Lifestyles of the Destitute and Obscure

dazzling and interesting on a shoestring

A New Year’s Resolution for you—Go to Sleep

IMG_0881So you made it through the holidays. You stayed up on New Year’s Eve to watch the ball drop at midnight (or you didn’t, in my case) and now you’re making resolutions to lose some weight, get in shape, pursue that better career. If so, you are impressive. You are also probably exhausted.
I’ve got a new year’s resolution for you that I intend to adopt early and often—get more sleep.

Way, way, way too many times I’ve heard students, new mothers and ambitious business people say, “Sleep is overrated.”
Sleep is your body’s way of repairing itself. Sleep is blissful. Sleep keeps you from getting sick and dying early. If your kids are asleep and it’s eight hours before you have to wake up in the morning—go to bed and sleep for heaven’s sake!

Do it. You won’t be sorry when you wake up in the morning feeling good. You’ll function well, your reflexes will be better and you’ll be able focus on the task at hand. Overrated? I think not. All the above claims are made by the National Institute of Health—scientists who do research and know their stuff. Not your boss, not your kids, not your burn-out-early-party-animal friends.

This is what the NIH sleep expert says about different ages and sleep needs:

  • Adults need 7-8 hours at night
  • Babies need 16 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period
  • Young children need 10 hours of sleep
  • Teenagers need at least 9 hours. No, they’re not just being lazy.

So go to sleep 2 hours after your young children go down, assuming you all wake up at about the same time. If you wake up earlier than them, get in your jammies at the same time and go to bed shortly after they do. Real Housewives can wait. In fact, I think you could probably chuck it altogether and not feel like you were missing anything of value.

If you have an infant, do like my mother says and ‘Sleep when they sleep.’ The laundry can wait. Then sleep train ‘em. I totally mean it. This does not entail what some people feel is the torturous and medieval ‘cry it out’ method. Convince them gently but absolutely that we sleep at night, we sleep all night (unless we are an infant and need a bit to eat, and then it is not a midnight tea party y’all) and we get enough sleep. It is the third thing that I teach my children when they enter the world after ‘I love you’ and ‘You can trust me to take care of your needs.’DSC_1738

The rest is totally up to you. Aim for at least half an hour before lights out. Have a comfy bed, snuggly pajamas and a relaxing routine. Perhaps it’s a bath before bed, a cup of tea, a good book (don’t stay up late reading, though) or a bit of a magazine or newspaper. It shall not be your phone, tablet or laptop, nor should it be the television. Lights should be minimal as well as the noise level—no techno pop or German speed metal. Meditate if you need to, put on a fan or white noise machine if necessary to drown out city noises. Then turn off the light, close your eyes, take a deep breath and head off to Dreamland.

51LYILw0o-L._SY373_BO1,204,203,200_Join me in this easy, no regrets and no sweat New Year’s resolution. Now go to sleep.

Dazzling and Sparkling Wine Picks for the Cash-Strapped

This is a guest post, starring my dear friend, Kristin. This is the gal who taught me the nitty-gritty about blogging and has been encouraging me all the way. Not only is she a blogging babe and a belly dancing diva like myself, but she happens to be a wine maven extraordinaire and works as the event coordinator for a local posh wine club. Lucky us, she’s going to share a bit of her knowledge so that we can celebrate, polish up our wine panache and do so without adding to our holiday debt. So buy a bottle without guilt and toast to your new sophisticated palate and to our lovely Kristin! Happy New Year, y’all!!

There are many special occasions this time of year, when reaching for something with a stem just seems like the right thing to do.

Whether it’s New Year’s Eve or the season premier of Walking Dead, something in a pretty glass with tiny little bubbles is just proper. One of my recommendations for those, like myself, who are on a beer budget but have a taste for champagne is a sparkling Vouvray. Like it’s cousin, Champagne, it is also from France it is also elegant, but with a much lower price-point. One of my favorite sparkling Vouvrays, is from Domaine Vigneau. It usually retails for $20-24 per bottle. It has the complexity and brightness of true Champagne, but with a hint of honey on the finish. It looks and tastes “fancy-pants” without the strain on your wallet.

th-1Get Down and Snuggle
On a blustery winter night, sometimes you just get a hankering for a hearty stew in a hot bowl in front of the fireplace. When I prepare my Mama’s stew recipe on these nights, I grab a bottle of Don Miguel Gascon Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. I like the 2013 vintage, and all of the vintages that I’ve tasted I’ve been most impressed with this one. This bottle is usually under $20 at most stores, but tastes like a much more expensive bottle of wine. To me, it tastes like chocolate-covered cherries and has a very smooth and velvety finish.

Just ‘cause
Sometimes, you need a wine “just because”- just because a girlfriend popped by unexpectedly, just because you had a bad day at work, just because your kids are driving you bat-poop crazy! A perfect go-to for me is something crisp, light, white, and with a twist-off top. Why add stress and carpel tunnel to your world unnecessarily? I recommend Clos DuBois Pinot Grigio- retails for under $10 a bottle at most stores, has easy access (twist-off), and is so pretty and delicate with aromas of pink grapefruit and peach. It has lively acidity and a crisp finish, and it goes with everything! Brie, apples and peanut butter, popcorn and string cheese, Triscuits with cream cheese- anything can be quickly whipped up to set on the coffee table with this little hidden gem!

Impress the crap out of ‘em
Every once in a while, you have the need to impress the crap out of someone with a really damn good bottle of wine. Whether it’s your bosses birthday, your best friend’s 40th, or your anniversary, there are a few very impressive tasting, yet light on the budget wines that I would recommend. The first is the Prisoner- a red blend that is so incredibly palate-pleasing to so many types of wine drinkers. Very fruit-forward and jammy, yet silky and velvety- under $40 a bottle, whether someone is a “wine snob”, or just cutting their teeth on their vino repertoire, I’ve rarely met an individual who didn’t love this particular wine.

Another one of my prized picks is the Frank Family 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, around $50 a bottle, whether the recipient is drinking it now, or saving for a few years, it is an opulent, gorgeous Cab, with a beautiful label, and has the score of 92 points with Robert Parker.

thMy number one fave (I saved the best for last!), is the 2013 Cave Blend by Del Dotto. Not only does it have an absolutely beautiful Italian-styled label that looks like lace, the wine itself is so decadent and dark, yet supple and silky at the same time. Hailing from one of the most beautiful vineyards in Napa that I have ever visited, it is literally little drops of heaven in a bottle. If you have the chance to visit either of their locations, I highly recommend it!

I hope that you have enjoyed my vino recommendations, and wish to you and yours an incredibly fulfilling, scrumptious and prosperous New Year! Cheers!!

clinking glasses image courtesy of Stuart Miles

Christmas From My Point of View


A lovely classic masterpiece, though I do wish Jesus and Mary looked more like poor Middle Eastern people instead of wealthy Europeans.

First off, to me this is Christ–mas   I keep the Lord’s birthday in there. To even scrawl Xmas on a to-do list makes me cringe. Oh sure, many a movie or storybook likes to aim above the retail greed.

These guys only hint at the original meaning and celebration of Christmas, and I wish they went the extra mile. So we read these classics from Dr. Suess and Chris Van Allsburg and then we bust out the Bible for the original classic.9780394800790
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
Well that’s true, but…
And from The Polar Express:
“Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.” I do believe, but it’s not in Santa and a sleigh bell. The words of God ring sweetly for me because I believe.9780544580145

So these books and movies dabble in magic, shooting for the themes of love and togetherness. While they aim high, at least clearing the muck of consumerism, they fail to aim straight up. Look straight up to heaven for your meaning for Christmas and you’ll find absolution from greed, a reason for the season as well as your life and a love so big and so grand yet so tender and sweet that there is nothing in the world like it. It is only found in heaven, and it is given freely to everyone. Get this—all you have to do is (wait for it…) ask. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ—God on earth in human form, sent as a living sacrifice of love so that we on earth need not be separated from our God in heaven.

IMG_1278Do we believe Santa brings presents? Only if you want to, and then you can believe that Mom and Dad are masters of internet shopping. And once you move on from Santa Clause, you just nod and smile when your younger siblings ask about the big guy with the beard. (It could just be a picture of Daddy in his grunge phase.) After the obvious reason for the season and keeping it void of cliché and any agonizing and overwrought traditions, I certainly buy in to the retailers’ mission to overburden my credit card. But you see, I just love to surprise people. I want my husband to bask in the glow of books that he never knew he wanted. And my husband’s love of books is just beginning to bloom. He reads and speaks the language of music, which I listen to and adore. But I have not absorbed it as a native tongue the way he has. I on the other hand, could curl up in ecstatic bliss with the dictionary.

Does that make me easy to shop for? Yes, of course! I love socks, I love books and boots and funny t-shirts and scrumptious-smelling candles. But wait, don’t give me super heady floral candles. And I can’t stand t-shirts with standard necklines. My socks should be bright and colorful and limited on the synthetics. And please don’t buy me any books from the mystery or bodice-ripper genres. What can I say? I’m an obscure woman with discerning tastes.

We keep the Lord-Jesus-Christ-mas and we enjoy giving unique gifts if not the latest gadgets—no one in our house will receive a hover-board this year, or next, or the year after…And it’s always a great opportunity to bless members of the family with things they need to buy anyway. Last year, all my husband got was underwear, socks, t-shirts and pajamas. Stockings usually contain tubes of toothpaste, possibly because they also contain lots of chocolate.

So, I must confess that we spend too much but spend time together. And in January, we will spend time working hard, paying our bills, and knowing that all true blessings and gifts come from above with love.

For related reading, check out:
Easter in the Park

We Believe in Christmas

When a Woman Like Me Turns 40

When a Woman Like Me Turns 40

IMG_5439Post twin pregnancy and turning forty, I’m reevaluating the shape of my body—literally. My health is another issue with which I have very little issue. I am, alas in some respects, not the long, lithe and lean dancer that I used to be. Oh I suppose I could join CrossFit and dump my twenty year ban on beef, pork and lamb and go on the uber-trendy Paleo diet. I could work really hard to look really hard in my forty year-old skin. But the truth is: I don’t wanna.

DSC_0592I’ve got better things to spend my time on, like the growth of my children, the expansion of my world of knowledge and experience and the shape of my brain. I spent forty minutes the other morning going out for a run, which was nice but the muscle development in my legs was only a minor side benefit compared to the time spent outdoors in the fresh air and the audiobook I was engrossed in.

I run to keep my brain from short-circuiting and destroying itself, to keep my metabolism high enough to enjoy these scones in the morning and a glass of whiskey in the evening, to ready myself for a ten-day backpacking trek with my dad this summer, and to get my energy levels a fraction closer to that of my kids. A rear end that my husband still admires is a nice touch, too, but I secretly believe he loves me for my mind. I also spent an hour and a half the other night reading photographer Sally Mann’s memoir and drinking the aforementioned glass of whiskey. Screw the Dailey Method, I’m stretching out on the couch.

When I see middle-aged women who are thin and shaped like rails, I think that often times they look brittle. Aging skin doesn’t go over long and lean bodies in the same way. A hard body is just that—hard, sharp and uncomfortable.
When my children sit down in my lap, I want them to lean into the softness of my stomach where they were once housed rather than six-pack abs. My arms are toned into the perfect shape for hugs and my breasts have served their worthiest purpose and been declared perfectly adequate.

Is this ageing gracefully? I don’t know. I think that has more to do with the way I treat people and build relationships rather than the way I treat my skin or build my muscles. Do I worry about how I look? Oh sure. I’m a human being and a woman in the world. But I’m ready to shed my identity of pretty and young, long and lean. I’m not totally sure what my description is after this, though I hope not to disappear entirely. Too often, I think that happens when women have children and then creep toward middle age. I hope that people will see me for what I create and not just the creation of my children.


I dream that someday, fifty will be an age where women are seen as being regal and amazing lifetime creations. At seventy, she is beyond all value, because nothing is as cherished as a grandmother who is a treasure box of adventures, games, rhymes and memories. I will tell my grandchildren that I was once a lithe and lean dancer, but the beauty of the memory is the music, the dance and the swirling of silk and golden coins. This is what I want to hold dear, what I will deem amazing and magical—not the structure of my bones or the percentage of fat that clings to them. A well-shaped body is not what makes up a life. It is the body of memories that make a well-shaped life.

For more about my life and thoughts and other tidbits:
Running in the Rain and Enjoying Nature

Winter Picnic in Suburbia

Holiday Thank-you Notes


Fancy Cafes are Overrated

sideboard.pasteriesI’m a working mom who stays home with the kiddos for part of the day because now they are all in school. Seventy percent of my paycheck goes to preschool but at least eighty percent of my sanity is intact.

So while the twins are at preschool, I’m working. I had fanciful visions of going to the local chic café, ordering a cappuccino and a scone and working on my laptop… until I nearly froze in their rustic hardwood floor and vaulted ceiling eating area and spent $8 that I didn’t really have. That was nearly satisfying until I couldn’t send an email because the wifi was so blasted ineffective. Back to the warm, quiet and free library.   So now I work off-line in the car with a pre-packed snack, my favorite coffee brewed strong enough to resemble used motor oil and a lovely wool blanket that kept me warm in Colorado and still snuggles my daughter. It even doubles as a picnic blanket in the spring and summer. A fine investment if I do say so myself.

So goodbye dreams of fancy workspaces; the best one is my trusty minivan and the good ol’ fashioned public library.
I make better scones and when I can one day afford my own espresso machine, I can put my six years of barista skills to work and make a better cappuccino. Who needs hardwood floors and antique forks?

To make your own workspace that much cozier, take one of these scones with you and I promise that your cubicle, car or park bench will feel more like a chic suburban café.my.nepenthe.

Orange Oat Scone Recipe bogarted from the book, My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur which they borrowed from Stars Bakery in San Francisco (now loooong gone). And so the karmic circle of baked goods passes this recipe along to you.


3 cups flour

½ cup turbinado sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into small pieces

2 cups whole oats

zest of 1 orange (or ½ teaspoon of dried orange rind)

¾ cup heavy cream or buttermilk

¼ cup coarse sugar or turbinado sugar for sprinkling on top


Preheat the oven 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Combine the flour, turbinado sugar, baking powder, and baking soda in the bowl of a food processor. (I use a battered medium sized bowl and a 25 year-old pastry cutter and that seems to work just fine. Also, you can measure out these dry ingredients and set them aside easily if suddenly you find you need to run a carpool or referee a sibling squabble. You can do this really quick and then finish up the mixing and baking when you have a little more time.)

Add the butter piece by piece, pulsing until pearl size. If you’re using a bowl and a pastry cutter, then cut the butter until the flour and butter mixture is fairly uniform and mealy and the butter pieces are very small. Transfer the dough to a bowl if you used the food processor and stir in the oats and orange zest.

Stir in the cream or buttermilk until just moistened. (I ‘make’ buttermilk by measuring out my milk and then adding 1-2 tablespoons of white vinegar. Let it sit for about 5 minutes and then voilà, you have buttermilk.)

Bring the dough together with your hands and gently pat into an 8-inch round. Cut into triangle shapes and transfer to the prepared baking sheet, separating them so they do not touch. Sprinkle the tops with course sugar. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden brown. I always rotate my baking sheet about 2/3 of the way through because my oven is crappy and I want to make sure all the items get baked evenly.

**There are a number of variations and substitutions, including switching the orange for lemon zest and then adding 2-3 Tablespoons of poppy seeds. You can also add 1 cup of dried currants, raisins, cranberries, cherries or blueberries as you bring the dough together. Seriously, the possibilities are endless.

Note: Check out the cookbook from your local public library and ooh and ahh over the photographs of the bohemian ‘60’s and ‘70’s (there’s even a belly dancer!) and all the wonderful, whimsical décor. It is a lovely cookbook as well as a collection of history and style.

Easter in the Park


Big girl shows the little critters how it’s done.

Yes, we celebrated Easter last week, complete with eggs, bunnies, chocolate and not least of all, our Lord Jesus Christ who gave His life for us and was resurrected so that we might be able to live in loving relationship with Him in Heaven. That said, we went to church on Sunday morning, the little people dressed in bright dresses and Mom and Dad in comfortable shoes—the better to chase around said little people. Church for us is two blocks down the street at the park. Blessedly convenient and fun, too. There were coffee and pastries and fruit, and the obligatory Easter egg ‘hunt,’ which really consisted of laying (pun intended) out a hundred or so plastic eggs on the grass and then saying ‘Go!’ to the kids—an Easter egg dash, to be more specific.  DSC_1967

Before church, there were Easter ‘baskets’ for all the kids. Since we can’t really afford cheap and breakable colored baskets, and I abhor that Easter grass that gets everywhere and sticks to everything, we improvised. I used paper bags, some nifty alphabet stamps, a few ribbons left over from presents and boxes of chocolates, and a sheet of repurposed yellow tissue paper.

Ms. Destitute does super cheap and easy Easter baskets.  Functional, personal and beyond cute.

Ms. Destitute does super cheap and easy Easter baskets. Functional, personal and beyond cute.

We bought small bunnies and a bag of chocolate eggs to split amongst the kids and called it done. Really, that’s all they need. The chocolate will be nibbled at for the next few weeks, and the bunnies will be beloved for a week or so before they are added to the motley family of stuffed animals that grace the bed, or the toy basket or the futon in the twins’ room.

And that was just in the morning.


Thing two discovers an egg hiding in the bushes.

In the afternoon, Dad went for a bike ride, Mom worked on a school paper (boo) and the kiddos napped and relaxed. We do this everyday in hopes that Mother will stay sane. Just before the small people woke up, I wandered down to our lovely apartment courtyard, where everything is in bloom, and ‘hid’ about 20 plastic eggs containing absolutely nothing.

The kids didn’t care, or even, uh, notice. The hunt was the fun part. We met up with our neighbors, who just had to walk out their front door, and the smallest people wandered around looking confused, until a parent directed them to exactly where an egg perched in some foliage and then pointed to it.


Precious neighbor.

‘Hunt’ isn’t exactly an accurate description, but fun was had. We sat on some steps and scarfed popcorn, pretzels, cheddar bunnies and raisins (Destitute Style Chex Mix, without the Chex) and drank a bit of juice before the younger kids ran around chasing the big one and managed not to obliterate the landscaping.


Thing One finds an egg and manages to get it into her basket.

I don’t know what we feasted on for dinner, but it wasn’t ham. I made a call up to the relatives, talked to my uncle and to my dad and wished everyone a Happy Easter. Daddy-O and I put the kids to bed and watched some totally unrelated-to-the-holiday-movie—‘Catching Fire,’ I think.

Happy Easter to all and to us!

Further Springtime fun:
Spring Cleaning
Birthday Cake and Baking Mistakes


Opening Day– Giants Baseball

Small local folk celebrating Opening Day in their own special little way.

Small local folk celebrating Opening Day in their own special little way.

For Ms. Destitute, the sound of spring is the crack of the bat, the static of the AM radio and the voice of John Miller. Of course, we’re not tailgaters with season tickets (though we do have family friends who are very generous about sharing their tickets—thanks Steve and Karen!) but we express our fanaticism in our own way. DSC_2075

On the San Francisco Giants’ opening day last week, I dressed my smallest baseball fans in their Giants onesies to show their pride at the local playground. Oh, okay, so it’s really me showing where my loyalties lie, and using my children as adorable accessories… but, really, aren’t they adorable?DSC_2078

Since we don’t have cable television, for reasons both of principle and money, we listen to the game on the radio. And since we’re so strapped for cash, we don’t even listen to it on the internet—you have to have a paid subscription to ALL the games in Major League Baseball. I don’t care that much about any of the other teams to make it worth it, even if I did have the money.

So we listen to the radio talents of John Miller, Dave Fleming, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow on KNBR.

Not actual size, but close.

Not actual size, but close.

Ahh, that to me says SPRING! It isn’t just the score and the game being played that make my eyes tear up a bit (allergies not withstanding) but a touch of nostalgia as well.

I can remember lying in the back of my family’s 1972 Buick station wagon (complete with brown naugahyde interior) and driving home from a family road trip with the sound of John Miller’s voice coming through the single speaker. I was born in Virginia and lived there until I was almost seven, and in the early 80’s, John Miller was the radio broadcaster for the Baltimore Orioles. I never became an Orioles’ fan– that would have led to much disappointment and eventual disillusionment– but I’ve always been a fan of John Miller’s voice. It lulled me to sleep in the back of the car, it was the soundtrack to my teenage days of (topless!) backyard sunbathing, and now it keeps me company in the kitchen during my favorite months of the year.

Here’s hoping that the recent World Series champs will make it to the end again, not only because we love our local boys (when did pro athletes all become younger than me?) but because it gives us that much longer to turn on our trusty little transistor and listen to the guys in the broadcasting booth.

Happy baseball, everyone, and GO GIANTS!!

Other fun and Spring-y stuff:
Spring Cleaning

Herbs to Grow Yourself Part. 1

And Part 2

Spring Cleaning

Look at me!  I got a fella who vacuums.

Look at me! I got a fella who vacuums.

Oh, yes, it’s spring here in the land of the destitute. Everything is blooming: the nasturtiums have declared their mission to take over the balcony, and the Japanese maples have filled out so that it feels like we live in a tree house. Our ducks made their stopover on their flight back to wherever it is they spend the summer.  It’s all very lovely.

Our feathered couple observe the resort atmosphere.

Our feathered couple make a stopover on their way north.

The inside of our house, however, is less lovely. Boxes have piled up in the closets, the book hospital where toddlers have overenthusiastically loved a few books has made a mess of my bookcase. My desk has turned into a storage unit, even if I have resigned myself to the fact that I will not be sitting at it anytime soon.  And then there’s the dirty windows, the filthy rental carpeting, the couch sprouting week-old popcorn, and my winter-worn and mother-weary face.

The clutter-pile also known as my desk.

The clutter-pile also known as my desk.




So some spring cleaning is in order. Here’s the list (if you didn’t know already, I’m a list-maker):

  • Master bath
  • Other bath
  • M’s books
  • M’s closet
  • A desk
  • A closet
  • K closet
  • B & E closet
  • B & E books
  • Clean carpet
  • Clean couch
  • Mend couch (it’s vintage and busting its seams)
  • Dust
  • K basket
  • Red bowl on dining room table
  • Wash comforters
  • Linen shelf in kitchen
  • Wash windows
  • Sew B & E curtains
  • Taxes
  • File box
  • Oil change for car
  • Facial for Mommy(even my face needs spring cleaning, and I refuse to see this as frivolous)


I am happy to report that as of this posting, the list is about 2/3 completed (note that I crossed those items out—a wonderful feeling), and that my husband is the one that deep-cleaned both bathrooms. Did you know, men, that cleaning the bathroom increases your sex-appeal by 42%? Proven fact. (see picture above for further proof of my guy’s cleaning prowess)

The closets were purged of all clothing that didn’t fit, wasn’t interesting or wasn’t going to be worn. Those items, both kids’ and adults’, went to Macedonia. The discarded baby equipment and some baby clothes went to a center for young mothers.

A few select, fancy and seldom-worn items went to consignment. In order to sort through and re-organize the six boxes of baby clothes that I have (hand-me-downs, leftovers from Big Sis, and a handful of family hand-knits) I enlisted the help of my parents. They came down for the day, card table in tow, and set up shop in my living room to sort, fold, wrangle toddlers and also to run the carpool to school. I couldn’t have done it without them. The living room was completely full of bags, boxes and stacks and stacks of little girl clothing. I could have opened up a consignment shop of my own on the spot. I’m kicking myself for not taking pictures, but you’ll just have to use your imagination and my sparkling description as a prompt.

Twin Who-sits working on their early literacy skills.

Twin Who-sits working on their early literacy skills.

The local high school rummage sale provided us with a new bookcase for the big girl, and an old vintage dresser for the little girls. This enabled us to put the bookcase that formerly belonged to Big Girl into the twin’s room.  And now everybody has room for all their books, the paper/tear-able books are out of little harms’ way and I have an excuse to buy more books.  I love Spring!


Running in the Rain and Enjoying Nature

IMG_0299The rain sprinkled my face and the wet chill in the air made me feel alive.  I went running this morning, not letting a bit of rain (thanks, God, for listening to California’s prayers) deter me from a workout and a little freedom.  The sound of rushing water beside me and the honking of Canadian Geese above me– a soundtrack for the morning.  Oh, sure, there was the sound of car tires sluicing the water on the city streets, too, my feet were slapping wet asphalt, and the water wasn’t a forest stream, but the rainwater in the drainage channel.  Still, it was the sound of water and birds, even in suburbia.  Nature’s there, trust me.  You just need to look around.

Almost as cute as my twins

Almost as cute as my twins

As the rain streaked my face and I pondered the invention of windshield wipers for glasses, a couple of squirrels darted across the path in front of me, as if daring me to catch them.  I ran past the Intermediate school, and watched the Canadian Geese (on a stop-over from flying north early or coming south a bit late, I wasn’t sure) necks tall and straight.  The were high-stepping across the wet basketball courts, prancing with their black, webbed feet as if they wished they were  carriage horses.

Northern visitors in suburbia.

Northern visitors in suburbia.

I realize that the Northern California suburbs are not the backwoods of Virginia, nor the majestic High Sierra, but I can’t get there right now.  I love a good, dirty, sleep-on-the-ground backpacking trip as much as the next hippie, but since I’m still performing as the human cow, I won’t be gone from my babies for more than a day at a time.  There’s a backpacking trip in the works (summer 2015) to visit my brother’s final resting place in the mountains, and I hope to get all the kids back to the beach again soon, but right now, we don’t go far from our suburban homestead.

And that’s okay.  There are geese and hummingbirds, crepe myrtle and daffodils to be enjoyed right here within the neighborhood back forty.

We Believe in Christmas

We're pretending we have a fireplace with a mantle.

We’re pretending we have a fireplace with a mantle.

How do the destitute celebrate Christmas? (That really depends on what they believe in.) At our house, we put up colored lights and decorate a Christmas tree. This year, it’s a tiny tree, because it has to be out of reach of four eager, uncontrolled and mischievous little hands. It’s festive, but not terribly fashionable. Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, Ree Drummed nor Elle Décor had any influence on our choice of tree trimmings. Mine and my husband’s childhoods had the most influence—Jim Henson, Kiwiana, the grunge era and a love of jazz and good bass players. There’s nothing on my front door proclaiming, ‘It’s Christmastime and we know it!’ You can’t see our tree from the front window—in fact, you can barely see our tree from across the room. But we know it’s there.DSC_1834

I like to put on Christmas music, because despite the fact that I believe in the original meaning of the celebration (a day, not necessarily historically accurate as the 25th of December, to celebrate the birth of Christ, the Son of God, who was eventually crucified and rose again to save me from my sins and allow me to spend all eternity in heaven with Him when I die) it’s really the only time of year I listen to Christian music. That’s due to musical taste, not an aversion to the message.

Here are a few of my favorite Christmas tunes:
‘Ave Maria’ by Chris Cornell and Eleven (from A Very Special Christmas Volume 3)
The tune is a familiar one, but the voice is unusual for what is usually sung in an operatic style. But being the grunge-child that I am, I love it. The song is a great tribute to the Virgin Mary, who is a minor star in this whole Christmas story, and being a mother, I cannot help but wonder at this young woman who gave birth to the Christ child in a stable, amidst rumors of scandal. What a woman. Chris Cornell’s voice gives the song the kind of grittiness that I think goes properly with such a birth scene.

‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ by Whitney Houston (from A Very Special Christmas Volume 1) This is Whitney Houston and modern gospel music at its finest. This was the kind of music she was born to sing, not sappy love songs for a scumbag like Bobby Brown. Brings tears to my eyes, not least of all because I will never be able to sing this great classic nearly as well.

‘O Holy Night’ by Tracy Chapman (from A Very Special Christmas Volume 3)
This is my favorite Christmas carol, regardless who sings it, or especially the red-headed woman named Anne who used to sing with the choir at church when I was growing up. If she sang this one at the Christmas Eve service, the whole evening was a hit. I love the lyrics to this song, by turns praising and in awe of such an event as the birth of Christ and then tender and sweet. Tracy Chapman’s sweet smoky voice and a simple guitar is all it needs.

bela.fleck.jingleBela Fleck and the Flecktones Jingle All the Way
This is a family tradition that my husband and I adopted all our own, because who doesn’t need a little throat-singing and banjo-playing to shake up the likes of Bing Crosby and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Give me Bela over those ol’ stiffs any day.

john.denver.muppetsJohn Denver and the Muppets, A Christmas Together
This album (and I mean LP, until it was replaced by a digital version in the new century, though we still have the slightly scratched vinyl edition) is a tradition from by mine and my husband’s childhood. John Denver can’t be beat for writing songs from the heart, and any time I hear ‘A Baby Just Like You’, I get all teary. Denver wrote it for his son, Zachary, thinking of Jesus as an infant and all that must have meant to both His father in heaven and to Joseph. It reminds me of my children and it reminds me of my brother, who was a baby when the song came out. My mother used to change the line Merry Christmas, Little Zachary to fit with her baby son’s name. I insert any or all of my children’s names, even if they’re not so little anymore.
And on a lighter note, the asides of Miss Piggy in ‘Christmas is Coming’, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ and ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ are hysterical.

What are your favorite Christmas tunes? Are they family traditions or ones you’ve started on your own?