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I've written before about the Senior Blessing ritual that we do at First Parish as we send our high school seniors out into the world. That was last week. This week was our Coming of Age service, which is my other favorite service of the year. Our eighth graders spend their last semester of Religious Education working toward identifying what is important to them and then writing a credo, a statement about something they've learned, something they believe.

We welcome them into the service through an "Arch of Love," the entire congregation raising our arms over the center aisle as they process in. This year I happened to be sitting closest to the aisle and got to see the look of wonder on their faces as about three hundred of us greeted them with so much love you could feel it radiating through the room. The kids get to choose their own music and had picked 7 Years by Lukas Graham with its refrain:

Once I was seven years old, my mama told me,
"Go make yourself some friends or you'll be lonely."
Once I was seven years old...


It's a small class this year (11, compared with last year's 23 and next year's 22) and one of their mentors said that this group has bonded more tightly than many cohorts do. I appreciated her introduction, and the way she phrased the explanation of this process and ritual: we are meeting them where they are.

These kids are so smart! The things they know always surprise me and I end up thinking about their statements for a long time afterward. This year they are struggling with particularly thorny issues--or perhaps they just found the strength to open up further than in previous years.

One of the speakers has the summer to decide what he will request from the judge at the hearing to determine whether his biological mother has met the requirements DCF set in place after he and his younger sister were removed from her care six years ago. He must decide whether he wants to stay with his relatively affluent moms and their new baby in the school system with his friends, or to return to his working class, recovering alcoholic bio-mom with her new baby and boyfriend...I'm glad that the judge will take the kids' wishes into account, but what a hard choice to be making at 13.

Another speaker talked about her recovery from a suicide attempt last year, about facing her depression and finding her strength.

A third speaker talked about the death of their father last year and their intent to start high school in the fall as a girl. That last one moved me especially because it was not dropped as a bombshell. This kid thinks that they can stand in front of an enormous hall full of adults, most of whom they don't know, and come out as trans and it will be ok. And it is.

Raising our kids with this kind of radical trust feels like such a revolutionary act. Getting to see each of them as individuals, moving from childhood into youth is such a privilege. I've volunteered to be one of the COA mentors next spring and I'm really looking forward to getting to know the next cohort more closely. And I find myself beginning to wonder what the next four years hold for Alice, what transformative experiences she will have, what she will talk about when it's her turn to stand before the congregation and be seen.

At the end of the service members of the high school Youth Group line the center aisle and make a new arch, welcoming them into the next phase of their life within our congregation. They will move from this past semester of focusing on themselves to learning to look outward and to live our shared values, beginning to be the change they want to see in the world. I am so grateful to have the chance to witness their journey.
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This started as a comment elsewhere, in response to a friend reminiscing about a hoarder in her life, celebrating her decluttering routine and marveling at how complicated many guided processes seem. Since this comes up pretty frequently, I thought I'd re-post my thoughts here.

Must be spring: there's a discussion on my FB that's pretty negative about the whole decluttering movement from the other direction (the privilege that it assumes).

When we moved four years ago, I went through everything in our old house. We got rid of seven carloads of stuff (mostly to my mother's church rummage sale, since it was conveniently timed--they sell what they can and then donate the rest to appropriate places and Mom worked the sale for enough years that I can trust they actually do that) plus about twenty boxes of books (sold a bunch of those, the rest to the sale).

Then we put 95% of our remaining goods into storage and lived in our staged house for what turned out to be two months. That was a strange and illuminating experience. Every counter had to be clear at all times--when we left the house, we put the dish drainer under the sink, in case the agent had a short-notice showing while we were out. My wardrobe became about a dozen items of clothing, plus underwear. Alice (who was five at the time) had one bin of toys that could go in her closet whenever she wasn't playing.

One of the things I learned was how things attract things. If there was nothing on a counter, it stayed clear. If someone left one thing out on the counter, rather than putting it away, within two days there would be a pile of stuff on that counter. And it turned out that I really like clear counters and the sense that everything has a place and can be in it when not in use.

When we moved to this house--a bigger space with better storage and now fewer things--we unpacked and I went through the process again, getting rid of another two or three carloads of stuff that I realized I hadn't missed in the slightest. We made the commitment to not accumulating more media--Alice still gets books, but Jason and I don't buy books or CDs or DVDs--it's amazing how much that single decision cut down on stuff piling up.

Alice is now the main accumulator, although the inflow has eased a bit as she's gotten older. It's still amazing how many free toys and hand-me-downs and presents flow in, not to mention papers and artwork and projects. We've stuck to the routine established when she was a baby (because the Mass. Mothers of Twins sale comes every six months and that was our major source of clothing and large toys until we moved here) of going through all of her stuff--clothes, toys, books--twice a year. We maintain a Too Small box in the interim and when it gets full I send what they'll take to ThredUp and hand the rest down to other families in our church. Lately I've gotten on two different FB groups that let me advertise free stuff to take away and that's been an easy way to redirect stuff I'm not saving for our rummage sale.

The urge to accumulate was also reined in by having to move my mom to assisted living in 2014. She had already done the bulk of the downsizing when they moved from a 4BR house to a 2BR condo seven years earlier. But there was still plenty of junk (at a conservative estimate there were 300,000 free mailing labels that had piled up in just those seven years) and treasures that none of her daughters wanted. It made me very aware that while it's fine to have in my life anything I want there, every item I keep is likely to someday be a burden for Alice to dispose of.

We don't achieve what anyone might call "minimalism," but we do manage to keep the clutter restricted to a few zones and clear those periodically. Entertaining so much helps--it gives us occasions for tidying. Now that we're in a post-show period (that's likely to last till the end of the year, at least, so it feels luxurious) I've been taking the time to work through the various drawers and closets. I know that having the time to do all this is a privilege, not to mention the confidence that if I do need something I've let go, I can afford to replace it. But I find that stuff makes noise in my head and I like living in peace and quiet.
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There's a post that's been making the rounds of social media, called 16 Things I Would Want, If I Get Dementia. It's a well-intended list, written by someone who works with dementia patients. Yet I find it sticking with me, not in sympathy, but in anger. To me, living with the reality of my mother's health, this reads like an impossible and selfish fantasy, designed to make family members feel guilty for not fulfilling the simple desires many of us might share for our declining years.

I won't respond to each of the sixteen items on the list, but here are a few thoughts:

1. If I get dementia, I want my friends and family to embrace my reality. If I think my spouse is still alive, or if I think we’re visiting my parents for dinner, let me believe those things. I’ll be much happier for it.
Because it isn't painful at all for a family member to hear you fret as to why her children don't visit, when they're right there, unrecognizable as the kids they once were; or to grieve again and again the loss of another parent that the survivor's mind cannot grasp. Because it isn't hard to witness the detachment from reality of someone who once defined your own understanding of what was real.

2. If I get dementia, I don’t want to be treated like a child. Talk to me like the adult that I am.
The adult who cannot feed or bathe herself, who needs your help to go to the bathroom, who frequently has accidents requiring intimate intervention humiliating for both of you. Who can't tell a story or follow the answer to the question she's asked twelve times in the past hour. Who demands things that are unachievable and pouts when her demands are denied. Who makes up stories and then demands validation and action based on these untruths. Treating you like an adult would be cruel.

3. If I get dementia, I still want to enjoy the things that I’ve always enjoyed. Help me find a way to exercise, read, and visit with friends.
Friends who've let you drift, with whom I never had a connection, who are mostly dead. Those friends? To exercise, when convincing you to walk down the hallway is a battle of wills and an exercise in pain? To read, when the words don't make sense on the page and you can't follow the thread well enough to listen to a single paragraph?

4. If I get dementia, ask me to tell you a story from my past.
You mean the one you told me last week, the same one that every memory seems to lead to now, about your difficult childhood, that no unremembered telling can lance, that left me in tears the first twelve times and now only makes me numb for its repetition, grieving that in your fear this is where your memory invariably takes you.

8. If I get dementia, don’t talk about me as if I’m not in the room.
Because letting you zone out while I talk to the doctor, contradicting most of what you say, is not better than having you argue with me about whether you've been using a walker for three weeks or three years, or whether your most acute symptoms emerged last week and not six months ago? Because you don't know why you're in the hospital and you're not sure where you are, anyway?

9. If I get dementia, don’t feel guilty if you cannot care for me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s not your fault, and you’ve done your best. Find someone who can help you, or choose a great new place for me to live.
This is the one I can endorse whole-heartedly, except that there is nowhere that can be completely trusted, where your person and your belongings are truly safe, where the failure of our society to remember the elderly in its plans is not painfully evident.

10. If I get dementia, and I live in a dementia care community, please visit me often.
Because I need for you to be brought to tears regularly by the wreck of my body and my personhood. That you cry on the drive home is not important as long as it's at least once a week.

14. If I get dementia, don't exclude me from parties and family gatherings.
Because making a difficult and often painful journey to be part of a gathering with people you no longer recognize, whose conversation confuses you, where you require constant care and attention, which you won't remember in a few days, is worth it for the sense of family.

16. If I get dementia, remember that I am still the person you know and love.
Except you're not. Because the person that you knew would have been horrified by who you are now.

It's not always this bad--this is drawn from personal experiences with my mother, my grandmothers, parishioners we visited when I was a child, stories others have shared with me (often in tears). And the reactions are personal--what makes me crazy may not faze my sisters, and vice versa. But here's my list:

If I Get Dementia:
- make sure my DNR is up to date and includes no antibiotics for pneumonia nor any other intervention that might prolong my life, if you are not allowed to assist my suicide
- get me the good drugs, the ones that leave me pain free and zoned out
- warehouse me somewhere convenient, that you can drop by for 10 minutes on your way somewhere else, so the staff have some incentive to pay attention to me and not steal my stuff
- don't hold it against me--I won't be the person you knew and loved
- don't feel guilty--aging is a crapshoot and all too often a shitshow and I will know that you are doing all you can, whatever that is
- live well, with my very best wishes
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I tend to have recurring dreams, or at least dreams that follow the same pattern. For years I dreamed that I was trying to find someone at a party in a complicated house. Then I got married and never had that dream again. Lately (maybe the last six months) I have had a new pattern-dream that I only realized in the waking world when I woke up last night from a nap in the midst of one--only the one last night was significantly different.

Cut because other people's dreams are boring. )
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So then tonight we had dinner at Kitchen and it was delightful. We were seated in the back room, which must be lovely on light summer evenings, but was dark and cozy on this winter's night. It's was a squeeze to get into our seats and the woman at the next table was asking if they could be moved somewhere quieter, but once we were seated I found it comfortable and not too loud.

We explained to our server that we had an eight o'clock curtain, so we would order everything up front and leave it to her to set the pace to get us out the door in time. We shared a dozen oysters (I especially enjoyed the Ichabod Flats) and then had risotto--shrimp scampi for Jason and duck for me. That included pate melted into the rice for an incredibly rich flavor and texture, shreds of confit, and bits of crackling skin on top for crunch, with a smear of a berry glaze around the edge. Being able to order a half portion left me with room for their fresh doughnuts with cinnamon and vanilla cream. I started with a glass of Taittinger Brut and followed with the special Merlot our server recommended with the duck, while Jason had a "Diablo" (Lunazul Blanco and Framboise) that was lovely. Our server was delightful--I liked her right off the bat and we had a great conversation about movies that just pull you in and make you want nothing but to grab everyone you know and talk about the film--I think we talked her into seeing TFA on Monday, even though she's never seen any of the other Star Wars movies.

We were done by 7:30, with plenty of time to walk across to the Calderwood Pavillion for Citizens of the Empire, directed by Lindsay Eagle--one of my favorite directors in the Boston theatre scene--and starring (among other familiar names and faces) the fabulous Juliet Bowler. I have a lot of questions and quibbles about the show, but overall I was very impressed. It's a strong story and I love how they staged it. And it's such a treat to see science fiction on stage. If you're in the area and have a chance, I'd recommend it--there are half-price tickets left for the next two weekends on Goldstar (though Saturdays are sold out) and full price tickets through the BPW site for all nights.

The birthday weekend continues getting better and better!

Blue Ginger

Jan. 9th, 2016 01:10 am
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A few years ago, Jason and I had an amusingly bad experience at Blue Ginger. I said at the time that I hoped to go back sometime that wasn't Valentine's Day and that idea came up again recently. So when challenged to surprise me with a plan for my birthday, Jason cleverly made reservations there.

Once again, the food was very good. Without peeking at our previous choices, I started with the poke again--it's still great--and Jason chose the sablefish for his main. He started with a hamachi sashimi plate this time--good, though a little sweeter than my ideal--and I tried the garlic-black pepper lobster over lemongrass rice, with spinach. The flavors were strong, savory and delicious, although the handful of raw baby spinach simply thrown on top of the dish felt like an afterthought, rather than an integrated part of the dish's flavor profile. We split a bottle of 2014 Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand--a very nice one that paired well with our food. For dessert we shared the ginger molasses cake with sweet five spice poached pears and sparkling pear sorbet, and the creme brulee that was supposed to come with cookies, only they'd run out of cookies and were baking more, so gave us a chocolate truffle coated in black sesame and a cube ginger-pomegranate gelee, both of which made Jason happy but were right up Not My Thing alley.

Unfortunately, while the food really is quite tasty and reasonably inventive, the service continues to be lacking. I can only presume that since no one can afford to live in Wellesley on waitstaff wages, they're stuck with whomever they can lure into commuting out there and just can't get the top drawer servers. It's not bad service exactly--ok, they did forget to give us bread and they made refilling our water glasses very obtrusive, there were no cookies, and the servers' manner ranged from obsequious to sullen without passing through Pleasantville, but there's nothing really unforgivable in that. It's just not fine dining service. The dining room is also overcrowded even when it's not V-Day, noisy, and bland in its decoration.

Overall, I'd say this is not a bad dinner out, but it just doesn't have the feel of a special occasion place. All Seasons' Table does a far wider range of slightly better dishes in a similar vein for half the price with better service and they're half as far from our house. I won't bother to make the trek to Blue Ginger again.

Magic Time

Jan. 6th, 2016 01:41 pm
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When I was in college, one of my friends would occasionally notice that it was 12:12 or 2:22 or whatever and say "Hey! It's magic time! Anything could happen!" Fun conversations about the possibilities often ensued.

Being a pattern-creating creature, I've kept the habit of noticing these times and thinking of them as "Magic Times". Especially since Alice joined us, I often comment on them, and use them to inject some silliness into our daily routine. But it's not only for Alice. Just now it was 1:11 and I yelled "Magic Time!" and jumped up to kiss Jason at his desk. Because kisses are one of the things that could happen.

Magic Time creates an opportunity to notice a moment in your day and acknowledge that the world is full of endless potential and that you have the power to make every moment magical.
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This year our guests had a wide range of dietary needs (no dairy, gluten-free, vegan, etc.) so I ended up making smaller quantities of more dishes than I usually attempt. All of them were tasty, so I wanted to note the recipes for future reference.

Various Nosh - baguette, an assortment of crackers, mousse truffee, lemon artichoke pesto, white anchovies, olives, cornichons, cheeses (Cremont, Belton, Beemster) and a couple of kinds of Qs Nuts.

Turkey Breast - Rather than do a whole turkey, I just roasted the largest breast I could find (8.2 lbs.), rubbed with herbed lard. That was a bit of an adventure--last year I tried and failed to find lard, eventually ending up with a jar of duck fat from Dave's Fresh Pasta, which was extremely tasty. I noticed the jars on their shelf a couple of months ago, but when I went to pick one up, they'd discontinued it. So I bought half a pound of lardo (a quarter-pound would have been enough), rendered it over low heat, combined the liquid fat with sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper, and left it to re-congeal overnight. I threw the remaining chitlins into the stuffing--it was that or just stand around eating them straight. I think the lard worked well, but if I found duck fat again, or accumulate some in a timely fashion, I would go with that. I roasted the breast over a cup of chicken stock at 350 for just over two hours, covering the skin when it started to get dark and blister. The drippings were especially wonderful.

Slow-Cooker Stuffing - The crust that this recipe promised never developed, but since I wasn't sure that would be a good thing, that was fine. I made it with 20 oz. of mixed breads (some ciabatta, some Italian white, some regular white, some whole wheat--I missed the rye I sometimes add), onions, carrots, celery, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper, in addition to the aforementioned chitlins and some of the drippings from the turkey. This was a very nice way to free up some space in the oven and it made wonderfully moist dressing.

Turkey Gravy - Making the gravy ahead of time is my big discovery this year. I made this on Wednesday morning, then reheated it with added drippings just before serving. It was easily the best--and smoothest--gravy I've ever accomplished.

Mushroom Gravy - A vegan and gluten-free alternative gravy, it was tasty, but I think will be much better with beef than with turkey.

Mashed Potatoes - I quite liked these mashed potatoes made with margarine and almond milk. But when I realized that I needed to use two bowls, and I needed to warm another batch of liquid, I went ahead and made the other bowl with butter and cream, and those were tasty, too. I put chives in the vegan ones and cracked black pepper in the dairy ones and that made it easy to keep them straight on the table.

Vegan Green Bean Casserole - This came out very well and disappeared, so I guess other people liked it, too.

Brussels Sprouts Salad - Made with quinoa, cranberries, and pecans with an orange vinaigrette, it was a really delightful mix of textures and flavors.

Beet Salad - Another great combination of flavors and textures. We served the goat cheese and vinaigrette on the side.

Anne's Famous Cloved Yams - This year's version was vegan and gluten-free butternut squash with apples and cinnamon.

Brian's Pumpkin Bread - We got to sample this a couple of weeks ago and I think this loaf was even better--so light and tasty!

Lynne's Apple Butter - We have the best neighbors and this was delicious on the pumpkin bread.

Truffled Lobster Mac & Cheese - Alice has never been fond of any of the traditional Thanksgiving foods and that bothers me more than perhaps it should. So this year I said that I had noticed and would really like to make something special that she would be excited about. She liked that idea and suggested this. I was a little nervous--I've only made mac & cheese from scratch once before and this required a lot of attention just at the crazy "getting it all on the table" part of the process. But it worked really well and Alice and ate two servings and couldn't stop telling me how much she loved it.

Winter Fruit Compote - This is really easy and very tasty. It would work really well mixed with oatmeal. The one thing I would change is to cut the liquid to about a quarter of what's called for in the recipe.

Whipped Coconut Cream - Today's didn't work out as well as when I followed this recipe precisely, but it's delicious and you should do as they say.

Petsi's Pies - Beckie brought pecan and pumpkin pies and they were both really yummy.

Whipped Dairy Cream - sweetened with maple syrup!

Brian's Wonderful Fudge - because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

I did a lot of prep over the past couple of days and had a lot of help, both preparing the food and table, and cleaning up afterward. In some ways this felt like one of the easiest Thanksgivings I've ever done. There's one more load of dishes for the dishwasher, but otherwise the kitchen is clean and I'm thinking I'll turn in early, feeling extremely thankful.
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...before I forget!

Last month we spent a week in Hawaii. Jason had a C++ meeting to attend in Kona, but decided that he didn't want to just hear about our adventures at dinner this time, so we all flew out for a week on Maui before Alice and I came home and he hopped over to the Big Island for his meeting.

TRANSIT
We flew from Logan to LAX and then straight to Maui. That broke the journey into two halves and our transfer gates were near to each other, so transitions were easy. In LA they had replaced the aircraft with a smaller one, so thirty people were getting bumped (they were offering $1000 credits to wait until later that night) and it briefly looked dicey for Jason, but we all made it on in the end.

HOTEL
We got a really great deal at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua and I was ready for some serious downtime, so we took it. It was hard to convince Jason to just hang around the resort and relax when there were still corners of the island to explore, but we managed it at least one full day!

Our room was great--enormous, with a separate living room so we could put Alice to bed and still have the lights on. There was a good kitchen (microwave, toaster, coffee, fridge & freezer, dishwasher, sink, reasonably stocked with glasses, utensils, etc.). If I were going back there I would stock up on breakfast food and do that in the room--we mostly ended up stopping by Starbucks for breakfast sandwiches on our way to wherever. I was amused to notice that our room was further from the front desk than our house is from the T, back here in Somerville.

The pools and hot tubs were lovely. The beach was about a quarter mile down the hill, with a cafe and towel stand right there. It was a lovely beach with great waves--a little too rough on our last day, after the storm, but otherwise perfect for bouncing. The food at the poolside restaurant, cafe and Club Lounge (where we were invited for breakfast one morning) was all very good. The staff were uniformly pleasant and eager to please. Alice and I got pedicures in their spa--it surprised me that it's tucked down under the hotel, rather than taking advantage of their relaxing views. I also took a very good Yoga Flow class one morning that really helped to work the kinks of travel out of my body--if that teacher were local, I would seek him out!

The one problem--and it turned out to be only temporary--was a power outage during the storms on Friday night. We arrived back at our hotel to be told there was no power (and therefore no AC) in our rooms. Power in the lobby and the hallways, but nothing in our rooms and the pathway lights throughout the resort were out. The staff gave us flashlights and glowsticks and used extra glowsticks to line all the paths. Jason and Alice hung out and read while I decided to go ahead back to the restaurant where we'd dined to collect the camera Alice had left behind, rather than wait for the next morning. By the time I returned, about an hour later, the staff were just coming down the hall to tell us the power was back on. More of an adventure than an inconvenience, but a memorable one.

If we were going back, we would probably try staying on the other side of the island, maybe in Kihei. While Kapalua was lovely, it felt far away from everything we wanted to do and we (and by "we" I mean "I") spent a lot of time driving back and forth around the island. But if you are a stay-at-the-resort type, I think the Ritz can't be beat.

THINGS WE DID
(in approximately chronological order)

Ziplining! I've been wanting to try ziplining forever and Alice enjoyed it at camp this summer. Many of the places won't allow kids under 10/under 70 lbs. but we were able to try Maui Zipline. The lines weren't terribly high and on a cloudy day the views weren't the greatest, but our guides were friendly and funny and made the whole thing a blast.

Snorkeling! We took Blue Water Rafting's Molokini Express Tour. Bounding over the waves, with Alice sitting on the pontoon of the boat, holding the lines with fingers and toes and laughing at the wind in her hair while the speakers blasted "All Right Now" was a moment of pure joy. And snorkeling in the Molokini crater was simply amazing--the water so deep and clear, the coral elaborate and brightly colored, the fish abundant...it really might be the best thing in the whole world.

Sugar Museum It's a small place, but a fascinating glimpse of life on the sugar plantations in the 19th and early 20th century, mostly before mechanization. The sugar industry demanded a huge labor force and was the driver of a lot of immigration from a wide variety of places around the globe. The thing that will probably stick in my mind was a mannequin dressed in the manner of a Chinese woman worker--on a day that was at least 90F, just looking at the layers and layers of clothing they wore to keep out the dust and the gigantic centipedes (don't look if you are at all squicked by many-legged bugs) made me sweat and shudder. Admission is $7 for adults and for $10 you get a pass that lets you into two other small museums in Lahaina.

Pineapple Tour! The only pineapple plantation left in the United States, the Maui Gold plantation in Hali'imaile is an impressive operation. They are doing a lot to create more sustainable and less wasteful production and their pineapples are delicious. We stood out in the field with our guide while he sliced and served us pineapples at varying degrees of ripeness until we couldn't eat another bite. When the pineapple's stay on the peduncle (the stalk) longer, they take on flavors of coconut and get much sweeter, so it's like eating solid pina colada fruit. The tour includes a boxed pineapple for each guest--Jason took one to his meeting, we shared one at home, and I took the third to Alice's classroom for a demonstration. On the tour, Alice made a friend--Ruby, from Dallas--and we decided to continue onto the separate distillery tour and then followed them to lunch, so the girls would have more time to play together.

Sunset at Haleakala! It was a grey, rainy afternoon as we started up the mountain. The well-maintained road is a series of tight switchbacks and as we approached 4000 feet, we could see the clouds right above us. We drove into the fog, back and forth, wondering if there were any point in continuing. The clouds were thick up past 6000 feet...7000 feet...8000 feet...9000 feet. And then we saw a small spot of blue above us and at 9600 feet we emerged into clear skies. Arriving at the summit, forty degrees cooler than sea level, we had about twenty minutes to enjoy a picnic supper as we watched the sun drop slowly and gloriously into the lake of clouds below us. I decided that I'd had enough hairpins for one day, so Jason took the wheel for the only time all week to drive us back down in the foggy dark.

Maui Ocean Center Ruby's 6th birthday was on Thursday and her family invited us to join them for breakfast in the Club Lounge, where the staff surprised her with balloons, a special dessert, and various presents from the Logo Shop. Her big present was a skateboard that her parents had brought from Dallas; Ruby and Alice had a great time finding ways to play with it on the lanai while the grown-ups chatted. Then we all piled into cars and went to the Maui Ocean Center. It was a nifty aquarium and we were sorry not to have more time there.

Trailriding! Alice loves riding and was very excited to do it in Hawaii. We had tried all week, but been thwarted by the weather and full rides. On Friday we decided to give up on the ranch near us and head to the other side of the island for a ride at the Mendes Ranch. They had said they'd ride, rain or shine, and they were good to their word: it was drizzling most of the time we were out and outright poured for about ten minutes. I don't think I have ever been that soaked while fully dressed in my life. The trails were steep and rocky and with streams of rainwater pouring down them, Alice said "Mama, it's like riding up a waterfall!" But warm rain's not so bad and it was definitely an adventure to remember!

Wo Hing House We tried a couple of times to get here, finally making it for the last half-hour of their day one afternoon. It's another very small place, but fascinating--I had never known that Sun Yat Sen was educated in the US and lived in Maui for some time. In the cookhouse they show vintage films of life in Hawaii, taken by Thomas Edison around the turn of the 20th century.

'Ulalena This cross between a hula show and Cirque du Soleil was a fascinating and beautiful explorations of some of the Hawaiian mythology. The dancers were very skilled and used puppetry, acrobatics, inventive costuming, and a good dash of humor to explore significant stories for us. Alice was very amused by Kamapua’a, the pig god who lusts after Pele, bouncing his hip-level pig snout after her all through the forest.

Shopping! We're not big holiday shoppers, but we did spend two afternoons wandering the shopping areas in Maalaea and Lahaina. In Maalaea we found quite reasonably priced, good quality t-shirts for all of us and a few other trinkets. There is a market of local craftspeople that was fun to explore, as well. In Lahaina I found another dress--I don't know whether it's a general shift, or if Maui just has wider selection, but it was much easier to find dresses in my size this time than when we were in Kona in 2012. In Lahaina we bought plumeria necklaces for me and for Alice and a book of the art of Victor Kush--beautiful, whimsical, surrealist paintings and sculptures. With that bag in hand we were catnip for the folks in the other galleries along the way and got the full "oh, let me show you this in a private room" treatment, which was kind of fun.

PLACES WE ATE

Sansei This excellent sushi place just a few minutes walk from the front door of our resort was an easy choice for dinner more than once, especially once Alice discovered that she loved their Dynamite Shrimp (tempura with a sweet & spicy aioli)--the first shrimp dish she's ordered since giving up seafood when she was three. We grown-ups enjoyed their sushi and excellent wine.

Beach Bum's We had a good lunch here, at the recommendation of our ziplining guide. Their portions are enormous--we ended up taking a bunch back to our room and being glad we had a kitchen to store it.

Flatbread We found the Paia location of a local fave. It was mostly just the same, but Alice decided she likes the Somerville one better--fresh mango juice apparently doesn't outweigh bowling. Not being air conditioned, it was a hot place on a very warm day, but an easy lunch.

Plantation House We got one of the best views of the week from our table at Plantation House, and a lovely meal just up the road from our resort.

Mama's Fish House We followed Ruby and her family to this local landmark just outside Paia and had a wonderful meal of fresh, local fish in a setting that manages to do full Polynesian style kitch in a way that seems natural and tasteful. The bathroom was decorated with pages from the local newspaper featuring ads for Mama's back to the 70's, alongside the movies that were playing and ads for what was surely very stylish clothing at the time. They have an inn as well and I'd consider staying there another time.

Mana Foods The local groovy grocery store (think Bread & Circus, circa 1978) provided a nice picnic meal for our excursion to the summit of Haleakala.

Japengo This award-winning fusion restaurant gave us a chance to explore the Hilton Ka'anapali, between Kapalua and Lahaina. We watched their lobby penguins bedding down for the night as we waited for our table and then had a really wonderful meal. Alice wanted the pizza, but I explained to her about learning to order the right thing in the right place and talked her into the chicken fried rice, which she adored, while we ate more amazing local fish.

Sale Pepe Having promised Alice we would find a pizza place for her, we tried this highly rated joint in the heart of Lahaina and were not disappointed.

Monkeypod We were told this place was worth the trip, and that we had to try the pie, so we stopped in Wailea on our way to the airport and had a tasty, casual dinner with amazing pie for dessert.

WEATHER
While we obviously have a lot of good stories to tell about our week, the weather was really oppressive. The first part of the week was in the 90s and very muggy if you got more than ten feet from the ocean. The latter half of the week was the same, with rain--heavy at times--added into the mix. I ended up driving through the same, extremely localized, torrential thunderstorm three times on Friday night. I know this is an unusual year, weather-wise, but I'd probably pick a different season to try Maui again.
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I had a conversation yesterday with a group of local theatre folk, a couple of whom I was meeting for the first time. While I've written in the past about the many different considerations that go into casting, something new emerged that I hadn't realized explicitly.

When I'm casting (a process that takes into account each actor's performance in auditions, other work I've seen them do, whether they're good cast-members, whether they're new, whether they will increase our diversity, whether they are a good fit in the cast I'm putting together, etc.) I am usually asking on some level, "What will the actor learn in this role?"

When I said this, one of the other people said "But you wouldn't want a whole cast of people working outside their comfort zone," and I'm not sure of that. I think that in general I always want my actors to be working, to be reaching. I rarely cast people entirely against type--while I tend to find type-casting insipid, casting against type is tricky--but I do try to cast actors where they will be doing something at least a little new. This is harder with smaller, background roles, because there is less scope to many of them. I've made casting offers that basically say "I know this role would be easy for you, and therefore you may not want to take it, but I could really use your skills in it." But I've also not cast the obvious choice in roles because I thought that would be too easy and therefore not fun for the actor, and therefore not exciting for the audience.

And I wonder--do other directors recognize this? Do you do it explicitly, or not at all?

One of the many reasons I'm looking forward to Metamorphoses is that I think the nature of the script will require stretching from every member of the cast--and there are no small parts.

NB: I realize I'm posting here less. I would like to be writing more and I need to think more about why I'm not doing that and what changes I might make to re-focus.
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Theatre@First is thrilled to announce our next mainstage show! Told through a series of Greek myths, Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses is a timeless tale of the transformational power of love. Twelve actors will take on eighty roles, from gods to monsters, in this Tony Award-winning ensemble play. Actors of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicity are encouraged to audition. Join Artistic Director Elizabeth Hunter for a fun and challenging theatrical adventure in 2016.

For more information and to schedule your audition, please visit our website.

AUDITIONS
December 1-2 at Unity Somerville

PERFORMANCES
April 8-16 at the Davis Square Theatre

Don't miss your chance to be part of an unforgettable show! SIGN UP TODAY TO AUDITION

And catch our current production, The Importance of Being Earnest, performing Nov 12-21 at Unity Somerville!
lillibet: (Default)
My sister posted an article about The Tasting Counter, a new restaurant opening in Somerville. It sounded very much up our alley and we are trying to take as much advantage of Alice being out of town as possible, so we went.

The Tasting Counter lives up to its name--tucked into a corner of the Aeronaut Brewery, it is an open kitchen surrounded by a counter that could seat up to twenty. There were twelve of us tonight and we were at one end. One of the Aeronaut owners was at the opposite corner. The team is fairly small--just the chef, three sous chefs, the sommelier, and the chef's wife who keeps things running smoothly. There is a choice of beverage pairings (wine, beer, sake, or non-alcoholic) and we had chosen the wine.

Details behind the cut )

Overall, Peter Ungár's work reminds me most of the meal we had last year at The Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs, but where that tipped slightly over into more interesting than good, this one was solidly delicious from first to last. Ungár has an incredible grasp of flavor and has clearly put a lot of research into his methods and combinations. This kind of meal does not come cheaply, but at $150 per person--including beverages--it's really a steal, and the ticketing format (all-inclusive in advance, no need to bring your wallet) is very relaxing.

The one refinement I would like to see--not just here, but at every kitchenside meal I've had--is more effort put into the interaction. The staff should all be introduced at the beginning of the evening. Rather than describing the dishes when they are served they should be introduced when they begin plating, so that the diners can be more engaged in the process, instead of guessing what's happening. I realize that puts a lot of pressure on the team and not all cooks enjoy interacting with their guests, but I think it would add significantly to the experience and really set it apart from eating in the dining room.

Having a restaurant like this within walking distance of home is an incredible development. I'm really excited to go back as the menu changes and see what other surprises Chef has in store.
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[livejournal.com profile] greenquotebook inspired me to name twenty songs that might make up a playlist from my childhood and that seemed like fun. I don't have the patience to really curate a playlist, but here are the first twenty songs I can think of that I knew before I was twelve.

1) Saturday, in the Park
2) Sit Down, John
3) On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at
4) What’s the Buzz
5) Monster Mash
6) Johnny Tremaine
7) I’d Really Love to See You Tonight
8) One Tin Soldier
9) Renegade
10) Let Love Keep Us Together
11) Spiderweb
12) Big Shot
13) Really Rosie
14) In the Mood
15) Hey There, Lonely Girl
16) The Party by Phil Ochs
17) My Favorite Things
18) Time in a Bottle
19) Take It on the Run
20) Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
lillibet: (Default)
I made dinner tonight for a couple of vegan friends (one of whom is also gluten free). They seemed to like it, so I'm keeping notes:

Tuscan Vegetable Soup - I played around with this recipe--didn't use zucchini, added some tamari for increased umami, pureed everything and then threw in a few handfuls of gluten-free elbows.

Vegan Caesar - I stuck to the recipe pretty closely. The dressing and the faux-parmesan were both tasty and remarkably like the flavors of what they imitate, but grittier. I added tomatoes to the romaine and served olives, marinated mushrooms and marinated roasted artichoke hearts on the side, which worked well and let people adjust their salads to taste.

Hot Fruit Compote - This was quite tasty, but I think I would do it in a smaller casserole next time.

Coconut Whipped Cream - This is definitely a good substitute for whipped cream and worked especially well with the pineapple-containing compote.
lillibet: (Default)
Another one from [livejournal.com profile] writersblock:

Do you connect or identify with any particular fictional character? If so, which one and why? If you could be that character in their world for one day, what would you do?

[livejournal.com profile] greenquotebook wrote a great response to this one, inspiring me to give it a try.

This is not a way that I tend to think about characters, perhaps because I am too essentialist in viewing gender. I think I tend to identify with lead characters, but their tendency to maleness gets in the way of true sympathy for me.

The exception that I can think of is Lizzy, from Pride and Prejudice--her wit and tendency to enjoy her own, her observation of others and tolerance for their faults. But I am also Lydia, at least in the way my sisters see me, and I think that gets at a key issue in my identifications--they are more often because I recognize the relationship than the character itself. I am Marianne, but only because B. is Elinor. I am Kirk, but only because I hang out with Spock a lot and have several Bones and Scotties. I am Ferris, but that never occurred to me until I married a Cameron. Of course, we are both Pooh, so that helps :)

But considering it further, I think that I do not look for myself in books. I look for other options, other ways of being that feel authentic to me.

How about you? Are there characters with whom you strongly identify? Are there characters that make you think of me? Is that kind of identification something that you look for in your fiction?

Cancun

Feb. 24th, 2015 09:50 pm
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Jason and I just spent a really lovely week in Cancun with Alice and Beckie. I'd been there several times in the late 80s (twice with B.) and then not again, so it was particularly interesting to see how much everything has changed.

Back then, most of the local workers lived in Puerto Juarez. Now Cancun City has over a million residents. Back then "shopping" meant going to the local market and haggling for handmade souvenirs. Now there are several malls of stores like Prada, Armani, Hugo Boss. Back then the highway south along the coast was one lane in each direction, with dirt turn-offs leading to gorgeous, deserted beaches. Now that's the Riviera Maya, with wall-to-wall resorts punctuated by theme parks built around the treacherous little inlets that had some of the most amazing snorkling in the world. At the Mayan ruins jutting out of dusty fields you were welcome to climb up and around and over, poking into every corner. Now there are paths and palm trees and polite little guide-ropes warning you away. Before there was a sense of discovery. Now there is investment and employment and at least a gloss of ecological responsibility. It's much safer now, for good and ill. There is a Starbucks in the ticketing plaza (there's a ticketing plaza) at Tulum--there are Starbucks everywhere--and they get more than a million visitors each year. The world is a smaller place.

Notes, Mostly for My Own Reference )
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When we lived in London, Jason went to see Copenhagen. Something about the description and the reviews put me off and I didn't go with him. He quite enjoyed it, but even his positive comments didn't sway me. And then Porpentine Players announced that they would be performing it, with Ron Lacey in the role of Heisenberg, and here's the thing: I would show up to watch Ron Lacey read the phone book. Seriously--I'm convinced he would do it with grace and humility and a restrained sense of humor, finding all the nuances in it and making it a great evening of theatre. And I'm generally a fan of Porpentine and want to support them. I wasn't exactly looking forward to it, especially after reading a negative review that hated the script and didn't love the production, either, but I still wanted to be there.

It was marvelous. Jaw-droppingly, stunningly, amazingly marvelous.

In many ways Copenhagen reminds me of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, with its repetitions and re-statements of a central theme, coming at a problem from all angles. That's not its only similarity with Stoppard's work: Frayn is also concerned with the basic unknowability of history--what exactly happened in private conversation, what precisely was the relationship between people, how can we accurately gauge the motivations that lead us from one moment to another, even well-documented moments reported from several perspectives.

The play focuses on a meeting between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in 1941. In the midst of World War II, the German Heisenberg visits Bohr and his wife and amanuensis, Margrethe, in Occupied Denmark and asks--well, we're never sure precisely what was asked, but it had something to do with the morality of working on the German atomic weapons program. What exactly was asked, what was meant, what was intended, and what was understood forms the backbone of the play, as the three characters--"now we are all dead and no one can be hurt"--argue it back and forth, running through multiple "drafts" of their collective memory.

Physics is the backdrop of the story, the water they are swimming in, the air that they breathe, the meat that they gnaw throughout the script. The program helpfully provides short explanations of a cloud chamber, the two-slit experiment, Heiseberg's Uncertainty Principle and Bohr's Complementarity Principle, all of which have bearing on the theoretical underpinnings of nuclear weapons. I think it's possible to enjoy the play even if you don't understand the physics, but a basic understanding definitely helps the viewer not to get lost in the details.

But the story is, as all stories are, about the people involved. The relationship between Bohr and Heisenberg is beautifully drawn, sketched out from many different angles. They were, in many ways, like father and son, for better and worse, and that relationship is complicated and shaded by the death of two of Bohr's sons, particularly Christian, whose death in a boating accident becomes one of the repeated refrains of the script. Margrethe is the mother--caring, supporting, badgering and chivying the men through to the end. Bohr repeatedly urges Heisenberg to explain his ideas in "plain language," rather than relying solely on mathematics, "so that Margrethe can understand it," but it is clear that Margrethe understands not only the physics, but the physicists, in ways that they cannot understand themselves.

The cast was spectacular. They made these characters breathe and live through incredibly dense material. Floyd Richardson's Bohr is a difficult father, whose frustration erupts through the gentleness of his facade. Ann Carpenter's Margrethe is patient, but merciless. And Ron Lacey's Heisenberg is a creation of surpassing beauty--nuanced, detailed, and specific in ways that surprised and delighted me throughout the show. Director Jon Taie creatively used the space and designed the blocking so that the characters' orbits are constantly shifting around each other, reminding the audience of the particles under discussion and the nuclear forces that bind us together.

It was not a perfect performance. The Nave Gallery space has many limitations--the most distracting one for me was the sound of the projector used to show us images of the scientists and family members mentioned. There were various stumbles over the complex and repetitive lines as the momentum of the conversation sometimes ran faster than the actors could keep up. And while Taie managed the challenge of directing in 3/4 round with more grace than most, there are the inevitable moments when it isn't working for some segment of the audience. As a director there were certainly times I thought how I might have done it differently--that's part of the joy of theatre for me--but overall I was incredibly impressed.

You can read [livejournal.com profile] sovay's similar, but far more poetic review here, or that negative review I mentioned, if you're curious. But first, you should buy tickets to see it this coming weekend, before it closes and you've missed an incredible show.

Punishment

Jan. 6th, 2015 02:48 pm
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Just recently I've been thinking about punishment, and the urge to punish. I see it in public situations (e.g. people being ok with Mike Brown's death if he did, in fact, rob that convenience store; people being ok with the woman shot by her 2 year old with her own gun) even when the "punishment" far outweighs the "crime", and I see people advocating punishment for public figures for a wide variety of infractions, including hypocrisy, faithlessness, and success. I also see it in more personal interactions--people talk about punishing their partners or potential partners, or their kids, medical staff seem frequently to punish their patients for not doing or being what the practitioner thinks they should be. Then there's slut-shaming and sexual assault and the punishment aspects of those.

Talk to me about this. Is this urge something you recognize in yourself? When is punishment reasonable? For all infractions? Of whose rules? Who has the right to punish? Should success be punished? Is punishment effective in changing behavior, or does it just make us feel good? Does it make us feel good? Are we attempting to impose shame externally? How do you react to punishment? Do you punish yourself? Do you think you should be punished?
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If someone with courage and vision can rise to lead in nonviolent action, the winter of despair can, in the twinkling of an eye, be turned into the summer of hope.

It is possible to live in peace.

Nonviolence is not a garment to put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.

It is possible to live in peace.

Nonviolence, which is a quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain. It is a plant of slow growth, growing imperceptibly, but surely.

It is possible to live in peace.

If a single person achieves the highest kind of love it will be sufficient to neutralize the hate of millions.

It is possible to live in peace.

If we are to reach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.

It is possible to live in peace.

The future depends on what we do in the present.

It is possible to live in peace.

-- based on the writings of Mohandas K. Gandhi

Revels?

Dec. 19th, 2014 08:11 pm
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I'm facing the fact that taking a coughing kid to Christmas Revels isn't going to work. Anyone interested in 2 Adult/1 Child tickets to the 7:30pm show tomorrow (Saturday 12/20)? They cost us $180 and I'd love to get some of that back, but if you could use them, let me know.

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