Be careful what you wish for (and have yourself a merry little Christmas)

(Sensitive readers beware: fear factor ahead!)

Christmas time is here…and I love the holidays. The carols, the decorations, the over-the-top store displays, the Hallmark Channel movies–I love all of it. As I’ve gotten older, I don’t do as much myself. Our Christmas tree is still outside in a bucket waiting for us to have time to bring it inside. I haven’t done any shopping. But I still love to soak it all in wherever I go. I have Pandora on the James Taylor Holiday Channel, from which I’ve realized I actually like singers Josh Groban and Michael Buble (yes, Cathy and Ellen, you told me so).


Like so much of what happens around me anymore, the atmosphere has launched a bit of nostalgia and longing for the Christmas of my childhood. So much excitement! Such specific rituals we followed, and the slow pace that kept an anxious kid like me all pent up, but in a good way. My mother always made us each a special outfit for Christmas day. I specifically remember a red velvet top with a lace collar and pants to match that I wish I still had (in my current size) and a pink velvet midi-dress festooned with pink satin ribbons. I did go through a serious pink phase. And apparently a velvet one, too.

with Santa
Little me with a not very merry or healthy looking Santa.

Oh, the wishes for such treasures as a Lite-Bright and an Easy-Bake Oven, which were never met.

1967 LITE BRITE Vintage 1960s Toy A
Vintage 1967 Lite-Brite.
Easy Bake
Vintage 1960 Easy-Bake Oven.

Or the ones I did get that I wanted so badly. Like the Beautiful Crissy Growing Hair Doll. I loved Crissy so. She had a push-button on her tummy that you could use to wind up her hair to be short or pull it out to be long. As my own hair is always transitioning from long to short or short to long, I was fascinated by this insto-chango approach to hair.


This is where things are going to take a weird turn. Around about 1970 or so, I really wanted a ventriloquist dummy for Christmas. I found one in the toy section of some department store catalog and made sure everyone knew that was what I wanted.

with box
The Danny O’Day model. I had to have it. Him. Whatever.

You know the 1966 book A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd, made into the popular 1983 film of the same name?


All Ralphie Parker wants is a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Set in 1940 in Indiana, the story of Ralphie and his friends Flick and Schwartz and his attempts to evade the bullies Scut Farkus and Grover Dill and Ralphie’s efforts to convince all of the adults in his life that an air rifle is a great idea and that he won’t shoot his eye out. At the end, Ralphie gets his Red Ryder, and remarks that it was the best Christmas ever.

Ralphie and his gun
Best Christmas ever.

Enter me as Ralphie and Danny O’Day as my Red Ryder. The fact that I even wanted a ventriloquist dummy is very strange. I am afraid of clowns and killer Chucky-style dolls. I watched way too much of The Twilight Zone when I was up past my bedtime. There are 2 episodes that feature evil ventriloquist dummies: The Dummy and Caesar and Me. Then there’s a movie I vaguely remember with a mentally disturbed girl and the dolls and stuffed animals in her room that talk to her. They don’t say happy things. Or maybe that was The Twilight Zone, too. No, wait, the Twilight Zone with the murderous doll is the called Living Doll, featuring Talky Tina. This is the stuff of my nightmares.



Again, what made me think I wanted Danny O’Day? Did I think I might have talent as a ventriloquist? Well, I got Danny O’Day, and it was NOT the best Christmas ever. I unwrapped the package, I opened the box, and I screamed. At least I think I did. I know I wanted to. But I dutifully spent the day pretending I loved Danny (who I renamed Charlie) and trying my best to follow the instructions on ventriloquism that came with him. I had no apparent talent for it. And then it was bedtime. I left Charlie in the living room, under the Christmas tree. And stayed awake all night positive that he was going to creep down the hall to my bedroom and kill me if I went to sleep.

He didn’t look that evil. If you start online searching for images of ventriloquist dummies, there are many much creepier examples.

Maybe it was his evil influence over me, but I surprisingly kept Charlie for years. We moved cross-country. We moved several more times. I went to college. I got married. And I still had Charlie. I kept him packed in a trunk (yes, that’s what the idiot humans in all the scary shows do, too, and it doesn’t work), sure he was going to get out eventually.

I had other scares, like the time I was home alone watching television and the trailer for the movie Magic (1978) came on. I turned my head and closed my eyes and tried to block it out. The mute button hadn’t been invented yet, and somehow it didn’t occur to me to immediately change the channel. Charlie-fear reared its evil, ugly head. The film is based on a book written by William Golding (author of Lord of the Flies; that doesn’t go too well for the characters either). Golding also wrote the screenplay. It starred Anthony Hopkins “as a ventriloquist at the mercy of his vicious dummy”.





Yes, I was 17 and home alone for the night, except for Charlie in the trunk, watching television when this came on. Yippee. Needless to say, it was another long, sleepless night.

I did eventually manage to give Charlie away. I am not sure the child who was visiting us  and who thought Charlie was cool really wanted him, but I pretty much gave him no choice but to take Charlie with him. I’ve worried about that child, now a grown man, ever since. Charlie was moved to Turkey with his new person. You might imagine I felt safe. You would be discounting my overactive imagination. The film reel plays out in my mind of Charlie crawling out of his hole, finding his way onto an ocean liner, making his way eventually back to California, and appearing in my doorway, ready for revenge.

Of course I know this won’t happen. It would be silly for a 56-year old woman to hold a lingering childhood fear for a doll who, let’s face it, is a silly looking piece of plastic wearing bad clothes. Honestly, Beautiful Crissy could be said to be just as creepy as Danny O’Day. But still…

Summer before last I went to Maine to attend a week-long residency at the Institute for Humane Education. I was also taking a couple of humane education courses that summer, so I took one of the assigned readings with me to Maine. There I am in a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere, and I take out this book, Consuming Kids: Protecting Our Children from the Onslaught of Marketing and Advertising, by Susan Linn. Sounds innocent enough, and about a noteworthy topic. As I tend to do when I start a book, instead of jumping right in, I decided to read about the author. OMG, Susan Linn is a VENTRILOQUIST (an award-winning ventriloquist, no less) who uses puppets as therapeutic tools with childen. At first I laughed at the idea, then I got the creeps. I’m sorry, if I went to a therapist who turned out to be a ventriloquist, I would end up needing a lot (A LOT) more therapy! I couldn’t read the book. Again, I was in a cabin in the woods in Maine, scene of lots of teen slasher movies. I didn’t sleep all week. That might have been the massive amounts of caffeine and taking showers at 3 a.m. because there 14 of us sharing 1 bathroom, but Susan Linn, Ed.D., ventriloquist/child psychologist didn’t help me any. (Note: I don’t mean to belittle her work in children’s therapy, really.)

Dr. Susan Linn



Now that I’ve turned Christmas into something totally macabre, let’s go back to happy thoughts. I did finally get that Easy-Bake Oven as a 50th birthday gift from Bob. Thank you!

my oven

Maybe some day I’ll get that Lite-Brite.

My wishes this year are simple yet complicated: happiness, joy, kindness, peace…beautiful words, easier said than done. Going back to another childhood Christmas memory, I like to remind myself of the message of A Charlie Brown Christmas, about the spirit of the holiday not being in all of the things and wrappings and show, but in the love, peace, and care we take in ourselves, our loved ones, and the world around us.



I also reread the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol (1843) every year, following Ebenezer Scrooge as he opens his formerly greedy and cold heart to the world around him. If you don’t want to delve into Dickens, there’s always How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Same idea.

Albert Finney as Scrooge, reformed, playing Father Christmas for Tiny Tim, in the 1970 film version.



I’ve posted this video clip before, but it’s become a classic since it was first televised in 1977 and merits reposting. I remember watching it at the time (1977) on the yearly Bing Crosby Christmas special and finding it so beautiful. It still is. It’s not just in the voices, or the melding of two seemingly very different men, from different countries and different generations. It’s in the love and longing for peace.


You can’t go to the store and buy these things. You can’t wrap them up and put them under a tree. But we can give them to each other easily and freely, and we will all sleep better.

Peace, hugs, and have the happiest of holidays.

peace on earth



When a Danish Modern Minimalist tries to live with a Whimsical Collector (and they are the same person)

For Christmas, Bob gave me a book titled Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford.


The note attached said something like “it will all be okay”. I’ve been stressed out by what I perceive to be chaos and mess in our home. I have always prided myself on being a neat freak, with a tidy home and everything in its place. Apparently I have Benjamin Franklin to thank (or curse) for the saying.


As you may know if you ever read this blog, I not only work full time, but I am working on my Ph.D. full time as well. It’s hard to keep everything in its place when you have deadlines and timeclocks. And some of the things I try to keep in their places are alive: right now my extra bathroom is home to a beautiful momma cat and her 4 lively babies. I foster for the East Bay SPCA, plus we share our home with 3 resident rescue cats and Einstein, the ridiculously cute terrier saved from doggy death row.

Foster family Rosarita and her 4 little beans, Fava, Garbanzo, Lima and Lentil.
Einstein; just look at that messy face and try not to fall in love.


Trying to get everyone to sit still for a family Christmas photo proved impossible.


It’s hard to have a houseful of animal companions and not have a certain amount of mess and chaos. Is it a coincidence that one of my other gifts from Bob was the movie The Secret Life of Pets?


I adore Danish Modern furniture and home design. I see the clean wood lines and open spaces and think, “That’s where I want to be.” In my minimalist daydreams, I picture kitchens of big empty countertops and gleaming stainless steel.


And living spaces like Don Draper’s apartment on Mad Men or the Jetson’s sky pad.

Don Draper’s New York apartment on Mad Men.


If asked, I would say the kitchen I drool after is the set for the Eric Ripert show Avec Eric. It doesn’t hurt that Chef Ripert is drop-dead gorgeous, but that’s beside the point.


This picture of a minimalist home makes me swoon.

Think of all the reading and writing I could do in this clean, quiet space.
And the tidy meals we would eat in the dining area.

I think I’d sleep so well in this bedroom, but then I think “where are the dogs and cats?”


My favorite television character of all time is Mr. Monk, played by Tony Shaloub. I identified completely with his dislike of dirt and chaos. Other viewers might think he’s an exaggeration, but I can tell you he’s not.


But in reality, I don’t live this clean, ordered life, as much as I’d like to, or think I’d like to. And if I did move into one of these fabulous spaces, I’d probably start assembling one of my little collections of things and cluttering up the space, and bringing home all of the stray dogs and cats in the neighborhood, and loading the kitchen counters up with gadgets and appliances.

I think of the kitchens that look like they have produced not just good food but good times and family togetherness.

This looks like a kitchen where memories are made.
Julia Child’s kitchen. She lived a good life.

In my own experience, just recently one of the best times I’ve had was cooking Thanksgiving dinner with my friend Bev in her tiny San Francisco apartment kitchen. The crowd of 12 (15? I lost count) of us sat with our plates on her bed and floor and had a blast.


When I finally got my dream trip to Paris a few years ago, the kitchen in our apartment was eclectic country French something-or-other, and it was wonderful. (Note to my vegan friends: I wasn’t vegan yet then so please excuse the cheeses and butter and fish.)

When we went to Oslo a year later, our tiny cabin had a tiny kitchen and even though it was designed for someone 7′ tall, I loved putting together meals there.


My whimsical side has always loved the idea of living like the characters in one of my favorite childhood books, The Borrowers. I could fashion furniture out of thimbles and spools of thread and matchboxes and make my own whimsical clothes (a la Stevie Nicks) from scraps and wisps of fabrics.

The Borrowers, illustration by Emilia Dziubak.
Stevie Nicks

I love the idea of Hobbit Houses and tiny houses and Steampunk houses.


Every time I visit the Berkeley store Castle in the Air, I think I want to live there, with its puppet theaters and doll houses and troll villages.


So which is it, less is more or more is more?

less is more.png

In fashion, I admire Coco Chanel and her classic looks.



But I also want to be Stevie Nicks twirling around in my scarves and skirts.


Mae West said:


But should I take her as a role model? I bet she had a good time and didn’t worry about chaos.

The late fashion designer L’Wren Scott, whose work I only just discovered but find to be quite lovely, said:


Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 5.31.12 PM.png

I am confused! But that’s okay. 2017 is going to be the year that I embrace disorder and chaos. Tim Harford says it’s okay and will make me more creative and resilient.

messy back cover.JPG


After all, Einstein (the other one) was a pretty smart guy and he embraced chaos. So here I go, and I plan to enjoy the ride!


Peace and hugs.

My first vegan holiday feast

Funny thing, when I started this blog I was really planning on it being a food and recipe blog. I do sometimes mention food and restaurants, and I wrote one post Eating Vegan in the East Bay early on. But this is the first time I am writing a post about cooking. A sign of how busy my life has become! This year will be the first time I have planned and prepared a completely vegan holiday meal for family and friends. Non-vegan family and friends, at that. It’s going to be an amazing meal (fingers crossed)!

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 1.17.45 PM
Sounds good to me.

The menu is planned and the shopping list is made.

The shopping list isn’t too bad.

I was getting frustrated searching for vegan appetizers: it seems like all any non-vegans can think of for us is hummus. Don’t get me wrong, I love hummus. But it’s become so ubiquitous that it’s not got that special holiday something about it. But then I found The Full Helping blog

The Full Helping

The Full Helping

You know that hot, gooey, bad for you, but delicious artichoke/spinach dip that became popular in the 1980s? There’s a vegan version! And I’m making it.

Vegan artichoke and spinach dip

Comfort food, mmm.

To balance out the gooey, cashew-cheesiness, of course there should be a salad. One thing I miss as a vegan is a good Caesar salad. And I found a recipe for a vegan one on another plant-based food blog, Oh She Glows, by Angela Liddon.

Oh She Glows

oh she glows

I could just eat a whole big bowl of this and be happy.


Crowd-Pleasing Vegan Caesar Salad

The main event: I wanted to do something special, not a lasagna or a something-over-rice dish. I love to watch food competition television, and on Hell’s Kitchen the contestants are always tripped up by Gordon Ramsay’s Beef Wellington recipe. I was wondering if anyone had ever made a vegan mushroom version, and of course they have. And who knew that Pepperidge Farm puff pastry is vegan?!

Gordon Ramsay is probably about to drop an f-bomb on one of the poor “cheftestants”.
This is bad news for my waistline: it’s vegan.

Enter The Vegan Version blog. Yes, a recipe for Mushroom Wellington! And it sounds a lot easier than anything Gordon Ramsay would throw at me (literally throw, I mean).

The Vegan Version

Holiday plate worthy.

Mushroom Wellington

Gotta have some vegetables on the side, especially at a vegan feast, and after the artichoke dip I didn’t want anything heavy like green bean casserole, but green beans, yes. So it will be a simple green bean sauté with pearl onions and sliced almonds. No recipe required.

green beans

I’m always looking for a reason to get out my Jim Lahey cookbook My Bread. Its the source of the no-knead bread recipe that went viral after Mark Bittman published it in the NY Times a few years ago. Jim Lahey  is the pastry chef at Sullivan Street Bakery (2 locations, 533 W 47th Street and 236 Ninth Avenue, New York) and pizza maker supreme at pizzeria Co. (230 9th Ave., New York), which I have been to once on a pilgrimage a few years ago (pre-vegan days).

bread book


One of the guests is bringing a dessert, but I can’t make a feast without making a dessert, and no meal is complete for me without chocolate anymore, so I figure I’ll make one too. Moosewood Cooks, from the legendary Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca, NY to the rescue!

Moosewood Cooks

I googled “easy vegan chocolate cake” and this is what I got: Moosewood’s Six-Minute Vegan Chocolate Cake.

Moosewood Six-Minute Vegan Chocolate Cake

And now, I have to actually go to a store, my least favorite part of the adventure that is cooking. Going to get my groceries home, put on some Christmas music (James Taylor at Christmas and Tuck Andress Hymns, Carols, and Songs About Snow are the 2 most-played at our house), and get cooking!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Happy Holidays!

Love and Peace to All!