For the past several Christmas seasons, this blog has featured our family’s version of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” Though “One Christmas was much like another in those years around the sea town corner” of Marion, Massachusetts, this year we are in Oakland, California and…well, it’s different! Dylan Thomas’ lovely Christmas poem no longer applies.

This year, instead of this quintessentially New England holiday display:

we have this:

Garish Christmas Decorations

Holiday Decorations by a neighbor.

Luckily, there is one enduring feature, wherever we are: the Christmas Cat.

Cat under the Xmas Tree


Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa and whatever else brings you together with your family and friends during this season!

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Photo by Jon Tyson via Unsplash

I’m not a quitter. I’m proud of that, so it was a wrenching decision I made last week (la semana pasada) to quit my Intermediate Spanish class. I agonized about it for weeks, not only because I’m not a quitter but also for some more important (to me, anyway) reasons.

First, I would freeze every time I was called upon to speak in Spanish. When I managed to stumble through a few sentences, they were full of the simplest possible adjectives: bad, sad, good, great. I sounded like Donald Trump but with a pretty good accent.

Second, my memory isn’t that great anymore. The many irregular verbs and their conjugations that I reviewed so carefully didn’t seem to want to stick around. Somewhere along the way, I’ve forgotten how to memorize. It reminds me of the Billy Collins line from “Forgetfulness:”

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall

Third, it was both a shock and a relief to learn that I am at least 30 years older than everyone else in the class. My first reaction was “Whaaaat??” My second reaction was, “No wonder all these people have such good memories.”

So now I am back to listening to Coffee Break Spanish as I perform daily mundane tasks, happy in the knowledge that whatever I don’t remember I can replay. It makes me feel like I’m not a quitter.



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Gifts, Christmas and Hanukkah

Christmas ornaments.

Holiday ornaments.

As Christmas and Hanukkah approach, it’s time to think about gifts. I enjoy buying presents for my granddaughter but finding appropriate presents for the adults in our family is not so easy. Just for fun, I searched the web to see what merchants are suggesting as gifts for adults this year. The Grommet features an Automatic Floss Dispenser, a Golf Club Cleaner, and a Microwave Bacon Cooker. And if those choices aren’t ridiculous enough, J. Peterman promotes a Four-tier Folding Cake Stand and a Bull Lead with a Copper Nose Ring (for the bullfighter in your life?). And just for the guys in your life, Mancrates proposes a Salami Bouquet or an Exotic Meats Jerkygram. Jerky indeed.

There have been some unfortunate gifts in Christmases past. One year my mother-in-law bought me some jumbo-size underpants, then apologized profusely when she saw the look on my face. A year or so later, my parents bought Bill an electric shaver, even though he had had a full beard for years.

Family gatherings over the holidays can be difficult. A psychiatrist friend once said to me regarding his patient caseload: “Christmastime is my High Season.” For some families, it is the one time of the year everyone gets together and the rich stew of irritation, competition, resentment and chronic misunderstanding can bubble over. Christmases in my family when I was a kid were like something out of an Irish short story. My mother and her mother had a tense relationship. My father would get tipsy early in the evening when my mother was not keeping an eye on the bourbon bottle. There were lots of presents and we kids tore into them at the same time, so frantically that the whole process was over in minutes and then we were disappointed that it went so fast. Meanwhile, the mother of my great-aunt-by-marriage, the oldest person I had ever seen, dozed in the corner. It was a Dylan Thomas scene without the poetry.

What were your holiday celebrations like? I’d love to hear from you.

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Keep buttoned up.

Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash

When the details leading to Matt Lauer’s firing broke a couple of days ago, my first thoughts were with his victims and my second take was, “Did he really think exposing himself was alluring?” This was not a new question. I had already wondered the same about Harvey Weinstein, Louie C.K., Charlie Rose and John Conyers.

This is one of the differences between men and women. Research* into women’s pornography-viewing habits reveals that women find the female body more attractive than the male’s; certainly artists have shared that belief for centuries. Men apparently don’t. I learned as the mother of two boys that at a very young age, males are proud of their genitals. I also have a daughter and the subject never came up. My sons were sensitive little guys, so they even sympathized with me for not being as lucky as they were.

Now we have grown men acting as if they never got beyond the pride of a four-year- old. Judging from the behavior of the aforementioned group, those men believe women are going to be shocked and awed into submission by the sight of their private parts. Women just don’t think that way. It is hard to imagine even the most predatory, powerful female CEO inviting a male subordinate into her office, locking the door, and dropping her designer pants.

Like many people, I wonder how many more days I will wake up to the news that one more famous man has taken advantage of the power of his position to force himself on unwilling women, men or children. To the men who are waking up during the night, wondering when they will be “outed” and lose their jobs: it is too late to undo past bad behavior but it is not too late to grow up. My mother-in-law would have said, in a different context, “pull up your socks.” To the sleepless transgressors out there: you know what you need to pull up.


*Yes, I really do research these weekly essays.

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Someone else’s beautiful bookcases.

I’m often asked what I’m reading so I thought, on the occasion of giving thanks for what we have, I would list the books on my nightstand.

Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins
Collins is a former US Poet Laureate. Some of his poems seem, at first reading, to be simple but they aren’t.  This fragment from the book’s first poem, “Reader” gives you a sense of how wonderful his writing is:

Looker, gazer, skimmer, skipper, thumb-licking page turner, peruser,you getting your print-fix for the day, pencil-chewer, note taker, maginalianist with your checks and X’s…

Katy Tur: Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History
My husband Bill and I are news junkies and since Trump’s election our addiction has gotten worse. Katy Tur of NBC and MSNBC is smart, funny and as a junior reporter was given the least-likely-to-succeed-candidate assignment.  Then she wound up covering the winner. Her road warrior stories are entertaining and chilling.

Amor Towles: A Gentleman in Moscow
Do this book justice by reading it in as few consecutive hours as possible. I didn’t and therefore I’m going to reread it. When I got to the last page, I marveled at what an intricate, Stave puzzle of a story Towles has written. What a mind Towles has!

John McPhee: Draft No. 4
I have not gotten far into this book yet but have discussed it a lot with my very well-read friend, James. I have always loved McPhee’s writing. His essays concern complicated and often scientific topics, written in a novelist’s style. If you want to get a sense of McPhee, check out this recent profile from the New York Times.

Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers and good reading to all!

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Autumn Leaves and Leaving

Autumn Leaves, Simsbury, Connecticut

Autumn Leaves,
Simsbury, Connecticut

In the autumn of 1996, Norm appeared at my kitchen door and told me he had come to say “goodbye.” Our family had moved to Connecticut from California six months earlier and Norm was one of my few friends. We had worked together fashioning a garden around the newly built house, planted trees, installed a raised bed for growing vegetables. It was Norm who taught me about frost heaves, the mud season, hardy perennials and Swamp Yankees—all new concepts for a West Coast native—and he was a good friend, besides, so I was distressed at his leaving.

“Are you moving away?” I asked.

He shook his head; I recognized the incredulity with which most locals greeted my cluelessness. “No. It’s the end of October. I’ll see you when winter’s over.”

It seemed odd, since we lived three blocks apart, but that was before I understood it wasn’t only the leaves that left by the beginning of November. The comforting night sounds of crickets, cicadas, and katydids were silenced. The ever-present, annoying mosquitos disappeared, too, but so did most of the neighborhood birds. All that remained were a few drab sparrows, winter-plumaged finches and—a life-saver for the Seasonally Affective Disordered—cheery red cardinals. Garden magazines carried articles about choosing plants for bark color to add “winter interest”—a depressing concept, if ever there was one. Then the sun set early—really, really early. By 4:00 p.m. the sky began to darken. By 4:30 I had to turn the lights on.

The natives had terms for all varieties of winter weather: sometimes the sky was only “spitting” snow; other times we endured Nor-easters, ice storms, power outages that meant not only loss of electricity but also water, because the well had an electrical pump. I began to wonder why anyone ever chose to settle in New England. By February even Florida seemed appealing.

That was many years ago. In time, Norm retired, the kids went off to college and I, belatedly, grew up, too. I stopped hating winter (well, except for January and February) and began to enjoy Snow Days, the “bones” of my leafless garden and flannel sheets. In California, one season slid into another and I scarcely noticed. All that counted was if it rained or not. In New England, I learned to appreciate the austere snowscape as well as the extravagant summer foliage. That appreciation is all the keener because winter is so long. I’d like to think that I’ve become accustomed to friends’ leaving, too; it would be a pat, inspirational way to end this musing. That’s not true, though. The best I can do is to remember that with losses comes the anticipation of new friends, different landscapes and other adventures–after an appropriate wait, of course. And for those of you who are impatient, there’s always Florida.

Note: I publish this “From the Archives” every November.

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Media Closet controls

Herein lies the problem.

What do you call an expensive multi-media system that is supposed to work with the push of one button but instead requires three controls per device and a closetful of equipment? I call it the temptation to swing a baseball bat. Three smart, thoughtful young men have spent so many hours installing, wiring and programming our new system that they have morphed into family members—quasi-nephews. So why oh why can’t the troublesome high tech glitches be corrected?

As people of my age go, I am more knowledgeable than average. I know that the first rule when something goes wrong with a cable box, computer, cell phone, camera, etc., is to unplug it or turn it off, then restart it. That often works. Otherwise, though I don’t understand what the root of the problem is, I’m sure it must be my fault.

There is a voodoo element to my relationship with technology that led, in the early days of Kindle, to my ordering an e-book and then standing at a window with my device open to the light, half expecting a winged book angel to show up. I didn’t know much but I had faith. The same could be said about our granddaughter, age 8. She doesn’t know the first thing about how cell signals and internets work and yet performs miracles. Recently she asked that I play “Despacito” on my car radio. I explained that I didn’t have that song in my iTunes collection so it couldn’t be done. She held out her hand: “Nana, give me your phone.” I still don’t know what she did but less than a minute passed before she and her little friend in the back seat were grooving to the song.

I keep hoping for a clear explanation as to why our three wise young men can’t perform the same miracles as an eight-year-old. As the last installer/nephew left at sundown Friday, I asked if the system was ever going to work as it was supposed to. “Oh, definitely,” was his answer. “Then why does it keep conking out?” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled the smile of a man at peace with himself and the vagaries of technology: “It’s electronic. Things happen.”

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Well, it has been another big week for revelations of sexual harassment. What caught my interest this week was the Apologies From Another Sexual Planet that the men involved offered up.

Apology #1: Harvey Weinstein: “I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.” Uh, no Harvey—it wasn’t. I put myself through college working as a secretary from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies and unwanted sexual advances at the workplace (and other locations) were no more welcome then than they are now.

I was sorry to hear that author and political commentator Mark Halperin also has a history of sexual predation. I have enjoyed his books, his CNBC show with John Heilemann and his appearances on MSNBC. I have valued his political opinions and was happy for him last January when he and his long-time girlfriend welcomed a baby boy into their lives. Then this past week I learned that “for years it was an open secret” that Halperin made inappropriate sexual advances toward women who were his subordinates. His response? Along with denying some of the allegations, he added:

Apology #2: Mark Halperin: “I now understand from these accounts that my behavior was inappropriate and caused others pain.” How is it that he can only just “now understand” that it was inappropriate to press one’s (ahem) sexual organ against the shoulder of a young woman with whom he was having a business meeting? This from a man whose other perceptions and incisive analyses of the nuances of politics have made him famous and wealthy.

Our granddaughter, age 8, goes to a progressive school in Oakland, California. And when I say, progressive, I mean California Progressive. An example: this week “Crushes” were discussed in the second grade classroom. At dinner, Kamiko and her friend explained to her mother and me what a “crush” is and then enumerated the various crushes and cross-crushes in their class. It was both hilarious and encouraging. Maybe “inappropriate touching” will be on the agenda in fourth or fifth grade or later. Then, at any age, predators wouldn’t be able to pretend that they were only then discovering that it’s offensive to make unwanted sexual advances–period.


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(Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash)

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock these past few weeks, you know the significance of “#MeToo.” And if you are a rock-hider, here’s what it means: Actor Alyssa Milano, one of Harvey Weinstein’s victims, wrote: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘#MeToo’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Since then millions of women have posted “#MeToo” on their Facebook pages, Twitter and Instagram. They are supporting the women who have risked their careers and reputations by speaking publicly about the sexual harassment they experienced from Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Donald Trump, Bill O’Reilly  and other famous, powerful men.

Those of us who posted “#MeToo” have kept our own experiences with sexual harassment to ourselves. It is something we would rather forget. What I experienced was nothing as extreme and disgusting as what we’ve been hearing lately, but still I don’t want to think about the several times I was kissed or groped. The men weren’t necessarily my bosses, though some of them were. Some of them were just guys who thought it was their right to corner me at the copy machine. Those men should have been embarrassed but they weren’t. They saw a young (and later not-so-young) co-worker who wouldn’t want to cause a scene because she was surprised, embarrassed and besides, she was nice. Lord, was I nice. They were sure I would keep my mouth shut and I did.

There was only one time that I confronted one of my bosses. He slapped me on my butt with a file as he left the office one day. I fretted about it overnight and the next day told him I did not want him doing that again. His response: he denied it. It was just the two of us in the office—his word against mine. I was astounded. He implied that it was all a fantasy of mine.  Two weeks later I was laid off due to “lack of work.”

I don’t know how much change the public attention to “#MeToo” will bring. Most women don’t have the fame or money to bring lawsuits against their harassers. Change comes slowly but if we teach our children and grandchildren by example to be respectful of others, change will come.









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CatmanDeux sleeping

CatmanDeux, ready for his close-up.

Cat videos rule the internet. They are so popular that otherwise sensible people readily admit to enjoying them. As a friend commented yesterday, cat videos lift the spirits. Lately my spirits have needed lifting due to the unrelentingly bad news: political, social and environmental. It has been difficult to tear myself away from the TV and Internet. I suffer from the absurd notion that if I turn away for even a minute, something even more terrible will happen. Then our cat sitter sent me a video of CatmanDeux biting his own tail and I remembered the pleasures of cat videos.

A few facts. There are feline video stars: Maru, Grumpy Cat, Simon’s Cat, Surprised Kitten, VaneCat, Colonel Meow, Nyan Cat and Henri, The Existential Cat. Maru has his Scottish Fold ears and his tendency to climb into boxes; as a bonus, he’s Japanese. Grumpy Cat looks like her name; Simon’s Cat and Nyan Cat are animated (ugh). Surprised Kitten is so adorable that her video has been viewed 75 million times. If you want to watch any of these videos, here is a website for all of these cats and more, courtesy of The Guardian, the British newspaper. No one loves kitties more than the Brits.

My favorite videos feature Henri, The Existential Cat. He’s not particularly special in the looks department except for his perpetual scowl. The brainchild of cinematographer Will Braden, Henri’s ten videos—satires of French films and their existential ennui, raise the intellectual level of the genre. I don’t feel as guilty spending time with Henri as I do watching cats running into windows or leaping at the sight of cucumbers.

It has been such a pleasure researching cat videos for today’s blog that the next time I am overtaken by fears for our democracy, world politics and/or the future of the planet I will try to shift my focus, at least temporarily,


Hiding Kitty








Have a good week.






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