A few reviews…

I am not going to talk about the government shutdown, other than to note that it caused me to have a panic attack on Saturday. Normally, i.e. under a rational president and reasonable Congress, I would expect it to be resolved in a couple of days and back pay would be forthcoming. Given the people currently in power, I had no such illusions. As it turned out, the government shutdown was short — and I think I am the only one of my friends who doesn’t think the Democrats agreeing to the deal to be craven capitulation. (I do think they’re just kicking the can down the road a bit, but I’ll live with it. It will be easier to handle a shutdown when we have finished paying off the bills from Christmas.)

So on another note…

We went back east for Christmas, and after visiting with my in-laws in the family we headed down to St. Pete. I wanted to check the place out following the hurricane, and I got to reconnect with my best friend from high school (hi, Betsy!), and spend time with my brother, sister-in-law, and The World’s Cutest Kid™.

We stayed in an older hotel that had been renovated (not an older resort, like the Vinoy or the Don Cesar) — it was all suites with kitchen, which allowed us to cook two meals a day (two meals times five people adds up fast).  One block from the beach allowed us to carry drinks down to watch the sunset. It was fifteen minutes down to Passe-A-Grille, one of the best beaches in America. So, overall, a success.

We also went out to Fort Desoto, another one of the best beaches in the country. I did not feel up to kayaking through mangroves (which everybody went out for, and loved) so I walked on the beach and wandered through the old Fort. It really is a wonderful place, made even more wonderful by them removing all the Australian pines. (For the fortunate, Australian pines are problematic — from an ecological standpoint because they are an invasive species with very shallow roots that easily blow over and from a tourist standpoint because they have small, round cones with very sharp edges.)

St. Pete has changed a lot since I grew up there. It has developed an arts and music scene, and is to my mind the most liberal city in Florida. (On their website they proclaim their Pride parade to be the largest in Florida. I wonder how they stack up against Orlando.) They have a thriving microbrewery industry, which I was unfortunately unable to sample, due to lack of time.  (In Largo, north of St. Pete, there is a brewery that is making beer from Krispy Kreme donuts.) But they also have artisan chocolates (yum) and really good small restaurants.

The very best food we had the entire week we were gone, and probably the best food I have had in months, was at Bodega in St. Petersburg. It was a cafe, so we had to sit outside, and it was windy, but it didn’t matter. I got their special (the Holy Mole sandwich) which was phenomenal. Not to mention their black beans… and their plantains… I love Cuban food, and this was some of the best I’ve ever had. They had legitimate vegetarian options, too, so the vegetarians in the family were happy.

Also, one last recommendation. People generally got what they want, which is great (the happiest was the Red-Headed Menace, whose cousin gave him a bunch of green-tea Kit-Kats). I gave the Rocket Scientist and LED shower head, which is great. The shower head changes color depending upon the temperature of the water. It allows you to both wait until the water is not bone-chilling cold until you get in, and regulate the temperature before you fry yourself.

More importantly for me, it has a mist setting. The mist is substantial enough to rinse off with but light enough to generate lots of steam. It’s good for pain management, stuffed up sinuses, and last-minute desperate wrinkle removing.  I only wish I had had one years ago when I was dealing with small children with the croup.

So my reccomendations:

St. Pete Beach Suites: Yes.

Fort Desoto and Passe-A-Grille: definitely yes.

Bodega and LED showerheads: HELL, yes.

If you are ever in central coastal Florida, check them out (other than the shower head, of course).


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Just a thought. You might want to pass it along to the Trumpsters in the family.

The Republicans control the White House.

The Republicans control the Senate.

The Republicans control the House of Representatives.

The Republicans talk about their base; the Democrats have a base, too — one that might reluctantly accept a wall but refuse to throw the Dreamers under the bus.

The Democrats are willing to work with Republicans (see: the deal Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin presented to the president, who scuttled it), but they are not going to throw away their ideals.

But the Republicans, unable to get their party united, try to strong-arm Democrats into accepting the unacceptable, and act aggrieved when that tactic doesn’t work. The Democrats have developed a spine.

Then Republicans, like petulant children who have been told “no,” stamp their feet and blame the opposition.

The “let’s blame the Democrats, even though we control the government” game will work because there are far too many people who are too fucking stupid to recognize they are being played.

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Lies, damned lies, and mental illness.

Donald Trump has never, as far as anyone knows, been diagnosed with a mental illness by any professional who has first-hand personal experience, although there is a lot of armchair diagnosis currently being done by professionals. It’s understandable, given some of the erratic behavior Trump exhibits, but Trump has engaged in such behavior for a long time now. (One of the more bizarre stories that emerged during the campaign was about Trump using fake names such as “John Barron” to talk to the media about himself. And then there is the years-long birther controversy and the latching on to other strange conspiracy theories.)

Trump is not mentally ill, as far as I can see has been reliably stated by a professional who has examined him in person. No, Trump is a liar.

The difference matters.

There is a tendency in this country to label any behavior that lies outside what most of us think of as the generally accepted norms as being mentally ill. Guy shoots up a workplace? He must be mentally ill, ignoring the fact that he had a history of workplace violence and the victims had gone to management to complain. Guy shoots up a church full of black people? Must be mentally ill, ignoring the fact that he was a stone-cold white supremacist.

The president lies repeatedly about things both large and small, even where his lies undercut American democracy and our standing in the world?

Must be mentally ill, ignoring the support the man will get from the third of the country who both believe and support him. Must be suffering from dementia, ignoring the lengths the man will go to for political ends.

What of his supporters? Many of Trump’s lies are not only false but laughably, demonstrably false. Are they mentally ill, too? Are they suffering from impaired cognition?

To view Trump and his supporters as mentally ill reduces the moral responsibility they carry. If Trump is mentally ill, those damaging tweets are the product of a diseased mind, not the opinions of a political and governmental neophyte who is in way over his head but who is nonetheless willing to destroy anyone he sees as standing in his way. If he is falling into dementia, those offensive comments come from cognitive decline, not from a carefully tended sense of social superiority over everyone in the world, created by an upbringing in which no one ever told him no.

A lot of people engage in such destruction, albeit on a smaller scale: abusive bosses, violent spouses. Like such people, Trump refuses to allow people to say no to him safely. Exhibit 1: regardless of the damage Trump’s tweets do to his image, he still shows up on Twitter. I don’t know for sure, but I seriously doubt his people in the White House have not tried to take the Twitter account away from him. Exhibit 2: Trump’s habit of publicly savaging people who don’t do exactly what he wants (see: Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson).

Identifying Trump as mentally ill simply increases the stigma that the mentally ill have to deal with.  Having a mental illness sucks enough already; we don’t need unwarranted comparisons to Donald Trump.

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Am I weird that I say “please” and “thank you” to the Amazon Echo in our house?


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Dear commentator on msnbc…

I don’t blame Donald Trump for what happened in Hawaii. It’s clearly the fault of some government official in Hawaii. (And Hawaii? One person hitting a wrong button could instigate mass panic? Without review by a higher-up? Seriously? What is wrong with you? And are you going to fix it anytime soon?)

I don’t blame Trump for the actions of the North Koreans in testing nuclear weapons. They were working towards that before he took office, and they would be doing so if Clinton were president.

I do blame Trump for creating — or attempting to create — a global atmosphere in which nuclear war seems possible, even winnable.

I do blame Trump for the way in which he seems to see allies — South Korea, Japan — and even U.S. territories and states — Guam, Hawaii — as less important than his own ego.

I do blame Trump for his failure to respond with anything approaching empathy or care towards the residents of Hawaii, who spent nearly forty minutes in terror, not to mention their off-island families, who received tearful calls and texts saying goodbye. I dread being woken in the middle of the night by a call like this from my son in South Korea.

It is disturbing when some of us wonder if the outcome would have been different had Trump been in the White House watching Fox and Friends rather than golfing. I would bet very good money, though, that had he ordered a nuclear strike, he would have blamed Hawaii, rather than an administration failure to investigate what was happening.

If Trump pushes the button, will there be a Stanislav Petrov to save us?

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The Turning.

December. Hanukkah starts tonight, and it’s a little more than a week until the Solstice, less than two until Christmas. Darkness draws in ever closer. The gentle black nights stretch longer and longer until they snap.

The turning of the year.

I love December. No matter what may be happening in my life to make me sad, or anxious, or depressed, the sharp chill beauty of the of the dying leaves drifting to the ground, or even those that straggle on, holding to the branches as though by doing so they would be reanimated, affects me, layering sharp keen joy over pain and disappointment.

The traditions: the expedition to get the Christmas tree. I don’t know when we started this, but for at least three decades the Rocket Scientist and I and whatever family members are available head off into the woods (okay, whatever tree farm we’re going to that year) to find and cut the elusive perfect tree. We never find it, of course: like everything else in life, perfection is not possible, or even desirable.  This year, although Rail Fan could have taken a break from studying for his statistics final and joined us, the Rocket Scientist and I went forth and got the tree ourselves. We did so because my ancient van would have had trouble heading over the hill to Half Moon Bay. We took his (elderly but still spry) convertible, sitting the tree up in the back. As we drove home, the Rocket Scientist observed that this was a very Californian thing to do.

The night we decorate the tree we have chili for dinner. I know exactly where this tradition started. The Rocket Scientist’s family always had chili the night they decorated the tree. This is a good time of year for hand-me-downs.

The tree always enchants the cats. Penwiper in particular loves looking at the lights. The shot of her in the tree on my sidebar is my favorite picture of her.

Other things: the crèche and Elvis. Although the stable itself is a battered relic of the mid-eighties, the figures in the crèche are beautiful, sent to us by my sister, who is devout in the best way. Elvis is ten years old now, and showing some wear, mainly because his malachite needles trap dust like nobody’s business.

The Rocket Scientist’s family  also sits and sings Christmas carols on Christmas Eve. We don’t do so except when we’re with them, mainly because at that time in the evening the Rocket Scientist and I are getting ready for midnight services. The last few years we have gone to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, which means an extra hour getting there. It is stunningly beautiful and moving and joyful.

Back East, we attend a local church, and have for years. Midnight mass is a tradition from my side of the family. Everyone would go, except sometimes my Mom, who was a nurse and sometimes had to work Christmas. Sadly, this tradition will die with me, I suspect.

One year, when we had only been married a year, before we moved to California and before law school and children, the Rocket Scientist and I attended the church in downtown Atlanta where my parents had been married. In his homily, the priest criticized the city council for not taking enough care for the homeless and poor when they made decisions. (Although it seems to have fallen by the wayside somewhat in recent years, the Roman Catholic Church once placed great store in economic justice and caring for the poor. When I was a teenager, our youth group took a field trip to a migrant labor camp, and then discussed how we could help the field workers. I owe my belief of the value and dignity of human beings and that we need to take care of all people I to an upbringing that called me to recognize our common humanity. As wrong as I think they are on LGTB+ rights, and women priests, and abortion, I find it difficult to think of the Roman Catholic church as being irredeemable. ) Beautifully, as we left, snow flurries began. White Christmases are rare in Georgia, and this wasn’t one, but even flurries are wonderful.

Lessons and Carols: for those who are not Episcopalian or Roman Catholic, Lessons and Carols presents the story of God’s convenant with God’s people, from the Creation of Man to the birth of Christ. Lessons and Carols is usually held sometime during Advent (the four weeks before Christmas). I love Lessons and Carols more than any other service of the liturgical year, saving Easter Vigil. True confession: years ago when I was lector coordinator at the church I was attending, I would assign myself a reading from Isaiah. I would not assign myself the Magnificat, one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry in the Christian Bible, because by tradition that always went to a pregnant woman. I did read it once, when I was expecting the Red-Headed Menace.

One year, I was blessed enough to witness Lessons and Carols in Westminster Abbey. The boy choir sounded like angels.

Some traditions die over time. This year I stopped buying new ornaments. Before, every year, I would buy one new ornament for every person in the household. We are a surprisingly careful household when it comes to Christmas trees — if nothing else – and we have not broken enough ornaments to free up space for new ones. I strongly suspect that, barring disaster, the ornaments I bought from Yellowstone and Grand Tetons will be the last.

When I was both more faithful and more observant, we used to have an Advent wreath. We haven’t had one for years, but I still miss it, a vague ache of memory. That, too, was a tradition from my family, most especially my mother. Christmas is when I miss Mom the most, and I cried when I hung the angel ornament that I had brought home from her funeral.

Even more than tradition, though, December means lights.

Hanukkah, of course: I am not Jewish, but the Resident Shrink is, and our family has traditions.  She has a menorah that belonged to her grandmother, which makes me spend eight days being afraid it will get knocked over and broken. She holds a Latke Party (mmmm…. latkes) on the second or third night. And I, bad as I am at remembering to get anybody anything for any reason whatsoever, always get her a present for at least one night: I drive to Casa de Fruta and get chocolate covered cherries and, until they discontinued them, chocolate covered apricots.

The journey is important. Somehow the effort makes the gift more meaningful; to the giver if not to the recipient. Things you have to work for matter more than things you can order off of Amazon.

More than Hanukkah, however, December means Christmas lights, both on Christmas trees and on houses. The month finds me driving aimlessly around neighborhoods that would call the cops if I did that any other time of year.  (If you live in the South Bay, and have not been to San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood, you’re missing something. They have ten-foot high reindeer!) Part of me frowns inside – climate change really is a thing – but my inner child smiles happily.

Abbot Suger once said that light elevated the soul and brought one closer to God. He was talking about natural light of course, it being the 13th century, but for me the same holds true of twinkly blue, red, and green lights strung from the eves, and huge lighted snowflakes strung across the street, and wreaths with fake candles hung on the doors.

I know that part of the reason that Christmas lights are special is that they go away in early January, not to come out again until November. Scarcity creates desire. But I also just delight in the nights – as much as I love the long nights of winter – being broken by color and light, and that so many people seem to enjoy them. A sign of common humanity, I suppose.

At any rate, although since I live in California I can’t necessarily wish you a White Christmas (which I think are terribly overrated in any case), I can hope that you have a Happy Hanukkah, a joyful Solstice, and a very Merry Christmas.

Season’s Greetings, everyone.

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Almost but not really fruitcake.

I don’t like fruitcake, at least not most traditional fruitcake. I was tinkering around with my pumpkin-date bread, and wondering if I could make something that resembles fruitcake.

Well, it has fruit in it, but it’s not fruitcake. It is, however, damned tasty, albeit rich.  One of the things I like about this bread is that all the fruits, with the exception of the ginger, are dried, not “candied.” No bright green and red cherries for me, thank you very much.

I could just link to the recipe and indicate the additions, but that would mean that I would have to look at two different entries if I wanted to make it.  That  would be a nuisance.

Pat’s Not Really Fruitcake

3 1/3 c. flour
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t.salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg (Alton Brown is right: freshly grated nutmeg is amazing)
1/2 t. ground cloves
2/3 c. vegetable shortening
2 c. mashed or pureed pumpkin (I roast my own)
2 tbls. spiced rum (or brandy,  or bourbon… scotch or tequila probably wouldn’t work, though)
2/3 c. milk
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 2/3 c. sugar
1 c. Medjool dates, pitted and chopped (I found pitted Medjool dates in Safeway!)
1 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. chopped dried pineapple
1/2 c. chopped dried apricots
1/2 c. dried cherries
1/2 c. chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pans (I use disposable aluminum when I can find it, which seems harder all the time). Combine dry ingredients (the first seven), stir and toss together with a fork or whisk. (Or put them in a large Ziploc and shake.)  In a large bowl, combine shortening, pumpkin, eggs, sugar, milk, rum and fruit. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mixing until just blended; there should be no dry flour, but there will be small bits of shortening that will disappear in baking. Place in pans, bake for a bit over one hour until a broomstraw  or knife comes out clean.  Cool in pans for 5 to 10 minutes. If possible, let cool completely before cutting it. Goes very well with cream cheese or chevre.

I am thinking of tinkering more with this; I wonder if the batter would hold up to me doubling all the fruit except the dates? If it’s successful, I’ll come back and update this recipe.

So there it is. Your holiday Not A Fruitcake. Much better than something with fruit that looks like it was grown in Chernobyl.

Happy Holidays, everyone.


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