Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Beitzah and Ham Buns

Last night we went to a Passover Seder at the home of our friends David and Lisa Burchi. Lisa, who is Jewish, prepared the food and led us in the ritual feast. Is there anything that woman can’t do?! Seriously! In addition to all of her full-time lawyering and mothering, she managed to cook up this beautiful meal, and even had collated, stapled copies of the Seder service for our crew of unruly Christians. I felt so honored.

There was one item on the Seder plate that sent me to the web later looking for clarification: the beitzah, or hardboiled egg. Lisa’s Seder handout said that the egg is both a symbol of new life—a no-brainer—and of mourning—how so? The explanation I found on Wikipedia struck me as cyclical and hilarious: the egg is a symbol of mourning in Jewish religious culture because it is the first thing served to mourners after a funeral. (There must be more to it, and I’m going to ask Lisa next time I see her.)

And that sent my mind to memories of the first food served to mourners after a funeral in the Protestant denomination I grew up in, the Christian Reformed Church: ham buns. The Dutch church ladies would serve up platters of these awful little sandwiches, comprised of bland pink ham on those powdery little buns, without the benefit of any interesting condiments like mustard. I’d much rather eat an egg.

the egg and the ham bun
are sad little fraternal twins,
resigned to being
edible ovoid symbols of mourning,
eaten after funerals
though no one remembers why

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Professional Help

How, exactly, do
you bathe a cat who likes to
roll in dirt? I ask the vet.
(Because I’ve tried—twice.)
I mean, can you bathe a cat?
Oh sure, she says. We just tie
’em down, wash ’em up,
put ’em under the dryer,
done. Well, ok then.
The cat got a bath.
Not by me.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring Break in Laguna

It’s only nine in
The morning but Main Beach is
already dotted
with umbrellas and blankets.
A sandcastle is
in the making. Mothers smear
sunscreen on the backs
of their pale, happy children
in Easter-egg hued
swimsuits. Two college kids—
a girl and a boy
in jeans and sweatshirts—sit on
the steps to the boardwalk, still
nursing cans of Coors Light
and blinking in the bright sun.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Alaska Flight 699

The musician known
As Kenny G has great hair.
This I know because
I’m in seat 4A, and he’s
in 3C. And in
case you were wondering, he
doesn’t check his sax;
it’s in the overhead bin.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Papa Duncan

Today my husband and I flew to Spokane, Washington to attend a memorial service for a dear friend, David Duncan. (The picture above is of his home town of Great Falls, Montana.) “Papa” Duncan, as his grandchildren called him, was an absolute pillar in his community, loved and admired by his large, close-knit family, his business associates, and even his business competitors (one of whom spoke at the memorial). One thing that struck me in particular was that all three of David Duncan’s sons said in the service they had never heard their father say an unkind word about anyone, ever.

The minister leading the service, Paul Tsika, is also a friend. Paul is a fiery, funny preacher with the most amazing accent: Maine and Texas all rolled into one. You really have to hear it to believe it; it’s pretty awesome.

Anyway, Paul opened the service by telling a joke about a car dealership owner who found out that one of his competitors had relocated his business to the other side of town. Being a cordial guy, the car dealer arranged to have flowers and a note sent to congratulate his competitor and wish him well. About the same time, the florist filling the order also received an order for flowers to be sent to a funeral home in town. As the joke goes, the florist mixed up the cards; the car dealer across town got “With deepest sympathy” and the bereaved family got “Congratulations on your new location!”

The thing is, Paul said, David Duncan’s death is not the end, but rather the beginning of a realer, truer life than any of us have experienced or can imagine. So, Papa Duncan, congratulations are in order.

Papa Duncan, love

and honor follow you
your new location.

Friday, March 26, 2010


This poem, “Sea,” corresponds to “Canyon,” which I posted a few days ago.

A mottled black seal
resting in the depths. Drifting,
tethered kelp, teeming
with flashes of silver, flares
of orange. Bird Rock.
A pelican, wings grazing
the water. A lone,
faded sailboat. Waves breaking
on the shore. Farther away,
hills notched by a gold canyon.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chasing the Lotus

David and I were having dinner with friends at a new restaurant in town--Big Fish & Cold Beer--and the surf film Chasing the Lotus came up in conversation. Comprised of previously lost reels of super8 mm film shot by Greg Weaver and Spyder Wills, this documentary is a gem. It's got a groovy soundtrack, beautiful surf footage from places both exotic (Indonesia) and local (our own Oak Street, in the 60s) and narration by Jeff Bridges, the Dude himself. Yes, the word "consciousness" is used a few times too many, but, hey, it's kind of a period piece. I have to watch it again.

Out of the mud, grows
the lotus. Lost reels reveal
green walls, perfect peaks.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wild Kingdom

My parents amaze me. They went on some madcap snorkel boat adventure while vacationing in Mexico, and were almost crying with laughter telling me about how Dad got bit by a sea lion! Thank God he's ok (Dad, I mean) and finds this funny.

Alarming but true:
my parents go to Cabo,
sea lion bites Dad.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


While driving, let’s say briskly,
in a bit of a rush to
get the kids to school on time,
I’m pulled over by a (the?)
motorcycle cop.

As the long arm of the law
strolls up to my car window,
my oldest son, indignant,
loudly states the obvious:
Now I’m gonna be late! Sigh.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bluebird Canyon

We've lived in Bluebird Canyon for a year now, and it's beautiful and quiet and I love it. But I have yet to see a single bluebird. What gives?

I watch mockingbirds
chase crows while a hawk soars, but
where are the bluebirds?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Dreams of Dogs

A dog, sleeping by
the fire, runs, swims, fetches and
barks--all in her dreams.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Serious Man

I just watched the Coen brothers' newest film A Serious Man. It was excellent. As is the case with all of the Coens' work, there's a lot to ponder, and I'd like to watch this one again. As I watched Larry Gopnik try to make sense of the events unfolding in his life, I couldn't help but think of the trials of Job.

A man asks God: Why
is this happening to me?
The answer? Silence.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Sleep comes easiest
to me when all four of us
are back in the nest.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Powdery gold underfoot,
muffling my footsteps.
Rustling in the brush. Rabbit?
Rattlesnake? Cacti,
sagebrush. The whir of insect
wings, the wind, mountain
bike gears. Then silence. A hawk
banks, circles above.
Behind me, the hills give way
to the sky and sea.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shy Spring

I know, I know: it's not very original to keep marveling about the strange weather we're having this El Niño year. But I can't help it! It's been kind of weird. Today it was 80-some degrees and felt like summer, though it's still technically winter (not that I'm complaining).

Shy Spring forgot her

lines and yielded the stage to
Summer (an over-
achiever if there ever
was one), who was glad
to entertain us.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Little Earthquakes

I found out on the news this morning that the little temblor I felt was a 4.4 magnitude earthquake, at 4:04 AM. Wow, now that's what I call precision.

The rattle of doors
and windows wakes me at four
in the morning. I
sit up and listen to the
darkness. Intruder?
With a sigh of relief I
realize that it’s
just an earthquake. I pull
up the covers and sleep.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Simple Bliss

Sitting on the deck
with the late afternoon sun
on my face is bliss.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

For Schuyler, on his 16th Birthday

Only a few years ago
when you were a skinny little kid
just learning to surf

your dad would give your board a shove
at precisely the right moment
so you could jump to your feet
and ride the wave toward the beach
in a wide, wobbly stance.
I would point my board at the shore
and watch you fall and disappear in the foam,
counting one-one thousand, two-one thousand,
until I saw your head pop back up.
One day, in bigger surf
when you were trying to make your way
through the breaking waves
only to be tumbled again and again
in the whitewater
I realized that I was holding my breath—
as if somehow I could will you the oxygen in my lungs.
He’ll be alright, your dad said
and of course you were.
Before our eyes
you grew tall and strong and broad-shouldered;
your sweet, apple-cheeked face
became angular and handsome.
You began to ride bigger and bigger waves,
to surf before school, after school, all summer long,
paddling confidently into surf that I couldn’t negotiate.
Not long ago
I paddled out a little behind you.
You stroked smoothly through the water
duck-diving easily through the incoming waves.
This time I was the one struggling
and as you called back
Mom, are you ok?
I knew that you could breathe on your own.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Two women hiked toward me
on the trail, water bottles in hand.
As they approached
and then passed me,
the older one in the hat
was saying forcefully
in a clear voice
Well I’ve read that book and I’ve studied
what all the other religious traditions say
about personal growth

and what I’ve found—
at which point I turned my head
hoping to hear what she had found
but then we were too far apart
and her voice was lost on the wind

Friday, March 12, 2010


At a small café
in a nondescript row of shops
on Pacific Coast Highway
there is an ill-tempered Frenchman
who is likely to ignore you
insult you
or kick you out
for taking too many napkins
from the dispenser
but still you go back
again and again
for his coffee, made only one way—
dark and bracing, with a
sloosh of cream—
and sometimes
if he’s made them
little almond tarts
with a crisp buttery crust
and moist center

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Door

I knock on the door
but it doesn’t open. I’ll
wait, and knock again.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Vegetable Soup

Even in southern
California’s half-winter,
homemade vegetable soup with
pesto, eaten at
home on a chilly night, is
a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Heisler Park in Winter

Aloe is in bloom,

spilling orange-red flowers
down the hill toward the
ocean. A surfer, riding
the remains of a
fading swell, skims across the
face of a wave at
Rockpile. A gray-haired woman,
backpack at her feet,
sits on a bench, her face turned
up to the soft winter sun.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pat the Bunny

Indulge me in a moment of motherly nostalgia: I just came across this old picture of Schuyler and Willem, ages 5 and 2 (if memory serves), in an Eastertime pose with a real bunny. (I remember that it took all of my powers of persuasion to get Willem to stop crying, put his hand on the bunny and look reasonably happy about it.) They were, and still are, so darn cute.

Before the skinny-yet-saggy jeans
(sound impossible? It’s not),
long legs, knobby knees
and size eleven shoes

there were sailor suits and sweaters
(albeit worn unwillingly),
round rosy cheeks,
hair freshly combed after the bath
and also the somehow always-sticky little hands

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Congratulations, Mr. Bridges

Amid frothy gowns
and red carpet revelry
the Dude did abide

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Small Saturday

Tonight was a mellow, rainy Saturday night, which is a thing of beauty in my book. David and I watched the classic 70s surf film “Big Wednesday”—a must-see, with some excellent surfing by our friend Ian Cairns, Gary Busey's stunt double. Before that, we caught a few scenes of “Caddy Shack” while flipping through the channels, and afterward, a few minutes of “Saturday Night Fever.” I don't normally spend this much time lying on the couch, but I have to say, it was pretty nice.

Country club hijinks,
Malibu surf, hot disco:
Ahhh…guilty pleasures.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Car Wash

At the car wash
a man well-past the mid-century mark
and a little thicker than he probably used to be
(though of course
there is nothing wrong
with being either of those things;
I mention them only
to set the scene)
says to the attendant, with a lewd chuckle
“What kinds of air freshener do you have?
Do you have the one called
Brazilian supermodel bait?”

I turn to watch him go,
thinking, well this had better be
quite a car.

But he walks up to a tiny red VW Beetle
(is it redundant to call a Beetle tiny?
Perhaps) and folds his big self inside.

I can’t resist:
“Good luck with that!”

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mea Culpa

Father forgive me
for I am grouchy and cross
and irritable

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ruby's Diner

We took Schuyler and Willem to Ruby's for dinner tonight; they love the red pleather booths and the giant shakes and all that gut-busting diner food. Yes, I know it's very bad for you (the food, not the booths), and it's not how we usually eat, but there's only so much lean-this and whole-grain-that that I can sell to these kids before they just want burgers and fries. I can't believe the amount of food they can put away, and no matter how much we feed them they still have that hungry, stretched look that is characteristic of growing boys. So bring it on, Ruby's!

Skinny boys devour

burgers, shakes and onion rings.
Where do they put it?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Faux Fire

I normally don’t
like fakery: plastic plants,
for example, are
a crime against both nature
and humanity.
That powdery white
stuff that so pathetically
pretends to be “cream”
for coffee? You have got to
be kidding me. And,
while I’m on the subject of
sham dairy products,
“I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”?
I can!

However: while I
readily admit that a
real, crackling wood fire
is the best, a gas fireplace
is a guilty pleasure. Turn
the switch, light a match,
poof: instant, lovely faux flames.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Bad-Mommy Method

When you’re trying to quiet
a fussy toddler in the back seat,
long overdue for a nap
and hanging onto wakefulness
by a frayed thread,

and you're stuck in traffic
a long way from home,
listening to the screams escalate,
wondering why you timed your outing
to Train Town

or the zoo
so badly,
and you’ve exhausted all
the good-mommy options

like singing lullabies
and passing back the sippy cup,
baggy of Cheerios,

or even
the contraband binky that he’s trying to quit,
then proceed to the bad-mommy method:
Turn up the AC/DC real loud.

You’ll feel much better, I promise,
and your baby will be just fine.

And one day,

maybe twelve years or so in the future,
you might experience a moment
like the one
that is currently warming
the bad-mommy chamber of my heart:
from the room down the hall,
where my son is practicing his guitar,
come the unmistakable strains
of “Back in Black.”