There’s schnitzel in them thar’ hills.

Texas hills, that is.

After a weekend in Austin for a Very Important Project (hope to report on that when I get some professional pix) we took a little meander so we could say we dipped our toes in the Hill Country. Half a day hardly qualifies me as an expert, but from what I saw, Hill Country is “hilly” in that it is slightly less flat than a greasy-spoon pancake. You will not be making mountains out of molehills here. Topography aside, what little we saw of it was absolutely charming.

It might seem a bit scrubby if you (unlike me) live someplace where it occasionally rains, but from what I hear, it is absolutely verdant compared to West Texas. Wide open country, every turn on the road offering a perfect set for a spaghetti western. We loved it.

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Since our time was limited, we picked out one town to visit: Fredericksburg. It was founded by German settlers in 1846 and don’t you forget it: the town is hasenpfeffered with German restaurants. Since we rolled onto Main Street just in time for lunch, we were faced with the tough job of choosing which one was uber alles. We ended up at Der Lindenbaum, a quaint eatery named after Franz Schubert’s composition of the same name.

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I don’t know where this restaurant falls in the Fredericksburg rankings, but it was easily the best German food I’ve tasted (disclosure: I have not been to Germany). The CE observed on his way to the restroom that all the cooks were Hispanic but they truly have a way with schnitzel and bratwurst. On a beastly hot day there was, of course, no choice but to start with a frosty glass of draft German beer.

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And then move right on to the bratwurst, knackwurst, Polish sausage and homemade sauerkraut:

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After that lunch, we needed a walk, so we strolled down Main Street a bit:

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We were surprised to find an array of home goods stores stocked with furniture and home decor items at very attractive prices. We found a lovely piece of glass at the Talk of the Town gallery that someone will find under the Christmas tree if it doesn’t fit in our New York apartment…any takers?

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Fredericksburg, Texas may seem an unlikely setting in which to find the National Museum of the Pacific War until you learn that was the birthplace of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet during WWII.

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I don’t think you could find a more thorough treatment of the subject anywhere, and by that I mean that after an hour, we had extreme museum fatigue and had only seen about one third of the exhibits. The tip off should have been that the tickets are good for forty-eight hours, which is what it would take to really do justice to all that is there. I especially appreciated the compelling video presentation of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, “a date which will live in infamy”.

Among other artifacts, we saw an immense Japanese flag:

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A door from the U.S.S. Arizona which sank in Pearl Harbor:

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And an FM-2 “Wildcat” fighter:

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But our most memorable sighting was of this gentleman, a member of the “greatest generation”, who we met at lunch.  He told us that he was a B-29 navigator  during the war. At age 94, he is a frequent visitor to the museum. It was an honor to thank him for his service:

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We could easily have spent a couple of days in Fredericksburg and the surrounding Hill Country communities, but we had miles to go. And we probably didn’t need to indulge in another helping of schnitzel.

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Next stop, San Antonio…

 

 

 

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In Dog Years, She’s Perfect.

Chloe just turned ten. And I don’t want to talk about it. I know what they say about dog years. Well, la la la la la with my fingers plugged in my ears to that! Here are some Chloe pix through the years…

The day she became ours:

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She was the CUTEST puppy!!!

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With her “big sister” Soho:

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Fast forward a decade – and by the way, Soho is still the boss! (Thanks to Lori for the photo)

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Dizzy adored her…

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And so do all the chickens:

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That time when the CE said “Why would we get another dog when the kids are grown and gone”. And then it turns out they’ve come home all these years just to be with Chloe:

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She’s pretty good with grandkids, too:

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James loves a Chloe pillow:

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I just hope she lives forever. Happy Birthday, sweet girl!

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Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring — it was peace.” – Milan Kundera

Posted in All Things Family, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Book Shelf: Andrew Klavan’s Great, Good Book.

I am squeamish about books regarding faith. I have almost a visceral resistance to them. For one thing, it can all go downhill pretty quickly once you depart from the poetry that is the Old and New Testament. (Okay, Leviticus is not exactly lyrical verse, so I stand immediately corrected, but I think the Book of Psalms pretty much knocks it out of the park.)

I am also incredibly, inexplicably lazy about my “faith” reading. I scan the sky and it doesn’t look like it’s raining apocalypse this minute, so I figure G.K. Chesterton, like heaven, can wait. We have three crisp copies of Tim Keller’s The Case for Christ on a shelf; all unread. When Bob Goff’s antic Love Does swept through the Christian community like a comet a few years back, I was entertained but not moved. It took me twenty years to get around to reading Mere Christianity. And dust has gathered on a bookmarked copy of The Confessions of St. Augustine. I have every intention of finishing it. Someday.

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So it was with trepidation that I signed up for an advance copy of Andrew Klavan’s The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ. And with great surprise that I found myself not wanting to put it down. I felt like a fly on the wall as he described his early childhood in Great Neck, New York. My stomach lurched as he courted disaster throughout his school years. Smart kid, indifferent student, repeated cold-sweat classroom moments where he almost but never quite gets caught. I was completely caught up in his drifting odyssey after high school, his daring triumph at getting the girl of his dreams, and I rooted for him as a young journalist and author, toiling in solitude as he churned out reams of fever-dreamed manuscripts.

Klavan has ultimately made a successful living as a writer of crime novels, including  Don’t Say a Word and True Crime, both of which were made into popular films. He is skilled at engaging a reader, at pacing the action, at moving the story forward. But this is his story, and as I read I saw the writer grappling with the personal revelations of his protagonist – himself. It is the strength and the weakness of this book. He shares the pain of a clouded childhood, the despair of a broken relationship with his father, a struggle with mental illness. He tells the story so well, but I – perhaps selfishly – found myself wanting him to show me more. He speaks of a “dissociated” mother who seems vague and somehow just out of frame at the periphery of his life, but I couldn’t quite put a finger on what he meant. He describes his father as physically and verbally abusive, and I believe him, but the reader doesn’t quite see where the blows are struck. He draws the curtain aside because he wants to let us see, but it is so painful, and you feel his instinct to protect the people who caused him so much pain. He describes a cathartic journey through psychotherapy but I never quite pinned down the diagnosis. Severe depression, I would guess. His narrative is so vivid that it encourages the voyeur in the reader – I want to see more, more!

Klavan’s story is so absorbing that it could be worthy as a memoir alone. But the personal details are really just the underpinnings of a greater journey, a journey of faith. His family was culturally Jewish, but spiritually bereft. His parents did not believe in God, and they didn’t even think too highly of other Jews. You might say that the family religion was being smart, at which Klavan excelled. Way too smart for something like faith in a Christian God. So you can only imagine the consternation with which he is dragged, after reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment “away from moral relativism and toward truth, toward faith, toward God.”

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Yet this is a reluctant, ambivalent journey. One of the successes of Klavan’s book is that his story is as accessible to an unbeliever as a believer. Steeped in literature, psychiatry and philosophy, it is aimed at a critical reader. He is a man for whom “as long as a religion might even appear to serve me as an emotional crutch, I dismissed it as a form of weakness.” He admits that “Whenever I heard someone say Jesus as if he really meant it, it made my skin crawl, as if they’d said squid or intestine instead.”

The surprise of the book, and of Klavan’s life, is not so much that he eventually comes to faith but that he passes through the suffering we all accept as the human condition into a life infused with true, real, actual, no-kidding, no fooling,  joy. “I was feeling the joy of my joy”, he says. In our postmodern world, even those of us who believe don’t necessarily expect joy. And, as a skeptic and an intellectual, Klavan seems as amazed by it as the reader. For the Christian, his story is buoying. For even the most cynical non-believer, I have to think it would at least be tantalizing.  Who doesn’t want to experience true joy?

For all the faith-based books I have left unread and all those that failed to move me, the exception has been Thomas Merton’s stunning classic The Seven-Storey Mountain. It is generally regarded as the modern-day Confessions of St. Augustine. Klavan’s book is, perhaps, a post-modern version. While it does not purport to stand with the towering Mountain, I did sense a breeze blowing in that direction while I read it.

Klavan’s subject is great and good and so is his book. He concludes that “you cannot know the truth about the world until you know God loves you, because that is the truth about the world.” Along the way he rejects hypocritical religion, he rejects insufficient religion but most resoundingly, he trades the religion of secularism for the cross . “I saw the empty tomb and I had faith.” 

 

 

 

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Family Album: Santa Monica Weekend

The CE told me he thought he felt an earthquake yesterday. Nah, I said, that was just the earth tilting a little bit as our family members changed coasts.

It wasn’t that long ago that all four kids were living in or around NYC. Tina was temporarily marooned among snow drifts in Darien, Angie was wrangling toddlers on the UWS, and Taylor and Daniel had both headed east for college. But there has been a seismic shift – Tina and her family happily re-settled in the OC a few years back, Taylor is headed to SF and now Angie and her boys are living the LA life in Santa Monica. We ran down to check it out last weekend and had so much fun!

Thomas is still channeling Bronxville here, but you can see that he and James already have that California glow:

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Stayed at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows where we were thrilled to have an ocean view room – until we discovered it was perched directly above the hotel’s insanely popular and LOUD Bungalow cocktail bar. Which stays open until 2 a.m. Hahahahaha!

Room with an incredibly close (but extremely loud) view:

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Lucky for us that hotel associate Chad was on duty at the desk that afternoon. Due to some fortuitous brand of alchemy between him and the CE, we found ourselves whisked to a serenely quiet suite on the north side of the hotel. Where I would like to live full-time in my next life.

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In three-plus decades of living my current life in Southern California, I have never really managed to draw a bead on LA. I see a maze of freeway interchanges on the map and my eyes glaze over. But it turns out there is a there there once you spin off of the 405. Loved the feel of Santa Monica – almost like a New York neighborhood with a beach backdrop. What could be better?

Yes, I whined and complained about the crush of humanity on the Santa Monica pier – don’t go on a Saturday afternoon if you can help it. And oh, if you do -just a friendly warning: you may encounter the guy who stands there draped with a half dozen LIVE tarantulas. He charges $5 for a photo; little does he know I would pay him $10 to scram!

My preferred view of the pier is from far, far away:

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Because it gets just a little too crowded there for my tastes:

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Best feature of Santa Monica is the seemingly endless walkway along Ocean Avenue, skirting the cliffs above the Pacific. Everyone and his dog (and the strikingly abundant transient population) gets to enjoy the sunset:

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Sunday was a charmed idyll. Brunch and the 3rd Street Promenade and the pool scene at the Fairmont – lots of fun for the boys:

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And yes, there was food. Pre-birthday dinner for Angie at the iconic Shutters on the Beach One Pico restaurant:

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I had the lamp chops. And someone insisted on dessert – I would drive to Santa Monica just for that semifreddo macaroon sandwich:

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Great weekend. So much fun. And so happy to have this crew close by.

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inpaint santa monica pier

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in All Things Family, All Things Poultry, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Putting the Pro in Procrastination.

I am working on a Big Project with a Looming Deadline.

Up early every morning with the firm intent of wrestling my thoughts and notes into something coherent. It’s really, really quiet at 4:00 a.m., by the way. I can almost hear myself not thinking. Because, just in case you were going to be impressed by my zeal and dedication, I should tell you that instead of Thinking Great Thoughts, I am currently sitting at my desk cleaning my computer keyboard with cotton swabs.

Yes, I am an accomplished, world-class procrastinator. A true professional. Yesterday I cleaned out a long-neglected drawer rather than face the task at hand. But I’m running out of avoidant projects. Tomorrow I may be forced to start folding the CE’s handkerchiefs or organizing a shoebox filled with decades-old photographs. Yes, it’s that bad.

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Why do we, well, at least some of us, procrastinate? There may be deep psychological reasons. The word “sabotage” comes up in many articles on the subject. I have a niggling suspicion that the word “lazy” should also come up in any explanation related to my own failure to do what I am supposed to be doing. Some suggest fear of success can lead to self-sabotage, although that is not my jam. Fear of failure, now there you’ve got something. But I think it might be simpler than that. An inability to concentrate. “Trouble Starting a Task” is on Web MD’s list of Symptoms of Adult ADHD. So is “Extremely Distractible.”. I seize upon that as a research endeavor- not because I think I have ADHD but because it’s a nice beefy project to consider instead of doing what I’m supposed to be doing. My folly is partially lodged, I think, in the realm of magical thinking: by not working on this today, I will do a better job on it tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the day after that.

Am I ringing any bells here? Please tell me I’m not the only one.

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I certainly feel like the only one since it’s 4:30 a.m. and still velvety dark outside. Sliver of a moon still brightly shining. Just us chickens and really not even the chickens because, unable to concentrate, I just checked on them and they’re still huddled together on their roosts, dreaming of mealworms.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 4 a.m. is the most productive hour of the day. In an article published earlier this week, author Hilary Potkewitz reports that Apple CEO Tim Cook “starts his morning routine at 3:45 a.m.” and quotes psychologist Josh Davis, who says “When you have peace and quiet and you’re not concerned with people trying to get your attention, you’re dramatically more effective and can get important work done”. Davis is director of research at the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of the book “Two Awesome Hours,” about using science-based tools to enhance productivity. I think I’ll download it. Something to read while while I’m not getting anything done.

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I recently read (probably while avoiding some important task) Angela Duckworth’s bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance in which she devotes a few pages to the concept of flow, which is the 21st century term for what used to be known as “being in the zone”. It is defined as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”She quotes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, credited with creating the concept of flow as saying “Flow is performing at high levels of challenge and yet feeling ‘effortless,’ like ‘you don’t have to think about it, you’re just doing it.” According to Duckworth, “gritty” people experience more flow. Follow-through. A tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles. Perseverance, tenacity, doggedness. I need to get some grit, and by that I do not mean the stuff in the bag that I just scooped into the dish for the chickens, another made-up task I performed (in the dark!) to avoid working on my Important Project.

Speaking of which, I really need to settle down and start working on it. It’s time.

Well, maybe not. It’s finally starting to get light out. I think the box hedge needs trimming. Anyone want to help?

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Even in the dead of summer.

How I love NYC. Slowed to a crawl by the heat, I barely left my neighborhood this trip, but that’s okay. People travel from all over the world to visit our neighborhood, so I was content to amble up Broadway, lean toward the cooling spray of the fountains at Columbus Circle, nod at the statue of Dante gazing down from his pedestal across from Lincoln Center, tread the paths in Central Park seeking a holy alcove of cooling shade. Thank you, thank you, Central Park.

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I won’t lie. I was thinking about pillowy marine layers of coastal California fog the day it was 96 degrees here with a heat index of 110. As every New Yorker on every stoop and at every street corner and deli counter will tell you, “It’s not the heat. It’s the humidity.” The Bull Terrier I saw at Columbus Circle did not comment. He just went straight for the fountain:

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The days were stunningly oppressive, but summer nights in the city are languid and sultry and magical. One evening we braved a sky pouting with heavy gray clouds and sat outside for dinner. Good thing our table was under an umbrella – a thunderstorm broke right over our heads. The lightning was spectacular; the sound of brief but torrential downpour was a gift to us rain-thirsty Californians.

Another night we took the elevator up to our roof and instantly forgave our beautiful city for its daytime transgressions of heat and grime. The bridges sparkled like diamond necklaces; the moon shone full and cool. Have I mentioned that I love New York?

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Today is our last day. I watched the sun rise and thought, have at it, New York, whatever you have in store for us on this dog day of summer. You are an elegant and unruly city, posh and gritty, strutting in bright lights, serene and reposed in leafy glades, and always unapologetic. No matter how hot it gets, you are unmistakably, irrefutably cool. I’m so grateful to be, however briefly, along for the ride.

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“Who, who makes much of a miracle?

As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,

Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,

Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky”

                                                                                                  — Walt Whitman

 

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Taken Abawk: Chickens Beat The Odds.

They say the average life span of a chicken is 5-7 years. Well, except, that is, for the one on your dinner plate.

Which is why a little white hen made the news this summer. UPC (United Poultry Concerns) reported the story as told by chicken hero Kathy O’Hara. Ms. O’Hara and her husband were driving across Virginia’s 23-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Tunnel Bridge when they spotted, of all things, a chicken alongside the road. They doubled back, and several U-turns later, plucked the bird from the roadside. It is surmised that the hen fell off a truck filled with chickens on their way to becoming cacciatore  and that she had stood on the road, cars whizzing past, for at least a few hours. When O’Hara realized that the chicken had cheated death twice in one day, she decided to name the hen “Reva the Revenant”.

Here’s the just-rescued Reva:

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In another stroke of cluck, the UPC advocacy sanctuary turned out to be just up the road a piece. The O’Hara’s delivered Reva to the sanctuary, where she struggled for a few weeks and was thought to be near death a few times. However, she made an astonishing recovery after a course of anti-inflammatories and is now thriving:

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Far less newsworthy, but just as much cause for celebration to me, is the fact that our little Belgian Mille Fleur D’Uccle, Pippa, turned five this summer. Of the fifteen hens that have made up our little flock over the past seven years, Pippa is the first to achieve that “average” milestone.

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Four of our girls were lost to predators, but six others have perished far before their time due to  internal laying, ovarian cancer and “unknown causes”. I wonder if we’ve just been unlucky or if, perhaps, the average lifespan has changed over time with breeding standards that favor egg production over longevity. By the way, in case you’re wondering, the longest-lived chicken on record was a sixteen-year-old Old English game hen named “Matilda”. Her accomplishment is thought to be due in part to the fact that she never laid eggs.

Pippa stopped laying her tiny bantam eggs a few years back and now spends her days bullying Ava, Bella and Nugget, who are thrice her size but overly respectful of Pippa’s seniority in the pecking order. She may be no spring chicken, but she’s definitely queen of our coop. Long may she reign!

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Posted in All Things Poultry | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments