Eenie, Meenie, Miney and Moo.

An excellent feature of a large family is that half of them can decide to run off to the frozen tundra for Christmas and we still had enough of a contingent here to celebrate. The CE’s sister, Gail, decided to stay in Montana, not being in the mood for what she thought would be a smoldering campfire after watching news reports of the Thomas fire roaring through. Tina and family opted for a frigid trip to NYC, as did Angie’s boys. They may have gotten more than they bargained for, with temps in the low teens. Brrrr!

They all missed seeing Santa Barbara rebound from the latest natural disaster as only she can. The smoke has cleared, the weather has been fine and the holiday sunsets were spectacular. #nofilter needed:


We missed them all, but had a relaxing, mellow Christmas with three adult kids. Angie, Taylor and Daniel. Plus baby Moo!




Granny hosted us for a lovely Christmas Eve dinner at her retirement community before we went to church:


Christmas Day was awfully quiet without little ones getting us up at the crack of dawn. But then again, there was time to enjoy morning coffee:


The annual drama of unmolding the three-layer jello salad continued apace:


And it was disastrous. Ruh ro.  Might be time to retire this tradition:


We did manage to have a very civilized Christmas dinner, albeit with many fewer places at the table than usual:


There were some memorable gifts:



And visits from friends:


And lots of good memories to cherish of a holiday with these three; Eeny, Meenie, Miney…


And Moo:


Wishing all Polloplayer readers the best of everything in 2018! xo














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Thomas Fire: the Aftermath.

Why is it that on the shortest days of the year I have the longest lists?

Dawn arrives in the thinnest, milky colors these December days and then, it seems, dark falls again before I can get anything done.

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I am utterly discombobulated after the Thomas Fire – now officially the largest wildfire in modern California history – consumed two weeks of our lives. Of course, that is nothing compared with what it took from others. Hundreds of homes destroyed in Ventura County; only three, I think, in our community, but it’s always harder when you know the people who’ve lost their homes. Last night we dined a few tables over from a family whose home was destroyed; a friend of our son was also among those whose hilltop aerie went up in flames. Unthinkable.

There is a consensus that if the fire had begun here, and there would not have been time to assemble a veritable army of 8,000+ brave firefighters, the community of Montecito and perhaps much of the town of Santa Barbara would have been devoured by the fire.  We were told that each threatened home in the foothills of Montecito had a fire truck in the driveway and was individually and fiercely defended. The homes that were lost were simply subjected to a wind-driven inferno beyond what even the best firefighters in the world – which is who we had here – could defeat.

And even more mind-boggling, it seems, is that the smoke has cleared now that the beast is 65% contained and, unless you drive along the roads below the charred hillsides, it’s as if it never happened. For the sake of posterity, I did get this photo of the scorched hills along the northbound 101 freeway between Ventura and Carpinteria:

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But it did happen, and here it is December 23 and we are not even close to being ready to celebrate Christmas. The check-offs on the lists I made put me at about the December 7 mark. No way to time travel that gap. Many fewer packages under the tree this year. But we have a tree. And we have a home. And dark as the dawn may seem, a star will rise and wise men will follow it.

The darker the sky, the easier it is to see the stars. My prayer for those devastated by the fire is for this miracle: that somehow, amidst their grief, the good news of Christmas will shine more brightly for them and glimmer with hope for the future.

 “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” – Luke 2:9

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Praying for Santa Barbara.

Things have changed so quickly that since starting this post a few minutes ago I have managed to rather severely bury the lede. Bloggers are not reporters, as it turns out. Most of you reading are not in an emergency situation so you have the luxury of wasting time on the first paragraphs. If you are in Santa Barbara County, nothing matters except the last ones.

The Thomas Fire has thus far claimed two lives, 259,00 acres, 746 single-family residences with damage to more than a thousand additional residences and is now the third largest wildfire recorded in modern California history.

Last week, the fire was still in Ventura County and I was fatuously comparing it to my root canal. That night, the flames poured into Santa Barbara County, our power went out a dozen times and at 3 a.m. we had refugees from Carpinteria on our doorstep. There had been a knock at their door, and a shout to “Get out NOW!”. The last thing they saw as they rushed away was a sea of flames licking at the edge of their property.

For the past week, their fire became our fire, with several agonizing days of waiting to learn for certain that their home had survived. It did, thanks to a merciful God and the incredibly heroic firefighters who literally held a line in front of their home. Our friends were finally allowed back in yesterday and this is the photo they shared of their hillside:


It is a war zone. It is the longest ever duration of a Red Flag Warning, indicating extreme fire danger, since the warnings were initiated back in 2004. Air quality is so poor that people are wearing masks indoors and out.

Firefighters have doggedly set back burns, trying to stem the tide:


Photographer Jim Stoicheff (@studiostoicheff) captured this dramatic pic from the Santa Barbara waterfront last Tuesday evening:


For the past several days, the focus in Santa Barbara County has been a desperate attempt to hold the front end of the fire in the hills behind Montecito. This morning, the winds gusted to a reported 40-60 m.p.h. and all bets are off. Power and internet access are out in parts of Santa Barbara and mandatory evacuation orders have just extended all the way to Highway 154 to the west above Highway 192.  Local news station KEYT anchor Joey Buttitta (@Joey_Buttita) tweeted around 8:50 a.m. PST: “THIS IS NO JOKE. If you live in Montecito area LEAVE. EVACUATE. The #ThomasFire is moving fast. GET OUT.”

It has jumped San Ysidro over to Hot Springs and Cold Springs Canyon. Mission Canyon in Santa Barbara is next, and if this beast moves south of 192 it will be an unprecedented calamity. I wish I was exaggerating but I’m not.


We are safe. We are actually a hundred plus miles to the south visiting adorable grandchildren and breathing some clean air, but ready to pack and leave at a moment’s notice.

And we are praying for Santa Barbara. If you are the praying sort, this – right now –  would be a good time to offer one up on our behalf.

The scene right now above Montecito, per KEYT:






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Up in flames.

I thought the worst thing that was going to happen this week was my root canal. Wow, was I wrong.

SoCal is on fire this week and not in any of the ways one might hope. At the moment, six separate blazes are aflame from San Diego up to the edge of Santa Barbara County. The Thomas Fire, the largest of all the conflagrations, has destroyed more than 400 structures and displaced thousands of people. It has been nipping at the edges of the greater Santa Barbara area the past few days, jumping the freeway at Ventura County’s Solimar Beach, burning at least one structure at La Conchita and prompting evacuations in the town of Carpinteria.

KTLA took this photo of La Conchita in flames:


It started in Santa Paula, but fueled by fierce Santa Ana winds, which are supposed to kick up again this weekend to the tune of 45 m.p.h., quickly spread, at one point burning at the rate of an acre per second, according to the Washington Post.

For those who have inquired, we are (for the moment, at least) miles and miles away from it all. Not a breath of wind in our part of town all week. But wow, it has been eerie. I took this photo at 1:30 in the afternoon yesterday. Early afternoon looked like dusk and smelled like the world’s largest campfire:


This morning’s sky looks even more apocalyptic, but according to the latest news, while the blaze has grown to 148,000 acres it is now 15% contained. We’ve had power outages, our neighborhood and house smell like eau-de-giant-ashtray, and like everyone else, we’ve been forced to see the 8,000 retweets of the guy who saved a bunny by the side of the freeway,  But thus far, this fire has passed us by. May we be so lucky the next time.

Oh, and the root canal? Every bit as awful as advertised. But not even a blip on the radar screen compared to what families in Santa Paula, Ojai and Ventura have suffered. I found this “confirmed burn” map on Google and it is heartbreaking.

How to help? My favorite option is the Ventura Corps of the Salvation Army. Other options are The Thomas Fire Fund, a hybrid project of Ventura’s United Way and Red Cross, and, remembering all the animals that have been displaced along with humans, the Humane Society of Ventura County.

And, as always, pray for rain…



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Chicken fever outbreak!

No, I’m not talking about avian flu, but it is an illness and most definitely contagious. It can strike at any time. Symptoms: repeated murmurings along the lines of “I’d really like to get chickens someday”.

Someday has arrived for our friend, Tammy, who somehow (the details are a bit murky) acquired a trio of hens (definitely not spring chickens – she describes them as “old and warty”) and the most darling (if not, ahem, the most secure) little coop. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.




She has a buff Silkie, a bantam Cochin and a Japanese bantam, all rather long in the tooth at six years of age and apparently still occasionally laying. How lucky they are to have their new home and such a good mama to take care of them!

And, of course, she has Oliver, the best chicken flock guard EVER!


I’m hoping that Tammy gets some hardware cloth in her Christmas stocking. And some sweet baby chicks come spring…








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Grateful x 3

The best Thanksgivings are plural. We were blessed to enjoy three of them this year, albeit two in absentia.

Thanksgiving One: we skedaddled so friends from the East Coast could gather at our place with their far-flung family AND new puppy!!! Chloe and Rizzo are now best buds!


Thanksgiving Two: Daniel, Victoria and friends somehow pulled off making an entire Thanksgiving feast in our teeny tiny minuscule apartment. Our oven there has heretofore never served as anything but storage, but Victoria worked some serious alchemy to come up with this beautiful bird:


Proud chefs:


Thanksgiving Three: We imported a feast to Santa Monica, where Angie hosted with the most beautiful table:


Granny made the trip, and Taylor, too!


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Two of the guests had tails:


Beautiful pies:


And James learned how to whip the cream. He was only a little nervous:


Beautiful weather in Santa Monica made for the best walks:


And fun in the pool:


Bellies full and hearts, too. Thankful three times over.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend!



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5 things about da Vinci.

Leonardo’s in the news. And, as it happens, on my bookshelf. I just finished trudging through Walter Isaacson’s new (Simon & Schuster, October, 2017) biography Leonardo da Vinci and thus am completely qualified to offer my expert opinion on last week’s record-breaking sale of the maybe-it-is, maybe-it-isn’t da Vinci Salvator Mundi. 

$450 million dollars! For a painting sold in 1958 for less than $100!


What? You don’t care about my “expert” opinion? All right then. Fine.

But surely you are interested in Isaacson’s: he comes down on the side of the painting’s authenticity. His biography is thorough, perhaps even masterful. It is, at 624 pages, um, dense. Like fruitcake dense. And you know how we all feel about fruitcake. So in case you don’t get around to devoting two weeks or two months to reading it, here are my five favorite factoids from Isaacson’s book

#1. Spirals, curls and ringlets. Early in the book Issacson asserts that “…Leonardo delights in what will become his favorite pattern: nature’s spirals.” And sure enough, it’s right there to see in every drawing, every painting, whether it be a portrait or proposal for a military engineering project. Curls and spirals everywhere. His exquisite portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci is an example:


According to Isaacson, Leonardo’s affection for curls may stem from his #2lifelong obsession with water and its force and forms. From fluid dynamics to hydraulic engineering to his late-in-life fixation on an apocalyptic deluge, da Vinci was always thinking about water. Sixteen of his final “deluge drawings” remain, including this one:


#3 Procrastination So good to know that even the great Leonardo was a mere mortal. We know many things about him – he was left-handed, he was illegitimate, he was gay, he was vegetarian, he was the “archetype of the Renaissance Man” and “history’s most creative genius”. But he was also a procrastinator! Thank God, something I can relate to. The man rarely finished anything and lugged his incomplete paintings, including the Mona Lisa around with him for years. I like him more all the time.


#4 Friends in high places. If we are judged by the company we keep, da Vinci rates some very high esteem. Deftly maneuvering around wars, politics and personalities, Leonardo variously claimed as patrons Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, the infamous Cesare Borgia and Pope Leo X – a dé Medici, of course. He was also a friend of Niccolò Machiavelli. But although they were contemporaries, da Vinci and Michelangelo had no use for one another. Giorgio Vasari, who wrote the first biography of da Vinci in 1550, reported that Michelangelo “displayed a very great disdain” toward Leonardo, a disdain that was apparently mutual.

Leonardo’s final patron was King Francis I of France, depicted receiving da Vinci’s last breath in this famous 1818 painting by Ingres:


My favorite discovery about Leonardo was not the Salvator Mundi but another orphan painting that came to be attributed to him. #5 La Bella Principessa was long labeled as a work of nineteenth-century German artists who imitated the style of the Italian Renaissance. The painting languished in obscurity until it was acquired by a collector who commissioned scientific analysis and aroused interest in closer scrutiny which resulted in an eventual consensus among experts that the portrait was truly the work of Leonardo.  If only I could get my hands on $450 million or so – La Bella Principessa is the painting I would most like to see hanging over our mantel:


Oh, and one last thing, which yes, I know, makes #6, but let’s not quibble. A small detail, perhaps, but a significant one. Where, oh where, are the Mona Lisa’s eyebrows? As early as 1625 a description of the painting notes that “this lady in other respect beautiful, is almost without eyebrows.” Isaacson comes to our rescue, citing high-resolution scans in 2007 by French art technician Pascal Cotte, who, using light filters, “found tiny indications of eyebrows that originally existed.”

Whew. Now I feel better. Don’t you?





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