Thursday, December 31, 2009

May the dawn come

Death is not extinguishing the light,
it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.

-- Robindranath Tagore

The Happiness Project

So, here's something I like for the new decade:

Gretchen Rubin has spent a year in the pursuit of happiness. Her findings are in her new book "The Happiness Project."  Here she has a very informative post about making New Year's resolutions (yep we all say we will).  And here is a rather lovely piece she did for HuffPo.  You can click on the link in the right hand column for more information

We Are All Connected

T√łnsberg - En Sommervind

Wonderful vintage footage of summer in Norway. Nothing, really, has changed.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Love, actually

Another day at the beach, this one rainy, a little gloomy, but for the lights in Big John's little house. I took the dogs with me this time, and they were relegated to their bed upstairs, safe for sandy paws after a wet beach run, and away from Fred and Ginger, who were not happy with their canine visitors.  We watched "Love Actually" -- the Maharishi's and my favorite ever Christmas movie and apparently Sandy & John's too.  While John slept peacefully downstairs we laughed (and wept).

Is there truly a better line in any movie than "Eight is a lot of legs, David" -- said by Natalie's mother to David, the Prime Minister -- in any movie. Ever?

It sounds like a celebration, doesn't it? Turkey pot pie, tomatoes and basil with mozarella, a salad of organic greens with feta dressing, the greens gathered by Andi at the farmer's market.  Small, exquisite strawberries too.  The nurse, Bernetta (Sandy called her "Beretta" after the family's gun enthusiasts) sat with John, delivering the morphine on the hour.  For a moment his eyes opened, blinked at us. "He can hear you," she said and we spoke to him.  What do you say other than giving permission to leave?  Staring at his hollowed face, the sunken eyes, the waxy skin, the beatific expression you are lost for words. What possible words can we utter in this situation? "We love you. It's going to be fine. We'll take care of each other, of Sandy, of everyone.  It's okay to go." We're stumbling over our words, over each other. We have no script or text book to buoy us through these waters.

There is hesitation.  It's hard to not believe in something else, something better than this. The boys can't see their father this way.  Peaceful but not himself. Serene, yes, but holding on somehow, his pulse still beating solidly against his bony wrists.  I think of my father when his dogs died, telling me about grassy fields that go forever, sunlit, with rabbits to chase for miles and miles and miles.  So there must be a human version of this heaven.  I tell him to find my father, that he will help him.  "I told him to look for my Dad" I said to Sandy. "I said he'd give him a glass of Scotch."  She laughs loudly, sweetly. "Tell him there's a glass of vodka and he'll be there in a shot" she says.

Nothing is worse or better than these days.  "My father would have loved this" says the Maharishi.  "The house is full of people. He always wanted the house full of people."

Thank you, dear readers, for all your messages of love and support and for your prayers.  I am (as trite as it sounds) so very, very grateful.

Airplane by the Sea

The Maharishi stayed at the beach again last night. He busied himself making turkey pot pie for Sandy.  His father slept peacefully. The morphine has been upped to 40mgs every hour on the hour and so now he is in what they call, not particularly euphemistically, terminal sedation.  The nurses say it is a matter of hours.  He is peaceful. This is what J says.  The lines on his face have gone. His skin is waxy, the breathing is easier, slower. The house is quiet.  And the cats, of course, know what's going on. Ginger is sleeping at the end of Big John's bed. She has made herself a little corner, out of his way, but close enough to him. Fred keeps watch upstairs.

The house is on two floors. Originally it was four apartments, the two largest at the front. Big John owned the whole building, but let out two apartments and kept a single for guests.  Now the two front apartments have been linked by a staircase and they live in both as one unit.  Both look out onto the Marina Peninsula beach, with Venice Beach slightly to the north of them.  The beach is deserted in the winter. One or two people lay out, desperate for their December vitamin D, a few more come out with their dogs at sunset.  It's incomprehensible for people living in cold climates. Why wouldn't you go to the beach all the time? "Why aren't you always brown?" my mother used to ask.  Because we have our seasons too.  It seems more appropriate, somehow, in summer to while away hours sprawling on the sand, swimming, reading, doing very little.

From upstairs in Big John's house, you can see everything -- the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the red and white towers of the South Bay power station, planes taking off over the ocean from LAX, Point Dume and Zuma to the north. And every night for the last few days the sunsets have been shocking -- passionate, loud, glorious -- as if painted by William Blake.  The night before last, the mountains in Malibu turned black, the sky orange, and the Maharishi thought he was in Hawaii.

There are a few planes, a news helicopter, some boats, oil tankers far on the horizon, but mostly it's still and quiet and peaceful.

He's always slept in the back of the house. It's dark, only a few windows, despite the new skylight.  The front of the house is light, with windows stretched around three walls, all looking out on the beach, and shutters too, which he opened and closed with military precision (and the hour did not change, even if the light did).  It's here at the front of the house where he's laying.  The hospital bed has taken the place of his old brown leather chair, but it's in the same position with the same view. His favorite place. He was curled up on his side facing the ocean when I left him last night, thin oxygen tube in his nose, thin white sheet covering him, mouth slightly open, breathing in and out.  He's tiny now.  It's not him anymore. I am reminded of this:
"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body."
-- C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Neutral Milk Hotel

My favorite album (of 1998) this year:
In the Aeroplane over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
available on iTunes
(enormous gratitude to Jeff Gordinier for this find)


I have risen (proofed) pain au chocolat all night so that the children can wake up to the smell of delicious baked things (and of course, so I can eat them).  My beloved, the Maharishi, is staying at the beach with my mother-in-law.  His all-night vigil will mean that she, finally, might sleep.  For the last week or so she has had two hours a night and finds it hard to sleep during the day even when Big John is sleeping and even though they have a nurse there at all times.  Her shoulders and neck are one big knot. 

It is a vigil now. It is a waiting to die vigil.  We all pray for it to come quietly, with love and light, a swift transition into the next world, but it hurts and the fluids are conspiring to make breathing hard.  It is a strange time, this waiting for death.  His good friends are at the house. There are no longer the scores of visitors from the weekend, just Harry and Bob and Jerry and some of the old gang.  And J and his brother.  Andi, who's staying in their apartment, brings jugs of hot, sweet mint tea, packed with handfuls of spearmint and urges Sandy to drink something.  J brings in chopped salads from Alejo's, and Italian bread.  I put out bowls of almonds, satsumas, boxes of raisins. But she eats and drink very little. And sleeps very little.  She smiles, holds it in, doesn't allow her voice to crack, laughs at the silly jokes we offer, sits by him and says "You're doing great."  And even when he doesn't hear anyone else or see anyone else, he says to Sandy, mumbles, "Love you."

Upstairs in the house it's beautiful. I don't know what conspiracy produces the rolling surf and glassy skies of the past few days, the impossible blue mountains above Malibu and the mist rolling in towards Palos Verdes.  One or two people walk their dogs.  A couple of sailing boats float by. Everyone must be away for the holidays. It's just still and empty.

The old boys reminisce. Their stories usually involve girls or drinks or both.  They make us laugh.  The Maharishi is reminded of his childhood down there on the beach, the weekend parties, the characters who showed up time and again.  "It was a bit like Cheers here" said Bob.  Everyone knew each other. Everyone knew John. He was the unofficial Mayor of the Marina Peninsula, a place inhabited by divorcees in their 30s and 40s and at the weekends by flight attendants coming in from Paris or London or Hawaii to LAX, just three or four miles down the road.  Sandy has pictures on every wall of John in his youth, with his beard in the seventies, surrounded by a bevy of beauties in skimpy bikinis, or John in his car -- the top down -- with more women leaning against it, blonde hair falling around their shoulders, wide smiles at the camera.  And John in his short shorts, always smiling, his skin tan and taut from beach living.  And John's baptismal certificate, from October 11, 1936, written in scratchy black ink.

The light is beautiful this morning. I can hear the red-tailed hawks and the prayer flags are waving in trees.  This too shall pass.

Monday, December 28, 2009


playing with my new camera, the lumix
this is bean, her wet nose & my pyjama'd leg

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ruth Reichl: Hoarfrost

I miss those hoary mornings, especially at Christmastime.  Nothing approaching this ever comes to Los Angeles.

From Ruth Reichl's blog:

   Woke up yesterday to the most astonishing vision: Every tree was etched in a filigree of frost, delicate lines of white outlining every limb, every leaf. I've never seen anything like it before; up close it was as if some giant creature had waved a wand and flocked each tree with snow.
    Nick and I went walking through the woods, following deer trails and looking around like two wide-eyed little children.  The soft snow crunched deliciously beneath our feet. We came in breathless, red-cheeked, happy, built a fire and began to cook.

See the rest of the post here.

Daisy, Christmas 2009 -- Scotland

Saturday, December 26, 2009

At Big John's house

There were so many people at my father-in-law's house at the beach today, people I didn't know, some I did, far-flung family from my great grandmother-in-law's family, teenagers and aunts and uncles and all kinds of people related by blood. And people from work -- Zoya, the Russian mathematician (CFO of Big John's company) and her husband Effim whom the Maharishi gave two pints of blood to ("This is Pappa's blood brother," I said to Minks as I introduced them), Patti and her husband Dave ("I worked for your father-in-law for 38 years" she said "never a dull moment"), the lovely Carmen taking pictures (it was ridiculously gorgeous at the beach today -- glassy sea, sailboats, pink-blue sky).  Our immediate family -- the Maharishi, his brother, the beautiful girl cousins Amanda and Vanessa, their mother, Big John's brothers Ray, Paul, Walter.  And neighbors -- Greg and Christian, young guys I'd never met.  And the Roxanal liquid drip under the tongue does its job. We're in a scene from Magnolia, you know the one where Jason Robards is dying -- a scene directly pulled from Paul Thomas Anderson's life. We're living Magnolia. But my stepmother-in-law (Sandy) is not an addict.  She is grace incarnate. I am not exaggerating. She has no need for pills; I have to force her to eat turkey sandwiches that the Maharishi is cooking upstairs. We have bread and ham from a Boxing Day party that didn't happen, and turkey because it makes my husband happy to cook for people. He makes gravy too and cranberry sauce and we have Hawaiian rolls.  My children sit with their grandfather and hold his hand and talk to him. Between the liquid morphine he has lucid moments, moment where he recognizes people, expresses love (this is so easy for him: "I love you baby" he says -- the guy couldn't be more loving) and then he is out again breathing deeply, loudly, waiting for scary minutes between breath. But he's alive and he breathes again, and the children breathe. I watch this, the people coming in and out.  Some crying (it's a Lebanese thing I'm sure, the sobbing at the bedside). I try the English thing, the dirty jokes he's always loved from me. And Sandy is there, tiny, blonde in unusually festive black plaid pants -- for Christmas maybe -- and she sits with him. And this is what she says. Everytime. Without fail. "Hey baby, I love you." That's it. Pure, un-mottled love. The angel of grace in the house, amidst the wailing. The clear blue sky. The sunset. The man in the hospital bed in diapers and sheets, losing his dignity by the minute. But for her, a knight on a white horse. Always. Dying. But hers, and great, and grand, and there.  And he turns on his side, and three people move the pillows, and two people pull him up the bed. Upstairs, there is turkey and cranberry sauce and salad, and children playing Connect 4.

This is not easy. But this has grace. I've never seen it  before this way.

And an amusing note:
The Maronite priest came today. A lovely man with a shaved head.  He sat by Big John's bed and pulled out his prayer book. Sandy tells me that they don't call it "Last Rites" any more. They call it "Prayers for the Sick".  Makes sense, right?  The priest went through the blessings of the saints, in English and Aramaic. His speech lasted 30 minutes. Big John's attention span is about three minutes (thanks to the morphine). "And the blessing of St. Peter and St. Paul and St. Frances and St. Ignatius and Saint Joseph ..." said the lovely young Maronite priest. He listed hundreds of saints who would lead John into another life.  "Yeah, yeah...." said John..."enough with the saints already. I got it." He waved his hand at the priest.  My stepmother-in-law was appalled.

God bless the saints.  Right ?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas

Miss Whistle wishes everyone a very happy, peaceful Christmas. 
And I heartily agree.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Big John at home for Christmas

Top: Big John and his wonderful wife, Sandy
Bottom: Miss W, the Maharishi, Big Mike & Big John

A word about the angels of hospice.  We called in hospice yesterday and within a couple of hours they had set up at home a hospital bed, brought in oxygen, a brown paper bag filled with a pirate's bounty of drugs, and an amazing nurse called Bernetta.  He's home. He's comfortable. He's happy.  He has a window that looks out over the Pacific Ocean and a big-screen tv for his favorite re-runs of Two & A Half Men.  The house is full of candles, flowers, poinsettias and a twinkling Christmas tree.

Your prayers worked.

Thank you, dear readers.


Miss W x

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

-- Mary Oliver (with grateful thanks to W)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Marina Del Rey hospital


Ignore the negative reviews of Nine.  The film, like "All That Jazz" is brilliant. Marion Cotillard is a revelation. So there.

Prayers, please

An early call from Sandy: J's father (Big John) is going back to the hospital this morning, via the emergency room, because the pain is just too much to bear, despite the morphine pills.  The only effective pain medication now seems to be the intravenous kind.  He was given a dilaudid drip two days ago and two pints of blood. He is anaemic and his calcium levels are low.  The THCs and morphine seem to work okay in tandem but they can't quite get the cocktail right.  He hates the hospital and can't bear being there so the pain has to be pretty bad.

I hate to ask on this blog, but I think we need some divine intervention -- prayers would be lovely -- if only to have the pain go away.  Thank you, dear readers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Henry Road

Henry Road, Studio City, a treasure trove of Union Jack pillows,
French taper candles, unique cook and design books, old stopwatches,
horse bookends, Jonathan Adler tree ornaments, old-fashioned grosgrain
ribbon on a spool, brass cider ladles and children's wooden blocks.
And they're dog friendly.

Snow in Sag Harbor

This is my friend Jack Deamer's shop in Sag Harbor this morning.

Downtown Los Angeles, Tuesday morning

The sky was crazy before the wind blew in from the mountains this morning.  Sometimes, one feels like a shut-in in West LA. There's a whole world out there. Downtown is beautiful.

Downtown LA 7am

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Pittsburgh Cookie Table tradition

My mother-in-law pointed this out to me. A great tradition for large Christmas parties.

Miss Whistle's Favorite Books of 2009

I am accused by my family of reading too many books.  The truth is, I don't feel as if I read enough. There are stacks by my desk I'm dying to get to and hopefully the Christmas break will allow that indulgence. The ten books that had the biggest impact on me in 2009 are listed below, in no particular order. As you will see, some of them weren't published in 2009.  They just took me a while to get to.  Other books I love may be found at the jolly red link on the right hand side panel.

Give books this Christmas!

1. Lit (2009), by Mary Karr
A fearless and inspiring memoir, Karr's third, which chronicles her journey from alcoholic non-believer to finding God. Her acerbic wit, brutal honesty and ballsy personality lift this up from the triteness of the genre.

2. Cheerful Money (2009), by Tad Friend
Friend is an intimidatingly brilliant writer. This book about the rise and fall of the WASPs, a group into which Friend was born, is both funny and honest and never feels sorry for itself.  My earlier appreciation is here.

3. I Capture The Castle (1948), by Dodie Smith
Simply put, this is a book that every teenage girl should read. I found it later than most, but it thrilled me nonetheless. The narrator, a bright 17 year old girl who lives in a crumbling English castle with her poverty-stricken aristocratic family, finds humour where there ought to be none and with funny and poignant journal entries makes you fall head over heels in love with her.

4. Ottolenghi, The Cookbook (2008)
Maybe it's unfair to include a cookbook on this list, but to leave it out would be wrong.  My friend Sian, with great prescience, introduced me to this book in the later summer of 2008 and it has been part of my life ever since.  I have learned about za'atar and sumac and black mustard seed, and I've discovered I was indeed Middle Eastern in another life. I am responsible for sending hundreds of friends to the restaurants in London and have bombarded my family with dish after dish from the book.  They never tire of it and neither do I.  Great kudos to Sian Rees for her kind suggestion.

5. The Help (2009), by Kathryn Stockett
This was a selection of our awesome book club. I expected it to be lite and a quick read but the book is surprising on many levels. The finely drawn, obsessively observed portrait of upper middle class white women and their black maids in the American deep South circa 1961 is un-put-downable.

6. The Believers (2009), by Zoe Heller
So, this book is fascinating. The satirical portrait of a dysfunctional, influential, socially minded family in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11, it explores our filial relationships and digs into the uncomfortable bits of ourselves.  For the first hundred pages at least I cared little for any of the characters. They are all deeply flawed, hypocritical, funny and depressing. But somewhere along the way the book grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let go.  The dialogue is flawless. Heller is fiercely intelligent and her use of redemption as a device quite mind-boggling.  On another level, I loved the insights into the world of Orthodox Judaism.

7. Somewhere Towards the End (2008), by Diane Athill
This is a book that both my mother and I loved about a subject that isn't written about enough -- old age. I am effusive here (the link also includes an excellent BBC interview).  

8. What Was Lost (2007), by Catherine O'Flynn
A stunning debut novel about a little girl who disappears.  I liked it more than my book club compadres.  The humour (in the midst of intense, tragic drama) is decidedly British.

9. The Summer Book (1972), by Tove Jansson
I believe that Tove Jansson and my grandmother, Tove, have a lot in common.  This book mirrors my own summers spent in my Mormor's summer house in Norway. It's certainly far, far away from the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.

10. Crow Planet (2009), Lyanda Lynn Haupt
The subtitle of this book -- Essential Truth from the Urban Wilderness -- is telling.  I'm going to have my Koyaanisqatsi moment here (a film the Maharishi took me to see very early on in our courtship), but I'm interested and disturbed by the idea that we are cut off from the natural world around us and that we have much to learn from it. From page 98:
Thoreauvian walkers know where we like to walk best. We like to walk in Nature. Capital N nature. With trees tinkling shadowy over our heads, and the thunk of a wood-rot pathway guiding our feet, with grasses brushing our thighs, or a stony escarpment sweeping up our side. We shamelessly proclaim our romantic aspirations. We want to feel renewal in stillness and birdsong and the hidden movement of worms, the unabashed truth of decay. We want to pay attention, to know the wonders of life in secret places, to watch and be watched, to learn and unlearn.

Guest post: Fuyu persimmon salad with a lime vinaigrette

My friend Wendy Murray brought up her love of persimmons this morning when we spoke.  I wouldn't let her get away without writing about her favorite persimmon salad.  I love this. It's true, some people are afraid of persimmons, but they are the most versatile and delicious fruit and this recipe would be a bright counterpoint to some of the heavier Christmas fare:

I had never taken to persimmons. They're cloying and sweet. They are, however, extraordinarily beautiful.  I'd pass them by at the markets, sad that I couldn't buy them to go in that blue ceramic bowl from Crete that makes a collection of limes or satsumas or tomatoes look like modern art.

To sidetrack -- but for a purpose that will become clear -- I went many years ago as an orphan to someone's Thanksgiving dinner. Being polite to people I have never seen since I asked the nice woman who brought this orange salad for the recipe. She gave it to me.

A couple of weeks ago I was given one fuyu persimmon. "Thanks" I said. I didn't say "they're cloying and sweet". I said "Thanks" and put it in on top of the last of the heirloom tomatoes in the blue Cretan bowl. Then I remembered, in the way that you remember the  present you sent to a godchild for which you never received a thank you card, that recipe. Maybe there was a single fuyu persimmon involved.

My persimmon needed some friends, so I went and bought some and made this recipe and because there was no one else to share the pleasure with (my dog had never been a big soft fruit fan) I took a bowl to my neighbours with a fork and insisted that they eat it on the doorstep so they would compliment me and the persimmons for being so clever.

So here it is. I don't know where it comes from. I think it may have originally been in the LA Times. I've fiddled with it a bit.

It works brilliantly as a salad but I am going to try it next with Greek yoghurt as a dessert.  Then I'll probably make a face pack ....just joking.

Fuyu persimmon salad with a lime vinaigrette

2 pounds ( about 6) Fuyu persimmons
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 Serrano chili, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1/4 of a pomegranate
A large handful of chopped walnuts, toasted
A large handful chopped cilantro

So --
Put the walnuts ( I used chopped baking walnuts from TJ's) on a baking tray in oven for ten minutes - 350 - but keep an eye on them.
Peel the persimmons and cut out the calyx thing.

Cut them into about 12 wedges
In a jar with lid put lime juice (has to be lime) cumin, walnut oil, half that chile, a dash of salt -- start with a dash and build
Let it sit in the jar for about 10 minutes so the chile does its stuff.
Pour over wedges of persimmon. Mix it well. Leave for a few minutes.  Add walnuts. Add the chopped cilantro. Mix again.
Break out the pomegranate seeds on top.
Add more salt or lime juice if needed

So simple. So colourful.  So great.

The view from Big John's house

Poem: The loneliest job in the world

As soon as you begin to ask the question, Who loves me?,
you are completely screwed, because
the next question is How Much?,

and then it is hundreds of hours later,
and you are still hunched over
your flowcharts and abacus,

trying to decide if you have gotten enough.
This is the loneliest job in the world:
to be an accountant of the heart.

It is late at night. You are by yourself,
and all around you, you can hear
the sounds of people moving

in and out of love,
pushing the turnstiles, putting
their coins in the slots,

paying the price which is asked,
which constantly changes.
No one knows why.

-- Tony Hoagland, via Writer's Almanac*

*If you don't subscribe, do consider it: a poem lands in my in-box each and every morning.

Three happy boys in snow

These are the fugitives.  They escaped Los Angeles for more clement climes.  Actually, they're not all on the run, but that dog with the short legs: He's trouble.
These are Katie's boys, clearly not struggling with the move to rural Virginia.
I've said it before. I'll say it again:
Charlottesville, here I come.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Xiaoze Xie

Xiaoze Xie (Born 1966)  Los Angeles Public Library (R78.8G, Grieg)  2009, Oil on canvas; 114 x 218.5 cm 
available through GBS Fine Art

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Going to Bed

I check the locks on the front door
and the side door,
make sure the windows are closed
and the heat dialed down.
I switch off the computer,
turn off the living room lights.

I let in the cats.

Reverently, I unplug the Christmas tree,
leaving Christ and the little animals
in the dark.

The last thing I do
is step out to the back yard
for a quick look at the Milky Way.

The stars are halogen-blue.
The constellations, whose names
I have long since forgotten,
look down anonymously,
and the whole galaxy
is cartwheeling in silence through the night.

Everything seems to be ok.

-- George Bilgere (via Writer's Almanac)

Mr & Mrs Leshem outside Libertine

Pomplamoose - Always in the Season

Snow in the Glen

My brother's latest blog on Horse & Country TV is here. I am so sad to be missing Christmas in Scotland this year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Maharishi on Marijuana Dispensary Curbs

The issue of marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles is of particular concern to our family since Big John has been sick. (You can listen to Mandalit Del Barco's NPR story on the city's desire to close hundreds of storefronts here.) The Maharishi, in his inimitable style, has written a letter to our local councilman, Paul Koretz:

Dear Councilman Koretz:

My name is JM and I live your district in Laurel Canyon. I voted for you in our last election. I wanted to share with you my frustration with what I understand to be the current curbs on marijuana dispensaries in our city. I believe the city council is considering to make it illegal to locate a dispensary within 1,000 feet of any residence, which effectively relegates dispensaries to some very out of the way industrial areas.

My father, 73, is suffering from stage 4 esophageal cancer and uses marijuana every day to maintain some level of dignity, positive attitude, fight off the constant nausea, and maintain some desire to eat. My amazing stepmother already has her hands full trying to stay ahead of his ever changing needs - installing ramps for his new wheel chair, taking him to the blitz of doctors appointments for chemo, radiation, and various of treatments, as well as endless trips to the normal pharmacy plus the dispensaries. As you are doubtlessly aware, each of the medical marijuana dispensaries has a variety of both qualities and forms of the drug. As my father's tolerance has increased and, sadly, his appetite has abated she needs to keep trying different dispensaries to get the new form or type of marijuana that will be effective for him. He cannot smoke, so the various forms the dispensaries provide the drug in is critical. We looked into the federally approved drug that contains THC and it is, of course, not covered by insurance, ineffective and outrageously expensive. The local dispensaries, which the voters had the intelligence to allow, are really the very best option for him and my stepmother at this point.

When I heard about this recent ban the council is considering I was furious. I listen to Warren Olney's show on KCRW where this ban has been discussed and just fume in my car. So I am writing to let you know that I vigorously oppose such a restriction on locating the dispensaries within 1,000 feet of any residence. If you must, I could live with limiting the locations as it relates to schools.

I am committed to working to unseat the completely misguided and out of touch LA County Attorney, Steve Cooley, as I am sure many other voters will be. I hope you will consider opposing the residential zone limit currently under consideration. Oh, and for the record, neither my wife or I are marijuana users.

I look forward to hearing from you or your office and thank you.


If you live in Los Angeles and feel strongly about this issue, please do contact your local council member.

And people wonder why I want to live in Virginia

Tuesday morning at Schelford Farm, by way of the lovely Katie B-C

Isherwood on Los Angeles

Stumbled upon this on Justine Musk's wonderful blog (via communicatrix):

"To live sanely in Los Angeles (or, I suppose, in any other large American city) you have to cultivate the art of staying awake. You must learn to resist (firmly but not tensely) the unceasing hypnotic suggestions of the radio, the billboards, the movies and the newspapers; those demon voices which are forever whispering in your ear what you should desire, what you should fear, what you should wear and eat and drink and enjoy, what you should think and do and be. They have planned a life for you — from the cradle to the grave and beyond — which it would be easy, fatally easy!, to accept. The least wandering of the attention, the least relaxation of your awareness, and already the eyelids begin to droop, the eyes grow vacant, the body starts to move in obedience to the hypnotist’s command. Wake up, wake up — before you sign that seven-year contract, buy that house you don’t really want, marry that girl you secretly despise. Don’t reach for the whiskey, that won’t help you. You’ve got to think, to discriminate, to exercise your own free will and judgment. And you must do this, I repeat, without tension, quite rationally and calmly. For if you give way to fury against the hypnotists, if you smash the radio and tear the newspapers to shreds, you will only rush to the other extreme and fossilize into defiant eccentricity."

-- Christopher Isherwood, “Los Angeles”

Thinks in a marrow-bone

God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone;

-- W.B. Yeats, ‘A Prayer for Old Age’

Monday, December 14, 2009

enjoying judaica from a candlelit distance

i've pilfered two paper menorahs from our friends' warm & candelit third night of hanukah celebration. the children were coloring them at a special children's table and i've taken two for my chimney piece.

having grown my children in a mostly atheist household (albeit surrounded by saints and buddhas and crucifix and kuan yin) i find my daughter glomming on to any little piece of religion she can. she has already announced that she is converting to judaism (she's christened episcopal) and can sing the baruch adonai songs along with everyone else while the maharishi and i just stand their smiling simply (my smile slightly more enthusiastic than his).

we ate poached salmon, latkes with sour cream and homemade apple sauce and jelly donuts in a house filled with bowls of persimmons and satsumas and silver bowls of nuts and candy. candlelight, grandmothers, tiny babies (let's hear it for nora, who's 1 on saturday), husbands and wives and teenagers and boys watching the football game and even hanukah music (the most excellent soundtrack from dead presidents). glasses of red wine (an unusual red sancerre) were handed around, fizzy cranberry juice with large cubes of ice, sippy bottles. we discussed the merits of living in rome, especially in white truffle season, the many uses of the potato and the cultural differences between israelis and americans (an ongoing dialog between me and the rabbi's sister).

mr & mrs l's hanukah candles

it's the traditions we miss, the traditions that we yearn for. "one candle can light the whole world" said rabbi sharon. "that's what i hoped you'd say" said mr l. so did i. that's what i hoped someone would say.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Obama in Oslo

Good morning Oslo (from OsloDailyPhoto, with thanks)

Obama accepts the Nobel Peace Prize at the beautiful Radhus in Oslo

The Grand** Hotel, Oslo, where POTUS & FLOTUS stayed

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama dance in the Hall of Mirrors of the Grand Hotel**, Oslo, after he received the Nobel Peace Prize, December 10, 2009.

the crowd outside the Grand Hotel

**The Grand holds some magic for me because it was where my father stayed when he travelled to Oslo in 1962 to ask my grandfather for my mother's hand in marriage.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Cake & Whine

My friend Duncan has posted a picture of what I consider to be my failed fruitcake on his blog which is really rather kind of him. I sheepishly posted it on Twitter to ask whether it appeared burnt. For him, however, it evokes all kinds of memories of rolling out marzipan and English Christmases. I vow to keep trying the cake recipe so that I can get it right. I've added sour cherries, pine nuts and cardamom to the original recipe and the cardamom in particular makes me happy because it reminds me of Norway. I must figure out how to give every bite that cardomommy taste. This is not like Norwegian Julekake. It has the density of a Christmas cake but is blonde, stabbed with dark red cherries, so perfect and Viking and henceforth she shall be known as Helga. Helga cake. The Maharishi will attest to this: I am not a baker. I wish I were. I'm very useful in the kitchen but baking's not the way I roll, babe.

I am not really embracing the spirit of the season. It's incredibly dull of me to share this, I know, but it can't help but leak out. When I'm not very happy I'm afraid I don't post very much. I write dark, pretentious short stories. I shut myself in the hut with the dogs and fail to venture out till it's cold outside and the sun has gone down. Or for tea. I tell myself I am doing all the things I can to knock myself back into the land of the living -- reading Christmassy poems, staring in awe at the snow-caps on the local mountains, listening to Kings College Choir sing beautiful Sir David Willcocks arrangements of my favorite carols (listen & watch the whole service of 10 readings and carols here), stare lovingly at our beautiful tree and the cheery wreath on the door. I've received Christmas cards from loved ones, even one of a cheery December robin puffing out his little red breast. But still I blah about, having lost my joie de vivre or my va-va-voom or my qi (prana for you yogis) somewhere in between here and Aldbury, near Tring.

I wonder indulgently whether it's possible to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder in sunny SoCal? My brother has what can only described as a grow-light in his kitchen, which he switches on while he's waiting for the kettle to boil on the Aga for the morning tea, and it beams Good Thing & Vitamin D at him while he suns himself in front of it. He swears by it. In the old days, they used to call this the blahs. It's not abject misery. I'm not throwing myself on the sofa and sobbing. Perhaps I should. There is absolutely nothing to be miserable about. In fact, I feel enormous gratitude for all the loveliness I'm surrounded. It's more of an inner bleakness. Mary Karr talks about this in Lit. I'm very drawn to Mary Karr at the moment. They do call it bleak midwinter after all. Not effulgent midwinter. But one doesn't suppose that to be true of our Mediterranean climate (the only truly Mediterranean climate outside of the Midi if I may be so pedantic).
this is rather cheery, isn't it?

And then I found this:

Entering the kingdom

As the boy's bones lengthened
and his head and heart enlarged,
his mother one day failed
to see herself in him.
He was a man then, radiating
the innate loneliness of men.
His expression was ever after
beyond her. When near sleep
his features eased towards childhood,
it was brief.
She could only squeeze
his broad shoulder. What could
she teach him
of loss, who now inflicted it
by entering the kingdom
of his own will?

-- Mary Karr

Madonna & Child

Right on, Mary, I'm thinking.

** grateful thanks to RJ for trees & light and Madonna images (pilfered, basically, from his lovely blog)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Big John

Not very good news today on the Big John front. The cancer has metastasized into the bone, the right hip bone to be precise. He has been put on Zoledronic acid and will start further chemo for both the hip and the esophageal node. The very brief honeymoon period (no chemo, lots of hair growing back, relative comfort) is over. His hip has been hurting him for a couple of weeks and now we know why. "Eat your brownies even if it isn't night time, Dad. It's okay. It's your medicine now" says J. He's getting his THC in every shape and form, in brownies, in drops, on those tiny breath-strip papers, in tablets. It's getting him through the days. Still, he's severely dehydrated and next week they'll give him a feeding tube into his stomach.

Los Angeles: Portrait of a City

I was thinking of asking Santa for this book for Christmas. It's filled with iconic photography and 150 years of the history of the city. Only a few years ago a picture of a swimming pool and a Christmas tree would depress me, now I feel lucky:

Slim Aarons, 1954

Edited by Jim Heimann, published by Taschen.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Reasons to be Cheerful

More than one, in fact.

Tad Friend's brilliant new memoir, Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor is now in bookstores. I've sent copies to scores of friends. Read an excerpt here, a bigger excerpt here and a great review, from the San Francisco Chronicle here. Here is Eve Pell's review. And here Melik Kalan's thoughtful piece in Forbes.  It recently been named one of the best books of 2009 by the Washington Post.

A WASP, I should explain for my non-American readers, is an acronym for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, the folks who came over on the Mayflower, fought the Civil War, signed the the declaration of Independence. They like dogs and horses, books, hanging out in the Hamptons (before it became "that place"), listening to opera in the Berkshires, wearing those salmon-pink pants on Nantucket, walking about Harvard Yard, sailing on the Cape, and wearing boots from LL Bean. One of their ilk wrote The Preppy Handbook; many have been President of the United States.

Friend, who writes exquisitely, paints a beautiful picture of his family and his relatives, in their resplendent eccentricity. Like the English, Wasps have funny names, collect useful pieces of silver (pea spoon, anyone?) and houses in the country, are encouraged as children to maintain a "veneer of acquiescence" and good manners whatever the circumstances so that "if this condemned us each to be an island of seeming cheer in an archipelago of sorrow, so be it.” And slowly, but surely, generation by generation, the money starts to run out. The whole thing feels most familiar.

In my experience, American psychoanalysis is keen to bring together all the parts of the human psyche in order to extricate a single whole; its goal is to un-departmentalize to attain happiness. Friend bravely (and honestly) documents his shrinkage, one of the parts of the book I found the most surprising. In fact, his noble quest to find balance and unity in his life, becomes one of the most interesting threads in the book.

Balance and unity appears in the form of his wife, Amanda Hesser, former food editor of the NY Times.

The book spans the family history, including a good bit of inspiration from his mother Elizabeth Pierson Friend, wife of the President of Swarthmore, artist, poet and cook. I remember this beautiful poem of hers from the New Yorker (reprinted without permission but with gratitude):

Steam Reassures Him

My husband is watching me iron.
Steam reassures him. The hiss of starch
The probing slide around each button of his shirt
Speaks to him of Solway Street in Pittsburgh.
As for me, the wicker basket is a reproach.
There is last summer’s nightgown,
And several awkward tablecloths
Which refuse to lie flat.

My house specializes in these challenges.
Bags of mail I did not ask to receive
choke the floor of my linen closet.
A photograph of me, holding a baby on a beach.
But which beach and, for that matter, which baby?
A Japanese chest whose bottom drawer has irresponsibly locked itself,
And who can remember where I put the key?

That night, waiting for sleep, I whisper,
I did only trivial things today.
And he asks, Why aren’t you painting?

The book stemmed from a piece he wrote about her in the New Yorker (at least, in part).

If you want to read beautiful writing, get a copy of this book.  I've already sent it to at least six people.

We Go Back to the Sea

I really don't know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it's because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it's because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea -- whether it is to sail or to watch it -- we are going back from whence we came.

-- President John F. Kennedy, in a speech delivered at the America Cup races in Newport, Rhode Island in September 1962:

A Blessing From My Sixteen Years Son

I have this son who assembled inside me
during Hurricane Gloria. In a flash, he appeared,
in a heartbeat. Outside, pines toppled.

Phone lines snapped and hissed like cobras.
Inside, he was a raw pearl: microscopic, luminous.
Look at the muscled obelisk of him now

Pawing through the icebox for more grapes.
Sixteen years and not a bone broken,
not a single stitch. By his age,

I was marked more ways, and small.
He’s a slouching six foot three,
with implausible blue eyes, which settle

on the pages of Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”
with profound belligerence.
A girl with a naval ring

could make his cell phone go brr
or an Afro-d boy leaning on a mop at Taco Bell –
creatures strange as dragons or eels.

Balanced on a kitchen stool, each gives counsel
arcane as any oracle’s. Bruce claims school
is harshing my mellow. Case longs to date

a tattooed girl, because he wants a woman
willing to do stuff she’ll regret.
They’ve come to lead my son.

into his broadening spiral.
Someday soon, the tether
will snap. I birthed my own mom

into oblivion. The night my son smashed
the car fender, then rode home
in the rain-streaked cop car, he asked, Did you

and Dad screw up much?
He’d let me tuck him in,
my grandmother’s wedding quilt

from 1912 drawn to his goateed chin. Don’t
blame us, I said. You’re your own
idiot now. At which he grinned.

The cop said the girl in the crimped Chevy
took it hard. He’d found my son
awkwardly holding her in the canted headlights,

where he’d draped his own coat
over her shaking shoulders. My fault,
he’d confessed right off.

Nice kid, said the cop.

-- Mary Karr


by Rosie West (used without permission but with gratitude -- please do visit her beautiful blog: Rose C'est La Vie)

Richard Wright wins the Turner Prize


Sunday, December 06, 2009

Yellow hills

The barn where my horse lives backs on to the Los Angeles National Forest in Little Tujunga Canyon. If you aren't familiar with the geography of Los Angeles this is where the really bad fires were a few months ago. There and further east: Tujunga, La Crescenta, La Canada, Pasadena. After I ride, I take the dogs off-road, onto the trail which winds into the mountains. Sometimes we go left down to the stream the honeybees favor, or we keep going north, where you can hear the distant sound of the rifle range cutting through the stillness. Seasons change very subtly in Southern California, but if you walk in the hills every day, the changes are evident. The hills are now a pretty pale yellow color but the wild sage is still growing and smells divine if you brush by it. The oak trees are what we call evergreen oak in England and the stout dark green leaves are the same all year round. Following the creek up into the mountain is a ridge of oaks to the right and to the left the stony (probably glacial) wash which unites with the stream system from Big Tujunga Canyon in the Hansen Dam watershed. The habitat is described thusly in the River Project:

Habitats include alluvial fan scrub, riparian woodland, willow thicket, mulefat scrub, coastal sage scrub, oak woodland and conifer woodland forests. These habitats currently provide critical cover, forage, nesting and breeding sites for many bird, mammal, reptile, amphibian and invertebrate species. The area supports several threatened and endangered species listed for Los Angeles County, including California Condor, spotted owl, Least Bell’s Vireo, southern willow flycatcher, American peregrine falcon, arroyo toad, slender-horned spineflower, California red-legged frog, Santa Ana sucker, unarmored threespine stickleback, and arroyo chub.

The dogs and I meet very few people up here. Sometimes cowgirls, or Mexican charros on their gorgeous, high-stepping horses. It's just us, the bees and the herons. Knowing this and inspired by Mary Karr's Lit where she describes her experiences with AA & prayer (Here she argues that prayer and poetry come from the same source) I found myself climbing up a hillside to a huge, regal oak tree and kneeling down there, in the grass. The ground was surprisingly warm.

Lamb & Prune Tagine (with liberal studdings of Pomegranate)

"I only read it when you write your stories" says my mother. "I'm not really interested in the other things." So for my mother, I'm sorry. This blog has become an endless list of recipes, which seems to always be the case when I'm trying a new cook book. As much as I don't love the design of Nigella's Christmas book, the recipes are quick, easy and quite good. Last night my friends L & J came for dinner. They're old friends and easy and so there was no pressure to make anything particularly elaborate. "Gosh you're all gussied up, Luc" I said, staring in dismay at my jeans and Converse. "Oh is it only us? Goody!" she said. And so we sat at the kitchen table and drank a glass of Tiefenbrunner Pinot Bianco (a crisp and bright Italian wine I've just discovered, thanks to Costco). I cooked Nigella's Lamb & Date Tagine but I substituted the dates for prunes because I had a box of prunes in the cupboard. The tagine was served with thinly sliced red onions, marinated in some lime juice, drained and mixed with a little pomegranate juice, some salt, some chopped cilantro (coriander) leaves and a handful of pomegranate seeds (what are those little juicy pods called?). I threw in a green salad scattered with lemon zest, mint, chives, cilantro, pine nuts and some fluffy couscous. The Maharishi who, for a son of Lebanon has a surprising take it or leave it attitude to lamb, announced that it was the best lamb dish he's ever tasted. It has to be said that cooking anything in pomegranate juice, with prunes and ginger and allspice would be scrumptious, but do try this. It's incredibly easy...30 minutes prep and 2 hours cooking. And it's awfully pretty, topped with the pink onions, crimson pomegranate seeds and leafy green coriander. The Daily Fail has its own Nigella Food Special here, from whence I've culled many of these recipes.