Category Archives: Family

Three Dot Blogging


(Above – our living room!)

I find myself wanting to write, and having no time to do so. So, I’ll rely on that old Herb Caen classic.

Three dot writing.

…I think fiction might have peaked for me when I finished “War and Peace,” finally, in 2010. I haven’t truly been able to immerse myself in any novel in the same way since.

…I could re-read “Lord of the Rings,” “War and Peace,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice” for the rest of my life and I think that would fulfill me.

…I know my brother will read the above and disapprove of me.

…My husband and my two kids are my favorite people to hang out with. I’d rather spend time with them than anyone.

…I wish I had read the climatic last scene of “War and Peace” for the first time while listening to the 1812 Overture on repeat.

…I never knew I’d ever love my job as much as I do right now.

…I truly hate the Oxford comma.

…Why did my two year stay in London affect me so much more than my four year residence in Santa Barbara?

…Why are remodels such a clusterf%$&?

…Is blogging inherently narcissistic? If I enjoy it, does that make me a narcissist?

What three dot thoughts are you wishing to share? What books could you read over and over for the rest of your life, if any?


Filed under Family

“I am Neville Longbottom”

Harry Potter Spoilers…


I have written before about my admiration for the character of Neville Longbottom. This week someone linked to an older article on Stirrup Queens, detailing a theory I happen to agree with: Neville is the most important character in the Harry Potter universe.

I can’t relate to Harry, can you? He’s too, well, extreme. He’s been gifted with tremendous athletic talent for starters. He’s “the chosen one.” He’s an adrenaline junkie – he takes crazy risks often without thinking. Like sneaking into Hogsmeade when a homicidal maniac is looking for him or driving off with Ron in Mr. Weasley’s flying car, just for starters. He’s unnaturally resilient – how can someone lose pretty much every parental figure in their lives and still keep going? Don’t get me wrong – I admire him as a character, but his motivations don’t resonate with me. And I’m not sure Rowling wanted them to.

Neville is another story. Neville is a kind of Gryffindor everyman. He’s a klutz, he can’t fly, and he isn’t athletic. He’s bullied by Professor Snape, and has a terrible memory for schoolwork. He has little confidence in his abilities or his smarts. He has a chorus of naysayers like his grandmother, Draco Malfoy, Snape (and I’d argue Professor McGonigall isn’t that nice to him either) implying and often outright saying he’s less than. You’d think he’d be the first to fold to Voldemort/the Death Eaters and to be afraid to stand up to those who demand capitulation. On the contrary, his refusal to capitulate results in the action that leads to Voldemort’s downfall.

It’s a wonderful moment. The twins have taken an interest in World War II because of this book, and reflection on those “darkest hours” brought me back to Neville Longbottom. When it’s most important for humankind to act, we need to stand up and say: “I am Neville Longbottom. And I won’t back down.” Sadly, the echoes of the past are still deadly.

Do you relate to Neville? Or Harry? Or, say Hannah Abbott, who is my daughter’s favorite character?

(As an aside, I am ALWAYS sorted into Gryffindor in every online quiz, even the silly BuzzFeed ones. I’m a neurotic worrier who is afraid of a lot of things like flying and heights and not eating organic food. Shouldn’t I be a Hufflepuff?!?)


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Top 10 Things I Learned From Laura Ingalls Wilder


We’re wrapping up the “Little House” series. The good news is my daughter is now fascinated with all things Prairie — she says she wants to go back in time and live as a pioneer. I much prefer Wilder’s narrative, where one strives for self-sufficiency, than the passive princess storyline she previously used in her imaginative tales. Which apparently she picked up via osmosis from friends, since we don’t allow “waiting for my prince” books in the house? It’s such a battle to try to combat the Cinderella complex…Peggy Orenstein was right. Sigh.

It’s been informative to go back and read the “Little House” stories as an adult. For example, I didn’t remember how important it was to Ma for her daughters to wear the latest fashions. They were on the Prairie! Who cares? Yet back then, families clung to clothes and books and furnishings as a way to feel “civilized” in an unsettled and wild place. Laura is a strangely modern and relatable girl/woman much of the time too: most notably, she pursues a career to help pay for her sister’s college.

(Aside: can we talk about “Blind Mary,” as I began referring to her in my head, because seriously? To Laura, there’s not much more to Mary other than her visual impairment. Example: “Her beautiful unseeing eyes looked at nothing.” If I were Mary and I read the books, I would be pissed.)

Laura teaches school by herself in strange towns, she wants to get in snowball fights even though it wasn’t “ladylike” and she achieves the best grades in her class. (One notable exception to her modernity: she claims she’s not like Almanzo’s sister, who wants the right to vote.) Overall, I found I liked her just as much as an adult as I did when I was a kid.

So here are my Top 10 Lessons I Learned from Laura Ingalls Wilder, because I like lists.

1. All the latest fashions come from Iowa.
2. Always, ALWAYS look in the Northwest for a cloud. You never know when a blizzard might spring up and freeze you to death before you can climb into a haystack. (Getting into a haystack may help you survive a blizzard, BTW.)
3. Don’t play a snowball game with your students if you expect them to respect you as a teacher.
4. Almanzo was HOT. He and Mr. Darcy remain at the top of my literary crushes list.
5. Laura may have liked Almanzo’s horses and sweet buggy more than she liked him. In the beginning, at least. I guess a beautiful team of horses and a pretty buggy were the equivalent of a cool car back then?
6. The best food in the world is oyster soup, especially if you enjoy said soup with some tasty oyster crackers.
7. Pa learned the same hard lesson we all do at some point: your crops (or home or bonus or promotion) is not the same thing as money in the bank until you actually SELL said crops, get the money and put it in the bank.
8. Grasshoppers are EVIL!
9. The most important essentials for surviving a long winter? Wheat, hay and a coffee grinder. And a positive attitude.
10. “All’s Well That Ends Well!” Ma was always saying this after they nearly drowned in their covered wagon crossing a river, or Pa almost got eaten by a panther or an ox fell through their roof. And, it’s good advice for us all, really.

My son wants me to read the Harry Potter series next. The twins are five: is this appropriate? Is the first one OK? If you read me regularly, you probably know I am a HUGE fan of those books, but I am still scarred by the Happy Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It gave me the sads. ADVICE WELCOME!!


Filed under Family

The Queen of Versailles


I don’t know that much embodies better the Great Recession than the rise and fall of the Siegels, the Floridian couple profiled in The Queen of Versailles.

David and Jackie Siegel are living large when the documentary begins. They are in the process of building America’s largest house, a modern day Versailles. David is a billionaire from a very successful real estate empire he has built over many years, Jackie is a former Mrs. America and engineer. They are looking forward to living in splendor (“He deserves it. He works so hard,” says Jackie about David) and spending the rest of their days with their seven children. (They are incredibly fertile as well as tremendously wealthy: the overabundance in their lives is a major factor of what makes the story so compelling.)

“My husband, when I got married to him, I wanted nothing but love from him. He always said ‘trust me’ and I put my trust in him. So, we’ll see what happens.”

Jackie Siegel, 2007


Florida’s wealthy citizens are quite different than the wealthy of San Francisco. Even new money acts like old money here, and being rich is much less conspicuous and more tied to cultural events, like the Opera or Symphany or the De Young museum. Homes are rarely built, they already exist and are older. Think the famous Victorian mansions you see in the movies.

Judging by The Queen of Versailles, instead of Prada and the opening of the Rudolf Nureyev costume exhibit, in Florida, you become a patron of the Miss America pagent and wear Versace. You invest in Vegas. Disney (and its idea of beautiful princesses marrying rich princes) looms ever large. Women are valued for the way they look in a swimsuit.

In 2007, the Siegels were at the top of this scene. Trying to top themselves, they were in the process of building their dream home, Versailles, overlooking a swamp. They even specifically designed a window to be able to watch the Disney fireworks. Apparently, the design was influenced by the infamous palace in France and the Paris hotel in Las Vegas. Yes, for real.

But the home and David’s empire were leveraged by cheap credit. And that was not a good place to be in 2008.


The second part of the movie chronicles the fall in status and wealth of the Siegels and how various house staff members, business employees and family members cope. Most touchingly, a nanny from the Phillipines who has not seen her own son in 10 years talks about how she sends all of her money back to her family and her father so he too might be able to live in a concrete, comfortable home. Eventually, he dies never being able to live in one, although his tomb is concrete. (“And isn’t that almost the same thing?” the nanny asks heartbreakingly.) At one point, Jackie appears overwhelmed by all of her children (she says she had so many because she had all of the nannies to help her) and tons of pets in the still enormous home they live in. David tries to keep his company afloat and prevent his enormous Vegas property from defaulting. Instead of buying french antiques in vast quantities, Jackie goes on shopping binges at Wal-Mart.

Halfway built, Versailles languishes and fills with cobwebs and dirt. The echoes to Xanadu are inevitable.


As the grim economic crisis doesn’t change for the Siegels and time passes, a funny thing happens. Jackie seems to rise to the challenge. She begins to cook for her kids and throws casual parties for family and friends. She realizes that money comes and money goes; she’s been lucky to have what she has. Her love for her husband (even though I personally wonder if he deserved it: I didn’t like his overly attentive displays toward the Miss America contestants) and children remains strong. In the end I found her resilience kind of inspiring.

“If we had to buy just a normal house, like a $300,000 dollar, 3 bedroom house, I would do it. I would be fine with that, I’d make it work. (I’d) Just get a bunch of bunkbeds, you know.”

Jackie Siegal, 2011

I guess this is what the economic crisis has done: it has made us shrink our expectations of what we need and deserve. I like to think it made me focus much more on what’s most important: shelter, food, friends, family.

Have you seen Queen of Versailles? What were your impressions of it?


Filed under Family

Grandma Ruthie: Reflections on a Woman Made of Steel

My dad, in a photo that looks remarkably like my son.

My dad’s mother was a very tough lady.

I knew her as a retired Rosie the Riveter, a woman who lived on a beautiful, large estate she had fully paid for, in the middle of a decaying neighborhood. She raised chickens and you could play four holes of golf on her grounds. Most of all, I remember she had a playhouse for her grandchildren fully stocked with ice cream and Oreo cookies, splendors that were not allowed at home.

Grandma Ruthie raised four children pretty much on her own. They were all very successful in their own ways. My father was born in Manhattan, Kansas, and he nearly died from pneumonia as an infant. Family legend has it that he survived because of an ice bath. Shortly after, my grandmother and her whole family moved to Southern California where war jobs offered high incomes. Grandma Ruthie became a worker, then quickly a forewoman in charge of inspecting fuel cells at a factory. She eventually became a union representative. Throughout her home, she had various certificates and photos of herself throughout her storied career. I remember those well.

Frankly, she scared me. A product of the Depression, she thought I was soft. Spoiled. She made me eat things I didn’t want to eat (with the promise of Oreo cookies) and didn’t understand my gag reflex, my urge to vomit that food which disgusted me. “When I was little, we ate what was on the table, or we starved,” she would lecture me, perplexed.

It is only now, as I watch “The Dust Bowl” and after I suffered my own bout with infertility and loss, that I begin to understand where she was coming from. The hard times that hit the Southern Plains in the 1930s: we can’t even really imagine the hell it was to survive that. The documentary talked a lot about how destructive hope was to the farmers in the Dust Bowl and, well. I think we all know how awful our frenemy hope can be in this community.

I can never understand Grandma Ruthie’s plight: a widow suddenly responsible for four children, who knew what it was to starve, who often ate Spam, but who encouraged her children above all, to educate themselves. Who was an American success story. Who looked at her granddaughter and worried that she was soft, because she lived on a beach, and wouldn’t eat food she disliked. I know that ultimately why she was so hard on me was because she worried about how I might meet the tough times. The times that she knew would inevitably come.

Grandma Ruthie: I hope maybe you underestimated my resilience. I like to think that though I grew up not wanting for anything, I carried an inner toughness maybe you didn’t suspect. I think perhaps I had an iron core within my “hothouse flower” exterior. And that enabled me to eventually conceive and carry your great-grandchildren, who I wish you could meet. I think you would be utterly enchanted by my son’s engineer brain (he would have loved to learn about the fuel cells and what you were looking to go awry) and my stubborn daughter, who is made out of visible steel.

You were a heroine, Grandma Ruthie. I wish I would have told you that, while you were living.


Filed under Family

Whither Thanksgiving?

I LOVE Thanksgiving. With my family, it was always a holiday devoted to eating. And eating family recipes with unique traditions. I love Thanksgiving because it is a holiday I can bring my own family traditions and history to. I even have a relative who came over on the Mayflower. So many of the holidays we celebrate now with Darcy I don’t have a childhood connection to.

Nothing in the world tastes better to me than my parents’ cooking. My parents are arriving for a visit right after Thanksgiving, so I won’t be able to enjoy their special cheese biscuits and the best mashed potatoes and gravy EVER. This year, I’m BRINGING mashed potatoes to Thanksgiving at my in-laws because the twins enjoyed them so much at my parents’ house last year.

I remember growing up thinking that Thanksgiving was a THING. After Halloween, there was a lead-up to the big MEAL. Thanksgiving reminds me of hikes through the gold and vermillion trees on Shady Lane while my Mom’s turkey cooked. We bundled up in big scarves and enjoyed the crisp autumn air.

This year especially, I have noticed that November now seems to be relegated to Christmas, too. I wonder why that is? I remember the day after Thanksgiving my mom would put on the Nutcracker album and we’d trundle off to The Village and deal with battles over parking spaces because we needed to get our packages off to my grandparents by December 7. But we never decorated or listened to music before that.

I’m not particularly annoyed about it, except, OK, maybe I am. I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore but like Charlotte York, I do miss it. So for it to creep into November and overshadow Thanksgiving, my FAVORITE HOLIDAY, kind of hurts my feelings. Don’t even get me started on my birthday.

Do you like Thanksgiving or is it just a waystation to the main event? And I hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings here: I grew up with a dad who took the War on Christmas VERY SERIOUSLY so I know the other side of the coin. I just really want to know: Is Thanksgiving now less important to American society?


Filed under cooking?!?, Family

Swell! A Pirate Birthday Party

Doing two over the top theme parties with a limited amount of funds has been interesting and frankly completely exhausting. Esperanza took pity on me after I jumped a curb while trying to make for a most memorable birthday EVER and nailed a flat tire. (Because there are the separate party days then the actual birthday, so really three events.) She showed up and kept the kids in stitches.

My son and I went to the party store to set his theme: pirates. His colors were black and red. I tried to make his vision of pirate dreams a reality.

Anchor Cake (Made with my Mom’s Chocolate Cake recipe and Buttercream Frosting)

Pirate Balloon Garland


(Sweater: Gap Kids)



The Pirate Crew

Now if you excuse me, I’ll be napping for the next week.


Filed under Family