Monday, January 14, 2019

Reunions of the sibling variety

This is the sort of blog that no one wants to read unless you want to read about random strangers family reunions and no one wants to do that. So feel free to cough a little and turn the page.

A few months ago I realized that the last time all my siblings got together was August 19, 2016 to toss my Mom's ashes illegally off a cliff near Sonora, California. It was a  nice tossing ceremony (the park ranger politely looked the other way) and then we gathered for a dinner in a local Sonora restaurant and the best part was hanging out by the pool at the hotel in Sonora, listening to three of my brothers play soft music late into the night. Other hotel guests hung out with us and enjoyed the music as well. Some of my siblings went to Mass the next morning and were not enlivened by that experience.  My kids and their mates and me did not opt for that Sunday morning church thing. We had coffee and scones instead and we were quite happy with that choice.

Whew.... so, a few months ago I contacted my siblings to see if we could all find a time to get together and this past weekend was the favored date and so we did.  Jenn and Dar offered their house as the gathering and eating spot. Everyone came to Guerneville on Friday and/or Saturday and spent one or two nights and we had a great time. Some of us gathered at Autocamp ( on Friday because I got a good discount on trailers Airstream rooms and of course a discount makes everyone happy. People did their own Saturday morning activities and we all finally converged on Jenn's on Saturday afternoon. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and that meant the pool table was accessible and many games were played. Donna, my sister-in-law, played the first game of pool in her life!  My sister Kate and I played our first game together in our lives! (I hope Kate and Donna and I can play again, soon, and perhaps become pool sharks in our waning years, although are years are not waning quite yet.) A large wine bar was set up in the garage with a great deal of wine to sample, and sample we did. Jenn made two different kinds of lasagna, along with stellar garlic bread and salad. (The meal was preceded by lots of snacks, of course.)  Dessert followed, Lemon Shaker Pies (thanks to Joe and Donna) and chocolate cake and cookies and two pounds of See's Candy (thanks to Kate) and more wine.  

There was a bonfire. There was endless conversation and even more laughter and family memories. Joe, Jeff and John played music and Jenn sang along and people were happy and tipsy and smiling all the time. 

Everyone was back at Jenn and Dar's by 9:20 on Sunday morning for coffee and more food. (No one opted for a religious experience that morning.)  I had to go to work but it was with a smile on my face. As different as we all are, all six of us share one thing in common: we usually like each other. And we mostly love each other. Yes, we sometimes argue, we sometime disagree, we often go weeks or longer without talking. But we all get along, we are all there when needed. We would all have each other's back. 

And that is a good thing.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Experience vs Memory

Four years ago I read "Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande and I probably wrote a blog about it. My Mom was alive then and we were in the process of trying to solve the "what to do with Mom's living situation" dilemma. Gawande had very salient things to ponder about that situation and I appreciated the book.

This book is one that everyone over the age of 40 or anyone with an aging friend or relative should read. Not that it solves anything but it gives the reader a lot to think about and some solid advice about approaching the end of life. And about approaching life in general, whether the end or the middle.

I just finished listening to the book on CD in my car and it is possibly even more relevant now, even though my Mom is no longer with us. (She died in 2017.) Maybe it's because I have been thinking a lot about getting older and about death and the best way to approach old age and all of that. (Thankfully I am in good health so it is still just speculation, except for the getting old part; that is biting me around the ankles all the time.)

Gawande discusses the "experiencing self" and the "remembering self." It seems, after simply typing those two phrases into Google, that many people have been discussing the same topic. I am finding it not just relevant to myself (and it should be to everyone) but incredibly fascinating on a day-to-day basis.  The experiencing self is our moment by moment life as we experience (aka live) each episode that comes at us: this moment at work, that moment walking the dog, gazing out the window, going to the dentist, everything. We don't consciously think about each experience. Some are good, some bad, some just are there.

The remembering self is the one that guides us, it helps us make decisions, it sorts out the happy moments from those experiences and the unhappy moments and the remembering self is the part of our being that defines our feelings about what we experience.

Here is one good example: you watch a baseball game and it's a great game, your team is ahead, you are delighted in the projected outcome. For 3 hours you are happily watching the game. Then, in the bottom of the 9th inning the opposing team scores ten runs, your team loses the game and those 3 hours of enjoyment are gone. Now you view that game as terrible, nothing about it is enjoyable. You don't remember the joy of the 8+ innings, you only remember the crappy ending. Two hours later you are talking to your baseball buddy and you both agree: what a stupid, fucked up game. The experience of watching the game and enjoying it has been overtaken by the memory.

I saw this a lot with my Mom. She fell many times and at one point was in the hospital for five days and then in a rehab place for a couple of weeks and none of it was pleasant. But what she remembered, what became the truth to her was not the fall or the hospital or the rehab facility. To her it was all about how nice the people in both places were. Nothing about the pain or the terrible food, just a nice fantasy about kind people. 

We all operate this way. The "experience self" should be the self that guides us but because the experiences are so overwhelming (because experience never stops) we rely on what we remember and upon that we are guided. If you have a really terrible medical procedure, like a colonoscopy, you never, ever want to have another one. But if that colonoscopy is painful in the beginning but calm and soothing at the end and the drugs made you happy, having another colonoscopy is nothing to fear because you only remember the end, not the pain. Childbirth is sort of like that as well. We remember the final push and the baby that is placed on our chest; the pain getting to that point is not forgotten but the pain doesn't define the experience.

Why am  I thinking about all this? I am not sure. But it has been following me around for the past week, this experience vs memory conundrum. 

Enough on this for now. However, if you haven't read "Being Mortal" please do. It is a small book but heavy in its meaning.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Movie: "Free Solo"

What an amazing film this is from National Geographic. In 2017 Alex Honnold climbed El Capitan in Yosemite without anything except his hands and feet and mind. No ropes, no gear, nothing. And he did it in less than four hours.

As this movie begins, from the first close-ups that pan out to wide angle shots, my stomach was in knots from the fear of falling. The camera work is amazing. But what is more amazing is the simple fact that Alex climbed a shear face of a granite mountain, 3000 feet of straight up rock, all by himself. My hands sweated the entire time.

Alex is charming in his off-putting way. It doesn't hurt that he is cute and frisky but he makes no attempt to be endearing or loveable. In fact, at times he is a bit of an asshole, but we, the viewers, can let that slide a bit because we are sort of on his side. He wants to make this climb, we get that. The fact that he has some sort of armor around himself to make that happen is more difficult to accept, but we do because this is a herculean task, to say the least.

One mistake, one small mistake and he falls and he dies. Alex does the ascent several times with ropes and we see him fall, with the ropes, in the more difficult sections. When we watch him do it solo, it is terrifying.  

This deserves to be seen on a screen larger than one's television. It is a short movie, about 90 minutes or so. Go see it. You don't need to be a climber to like it, you simply need to appreciate drive, dedication and obsession to get it. Yosemite and El Capitan have never looked lovelier.  

Two thumbs up.

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Friday, December 28, 2018

Movies: Sam Elliott in "The Hero"

Sometimes you want to watch a movie because you like the star of that movie. You do not care about socially redeeming value, you do not care about  how great the director was and you definitely do not care about how many tomatoes it got on Rotten Tomatoes. You simply want to see one particular person..... in this case it was Sam Elliott.  If you need to ask "why Sam Elliott" then I can only surmise you are either a straight man or a clueless woman. Come on.... Sam Elliott?  Sexy cowboy with that gravel voice?  I long for a movie with both Sam Elliott and Jeff Bridges. Whew, just the thought of that makes me swoon.

So, here we are, "The Hero", which going into it I knew not much about but I give it two thumbs up. The character Sam Elliott plays is an oldish guy who had some success in movies. I would not call him a movie star. When the movie begins, he is doing lame-ass voice overs for some barbeque sauce product and it is clear from the first frame that he thinks of himself as a loser and so does everyone else. In the second frame (virtually) we find out he has cancer and that now defines who he is. Well, to himself it does but no one else knows.

Nothing else needs to be said here. He finds a younger woman to convince him he is not totally fucked up. He sort of reconnects with his daughter. He finally faces the cancer and tries to do the right thing with everyone in his life. All that is predictable in this movie.

What is not predictable and what is so surprising is Sam Elliott's performance, his acting, his face, his emotions. There are times when he holds his face so still and yet within that stillness, within that silence he tells us everything. There are several scenes, some that last just a few seconds, when we see the amazing quality of an actor's face, transmitting everything to us, the audience. Like Jeff Bridges, Elliott knows when to move and when to stop and wait and breathe. The last half of this movie has many of those moments. Watch and see.

Another gift is that Elliott's wife, Katherine Ross, is in this movie for a few scenes. I fell in love with her in 1969 when she was Etta Place in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."  Seeing her in this movie, "The Hero", was a bonus.

It is not a great movie but it is a good movie. Not just for Sam Elliott but for the point of facing mortality and how to do that gracefully.  It's a lesson worth exploring.


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas + Champagne + Crab + Kids

Again, Christmas Eve consisted of all of the above, some to excess. Also in the mix were chocolate, cookies, cheeses, charcuterie and probably other words starting with the letter "C."  (Church was definitely not in that mix.)  It is my favorite day/evening of the year and once it begins in the mid afternoon, it roars with healthy abandon until after 2:00 the next morning. Lots of small gifts are opened throughout the evening and there is more laughter than bubbles from champagne.

The early morning found Dar and myself driving to Bodega Bay for live crab. Beautiful morning, fog drifting over the hills from Guerneville to the coast, happy people waiting in a short line for crab. Once back to Jenn and Dar's cooking began, bread was baked, bagels and cookies and dips and spreads were made and gifts were still being wrapped. By 3:00 we were all in the house while it poured rain and the power flickered on and off. A fire was lit, the first bottle of champagne was popped and off we went, snacking and talking, drinking and laughing (and crying) until, woozy with food and alcohol, we all called it a night and fell sleeping into our respective beds. 

The next morning, much too soon, coffee and the above mentioned bagels and leftover cake and cookies helped us get our feet on the ground, ibuprofen helped with the headaches and by noon we had all hugged, kissed and moved off down the road towards other Christmas dinners.

There is nothing better than sharing the love (and everything else) during this season.  I hope for all of you a happy holiday season.

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Friday, December 21, 2018

The Un-Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon

OK, I admit that the first season of Mrs. Maisel was fine. I found it charming and funny, although I could never figure out how she had time to run out and do stand-up comedy in the wee hours of the night when she had two kids. But hey, it's TV, whatever.

Tonight I started to watch the second season and for the love of Lenny Bruce, what the hell happened? Is it me or is it not funny anymore? Her husband mopes around like a kicked dog, that ain't funny. She jets off to Paris with nary a thought for anyone left at home and gets friendly with some drag queens, which could be fun I suppose. But it's all so ..... fake.  Yes, it's a TV show, and fake is TV and TV is fake and all that. But can we admit it's just a little too much?

Her family is rich, we saw that in Season One. Which means there is never a worry about money or child care or hotel bills or clothes or any of that. It's amusing for a few episodes but I have ceased to be amused. I now find it manipulative and exhausting. Midge is no longer funny, she is simply a spoiled brat, living the good life, making fun of everyone, not a care in the world unless it's a care about herself. Self obsessed she is and no longer laughable, sorry to say.

Well, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.


Been home a week; was I ever gone?

It's strange to think that last Thursday I was in an airport, waiting to board a plane home. Did that really happen?

This week I worked a few days, ran errands, did laundry, walked the dog numerous times, neglected the stack of bills sitting right next to me as I write, slept, ate, baked some tasty things and ate some of them.  I watched the Bruce Springsteen special on Netflix, basically his Broadway show filmed for our enjoyment. (And enjoy I did!  If you are a fan, you will really like it, please watch it. If you are not a fan but still like good entertainment, check it out. If you hate Bruce, well, I have nothing to say about that except something rude so I will say nothing.)

It is just too easy to let vacations dissolve into a ghostly blur; real life (i.e. non-vacation life) crowds everything out with its demands and immediacy and in-your-face pushiness. Wouldn't it be so much better if all the mental snapshots of the vacation crowded out the grocery lists and the working hours and the laundry baskets of tasks we all deal with every single day?  If that vacation wasn't reduced to a couple of nice memories but instead took up as much time in our minds as worrying about paying the rent does?

But that requires work, it requires taking specific moments out of each day and concentrating on the vacation. So that's what I do. At this moment I am thinking about the village of Carcassonne, a castle fortress perched up on a hill, a perfect location if you want to watch for heathens storming your castle. Beautiful stone work, you can see where the moat would have been. Inside a chaotic scene of tourists and tourist shops, overpriced cafe's, too much noise and too many people. Obviously, heathens did storm that castle.

In three days it will be Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the year. My kids, lots of champagne, fresh crab, tons of tasty eats and more than tons of love. Christmas carols, dogs wearing funny hats, rain and pajamas. I cannot wait!

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