2007's Personal Best & Worst

Best Party: Last year's New Year's Eve Rat Pack party.
Worst Party: The one that never happened. We really need to have more in the coming year.

Best Dinner: Prime rib with all the trimmings.
Worst Dinner: Fish sticks and tater tots...


A Few Points

~  I am cookied, chocolated, and fudged out. Right now, I don't care if I ever see another sugary treat in my entire life.

~  I joined Facebook a couple of days ago and it's frustrating the hell out of me. My Mood icon keeps changing back to "angry" and my Top Friends skin keeps disappearing. Everything I try to do takes me to another screen that asks for my cell phone number. Not everyone has a cell phone riveted to the side of their head, you know.

~  Favorite Christmas gifts: My new leather desk chair with great lumbar support, my new cozy throw that feels like a cloud of warm nothing, and my new CDs.

~  I have fish tanks to clean, bed linens to change, laundry to do, plants to water and groceries to buy, and I don't want to do any of it.

~  Is it just me, or does everyone lose track of what day it is during the week between Christmas and New Years?

What are your plans for New Year's Eve?


2007 Draws to a Close

Did I make New Year's resolutions last year? I'm sure I did, but somehow, in the move from Wordpress to Blogger, I lost all of the posts I wrote between December 30 and May 5 of 2006.

I know that I've met and accomplished most of them (the easy ones like drinking more water and less wine), but some I passed over and find them still staring me in the face. Walking more, reading more, less TV... those things...


Post-Christmas Lazies

Egads! but I'm tired. No, that's not a strong enough word. Exhausted? No. How about fatigued? No. Here it is: I'm absolutely freakin' brain dead and fatally worn out.

Yeah. That's it.

Yesterday afternoon the kids' dad took them home with him for the rest of the week, which left us a small family of four -- Nettl, myself and my sons Joel and Micah. We'd invited a Bosnian couple over for Christmas dinner and they arrived at 7:00.

We served wine and hors d'oeuvres while we finished making a fabulous dinner of prime rib, baked potatoes baked in olive oil and kosher salt, fresh steamed green beans, Brussels Sprouts sauted in butter with pecans, shallots and rosemary, Yorkshire pudding and honey rolls. The music was Mozart's violin sonatas.

After a conversation-filled and jovial dinner we retired to the living room for a desert of Boston cream pie and coffee. Natasha (pronounced NAH-ta-sha) and Igor were the perfect guests and we intend to have them over again. He is a Music Theory professor at the university and she is a choral director there. When they left, we had another glass of wine, cleaned the kitchen, and went to bed. I awoke at 11:45am this morning to a softly falling snow.

My plan for today is just this: to channel and internet surf in my jammies, nap, stretch and yawn unashamedly. I have declared this day to be "No action verbs Boxing Day".

I hope you all had a great holiday season and that you have time to rest before New Year's Eve!


Favorite Christmas

When I look back on the Christmases of my past, it's clear to see that my memories are not of what I received as gifts, but of my family and how we spent those times together.

For all its dysfunction our family got along amazingly well. With a large (or what seemed large to me) group of mostly professional musicians, comics and clowns (and one dancer, who hoofed his way through many Hollywood B-musicals), we were an entertaining clan...


The Gift

There's a Lowe's commercial in which the stereotyped "dumb white guy" speaks with a female Lowe's employee about what to get his wife for Christmas. After showing her power tools and lawn equipment, and receiving only vague disapproval, he decides on a gift card. She heartily approves...


I Know it's Christmas When I'm Forced to Get Off of My Butt

The week before Christmas is busy for everyone. For me, it means leaving the house nearly every day, which I normally don't enjoy. I'm a homebody and Nettl and I have worked hard to create a home that we really enjoy spending time in. The problem is, we can sometimes grow a bit too self-contained, until we're forced out. I mean, she's out every day at work, driving kids around, etc., but me? I have a lead weight attached to my backside and leave only when it's absolutely necessary.

Last Sunday, we went to two concerts; the first was the Stillwater Chamber Singers, of which Nettl is a member. From there we went directly to #2 daughter's school's concert. Monday night was the Chamber Singers' annual holiday party. Did I go anywhere on Tuesday? I was running around all evening yesterday and today, Joel and I are going shopping. Tomorrow, Nettl meets her ex half-way between here and Wichita to bring Nathan home for the holidays. And so it goes. Concerts, rehearsals, shopping and parties. Everybody does it.

I'm really looking forward to the Christmas Eve midnight Mass (10:30, actually) at St. Andrew's, at which Nettl will be singing Bach and Mozart. During the 1980s, when I worked with the Ventura County Symphony, I used to enjoy going to midnight services and I haven't been to one in years. When I learned that this one was going to be a musical Mass, I decided to go, not knowing that Nettl was going to be hired for it.

Last night, after picking her up from rehearsal, she and I sat in the living room with the candles lit and Handel's "Messiah" playing, enjoying a glass of wine and talking. Simple pleasures smooth my ruffled feathers; I don't require much. Today, I have a new lease on life and am looking forward to the upcoming week.

We're planning on our annual New Year's Eve party, too -- last year we had a Rat Pack affair that was absolutely the best party I've ever hosted. For all of you who were here last year and plan to attend this year, we'll be using the same decorations, but the dress will be casual. Actually, dress however you want; it doesn't matter. I wasn't going to host a party this year due to my waning energy level, but everyone was so disappointed that I reneged. As usual, it will be pot luck cocktail fare, BYOB. If you're in the area and want to attend, email me at skwallerATgmailDOTcom for the details.

That's all!


"Is This a New House, Clark?"

Autodidact that I am, I know enough about psychology to be able to pinpoint the source of one of my most torturous and annoying characteristics. I recognize the source and the cause of it, and I labor doggedly at conquering it, but it never goes away...


Selfless Meme

I'm with RW, from whom I took this meme (he got it from Tug). Most memes are nothing more than exercises in narcissism (not that's always a bad thing), but once in a while a good one comes along. This one is too hard for the Barbie doll types who type little hearts and roses around their online names, so I don't expect to see it spreading all over the web. If you want to use it (I'm not tagging people anymore), just let me know so that I can come read your responses...


Dan Fogelberg

I've only just learned that Dan Fogelberg died yesterday of prostate cancer, at the age of 56. Fogelberg was a unique and innovative talent who filled our lives with so many great songs. I almost became his personal assistant in 1980, but I didn't take the job because I was a single mom, and the job meant a lot of travel. I for one will miss him. My warmest thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.

Read story here...

Kitchen Question

Here's a question to start your week:

If you were an item in your kitchen, what would it be, and why?

I'll start. I'd be my broken antique brass corkscrew, because I can no longer screw around, or open bottle after bottle of wine all night.

Your turn.


Don't Ever Say Me Nay

Don't tell me that I can't do something, damn it. Even if you are the frickin' Universe, or God, or Fate, or whatever the hell you are.

Did you see the movie, Seabiscuit? Do you remember how he never really poured on the steam until the last stretch and the second horse caught up with him? Man, old Seabiscuit looked him in the eye, established that he was going to win, and then took off, leaving the other horse eating his dust. He was the little horse that could, even though everyone said he couldn't...


Memories of Christmas

I don't have a lot of happy memories from my childhood, but I could always count on Christmas to be a happy time. We lived next door to my father's parents and my aunt and uncle, and their kids, lived in a house at the beginning of the family's shared driveway. It was pretty cool because we were a tightly-knit clan with no pretensions. Another aunt and uncle (and their son) always drove up from San Pedro, and my Godparents lived only a couple of streets away. We were all musicians and comics --showbiz people-- so that made our times together very interesting. My grandparents' house was small, but we somehow fit 20 or so people in there. The kitchen table was loaded with typical 1950s finger food that always included a relish tray, celery filled with pimiento cheese spread and Ritz crackers topped with Swiss cheese and there were always card games, jigsaw puzzles and music-making going on.

Whenever Christmas rolls around, certain pictures come to my mind, the predominant one being my grandparents' bed covered in coats. That one always brings me a warm and homey feeling. I'd like to share some others with you. Maybe my "codger" readers will remember these:

Bubble Lights. My parents never got any because they said they were too expensive, but my grandparents' had them. What kid in the 50s didn't sit on the floor staring at them? Weren't they magical??

Ribbon Candy. There were always bowls of these treats scattered around the house. I never really liked hard candy, but this stuff was different for some reason.

California Sampler. Seems like someone always sent us one of these trays. Filled with fruit, nuts and dates, it always looked good, but it usually went bad before everything was eaten.

Chocolate Balls. I used to like helping my mom to dip the condensed milk, powdered sugar and walnut balls into the chocolate, but nowadays I wonder at how safe it was to consume that much paraffin...

Flocked Tree. One year my dad sprung for one of these and I thought it was the most beautiful, magical tree in the world. I'd love to get another one year.

Garlands. Our tree, as well as our house, always got draped with these monstrosities. The doorway between the living and dining rooms got decorated with it, on which my mom hung the Christmas cards we received.

Plastic Wreath. I think there was one of these in every window of my grandparents' house.

Red Mesh Stockings. "Back in the day" we didn't have fancy, velvet and brocade stockings, we had these red mesh jobs. And we never got watches, gift cards, or jewelry. They were filled with fruit and candy.

Log Nut Bowl. I'm getting one of these next year because they're the most recognizable Christmas item in my memory. I can still see my dad sitting there with his. In fact, I still have his set of silver nutcracker and picks in a little wooden box with decorative clasp. It's one of my prized possessions.

Chocolate Covered Cherries. Oh, yeah... In the flimsy box. An American tradition.


Sleeping Bloggers

It has come to my attention that some of my favorite bloggers have fallen asleep at the keys. Yeah, I'm talking about YOU. What's wrong with you guys? Don't you know that you're supposed to inspire and stimulate me? Don't you know that your prime function on the web is to entertain me?

Every morning I check your blog, and there sits the post you made weeks, sometimes months ago. No more of this, I say! Get to it! As a means of humiliation, I'm taking names...


Morgan Freeman

I just came across a show on which Morgan Freeman was interviewed by Rachel Ray (yeah, I know...).

What an incredible human being he is. Of course, I've always liked his acting and, well, his overall demeanor, but I had no idea about who he is as a private individual. This man is pure class.

More info on Morgan Freeman...

And to the phone scheister who woke me 30 minutes ago, PFFFFT! I don't give my social security number to anyone on the phone, I don't care what your name is, what company you work for, or how imperious you try to sound.


Ice Storm 2007

Half-a-million people in Oklahoma are without lights and heat. Our wiring is all underground, so we're fine (plus, we're not customers of OG & E), but Lynette's parents, in Tulsa, were hit, as well as friends in the Oklahoma City area. Authorities say it could take a week or more to get things back to normal. Mostly, I worry about the elderly and the people who have no place to call home.

Fortunately, the storms have passed and the ice has melted. Last night at around 2:00, a large sheet of ice slid down our roof and onto the lawn, making such a noise that I at first thought it was a jet passing overhead. Patches of ice still lie on the ground, but the streets are dry and the rooves, trees and lawns no longer look like a day-old glazed donut.

Hm. Donuts...


History Rocks!

I hope you caught History Rocks: the 60s last night on the History Channel. Man, talk about the best documentary about that tumultuous decade... Pulling no punches and never resorting to cliché, it covers the 60s using the music as the soundtrack in a way that I've never seen before. The way it was back then...



I woke up this morning and looked out the window to find a crystal wonderland. The ice storm that's moving across the country has resulted in power outages, closures of schools and businesses, and hundreds of traffic accidents; it feels selfish and shallow to write about how beautiful it is.

Photo by Dick Hodgman


Go Home

God, I hate American tourists. Especially when they get their own show on television and think they're so clever, so cool, so funny.

I'm sitting here at my computer. Across the room out of eyesight, is the telly, which is tuned to the Travel Channel. We're iced in for the next few days and there is a series of shows set in Switzerland and Bavaria. Then, a show comes on, hosted by an all-American "dude". By the sound of his voice I conclude that he is between 23 and 29. I picture him in my mind's eye: a scruffy, stubbly ("hip") 5 o'clock shadow, sneakers, sunglasses, and the obligatory ball cap turned backwards. I get up to check and I find that I'm correct about everything but the scruff. He has a goatee instead. The show is called, "Not Your Average Travel Guide" and he is on the Côte d'Azure. The dude's name is Shane Reynolds, but that not being cool enough, he goes by "Shane O".

Besides knowing nothing about history, he observes that Cannes is pronounced "cahn", but he tells his audience that he's going to call it "cans" because, "I'm an American tourist, and what do I know?" Thinking he's making a weak stab at being sarcastic, I let it slide, but he continues to mispronounce it as he interviews his victims subjects. Thus he continues, bolstered with the usual hackneyed observances about the film festival, topless bathing suits, and the pebbly, sandless beach. In Nice he observes that "Nice isn't very nice".


His next stop was Eze, where, when told a little about its history he responds with, "I guess you could say they came to 'kick ezz'..." (kick ass) The reaction of his hostess was stone-cold silence. When he continued in this vein I had to turn the channel.

Call me old, call me smug. Call me anything, but please, never call me an American tourist. I'm a traveler, and there is a huge difference. Television travel hosts need to know this.


Holiday Dish

Last night Bravo brought together two "losers" from each of the past three seasons of Top Chef for a holiday competition that promised $20,000 to the one who could knock the stockings off of the judges and their world-class chef friends. It wasn't an easy challenge. Three courses head-to-head and after each course two competitors were told to "Pack your knives and go," leaving their following courses to go uneaten by those whom they wished to impress.

It was good to see Tre, Steven and C.J. again, but I could have gone forever without having to watch Marcel rolling his eyes at the judge's opinions, or hear Tiffani barking orders at her fellows like they were her personal staff of sou chefs. Betty and Josie were as annoying as ever and Sandie was, well, practically invisible. Still, it was a great show and I don't want to reveal the winner because I'm sure it will air several more times between now and Christmas, and some people may not have seen it yet. If you really want to know, go here.

I will say that I was disappointed in the final outcome, but that's life in the kitchen I guess, and I confess that my choice for winner was based entirely on personal bias. Hey, what else can you go on when you can't taste the food?


Happy Krampus Day

Yesterday was Krampus Day in Austria and Germany, a street "celebration" I am looking forward to experiencing once we're domiciled in Vienna.

But as scary as Krampus is, he has been replaced by St. Nicholas today.

Have you been naughty, or nice over the past year?


Too Busy to Blog

Just to tell you that I'm in the heat of my wine book and haven't time to blog today.

On another note, keep my friend Deni in your thoughts today. She'll be undergoing more surgery this afternoon (in about one hour, actually). I spoke with her on the phone last night and her spirits are up, and that's a good sign!

8:18pm - Just got a call from her husband, Jim, who told me that everything went well and that she was joking with the doctor in recovery. YAY!


Box of Book

For nearly two years I've been collecting information (surveys, samples, stories, etc.) for my new book, Box of Wine: a Cultural Icon. I think I've mentioned it once or twice. It will be a "coffee table" book full of pictures of different box wines and of people drinking, holding, and even being box wineThe good news is, I may have a publisher for it. So now, I'm setting to work in earnest compiling all this information and making some sense of it. I'll keep you up to speed.