Archive for August, 2012


Silly humor is what we need on this full moon eve of Labor Day weekend.   May this post spawn erupting chuckles  so that one might avoid any spontaneous black clouding.   Enjoy.

Many cultures have identifying characteristics.  You can always recognize those folks by their serenely peaceful nature.  No doubt they practice Buddhism when we’re not looking.  

Tree-huggers often reveal their gentle nature by their flowing hair – on their heads, under their arms, on their legs.  Generally they don’t squash bugs and they don’t eat cows.

You can always spot those “You’re a redneck if” by the gun mounts on their trucks.    Recently they seem to have infiltrated locations that didn’t fight with the confederates.

And then there are the Yiddish Buddhas for whom It is extremely important to understand the really meaningful things in life, such as the Eastern religion combined with Eastern European wisdom.”  Author unknown.

Be here now.  Be someplace else later.  Is that so complicated?

Drink tea and nourish life; with the first sip, joy; with the second sip, satisfaction; with the third sip, peace; with the fourth, a Danish.

Wherever you go, there you are.  Your suitcase is another story.

Accept misfortune as a blessing.  Do not wish for perfect health, or a life without problems.  What would you talk about?

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single Oy.

There is no escaping karma.  In a previous life, you never called, you never wrote, you never visited.  And whose fault was that?

Zen is not easy.  It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have?  Bupkis.

The Tao does not speak.  The Tao does not blame.  The Tao does not take sides.  The Tao has no expectations.  The Tao demands nothing of others. The Tao is not Jewish.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Forget this and attaining Enlightenment will be the least of your problems.

Let your mind be as a floating cloud.  Let your stillness be as a wooded glen.  And sit up straight.  You’ll never meet the Buddha with such rounded shoulders.

Deep inside you are ten thousand flowers. Each flower blossoms ten thousand times. Each blossom has ten thousand petals. You might want to see a specialist.

Be aware of your body.  Be aware of your perceptions. Keep in mind that not every physical sensation is a symptom of a terminal illness.

The Torah says, Love your neighbor as yourself.  The Buddha says, There is no self.   So, maybe we’re off the hook.

Everyone should see a Ballet once in their lifetime…even if you end up not liking it.  To see Ballet in HD on the big screen gives you an appreciation of a dancers’ incredible athleticism whether you can follow the story line or not.   Often it doesn’t matter.  It originated during the Italian Renaissance around the 15th century but was further as a concert dance form in France and Russia to be primarily performed with classical music.  The world originates in the Latin Ballo, Ballare, meaning to dance.  Many have never had any exposure to this glorious art form, but now, thanks to some very smart and forward thinking promoters who have glommed on to the Metropolitan’ Opera’s Live in HD smash-up that is in its third season of live broadcasts, we – the great unwashed – are being treated to the best of the best – wonderful productions from the Royal Ballet in London, and now the Bolshoi Ballet showing of Ramonda August 26 at our local cinema, The River in Rancho Mirage.  So sad that Cinnemark can’t be bothered to promote what they are offering.  But word of mouth is a powerful thing, isn’t it?  So pass this one on to all your friends and I’ll keep you posted as more become available. 

As more and more world-wide venues upgrade to the requisite equipment to film these incredible productions, we the audience get to enjoy resources such as Emerging Cinemas  and others who are treating us not only to Ballet but also to Shakespeare at the Globe in London (last year we saw three outstanding offerings); The Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada which brought us Christopher Plummer in The Tempest (reviewed in my June 16th post; Opera from Teatro Alla Scala, Bologna and of course the grandest of old ladies, The Metropolitan Opera in New York City.  Last year the LA Phil gave us two fantastic live concerts from Disney Hall with Gustavo Dudamel, that 30-year-old wunderkind who is by far the world’s greatest conductor.  To watch him conduct up close and personal through the lens of the camera, you know exactly why the LA Phil has become the world’s premiere orchestra. 

Television is doing its best to keep up with the competition of culture at the big cinema, and kudos should go out to reality shows that are delighted to sift through the worst of the worst  America has to offer in order to unearth the pure, unadulterated talent that is out there, lurking in obscurity while praying for Big Bucks Hollywood to come knocking.  Of course, “the worst” are what boost the ratings…like a passing a train wreck…we just can’t pull our eyes away from the wretchedly sad characters who are like junkies clawing their way towards that fifteen seconds of fame, no matter how personally embarrassing.  I’m always amazed at the audience’s ability to revere talent and in the same breath wallow in the most pathetically awful examples of what humanity can produce when run amuck.

Here’s a quick run down of some of my favorites.    The Voice  got its legs last season even though much of the format is cheesy-over-the-top.   Fortunately the talent does shine through if you can ignore the ridiculous posturing of the judges (the Sing Off was an exception to that criticism) whose egos just can’t resist competing with the naive contestants who so desperately crave stardom, all the while whining about how they’ve “worked soooooo hard” to get there. 

Hey!  “Hard work” is the only thing that will ever get you anything, anywhere!  Suck it up.  By some twist of fate you landed in the big leagues, put on your big girl panties and deal with it.  Stop the sniveling.  There is a huuuge difference between ‘a star wannabe’ and having the true, undeniable passion that drives you to do what you do.  You sing or dance, because you simply can not, not sing or dance.  That is what pushes through the most painful rejection and crushing disappointment that is the gauntlet of ‘making it’ in the entertainment business today.   Make no mistake:  it is The Most Ruthless of Businesses.

The X Factor  format plays this waaaaay over the top and can border on emotional cruelty when they take advantage of contestants who are  not emotionally stable enough to endure the  incredible demands of the competition.  You think life is tough?  You think training for a marathon would be tough?  Try going through thirteen weeks of non-stop, 24-hour, rehearsals; weekly performances of not one but two or three pieces that must be polished to perfection;  learning new material; no sleep; mentors pushing and pulling according to what they think makes a star, yada yada yada.  ‘They – the mentors, the suits, the fans, the judges –  pick at your clothes, crab about your hair, complain about your choices until you begin to wonder..is this about the contestant or is this about conflict = ratings?   Only the most centered, healthy individual can endure such pressures…not some fragile individual just out of drug rehab or into their third month of sobriety.   Anybody worried about what happens to those tender souls when they get tossed on the reject pile in front of twenty million viewers and some idiot MC grabs them and says “tell me how you’re feeling?”   However, the X Factor,  in spite of itself and nasty old Simon Cowel (who isn’t anything of the sort)  last season did produce the most amazing winner,  Melanie Amaro.  This little singing angel didn’t go in for the drama –  she just stood there and sang her heart out and it was NO CONTEST!   The cream does rise to the top!     

The Sing Off was an a-capella format featuring real singers with incredible musicality who simply let their true vocal chops do the work.  What a breath of fresh air.   Made up of mostly young college singing groups, the audience was treated to a refreshing “revisit” to those salad days when gorgeous four, five, and six-part harmonies were popular.  No dependence on mechanics and technical tricks which camouflages the lack of true vocal talent in the majority of  today’s “stars.”   But of course!  Sadly but predictably, NBC in it’s usual lack of class/talent/intelligence canceled the show because it was up against said X Factor.  Guess there wasn’t enough blood on the floor.  However, there is a social media campaign to reinstate it.  Let’s see if the power of Social Media can win one for quality vs quantity. 

One of the most wonderful reality competitions is  So You Think You Can Dance, in its ninth season.   This year’s group of contestants shows us the incredible athleticism necessary in these world-of-dance genres – from hip-hop to ballroom and ballet.  Their routines are as demanding as anything our olympic athletes showed us last month.  It’s lovely, too,  to see the choreographers getting a bit of fame-rub-off, as they are publicly applauded for their amazing choreography each week.  These judges do take their roles seriously and it shows.  The format is geared to bring out the best.   Their sharp but fair critiques don’t sugar coat their tough love message that the execution of the routine didn’t make the grade.  This past week, they had the option of saving one beautiful dancer, Cheon, who even though he is clearly the most talented and best trained dancer in the group, had not garnered the requisite votes to stay in the competition.  I suspect that he’s just not grinning and pandering to the audience, as he is a very serious dancer (trained at the Royal Ballet in London.)   Head judge and executive producer (not only this show but also American Idol,)  Nigel Lithgoe, put it very simply: For some, dancing is an option, but for dancers like Cheon, it is the only option.  How right you are Nigel. 

In all, talent is everywhere, quality programing is there, and culture is alive and well, albeit sandwiched between the annoyingly crass need to sell stuff and pander to the worst in all of us.  But thanks to technology, we just tape the show and then watch it later and wiz through those commercials.  So – I’m willing to sift through the train wrecks to applaud the hard work and raw talent that  finally has a chance to be seen and heard.  For so many years TV fed us such a bland, empty-calorie-diet of mindless pabulum,  all this reality fever is a welcome change.   Nothing like high drama awash with tears and trauma.

A housekeeping note.  I was inspecting the way this blog appears when it arrives in your e-mail box.   Horrors!   I am reminded once again that technology is NEVER what it’s cracked up to be.  Depending on your operating system, the size of your monitor, the search engine you use;  my carefully crafted blog can come crashing, banging, sliding into your computer system like a drunken sailor!  Not to mention the typos that sneak through even after ten rewrites. (Yes, writing does not come flying out of anyone’s brain, to land perfectly on the page, even if you are Hemingway – it takes many many rewrites.)  So please accept my apologies for anything less than a perfect post.  It’s what I strive for, but as I look back I see that I often fail.  So sorry.  My bad.  My heartfelt thanks for reading.  I’m like those dancers and singers…I can not, not write.  I appreciate the many readers who pop in to see what I’m thinking about, and I especially appreciate it when you pass it along to your friends.  I am humbled and honored.

Leo The Lion

August is a great celebratory month at our house as we get to acknowledge multiple birthdays.  We are a great pride of Lions – seven in all, working our way into the third generation.   It’s the perfect excuse to  frequent our favorite restaurants.  This week I’m sharing with you two that are definitely worth your time and your dollars. 

Pacifica is a lovely gem on El Paseo on the second floor of The Gardens which we frequent regularly.  It’s a great spot for lunch, particularly when the triple digits subside, as their beautiful outdoor patio makes you feel like you’re dining in a New York highrise, floating serenely above ‘the peoples.’  But in August, we opt for the interior; cool, calm and relatively quiet even though there is quite the happening bar scene at the opposite end of the large space.   We are always greeted by a warm hostess who is expecting us (thanks to Open Table which we use all over the US.)  The wait staff are congenial, helpful and yet unobtrusive. 

As the name implies, Pacifica specializes in a tantalizing variety of seafood, but there is also an impressive list of alternatives for the carnivores.  As always, we were not disappointed.  My three companions went for the special sunset seafood medley; small portions of beautifully presented salmon, shrimp and swordfish, moist and centered in a delicate beurre blanc sauce and accompanied by a puree of potato and sautéed spinach.  Side orders of sautéed mushrooms and lightly grilled asparagus were a perfect accompaniment.   I did my usual grilled salmon  (Dr. Perricone would be proud) and what turned out to be the HIT OF THE NIGHT… Lemon Risotto…OMG can you say “to die for?”  I could have made a whole meal of that…and will very shortly when I make it for an upcoming dinner party I’m planning.  Just have to scurry out back and talk to that Meyer lemon tree and tell it to Get A Move On! 

Meyer lemons are soooooo slow but there simply is no substitute.   Ya know it takes a whole year for those little darlings to ripen up?  Fagitabout those yellow styrofoamy things from the supermarket – Fakers!  Our tree is a bit schizophrenic in that it produces Eureka lemons on the branches that are hanging-out over in the neighbor’s garden (a bit of co-mingling going on over there), while the limbs closest to our orange tree produce huge fruit with decidedly orange, dimpled outer peels.  The Meyers are on the front side of the tree that enjoys the most morning sun.  Anyhoo, back on January 16  I wrote a piece about Seafood Risotto and shared a recipe I’m sure is easily adapted. 

For our birthday dessert the restaurant graciously brought out – with candle – one of those killer deserts I know as a Midnight Seduction.  That name certainly conjures up a few censored thoughts doesn’t it?  This dessert was a baby bunt size that ooozed with warm bitter sweet chocolate which I’m certain is generously infused with Grand Mariner.   Well, we were all “infused” after sharing. 

My all time favorite  restaurant is, and has been since we started coming to the desert, Tommy Bahamas, at the other end of The Gardens on El Paseo.   I order the same thing every single time.  I know.  “Boring.”   But when you find a good thing, why screw around? 

We start by sharing:  their delicious, homemade, mouth-watering, hot-out-of-the-oven rolls with honey ginger butter spread.  Next comes “little tastes” of Coconut Shrimp with mango papaya chutney and Asian Slaw, and Crab Cakes with a sweet chilli mustard sauce.   Then if I’m feeling particularly gluttonous I might indulge in the Crab Bisque with sherry, which is the absolutely the best  this side of Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, where She Crabs reign.   My husband generally goes for the Ahi Tuna and I have the luncheon Steak Salad – perfectly grilled and sliced tenderloin of beef, roasted crispy shiitake mushrooms like you have never tasted, cherry tomatoes, some grilled potatoes (that I ignore) and a lovely Vinaigrette.  Then….if you haven’t already rolled yourself out the door…can I just tell you that you really ought to try the Pina Colada Cake with rum, pineapple, chocolate mousse, toasted cocanut…should I continue?

A thousand thank-yous to restaurant manager extraordinaire Waleska Coffman, who always makes our visit seem more like a visit to her own kitchen.  As she flies from busing tables to checking the kitchen to greeting her guests, it’s readily apparent that Waleska not only knows her business, she also makes it her business to know her customers, and a more efficient, eyes-everywhere, warm and engaging woman you will never find.  We are honored by her friendship and grateful for her unfailing, tenacious  attention to the best, beautiful, mouth-wateringly satisfying food in the Valley.

I wish I knew who to whom to give credit for this clever bit about the all the idiosyncrasies of our language but in any case, remember this the next time you hear someone who speaks another language, struggle with ours.

 

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.  Don’t forget, we park in the driveway and drive on the parkway.  So why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese? One index, two indices?

Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? ship by truck but send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?  How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

The bandage was wound around the wound.

The farm was used to produce produce.

The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

We must polish the Polish furniture.

He could lead if he would get the lead out.

The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

They were too close to the door to close it.

The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

 

There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is ‘UP.’  It’s easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP ?  At a meeting, why does a topic come UP?  Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?  We call UP our friends.  And we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver; we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen.  We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car. 

At other times the little word has real special meaning.  People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.  To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special.  A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.  We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.  We seem to be pretty mixed UP aboutUP!  To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary.  In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.  If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used.  It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don’t give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more. 

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP.  When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP.  When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP.  When it doesn’t rain for awhile, things dry UP.

One could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it UP.

 

I love the old Jewish saying:  Give a man a fish and he eats for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime

Doesn’t the current debate between the left and the right really come down to that basic principle?  Half the country wants a fish given to them…every day.  Yes, one can survive that way.  However… the other half believes that by teaching us all to fish,  we survive and thriveSurvived is a good thing when you’re rescued from a burning building.  Survived isn’t such a good thing if you come in dead last at the Olympics.  Of course, some will say just making it to the Olympics is success.  For the Olympics, yes.  But in life, we need to do more than survive. 

Joe Taylor, the CEO of Panasonic North America was recently interviewed by Piers Morgan.  His comments so  resonated with me that I had to capture his words.  When asked about his thoughts regarding businesses sending our American jobs overseas, Taylor said the following:

“I would tell you that in the 80s through the early 90s, we had 24 manufacturing sites in North America and we’ve reduced that by 80 percent today because of competitive pressures around the world.  And what brings competitive pressures?  Consumers and customers and clients …because they want what they want, when they want it, at the price they want it.  And the US has become a difficult place to do manufacturing. 

Taylor went on to talk about the U.S. decline in “foreign and direct investment” over the years, noting “ten years ago, the United States attracted 40 percent of all foreign, direct investments, globally.  Last year, 17 percent.  It means the United States has become a less attractive place for companies around the world to move their manufacturing.”  

Piers followed up:  “What should they [US} do about that?”  

Taylor’s answer“They ought to understand, business is not the enemy….  Politics and government are not the answer to our cities woes.  I believe the answer lies in jobs, and who provides jobs but large, medium and small businesses  – the US now has the highest corporate tax rate in the world.  Something is wrong.” 

When Piers asked Taylor if he would bring those jobs back to the US, Taylor answered, “If it was more attractive to bring jobs back into the US we’d consider it, but the US has a long way to go in attracting those jobs back to the US.  We cannot have a policy change every four years.  [Business needs] consistent government policies that businesses have confidence will extend out over the period of time , at least as long as the investment will last.” 

That’s pretty clear to me.  If businesses and jobs drive the economy, we cannot drive those businesses away with punitive regulations implemented on a whim, and inhospitable tax rates that change with political winds.  Machiavellian as it sounds, there is a movement afoot to make our country far more socialist than imaginable.  They hope the majority won’t notice until it’s too late.  Rome burns while Nero fiddles.   

Is there any thinking person alive today who isn’t worried/concerned/confused about the future of our country?  The liberals blindly hope that their agenda will get four more years to irreversibly change the country.  The conservatives are gnashing their teeth that they won’t be able to persuade enough voters to see the light and reverse course in November. 

Let me paraphrase Rob Lowe‘s  (Yes, that wild liberal Hollywood Hunk)  excellent explanation of the difference between the liberals and conservatives:   like left brain/right brain, liberalism is built on empathy, while conservatism  is based on logic.  Makes absolute, perfect sense to me.  A whole, healthy society needs both characteristics.   In Tai Chi, we say Namaste.  I respect you and you respect me.  We’ve become so polarized that we’ve stopped listening, or respecting, or realizing the NECESSITY OF BOTH SIDES!

So how did the country become so polarized?  One, possibly two generations of our society have drifted through our union-driven, liberal / socialist educational  system, learning nothing about basic economic facts – how governments do or don’t work.  Greece and Spain can give us chapter and verse on that.  Liberals want us all around the commune campfire (or the collective) singing Kumbaya.  Empty calories – feels good at the moment, but does nothing to improve the dire economic news we continue to face.  It will take logic and pragmatism to stabilize the economy.  Liberals:  Make our lives beautiful.  Conservatives:  Make our lives stable.  We have to have one to enjoy the other.    

You hear so much about the founding principles of our country.  Does anyone stop to define those things?  One of our founding principles is that freedom and equal opportunity, competition and exceptionalism make for a better, prosperous country, which in turn makes us better people.  No head start by accident of birth or skin color.  That is exactly why we fought the Revolutionary War.  

We prosper by trying, studying, working harder than the next person.  The more prosperity, the more we are able to care for those who are truly less fortunate – not those who are hopelessly addicted to government largess.  I don’t view those folks as unfortunate, I view them as content to let others do the heavy lifting.    Think about what welfare did to a huge segment of our population?   It kept them dependent.  

As Taylor explained so succinctly, the businesses that provides your job and pays local tax, state tax, federal tax, payroll tax, corporate tax, sales tax, donates to charity, etc., aren’t going to do so if we make it impossible for the business to THRIVE.  Business is not the enemy, it’s the engine that drives the economy that has provided us with the greatest prosperity in the history of the world.

We have two choices.  One:  we can give all our money, our goods and services, our crops, etc., to the government.  We can live in state run housing; be taught by government controlled educational systems – that tell us ONLY what they want us to know –  and the government will decide what we need and when we need it.  We will have absolutely nothing to do but wait, with our brother and sister lemmings, by the trough at feeding time.  There will be no individual freedoms, no thrill of achievement, no pride of success.   Ummmm, sounds like 1950s Soviet Union to me.  How did that turn out? 

Two:  we can find our way back to the middle of the road and get a grip on understanding how economics and opportunity, and work and prosperity, conscience and empathy actually work together to build a sustainable economy that supports us all and gives us independence, strength, and security.  What we do not value, we eventually lose.  Democracy is messy.  It’s work. I think it’s worth it.   A rising tide raises all boats.

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