s so low-tech, it is almost no tech.

How to build a sandbox with wheels, for easier Ostrich travel

I’ve been saying that I like my new job, and I do. I still do even after 5 months. It’s a kinder gentler world here, and I still don’t quite believe that the candy coating is not covering some bitter pill.

But everybody seems happy, and not even creepily so. They complain about dumb stuff and behave like fairly normal people.

Yesterday, however, I heard about a new friend that had just quit. Man gathered up the pictures of his family and walked out with a wave.


He had even transferred here very, very recently, bought a home and all that. And he walked out with a wave. I am inclined to consider him a goober.

It stuns me, that dude would just leave. Isn’t it part of being a grown up, to have patience and foresight to know that the bad times are temporary and not to make hasty decisions?

If you have to leave the job, leave it on your own terms. You can’t just quit without a fight. Okay, so your boss/co-worker/customers are giving you problems. Face them! Deal with it! Come up with solutions and come out ahead.

Work problems, like automobile problems, do not go away if you ignore them. They usually pop up again at inopportune times. Catch them early.

Don’t ignore the flashing red dashboard light.

_Once Upon a Mattress_

It’s a musical that started out Off-Broadway, then moved onto Broadway, and now has been on TV and will very soon be for sale on a DVD near you.

I saw it this weekend on the “Wonderful World of Disney”. Carol Burnett, who starred as the princess in the orignal off broadway performance, got to be the evil mother in the TV version.

It’s a fairy tale story, the one about the Princess and the Pea. Tracy Ullman was the princess and the Pea played itself.

I really liked this production. It has music, it has dancing. It has Carol Burnett and Tracy Ullman! I mean, really!

It’s a great DVD to get if you have kids. It’s the kind of story that works great for kids and has enough intelligence to play well for the adults who have to watch along.

I don’t know if I’d buy the DVD, but then again I don’t have kids. If I did, I would get it for sure.

the good news

Skellig the cat went to the vet to get his blood sugar tested over a 12 hour period. This long of a visit was really not to his liking.

He is a fierce cat. When he does not like something, he will take action.

End result: a sedated cat

actually, the end result was a cat that got a higher dosage prescription of insulin which has turned him back into the healthy cat he has always been.

He is less affectionate and more playful than he was while sick. He’s back to himself basically.

I still have to inject him every 12 hours, but he takes it like a hero, not even flinching when the needle goes in.

Hooray. One more hurdle crossed.

The next big scare is when we decide to go on a vacation and leave him in the care of someone else.

Adventures in blood sugar

I got a glucometer. I wanted to try to test my cat’s blood sugar.

My poor cat. He loves me, he trusts me. He doesn’t understand what I’m doing to him.

I have read up on what this is supposed to be like. I am supposed to read the instructions on how to set up the glucometer.

I did that.

I am supposed to load up the microlance. It had a one button spring that

I did that.

I even called the 800 number and spoke to Hattie about it. She affirmed that I had done everything correctly.

But after wrestling with my cat, and using the button that shoots out a stabbing needle, I could not get any blood out of his foot pad.

I had to resort to the ear. But the microlance didn’t seem to be jumping out far enough. I set it to jab further.

That made the cat jump. And made the lance give this huge scratch on his poor kitty ear.


I could not get enough blood to do the test.

after all this, the time for the cat’s injection had arrived.

He was not interested in seeing me for a while. After peering suspiciously around the corner at me, he relented and came up for his treats and injection.

He took one treat and then wiggled away. He stood at the other end of the room and glared at me. He was saying with all his kitty body:

I Object.

At last he returned, with great dignity and was injected.

This home blood testing is not going to work out.

And he really hates the vet.