Saturday, December 30, 2006

It's my birthday and I'll reminisce if I want to

My birthday starts in a couple of hours. My dad is already giving me a hard time about how I tend to get a bit crabby on my birthday. Well, wouldn't you - a birthday is supposed to be a person's "special" day, and when that day falls on a day that most people feel some pressure to make special, how can it not be a let down?

Maybe I need to let go of the childish idea that a birthday is "my" day. And really, I have had a number of great birthdays to outweigh the ones that were disappointing or downright bad. Tomorrow I am going to one of the places I liked the best when I was twelve, the Getty. Before the Getty Center, there was just the museum now called the Getty Villa, a Roman-inspired building and grounds filled with ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan artifacts. The Villa was recently reopened after an extensive renovation.

While I really like the new Getty Center (especially the architecture of the buildings and the grounds, plus the photography collection, which - unlike a lot of their other non-classical art - is really great), I am excited to see the Getty Villa again. One summer my friend Katie and I took a creative writing class together. The class was in the mornings and we had our afternoons open, which was both a joy and a curse. Some days we went to my house and watched the 7 videos then available on a public access music video program. (I saw Institutionalized almost every day that summer. That song got so deep into the crevices of my brain that I can still sing the whole thing in head-thrashing glory.) Other days we went on excursions: to the mall; to Westwood; and once every week or two to the Getty. We went so many times that my mother got suspicious. Even though she and my dad love museums and took my sister and me to ones all over the country, she thought there must be something else going on to get us to this museum on such a regular basis. At one point she made me write a report on an artwork, to prove that we'd actually been to the museum. How sad is it that I was such a geek that I was in fact going to the museum, instead of lying to my parents and getting stoned behind the junior high?

The truth is that I loved going there. To get there we took a bus out the Pacific Coast Highway and got off at the base of the property. We hiked up the driveway, feeling particularly mature and cultured. We wandered around the gardens and through the galleries. I wasn't one to linger on too many things, but I did have a favorite painting on the second floor that I tried to visit regularly. It was a painting of a girl - royalty I think - and her little dog. She just looked so satisfied, as an insecure pre-teen that was compelling and astounding. Plus, I loved the detail of the painting, the brushstrokes making up her fur collar, the way her skin stretched across her cheeks. Somewhere I still have a
postcard of that painting.

And yes, Katie and I loved the cafe. We loved how adult we felt ordering snacks and taking them out to the patio to gossip and laugh, munch and sip. The Getty was so different from the architecture ofLos Angeles , where everything feels new and impermanent. This felt old and real. I think Katie felt this too. She more than me was a person enamored with the past. She moved back east for college and was thrilled to get decked out in L.L. Bean and attend a capella concerts on campus.

Just writing about the Getty and what it felt like to be there has done what my father's little lecture could not. I am excited for tomorrow. Ada will love running
around the museum, and though she probably won't stop to really admire many of the ancient works, I think she'll appreciate them in her own way. And then we'll come home for champagne, gumbo and my grandmother's recipe marble cake. Happy birthday to me! (And happy new year to you!)

Friday, December 29, 2006


Listening to a piece on NPR last week about how interfaith families celebrate the winter holidays, I started thinking about the way my family celebrates.

To call my relationship with Chris "interfaith" is kind of a stretch. I am Jewish by birth and by culture, but I am not religious. I almost never go to synagogue, I rarely fast on Yom Kippur, and I eat pork and shrimp. Chris, despite the meaning of his name, does not consider himself Christian. His family celebrates Christmas as a chance for family to be together, to get merry and bright and stuffed with cookies, but not so much as an occasion to meditate on the birth of a savior. Chris is just as likely to cheerfully call out "Happy feast of the unvanquished sun!" as he is "Merry Christmas!"


But we do enjoy traditions. I love the Jewish holidays - Passover especially, but also Chanukah, with its candle lighting and oil-fried potatoes. This year we celebrated on the first night by inviting friends over. I mumble-mumbled through the prayers before we all dug into dinner. Another night we shared the lighting of the menorah with Ada and a three year old pal. Our visitor wanted to know why we didn't blow the candles out after we sang the song. Then again, now that this girl is in preschool and has learned about Santa, she's apparently a bit miffed that her parents don't celebrate Christmas. I'm thinking a three year old may not be overly impressed by solstice unless it comes with gifts.

family in sled
How could you not enjoy something that encourages adults to put a restored sled in their dining room?

We celebrate Christmas with Chris's parents every year. After a decade of such celebrations, I am fairly committed to the traditions of my new family. I love icing sugar cookies. I appreciate being able to sit around in my pjs drinking coffee christmas morning, waiting until 11 or so to eat German pancakes, Texas grapefruit and Canadian bacon for breakfast. I like that the grapefruit always come from this one place, in the same yellow-brown box with the tissue paper swaddling.

The first couple of years that I joined Chris at his parents' house, I was a little weirded out by Christmas. The Christ part wasn't a problem, because as I mentioned, he doesn't make much of an appearance at the in-laws' house. It was the presents, the boxes and bags and more boxes of gifts. THIS was what I had managed to escape, the love expressed as intense consumerism that is so much a part of many Americans' lives this time of year. It was nice to get gifts, but it was kind of exhausting, too.

After that first Christmas with this family, I mentioned to my mom how different it was from how we'd celebrated Chanukah when I was a kid. She responded saying how glad she was that she and my dad had not had to wait for a once a year holiday to get us things, that we'd been financially comfortable enough for them to get us things all year. While her answer made sense at the time, in retrospect what she said was less about whether my parents could afford to buy us gifts, and more that they would not understand giving a big pile of gifts (that are never about "need" and all about "want"). As a child I could not even really have envisioned a pile of gifts of the sort some of my friends must have been getting. It just didn't fit my family, and I didn't grow up less happy because of it.

And ok, Chanukah is really a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, just one more celebration that boils down to "they tried to kill us, we didn't die, let's eat!". It became a big thing in the west because of Christmas. How can you look at a kid, who's had "he knows if you've been bad or good" drilled into her head and give her nothing? My parents apparently couldn't, and we celebrated Chanukah with candles and latkes and gifts all around. We got fun gifts the first few nights, but half way through the holiday we'd start getting cheerfully wrapped 3-packs of underwear or socks instead of toys or games. For several years we also got stockings filled with oranges and candy and toothbrushes.

Now that Chris and I are a bit older, we celebrate Christmas with my in-laws with fewer gifts and more game-playing, cooking and story-telling. This year Chris's dad asked me what I thought about Christmas, whether it bothered me to celebrate something that was not my tradition. I told him what I loved about it. If I had hated it, or wanted to get out of it, I could have made excuses for why I had someplace else I needed to be. But I never did, because with Chris and his (now my) family is where I wanted to be. Now that we have Ada backing out is much less of an option, so it is wonderful that Christmas with the family brings up feelings of joy rather than dread.

grandma and ada

This year, Christmas for Ada was all about family. Being with her grandparents is such a gift for Ada and for them. After a month of talking about her "boompa" Ada finally decided to give her Grandmother a name too. Saturday afternoon she busted out with "gamma" and we practically heard nothing else as she yelled, cooed, bubbled and crowed the word over the next four days.

tree christmas day

She could not get enough of her grandparents, hugging them, playing with them, helping bring wood inside for a fire, pointing out (and pulling off and replacing) the ornaments on the tree. And Ada continued to be in love with the cat, who has learned to tolerate if not appreciate Ada's friendly gestures and squeaky attention. Chrstmas would have been a success in her eyes with just the stocking to explore. What could be better than an orange, a toothbrush, and some toys? (Well, maybe the addition of some chocolate, but we are holding back on that for another couple of years...) Ada's first conscious Christmas was a bit like mine. She was so amazed and overwhelmed by the gifts and the wrapping and the more more more that she practically passed out in my arms by 10:30am. She learned fast that there is nothing better on Christmas day than to open presents in your pajamas and then take a nap.

Ada sleeping christmas eve

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Random quote and unrelated photo of the week

Why just crush people, when you can crush their souls?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Open Letter to Zupan's Market

To the Manager of the Zupan's Market in Southeast Portland:

I know that you are trying to be multi-cultural and friendly to your Jewish customers, but a little research might improve your results.

I was recently in your store to purchase some eggs and heavy cream (for a delicious "practice" birthday cake my husband was making for me) and noticed the free-standing display of "Chanukah" items by the yogurt case. I saw packages of matzo, matzo meal, kosher wine and egg noodles. While these items overflowed the shelves, I did not see any candles, driedles or potatoes. Although all the proffered items are undoubtedly for Jewish holiday celebrations, none them are actually for Chanukah. Furthermore, I have noticed this same display offered on every Jewish holiday. This is akin to displaying egg coloring kits, marshmallow chicks and chocolate bunnies for every Christian holiday.

Would it be too much to have a holiday display that actually offers foods and sundries appropriate to the holiday in question?

Yours in Celebration -
Nonlinear Girl

Friday, December 22, 2006

I hear the secrets that you keep...

Ada talks in her sleep. I can relate, since I used to do it too. It is adorable to hear her murmuring to herself, even though it makes it a bit harder to know when she's up from a nap and when she's just working things out in REM.

Wednesday I was working at home in a room across from Ada's. While Ada was napping, Juniper went upstairs twice to get her. She heard some muffled babbling and jogged up the stairs, only to find the girl flat out in her crib. Now if only I could get the sleeping Ada to tell me where she hid her left shoe.

And speaking of shoes, Ada got some new boots for Chanukah. I was rooting for the blue ones with cherries, but she liked the pink cat-face pair. She really likes them, which is useful and fairly adorable. (I'd show you a photo, except blogger has been refusing to let me upload photos for days.) The boots aren't just fashion, they are a project. To wit:

Chris: Your daughter was really intent on putting her boots on herself today.

Me: How'd that go?

Chris: Not so well, especially since she wouldn't let me take her shoes off first.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Random quote and unrelated photo of the week

If you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now, quiet! The're about to announce the lottery numbers..

Homer Simpson

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Happy Chanukah

Things got busy on Friday night, so my Chanukah notes come late on evening #2:

We had dinner with friends (brisket and latkes). As I may have mentioned before, Chris makes a fantastic brisket. Better than my mother's. One of the guests, a Chinese qigong master, was particularly interested in hearing the traditions and lore. Or maybe he was just really into the He'brew Chris bought to go with dinner.

Ellen brought gifts.

For me:

For Chris:
And a bag of bacon.

You can see that everyone was pretty thrilled:

And yes, that white bear ("bear," not to be confused with "bear," the one on the left) is holding a dreidle. He also wears a yarmukle, though that is hard to see in the photo. Weirder than the bear itself is the fact that the toy came to us from Chris's cousin in northern Idaho, who pumped a bunch of quarters into one of those claw machines to get it for Ada. Which begs the question, what is a Jewish themed bear doing in northern Idaho?

Ada was asleep by the time the latkes were cooked and on the table, but we offered her some today. Apparently I have the only child in the known universe who doesn't like fried potatos. She's spurned french fries, and now latkes. If she wasn't such a sweets and carbohydrates fiend I would really start to wonder whether she could be my child.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Random quote and unrelated photo of the week (late night edition)

My hovercraft is full of eels.

Michael Palin

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Curb Your Enthusiasm

It just isn't cool to be so enthusiastic. For example, you read blogs. Maybe you read a bunch of them. Some you read religiously, others casually. Ok, enough distancing - I read a bunch of blogs. I've got a few daily reads, maybe six or so. Maybe more. The "must reads" vary with my level of infatuation and the business of my schedule. Others I read every few days, when I have the time or bloglines says there are several posts. I skim, looking for a post that speaks to me. (Stop shaking your head, you do it too.)

The first time I met one of my regular reads we talked about blogs because we didn't know each other enough to talk about much else. (Hold on, see, already I am shying away from full enthusiasm. I first typed "one of my favorite bloggers" but then decided that sounded to sycophantic. I mean, we are just becoming friends. What if she thinks my enthusiasm makes me creepy, like that guy you went out with once in high school but were frightened away from when he came on too strong. You'd see him coming down the hall and duck into the girl's bathroom to avoid his love notes and pathetic interest.)

But now I have met Debbie a few times and watched her son smile and wander and chatter. So we talked about other things, Portland, kids, clothes, kid clothes (including a cute idea she has for her shop), etc. But as I have found bloggers will do, we started to talk about blogs. She mentioned that she'd gotten some weird traffic from posting photos of her shoes (and subsequently took the photos off, which apparently failed to foil the shoe-fetishizing googlers). She started to say something about this post, and I butted in with "I think that is the first thing I read of yours!" - acting all gushy and pathetic. She probably didn't notice, concerned as she was that she'd made some kid-visit faux pas (which she didn't).

And if it wasn't enough to be dorky and effusive around new people, then there was that tuba thing.

The tuba that made Ellen and me wish we played

What grown woman gets so enamored of the idea of two hundred people tooting holiday songs and wearing coordinated stocking caps? Even though it was fun. Dorky, but fun. The only disappointment was not the tubas, and certainly not the octogenarian conductor (who was, as one would expect from a tuba-loving, family concert giving, thin and kindly man, funny in an incredibly corny way). No, the Christmas songs were the problem. For the most part they are really freaking slow. But rather than yell (as I wanted to) "PICK UP THE PACE, TUBAS!" I enjoyed the moment for what it was.

As further evidence of my utter dorkiness, I offer the following photo of myself at Tuba Christmas. Not only did I allow this photo to be taken of me (making this face and wearing this hat) but then I self-mockingly post it on my own site.

Ah well, some people really are gluttons for punishment.

So yeah, I just can't help myself. Despite being more easily embarrassed than I wish I were, I tend to be too enthusiastic in a way that the hipsters at the coffee shop down the street would scorn. Have scorned. But then Ada steps in to remind me that enthusiastic is okay. Because no one is enthusiatic like a toddler. Her joys are written all over her face, they radiate in the way she shivers with happiness when her PAPA! walks through the door at night, they leap from her when she declares "'ken!" (her take on "again"). As much as I might wonder about what makes her want to read that book 7 times in a row or play some little game over and over, it is fun to see her clear and unembarassed enthusiasms. Today it was the picture of the llama family in a book, her car, bear, and a little game with me and later with Chris in which we repeatedly hid under a blanket with a toy frog. Who we were hiding from, or why was not clear, nor were these details important. What was important was that we were in this game together, hiding under a blanket, laughing, getting kissed by a toy frog and one another, and emerging, just slightly over-warm, into the bright light before covering up again for another round.

When Ada's enthusiasm for this game outlasted mine, Chris took over and was deemed a good substitute. Lucky for us all, frog will play until Ada tells him to stop.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The best part about Christmas

Crossing my fingers that Ada wakes up from her nap in time for us to go downtown for Tuba Christmas. Because really, what could be more awesome?


The site lets you see where and when there is an event near you. And surprisingly, they appear to be everywhere. Who knew?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Random quote and unrelated photo of the week

The instability of human knowledge is one of our few certainties. Almost everything we know we know incompletely at best. And almost nothing we are told remains the same when retold.

Janet Malcolm
Strangers in Paradise: How Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas got to Heaven

Monday, December 04, 2006

How to leave the country and then never leave the house

I was going to write a post about my Thanksgiving trip and tell you all these details pretty much guaranteed to bore you to tears, but instead I will just show you some of the photos I took. Most of them are from the house we rented, because we didn't leave much. Yes, I went to Mexico and sat on my butt; eating, drinking, playing cards and occasionally getting up to cook, swim or dance. I would be embarrassed if it had not been such a good time.

My pal Chloe, modeling a sign in the kitchen.

Here's my vote for the "item I would most want to steal from our rental house" award. I didn't steal it, but who wouldn't want a cheesecake photo of a stranger, cradled lovingly in an ornate metal star? (Jenny? You are with me on this, right?)

Some of the many virgins in and around the house:

(Edited to add: in retrospect, including the photo with Chris might be confusing. I didn't mean to suggest that my husband is a virgin. Sorry about that, hon!)

It isn't true that we didn't get out of the house at all. On one trip out of the house we stopped by "Pasteles Alemanes Chris" to visit with Santamouse:

Next year we are planning on Karaoke. The photos should be good.