Saturday, October 31, 2009

This is What Revolution Feels Like

Our school forges on in its quest to serve sustainable, locally grown, freshly prepared, healthy hot lunch to every child for $5 a day, trying to carry out the ambitious vision of Alice Waters-who just wants to teach children what good food tastes like. Along with lessons in community, sensory awareness, sustaining the earth, and the joys of sharing a meal together.

The backlash continues and this week our hot lunch coordinator and cooking teacher--an amazing woman with two kids of her own--seemed beaten down. "I feel like people hate me," she said. "They tell me the hot lunch is not kid-friendly."

She was breaking my heart.

But all I could tell her is: "This is what revolution feels like."

Who would think trying to make kids eat well, and forcing parents to pay for good food, would be so controversial. Not even the parents who are complaining I don't think. And yet, this IS what it feels like.

It is not like the end of Les Mis. It is not like celebrations of the Revolutionary War after we beat the British. In the middle of it, while it is going on, it feels lonely, uncertain and often discouraging. Even when you know it is worth it, it sometimes feels like the energy against your deepest desires is insurmountable. The status quo will always be the driving force, whatever the conditions.

I say this as someone who is not bearing the brunt of parent complaints, inquiries, fears and skepticism. I am on the side-lines watching, and sometimes helping out.

But this is change. Small, incremental, difficult, with incredible effort involved just to move people's minds and habits a few degrees. It is true of all of us. It is sobering.

Alice Waters is coming to the Larchmont Schools on November 9.

Have you ever been part of a revolution? What did it feel like for you?

Happy Halloween!

Scary face with State of Texas/city skyline mouth: carved by Theo Fernandez

Scary/Happy/Frightening/Frightened pumpkin: designed by Benji, mouth perfected by Benji

Funky white pumpkin with weird eyeballs: me

(Note: I always disdained the pumpkin carving kits with tiny plastic knives probably made by prisoners in China and purchased at the 99 cent store. But we went to a pumpkin carving party with packages full of these specialized carving tools and WOW! They are miraculous! For ambitious carvers they are definitely worth the investment.)
Which one speaks to you?

Last Night

Last night I dreamed I wrote 3,850 words in a sitting. This may seem like nothing...but to stay on schedule for NANOWRIMO you have to write 1,667 words a day. What was remarkable about the number was not that it was so many words--it was that it was effortless. In my dream I was lost in the zone. The world dropped away and I was writing. When I looked down at the little number counter on my mac I was SHOCKED to see that number.

All of this is reminiscent of my Shamanic Journey this summer. In my travels to the underworld (no, this is not fiction, or a lost, experimental chapter of my book) I went down and met my power animal--a big she-bear. I had met her before and there she was again. This time she held my gaze--she kept telling me to look into her eyes. And she told me, "This is what it will feel like to write the way you want to write." My attention kept wandering. I kept looking up at these jagged mountain peaks, at the moon, at the stars, trying to figure out where I was, what I was doing, struggling to get my bearings, and she kept pulling me back, telling me to stop getting distracted. To look in her eyes and feel what it was like to drop into the writing zone.

Our subconscious can be so literal! I DO get so distracted. I AM always trying to figure out where I am and what I am doing. But she just kept trying to train me, to build up my powers of concentration, pulling me back to that feeling of being in the zone. She was letting me know; "This is what it will feel like. This is how it should feel. It will be effortless once you drop in, but you need to discipline your mind and get there."

Well, in my dream I was there. And that was cool.

Do you ever have dreams like that? Teaching you a feeling that you then have to seek out in real life?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NANOWRIMO is here again!

It's official. I signed up again for NANOWRIMO--aka national novel writing month. If this piques your curiosity, click

Last year was a fantastic experience with lingering lessons. I cranked out a novel. No matter how bad, it is an accomplishment. Above my desk hangs--not my Wellesley diploma, my Columbia diploma or my UW diploma--no, it is my NANOWRIMO winner certificate.

It showed me that with discipline, I can carve out the time. The experience launched me to start my own writing group, and broke me through a million mental barriers. The challenge also appeals to the adrenaline-fueled, ADD, need-for-instant-gratification part of my personality--which in truth is not so novelistic.

It is also like a crutch. NANOWRIMO, and the mysterious Chris Baty send out encouraging reminders, and advice from great novelists. Because you are all doing this at the same time, writing at the same rate, you end up going through a lot of the lonely writerly crises at exactly the same time (like on day 10 you think, oh, no, i am writing the wrong book, i should be writing this OTHER book, or on day 17 you are thinking, my god, i am half way through my so called novel and there is no plot? and right then a perfect email comes from some amazing writer saying, that always happens, or MAKE something happen now...)

So I am doing it again. I am cheating a little. This time I am rewriting my "memoir" and really really novelizing it. I will radically fictionalize and actually add in a plot. From page 1. I will be weaving real themes throughout--not just the themes I intended, but the hidden, latent themes I found I had in there thanks to the comments from my writing group.

Still, like meditation, there is something powerful about jumping in and doing something with a lot of other people. There is added power. Meditation teachers say yes, you can meditate alone. But when you have 60 people in a room it is like a rocket ship taking off.

Well, when you have 200,000 people around the world writing like literary madmen it keeps you accountable. Every cafe you go into you wonder if that person is part of your secret society of speed novelists. My friend Lee Rose Emery is doing it with me, and I hope Dave Marko, too.

I will kick off the month this Sunday night (Nov. 1) with a toste of LUCID (absinthe superieure) and a night of noveling at my local Argentinean cafe, Solar de Cahuenga.

Do you have a novel in you waiting to come out? If you do, sign up! It will make you feel wonderful!

Teabag Wisdom

I have a confession: I buy Yogi Tea just for the tea bags. That is what I have come to. And, because I buy so many teas, I have become a connoisseur of tea bag wisdom. On each tea bag is a little message/bit of inspiration. On the woman's teas there are softer, more "love" oriented messages, on the more unisex teas more general messages. Ginger tea is a staple for me, and I found this time around that the messages have changed again. This time they are more provocative and less comforting. But that's OK. I'm along for the ride.

Last night I pulled out my tea bag and it said: What is your identity and what will be your legacy?

Wow! That can really stir a woman up as she is climbing into bed. My identity????/ My legacy?????? It goes to the core of our time on earth, to the subject of my blog, It was enough to give me a panic attack.

And yet--how important. And now that the question has been raised I cannot push it down again.

And so I think. I think how my legacy is not the traditional ego-driven monument dream of males at this point in my life. I do not long to erect a cathedral, or a sky-scraper, or write a peace treaty, or change the world in that way. A way that will say "I was GREAT!" forever. As I grow older, and live life as a mother, I feel my ideas of my legacy and what I want it to be changing. I find myself thinking of the importance of small change more--and seeing how big change can only be effected by small change.

Legacy: Of course I think of my boys. They are the most tangible legacy. They look like me and will carry pieces of me inside them--whether in the form of DNA, memories, tastes, smells, or how to live. So I care a lot about them.

And I care about stories. I care that people continue to see the world as storytellers, to seek their own truth, and to realize that they have their own stories to tell. I hope to inspire people by doing that myself, and by teaching and helping others to do that. The way stories are told is shifting again as newspapers die, print is endangered, books are on the verge of extinction, free to Google--stories are downgraded to content, and people can only consume information in the form of power point or bullet points. I feel like I am part of a bridge from the old to the new. I am not cursing the new, neither am I completely seduced by it. I know the value of storytellers, researchers, novelists, reporters, journalists and truth-seekers. And there are fewer and fewer of these people around. And it is harder and harder to make a living as a writer. Writing and storytelling are being devalued.

So maybe I will be part of the bridge generation. I imagine that when the world went from oral storytelling to written much was lost. And maybe some people had to work to insure that the BEST qualities of oral storytelling could be preserved, even within the new written tradition. I hope I will be one of those people helping to drag the best of the print tradition into the computer tradition.

And finally I hope that I will teach my boys that many of the simplest things in life are not products. I hope to preserve in them a knowledge that as long as they can eat good food, walk outside in nature, sing a song to themselves, tell stories, and laugh with friends, make art and dance, that life will be sweet. More and more I see the power of capitalism in our culture and wonder if anything that is not making money for a corporation will survive into the future--whether it is apples, family dinners or friendship. I hope that quiet knowledge will be a legacy that is passed on to my boys.

Finally, I would like to create beauty. Whether in the form of preserving the environment, growing a garden, making people see stars, or serving a meal that makes people deeply happy, I want to do that. That is the accumulation of a thousand tiny tasks performed over a lifetime. But it matters. Beautiful things stick in people's minds.

That's me on this fine October morning.

What do you want YOUR legacy to be?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Journal/Less Blog

Ok, so this entry would be better off between the scrawled inky pages of my tattered journal, but I am putting it here in case it helps someone else. It is about how shooting for less can make you (or one, or in this case ME) feel better.

At the beginning of the summer I was back in therapy asking for help. At one point I was telling my therapist how I really really wanted to write, but every morning I told myself I would get up at 5:30 and write for an hour before my children got up but I could never do it and then I started every day already mad at myself.

"Well," she asked. "Is that realistic?"

I stopped.

"I mean, are you good at getting up in the morning? Have you ever done that?"

Confession: I am horrible at getting up in the morning. I am a night owl, a lazy bones, a slow-waker and a caffeine addict. Only the thought of espresso with cream and sugar can get me up. And even then it is very, very hard.

"No," I said. "But it is the only time I have. I have wracked my brain. There is no other time that is mine. And, even if i could do it in the evening I am usually so tired it is hard to think clearly."

"It sounds like your goal is impossible and is only making you feel bad," she said. "Maybe you should pick something you have a better shot at."

I had never thought of it like that. That I was just setting myself up for failure. And, the lesson went a long way, because I am perpetually setting myself ambitious goals I cannot possibly achieve. And then I just feel really really bad. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying don't dream big. But I am saying, do not set a goal that you literally have almost no chance of achieving--really looking at yourself honestly--or at least no chance of making yourself do.

So I gave up on that one. And instantly I felt so much better. I still want to write. I still try to carve out time. I still wish I could get up at 5:30 and write. But I accept that at this point in my life that particular arrangement is just not going to happen.

Indeed, the liberation from my own unrealistic goal (without relinquishing the larger goal, which was to find time to write) was so freeing that I began to keep a secret list in my journal for no one but me that listed what I had actually done that day--no matter how dull and monotonous and mommy-like. What an education. I was dumbfounded at how much I do each day. Even I had been tricked by own mind constantly telling me what I was not doing. It just made me feel a little gentler with myself--in a secret place for my eyes only. I granted myself patience, thanks, appreciation.

And then I vowed to find a way to write that is a little bit more realistic, a little bit less of a swim-workout type of discipline (and even when I had swim practice at 5:30 a.m. I was a nightmare. I remember being the last one to get into the water, and my coach would have to push me in). Stay tuned and I will let you know how it is going, curious writers!

For now, I must go do on-line traffic school, my due diligence for speeding at 90 m.p.h. on the 5 in Orange County last spring. I was rocking out at such high volume, fantasizing about Big Macs and Large Fries as they flashed by my window in the darkness, so lost in my food hallucinations, that I did not notice the cop with flashing lights bearing down on me and shouting at me through the mounted loudspeaker on the car to GET OFF THE FREEWAY!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Orionid Meteor Shower

Last night meteors rained down over Earth for the Orionid Meteor shower. Scientists estimated that you could see up to 60 shooting stars an hour between 1 a.m. and dawn--with the shower peaking around 6 a.m.. We live in L.A. where the entire region glows from electricity and dims the stars.

Still, we decided we would try to see the meteor shower. Jonathan said skip it, and I couldn't budge Benji, but when I went to grab Theo at 5:45 he jumped right out of bed and dragged his sleeping bag with us.

We put on jackets and tiptoed through the dark into the back garden. We lay down on the cement of the terrace--he in his sleeping bag and I on the cushion from our lawn chair. We lay there and looked up at the stars. The city is so bright we could count the stars--20 out of millions visible to the naked eye. But if you looked longer, like magic, more points of light would emerge.

We lay there, smelling the trees, watching the stars, listening to neighbors' sprinklers going on. We snuggled and looked up at the city sky.

We watched for 30 minutes, but never saw a shooting star. It is just too bright in the city. I felt sad that I was not out lying under the stars on a mountaintop in a place where you can see the milky way arching over you like a river. I mourned that man has taken away one of nature's most awesome wonders. In the darkness Theo and I walked back downstairs.

"I still liked lying there in the dark and looking at the stars," he said. "It was fun."

And..I had to was. There was something magical in the quest to see the meteor shower, and a beauty in the (semi) quiet stillness of the dawn--even in the middle of the city.

We went back inside, curled up on the couch, and overslept. Fun.

A Friend, Gone

Last night my mother called to deliver bad news. My family is not good at this. I often don't find out about deaths of import for months. I know it is to protect me--but it is hard.

So we talked for 20 minutes and then she dropped the bomb. I can hear her change of tone and when she heard my fear she almost didn't tell me.

A friend had died. In a horrible accident.

His name was Nick Givotovsky. Our parents were friends and in truth we only saw each other maybe a total of five times as adults. But they were important. He sought me out at Columbia, introduced me to one of my best friends in Japan, and came and hunted me down in Los Angeles, and we met on the beach and played--me, him and his beautiful, open actress wife Laura.

So I was not one of his closest friends. But this I can say about him. He had the life force of about 7 normal people. He was, simply, dazzling. He was warm, open, quick and exciting. He came to our house for dinner once and we joked that he was an entire dinner party unto himself--providing every thought, counterpoint, interesting critique and resolution. And yet, in him, it did not feel overwhelming. It was like witnessing live theater. You just felt lucky to be there. He just had a mind that was that lively, absolutely on fire. To bask in his presence was a gift. My father called him a bright star.

He was beautiful.

On July 3 he was bounced from his tractor when it hit a stump and run over by the blades. He was killed almost instantly. It is hard to explain what I feel. Sadness, yes, of course. But why do we lose our brightest stars early? Why?

Goodbye, Nick. I feel so lucky to have known you.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Los Angeles Times

Last night I sat and watched the PBS documentary on the Los Angeles Times and Southern California. I had read David Halberstam's 1000 page tome on the great newspapers of this country and the families who run them. And this documentary drew heavily on that--with attribution. But still--it was fantastic--and it left me so stirred up I could hardly sleep afterwards.

Part of it was the visuals--what California looked like, the visuals of Nixon riding around with the newspaper editors in a chummy way as they printed one sided stories to get him elected, the vision of the San Fernando Valley, its development, and the role the Chandlers played in making that happen.

And part of it was watching this extraordinarily well-made documentary about my newspaper--the one I read daily, love and worked for for eleven years, where I made many of my greatest friends and covered some of the coolest stories--and knowing this was an obituary. It was like reading your own obituary--before you were dead. You were terminally ill--yes--but you could still turn around. It is too early. Too soon, I wanted to shout at the screen. The paper is not dead yet! That is how it felt.

Later, after I processed more, I thought a lot about newspapers and community. I thought how much having a world-class newspaper made Los Angeles a world class city. San Francisco is a great city. But it never, ever had a world-class paper. That would have changed things.

A newspaper really does affect how that city and the world think about it. It creates a city's identity, even as it writes it down and prints out that first rough draft of history. Even people who never read the paper will read other publications that copy from that paper and pick up the attitude, the dreams, the races, the struggles, and how the city presents itself.

Otis Chandler dreamed big. He dared to put black people on the cover, hire Hispanic writers (well, one, and he was killed) write about Democrats, open bureaus all over the world so that Los Angeles would be an international city. It was also the times--everyone believed journalism could change the world back then. It was the age of Watergate. Journalists could bring down presidents.

But more than anything I wondered--with a newspaper that is dying, that is closing its foreign bureaus and can barely cover its own city, that is clearly writing more boosterish stories that seem like they were printed to make developers happy (like the old days?) -- will Los Angeles shrink in the world?

The story you tell about yourself is the story that becomes the truth--whether you are a person, a family or a city. Who will tell our stories now? And what kinds of stories will they be?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rainy Day Yumminess!

The rainy season is here. Wet, soggy and depressing. L.A. is not beautiful in the rain. So we took it inside. I pulled out a tin of my TCHO hot chocolate--made of nubs of the highest quality chocolate, and scalded some milk.

We sat down, stirred in the chocolate, and savored. Bubbles, chocolate, melted chocolatey goop. Chocolate in your teeth, on your lip, on your tongue. A French Cafe in your kitchen, via a stylish tin. Yum!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Edible Schoolyard

This September our school launched the Edible Schoolyard project. We are the fourth site in the country to be handpicked by Alice Waters to try to revolutionize the way children think about food. With a gardening and a school lunch component, Waters, the culinary visionary who founded Chez Panisse, believes that through food children can awaken their senses and learn to eat well, live fully, care for the environment, and create community.

That is a lot of lofty goals wrapped up in a seemingly simple program.

My husband was skeptical. I believed, but also felt that many of these lessons are already taught by the kind of parents who choose to send their children to Charter School--because it ends up being a pretty self-selecting group.

Last Thursday I went to school to help out with hot lunch. No two schools interpret the Edible Schoolyard program the same way. It is up to the teachers on the ground to find systems and a curriculum that work in their particular urban environment, with their students. At our school every student is required to buy school lunch, at a cost of $5 a day. No exceptions. The food is prepared by the Farmer's Market, a new restaurant non-profit that aims to support sustainable, locally grown produce and micro-businesses. It is delicious.

The students sit at long tables and cannot eat until everyone sits down. An adult sits at every table. Places are set before they arrive by parents. Milk or water is served from pitchers. Often there are fresh flowers. Before they eat they all sing a song of thanks. They do not get up until everyone is done.

It seems simple. But I was surprised by how moved I was. The song was beautiful. The food, delicious. And the children were eating together, like family.

And I realized how many lessons were packed into this tiny ritual. These children were learning about nutrition, civility, community. They were learning about culture. And the school is training their tastebuds and their bodies to crave and desire healthy foods. Here in this simple ritual lay the foundations of a lifetime of learning.

I have also been surprised at the reaction.

Many children do not touch their food. One little girl across from me looked down at her chicken enchilada, herbed beans, and home-made applesauce, and declared, "I am allergic to food." (She isn't. The allergic children have special meals served). I asked if she were allergic to chicken, beans or applesauce. "All food," she said. "That is why I have this blue band-aid on my chest." She pulled back her shirt to show me and grinned. The boy next to her mashed his applesauce with his fork but wouldn't touch the rest of it. He refused. Another girl dove in. "This is good," she said. "This is really good."

A third little girl called me over. "What is this?" she demanded. She pointed to the enchilada. I said, it is an enchilada. Then she peeked in. "What is that?" she said, poking at the chicken. "Chicken," I said. A minute later she called me back to ask me about the cheese and the green onion. The applesauce. But in the end she ate it all.

I know there are days the children do not even know what they are eating. One day they were served a juicy, sweet yellow fruit. They all ate it, and loved it, but no one knew what it was. Finally, at afternoon recess, one girl figured it out. "Yellow watermelon," she declared. The word spread like gossip across the campus. They were delighted. Who knew watermelon could be yellow? Who knew it could be so delicious?

Those who are there every day say slowly the kids are eating more, trying more, getting braver. A lick becomes a bite becomes a serving. Slowly.

But the most surprising thing is the parents. They signed on for this school knowing what was coming. And yet still, what resistance. One parent asked on the school web site if the school could serve more pizza, mac n'cheese and pasta. Another said she is terrified her child will not eat, so she gives a big huge snack before lunch, and meets him with a reward in the car after school. (Is it sweet? Is it salty? Is it fatty?)

I am soooo sympathetic. I have one natural healthy food lover and one junk food lover. These are their natural settings. Still, I know it is my job to set them so that they at least know they need real food to live. As I watched the resistance unfold on the school web site, and listened to parents complain, I realized how truly revolutionary Alice Waters is. I realized many children live on mac n' cheese, pizza and pasta. (and believe me, my kids have their share and they love it!) I realized how few families have the time to eat together. I realized that even though parents want their children to eat well, want it more than anything, they instinctively fight to keep their kids eating what they already do, because it is easy, and fast. Even if it might not be that good. Or even actively bad.

People may pull their kids from the school over the school lunch program. Our school has taken a more drastic approach than the original Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, where the program flourishes and is a national pilgrimage spot for foodies and educators. Friends whose daughters attend said even there not every child is required to buy the school lunch.

But I pray Alice Waters succeeds. A day at school has shown me how desperately we need to overhaul school lunch programs--and not leave our children's nutritional futures to the USDA and its agricultural surplus programs, to corporations who care only about developing the cheapest food and getting our kids addicted to fat, sugar and salt. I am outing myself! I am a convert!

Kale for dinner!!!!!


I am living in hiding right now. When I go out I wear sunglasses, so no one can see my red, blood-shot, swollen eye. I speak less and move quietly. I try not to go out at all.

We had friends over on Saturday night and I sat at dinner, by candlelight, with my shades on. I spoke little and just followed the conversation. Jonathan kept calling me Sophia Loren. I smiled. But said nothing. At the Y I meet with people and have important conversations, in rooms with no windows, with my shades on.

My eye hurts. Not a lot. Just the stitches on my eyeball rubbing against my lid. And then I have fears that the graft is not taking and I will have a lumpy misshapen eyeball forever. And my mind goes crazy.

And I realize two things.

First, a small pain can affect your life and personality in a big way. It affects me in obvious ways--I do not want to talk much. I dart in and out of meetings and drop offs, just trying to get them to end. And this small pain--barely enough to merit a tylenol--irritates me. It makes me grumpy. I snap at my children and give up on things easily.

Second, how you carry yourself--whatever the reason--begins to affect how people see you, and then how they react to you begins to affect again how you are acting. So I hide behind my glasses, not making eye contact and not speaking. That makes me mysterious, and I can see that for some people that attitude translates as arrogance, and judgement.

In the end, my eye, which is not even serious, makes me do less. I do not want to be out in the world. I do not want to interview people or pitch stories. Even though no one can see me, I feel less confident, less at ease. I long, even more than usual, to engage in solitary pursuits. Or to be with my children, who love me so much they do not even notice that my eye is red and bloody and big.

And suddenly, with a rush, I realize how blessed I am. I have a body so strong it has always come through for me when my mind and heart have faltered. But physical frailty derails me.

And I think of all those with chronic illness, chronic pain, treatments that make them miserable with no guarantee of a positive outcome, and I think I was not compassionate. I could not anticipate the layers of emotion, and how that single physical ailment can completely alter the way you move through the world.

Now, in a very small way, I understand.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Obama and the Nobel

I believe I am a minority of one here, but I am overjoyed that Obama got the Nobel Peace prize. I only had one working eye on Saturday morning when I saw the paper, but with my one functioning eye, I wept.

I know I know--he hasn't done anything yet. The Republicans will just use it to bring him down. He is all oratory and no action.

I have read every criticism from the right and the left. I have read about how he is skewered by the late night talk show hosts. I have read New York Times columnists writing the acceptance speech they think he should give when he goes to Oslo. I have argued over brunch with a man I barely met who swears he is an Obama supporter but still says this is wrong.

And I disagree. I know I am earnest, and alone. But here is why I think the way I do. I am not a blind Obama supporter. I think he is moving too slowly. I think he has compromised too much with the insurance companies, the Republicans and every other opponent on health care and I feel disappointed. But this is why I believe he deserves the prize.

At a time when this country feels devoid of hope, he is trying on all fronts. He is not trying to pass easy-to-get-concensus-on, everybody-can agree-with-me-on-this, let's-lock-up-the-molesters type legislation. He is tackling head on the most difficult issues of our time. And they have been waiting there for a long time, and no one so far dared to take them on. He is not focusing all his energy on one thing, so that he can assure himself a legacy and a place in the history books. He is not just trying to satisfy his crony friends in corporate positions. He is not blaming others for problems his administration was handed that he had no part in creating. He is simply doing what MUST be done. And there is a lot. Our world is pretty fucked up right now.

He is doing his best. He is trying to help the world disarm nuclear weapons and he is trying to move on climate change. He is trying to get us out of Iraq and he is trying to settle Afghanistan in a way that is sustainable and does not let that country dissolve into civil war again. He is trying to get kids to eat better and people to plant organic gardens. He is trying to improve public education. He is trying to reform health care and make it fairer, more available, and economically ustainable for our nation. He is trying to inspire people to graduate from community college. Some say he is doing too much. And maybe he is. But this is his moment. He is not thinking only of himself and how he will be perceived. He is not bending and playing the game of partisan politics and trafficking in hate, in a political environment that has deadlocked our nation for the last 12 years.

He is really really trying. This doesn't give the Republicans more ammo. They turn everything into ammo. This will not handicap him. It will encourage him to try harder and let him know that at least the world is on his side, even if half his country isn't. He has given me hope, in an era where hope is out, and everything is about small, petty victories that move you nowhere. He is daring to have vision, and to fight for it. Whether he succeeds or not, the very fact that he dared to try to lay out a vision when no one else does, gives him my vote, my heart, my support.

I am so happy that what he is doing--and what he is desperately trying to do -- is being recognized by the Nobel Prize board.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I am deep into Cheerful Money, the surprisingly touching and emotionally open and gorgeously written memoir by Tad Friend, about himself, his family, and the decline of the WASP in America.

I read with interest because all my life I have been mistaken for a WASP--in good situations and bad. Those assumptions have brought me both acceptance and hatred, with me always lagging a few steps behind what people were thinking about me.

No, no, I wanted to tell them. That is not me. Those people look like me. But I am not that. I promise you.

It is true, I am white, anglo-saxon and protestant. And I grew up at least partially in New England, in a white-clapboard house with green shutters that was kept at a frigid temperature in the winter. I summered at the Wadawanuck Club in Stonington, learnws to sail and swim there, wore Izod shirts every day, and watched a lot of adults drink a lot of gin and tonics. But they weren't my parents.

And I did not come from money. Or attend an elite prep school in New England. Or have a hot French au pair in the summer. Or have a family compound on Watch Hill. Or grow up with a sense of entitlement.

I met people like that at the Wad club. But I was just a townie, with parents who perhaps had aspirations. I don't know.

My father was in the Navy, from California, raised a Catholic, with a spirit far too ebullient to ever be classified as WASP. My mother fit the mold more, I suppose, with her Smith and Yale pedigrees, and her deep emotional reserve, but still, she was the daughter of a Pennsylvania farm boy and a history teacher.

Still, as I headed off to college people often mistook me for the real thing. A real, died-in-the-wool, flesh and blood WASP. It was more the people from outside New England who made the error. Some of them hated me. And would scream at me about my sense of entitlement--though it was I who had gone to a crazy public school, while they attended a private school in the suburbs of Tulsa, or wherever. Other people assumed I was the real thing--that I did not have to work in the summer--or that my parents gave me whatever I wanted and I had a trust fund. And they liked me more because of it. I have a friend here who asks me to help her with a distant, emotionally dysfunctional WASP character in her novel. It was said with love.

So it is strange to read this book and find out, perhaps, what it is people were assigning to me, when they saw my pleasant-but not exotic-Anglo features, found out I could sail, or play tennis, was well-read and polite, and had lived--for a time--in New England. It is like getting the back story to a tale I never understood but was always assumed to be part of because of my looks. And this case of mistaken identity--layered on top of various chameleon personas pulled out for survival in new towns and new schools because I was a Navy Brat--just added to my eternal sense that the real me could not be seen.

And I wonder, deep down inside, if one of the reasons I like California is that all of that is left behind. I do not need to confirm or deny what a WASP is, and whether I am one. Because out here in Los Angeles it just doesn't matter.

And I like that.

Two More Days, Two Less Teeth

Here is my boy, with a mouth full of gaps. He lost two teeth in two days! The bottom tooth came out at last, in a mouthful of carrot--to make room for the new tooth which is already half way in!

The top tooth came out the next night--after a week of sticking out perpendicular and hanging by a thread--and being used as a trick to gross out his sqeamish mama.

How will he chew?

He looks like a madman. Or a meth baby. But so cute.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stick a Knife in My Eye

This blog is not meant to be catalogue of middle age ailments. The fact is that I have been so blessedly free of ailments of any sort my whole life I have no tolerance at all, and I am a big fat baby. Add to that a natural skepticism of doctors, a fear of hospitals, a cynicism about medicine, pharmaceutical trials, doctor's distance from pharmaceutical companies, a leeriness of medicines' often unmentioned side effects, and the sudden appearance of allergies to medicines and bee stings I never had, and I am in trouble.

So, maybe that is why I cannot sleep. And was close to hyperventilating in the doctor's office. And picked a fight with my husband over nothing this morning.

On Friday an opthalmologist will operate on my eye to remove a pterigium. Basically, it is a condition that afflicts fishermen, farmers, and pale people that were meant to live in foggy climes but instead live in sunny California--like me. It is not serious. Nothing will be done that really affects my vision. And yet the legal documents you have to sign before you get an operation seem designed to terrify (I understand I could die or lose my vision or damage it significantly...). It is hard to get an accurate sense of what is really going on.

Basically, a doctor will cut this thing out of my eye and graft some eyeball from another part of my eye into the old hole. The skin will be held in place with four neat little stitches and some glue. The cutting, slicing, stitching and sewing will take a half hour. Then I have to wear a patch for a few days, and my eye will be irritated for awhile. And then I will be better.


It is my eye. I like my eye. And I am scared.

Oh Dear, Oh My, Oh Goodness Me...

These are some of the things I said this past weekend, after my father-in-law went roller blading with Jonathan and Benji at the beach, and fell and fractured his pelvis, and had to go to the emergency room at Cedars, and stay overnight, and take morphine, and couldn't move for the whole weekend.

Pictured here: Three generations of Fernandi hitching a ride on a wheelchair in Santa Monica

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chicken Nuggets

...or chicken luggages, as my son likes to call them.

They are ubiquitous in American culture. Some children won't eat anything else. This is not an urban myth. I have known some of these children, who refuse to eat anything but. I have heard from docs I used to gossip with when I covered health that companies hire people to come up with the perfect blend of fat, salt and sugar--which is absolutely irresistable--like crack for young children. And since this is just a blog--not a newspaper article where I must fact-check--I remember one friend saying that when Costco stopped selling their chicken nugget monster pack parents across the nation rioted to bring them back.

Well, they are back. And Dino-nuggets feature prominently in the Canyon School diet. I never buy them or serve them at home. But I suppose it is just part of life in America today. When I try to stage a nutritional insurgency on Mondays at the co-op, serving only whole wheat bread, fruits and veggies for snack, some parents grumble, saying there is nothing their children can eat. I looked at the strawberries, the edamame, the ham sandwich and the carrots. Well, what can your child eat? I ask. Dino-nuggets and Tater-tots, she said. We are trying to introduce some new foods at home. "I licked a strawberry," her child said proudly before he asked for juice.

Yesterday Benji, who loves junk food (but, to his credit, eats a lot of other things, too), came home with ketchup spattered all over his shirt. He had had dino-nuggets for lunch. Just as her child is having to try new foods, my child is being exposed to the highly addictive properties of dino-nuggets.

This was our conversation:

B: Mommy, can we have those fish things again? They tasted like Dino Nuggets. (A single-Mommy confession: I cooked baked Halibut from Trader Joe's, telling myself my boys were eating fish. Omega 3 Fatty Acids, critical for their growing brains. Backed up by research!)

Me: Oh. You liked them? They tasted like chicken?

B: Yes. They are just like Dino nuggets, only a different shape. They taste the same on the inside.
(Do companies share research to find out what kids like? Do they pay for the secret recipe that will addict young children? Is there some giant factory that takes meat waste from all protein sources and grinds it up and fries it and sells it in frozen packages to parents everywhere?)

Me: (defeated) Well, I guess they do taste the same. But they were fish. (Still trying to impart a nutritional lesson that will last) Fish is really good for you.

B: Well. They taste the same. We had Dino Nuggets at school today. I ate a baby pterodactyl. Dino nuggets look like killed baby dinosaurs. Right, Mommy? They (dino nuggets and fish sticks) are the same, because they both taste good with ketchup.

Hmm. I guess they do.