Sunday, November 30, 2014

Colored Lights Under the Dome of Dark

Things are different this year in more ways than one or even two. I piddled around most of the day, unpacking, doing laundry, catching up on email and so forth. I did a little shopping, too, mainly for the kids, and at one moment contemplated buying colored lights to hang somewhere in the house or outside. We're a white light kind of family, and there was a time when I thought colored lights were actually pretty atrocious. For some reason though, today, I couldn't take my eyes from those little globes that you see above, and I'm thinking of bucking tradition and buying a few strands. When I walked home, I realized, too, that despite the melancholy of "the season," I am looking forward to making my home look warm and welcoming, to seeing the lights in the houses and stores, to saying good-bye to this year and welcoming the next.

The great poet Mark Strand died the other day. Here's a good one of his:

Lines for Winter

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself —
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

Mark Strand (1934-2014)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Post Gratitude

The weekend passed in a blur, really. The boys, Sophie and I drove up to northern California and met my parents at my aunt's beautiful house near Palo Alto. My aunt is very old and very frail, and of the four sisters, only the youngest (my mother) and oldest (Aunt Yvonne) are alive. My Uncle Charles, who lives in Mississippi is also quite old and fragile. My own parents are still so vibrant, and I know that I take this for granted. Our relationship has its ups and downs, but I'm so grateful for their active presence in my life, for their support and for their love.  There's a terrible melancholy in leaving them, seeing how tied they are to my children and my children to them. The relationship between grand-children and their grand-parents is truly a love affair.

I felt grumpy over most of the weekend, precipitated, I guess, by the near 24-hour care of Sophie. I haven't traveled with her in years, and I know why. I had to be vigilant nearly all night because she doesn't sleep well and would have gone careening off the bed if I weren't there to wrestle her back down. It's difficult to not miss what I insist on calling a normal life when I'm out and about with Sophie. You must know what I mean.

I'm filled with a deep gratitude for my boys, Henry and Oliver. They have never lived a normal life, either, yet they help me instinctually and uncomplainingly. I have worked hard to not let them think they are responsible for taking care of their sister, but the older they get, the more understanding they are toward me, to the strains under which I operate. Sometimes I wince at their aide, wishing that it didn't have to be so. I struggle with that old cliche that well-meaning people dump on us. They're learning such compassion! I worry that one day they'll be on a psychiatrist's couch, wailing about their stunted childhoods, their stressed-out mother, their sister who demanded so much attention. Those thoughts make me falter on the tightrope where I've balanced, for the most part, for nearly twenty years.

It is what it is, is another cliche. I can't do much better.

Other than the Night From Hell, though, Sophie was pretty good. She had few seizures and really enjoyed riding in the car up to northern California and then back home. However much I struggle against it, her identity and mine are entwined. When I surrender to that fact, I really do feel bathed in light, filled with gratitude for having the honor to care for her.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Violins, Please

Don't let appearances deceive you. That might look like a gently mussed white hotel bed, the site of countless assignations, but it's actually the place that saw a battle far more intense than those between the sexes. Sophie and I "slept" there last night, at least for a couple of hours, not counting the three when she woke up with a start and proceeded to flail, kick arch her back, have a series of myoclonic jerks, give me a bloody lip, head-butt me, fling herself into the chair backs that I had placed to prevent her from falling out and otherwise wreak havoc on my beauty rest. I'm deeply grateful for my life and for all the privileges I have, but on nights like last, I dally with fully embracing atheism. Letting go, letting God just doesn't hack it. Then again, the persistence of dawn is surprisingly enough.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Northern California Thanksgiving

The kids and I drove through the dry and dusty hills up to Los Altos yesterday. What would normally have been a long one was shortened by The Teenager's excellent command of the wheel.

I had packed Sophie's drugs in the Laduree  bag that my friend Sarah had left when she visited some months ago. From Parisienne pastries to benzos and cannabis -- nice reprposing, no?

My aunt's dog Enrico took a liking to Sophie, and she to him.

Here's my father and his mini me:

I'll have more pictures and thoughts later. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving. I sure am grateful for this extraordinary life.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dispatch from the Revolution: Homeschooling Field Trip to Judson Glass and Memories of Pastry Making in NYC

Today, because we have all the time in the world (one day before we have to drive up to Silicon Valley, and I'm taking Sophie which means her first trip in years and thus a lot of packing and organizing), Oliver and I went on a homeschool field trip to a very cool place in Pasadena/Highland Park called Judson Studios. Judson Studios has been making stained and other decorative glass for well over a century, and the whole thing was fascinating.

We walked through each part of the studio and quietly observed the artists and glaziers and designers and craftsmen at work. Our tour guide was among the sixth generation of Judson's to work in the studio, and he explained the process of turning glass into windows, both colored and clear. At present, they were working on one of the biggest windows they'd ever gotten contracted to do -- a basketball court-sized stained window depicting Jesus, arms outstretched. It's destined for a mega-church somewhere in the heartland.

Yikes, is all I'll say about that.

Fascinating, right?

When the tour was finished, Oliver and I had lunch and then joined the others for a glass-blowing workshop in Highland Park.

 That, too, was fascinating, and despite being a pretty decent pastry chef in my day, including a steady piping hand and the ability to blow and shape sugar, it's damn hard to heat and blow glass. Oliver, of course, had a steady hand and those saxophone windpipes, so his piece was far superior to mine.

I'm not a woman who wants the public -- even ya'll -- to see what I look like blowing glass, so I'm not going to include a photo. Oliver didn't have the decency to refrain from taking a video, either, and I'll leave that horror flick up to your imagination.

It's important to maintain delusions and illusions.

It's for your own good.

I will show you what today reminded me of, though.

That's me and Mr. Kwak, my genius fellow-worker at a big New York City food show in the early 90s. I was probably wearing my glasses because we'd been up, working all night long. That white piece behind me is sculpted WHITE CHOCOLATE. I'm serious, ya'll. That's the kind of stuff we did. The pastry chef, Michael Hu (I wonder what happened to him?) was, essentially, an artist and food his medium. I think my job for that panel was to keep rubbing the pecs of the Greek gods until they shone. Mr. Kwak and Chef Hu were real artists, though. I appreciated their artistry, but I was never one for turning food into art. For my entry in the food show, I made a stained glass window with poured sugar, inspired by a Jean Cocteau. I'm going out on a limb to show it to you because it was the definition of pathetic:

I hadn't thought of that person, that me, in a very long time.

I'm still not showing you a picture of me blowing glass, though.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Post Ferguson Gubbinal

The helicopters circled for what seemed like hours, and I texted back and forth with my sister in St. Louis, with a friend in Oakland and one in New York. Henry sounded despairing as people his age can sound when they'd rather shove it all under the rug of dumb. This country is dumb, he said. I hate this country. He threw his lacrosse ball up against the house, caught it and threw it again and again. Oliver mused on the cop's fate. I bet he wishes he were in jail, he said. The boys argued over whether the helicopters were news or LAPD. There's a Little Caeser's burnt to the ground! Oliver yelled from the living room. Later, There's people lying in the middle of the intersection of La Brea and Wilshire, Mom, Henry reported.

Wallace Stevens' refrain from Gubbinal won't ease up in my own head, the poem's melding of imagination and possibility (that strange flower, that tuft of jungle feathers) with our half-baked perceptions (the world is ugly, the people are sad).

Run to the hills with your poetry.


That strange flower, the sun,
is just what you say.
Have it your way.

The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.

That tuft of jungle feathers,
That animal eye,
Is just what you say.

That savage of fire,
That seed,
Have it your way.

The world is ugly,
and the people are sad.

Wallace Stevens

Malas and Moonstones

I've taken to wearing malas around my neck, 108 beads to meditate on and a moonstone on my finger, smooth and clear rather than milky whose depths hint at other worlds. These might be the trappings of spiritual materialism, but I don't care. These are the days. I walked to the grocery store today under brilliant blue skies, through dry brown sycamore leaves, the Los Angeles fall a blaze of red here and there, the sun warm. A man approached me on the way home, his quick step, the backpack, his dark hair, the moment when you wonder who moves to the side first, I did, and my eyes slid to the left and his to the right but only one eye, the other fixed in place, like the moonstone on my finger, smooth and clear rather than milky.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Books and Bakes

I've been plotting and scheming in my mind for quite some time to establish a sort of reading and eating salon and this weekend, with the help of my sister Jennifer and my friend Moye, I designed my first announcement and put it up on Facebook. Within about 30 minutes, the ten spots were filled, so I added another date and those are just about filled up, too. In case you're in California in January, and particularly in Los Angeles, I'll show you what I advertised, so you can sign up as well! I plan on having these groups twice monthly and envision a lively literary thing where we eat, drink, make merry and discuss some literature, facilitated by me. Part of my life plan is to morph into Gertrude Stein and be surrounded by interesting people all while paying no attention to what I'm wearing or how short my hair is or how monolithic my body and head (literally, as I don't want a big head figuratively). I'd welcome an Alice B. Toklas, too, but it'd be a stretch for me to go all the way, if you know what I mean.


A Literary and Food Salon

January 9th, 2015 from 7 to 10 pm
January 23rd, 2015 from 7 to 10 pm

Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Are you a lover of literature but stuck in a book group that never really discusses the book? Are you a lover of food but want to cut through the pretension of the foodie world? Do you revel in devouring both beautiful fiction and food, especially when they intersect? Are you looking for a unique gift for your loved ones or yourself? Come join a community of like-minded souls and share your love of literature and food at my first Books & Bakes literary and food salon. Salon size is limited to 10, so rsvp early! A light dinner, drinks and stimulating conversation are included.
$75.00 per person includes facilitated discussion about Strange Pilgrims, related food and alcohol.

Email Elizabeth Aquino at for more information

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Three-Line Movie Review

Force Majeure

This very dry and very smart black comedy tells the story of a Swedish family on vacation in the French alps, all middle-classy, struggling with the usual weight of children, marriage and middle age until something happens that literally shakes them all up. I don't want to give away the plot, but if you like really smart movies about the constraints of marriage, about wondering what the hell we're all doing, about what we might do during an incipient disaster, about what we're actually made of and the often absurd shackles of bourgeois lifestyles, you will be as entertained and admiring as I. Why do Americans make movies that cost gazillions of dollars yet are never this good?

More 3-Line Movie Reviews

Gone Girl
Saint Vincent

Get on Up
Begin Again
The Immigrant

Cesar Chavez

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Labor Day 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Listening to Ray Bradbury on the Ventura Freeway

There must be something in books, 
something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; 
there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 

Since my carpool in the mornings fell through, I've been spending a lot of time in traffic on one of Los Angeles' most notoriously congested highways. The ride to Henry's school is manageable, but the ride back can take more than twice as long, and it's difficult not to feel rage rising up, the rage that is born of rue for choices made. Something about the silence of cars, the endless glint of steel below the bluest of skies tinged pink with a still rising sun, the muffled horns and set faces of the inhabitants makes for desolation, at least for me. Why do I live here? I can't listen to music. I can't listen to the talking heads of commercial radio, nor the droning ones of NPR, and while I've learned to surrender my rage, to breathe deeply through it in a sort of mindful daze, it's been the husky voice of Tim Robbins reading Fahrenheit 451 that's literally erased it, turned frustration and a self-absorbed samsara into -- dare I admit it -- anticipation of more hours spent on the road listening?

Yes. I'll say it. Since I've been listening to the great actor Tim Robbins read the great writer and human being Ray Bradbury's sinister yet beautiful masterpiece Fahrenheit 451, I look forward to getting into my car every morning at 6:45. I spend the first half hour in the passenger seat with my son Henry who is earnestly and quite capably learning how to drive. After I drop him off, I spend the next hour or so, along with millions of other humans, sitting in my sexy white Mazda inching south on the Ventura Freeway, and listening to the riveting story of Guy Montag. I read Fahrenheit 451 a million years ago, and despite a memory like a steel trap, I honestly don't remember it other than the burning books stuff. I don't know if it's the time in my life, my stifled, seeping-out rage, the city I find myself struggling in or just the damn exquisite prose and grim prescience of the story, but listening to this novel is knocking my Birkenstocks off.

***Disclosure: Audible gave me a free download of the book but with no obligation to write about or review it. Thank you, Audible, because I know I never would have done so, and I'm grateful to not only avoid the extreme frustration of navigating the highways of Los Angeles, but Bradbury's novel is a work of art that I'd forgotten. For anyone interested, exclusive audio excerpts of these new Audible Studios Bradbury titles are available at

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sustenance and Salvation

Greg Gray Cloud, being led away from Senate Chambers

Grandfather look at me, I am standing here struggling, 
I am defending Grandmother Earth and I am chasing peace.

Grey Cloud, 
translated from a Lakota unci maka wiwayang wacipi song

I'm not sure who is unmoved, always, by the plight of Native Americans in this country, -- both by their history and their present struggles -- but surely only those with cruel and hard natures. Yesterday's close vote against the Keystone XL pipeline was a relief to those of us who have even the tiniest bit of concern for our environment, and maybe a slap in the face to the oligarchs and plutocrats that hold all the power, and when I read the story of Greg Gray Cloud, arrested for unruly behavior in the Senate Chambers, I felt the tiniest bit of hope in what otherwise is my growing cynicism and disdain for anything pertaining to government and business in our country.  That even Elizabeth Warren (whom I deeply respect and admire) was a tad undone by his chanting gave me a thrill. That Gray Cloud was arrested with a court date in December gives me another one, to tell you the truth -- a diversion, perhaps from the grotesquerie that parades as democracy.

Here's the article and video.  Wica Agli is a group created to bring back traditional masculinity values and to eradicate violence against women and children.  And thanks to Rebecca for posting it!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Comic Interlude

Or is it comical? Who the hell cares, anyway. The play must and does go on, despite my wranglings and tears. At least we don't live in Buffalo where I heard they got more snow in a couple of days than they expected for the entire year.That's some holy shit muttering right there, if not explaining. I wonder how many climate change deniers live up in old Buff A Lo.


Out in the garden today, Oliver was rummaging around the vegetables that are growing like crazy in our one raised bed. We've got lettuce up the wazoo, chard and mint and broccoli and cauliflower and since the sun always shines, and our water restrictions are restricted to grass, the vegetables are way too numerous for our little carbohydrate loving family to consume. Oliver, being the entrepreneur, has ideas to pick, wash and sell for drastically low prices and when I gave him the ok, he set to it. Very quickly he shouted for me to come outside to see all the mushrooms growing under the lettuce and throughout the bed. It's so gross, Mom! he said. Look at how the black stuff is sticking to the bottoms of the leaves! And I, city girl extraordinaire, bent over and looked and sure enough saw a hell of a lot of what I'd call fungus, and like they say, that ain't right. And then like the city girl extraordinaire that I am, I protested Oliver's easy picking up handfuls of the stuff and throwing it into the dirt. Isn't that going to spread the spores? I asked him and then I remembered that I'm the parent, so I told him to stop picking it, to wait until Your Father can check it out, and in the meantime go inside and really wash your hands with hot soap and water. Again, being the city girl extraordinaire, I also told him to rinse it off with the garden hose before you go inside, visions of spores traveling throughout our home, perhaps giving Sophie added insult to her already stressed brain (even more stressed by the recent wean of her Bad Benzo). Oliver obeyed me and went straight to the bathroom. I fiddled around with the papers on my bed and desk, left there earlier when it all got to be too much.

Suddenly, Oliver shouted out, MOM! The mushrooms are doing something to my hands! and my heart sunk or seized in anticipation of skin being flayed or deadly mushroom plague or whatever the hell happens with fungus, and in the same moment I ran to the hallway and Oliver ran out of the bathroom, holding his arms up high, coated with white stuff and I gasped and he burst out laughing and said that I had the most terrified look on my face that he'd ever seen.

Then I beat him halfway to Sunday, went outside, collected the mushrooms, fried them up in some butter, sprinkled them with some sea salt and served them for dinner.

Disability/Healthcare Systems Equations in The Greatest Country On Earth

One arbitrary Medi-Cal denial form from months ago that isn't really a denial but more a shifting of benefits from one agency to another, yet neither agency knows which one

Call all these numbers. Be told to call back. Call another number. Be told a different number. Be told another number. Get through to recording. Be told that when your Medi-Cal identification has letters, in addition to numbers, this is what you do: Press *. Press key that has letter on it. Press number 1,2,3,4, for whatever position that letter might be, press rest of numbers and repeat previous instructions if another letter occurs, press #. Make mistake. Hang up. Start over. Get through and speak with telephone operator who can't help. Get new number.

The BIG FILE CABINET with twenty years worth of paperwork, roughly representing above factors times twenty (for years)

A tear-stained woman, clutching a mala in her teeth who has decided to let it rest for a bit since no one has answered her question.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Shouting for Help

I missed two days of posting, probably for the first time in six years, but it felt right to take a break, and just watch lacrosse for two days. It was a fine weekend, albeit exhausting, and while not a real sports mother, I've grown to like watching my son play lacrosse. Since the games are only one hour, there's no time to feel bored, and the venue for the tournament was beautiful, albeit a repurposing of a landfill. The skies were big with dragon clouds, Bob Dylan's song on repeat in my head, and since I know few people on Henry's team, I was left largely to myself.


I heard this over and over, shouted in hoarse, deep man-boy voices during the games.


I heard that, too, in even deeper and louder shouts from the coaches on the sidelines.

The boys -- young men, really -- scramble to help one another, seem to know implicitly who needs help, when and how much. The game is often a violent one, and when too violent, yellow flags fly, a boy is sent off the field to kneel in contrition for however many seconds the umpire assigns, after those seconds pass, he stands up and runs back out to join in chasing that small, hard white ball, scooping it up, passing it to another boy whose position is to race toward the net, aim toward it through the phalanx of players helping out their goalie.

Get ready because other than dragon clouds and only knowing careless love, being alone on a lacrosse field for two days under the wide blue sky calls for more introspection and possibly, even, a strained metaphor from the likes of non-athletic me.

It struck me that shouting for help and ordering help during a lacrosse game is completely acceptable, but that many of us who care for kids with disabilities or our aged parents for years and even decades,  or those with chronic illnesses themselves, rarely ask for help, much less shout for it. Many of us, when we do ask for help, do so reluctantly, whether it's for money, for relief, for an open ear or arms to hold us. The longer you go, the more difficult it is to recognize your need for help and to ask for it. I'd venture to say, too, that most people don't even realize that we might need help, probably because we don't ask for it, or because they think we've got it all down, at this point.  I believe that in the absence of crisis, people feel a sort of compassion fatigue when it comes down to dealing with people like us. I confess to feeling a gnawing resentment about this and a quiet acceptance. Both feelings -- resentment and acceptance -- come and go, the one small, hard and painful, much like the lacrosse ball, the other majestic in its breadth, much like the clouds and that sky and the lonely path ahead.

Maybe it's time to start shouting. Maybe it's time for you, too, to shout for help. Maybe it's time for you to shout for others to help. Maybe it's time for you to help.


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