Dec 23, 2008

Baby it's Colorado-Cold Outside

I'm visiting my sister's family in Colorado, a small town outside Castle Rock, halfway between Denver (site of the Democratic Convention) and Colorado Springs (Ground Zero for Dobson and Evangelicalism: the Politics). Nancy's house is decidedly Republican. They are the good kind who are pro-life, anti-big government. They believe in home schooling, organic gardening, taking care of the weak and feeble (my mom) and T1 high speed Internet.

There's nothing like little kids to make you feel like you have a fan base. I haven't been back here since Thanksgiving 2006, and we only got a couple days time. Larry is back in LA and will arrive on Christmas Eve.

We had good reason to believe my mother might not make it to Christmas 2009. She got severely ill a few weeks ago, and it looked like it was time to put her in a convalescent home: something none of us wanted to happen. After a few colon hydrotherapy sessions (try explaining to a weak, 85 year old woman with vascular dementia why she has a hose up her rear. Not fun). But Mom is OK. As OK as an 85-year old woman with vascular dementia could be.

I came early to help out, play babysitter while Nancy's family went out and did the kinds of things they haven't been able to do, having to watch mom 24/7. They went down to the Springs for Phill's office party. Last Friday the children participated in a reader's theater of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. They rehearsed all day and then Mom and I joined them. They failed to mention that all three performances were outdoors. In 10 ˚F. Mom stayed in the coffee house. The kids were great. Matthew is 15 and is a debate master. Right now he's working on his Apologetics debate speech. He's reading Matthew Henry and Martin Luther.

Emily is 12 and is a born actress. She can do most any accent imaginable and has great comedic timing. She and Lizzie, 6, share a small room that is decorated in 6 year old pink. Emily and I are launching a stealth campaign to convince Lizzie that pale aqua and chocolate brown are super cool colors for little girls. We scored a coup a few nights ago: Emily was doing a pastel drawing with the same colors and Lizzie copied her. When Lizzie gave her drawing to me, I gushed on how pretty it was. I suggested she hang it up on her wall. ... and maybe her whole room would look good like that. I looked over at Emily and said, "planting and payoff."

Jonathan turns nine years old two days after Christmas. He played "Max," the Grinch's dog. Jonathan nearly stole the show with his hilarious experessions.

Lizzie, the 6-year-old girl who loves pink, played Cindy Lu Who in the Grinch. She confessed taht she was nervous her first performance, but she got mor comfortable with the audience in the second and third showings. She is bold and daring, Nancy says. She isn't afraid to give hugs or ask serious questions. "Uncle Jim?" She asked my brother pointedly on his last visit .. "Do you like celery?" She knows Larry hates celery. She's just trying to find out the family diversity. She is the perfect antidote to self-absorption and self pity. She asks so many questions, she gets me out of my own head. She is so quick to give, to hug, to love.

I understand how God can love us each individually, and how we can each be his favorite. They're all such great kids.

And they were homeschooled, given strict discipline, lots of love, and a heavy dose of Republican politics.

Phill and I got into a discussion on the way to the Grinch performance. Phill said Obama had the worst voting record ever on abortion, refusing to allow any rights for the unborn. Phill said Obama refused to let any language be added to the partial birth abortion ban ... nothing added so that the ban could be lifted if the mother's life is at stake. Larry said the opposite: that Obama voted against the Partial birth abortion ban because he wanted that clause in there. I don't know which is true. I tried to explain to Phill that Obama comes from an African American constituency where there is runaway teenage pregnancy and poverty; and it's important to understand the lives of people who aren't like us. Not to throw out right to life issues, but at least to have understanding. Phill piped in, "yeah, African Americans have a 50% abortion rate. They are committing genocide on themselves."

I am pro-life, but I also want to put myself in the shoes of others. I'm more akin to thinking, let's reduce the number of abortions. But I also think that should come with putting some restrictions on them, like banning the partial birth abortion which is barbaric and unconscionable, and also making contraception available. But then I have to try to understand people like Phill, too. Rod Dreher said in so many words, "if you were an Abolitionist speaking to a slave owner, you wouldn't say: 'we believe Africans are fully human and have rights like everybody else ... but we want to understand you and your slavery mindset."

But then my tempearance toward Phill grew thin when he brought up gay rights. Forget gay marriage, Phill doesn't even want to give gays domestic partner benefits because a, it's a huge burden on small businesses to grant health benefits and b, he doesn't want to support what he calls an 'immoral lifestyle.' Which made me wonder why we passed the Wall Street bailout.

I wish I could have replied with: "can you refuse to give medical insurance to nonchristians? To muslims, to atheists? And anyone else whose beliefs you disagree with?" But really the point is more like: how can you best demonstrate God's love and grace, who loved us when we were uninterested in him? What if God calls you to love and support someone regardless if they change or not?

Then Sunday came and we heard that sermon, and afterward Phill said he tended to be legalistic. I wanted to shout AMEN then as well. But then, I look down at legalistic people, and I'm being a pharisee myself. So all I can say is, "God have mercy on me, a sinner."

I think about these big-ticket issues, maybe too much. Maybe I worry too much about what people think of me. But anyway it's on my radar. I'm so glad they are no longer in that neo-Amish group, that the kids get to watch DVDs and YouTube with restrictions.

My mom is physically better but she is senile. I forgot what it was like when she was still aware and articulate. Even after she had a stroke we were able to have conversations. Now she struggles to articulate herself when she is aware; and other times she spouts out things and none of us know what she really means. And other times she's NOT clear. She's like a child. When she's up and around it's easy to get frustrated with her childish behavior. But when I go to sleep I feel the weight of that loss.

Anyway that is life in Colorado. It's way different here. I love how beautiful it is. Most of all, I love my sister and her husband and kids. And I love my mom. And I'm aware this may be THE very last Christmas she is with us.

PS: My brother-in law Phill wrote to clarify some of the things he said. I wanted to add his thoughts below:

African Americans do not have a 50% abortion rate overall, but the abortion rate is much higher for African Americans (over 40% for sure) and it is 50% or higher in some communities (e.g. New York City, Detroit).

I'm not trying to "bash" Obama, but his record on abortion to me is horrible. He told the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in 2007 that his 1st act as President would be to pass the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). This act would invalidate almost every restriction on abortion including the partial-birth abortion ban.

Regarding his record in the Illinois State legislature read this article:

I don't like the (article's) focus on "Obama lied," but ... Obama voted against pretty much anything that restricted abortions at all, both in Illinois legislature and the U.S. Senate. ... in his 4 yrs. in the U.S. Senate he voted against abortion restrictions every single time. I pray that as President he may re-think his position on these issues and become an advocate for defenseless children. Presidents sometimes change once they are in office.

Finally, I am NOT opposed to offering medical benefits to same sex couples - I am against REQUIRING businesses to offer same sex benefits to its employees. ... If a church, business, small or large, decides that it wants to extend the same medical benefits to homosexual couples as married couples, then that's their right - I'm in favor of business owners having the right to make these decisions, not the bureaucrats in Denver or Washington.
Phill's beliefs are motivated by his faith; we may not share the exact same opinion on politics or these social issues, but I don't share the exact same opinions as my husband, either. What I appreciated about Phill is, he didn't attack, argue or criticized; he just shared his beliefs in a respectful way. My comment about their former church being 'neo-Amish' kind of stung him as well. But I explained myself. It's a long story, suffice to say I'm glad they're out of that church and so are they. And I really shouldn't have called them neo-Amish.

Besides, the Amish are pro-peace. What's wrong with that? ;)

Dec 10, 2008

Bailout Motor City

My brother sent this to me. Wished I'd seen it in a magazine.

You might not be able to read the text at the bottom, but it says:

You probably thought it was smart to by a foreign import of superior quality, with better mileage and resale value. Maybe you even thought that years of market share loss might prod us into rethinking our process and redesigning our products with better quality in mind. But you forgot one thing: we spend a shitload of money on lobbyists. So now you're out $25 billion, plus the cost of your Subaru. Maybe next time you'll buy American like a real man. Either way, we're cool.

I was raised being told that America was the country of virtue and freedom. Alexis DeToqueville wrote in the 1700s, "America is great because it is good." We loved to quote that. But the other part of the quote was, "once she ceases to be good, she will cease to be great." I think maybe we reached that "cease to be" phase.

So when did you first have that rude awakening that America was no longer good?

Putting the Fun In Dysfunctional

Just want to put another plug for Catheryn Brockett's hysterical new book: The Dysfunctional Family Funbook: Games and Activities to keep you sane your whole trip home! You can find it on Amazon, and don't forget to check out the book's website.

Dec 1, 2008


Larry and I have a rule: no Christmas music before Thanksgiving. For one, it keeps the music special. The season has been hijacked as it is. Or as my mother used to say, when she could put two words together, "When you see the Christmas decorations go up, you know Halloween can't be far behind." The other thing is: it's non stop yule music for Larry, once the pilgrim shoes come off.

I learned this the hard way our first Thanksgiving together. More precisely, on the 18 hour drive to Colorado and back. Larr couldn't wait to play All Christmas, All the Time. My brother Jim was in the car and he complained. Little did he realize we put on the music to shut his yapper. Put my brother in a room and if there is dead air space he will fill it with fun facts about the well-tempered klavier, oboe reed making, the terminal velocity of rocks and everything you would ever want to know about wine. Every kind of wine. He knows I'm in AA 9 1/2 years now and he still finds wine interesting to talk about around me. For hours. You'd play "Rockin Around The Christmas Tree" too.

I have some bad memories of Christmas music. I was scarred in grade school when we drove 3 1/2 hours from Orange County to the High Desert, and the only station we could get was playing Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad" every twenty minutes. To this day I cannot listen to that song. Unfortunately it's one of Larry's favorites. But so is "Jingle Bells" barked out by dogs. I, on the other hand, prefer the classical stuff: Choir of Kings College Cambridge, Chanticleer, men throwing their voices like girls. It's not the only Christmas music I like, but I definitely gravitate toward it.

But our third Christmas together I'm finally coming to appreciate some of the songs on Larry's list. I despise Motown. The Supremes are like nails on a chalkboard. Yet I would put Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) on my short list, even over the U2 version. And these days I'm really digging Mariah Carey's "Silent Night."

Larry and his sister Dianna introduced me to the Mackenzie brothers "Twelve Days Of Christmas. I think it must have been a sketch on Second City TV. (SCTV).
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me ... Beer.
Eight comic books, seven packs of smokes, six packs of tooth forks, five golden touques!
Four pounds of back bacon, three French toasts two turtlenecks, and a Beer. In a tree.

I do love some modern Christmas songs, but others are useless. Like Tom Petty's "Christmas All Over Again?" And all over town little kids gonna get down ... Christmas is a rockin' time, put your body next to mine ... hope you have a good one, I hope momma gets her shoppin' done... ACK. He must have had a contract to fulfill.

I bought a double album of "Essential Carols" by Kings College Cambridge. After the thirteenth carol, they all started to sound like a bunch of castratis singing in a catacomb about "lo the feathered pheasant flies, ring-dong ding now death must die, Aleluiah hodie, Yay-Zoo Christus Natus Est." It actually made me nostalgic for "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree." For a nanosecond.

"So Susan, do you like anything? At all?'' Sure I do. I've got a long list of songs I love, but here's the short list to start.

Est Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen, J.E. Gardiner Montiverdi Choir
Christmas Time is Here (instrumental), Vince Guaraldi. From "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Gaudete, Steeleye Span
Do They Know It's Christmas? Band Aid. Totally 80s.
Christmas Time Is Here Again, The Beatles: Their Christmas messages got weirder every year. This was before acid and Yoko.
Christmas for Cowboys, John Denver. Larry introduced me to this one.
Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy, David Bowie & Bing Crosby. From a TV special.
All I Want for Christmas is You, Mariah Carey
The Holly And The Ivy, George Winston -- from the album December. Still holds up.
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Darlene Love. Makes me almost love Motown.
Oy to the World, No Doubt. When you need to get rid of the sticky sweet.
12 Days of Christmas, Bob & Doug McKenzie. From Second City TV. Hysterical.
Huron Carol, Chanticleer. The first Native American carol.
The Infant King (Old Basque), King's College Cambridge. Just discovered this one.
Same Old Lang Syne, Dan Fogelberg. You may remember it. It IS a Christmas song.
O Magnum Mysterium, Chanticleer.
Coventry Carol, King's College Cambridge
O Tannenbaum, Vince Guaraldi
Silent Night, Mariah Carey
Some Children See Him George Winston
Happy Christmas/War is Over, John Lennon.
All That I Want, The Weepies. A new one I discovered through Lori Rooney.
Christmas Bells, John Gorka. From Larry's list.

You might recognize "Est Is Ein Ros Entsprungen" as "Lo how A Rose E'er Blooming," and before you write it off as just another castrati singing in a catacomb, have a listen here.

There is much more to say about Christmas, and Advent, and what it really meant that God emptied himself, squished himself down into the most meager vulnerable human form. But I'll leave that for next time.

Nov 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Proclamation

My brother, who sent me the Louis CK you tube clip, sent me this.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation

"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

"In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plow, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

"No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

"I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed."

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, 1863, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Nov 24, 2008

Everything's Amazing, Nobody's Happy

Leave it to comedian Louis CK ...

Preach it, brother!

Nov 22, 2008

Writing As A Sacrament

My publisher's online marketing group asked me to write an essay about my book: maybe a topic relating to my book's subject, or the process of writing, or what-not. I'm sharing this with you, because if you're a blogger or writer or reader, it might inspire you. Besides, I'm tired of blogging on politics or gay rights or subjects I'm not qualified to weigh in on. I don't have the answers to those things. I only know what it's like to live in my own skin.

Writing As A Sacrament

I didn't start out to be a writer, though I have always written. I wrote comedy sketches in high school, screenplays in college, and every day journaled as a form of prayer. I wrote down my thoughts and longings, and waited for God’s response. It was like church. The other thing I’ve always done is had faith. I believed God made me for a purpose, and that He intended to fulfill it. (looking back, I probably used my faith to slack off, and expect God to do all the hard work!)

But when I hit forty and found myself single, jobless and living over a garage, I began to question everything: my career choices, my relationship choices, and especially my faith. Did God ever have a purpose for me, had I ever heard him in the prayers I wrote down, or had I made it all up? Maybe my faith was nothing more than some churchy version of self-help. What began as a personal nadir turned into a spiritual abyss.

There was only one thing I knew to do then: I wrote. I wrote it all down. I wrote to stay sane. I joined a writing workshop. My wonderful teacher, Terrie, and my fellow students, gave me the freedom to fall apart, to doubt, and even to hope. That class was church. I read my stories to them, and sometimes I just cried. They told me to keep writing. That’s how this book came about. If I ask myself, where God was through that dark time? He was in the pen and paper and the hearts of the friends who told me to keep writing.

I used to read for the sole purpose of improving myself. CS Lewis, AW Tozer, stacks of Christian self-help books about how to get healed or how to know God. Or how to get healed by knowing God, or how to know God by getting healed. They all boiled down to “how to be better.” When I finally realized I never was going to get better, that I was always going to be a sinner, I stopped reading self-help books.

I began to read for enjoyment. David Sedaris’ Naked is one of the funniest, most poignant collection of essays I’ve ever read. Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies discussed faith with honesty and humor. And Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz convinced me that poetry was still alive in the hearts of believers and that God was bigger than church. I discovered Walter Wangerin, Jr and N.T. Wright. Even though I've given up on Christian self help, I haven't lost my thirst for good sound theology and great storytelling, especially if it has a And then there’s the bible. I still can’t get over the psalms: the protest, the agony, the hope. And the poetry!

Larry introduced me to Walter Wangerin Jr. and Frederick Buechner and N. T. Wright. I still love Anna Karenina. The Brothers Karamazov is my favorite novel, ever. Great writing, deep theology, and stories that matter -- these inspire me to be better without telling me how. They also inpsire me to keep writing.

Maybe writing is like a sacrament. It’s an act of confession: coming clean about what's really in your heart. It's a profession of what you dare hope is still true. And it’s an act of testimony: baring it to others. Sometimes your writing is ugly and self-absorbed; sometimes it’s funny or pretty. What’s remarkable is, God already knows it and loves you anyway. He knows all of your wreckage and beauty. He just wants you to know it too. That truth can set you free.

Nov 21, 2008

Book Site is Up, and a Podcast as well

Done! Angry Conversations With God now has its own website. I've posted info about the book, book Tour Events, and great endorsements from great people like Don Miller, Jim Gaffigan and Nancy Stafford!

My first book tour Stop is at International Arts Movement's IAM Encounter, February 26-28, 2009, in New York City. I'll be performing, leading a writing workshop, and you can buy the book before its Drop Date. The masterful poet Billy Collins is "headlining," so why wouldn't you want to come?!

The lovely Christy Tennant of IAM interviewed me for an IAM podcast, and has been cruel enough to extend our interview into three parts. You can download or listen to the podcasts here. She'll also be interviewing Billy, and I'm sure he'll be a man of fewer words than I.

Nov 18, 2008

California Burning

Saturday morning I woke up to a clear blue sky. So clear and blue, like only Los Angeles can do to autumn. One would never know there was a fire raging 2o miles away in Sylmar. But that's what the Santa Anas do, they blow smoke westward out to the ocean. So the smoke blew west across the valley and I couldn't see it, not from Eagle Rock.

But around noon I went out to meet a friend, and saw a funnel of smoke billowing up toward the southwest. Yorba Linda, I found out later. By the end of the day the sunset was blood red and the air was thick with smoke. Smoke was everywhere, in every room. I woke up in the middle of the night with a weight on my chest, it was that oppressive.

The city felt oppressive even before the fires. Prop 8 was voted down, and people got really, really pissed off. I know a lot of gays who really do want to marry, to be monogamous, and they are good souls. I voted against Prop 8. I figured, let everyone to have equal rights under the law. We live in a pluralistic, secularized society; and when it comes to the secular estate of marriage, I don't think the church can dictate how the state defines it; nor should the state dictate how the church defines it. Some Christian conservatives argue that marriage is an estate of the church. But we recognize marriages between atheists and agnostics and Buddhists and egad, Methodists. I've even been to church weddings where one party was an atheist. So really ...

I know what the Old Testament says about homosexuality. But the Bible also tolerated polygamy and slavery. Two hundred years ago, devout Christians thought slavery was okay. Fifty years ago they thought interracial marriage was an abomination. So what is the church doing right now? Is it standing up for biblical truth? Or are we so committed to the law that we fail to see that God has come in and changed it? Jesus defied so many biblical laws that the devout had him killed for it. We must be very careful not to miss what God is doing. Yes, you can argue that homosexuality is a sin. Dost not thine own shit stinketh as well?

One of my oldest friends, whom I met at a Christian conference, tried not to be gay for years. She did all the programs. She went to seminary, and spent years working in homeless shelters and advocating for the poor and oppressed; speaking up for those who had no voice. Like Jesus did. And she was still gay. One day she said, "Okay, either God is cruel, and me being gay is his curse upon me. Or, God is good and merciful, and this is a gift." She chose to believe in a god who was like the latter. She became a pastor to the outcast. I look at her life and what she has done for the kingdom of God, and it's far more than I have.

I do not have an answer, but I know God is merciful. He knows the heart of every person. He knows what they have gone through. Because I am not homosexual, I don't feel like I can judge those who are. When I think of all the crap God has endured for me, I'm sure he will have grace for others. I mean, he put up with slavery and polygamy. Don't you think he can handle someone being gay?

Jesus said there will be no marriage in heaven. I wonder if that's because, our current experience and understanding of sexuality and intimacy are so puny and superficial, compared to what identity and intimacy will be in the afterlife ... when the veil is lifted and we see and know God face to face. as CS Lewis wrote, "I know, Lord, why you did not answer. You yourself are the answer. Before you, all questions die away."

I wonder if arguing over each person's broken, or fixed, or cobbled-together sexual identity is splitting hairs. When the fact is, one day we will all be washed clean not by our own goodness but by God's grace and mercy. So why would I throw a millstone around someone's neck? Prevent them from knowing God's infinite love and mercy and acceptance, by arguing that my shit stinks just a little less than theirs? Let he who is without guilt, cast the first stone.

At least that's what I had been thinking.

And then the Prop 8 protests started. Angry mobs targeted one restaurant because the manager was Mormon and had donated to the Prop 8 cause. They picketed and taunted customers and employees. What if Pro-Prop 8 supporters had picketed and taunted patrons of gay bars in West Hollywood? A theater director in San Francisco donated money to Prop 8 and got fired. (Okay, so what was he doing directing theater in San Fran? But then, what was that gay guy doing on eharmony? Demanding they match him with other gays? Should we force gay dating sites to match heteros? It seems petty. Is this like a meat eater demanding that a vegan restaurant serve him rib-eye? Jesus came to liberate the captives. But he didn't free us so we could bicker and attack each other. I think he said something about turning the other cheek.

Some say it's a moral issue, some say it's a rights issue. Tony Jones and Rod Dreher are blogging about it on Beliefnet. I'll leave it to the experts to hash it out, because I'm at a loss. More than that, I'm grieved over the hateful spew going on. Author Robert Hughes aptly labeled our fraying American culture as The Culture of Complaint. Every splinter group demands their rights, like petulant, angry, immature children. It starts with "accept me," and then it becomes, "dig me, fund me, love me, obey me. Or else." And it goes on everywhere, from James Dobson to GLAAD to PETA to you and me.

Know what happens? The loudest, angriest, biggest bully gets their way. And then some extremists come along to restore order, and make you wear a burka.

At least, that's what I've been thinking, as the smoke clears from Los Angeles. What began as a clear blue autumn day turned into a charred wounded, oppressive landscape. What began as a proposition has disintegrated into cattiness and bullying. Who started it? Does it matter? I think the better question is, who's going to show a some maturity and grace? Who's going to say "Sorry" first? Someone needs to. Because I'm in no mood to put a sheet over my head.

Oct 27, 2008

The Faith Life of the Party

I am depressed over the acrimony expressed during this political race. Mud slinging, fearmongering, assassination attempts. And that's just the run for church secretary.

Joking aside ... My husband Larry says it hasn't been this bad since 1968: we were locked into a war we didn't want, King and RFK had been assassinated, there was the Chicago riot at the Dem convention; plus we were going through the great Sixties social upheaval. Flash forward 40 years: social upheaval, terrorism, economic collapse. In the midst of this comes Focus on the Family's doomsday letter, filled with the worst case scenarios if Obama were to be elected. It read like a synopsis of a "Left Behind" book. Ridiculous, corny, paranoid. Now I know the same thing goes on from the other side. Bill Maher (God loves him!) regularly excoriates McCain and Palin. I half-expect it from a nihilist like Maher, but not from people who claim to follow Jesus, who commanded us to "love one another."

I recently watched the John Adams series on HBO. Some things surprised me: Thomas Jefferson anonymously hired someone to write a defamatory letter to destroy Adams' reputation. It worked: Jefferson won the election. They also tarred and feathered people during the Revolutionary War. So much for even micro evolution. We haven't evolved much.

Here are some other facts about our founding fathers you may find curious. Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian; he was a deist. He was also a slave owner and adulterer. He 'authored' the Jefferson Bible, in which he cut out everything Jesus said that he didnt' like (deity, atonement, resurrection). Benjamin Franklin was a deist and a hedonist. And the genius behind our constitution. George Washington was baptized Episcopalian but some claim he was a deist. He stopped taking communion. John Adams was a Unitarian Universalist; they believe everyone gets in. Yet the Christian Right holds them up as model Christians. They weren't! They were model leaders, filled with wisdom and flaws, and up to the task as it was presented in their day.

Well it is a new day. I do want my president to have a core belief in God -- in a just and loving God, whom the prez knows he must answer to. I'd be more comfortable if he shared my faith; but George Bush did, and look where the US went these past eight years. (To be fair, we can't blame one person, we're all responsible) I don't even share the exact same beliefs as my husband. Larry doesn't believe in hell; not the Germanic, Protestant "Hell" of the 16th Century. And boy is he gonna fry for that. I'm more concerned about the way we are scrutinizing each candidate's every jot, tiddle or whisper about faith, then judging their ability to lead based -- not even on their actual faith but our interpretations of their faith. Extrapolating how the world will look if they get into office. Accusing their spouses of being racists or bimbos. WTF?

If we-- you, me, James Dobson-- want to judge Obama or McCain's ability to lead the US based on their faith alone, we would have to go back and apply the same criteria to Washington, Franklin, Adams and Jefferson .. and we'd be render our founding fathers "unfit to lead."

Look, I know there are real issues at stake, issues you and I care about. Some people believe he world will fall apart over these issues. We need to vote our conscience. Personally, neither candidate or party represents the entirety of my beliefs. Some skew to one side, some to the other. I don't think either candidate is perfect; but neither do I find either of them to be horrors or miscreants. In the words of McCain, "he's a decent fellow with whom I happen to disagree." I think that's true about both of them.

I worry that whoever gets the job is going to be in for a heap of trouble. We humans tend to be lazy. We want someone else to fix our problems. Fix the economy, fix people's conduct. Make it work, so I can go back to speculating on the stock market, buy my iPhone and lease that Hummer. Make oil prices go down. Drill baby drill. Throw money and programs at the problem! I just want to to back to my old life . Well, we can never go back to our old lives. The world is changing. America is not going to rule the world forever. And why should we? We're not God.

In the midst of all this negativity, I was delighted to listen to two podcasts on the radio program, Speaking of Faith, which I susbcribe to (free!) on iTunes. host Krista Tippett interviewed Christian politicos on both sides of the divide. The podcasts were terrific: they helped me understand the motivations on each side, the discussions were thoughtful, respectful, and positive. No mud slinging, no tar and feathering. First, The Faith Life of TheParty: the Left, an interview with Amy Sullivan, an evangelical Christian democrat who writes for Time magazine. Second: The Faith Life of the Party, the Right, interview with Rod Dreher, who wrote "Crunchy Cons." I knew Rod in New York. He's a great guy. He's not a fear monger. Whew. Actually they were both a relief and delight to hear. A balm in Gilead.

In any event, I thought I would share some counter programming to all the blecchy angry meanness going on. I can't tell you how to vote. That's up to you. I also can't tell you how to act or how best to love your neighbor. That's also up to you.

Oct 22, 2008

Gift a Tea Cozy for Christmas!

I've been making tea cozies for fun and gifts to friends. My friend Lori Rooney told me about Etsy, a website where you can sell your craft wares. So I opened a shop!
If you are looking for a nice Christmas gift, come check out my etsy store.

All of my tea cozies are made from recycled wool sweaters. I'm helping the environment and the Goodwill at the same time. First I "felt" the wool, washing in hot water and running through the dryer, so the fabric becomes as dense as possible -- keeping your teapot hot is a key to good brewing. They're also machine washable!

Some cozies have more details, like a button opening or a pocket to hold extra tea bags.

Please check out my Etsy Store! And if you've got a favorite old wool sweater that you can't wear anymore but can't part with either, let me know and I can make a custom cozy for you.

Oct 19, 2008

Pumpkin Carvings

It's Halloween time, apparently the second-largest decorating (and consumer tie-in) event of the year ... right between Christmas and ... um, Armistice Day. If you don't believe me, just walk into a crap, I mean, craft store. The crap you can buy to make witches and undead phantasms look cute in a scrapbook is unbelievable. I think just take pics of Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson, those are the real witches of 2008.

I actually love doing crafts. My sister in law Dianna is an amazing craft artist. She does great scrapbooks, and her original cards are works of art. But getting cards from her only makes me wish we lived in Portland, near her. Not just for the cards, but because she is a terrific person. Yesterday another friend in Portland emailed us to join him for pumpkin carving at his place tomorrow. Which also made me mad, that I didn't live in Portland. If I had the frequent flier miles, we'd be there.

Then again, I wish I lived closer to my sister's family in Denver. Phill and Nancy's kids are growing up and I'm missing so much of it. Phill went to Tib't on a mission, Phill and Matthew went hunting last week, Emily got a kitten, she has dance recitals and Matt has speech tournaments. I just feel like I am missing their best years and I feel so sad not to be there. It makes me feel homesick, and I'm not sure where home is anymore. My brother James lives in West LA but he just got engaged and he'll be moving to Switzerland! LA feels less and less like a place I want to stay. but we are here for now. For now. How long have I existed in LA "for now?" Whenever I hear of someone moving away, I feel envious. but to where? Denver, Portland, who knows.

But this is a post about Halloween ... Can't remember the last time I carved a pumpkin. I had to convince Larry to buy Halloween candy last year. "Who's going to climb up 80 stairs?" he asked. And this year, all the safety lights along the stairs have gone out. But last year some kids must have seen the light in the house and the scary dark stairs and thought, "Ooh a haunted house!" We got three kids last year! (well three from the same family). I gave them everything we had.

We probably won't buy a pumpkin, but if I did, I'd be tempted to recreate this one. Which is kind of a fun pumpkin carving and a PSA in one. If you have kids, go to town. And remember, they won't always want to dress up like Belle or Harry Potter. Some day they'll wear a monkey suit every day and go sit in an office. Which IS pretty scary ...

Oct 11, 2008

Observing The New Year

It just turned cold yesterday. It’s clear that autumn is here. For those living in more inclement weather, it’s been obvious for a few weeks. But we had a heat wave the first week of October, so it’s only now reaching us.

Autumn is my favorite season. Summer has vanished, the light has changed, the air has turned crisp, and it brings on a kind of lovely melancholy. I grieve a little, get over it and get on with whatever is in front of me. It’s also the Jewish New Year. Jewish congregations just finished their new-year observances: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Yes there’s a joke in there: “growing up Norwegian Lutheran I thought Yom Kippur was a tasty tuna hot dish.” Yum Kipper. … Groan.

The Lutherans (sometimes called Catholic Lite) did observe the church year, but I really only remember Advent because of the purple candles. Of course we had Lent but we never got ashes smudged on our heads or fasted from anything. We never had anything as weighty as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah, the new year, brings in ten days of soul searching, taking stock, repenting, and seeking forgiveness. On the Day of Atonement God forgives your sins and you have a new start for the coming year. Now Jesus did away with the need for a blood atonement, so forgiveness is available any time.

Nevertheless, I think there is something healthy in stopping and taking stock, and fall seems like the time to do it. It is, after all, the end of the previous year’s harvest. It’s time to count what is in the storehouse, and plant for the next year. It’s the beginning of the school year; we’re kind of programmed to start new work in the fall. My own faith teaches me I need to examine my heart and repent of wrongdoing. And I’ve learned in the 12 steps that taking an inventory and getting right with God and others is one of the healthiest, freeing things you can do for yourself.

Moderns don’t really like words like “sin” or “repent.” We don’t really want to admit we might be wrong; we are too afraid or too addicted to activity to stop and look at ourselves. In a world where we declare that everything is permissible, what’s to repent of? But read the news and it’s clear things are FUBAR. But can we admit it? This 700 billion dollar bailout seems like we are enabling our addiction.

I listened to a Speaking of Faith podcast in which a young rabbi, Sharon Brous, talked with great passion about the High Holy Days that it almost made me want to be Jewish. She explained that “repent” repent really means “return:” return to who you really are, return to God, return to the person God really meant you to be, leave your wandering and self-absorption and return to what God has really appointed you to do in the world.

Another thing that Sharon Brous said that struck me, is this: at the beginning one may focus on one’s own failings, but soul searching needs to go beyond the self, and examine one’s responsibility to community and the world. Americans are so dang independent (read: self-absorbed) that we have a hard time taking responsibility for the problems around us.

Back in the early 1990s I attended a non denominational church that was heavy into the spiritual gifts. I remember one rambling “prophet” talking about the Jewish new year in “olden times.” He talked about it, and it stuck with me. Ever since then, when the high holy days come round, I think about fasting and praying. But I’m too addicted to food and activity that I don’t do it.

Well, this year I decided to do it. Larry’s got a lot on his mind regarding some work, he needs to make some changes in his job and … well, while I have this book in front of me, Larry’s vocational path isn’t so clear. So I did it. It helped that I was out of town for a couple days working on a short film. It’s a lot easier to fast from food when you are holed up in a La Quinta Inn in San Jose, and the closest munchies are pork rinds at the 76 station food mart.

For me, the hardest part about fasting from food … besides not eating … is deciding to do it. Ask me in a month if I’ll do it again soon and I’ll say no. It just takes up so much psychic energy. But once I make the decision it’s a lot easier. When the waves of hunger come, I tell my stomach, ‘you’re not hungry,’ and it shuts up. I do drink that Master Cleanser lemonade (lemon juice, grade b maple syrup, and cayenne pepper). I drank a couple V-8 juices and some Gatorade, so it’s not like I was totally fasting. But it’s enough to get my mind and time off of food.

Days one and Two, my energy level on the set was fine. The Sugar Free Red Bulls helped. But I think I caught a cold the previous weekend, so that got in the way. I was still working on the short film, so it’s not like I was in some corner praying and meditating. I did put on some music that got me in touch with God, and that was great.

I also got in touch with my real self. When my friend Tim and I were driving back from the set to our crappy motel, we got lost. And I got cranky. Oh and when I got back to the motel my tea bags were gone, so I went down to the hotel desk and said the maid had thrown away my tea bags. A few minutes later I found them. So I had to call the front desk and apologize for being one of THOSE kind of people. The next morning Tim and I were driving back to the set, stuck in the wrong lane, and trying to merge, a wall of cars zoomed past and no one would let us get in. So I rolled down the window and flipped tehm all off. Tim laughed out of shock. Poor guy. Did I mentione we met at chuch in New York? “This your true heart. This is your true heart on fasting. Any questions?”

Okay, so stuff I can pray about when I finally get quiet and have time to listen.

By Day Three (Wednesday) I wasn’t tired at all. We finished work and I flew back to LA Wednesday night. Thursday morning I woke up, cold in full bloom. I finally sat down to get quiet, pray, and listen. My mind wandered a thousand places. Then the Daytime Theraflu made me sleepy. It was daytime Theraflu! I knew, because I accidentally took it last night thinking it was Nighttime Theraflu and it kept me awake!

So I lay down and slept for a few hours. Note to self: things to work on this year: not getting colds, paying more attention in prayer and meditation. Not to take over the counter cold medicine before prayer and meditation.

Thursday was officially Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. But since I started my own personal “days of Awe” later, I decided to keep fasting and wait until Larry and I could get away Saturday night and pray together.

Larry and I planned to get away overnight Saturday night to pray together about the upcoming year. Problem was, we didn’t make any reservations. He told me later he assumed I was going to do it. Well, you know what they say about ass-u-me. So Friday night I spent two hours online trying to get a hotel in the desert or the beach. I made a list and emailed them to Larry for his thoughts. An hour later he hadn’t responded. He said he saw the email, he just didn’t think he needed to open it. Grr. So I tried to get something on Priceline and it rejected my bids! It said, “up to half off” so I stayed above half! That damned William Shatner. What a freaking liar! Finally I thought about the ranch where I’d gone to write my book. I wrote down the number, handed it to Larry and asked him to call while I took a hot bath. “But you know him more than I do,” Larry replied. As if that was the point.

So after my bath, Larry and I had a little discussion about our communication breakdown. I kept calm but I was direct. Larry said it felt like he got blindsided. Okay so there are some more things to work on.

We didn’t go anywhere for Saturday night. But we ended up taking a beautiful drive up to Mt. Wilson, Larry’s namesake. The sky was clear, and it was remarkable to think that only a week and a half ago we were enduring a heat wave. The view was spectacular, too. We sat up near the observatory and prayed. Well, I wrote.

I had formulated a list in my mind of things I wanted to write down.

Lose weight.
Get back into yoga
Find a good 12-step sponsor and at least two regular meetings.
Be a better wife.
Root ourselves in a spiritual community.
Lose more weight.
Take inventory more often.
Work on solo show.
Be less of an asshole, especially when driving, or when nice, Christian friends are driving and I’m in the passenger seat.
Help Larry make his important decisions without telling him what he should do.
Get out of the way.
Let go and let God.

But when I started to write, I felt compelled tow rite as if I were Larry. Imagine what was going on in his head, the fears and concerns he was facing. I wrote and wrote and wrote. And I wrote what I felt God would say back to Larry. I then wrote from my point of view and what I felt God would say to me. It turned into about 13 pages. Only then did I write my list. And I don’t think I mentioned the weight thing. After all, I’ve been fasting for six days and my jeans feel loose.

In the end, when I looked back at what I wrote, I was taken by how much grace God has for both Larry and me. He doesn’t reprimand or shame us. He is firm with us, especially when he sees our character flaws. He is concerned that they go unchecked because he loves us. But he is always patient and hopeful even in his rebuke. For example, when I wrote down, “I don’t’ feel like I’m a great wife.” God replied, “well that’s not true. You have areas you need to improve, but you’re doing a great job. And remember you were by yourself for so many years, you’ve only been married two. Don’t expect Larry or you to come ready-made into a relationship.

Larry and I have been married two years. Marrying Larry was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. Of course I get frustrated, I get complacent and lazy too. But I know that the purpose of marriage isn’t to make my life convenient –– it’s to change my character, and to help Larry change his. There’s no better place to bring my character issues than to the one person who has promised to love me and stay.

And I really do wish I could bring more of these observances into my life: taking stock, honoring the season. Not that I’m going to become Jewish. But fasting and prayer is a pretty good thing.

Larry and I drove back down Mt. Wilson and shared our thoughts about the afternoon. I didn’t read him what I wrote. I think I should live it.

He stopped and got Indian food to take home. It was the only time in the last week that I wanted to eat. I’m ending my fast on Monday morning. I think I’ll have Lamb Korma for Breakfast.

Oct 9, 2008

Dysfunctional Family Funbook

Larry and I just returned from a release party for Catheryn Brockett's debut book, The Dysfunctional Family Funbook. Catheryn and I met in New York. She's a talented actor and comedienne, and we both took writing workshops with Terrie Silverman. Terrie has now produced three published authors in my group alone: Andrea Askowitz, Catheryn and me.

While I was in class, agonizing over my life, writing and yanking out my guts, Catheryn just came up with this idea and plugged away, one game at a time, and voila.

The book's title begs the question, "why didn't anyone think of this before?" Well, Catheryn is that kind of ingenious. It's just what the subtitle calls it: games and activities to keep you sane your whole visit home. It's snarky and funny, but it's also got a great takeaway: sanity and recovery.

This was my favorite page, and I remember when she was working on it in a mock-up, well before she found her agent and publisher. "Match the correct expression with the correct "feeling word" or emotion.

This will make a great holiday gift. In fact, you might want to buy them well before Christmas so your friends have a chance to use it when they will need it the most.

Here is a link to the Dysfunctional Family Funbook on Amazon. But I urge you to buy it at local bookstore THIS WEEK and help DFFB land on the NY or LA Times Best Seller list!

Sep 26, 2008

WaMu Fails. But not its CEO

THIS JUST IN: Washington Mutual Fails, JP Morgan takes over.

WaMu's outgoing CEO, who was on the job for ALL OF THREE WEEKS, could leave with 11.6 million dollars.

$11.6 million for three weeks. Let's say he put in 60 hours a week. That's $64,444 an hour. Okay say he put in 12 hours a day, seven days a week. He'll be making $46,031 an hour.

I am beginning to understand why the french stormed the Bastille and the Bolsheviks killed all those kossaks.

Sep 25, 2008

Bail Out: Cash for Trash

Eugene Oregon Congressman tells Washington like it is.

Preach it, brother.

Sep 19, 2008

Confusing Economy Explained

I'm a fan of Terrie Gross's program FRESH AIR. I get it free via podcast. She's always got great interviews with artist and writers, politicians and economists. I've learned a lot about the world listening to her show. I know very little about economics and less about Wall Street. But I thought these two episodes are crucial for everyone to hear.

Our Confusing Economy, Explained
(April 3, 2008)
Was Adult Supervision Needed On Wall Street (September 17, 2008)

If you don't understand how we've gotten into this horrible financial state, it's not merely because of the people who took out sub-prime mortgages. It's because of Wall Street (creating risky investment products to sell those mortgages) and the Congress that abetted them.

In December, 2000, the Republican Congress passed a bill in the dead of night which deregulated various new, risky investment products ... by deregulating them, these products could be bought and sold without any accounting ledger. Take for example these sub prime mortgages. They bundled thousands of mortgages together, got them rated by bond rating companies (who are paid to rate them well, so it's kind of a conflict of interest) and then sold them in a new product called a "structured investment." hey're structured like an iceberg. the small top of the investment looks good, so it gets an A Rating. But there's a whole behemoth of danger below the surface. Here's a detailed look at Moody Bond raters and the subprime meltdown. Then there are "Credit Default Swaps," which are a kind of very risky insurance ... But if you called it insurance, it would have to be regulated -- you know, require oversight and accountability -- so they called them something else, and Congress got the bill passed in the middle of the night so no one sane would protest. That would suggests they knew it was risky and might not pass muster in the light of day.

The Republican fiscal philosophy supports a free market economy, unfettered by government control. It has worked well for the American economy in some respects. But our current problem lies in not enough oversight. For the past 8 years, these ridiculously risky products have been sold -- privately, deregulated, no bookkeeping, no paper trail. The government would love to have a spreadsheet to find out how much money changed hands, how much was lost .... but they are private securities, and there is no paper trail. And now we have what we have on Wall Street. The government had to bail out AIG or we'd be facing a Depression.

Privatized profit, socialized debt. Private wheeler dealers reaped the early profits. Now the society is going to pay for it, in taxes (But not big companies or the rich; they get loopholes. Just the average Joe). That's how our government is structured today.

I'm not naive. I don't think massive government is the answer. I don't believe we can create a program for every issue known to man, then demand the government pay for it. I don't believe in taking money from hard-working people and giving it to slackers who don't want to work. But it seems like a lot of people on wall street made money at our expense.

I highly recommend Wednesday's podcast, still free and available on iTunes; as well as the archive of April 3. It will be an education. A terrifying and fascinating horror story.

Our Confusing Economy, Explained
(April 3, 2008)
Was Adult Supervision Needed On Wall Street (September 17, 2008)

Sep 18, 2008

I Hate Politics

I've heard some people say they don't hate God, they just hate religion. To which I say, well you may hate politics, but you still need some system of government: someone to pick up your trash.

And then I hear trash like this on the radio: Sara Palin twisted Joe Biden's words around ... "Joe Biden thinks raising taxes is patriotic? Well I don't know about you, but I think raising taxes hurts America! It kills small businesses!" Then they played what Biden actually said. "It's time for the RICH to do the patriotic thing and PAY TAXES." Because they don't. They have loopholes.

If Palin really were a Christian she would obey the ninth commandment, thou shall not bear false witness. You know, LIE. But she LIED LIED LIED. She also tried to get her ex brother in law fired ... Please. Don't call yourself a Christian and then spit at the very God you claim allegiance to.

Look I know there's lying and manipulation going on in both parties. There's also good on both sides. But as Rick Warren said, service can quickly turn into serve us.

My husband found this on today. I just have to include the whole text.

A Call to Arms, By Anne Lamott

I had to leave church Sunday morning when it turned out that the sermon was not about bearing up under desperate circumstances, when you feel like you're going crazy because something is being perpetrated upon you and your country that is so obscene that it simply cannot be happening. I sat outside a 7-Eleven and had a sacramental Dove chocolate bar. Jeez: Here we are again. A man and a woman whose values we loathe and despise -- lying, rageful and incompetent, so dangerous to children and old people, to innocent people in every part of the world -- are being worshiped, exalted by the media, in a position to take a swing at all that is loveliest about this earth and what's left of our precious freedoms.

When I got home from church, I drank a bunch of water to metabolize the Dove bar and called my Jesuit friend, who I know hates these people, too. I asked, "Don't you think God finds these smug egomaniacs morally repellent? Recoils from their smugness as from hot flame?"

And he said, "Absolutely. They are everything He or She hates in a Christian."

I have been in a better mood ever since, and have decided not to even say this woman's name anymore, because she fills me with such existential doubt, such a sense of impending doom and disbelief, that only the Germans could possibly have words for it. Nor am I going to say the word "lipstick" again until after the election, as it would only be used against me. Or "polar bear," because that one image makes me sadder than even horrible old I can stand.

I hate to criticize. And I love to kill wolves as much as the next person does. But this woman takes such pride in her ignorance, doesn't have a doubt in the world about her messianic calling, that it makes anyone of decency feel nauseated -- spiritually, emotionally and physically ill. I say that with love. As we say in Texas. (Also, we say, "Bless her heart.")

We felt this grief and nausea during the run-up to the war in Iraq. We felt it after the 2004 election. And now we feel it again. But since there are still six weeks until the election, and since the stakes are as high as the sky, which should definitely not be forced to endure four more years of the same, we have got to get a grip. There are millions of people to register to vote, millions of dollars to be raised. We really cannot go around feeling flat and defeated, with the need to metabolize the rotten meat that this one particular candidate and the media have forced upon us.

One of the tiny metabolic suggestions I have to offer -- if, like me, you choose not to have her name on your lips, like an oozy cold sore (I say that with love) -- is to check out a Web site called the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator. There you can find out what she and her husband would have named you if you had been their baby. My name, Anne, for instance, would be Krinkle Bearcat. John, her running mate, would be named Stick Freedom. George would be Crunk Petrol. And so on.

First of all, go find out what your own name would be. Then for one day refuse to use the name of these people who are so damaging to earth and to our very souls -- so, "I don't have to understand anything, it's all fuzzy math. Trust me. I'm the decider." From now on, when working for Obama, talk about Obama, talk about his policies, the issues, the economy, the war in Iraq, poverty, the last eight years, Joe Biden. You don't have to mention Crunk Petrol, or his sidekick, Shaver Razorback.

And you sure as hell don't have to mention Claw Washout -- she is absolutely, hands-down the most ludicrous person ever to be nominated. She's a "South Park" character. There was a mix-up. Mistakes were made.

Everything you need to know about how to bear up during these two months is already inside you. Go within: Work on your own emotional acre. Stand still, and hurt, and feel crazy. Then drink a lot of water, pray, meditate, rest. Rest is a spiritual act. Now, I am a reform Christian, so it is permissible for me to secretly believe that God hates this woman, too. I heard God slam down a couple of shooters while she was talking the other night.

Figure out one thing you can do every single day to be a part of the solution, concentrating on swing states. Money, walking precincts, registering voters, whatever. This is the only way miracles ever happen -- left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe. Right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe. The great novelist E.L. Doctorow once said that writing a novel is like driving at night with the headlights on: You can only see a little ways in front of you, but you can make the whole journey this way. It is the truest of all things; the only way to write a book, raise a child, save the world.

As my anonymous pal Krinkle Bearcat once wrote: Laughter is carbonated holiness. It is chemo. So do whatever it takes to keep your sense of humor. Rent Christopher Guest movies, read books by Roz Chast and Maira Kalman. Picture Stick Freedom in his Batman underpants, having one of his episodes of rage alone in one of his seven bedrooms. Or having one of his bathroomy little conversations with Froth Moonshine. (Bless their hearts.) Try to remember that even Karl Rove has accused him of being a lying suck.

Reread everything Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower ever wrote. Write down that great line of Molly's, that "freedom fighters don't always win, but they're always right." Tape it next to your phone. Call the loneliest person you know. Go flirt with the oldest person at the bookstore. Fill up a box with really cool clothes that you haven't worn in a year, and take it to a thrift shop. Take gray water outside and water whatever is growing on your deck. This is not a bad metaphor to live by. I think it is why we are here. Drink more fluids. And take very gentle care of yourself and the people you most love: We need you now more than ever.

Sep 16, 2008

Build A Well in Africa!

Have you ever struggled to find the right gift for a friend? A friend who has everything? Or has nothing worth remembering? don't we have enough 'stuff?'

How about building a well in their name? The most pressing need in Africa is for clean water. In addition to saving lives and improving health, it also cuts down on sexual violence -- many young women get raped going to and from wells.

Our friends Lori and Ted adopted Abe from Ethiopia. Right now, is building wells all over Ethiopia, and they're going to build a well in the region where Abe was born.

Consider donating a few bucks toward building a clean water well. You can even make a contribution to Ted Rooney's well campaign.

Abe says, 'Thank you!'

Sep 14, 2008

On Video: Tina Fey, "Jesus Is My Friend" and Very Bad Church Dancing

This week on video: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
FIRST: the role Tina Fey was born to play.

The Sonseeds an early 1980s band, resurface via viral video. You could call them cheeky Christian ska ... or if Elvis Costello and Donny Osmond tried to evangelize a bowling alley ...

LASTLY, and very unfortunate: This what you get when you combine church music, sexual confusion and Janet Jackson.

Aw, snap. Yes you DID SEE THAT

Sep 7, 2008

Galley Ho!

Saturday morning a UPS delivery guy brought me the galleys to my book. The galleys show you how the book is going to appear on the book actual page, as opposed to staring at a computer screen or 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper for a year. Very exciting. I love what they did with the titles, using the conversation bubbles that are on teh front cover, and i love the typefaces they are using for the top of the book page (I'm sure there's a technical name for it). In any event, I love how it's coming together and everyone's creativity in the process.

My editor, as well as a professional proofreader, will be reading the galleys as well, but this is my last shot to make changes: correct awkward sentences, missed words, I already did spot a few when reviewing a chapter last week. I thought, "wow, I skipped over a few words. Yeesh!" But the Editorial Director me it's par for the course. So it was good to know that kind of thing is normal. Here's what two pages look like.

Now, Of course I can't go and rewrite an entire chapter; or insert or delete massive amounts of text. But it's one step closer to being finished. And one step closer to feeling like it's really happening. That part is very exciting. It brings up all sorts of other fears like, "no one is ever going to read this book." Followed by, "I will be a legal secretary for the rest of my life." Followed by "Until another Great Depression hits (because no one read the book and got encouraged) and I end up working at Pup N Taco, until the grease fire scars my face beyond recognition and so Larry divorces me and I have to move to China and work in a plastics factory.

Oh, where was I? Book galleys arrived; very exciting. Book is on they way. Please buy one when it comes out so I don't end up in a Chinese assembly line.

Aug 27, 2008

Vegas in 48 Hours

Larry and I returned from hell –– I mean, Las Vegas: a constant onslaught of noise, heat, blaring music, slot machines, drunken gamblers, trashily dressed women and sleazy ogling men. And that was just the shopping mall.

I realize that lots of people love Las Vegas. In fact, it’s surpassed Disneyland as the #1 tourist destination for families. I guess for the occasional caged wildlife on display in the lobby. "And if you are bad, Timmy, we will throw you in that cage." Okay so people come for the hotels. The Strip is now populated with megaplex resort hotels that offer luxury rooms, dining, high-end shopping, and mega-pools. Even topless pools.

Larry and I didn’t come for the gambling, drinking or shopping. We came to see the Cirque Du Soleil’s Beatles LOVE show which was at the Mirage. That hotel cost $180 a night, but that’s not how we roll. So we ended up across the street at the Imperial Palace, at $55 a night. I had requested a room away from the strip, so they had placed us in a separate building wedged between the parking garage and the AC turbines, accessible only from a frontage road. So they moved us a room attached to the main building, looking down at the parking garage.

On the way to our room we stopped to admire the art in the gift shop window: I guess I would call this "Mermaid with Severed Head." No wonder Vegas is so popular. There is Something for Everyone. Our room was fine. Away from the street, it was quiet, minus the A/C noise, but at least the AC worked. The bed was firm, and the sheets were clean. That’s all we needed. Oh, and Larry wanted a pool.

It was a large over-chlorinated bath, and our fellow $55 a night guests were of the gangsta variety. Well, that’s what you get when you pay $55 a night. I read on one website that you could go swim in other pools. So we got out of the Clorox, dried off (in five seconds in the 100+heat) and went to explore pool accessibility at some of the other hotels. Ceasar’s Palace, the Mirage and Treasure Island (they have a wave machine). The pool was cordoned off and had a guard gate, and you have to flash your hotel key card to get in.

I asked the pool guard if we could buy a day pass.
“For Topless Pool,” he shrugged. “Twenty buck for ladies, fifty bucks for guys.”
“We can’t buy a day pass for the regular pool?
“How about if we buy massage packages at the spa, which is adjacent to the pool and from where I’m standing, I see women going in and out to the pool patio?”

Next time, Larry suggested, we’d come with friends and get a suite and split the cost. Or find a pool that sells day passes.

Like I’m going to come back?

We went out to the street to walk around, and within five minutes I was on sensory overload. There were booths selling all sorts of tchotcke and trashy clothes, leather faced women who wanted to spray cologne in my face. A row of illegals were shoving business cards at us: they read, “Women direct to you.” They weren’t women on the cards, just naked torsos. A truck drove by hauling a mini billboard for “Girls Who Want To Meet You.” A Latina gal with bleached blonde hair relaxed in a thong and bra. She didn’t look that excited to meet anyone.

Larry is full of surprises. He cries watching Lord of the Rings, he loves Disneyland, and has the White Stripes and Kelly Clarkson on his iPod. Larry doesn’t like fakery or glitz, so I was surprised to learn that Larry has been to Vegas a few times. “We liked the buffet at the Rio,” Larry said. “But the Excalibur’s got a nice pool.” How many times had he been here? Several. Mostly with his ex-girlfriend. And look how that ended? Years of therapy. He said therapy was to heal from the relationship; I think it was to heal from Vegas.

After a nap we looked into dinner. We thought we might want to do one of those buffets, since I’m into sushi and Larry is into fatty pork. I went online and found a terrific website: Cheapo Vegas. They will give you the low down on everything from hotels to food. Check out their buffet descriptions.

Round Table Buffet: Consistently ranked in the bottom third in Las Vegas, the Excalibur is underperformed by few. You can get indigestion for the price of a decent meal. Casseroles and low-grade meats sit under heat lamps in this enormous buffet. Stay away at all costs.
Fellini's Ristorante Italiano: You know what would be cool? If this restaurant had a Federico Fellini theme. They could have a giant statue of the Virgin Mary floating overhead, and a bunch of crazy Italian clowns dancing around, and your waiter would repeat the same words over and over. But it doesn't.
a Creperie: We could make a tasteless joke involving a homonym on the name, but we're too classy for that.

We hadn’t eaten anything but string cheese since breakfast, so we needed to eat eventually. We walked south a couple blocks, past one of the older YEE-HAW GAMBLING HAWL hotels and found the Paris. It was a huge relief to get out of the heat and into some relative quiet. The first floor casino’s ceilings were high, so it wasn’t as noisily. They were painted like the sky and artfully lit so you felt like you were not in Paris, but in a Disney ride about Paris. Larry and I strolled around and for the first time since we got here I started to relax. Wow, I was tired. And hungry. We made it down the Parisian themed passage of shops, until we realized we were heading into Bally's. So we turned around and walked back along the fake Paris street.

I spied an older couple walking toward us with their adult, handicapped son. They each had an arm on him, helping him walk as he looked up at the architecture and the fake sky. Just as they passed I caught the expression on the son’s face. Joy. It was the most spontaneous, real moment I’d witnessed since we got here.

It took nearly an hour for our waitress, a fireplug Russian named Olga, to get us our food. We walked back through Ceasar’s Palace, arguably the largest hotel on the strip. It spanned two entire blocks. I stopped in The Cher boutique (she's doing a show) and bought a magnet for my friend Matt. We just to rewrite Christian praise songs sung by Cher. Lke this old one by Steve Green
Do you believe...people need the Lord (need the Lord, need the Lord)
I believe something inside me saying ... He really is the open door, whoa...

Outside the Cher boutique, Larry spotted a poster advertising an art gallery with Peter Maxx, “just ahead in the Forum Shops. But the deeper we walked into the Forum shops, the further from Peter Maxx we went. We never found Peter Maxx. But I did see a woman who looked just the bleached blonde Latina “Girl Who Wants To Meet You.” She was heading into a gangsta hip hop bar. Maybe for a date. Maybe for a job.

A set of fountain statuary started moving, and with the help of some very bad holographics, started acting out the myth of Poseidon or Neptune or Aqualung. That's when we left.

We did stroll through the Bellagio on the way back. Despite the annoying excess, we did find some amazing art: like this ceiling display at the front desk. All blown glass. I guess I appreciate extravagance in art. Something you can't own but you can enjoy. Besides, it was free to look at. Unlike the trashy 'girls who want to meet you.'

The next morning, we woke up late. Larry felt dizzy. So we found a Wallgreens online next to the MGM Grand, and took the overpriced but air-conditioned monorail down the few blocks to the MGM Grand. We had to walk at least the same distance through the maze of shops and casinos to get out to the street. Wallgreens was out of Smart Water so I got Larry some electrolyte supplements and we walked back in the heat.

There was no way we were going for a Clorox dip. We tried the Mirage again, but the pool was closed. “There’s a lightning storm on the way,” the guard told us and a bunch of other poolgoers.

Why can’t we go in the water, it’s just lightning.”
You don’t want to get electrocuted,” the guard explained.
The guy was still pissed off.

I wanted to see Hoover Dam, so we got in the car and drove west. By tht eime we hit the freeway heading south to the dam, the storm had moved in. buckets of rain, shots of lightning. An emergency wanring came on the radio and told us, “Turn around, don’t drown.” SO much for Hoover Dam.

We made it back in time for a nap. I took a shower. Problem was, the water wasn't draining. I fished this out of the drain. Notice the layers of differerent color hair, matted wtih oil and soap scum and goo. My guess this was a hairball months in the making. Maybe years.

Not that I was hungry after that, but it was time to go get dinner and wait for our raison d'etre en Vegas: the Beatles LOVE.

We went over the Mirage and decided to eat at “Cravings Buffet. I could have sushi and Larry could have fatty pork. The food wasn’t that great. Maybe it was the hairball still in my memory. Or maybe it was the fact that everything was dried out. The macaroons were nice, though. We walked around the casino. I was hoping to find CNN on a jumbo tron. Don Miller was giving the benediction at the democratic national convention, and we wanted to see it live! Maybe they'd have CNN in the sports betting area. I imagined über-reactionary pastor Mark Driscoll betting 5 to 1 that Don prayed like a heretic. But no CNN. We snuck back into the café, but the convention was over for the night.

It was time to see LOVE. Larry and I had been talking about seeing it since it opened two years ago. I’ve never seen a Cirque Du Soliel show, so I could tell you I was pleased. But that would be an understatement. Not just because I love the Beatles and I’ve been playing the LOVE CD all year. Beatles producer George Martin and his son did the music, using a thing called “mashing.” Take the opening track: They take the opening chord to “A Hard Day’s Night, follow with the drum solo from the end of Abbey Road, add the guitars, the escalating strings from A Day In The Life, and then boom, in comes “Get Back.” But when we actually heard that music and watched the opening, it was incredible. I burst into tears. This is from a BBC documentary on the making of LOVE. Scroll ahead to about 40 seconds into the clip and you’ll see the opening.

They didn't show the Beatles faces until the very end of the show, and it paid off. When they finally did, Larry and I cried. I just missed John and George. I guess I missed part of my own childhood. I missed what good art really can do for your soul. It was worth it, enduring all of the gaudiness and faker of Las Vegas, just to see this show.

We stopped at Hoover Dam on the way home. Larry and I both love road trips. We haven’t done much since gas skyrocketed. But we’re both working long hours and don’t get a lot of time together. So just hanging out in the car for five hours is a treat. It was a great way to celebrate our first two years. I feel pretty blessed, I married a guy who cries at Lord of the Rings, and at the Bealtes LOVE show.

We’re already talking about going back. For the Beatles. Not for the buffet.

Aug 22, 2008

A Pinch of Fall

Wow. Summer is almost over. I'm noticing fall approaching. The barely perceptible change of light has bought on a slight melancholy. My sister called a few days ago, she noticed it too. Wherever the earth is in its elliptical path around the sun, we are losing more minutes of light per day than in the steady mid summer. To me, it feels like a pinch. Like I'm being pinched ever so slightly with melancholy and nostalgia.

The nice thing is, Larry's been on vacation. Tuesday is our anniversary, so we are going to Vegas. I despise Vegas. The first time I drove through Vegas, I was in seventh grade, on the way to a ski trip. We arrived at about 8am and stopped at a supermarket to get Cheetos and coke. At the front of the store, where they usually stock charcoal and rug shampoo and ATMs, there was a line of slot machines. Fat ladies stood at the slots, spending their grocery money. Outside a balding man in a ratty jacket wandered aimlessly along the sidewalk. My brother said he looked like he’d had a frontal lobotomy. We got out of there fast. Two years ago we drove through Vegas on the way back from Denver. We hit Vegas at midnight and needed a cheap motel to crash. We spotted an exit, but along the frontage road was some strip club. There were over a dozen police cars, yellow crime tape, and a wall of people getting herded into police trucks. We didn't stop.
But, we are going to Vegas for our anniversary. One reason: The Cirque du Soleil's Beatles LOVE show. It’s been there two years and it’s not going anywhere else. Wish me luck

The only thing Larry wanted for his anniversary, besides a firm bed in a quiet room in Vegas, was a Dodgers T-shirt. So this afternoon we went looking for one at Target. They were sold out, but I did buy him a new muscle T-shirt (his current one is so stretched out, the armholes go down to the end of his rib cage. Larry has chest hair. this is not good ).

I also convinced him to let go of his bachelor penchant for tube socks and buy ankle socks instead. Why do men buy tube socks? Is it too confusing with the heel curve? Too hard to figure out how to to figure out how to match up the sock heel with your own? So what if there's no front or back. Invariable you've got a bubble at the front of your ankle. They’re vile.

Besides, Larry has been wearing tube socks with shorts. Tube socks. Shorts. Until today. Witness Exhibit A and B. It’s a very subtle change, but I like it.

Our search for the Dodgers t-shirt took us to the Arcadia Mall. My writer friend Diane is a teacher. Diane writes for Burnside Writers Collective as do I. She wrote a great three-part piece (1) (2) (3) about how she didn't buy clothes for an entire year. It changed how she looked at clothes and retail marketing. As Larry and I browsed the mall, I kept thinking about Diane’s piece. I realized something: Diane is right, retail stores lie to you. They convince you that you need a bubble shirt or fly eyeglasses or those insane prints last seen on Lovey Howell.

I realized something else: I have, to use Joseph Campbell’s Greek Mythic structure, crossed the Threshold. I am officially too old for Wet Seal, Forever 21, and sadly H&M. I used to shop at H&M in New York, back when I was still producing collagen. I can no longer do it. Oh I might slip in and buy an H&M accessory, and I'm not ready to resign myself to Talbott's, but when the low rise pencil leg jean came back in this spring, that was it.

Neither Larry and I are big shoppers, but we loved hanging out all afternoon. I love being married to Larry. We get along, we make each other laugh, we think the other is cute, he lies about my face not getting wrinkled. And we enjoy hanging out. Even if he's in one room surfing the web and I'm in another room... surfing the web. Or being productive like sewing or watching netflix ... we like being around one another. Like having a best friend. Larry also comes fully equipped with a super awesome sister. Dianna makes me cards. She is creative and artistic like her brother.

I'm also e also trying to economize on our food bill. So I pulled a bag of corn and a bag of peas that were losing the battle against freezer burn. I had bought them when Larry fell on the stairs and bruised his hip and used as ice packs. Well this evening I made a pea-corn salad, added an old can of garbazo beans, some onion, vinegar oil and garlic. I now have a slew of marinated veg salad to tide me over until we can buy more meat.

Larry took a look at it and pulled out a frozen pouch chicken pesto sausages to grill. He insisted on calling them "brats,” I told him I didn't think Germans made sausages with pesto. But he feels more like a man if he's grilling bratts than sautéing pesto sausages. I won on the tube socks. So I allowed the bratts. I let it go. It worked wonders. When we cleaned up after dinner, look what I found in teh rubbish pail. I didn't have to ask.

I'll soon be ready for the fall and the industry that is borne of that melancholy. It's no wonder the Jewish year ends about now. It's time to harvest, take stock, repent and clean up my act. And get going.

I’m off to sew some more tea cozies. Larry is writing.

Happy Second Anniversary, Larry. You get cuter every year. Especially with shorter socks. And hair.