Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Follow the Recipe

One of the most profound lessons I learned this year -- and believe you me, there were a LOT -- was over Christmas. For Christmas Eve dinner, I made bouillabaisse from the New York Times Cookbook, as I have on dozens of occasions before. But this time, instead of using the recipe as a suggestion, I followed the directions to the letter. The result? SPECTACULAR. It was easy, took less than an hour, and the stew was a subtle yet jubilant celebration of seafood in all the right ways. But the true test was the next night, when I made it again for my lifelong French foodie friends, the Gayot family. (Running around LA looking for clam juice on Christmas, however, wasn't easy.) Never shy or retiring (Sophie told me flat out, "Do not bring wine or flowers. But bouillabaisse sounds fun"), they murmured praise in French and English. They loved it. Sophie has finally found a decent bouillabaisse in LA. And so on.

The lesson here? That Craig Claiborne probably knows, oh, a teensy bit more about food and how to make it than I do. It's his job, he's done it for 60 years, and look! He's written down what he knows in a book! Just there waiting for me!

I'm done reinventing the wheel, I think, and will take a good long listen to a professional, no matter what the arena -- food, financial, design, hair, whatever. But when it comes to INVENTING something else, something new, something that is busting to come forth from my deepest psyche, well, then, I'm all over it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Goodbye, Catwoman

We lost our dear, inimitable Eartha Kitt yesterday. Eartha, wherever you are, I trust you don't have to pay retail there. You will be missed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Frosty is Jesus!

It's taken me 40 years to realize this -- Frosty is Jesus! Here are just a few of the uncanny parallels:

It's all about rebirth. The kids believe! (his disciples and followers), while the Evil Magician (Pontius Pilot/John the Baptist) is trying to squash him. He goes away, into a greenhouse (a cave), where his true friend, a girl (Mary Magadaline) weeps bitter tears over his apparent death. But then! Santa (God) gives the lowdown that he will return. And there's a bunny (Easter) who is cute and fun and puffy.

Think about it. But what a fun way to be indoctrinated ...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bing's Got a White Christmas

It's a strange Christmas for so many people this year. So maybe "White Christmas" is the time to start over, start fresh, start pure. We all get a clean slate, if we want it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It may surprise those who know me that I am crazy for Christmas music and have more than 450 songs from various artists on my iTunes (who knew there was a Barbershop Christmas!?). It may NOT surprise you that I am also a HUGE Beatles' fan, and this is one of the most fun products from them. It may help to take a belt of something stiff to join in the fun before you watch this. Or smoke a ton of pot. The lads are having a jolly good time.

Keep checking back as we count down the days to Christmas with video and song!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Night Live

One brilliant thing about 40licious is that you get adept at pattern recognition -- unless you are so ingrained in the pattern that you can no longer step outside and recognize it as such.

For example! Every Friday I come home, exhausted, day piled upon day, a week of service to the good people of Southern California. I usually make dinner for one or more people, because it's the start of the weekend and who wouldn't want to do that? But each time, I get home with a box of groceries and realize that my house looks like meth addicts camped there for a week, what with knitting all over the couch (sure, meth addicts can knit. They can do an afghan in an hour!); mail, napkins, electronics, scraps of paper for cards all over the desk; every sweater or jacket I wore heaped on my chair; yet more guts from Lucy's stuffed bear all over the floor.

There is the mad dash to get the long cooking thing done (tonight it was spicy sausages from Mario's), then the other mad dash to make the house look like Thing 1 and Thing 2 did their thing.

If you want to make your house look presentable in 10 minutes or less, just follow these easy steps:

1. Spray every surface of the bathroom with Begley's Best, or similar eco-friendly cleaner.
2. Draw the shower curtain closed and give a swipe to the parts that show.
3. Shove all knitting paraphernalia into bag, move to end of couch.
4. Throw all magazines on coffee table away in recycling bin. The will not be read anyway.
5. Eat Trader Joe's Peppermint Double-Stuffed Oreo Dipped in Dark Chocolate with Peppermint on Top.
6. Quick Sweep.
7. Spray lovely grapefruit scent, light candles and set table. Voila!

But here's the great part about a night like tonight. When your best friends from 4th and 5th grade come over, and they are amazing and smart and funny and inspiring and do really good dream interpretation about the dream with the dead horses in it, it does not matter that you forgot the dust bunny behind the bathroom door, or that there is a huge pile of miscellaneous Christmas paraphernalia on in the middle of the room.

What does matter that I chose well when I was 10, and I am a better woman for it.

Jo and Steph, I love you madly. Happy Christmas, and thank you for all you bring to my life.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Christmas Tradition

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

This is a little something I worked up with my brother Ilya, his wife, Gali, and their two sons, Jonathan and Adam. It was a little difficult to choreograph because some of us live in Israel and Copenhagen, and also, because Baby Adam can't walk yet, but we are all talented and managed to work it out. Enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Five Years Ago

Five years ago today, my dad slipped out from his big, broken-down body. I am not sure where he went. Though I have a feeling he was still in the room with me, somewhere, palpably, for at least a couple hours after he was declared no longer of this earth. I don't dream about him frequently, but when I do, we are always eating dinner and having a lovely time. I think that's his way of checking in.

If he were around, he would have seen the terrible play I wrote about girls and their dads in 2005. He would have said goodbye -- and "It's about time" -- as I left the Northwest for Los Angeles to seek a bigger universe. He would have fielded tearful calls as my threepeat with Marc imploded, yet again. He would come visit my new home, which reminds me so much of our New York apartment, the place where I grew up. Most of all, I hope he would have been proud of the person I have become, am becoming, will be.

Dad, if you are in a place where you can read this, know that I miss you terribly and that I love you dearly.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Other Side of 40licious

Me and my mother, when times were simpler.
I wrote about her here, in "Hippie Mom Purse."

The reason I made this blog was to talk about how amazing it was to be 40licious. It would be an aggregation of all things learned up to this point, smoke signals from the other side of the mountains that, "yes! It's good here! Come over and settle!"

One not-very-amazing thing about being 40licious is watching your parents get old and/or die. I am in the tiny Victorian seaport of Port Townsend right now. Instead of poking around antique stores, wondering if that nautical art would look good in my parlor, we are working to get everything in order after my mother's fire six weeks ago. Mounds of receipts. Will the insurance company pay for dog food that she had to buy? Do we have to list each sock, each shirt, each random piece of fabric damaged by the fire? Does anybody actually work at Foremost Insurance -- the specialty company for mobile properties -- or are they all robots with a voicemail extension? We are trying to figure this out. We are trying to understand each other's language, and not snap and not bite when one of says the stupidest and most obvious thing.

Me: You snub your nose at all these galleries downtown, but there were a
ton of people in them last night at the art walk. Why don't you put your art there?
Mom: Nobody buys art here.
Me: They can't buy what's not for sale.

And then there's this perennial favorite that is getting terrific airplay between us:

Me: Why don't you get a place where you can rent out a room to someone who
might be able to drive you around and do some housekeeping?
Mom: Homeless people always move out, they can't afford the rent. And the
utilites cost just as much as the rent does. I can't afford it.
Me: Do you need to have a homeless person there?
Mom: Why would they need a room, then, if they weren't homeless?
Me: OK, I guess you're right, you can't afford anything. I'm putting you in
an old folks' home.
Mom: I'll move back to New Zealand.
Me: Great, that will give me a place to visit.

That kind of thing. Plus, I am having neurotic episodes from seeing people I knew 10 years ago, people I sort of remember, that I can't place, that I know I should say something to, so I smile and nod and say, "I don't know if you remember me, I'm Vanessa," and then they say "yes, of course," and then they still don't tell me where I know them from and excuse my self to eat some more cheese on a cracker, feeling empty and shallow.

This trip is not fun. It is not glam. I have also realized that Mom is going deaf in one ear -- OR she may have wax buildup, she won't go to a doctor. And her dog has fleas. Tomorrow I will pile them both in my rented Jeep and get them fixed up.

Forced to take a look at whatever the sweet side of this is, it would be that tonight I get to see my junior-high and high school best friend, Knitting Architect, and meet her child who is probably more little lady than little baby at this point. And we will eat salmon that is swimming right now, and she will fill in huge gaping holes in my memory about stuff we did when I lived off the grid so that I can put more stories in my book.

The bottom line is that I know I am being the best daughter I can possibly be. Even though neither me, nor Mom, are feeling particularly celebratory about it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Now We KNOW What Jesus Would Do!

A Bear Crapped on My Table

I've been told by a very inspiring and influential person to get my papers in order (well, outline and proposal) and start working on my memoir after she read my article about living off the grid in Grist. I feel like I landed on the soft pillow after riding bareback in the woods for years. There is a crack in a windowless and doorless room where the light has begun to stream in. I could do this. I could write my book. My book.

December is always a little tough for me because it was the month my father died in 2003. I will always remember the day that I handed him my business card after deciding on a career as a freelance writer. It read:

Vanessa McGrady
He handed it back. "One day it will say 'journalist and author.' "

But I never thought that I had enough to say.

Of course, my father was always right. It still takes me a long time to realize this.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A relief

They say you shouldn't make popcorn with Silverwater Secret Spice, pair it with an organic Merlot, and Google old boyfriends. But I say, this combination can lead to an exciting psychological breakthrough. You should try it sometime.

Why? Because you might stumble upon some dumb comments said ex made publicly, and learn about the online communities he's joined and think, upon seeing his much fatter, much balder self in a picture posed with his new "band" against a telephone pole with some water in the background, "what a loser."

Indeed. Sigh.

If you really want to see how far you've come, just Google. You'll be glad you did.