Who stole my week?

I would like to inform everyone running for president in 2020 that my vote will go to the candidate who vows to legislate a mandatory five weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And, hey, if you throw in the abolition of Daylight Savings, I’ll even contribute to your campaign. Now that’s policy reform I can get behind!

Immediately after last year’s holiday, I wrote a multitude of future notes to myself in my calendar. Insulting little pop-ups that began in July and increased in ferocity through September. The ones in October became downright threatening. Honestly, I would stop speaking to anyone else who addressed me in that tone. “Sit down NOW and do x, y, z for Christmas” was the gist of them all. For instance, in early October “Buy red ribbon NOW, you idiot!”

And did I heed even one of those notes?

Of course not. Why would I listen to all that haranguing? I smiled tolerantly, deleted each reminder, and went right on playing Wordscapes.

And now I sit here in a red-ribbonless frazzle, hopelessly un-ready for the holiday.

Do you know that there is actually a day less than a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year? That is not quite even four weeks! People, this is a national emergency!

Fortunately, the CE and our dear friends Julia and Grant with their two little elves, made the house look like we’re ready.




And at least I can make everyone else’s to-do list a bit shorter. Don’t buy me anything this year! I already have everything I want for Christmas: all the kids (and almost all the grandkids – we’ll miss you Thomas and James!) will be home for the holiday. Who could ask for anything more? Well, just one other thing, and I have that, too:


I’m writing some pretty nasty notes to myself in my 2020 calendar. But in the meantime, I’m feeling so truly blessed in the spirit of Christmas.


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Giving thanks.

I’d just plopped into the chair and dipped my aching feet into the pre-pedicure foot bath when every phone in the nail salon simultaneously buzzed. Emergency alert. Uh-oh, what’s up?

In SoCal on a windy, dry Monday afternoon in November, the answer is always FIRE.

One to five acres off CA-154 it said. In other words, about 10 miles away from us.

One to five acres isn’t all that much, I thought lazily, as the nail tech scrubbed my heels. But the Twitter notification came with an ominous kicker: this fire began with the same footprint as the Painted Cave Fire back in 1990, the one that burned 400 homes, ultimately jumped the 101 Freeway and made its way into neighborhoods not far from ours. We weren’t living in this house then; we were up a hill in a different part of town, living in a house that had been built after its predecessor was consumed in another fire.

Fire is a way of life here. Us old-timers remember the Sycamore Canyon fire in the late ’70’s. The CE helped a friend scavenge the site that had been his home hours before – all that was left to find in the ash was a teacup.

More recently, we’ve watched flames from the Tea Fire and the Jesusita Fire lick the hillsides across town. And then the Thomas Fire and the tragic debris flow that followed. We were mercifully unscathed every time. Grateful, but well aware that our turn might come.

It was dark by the time I arrived home with my bright red toenails. You know what else was bright red? The view out of our upstairs window.


The CE tossed a canvas bag in my direction and said “Whatever you can fit in this is what we’ll take.” The one-to-five acre fire had exploded to 3,000 acres in just a few hours.

We didn’t really think it would come to that. But we’d never seen flames from our house before and it seemed the prudent thing to do. If we’d had just five minutes we would have grabbed coats, and, of course,


But there was no evacuation order for us, so we dallied. Looking back, I’m a little embarrassed by what I decided was “irreplaceable”. (Tina and Angie, you’ll be pleased to know the 20-year-old Gucci leather jacket made the cut.) I remembered to grab small bills – cash is king in an emergency – but later realized we hadn’t taken our passports. For the CE, however many books he could fit in the trunk of the car:


I gazed wistfully at my piano, and my heart tightened as I thought of our hens. What if we really had to leave them behind?

Meanwhile, the fire had roared down the mountain. Helicopters hovered overhead. The fire eventually consumed nearly 4,000 acres. They called it the Cave Fire, presumably because it started near Painted Cave Road, so named for the ancient Chumash Indian cave drawings nearby.

I think these, or at least some of these, are Mike Eliason photos:





In the last few decades, the science of firefighting has progressed to an art. I don’t know how they do it but they stopped the blaze and not one home was destroyed. Just incredible. We are grateful again, and again the silent acknowledgement: our turn could still come.

Next day, the usual ash. An eerie glow. The hills belched smoke; it looked more like a volcanic eruption than a fire. But relief: rain was on the way.


It poured that night, washing away the fire and every trace of ash. As if nothing had happened! So much to be thankful for in this week of Thanksgiving. We even ended up with snow on the mountains! God – and the firefighters – are good!


Oh – and so is my manicurist:-)


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Owl be reading.

Anomalous as it may seem, winter is upon us in Southern California (hey, we’ve got lows in the 40’s this week!). Because the owls are back, and that means, definitively, winter. We’ve heard a pair hooting softly back and forth on our property every winter for years, and last week they announced their return presence the same night the temperature dropped enough for the CE to bring some wood in for our bedroom fireplace. And last night, walking Lily after dark, we heard a startled screech from a branch above us that we decided could only have been an owl.

I don’t know where they go from March until November. Do owls migrate? A little north-woods cabin for the summer months? Perhaps an extended cruise in Alaska? They are so elusive it seems they mostly appear only as mythical creatures in children’s literature. Winnie the Pooh had his Owl and Harry Potter had Hedwig. Other beloved owls graced our bookshelves while our kids were growing up:


We missed out on this one – perhaps I can convince a grandchild to read it with me.


Owls have fascinated me ever since I stood outside one December night years ago and a whoosh of owl wings passed just above my head. I felt I’d somehow been anointed into a secret society, because, of course, owls, mostly unseen, achieve a mythical, archetypal status in our imagination. And perhaps because they are rarely seen or heard, they are more or less absent in adult literature. All I can find is Patricia Highsmith’s lesser work The Cry of the Owl, published in 1962, and I think an owl factors into the story only as a harbinger of dark deeds.


Awhile back, I enjoyed the memoir Wesley the Owl: A Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacy O’Brien, a somewhat cautionary tale about the rigors of keeping an owl as a pet. In the same vein is The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar: Living with a Tawny Owl by Martin Windrow. If you’re keeping company with owls, I sense you’re not getting out much except to fetch their weekly ration of frozen mouse-cicles from the pet store.

There are other non-fiction options, many with wondrous photos that make it appear as if owls are everywhere to be seen and snapped. If that is so, how do I never see an owl?

Not only do I never see an owl in real life but the closest I can get for my bookshelf is David Sedaris’ New Yorker article and his book, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls which features a selection called Understanding Understanding Owls. The actual owl content may be wanting, but I know it will be hilarious reading. A click of an Audible credit and it is my walking companion for the next few weeks!

Meanwhile, I do still long for an actual owl sighting and have thus added it to my bucket list right between “win the lottery” and “stay in an ice hotel”. In other words, not holding my breath, although I did find this handy resource just in case I’m ever near Heath, Ohio or Castile, New York. I guess it’s not surprising that to find owls, one must go a bit off the beaten path. They’re worth it!


Clocks belled twelve. Main street showed otherwise
Than its suburb of woods : nimbus—-
Lit, but unpeopled, held its windows
Of wedding pastries,

Diamond rings, potted roses, fox-skins
Ruddy on the wax mannequins
In a glassed tableau of affluence.
From deep-sunk basements

What moved the pale, raptorial owl
Then, to squall above the level
Of streetlights and wires, its wall to wall
Wingspread in control

Of the ferrying currents, belly
Dense-feathered, fearfully soft to
Look upon? Rats’ teeth gut the city
Shaken by owl cry.

— Sylvia Plath




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I’ll love you fur-ever.

I know how you’re supposed to fill in the blank. But I’m no Dorothy. My go-to rejoinder for “There’s no place like ________________” is “the next place on the map, please.”. My favorite trip is the one I’m planning during the trip I’m currently on.

So color me ruby-slipper surprised when five days into our last trip I became seriously, painfully, unbearably homesick. Or, more specifically puppy-sick.

I was miserable. Asleep, I dreamed feverish Lily dreams – she was lost, she was sick, she was in distress. Awake was even worse – I teared up at the sight of every Golden Retriever I encountered. On the flight from JFK-LAX I was openly sobbing while I watched (and please don’t – it was a great book but a terrible movie)  The Art of Racing in the Rain. Even that handsome Milo Ventimiglia couldn’t redeem the overwrought dumpster fire that was this movie. But I watched it all the way through and I cried and cried and cried. I was beside myself with longing for Lily. I just wanted to go home to her.


What is it about dogs and the people who become insane about them?

According to Jeffrey Kluger in a Time Magazine article (July 20, 2018), remains dating back 14,000 years have been found of humans who chose to be buried with their dogs.  The word “puppy”, he says, “is thought to have been adapted from the French poupée, or doll—an object on which we lavish irrational affection.”

Irrational being the key word here, at least for me.

We didn’t want a puppy. We weren’t even sure we wanted a dog, so potent was the grief we still suffered over our departed pair of pups. I still look deep into the eyes of every taffy-colored Golden and windswept little white dog I see trying to find a message via the Rainbow Bridge from Chloe and Soho.


Their place in our hearts is immutable, a deeply-etched “Keep Out” sign hung upon it. And taking that step forward to a new dog seemed fraught with danger. “We’re too old”. “It won’t be like Chloe”. “Sleepless nights? Ugh.”  “Housebreaking? Ugh ugh ugh.”

For a mere $13,000 we could have had a grown, trained replica of Chloe, but we chose not to be financially reduced to eating kibble ourselves for the rest of our lives. So that was a no. Instead we went a different direction. I don’t think we even knew what question we were asking, but the answer turned out to be Lily.


I won’t kid you. Those first weeks were tough! She slept through the night from the get-go but we quickly discovered that she is, um, let’s put it euphemistically, an independent thinker. Thank goodness we have a village to help raise her. Our family members, friends and neighbors delight in her. Her dog-mother, Tammy (and family), trainer par-excellence Wency, and dear courageous friends Christi, Lori, Dave and Karen and Kim have all generously volunteered to Lily-sit, all pouring out gentle love upon her. In her eight months on this planet she has known nothing but joy and kindness from humans.

According to Kluger’s observations about humans and dogs, “there are a few genetic scraps that make a powerful difference. On chromosome six (in dogs),,,investigators have found three genes that code for hyper-sociability—and they are in the same spot as similar genes linked to similar sweetness in humans.” So aha! The magical bond has a genetic source!

I’ve been home nearly a week, and that little restless voice is already starting to whisper to me to get out a map and start planning the next trip. But Chromosome 6 is telling me to play with Lily. She is at peak puppy right now, sensing our daily rhythms and finding her place in them, usually by our side. Never mind that she a) digs holes, b) eats horse poop, c) rolls in the dirt after jumping in the pool and d) fails to materialize after I’ve become hoarse calling “Lily come!” again and again. Chromosome 6 does not recognize these failures. It simply instructs me to bury my face in her fur and wrap my arms around her while she thumps her tail back and forth in joyful exuberance.


With apologies to beer and Ben Franklin, I firmly believe that dogs are proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.

It’s so (irrationally) good to be home.



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Family Album: the long road home.

It’s been too much fun.

Vegas with this crew already seems like a long time ago. Amazing time with them!




Then NYC, special as ever. Best, of course, always, is seeing this kiddo.


And wow, some other memorable moments, too…




But this trio whispered to me that winter was on the way.


It was time to go.


Said a fond farewell to the Atlantic,


And hello to a dazzling detour in the OC…



It has been an incredible sojourn. Our hearts are full.

But 6,000 miles later, it’s time to move on. Because, you know, there’s no place like home. And all roads lead to Lily…


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And just like that…

Overnight, poof! In the snap of a finger, the snap of a leafless twig, a season has departed.

We walked home from the Upper East Side late night before last, the pavement dark but glistening from the day’s drizzle. It was warm, almost 70 degrees, warm enough to dally; we stopped and chatted a long while with a carriage driver and fed carrots to his horse.

This morning, 40 degrees! Whipping wind, not just brisk but cold! Time to be serious about coats, scarves, gloves. Time to say goodbye to the russets and golds of autumn. Time to put our heads down and be brave in greeting the leaden pre-winter.

I am inconsolable. It’s not the cold, it’s the sense of loss. Fall used to be my favorite season. But now I am old and I have begun to understand all too well how fleeting, how achingly ephemeral are the beauty of summer and autumn, of youth, of cheer. It will all turn gray and we must be brave.

Farewell to another golden season.






“And the colors are much brighter now

It’s like they really want to tell the truth

we give our testimony to the end of the summer

It’s the end of the summer,

You can spin the light to gold.” 

— Dar Williams/”End of the Summer”

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Husband goes shopping: hell freezes over.

Yes, I can assure you they are wearing mittens in hell this weekend.

Because NEWS FLASH: the CE voluntarily walked into a department store! He walked, in fact, the entire three blocks from our apartment to the new flagship Nordstrom department store on West 57th Street. On opening day, no less!


First impression? It’s seven stories and 320,00 square feet of shiny and new.



Clothes? Oh yes, they have clothes. At first glance, my take was that they are skewing upscale and young. Didn’t see a lot of sensible/frumpy/affordable things, i.e., my style, although that aqua leopard coat did sing out to me…


I liked seeing the West Coast vibe of Jenni Kayne…


And looks like they’ll be doing some interesting partnerships, as with Everlane.


So yes, plenty of clothes, including the mens’ store across the street. Also, plenty of calories. Besides a gluten-free donut bar (singing out to the CE!) and seafood spot Hani Pacific, there is Pacific Northwest leaning Wolf and for Italian, Jeannie’s, which serves pizza and pasta in a minimalist space.



There are even lounges on the upper shopping floors, presumably to capture non-shopping husbands like my own, who zeroed right in on the Bistro Verde sports bar.


So there are clothes. And there is food. But you know what there is most of?


Nordstrom has always been shoe-forward, and they are celebrating it big here.


Our most favorite moment of the excursion was happening upon the “Shoe Bar”. I mean, seriously, this is everything. A little Pinot Grigio with your Manolo’s? Yes, please!


Too bad the CE doesn’t drink, because you definitely need the Pinot Grigio before you look at the price tag on the Gucci crocs. Guess those won’t be in my stocking this Christmas…


Nordstrom has made a big bet on this store at the same time that brick-and-mortar retail is sagging and stores like Barneys and Lord & Taylor are fading from the scene. But the company says that NYC is historically their biggest source of online sales (I wonder if that correlates with when I’m in town, just saying…) and they have high hopes for the midtown location. Hey, if they can get the CE into Nordstrom, anything could happen!

I’m hoping to be their biggest fan, especially come February when it’s a bitterly cold hike over to Bloomingdales or down to Saks. I’m simply priced out of Neiman Marcus, and Macy’s is a no-go for us with all the tourist hordes.  So Nordstrom it is. You’ll find me at the Shoe Bar…



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