2021 Reading Recap: In the Beginning…

Gotta start somewhere, I thought. It was the end of 2020 and I felt a malaise coming on. No, it wasn’t COVID, although perhaps it was COVID-induced. I had no fever but I was beginning to feel heated; I just couldn’t follow the narrative. Out of sorts and out of patience, I needed solace, which I have sometimes found in the Psalms.

This time around, I decided to switch it up and listen rather than read. A quick search on Audible.com took me to Logos Bible Study led by a retired UCLA professor named Dr. Bill Creasy.

Dr. Creasy has no idea who I am but after a felicitous journey with him through Psalms, I’ve spent the entirety of 2021 under his guidance through the first half or so of the Old Testament. I’ve gotten to know him pretty well – his “dad jokes”, his stories about growing up in Pittsburgh, serving as a U.S. Marine and ultimately earning a doctorate in Medieval Literature and becoming a professor.

A 2000 article about him in The Los Angeles Times stated that he “logged more than 2,500 miles a month driving across Southern California and teaching nine weekly Bible classes to more than 3,000 people.” How had I never heard of this guy?

I’ve done a handful of Bible Studies through the years, including one intense season of Bible Study Fellowship studying the book of Revelation, from which I emerged with more questions than answers. No wonder, since my biblical scholarship is spotty at best. As Creasy told the L.A. Times “the problem most people have studying the Bible is that they read it in bits and pieces.”

So I decided to begin at the beginning: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”

And so I began with Genesis. And onward through the Pentateuch: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. I cringed at the ten plagues upon Egypt (the flies…the boils…the locusts!!!) and wandered through the wilderness with the Israelites. (Yes, they must have been a little tired of manna after forty years!) Then it was on to Joshua, Judges, and Ruth.

Creasy’s personal experience in the military gives him a unique take on the life of King David in I and II Samuel and through the wars and conquests in I and II Kings and I and II Chronicles. More than once he invokes his twin favorite epics – Homer’s Iliad and the first Godfather film – to illustrate the action unfolding in Biblical history. If this makes him seem irreverent, not at all. He is clearly a believer, but he states at the outset that here he is teaching the Bible as literature. You’ll find no hair-splitting theological conundrums here, nor does he spend time pondering apparent dissonance around historical dates. After the upheaval of the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests we were on to books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. Fittingly, I finished up this less-than-wonderful year of 2021 not, admittedly with the patience of Job or the wisdom of Proverbs, but at least with the study of them completed.

Creasy has led many study groups to the Holy Land and his thorough knowledge of history and geography greatly illuminates his commentary.At one point, Creasy compares his teaching to someone leading a hike and reminding the group what to look out for up ahead. He doesn’t read the scripture word for word – he leads you through the biblical narrative. And finally, after a season of a narrative that didn’t work for me was one that did. As I look back over my entire year of reading, I find that these books twined around all the rest of my reading, and, indeed, my daily living, like a glorious, blooming vine. Christians are continually admonished to be “in the Word” and indeed, it is a mysteriously edifying discipline. I took a week off between each book and invariably found myself hungering for the next one. Will I make it all the way through the Bible? We’ll see…

And will you? I have one friend who managed to read the entire Bible from beginning to end in 2020. I have many friends who have never opened a Bible. And, of course, many more whose experience lies somewhere in between.

It does seem reasonable to ask why, if you aren’t a believer, you would want to read the Bible? Which leads me to remember my beloved atheist professor of freshman English Literature telling the class that every single one of us should read the Bible because it is the world’s single most important piece of literature. That, and, of course, if one is truly a non-believer, one should probably read it to know what one doesn’t believe.

I don’t know how many “pages” I read or how many hours in total I spent listening, but I do know that they were truly some of the best hours I spent in 2021. Somehow a not-very-good year was transformed into one of my best.

It’s enough to make one a believer!

(Next week – 2021 fiction…)

“The deepest revelation of our character is what we choose to dwell on in thought.”

— Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

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I’m all booked for 2022. How about you?

With yet another COVID surge raging, here we are, all hunkered down again.

Ugh. There’s nothing to do!

Yet I’ve never been busier, because instead of panicking over how many shopping days there are until Christmas, I’m contemplating the delicious fact that I have 358 days in which to achieve my reading goal for 2022.

The annual Polloplayer book review begins next week, but before we talk books, let’s talk reading. Of course you know there’s nothing I’d rather do. I secretly hope that heaven looks like this photo I borrowed from Veranda magazine:

But I know not everyone is like me. Some people would rather walk across hot coals than sit down and read a book. If you are one of them, my gift to you is this little piece by Rosie Leizrowice. I have no idea who she is but I liked her recommendations and especially her observation that “Once the true wonder of it sinks into your bones, going a day without reading will become unfathomable.

“But what should I read”, you ask.

Oh, the places you’ll go with a simple Google search of “book recommendations”. Two of the most popular book web sites are GoodReads (aka Amazon) and LibraryThing. Their algorithms will keep you busy with several lifetimes worth of recommendations.

I like GoodReads especially for charting my reading progress:

But LibraryThing, although a bit more cumbersome as a web site, is great for cataloguing, and once you’ve built up your library there you can click on charts and graphs that reflect your reading tastes and accomplishments. For example, I learned today that my accumulated “reading stack” is somewhere between the height of Notre Dame de Paris and The Great Pyramid!

I was also able to see the distribution of my reading genres:

It’s easy to get in a genre groove – I am highly partial to literary and historical fiction. Sometimes grooves, however, can become ruts. Planning can help us mix it up and explore new genres and even new points of view. Thanks to those pesky algorithms that are the unseen hand in our lives, we tend to only be exposed to the “narrative” we prefer. If yours is espoused by The New York Times, The New Yorker or NPR you’re in luck – their recommendations are widely disseminated and easily accessible. I’ve found great reads from all those sources as well as the lesser known Literary Hub and the absorbing Five Books.

But you’ll have to dig deeper if you have the desire – or the courage – to challenge yourself to a different point of view. The Claremont Review of Books comes to mind, as does The Federalist and The National Review. Personally, I am a fan of the Wall Street Journal’s book reviews, although, like the NYT their content is often paywalled.

I’ve also learned to go straight to the source for book steers – you’d be surprised how many authors are active on Twitter and generous with their recommendations and even their interactions with followers. Erik Larson, Amor Towles and Robert MacFarlane all come to mind.

If you are more inclined to beach reads, and hey, why not, you’ll find plenty of recommendations in People magazine and Vogue. Good Housekeeping magaine does a monthly book club, as Veranda magazine, whose “Sip and Read” book club seems easiest to access from their Instagram account.

And, of course, there’s always the annual and entertaining PopSugar reading challenge:

If PopSugar’s “book you can read in one sitting” appeals, then Insider.com just happens to have made a list for you:

My personal challenge is not yet finalized, but so far I have the following on my list:

Read a book on finance…Read a Shakespeare play…Read one book each by the following authors: Charles Dickens, James Michener, Nancy Mitford, John McPhee and Evelyn Waugh. And, as ever, whittle down a little further that Modern Library 100 list. I’m also toying with choosing some reads geographically – GoodReads has “groups” including one entitled “Around the World in 80 Books” from which perhaps I can glean a read about a far-flung place or time.

And, of course, I remain ever hopeful that friends and relatives will continue to bestow books upon me throughout the year. There’s still one empty bookshelf in the house – we can just tell The Countess to move over:-)

Happy reading!

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Family Album: The Merriest Ever!

Tradition dictates that every Christmas at our house is pretty much the same, yet there’s always a little tweak that makes it a Christmas to remember.

Pretty much the same cast of characters, starting with these two rolling in:

But this year they rolled in complete with COVID tests. Taylor’s results didn’t show up with him at the airport so we had a wild ride home with all the car windows down and the wind roaring through as he tried to balance the home test kit on his lap while reading the instructions – which were provided only in Español! All’s well that ends well: we all celebrated the next evening with dinner on a cozy terrace while the rain poured down.

Rain?

Actual no kiddin’ no foolin’ rain?

Yes, indeed! Christmas 2021 will go down in history as the first in a very, very long time when the rain gauge finally found a purpose.

So much water! Best Christmas present ever!

This crew was sadly MIA this year, lured to Utah for a ski trip. We missed them!

Don’t worry, girls! Your presents await you here!

Fortunately, the Santa Monicans were here to keep things merry and bright:

And Gail flew in from Missoula:

PG was all smiles to see her:

We were so blessed to be able to go to church on Christmas Eve day:

and then come home to find out exactly who’d been naughty and nice. Hey guys, he sees you when you’re begging!

I guess we were all pretty good this year, because Santa definitely showed up!

Guess who was happy!

There’s always a classic Christmas morning moment – this one might have been the “deer-est” ever:



Once all the gifts were opened, we got serious about Christmas dinner. The table was set,

and everything was ready, but there’s always that big reveal: will the three-layer jello salad be a success? Check out Daniel’s form here:



It was a truly wonderful Christmas. So much joy with this crew!

And so, so many laughs! Wish I could take credit for this one but it wasn’t my find. Looks like Taylor will be the next Dalai Llama…

It was a grand Christmas.

How blessed we are as a family! There must be angels watching over us….

Hope you had a merry, merry Christmas, too!

Happy New Year!

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Merry Christmas!

A savior has been born to us!

Wishing you a most merry and blessed day.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like…chaos!

Christmas is one week out and I am three weeks behind.

Happens every year. Because things happen every year

Week before week before last I got nothing done because we hosted an event for twenty people. It turned out to be eighty people!

The next week I got nothing done because my back was whacked.

Last week I got nothing done because, well, parties! 🙂

This week I got nothing done because, well, parties! 🙂

Also, that Grinch COVID is roaring back and everyone and his/her brother/sister/daughter/best friend apparently has it. So we got off the fence and went in for the booster yesterday. Today I will get nothing done because I feel like death.

We did actually get one thing done. We went to see baby lambs. Wish I could wrap them up and give them as gifts! HOW CUTE ARE THEY????!!! All I want for Christmas is ewe!

So. We have done pretty much everything except get ready for Christmas.

All we have to show for December is a paltry pile of presents and a tree that is listing at an increasingly precarious angle.

Oh well, no big deal. We only have fourteen people arriving to celebrate next week.

But if I learned anything from Christmas 2020 it’s that despite everything being wrong, it somehow all came together to be one of our best holidays ever. Here’s hoping there’s enough Christmas magic left over to make it happen again. I think we’ve learned some things about Christmas these past couple of years and maybe, just maybe, the only thing we really have to have ready for Christmas is our hearts.

I know it we won’t get it exactly right, but I think it will be perfect!

I hope yours will be, too!

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

— Charles Dickens
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Searching for Christ*mas

So here we are in the shortest days of the year.

I don’t just mean short in terms of daylight, which is swallowed more every day by greedy gulps of winter darkness. Oh, the days are beautiful, of course, but the sun barely arrives by 7 a.m. and even then carries a tinge of painterly shadows:

And then, by 5 p.m., we are all but shrouded in darkness.

That would be dreary enough in and of itself, but along with the sun stealing away the minutes there is also the shortness of time on the clock, which leads inevitably to the shortness of tempers. If one more person reminds me how many shopping days are left until Christmas, violence may ensue.

And in the little bit of light that remains as we hurtle toward the winter solstice, I find that I squander much of it in searching. I can’t find my scissors. I can’t find my tape. Worst of all, I cannot find that book of Advent readings that I promised I would devote myself to after not reading it last year…or the year before.

I suspect you are beginning to see a pattern here, as I arrive at this point every. single. year.

The busy-ness of Christmas invariably steals from me the business of Christmas. The Christ in Christmas. Just when I need His light the most I find myself engulfed in darkness.

Some years back I learned that the *correct* way to set up a Christmas nativity scene was to place the manger, the animals, the shepherds, the angels, Joseph and Mary but to hold back baby Jesus until Christmas morning. This is, of course, as it should be.

Except.

I dutifully set baby Jesus aside, per instructions. And then, like the scissors, like the tape, like the Advent book of readings, He disappeared. He is in some nook, some cranny, some box or drawer somewhere, sweetly sleeping and waiting, waiting, waiting. In the busy-ness of the holiday, I somehow managed to misplace Jesus.

As it turns out, it is perilously easy to lose Jesus right in the middle of the Christmas season. To put Him away in a box, a drawer, a nook or cranny somewhere and leave Him waiting for us in the midst of the season during which we wait for Him.

If, like me, you have an empty spot in the Christmas scene, if you feel you’re running out of time and of patience and you are searching blindly in the advancing winter darkness, this is a perfect time to call on Jesus. Not Jesus the carved baby sleeping in the manger, but Jesus the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)

There he awaits us. All we have to do is step out of the darkness.

“I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

— John 8:12

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Sparkle and shine.

The cats would like to inform you that there are some strange, bearded men standing around the house. No, Taylor isn’t one of them – he’s back up in SF. These guys look different. White hair, distant stares. What are they up to, wonders The Countess.

A band of merry elves stopped by this week to help us get the season started, supervised by Julia and Cece. What a blessing Julia and her family have been to us through the years – not only can she decorate our house with one hand tied behind back but also while holding Cece in the other!

When you’re young, it seems that Christmas will never come soon enough.

When you’re old, it seems like you just put all this stuff away last week and now it’s time to get it all out again!

If my math is right (anyone who knows me will say “doubtful” to that) this is the CE’s and my 45th Christmas together, and I think the 27th one we’ve spent in this house. We’ve acquired our legion of Santas along the way, many of them smuggled in under cover of darkness lest the CE see them and yelp “Not another one!” Oops.

A few years back the CE actually issued a moratorium on new holiday acquisitions. Fair enough, but I’m beginning to notice that, like him and me, some of our stalwart Christmas pals are showing some wear. It can’t be helped. Four decades of yuletide cheer takes a toll on the best of us.

I’ve started decorating the tree and this little guy came out this morning. I think Phyllis made him for one of the girls sometime in the late 70’s. Like any much-loved bear he is starting to look a bit worn but notice he’s still smiling and has a little sparkle going:

I’ve decided that Mr. Bear is going to be my spirit animal for the next few weeks. I’ve grown much shabbier over the years than he has and I fear whatever sparkle I ever had is long gone. At this point, the holidays don’t so much energize me as terrify me.

But, hey, Mr. Bear reminds me: it’s Christmas! Time to get out the tinsel! However shabby and careworn I look and feel, there’s nothing a handful of glitter here and there can’t help, right?

Merry merry!

And P.S., I’m still in the market for a few more Santas…just don’t tell the CE!

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Family Album: Hither and Yon.

We had a whole lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season. While we weren’t all together all the time, the circle somehow remained unbroken, which is a kind of accomplishment given the size of our tribe.

Taylor put in an early appearance when he visited the weekend before Thanksgiving for a reunion with college roommates Jon and Chris.

We provided the usual fluffy and furry entertainment options:

And yes, speaking of fluffy and furry: THAT BEARD! There’s a rumor going around that it might get canceled sometime soon. If not, I guess we’ll just have to hang ornaments on it at Christmas.

After Taylor and his friends departed, we packed and headed for the hills. Beverly Hills, that is. If you’re old enough to remember the Clampett’s, you’ve got a good visual of how well we fit in there. Somehow the very gracious folks at The Peninsula overlooked our flaws.

Breakfast at their Roof Garden restaurant was a daily ritual:

And they even dispatched their very fancy house car to fetch the CE from a local errand:

The only place fancier than The Peninsula is Angie and Randy’s new home. This labor of love – and likely some blood, sweat and tears – was completed just in time for them to move in before the holidays. Absolutely stunning!

And they are all so happy!

We had a lovely dinner together at Il Pastaio our first night, and then took an obligatory stroll along Rodeo Drive. The CE is always happy to take a walk there – at least when all the stores are closed:-)

On Thanksgiving Eve, we met up at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills for dinner at The Rooftop – the latest masterpiece in the Jean-Georges repertoire. Wow. Just wow!

While we were slumming in Beverly Hills, Tina and family were having their own rooftop moment – at our apartment in NYC!

They enjoyed their front row seat to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and of course, Central Park.

As they celebrated Thanksgiving with John’s family in New Jersey, we headed over the river and through the woods (of Santa Monica Blvd, that is…) to Angie and Randy’s. By the time we got there, they had already put Daniel to work peeling potatoes…with some moral support from Moo.

What a wonderful time we had! A truly memorable Thanksgiving.

And, of course, in southern California there has to be the postprandial dip in the hot tub:

Next day, everything came full circle when we picked up this guy:

and ferried him down the road to Newport Beach to be reunited with his family, just back from the big city.

We get to kick off the Christmas season with all of them this weekend before we head home and get ready to see everyone again in a few weeks.

So very grateful for each and every one!

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You lucky dog.

As we mere mortals hunker down for winter and the onslaught of the holidays, Lily the Wonder Dog just does what she does Every. Single. Day.

“Let’s go, Lily”, calls the CE. She jumps in the Jeep and off they go.

Anyone else want to be Lily in their next life?

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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Family Album: Collecting Candles.

He is quite the collector, the CE. Oriental rugs, books, antiquities, arcania, etc. etc. Through the years he has filled up quite a few walls and closets with his favorite things.

Lately, it seems, though, for both of us that the collections that are adding up – alarmingly fast – are of birthdays! Seems like just yesterday was his 70th…

Yet somehow the 75th was suddenly upon us. How to celebrate the whirling of the years? Seemed to us like it was time for something over the top. And that meant Vegas! A little bit of poker, and then onward to collect a lot of birthday desserts…

We kicked it off with a terrific dinner (and birthday dessert) at SW Steakhouse:

Then a lunch (and birthday dessert) at our longtime favorite, Tableau:

Don’t forget about the poker (where no one seemed to care that it was his birthday):

But there was another birthday dessert at Sinatra:

At Mizumi we had our favorite sushi,

Andddddd another birthday dessert!

We had just finished dinner at Bouchon the next night when a birthday call came in and the waiter asked “Is it his birthday?” Suddenly there was a whoosh and a flourish and a creme brûlée appeared:

Well, I did say the trip was over the top, didn’t I?

And as our time there came to an end, the CE thought it had been a pretty good birthday.

Little did he know…

Along with all the things he’s collected along the way, the collection most precious to him is his children, and three of the four made a heroic effort to surprise him for the mid-milestone birthday. I’m not sure how we all managed to keep the secret, but one by one, Taylor, Daniel and Tina slipped into Las Vegas and gathered to shout out “Surprise!” when we arrived at Mon Ami Gaby for the last dinner of the trip. (Angie was there in spirit):

That is a very, very happy dad!

We had a wonderful dinner, oh, and of course another birthday dessert:

There was a little bit of fun at the tables:

And then we stepped out onto Las Vegas Boulevard:

And ended the evening with a visit to the iconic Bellagio fountains:

We didn’t have a whole lot of time together, but every minute of it was magical.

Truly a birthday to remember.

“The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes.”

– Frank Lloyd Wright
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