December 3, 2011 — A Life Lived Well — Bill Tapia, “The Duke of Uke”

is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for
music.” So says the noted Russian composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Whether we live long or not-so-long, in the scheme of things, it’s
still a short visit. “Just passing through,” as they say.

We lost a ukulele legend this week: The “Duke of Uke,” Mr. Bill Tapia
He passed away quietly in his sleep. His life was all about
music—playing it, writing it, teaching it, living it, breathing

I marvel at the infinite ways life appears—as you
and me, as someone like Bill whose work brought so much joy to others
and surely contributed to his remarkable longevity and vibrant
spirit. One of my teachers reminded me often that the audience
won’t remember what you sing, or say, or play, but they will remember
how you make them feel.

My husband Craig and I spent an evening with Bill Tapia last August. We drove with him from his home in Fountain Valley,
California south to Carlsbad for the Thursday gathering of the Ukulele
Society of America. He was charming, feisty, impeccably dressed
and a master storyteller who spiced up his tales with the kind of salty
language that I find utterly endearing. Here’s a man who has seen
the parade, who was the parade, who met and mingled and made music with the greats.

that long history is siphoned into his performance that night. He
sings the song “Young At Heart.” He no longer can play the fancy
chords on the uke and is more talk-singing than singing, but he is
speaking and playing the truth. His truth. There isn’t a
drop of artifice there. He is telling me how it feels to be young
at heart, even when the body is going to hell. And that is what I
shall remember.

“Success” means different things to different
people, but for me, it is doing what you love to do, for as long as you
can and finding a way to get paid for it. That means Bill was a
rollicking success! He lived to be 103 years and 11 months.
I would say that is a great run. Thanks Bill for showing us what
is possible — that music keeps us young.

November 25, 2011
— Thanksgiving’s Twilight Zone Marathon

The flu makes its rounds ‘round this time and I’ve been feeling something coming on for a few days now, so I gobble down vitamin C, drop dose after dose
of echinacea and goldenseal on my tongue, suck on sugary
Oscillococcinum, gargle with salt water and slurp chicken soup.
Sometimes all this herbal voodoo works. Unfortunately on this
Thanksgiving, it does not.

My husband and I have big plans after all, to spend the holiday with our adopted family.
There’s a grandma and grandpa, new mom and dad, soon-to-be mom and dad,
the hugely ribald brother (my husband’s best friend) and the
one-year-old baby boy. These wonderful people trust me to bring
the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salad. And I trust them to bring the real stuff! That would
be turkey, vegetables and for me, the wondrous potato in any form,
sublime apple-something desserts, vivid conversation, big laughs and those good “we-are-family” vibes.

nasty germs is not good manners on Thanksgiving so regrettably we have
to cancel. The salad remains unmade in the fridge. I
climb into bed, pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.

But not for long.

I feel so wasted that all I can do is turn on the television and let
the blather wash over me. So I flip through the channels and soon
land on The Twilight Zone Marathon. Creator-genius, Rod Serling,
had his writer’s stethoscope pressed against the heart of human nature
and could wrap this stuff into a good story. How else can you
explain the show’s deep resonance that continues to reverberate over
the generations. He knows what scares us. Let me rephrase
that. He knows what scares me.

When I was a little
girl, I’d watch the Twilight Zone with my parents which is sort of like
swinging on a trapeze with a sturdy net below because the episodes
generally scared the hell out of me, but mom and dad were there to say
“it’s okay, it’s okay.” Nevertheless, certain episodes left
indelible grooves in my memories. Like when a little girl hears a
strange voice coming from the wall. She climbs under the
bed, following the sound, and falls through, oh I don’t know, an
opening into another dimension, and disappears into the wall. I’m
watching this and hyperventilating already, especially when her father,
her daddy, risks life and limb, barreling through the wall into this
murky world of woo-woo.
He grabs the girl and together they jump back into her bedroom, just as
the time-space hole closes. Forever.

At least that is how I remember it…

I know. This is just a T.V. show. But I confess, even after all
these years, decades, when I bend down and look under a bed, a chilly
feeling soaks through me. I’m not kidding. I’m not proud of
this either. I talk myself through it. “Come on Cali, it’s
just a wall.” But let it be known, I don’t spend a lot of time looking under beds.

on this long Thanksgiving weekend, I’m grateful for the whole gestalt
of it all. The Twilight Zone moments, The Andy Griffith Show
moments. It’s all there in this great big sprawling show that is


November 14, 2011
— That Woman Can Swing


My friend Betty Bryant is a loyal member of The CC Strummers, our ukulele group at the Culver
City Senior Center. Cane in hand, she pads into the Thursday
class just before “the bell,” looking gloriously put-together and ready
to make music. It’s ten o’clock in the morning, an ungodly time
of day for a professional musician.

Like many newbies to
the ukulele, certain chords still trip her up and tie her fingers in
knots. A “G” seems innocuous enough, but we start off with the
“diet” version of that chord and for some people that abbreviated form
will be as good as it gets. And that is good enough.

baby finger on Betty’s left hand, her chord-forming hand, is limp and
virtually useless, so she has certain physical challenges when it comes
to playing a fretted instrument, such as a uke. And if that isn’t
enough, she is legally blind in her right eye. We joke about
that, Betty and I, since I am legally blind in my left eye. We
would make quite a pair tripping down the street. Whatever the
issues for those of us with bodies– arthritis, numb fingers, missing
parts, big-time illness–we somehow, still, move around the obstacles
and shudder forward.

My husband and I just returned from Betty’s Birthday Bash and CD Release Party at the acclaimed Catalina Jazz Club here in Los
Angeles. You see, our Betty has been declared a living jazz
legend. She plays a smokin’ piano, hot and sexy. With nine
fingers! And she sings and swings, really swings,
because this music, jazz, is in her body. She is 82 years old and
has been playing the piano since she was four and has worked as a
musician and recording artist since her early twenties.

Well into old age, Dizzy Gillespie declared that it has taken him this long to learn what notes to leave out when he is playing. One of my friends who plays classical piano
reminds me that, in music, silence is just as important as the
notes. A great artist like Betty honors both sound and silence.

after she is introduced, she moves carefully across the stage,
supported by that glitzy cane and takes her seat at the Yamaha
Grand. She brings a lifetime to her performance—all the late
nights, early mornings, road gigs, the applause, the rejections, all
the circles of musicians, of friends, of lovers, of family—it’s all
there in every note. The result is magic and today, a
love-fest. The band is in the zone and pulls us in too.

lean forward in my chair and think to myself how proud I am of Betty
for taking on a whole new instrument at the ripe age of 80. It is
humbling, for anyone, to tackle a new language and issues of dexterity,
even for something as puppy-like as a ukulele. But here is Betty,
week after week, struggling like everyone else to nail those chords and
strums but getting swept into the joy of it anyway.

musicians play together, when audiences gather to listen, something
wonderful happens, something bigger than you and me. It’s
the mojo of “us.”
We are lifted out of ourselves. It happens on stage today at the
jazz club. It happens when The CC Strummers gather in the Craft
Room at the Senior Center on Mondays and Thursdays.

years ago Betty became a grandmother. For the first time.
Twins. They were at the jazz club too, with mommy and
daddy. It’s never too early, nor too late, to get that fabulous
music into our body. Happy Birthday Betty. Congratulations
on your new CD, “Together,” and thank you for the great music you share
with us.

November 4, 2011
— Of Birthdays, Big and Small


we live long, short, or somewhere in-between, it’s a quick visit.
Over in the blink of an eye. We are, after all, just passing
through. So when I actually wake up in the morning, any morning,
it feels very “birthday-ish” to me. Special. I’m still
here. The people I love and care about are still here. As I
like to say, “we’re breathing and the rest is details.”

But then again, who doesn’t enjoy a hug, a piece of cake and a big “yahoo” because it’s your birthday. Well that is what happens to me. I just had a
birthday. A big one. As if all of them aren’t big?
While I don’t talk about it, I still want the attention. While I
declare to myself, “oh it’s just another day,” my smile grows
exponentially larger as the Facebook birthday wishes pile in.

I have this most un-special, special day mapped out in advance. After teaching my ukulele class in the
morning I will swing by Smart and Final for some Formula 409, the giant
bag of my favorite Lifesavers Wintergreen candies and a couple gallons
of Arizona Ginseng Ice Tea which I pour into a small canister and take
to my gigs, reporting to the audience that it’s vodka… Then I’ll pick
up more foodie-essentials at Trader Joe’s and finally go home to work
on music. Just another miracle of a day in my world.

Was it John Lennon who said “life is what happens between the plans you make?”

The CC Strummers and I are practicing a couple new songs when all at
once my husband appears. My husband, who is supposed to be
teaching third period world history just about now. At
school. To tenth graders. He’s wearing a Technicolor
Hawaiian shirt, a big smile, I mean BIG, and holding a birthday cake
with one shimmering candle. Oh my God, I’m one!

Suddenly the class sings and plays Happy Birthday to me!
It’s a Twilight-Zone-out-of-the-body string of moments. So
wonderfully unexpected and utterly joyful because it is shared.

loves to surprise me and it’s quite easy to do since I was born with a
limited capacity for guile. He orders the cake from our local
gluten-free bakery because I cannot eat wheat and it is sweet and
mouthwatering. After class we all dig in and munch on cookies
that one of my students, Dianne, bakes herself. Apparently, some people know it is my birthday, after all.

and I hang with our ukulele family, later we sit in with the sing-along
group at the Culver City Senior Center, then he takes me to lunch at
our neighborhood Japanese restaurant, Sakura. Let’s put it this
way, my cuisine choices on this day consist of birthday cake, miso
soup, teriyaki, sushi and more birthday cake. God forbid I eat
anything that resembles a vegetable.

Much later, I do make it to Trader Joe’s and that evening we settle in for our blessed life. Simple and stupendous.

there are sweet cards and telephone calls. It is a wonderful
thing to be acknowledged because we are here, in this place at this
time and in a way, we carry the essence of each other in our
hearts. One person’s birthday is every one’s celebration.
We all know it will end someday and that makes this moment all the more

October 15, 2011 — The Doggie-Doo Blues

upon a time I was a “doggie person” and took Chewbacca, my beloved
bundle of mixed-mutt-joy, on his thrice-daily walks around the neatly
groomed pastures of my condo homeland. I carried a couple extra
baggies to pick up the you-know-what.
But here’s the thing… My explorer dog preferred to deposit his
treasures in the lush over-grown ivy. I know, I know…
Rules are rules and you are supposed to scoop the poop, wherever the
poop pops. But I was very immature at the time (there hasn’t been
much improvement, really), and I just couldn’t motivate myself to
trudge through the thickets of ivy when I couldn’t even see the pile of
doo-doo anyway. So once the deed was done, we would keep right on
walking, Chewbacca and me, trusting that soon enough nature will
transform his dung-delight into rich fertilizer.

Well that’s my
story and I’m sticking to it. In fact I even wrote a song about
the whole subject of #2 and call it “The Doggie-Doo Blues.” The
tune, enhanced with dog howls, is the third selection on my comedy
album, “Cali Rose Gets Goofy.” But another song on the CD, “It’s
a P.M.S. Kind of Day,” became the big hit, thanks to Dr. Demento, and the story of dog poop got relegated to the compost pile.

Or so I thought…

A couple months ago I receive a call from Mrs. Warren Eckstein. Denise. And she asks if I’m the “Doggie-Doo Lady.” Like how do you answer that? And by the way nice person, who are you?

days I am no longer in the
doggie-kitty-horsey-bunny-lizard-hamster-birdy-fishy loop, so Denise
brings me up to speed. Warren Eckstein is
an internationally renowned animal expert and activist, having written
several books such as “How To Get Your Dog to Do What You Want.”
(Maybe this stuff works on two-legged animals too…). He appears on television and hosts a weekly syndicated radio program, “The Pet Show.”

continues, “Warren plays The Doggie-Doo Blues on his shows. You
have quite a following. We’ve been playing your song since

At this point I need to sit down and breathe some
extra oxygen. Then she asks me if I’d like to sing The Doggie-Doo
Blues at the big Pet Memorial Day and Animal Blessing in Calabasas,
California this October.


And that’s how I end up
at the pet cemetery a couple weeks ago, singing about dog poop as
people line up with their beloved pets to get blessed by the assorted
clergy folk who do such things. Amid the swaying willow trees and
hundreds of petite graves marked with colorful arrays of plastic
bouquets, near the rows of booths that sell everything from doggie
cupcakes to doggie booties, I perch myself on the small stage under a
canopy that has already blown over twice by surprise wind gusts.
And to think I was worried that a testy terrier would pee on my ukulele…

know you just can’t wait to see how all of this turns out.
Fortunately, my husband and super-good-sport, captures the three
minutes of poo-poo-licious fun on video. And now, thanks to
YouTube, “The Doggie-Doo Blues” belongs to the world. Click here to check it out.

you are compelled to add this song to your music library or iPod (Thank
You Steve Jobs), here’s the good news: You can download “The
Doggie-Doo Blues” on CD Baby, Amazon and iTunes, along with other tracks from my comedy CD too. Please visit my online store for a fabulous “two-fer deal.”

for all the animal lovers out there, you can listen to Warren Eckstein
in your home town or on his website. Here in Los Angeles “The Pet
Show” is heard every Saturday, from 11:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. on KRLA, 870 A.M.

So let’s raise a doggie-biscuit to life! All of it.

September 25, 2011 — All in the Family

My husband and I don’t have kids, but we do have house plants. And ukuleles. Craig left a lifetime of guitar playing behind to devote himself to this
four-string wonder. While I sing and strum the uke like a
drummer, he is drawn towards lush instrumental chord melodies.

Same instrument, different paths. But alas, we have found a way to meet in middle.

To Remember” is Craig’s second ukulele collection on CD and we have
just unleashed it on the world. I sing on two and a half
songs. We worked up a delicious arrangement for “Watch What
Happens” and my own song “Daydream.” The halfer? “A Man and
A Woman.” On the original recording from 1966, the chorine sings
“Dubba dubba, duh. Dubba dubba duh…” It’s very retro and
sexy. Flash forward to Sunburst Recording (owned and operated by the incomparable Bob Wayne), right here in Culver City, where Craig and I dubba-dub in perfect unison. Add a few airy oo’s and ah’s over his sparkling ukulele playing and you get a very cool remake of a classic.

More than anything, this CD is a musical homage to Craig’s mentor. Howard Heitmeyer is a genius that hardly anyone has heard of. He is a guitarist
who thinks like a piano player and his arrangements are thick and sweet
like molasses. Howard is also old school. Very old
school. Once upon a time, he was the go-to studio guitarist in
Hollywood. You name the famous singer or movie score and Howard
records with him, or her or them. Then the Beatles arrive on the
scene and pop music changes almost overnight. Howard is really
pissed off.

So what does he do? He stops
recording, opens a music store in town and begins his long career as a
teacher. In guitar circles he is a living, breathing guru who
welcomes true devotees onto his “mountaintop,” which in this case is
the burbs of North Hollywood. Craig has been making that
pilgrimage for many years.

Then suddenly the ukulele comes into
our lives and that is our “Beatles” moment. Goodbye guitar.
Craig presents Howard with a proposition. How about writing an
arrangement for the ukulele?

Howard is apprehensive and grumbles
a bit. He is a lovable curmudgeon, after all, and does not play
ukulele, but hey, when you are a genius and can visualize the notes on
the fretboard and identify chord patterns like a savant sees animal
shapes in every angle of a starry sky, anything is possible.

now, Howard has written a truckload of fabulous arrangements for the
ukulele and you will hear a few of them on this new CD. We
invited two marvelous musicians to the party. Denny Croy plays
(and teaches) bass. He is laugh-out-loud hilarious, tall, bald
and bespeckled. Like my husband. It’s almost a
“separated-at-birth” kind of thing.

Craig Fundyga hauls half his furniture to the back door of the
studio. Let me tell you, the warm smooth vibraphone weighs about
as much as a baby elephant and comes in two pieces. Unlike an
elephant. It takes two guys to set the thing up. But oh…the
sound is so sweet.

Well-known stores are carrying “Try to
Remember” including Jim Beloff’s Flea Market Music, Elderly Music, CD
Baby, iTunes, Amazon. At Craig’s online store, if you purchase this CD for $10, you get his first CD, “Tenderly” for only $5.00 more. What a deal!

A popular online store in Japan sells his albums too. The ads look terrific.
There are big splashes of color and lots of writing, which we can’t
read because it’s in Japanese. But we do know they sold out the
first order and we just shipped another big box of CD’s this
week. Ukulele music is the happening thing in Asia these days.

for Howard Heitmeyer, he still mails us new ukulele arrangements
for a standard or pop song or classical piece and writes originals
tunes for the uke as well. He even gave Craig an arrangement
of…gasp…”Norwegian Wood.”

The Beatles.

does he sleep? This man who will be eighty-eight years old in
October? May we all live as long and wide as Howard.


September 6, 2011 — Old Guys Rule


are called The Ukulele Society of America. USA! This group
of warm, fun-loving and big-hearted ukulele players meet every Thursday
evening in a glorious rotunda of a room in downtown Carlsbad,
California. The last meeting of every month is extra special
because there is food. A steamy buffet of it. And guest
ukulele artists too. That would be my husband Craig and me.

Pat Enos, who
resides over the group not only as the MC but the singer and player who
leads the strummers from one song to another, invites us to share the
evening. Pat Palika Enos and his wife
Nancy, are the very embodiment of Aloha Spirit. He insists on
driving us part of the way, which really helps since the round trip
from Culver City to Carlsbad is almost 200 miles.

Craig and I head to Fountain Valley and pull up besides a lovely
suburban California home. We grab our ukes and a box of etc. from
the car and head inside where we are greeted by the “Duke Of Uke”
himself, Bill

Like what?

me tell you a little bit about this feisty ukulele master who
proclaims, in bold bumper sticker print, that Old Guys Rule. He
is a legend in the ukulele world. Pure and simple. Little
Bill bought his first ukulele in his hometown, Honolulu, for
seventy-five hard-earned cents, which was a lot of money circa
1915ish. By the time he was 10, he turned professional and has
played with the veritable who’s-who of popular music ever since.
And here we are, at his house.

In recent months, Bill has had
major health issues and is now confined to a wheelchair, but at a
toasty 103, he is ever vibrant and thinking, always thinking, about the
next song to play, or learn, or write.

He’s the first thing I
see as I walk into the house. A whimsical leprechaun of a man,
dressed to the nines in his salmon-colored pants, matching tie, plaid
shirt (with salmon stripes) and a white captain’s hat with a matching,
you guessed it, salmon-colored brim. He’s a “brand” by golly and
he knows how to work it. After we are introduced, I can’t help
myself and tell him he’s really cute. He looks up at me with
those big impish eyes and declares quickly “I’m harmless.”

“Whoa, what a relief,” I’m thinking to myself very loud. “I was kind of worried there…”

and Nancy tend to his needs and graciously roll with the vagaries that
come with living long and being famous, to boot. When you
are 103, looking this spiffy takes many hands.

So the five of us
limo south to the big Kanikapila. Yes, this is a big group that
embraces being big. Let me give you an example. In my
ukulele group, The CC Strummers, we have a songbook of 36 songs.
The Ukulele Society of America’s songbook contains over 500 tunes and
arrangements. You need a U-haul to carry the book along, so
instead they project each song onto a big screen that can be seen by
the guy trimming the hedge outside the windows. It’s pure

Pat sings and plays a few songs, Craig and I
do our thing (you can watch our short set on
, there’s a
pee-break, then the whole community of players join in. You just
gotta take my word for it… Something happens that is positively
spiritual when people strum the ukulele and join together in
song. Gals from the hula-branch of the club dance

The final encore is none other than Bill
Tapia himself, performing the song “Young At Heart.” The years
have reduced his dexterity, but increased his charisma and ability to
communicate the emotional taproot of a song. He is singing his
. He phrases the words with the maturity of a man who
. And that, in itself, is an honor to witness.

to be overlooked is Pat Enos who is a sublimely talented musician and
performer with a generosity of spirit that is as big and warm as his
voice. Pat is the real deal which is why he works all the time
with his Hawaiian band or just him and his uke. Sure I sing
“Aloha ‘Oe,” but I do it like the SoCal girl I am. On the other
hand, Pat really sings it, because it’s in his DNA. He is
carrying on the tradition that Bill Tapia and his peers began so many
years ago.

The whole evening is positively smile-inducing.
recipe that adds sweetness to our lives. Just when we need it

September 1, 2011 — Ukulele Rocks Fiest La Ballona


August, Culver City, home-sweet-home for me, puts on a very big
party. Imagine that, right in the middle of Los Angeles, a
megalopolis if ever there is one, we have our very own county fair and
get to pretend, for one weekend, that we are small town America.

celebration is called Fiesta La Ballona and there are vertigo-inducing
rides for the thrill seekers, arts and crafts for collectors and
decorators, a cornucopia of food booths and trucks for the hungry and
adventurous. Local merchants promote their services and wares,
Disney does Disney, Sony does Sony, and there is music. Oh, the

Fiesta La Ballona is grand enough to support two
stages. Big name (and paid!) groups share their music on the
large stage. The audience cheers, claps along and shakes their
booties on a sprawling dance floor in front of the stage.

Then there is the other stage.

Community Stage. Where the audience sits on the shaded bleachers
beneath a grove of oak trees and enjoy the karate demonstration,
line-dancers, little girl gymnastics and even some bluegrass
music. On this particular Saturday, August 27, 2011 it feels like
150 degrees outside with 100% humidity. Needless to say, our
shady corner of the world is very attractive at 1:30 in the afternoon
as the CC Strummers begin the show and the Community Stage gets rockin!

The CC Strummers is the ukulele group that has grown out of the
first “Ukulele For Beginners” class I offered at the Culver City Senior
Center last year. We spend many happy hours in the “craft room,”
learning new songs and strums and chords and generally having such a
good time that people, people we don’t know, gather outside the door,
enchanted by the music and all that wonderful laughter.

La Ballona is our second show. Ever. And the first one
outside the Senior Center. We have rehearsed the songs on our set
list over and over, contemplated everything that could go wrong, decide
it doesn’t matter anyway because playing the ukulele is so fun, who
cares. We all arrive on time, with our music and music stands,
bottles of water, flowers in our hair, aloha shirts and great big
ukulele smiles. We are ready to do it. And do it in a very big way.

am so proud of all 21 CC Strummers who play today. I am proud of
the ones who sit in the front row and I’m proud of the ones who
don’t. I am proud of the ones who get so nervous their minds go
blank, but they climb up on stage anyone. They play the ukulele,
sing and make joy, for themselves, for each other and for every person
in the audience.

My husband captures the show on video and I have posted four excerpts that you will enjoy watching:

We have our very own theme song and it is aptly named “CC Strummers.” Oh sure, Tony Bennett has that tune about San Francisco, but in our song, we are “funky, classy, sweet and sassy.”

And we rock it too. With our very own version of “Proud Mary.”
We have enough guys in the class to brighten the “bottom” with some
tasty baritone “rollin’, rollin’.” Listen close and you’ll hear

Especially for the phalanx of friends and family who not only attended the show, but will be watching online, The CC Strummers introduce themselves to you.

“This Little Light of Mine” is one of our favorites. It’s a hand-clappin’, foot-stompin’ sing-along that is irresistible.


August 12, 2011 — The Simple Life — Loving Kaua’i/Chapter 9 THE LAST CHAPTER


Some folks “do” vacations. It’s about let’s do this. Let’s do that. Let’s see this. Let’s go there. And when all is said it done, you need a vacation to recover from your vacation.

Our idea of vacation is not to do.
Which of course is a whole lot easier said than done. But as each
day passes it gets easier and less guilt-wrenching to actually settle
into the softness of this moment. That means putting the “to do”
list away, at least temporarily.

we slip into routine anyway. A simple-life routine that does not
include going to work, driving freeways, paying bills. Vacation,

and I walk into Hanalei. It is eight minutes of breathing fresh,
sweet air. Of hearing the roosters cock-a-doodle doo. Eight
minutes of big puffer clouds skittering across the blue sky. Of
watching gentle white mist drape the top of the mountains. Eight
minutes of counting the number of waterfalls cascading down those
mountains. The more rain, the more waterfalls.

morning we land at the Ching Young Village local hangout for
breakfast. Musubi (sushi a la spam) for me, regular old scrambled
eggs and toast for Craig. We buy today’s local newspapers, The
Garden Island and the Honolulu Star Advertiser, spread our food and
reading materials on the well-worn picnic table outside the little
diner and do our thing. I read the paper and Craig does the
crossword puzzles.

Do that every morning, even for a few days,
and the locals begin to notice and nod their heads as they walk
by. Remember, the people who actually live here see the
ever-changing parade of visitors who are here today, and often gone
today. So the two amorphous groups seldom mingle, except in a
polite, touristy way.

Which is why we are delighted that a
grizzled old fellow walks up to Craig, points to the crossword and
tells him how hard it was yesterday. He couldn’t figure out the
word “zits.” Then he laughs. Big and hearty. After
that, we talk, the three of us, a little more everyday. Finally I
introduce myself and ask his name. “Afuk.” I know this
because I ask him to spell it.

Please, don’t go there…

the record, this is how he pronounces it: “Ah-fook.” He is
a taro farmer. Hanalei Valley is one of the largest producers of
taro and the fields look like checkerboards of green across the
landscape. “I am at the Hanalei Pier every night at six, with
beers. Come join me,” he smiles.

ago, I read the book “Tuesdays with Morrie.” This is the story of
a remarkable man, living with a horrendous disease (ALS). Day by
day his body does less and less. His mental prowess remains
however, intact and in Technicolor. When someone asks him to
describe a perfect last day, he unfurls a moving collage of simple things, shared with the people he loves.

remember wondering why he doesn’t describe a day of big adventure
instead: “Oh, I climb Mount Everest. In the morning.
Lunch by the Eifell tower. Spend the afternoon white-water
rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Swing by
Vegas for a few rounds of blackjack at The Bellagio, dinner at sunset,
on the Lido Deck of the Ocean Princess as it cruises into Cabo San

Something like that.

But you know
what. Now I get it. Can’t explain it, but I get it.
Just sitting here, back in our little island nest, with the laptop
resting on my thighs, my husband, perched in a nearby lounger chair,
all tiki-adorned, still working on today’s crossword, the music of
exotic bird songs mixing with the soft whoosh of the Tradewinds. It’s a kind of simple “nothing” that is filled to the brim.

Wherever you are…

Mahalo and thank you for coming along with us on our trip to Kaua’i.


Pineapple (You Can Grow This At Home) Update: Jill Landis writes “The roots are incredibly long!” We’re at one month and counting now.

Longan (Try “Dem” Nuts) Update:
With an impish smile, June S. from The CC Strummers hands me a brown
paper bag before class today. I peek inside and nearly collapse
into a puddle of joy. It’s a ziplock of golden
treasure–longan. And the best news of all, June bought them
right here in Los Angeles. Gardena, to be exact, at 99 Ranch
Market. I’m SO happy. You may have an Asian grocery store
in your neighborhood too, so check it out!

August 7, 2011 — You Can Grow This At Home — Loving Kaua’i/Chapter 8


the season for beefy, beautiful fresh pineapples and I snag a couple
winners at the Foodland Grocery Store in Princeville on the north shore
of Kaua’i. Being a city girl to the core, when I think
“pineapple,” I think Dole and I think cans, which is why I deliver
these two beauties to Jill Landis, the Beach Bum Bungalow
Missus. I don’t know what to do with the “real thing.” She
removes a very large knife from the drawer and in one graceful ballet
move, decapitates the frond stem from the yellow meaty stuff, then
whacks away the extraneous green tendrils that are hanging on for dear
life. She presents this living, breathing souvenir to me after I
ask her to sign and date the little tag that accompanies each globe of

I rush it back to our upstairs nest and sink it into a
glass of water. How many of us have taken a sweet potato, jammed
its sides with toothpicks and let it soak in water until roots fill the

Did you know you can do that with a pineapple?
(Minus the toothpicks). I am happy to report that five days later,
little nubs are already bursting open and real roots will soon
appear. Once they grow bushy, Jill will transplant the whole
thing to a big pot where it will get lots of sunny attention. A
year later, a real pineapple will rise from the fronds. Maybe
she’ll send me a “baby” picture or two along the way, so I can enjoy
the perks of inter-species motherhood. From afar.

Ah, the glorious circle of life, which unfortunately does not always end like a Disney movie. Once the baby pineapple lands in your fruit salad, the whole plant
dies. Remember that the next time you put anything “pineapple” in
your mouth.

Yes, Jill knows her pineapples. She knows hula too and practices three times a week with her hula sisters. And Miss Jill Marie Landis is a best-selling author. Many years ago, she and her husband
Steve taught school in Long Beach, California. High school for
him. Kindergarten for her. She loves the kids and loves
taking a break from the kids. By reading romance novels.
Then one day it hits her, “I can write a romance novel too.” The
time between that life-changing call to action and the actual
publication of her first book is remarkably short.

this has been a week of big celebrating for our
cleaver-wielding-hula-dancing-scribe. Amazon just published her
umpteenth book, “Mai Tai One On,”
as an e-book/Kindle special for 99 cents. Just like they did for
Lady Gaga! {Note to time-travel readers, the price has since gone

Twenty-four hours after its debut, her book is #2 in, get
this, the “Mystery-Woman’s-Sleuth” category. And of every book in
the universe that Amazon offers to Kindle readers, her tale of tiki
madness comes in at a jaw-dropping #32.

So why not find a cushy Barcalounger, mai tai (or Martinelli Sparkling Apple Cider) one on and watch the pineapples grow.

Postscript: Almost one month later, the roots on the Foodland pineapple are going strong. Three inches and growing!

August 5, 2011 — Love “Dem” Nuts —
Loving Kaua’i/Chapter 7


Saturday morning at the crack of 9:30 A.M., a swarm of people, ripe
with anticipation, rush the Farmers’ Market in Hanalei, on the north
shore of Kaua’i. Nestled against the tall, velvet green Makaleha
Mountains, it’s a most bucolic setting and feast for all the
senses. As a lone guitarist sings and plays Hawaiian songs under
a nearby canopy, artisans sell their wares and folks line of up for
exotic juices (my favorite is a concoction of cucumber, mint and
pineapple). Island pastries are snatched up quickly and we
haven’t even gotten to the fruit and vegetable stands yet.

it to say, I’m grabbing the gigando avocados. I mash one in a
bowl and add a generous shake-a-shake of the Jane’s Original Mixed-Up
Salt I find in the Beach Bum Bungalow pantry. Our guacamole is simple and sumptuous.

buy a couple golden papaya from a guy who looks like Christopher Atkins
from the movie “Blue Lagoon, all grown up and happily raising fruit and
nuts on his little farm somewhere on Kaua’i. He has that
sun-kissed, not-a-care-in-the-world look about him and big messy blond
curls that fall just so around his neck. He is definitely the person you want to buy tree fruit from!

you tried one of these?” he asks, pointing at a walnut shaped nut,
bronze and a little stubbly. I’m scared. I wouldn’t know
what to do with it, much less put the thing in my mouth. He
quickly pinches one open and gently warns me there is a seed inside and
please don’t eat it. (“Why?” I wonder to myself. “Will it kill
me?”) Tentatively, I take petite little bites, much like you would chew
at the miniature corn on the cob they put in salads. One tiny
kernel at a time.

Until I discover, this thing has to be the
most delicious unknown piece of food I have ever eaten. It is
impossibly sweet, with the texture of a gooey grape and has a
name, longan. The lychee nut is a close relative.

wouldn’t you know, just as I have fallen madly in love, I discover this
will be one quickie romance. I Google “longan” as fast as you can
say “gimme gimme.” Well actually, I Google “longan, Los Angeles,”
since that is where I live and eat. Let’s put it this way, there is stuff for “longan,” but it isn’t about food.

next time you visit Thailand, India, Vietnam, the Philippines. Or
Hawaii. Give yourself a sugar high to remember. Buy a bag
of longan and go wild.

August 3, 2011 — Floating —
Loving Kaua’i/Chapter 6


all have our issues, sometimes grand, mostly small. One of my
itty-bittsies is that I can’t stand being immersed in cold water.
Not that I go out of my way to do that. But every once in a while
when the hot water goes down in our condo, I see my life pass before me
at the prospect of taking a cold shower. What a wimp, I
know. And aren’t I lucky to have running water anyway, any
temperature, considering what is happening in other parts of the
world? Yes I know.

But knowing that doesn’t change a body
that flails at cold. So here were are in heavenly Hanalei.
Basted in sun block, SPF 40,000, it’s time to go for a swim in the
ocean–the beautiful, and what feels to me, cold ocean. My
husband, who embraces cold like a sturdy salmon, is already
swimming that-a-way, whereas I am standing knee-deep in the stuff and reporting to all who can hear that “I can’t do it.”

children, very old people and all sorts in between are frolicking
happily in what, in truth, is mildly warm ocean water. But I’m
going through my usual process of self-torture.

What I do is
move forward into deeper waters, one teeny-tiny step at a time.
In previous years, my husband has splashed water on me in a veiled
attempt to move the process along. My response to that has been
to go doberman pinscher on him. So he stays away now and let’s me do what I have to do.

and I mean eventually, I do make it to the promised land and morph into
amphibious Cali. You may find it hard to believe, but I am a
really good swimmer. My parents threw me into the neighborhood
YWCA pool way back when for the post-toddler class. It didn’t
take long for me to paddle the length of the Olympic-sized pool and
earn my “little-girl” swimming badge. I do the butterfly,
breath and back strokes too. I swim underwater, happily, and do
dolphin turns at the end of the lane.

As long as the pool is 150 degrees!!!

today, on this toasty afternoon, I swim back and forth, in plain view
of the lifeguard station. The currents are strong and it feels
like I’m swimming in place, except for all the huffing and puffing
afterwards. Now, it’s time to stop. And float.

I trust the
water and let my body rest on it. Rock on it, melt into it.
My ears are submerged enough that the sounds of “peopling” on the shore
disappear into a calm “shoooooooooooshshshsh.” The clouds
slide across the sky, forming blobby shapes that appear and disappear
in a heartbeat. Movement. Movement everywhere. The
ocean, my arms and legs, the air, the clouds. Yet, as my body
floats and my ever-chattering mind goes quiet, the whole world feels
remarkably still. And wonderful.

August 2, 2011 — If The Walls Could Talk —
Loving Kaua’i/Chapter 5


a delightful hamlet of stores and sturdy little homes, beckons us from
the North Shore. It’s a round trip of eighty-plus miles, but my
husband, Craig and I, live and drive in Los Angeles, so we’re used to
that. Even though the folks on Kaua’i stay close to home and rarely
venture into other parts of the island, except for special occasions or
work, we are ready, willing and able to put the flip-flop to the pedal.

And that’s how we make the left turn off the main highway and drive, in hushed silence, through the Tree Tunnel.
Some 150 years ago, a Scotchman found his bliss as a cattle rancher in
South Kaua’i. Along with cows, he liked eucalyptus trees and
today they form a cathedral-like canopy over the highway.

are paying a visit to Georgine, the Ukulele Mama of Koloa, at her warm,
wonderful and only ukulele store in the neighborhood. This woman
is a beacon of good cheer and aloha spirit. Recognizing us from
past visits, she greets us with big hugs and a “welcome home.”
you have to know that she greets everyone with this kind of joy.
She isn’t trying to sell anything here, but she will wrangle the wary
visitor from the door, put a beautiful soprano uke in his hand and say
“I just love this one. Try it. Try it.” She knows the
irresistible ukulele will ultimately sell itself.

Framed pictures of noted ukulele players decorate the wall as Craig and I “ooh and ah” because we have actually met a couple of them.
“I’m putting you on the wall too,” she gushes. “Here, hold this
ukulele. Stand over there.” And before we know it, she’s
snapping pictures with her iPad camera. This is the first time
we’ve made it to “A Wall.” We’re busting with pride and
savoring the moment. It’s fabulous and fun.

And fleeting.

few days later we are sitting in with the Pono Kane trio for their
Happy Hour set at Tahiti Nui in Hanalei. Steve, the slack key
guitarist, takes a moment to point out the framed pictures on the wall
of the restaurant—local icons all, past and present. Our eyes
follow his finger around the room until it lands on the photo of Elvis

It seems that not long ago, the hunky actor
George Clooney was in Hanalei to film scenes from his upcoming movie,
“The Descendants.” At Tahiti Nui. The studio’s art director
perused the restaurant innards and all the pictures on the wall passed
muster, except Elvis. Something about copyright
infringement. Oh sure they can leave the picture up and use it in
the movie, but the bill from Graceland will be $5000.

Suffice it to say, Elvis doesn’t make it into the movie. But he’s back on the wall now.

Fleeting, but fun.


July 30, 2011 — Meet & Greet In The Big House —
Loving Kaua’i/Chapter 4


husband Craig and I return to Beach Bum’s Bungalow year after year
because we love Hanalei. But that is only the beginning. Our hosts,
Jill and Steve, have welcomed us into their studio apartment and into
their island ohana. This short, but rich connection with the people of
the neighborhood is really what keeps us coming back and we are
grateful to them for making this possible.

And on this trip, we
actually are invited into the Big House. That would be Jill and Steve’s
lovely abode, which adjoins our little upstairs tropical nest. Lucky
for all of us, the neighbor across the street, an avid fisherman, just
caught a 200 pound yellow fin tuna. Yes, you read that right, 200
pounds. Considering that tuna comes in six ounce cans, you do the math.
In true aloha spirit, he is sharing a deli-size display with us for a
barbecue dinner. All of us, Jill and Steve’s new and long-time friends,
share local connections to Long Beach, California. Craig grew up in
Long Beach and I sang on the Queen Mary for years so our root system
includes this community.

Suffice it to say, there is much to
talk about as we dig into the garden fresh salad and vegetables, Jill’s
delicious baked beans, loaded with fresh cilantro and brown sugar and
of course “Charlie The Tuna,” seared to perfection on the grill.

conversation swings local. Even in paradise there is a murky underbelly
that you won’t read about in the colorful brochures at the airport.
You’ve probably heard that “good fences make good neighbors.” Here too.
There are neighborhood skirmishes and deeply-held suspicions and
resentments between native Hawaiians and mainlanders. But sincerity,
kindness and in no small measure, a dose of humility wins in the end.
Hopefully. Probably everywhere.

Then there are the other
sentient beings on the island—centipedes, cockroaches, lizards, geckos,
frogs and mosquitoes that take no prisoners. Beach Bum’s Bungalow is
blessedly free of most biting and crawly critters because the
exterminator visits often. On top of that, Steve power bleaches all
surfaces several times a year to fend off mold. It’s hard work keeping
paradise clean and tidy.

Feral pigs live in the swampy land up
the Hanalei River. We all know that what goes in must come out. In an
ideal world, the “come out” part would become magical pig fertilizer.
But no… Here the poo and other assorted stuff can poison the river and
run into the ocean. It’s very rare, but that flesh-eating bacteria we
hear about has sent more than one island resident on a near-trip to the
light at the end of the tunnel.

And if that is not enough, the
young woman whose story inspired the recently released movie “Soul
Surfer” lost her entire arm to a shark, just a few beaches down from
here. And then there are tsunamis, massive floods and hurricanes.

But you know, every place has its problems.

live in Los Angeles, for heaven sakes, where every other week we are
reminded by the smiley faces on the local news, that the “big one” is
coming. “Do you have your earthquake kit packed and ready?” They ask.
“Do you keep a spare pair of tennis shoes by the bed?” They cajole. Do
you practice diving under the IKEA table and kiss your ass goodbye? Oh,
that’s MY question…

Fortunately the conversation turns global.
It seems that all the guests at the gathering (except us) are world
travelers and they regale us with hilarious tales of near-disaster and
triumph. The mascara I am wearing has drained into small gray streams
that meander down my cheeks. That is how hard I am laughing at their
stories, which are really, at heart, glorious vignettes about the
twisted absurdities of human nature.

Although my husband lived
in Okinawa, Japan, where he served as a corpsman in the Navy, our idea
of world travel is watching House Hunters International on Home and
Garden Cable Television, from the comfort of our cushy bed.

grateful we are, for that too. The whole mess of stories that make up
all of our lives becomes a wonderful tapestry and on this Tuesday, I
get to go along on each person’s ride as each story unfolds. It’s
almost like living it myself and that is good enough.

Suddenly it’s 9:00 P.M. That is midnight in Hanalei. It’s time to put the dishes away and say our goodbyes. The
whole evening, a snapshot in time, is one I shall treasure.

July 29, 2011 — There’s No Place Like Home —
Loving Kaua’i/Chapter 3

our visit to Hanalei last year, I took a private ukulele lesson with
Beverly Kauanui, who is a beloved musician and teacher on
Kaua’i. She’s been teaching her ukulele class for over nine years
and reports, with a big smile, that she “can’t get rid of them.”
Beverly’s strums are fiendishly complex and she sings in the authentic
Hawaiian style. This music is in her bones.

Once a month
her ukulele class moves into public domain, in the heart of Hanalei at
The Tahiti Nui, one of those half-inside, half-outside island bar and
grills. There is a little stage where she plays her well-worn
Kamaka eight-string uke. Her husband Pat strums guitar and stands
sentry, like the old Vietnam Vet he is. Grace thumps her cool
stand-up bass and silver-haired Dave fills in the middle with his
tipple playing.

Craig and I get lucky and are here as
well, the second Tuesday in July. We grab our ukuleles and jump
right in, along with Beverly’s other students who have now nestled at
the small tables. Most of the songs are very Hawaiian and
unfamiliar to us, but one of the great things about playing the ukulele
is you get to practice the art of “hit and miss.” Whatever you
play, it’s pretty much okay. Just keep smiling and have a good

Welcome home Cali and Craig,”
Beverly says, right into the microphone. We try to come to
Hanalei every year because, by now, it’s positively medicinal, but I
haven’t really thought of it as “home.” Then again, isn’t home
where the heart is? And isn’t the heart basically where the ass
is (or nearby). And here we are, at this moment, in this place,
being welcomed into the Hanalei ohana, the family. Whether this
is true or not is almost irrelevant. I am warmed all over by her
aloha spirit.

the class, several of her hula students take their places near the
crowded stage and perform their well-choreographed routines. Most
of the dancers are, shall we say, AARP kind of gals, but joy is not
age-specific. You just have to smile at it all, like a big
heave-ho of “ah-h-h-h” and watch the sweet display unfold.

and locals alike fill the main room, stand at the bar and lean in from
the outside patio to watch the show. This is what community looks
like in Hanalei. It is a very small town on the wet north shore
of Kaua’i where there is only one road in and out, across a one-lane
bridge at that, and the folks here know that when the emergency sirens
wail or some other disaster hits, big or small, they can rely on each
other to survive.

Beverly tells the audience that Craig and I
are visiting from “The Big Island.” That would be the very big
island of North America. I mean, why not? It’s good to be
reminded that community is everywhere. Everywhere the heart is.

July 27, 2011 — Chip Clips — Loving Kaua’i/Chapter 2


hot and very humid in Hawaii and the first day or two in Hanalei the
tropical climate wrecks havoc on my body chemistry. But it’s a
stealthy tango because I don’t know it’s even happening–that I’m
sweating. Sweating buckets. It just feels…well…wet and
toasty. The story in my bloodstream is more insidious
however. Electrolytes are going wildly out of whack.

begin taking offensive action immediately by drinking more water and
downing Gatorade in large gulps, but it’s never enough and I brace
myself for the inevitable goo-goo talk, brain-fog and leg cramps.

creeps up on me, for sure. We are at the Big Save Market in the
Ching Young Village Shopping Center, stocking up on life-saving
supplies like bags of Santitos Tortilla chips. I want to buy
“chip clips” too, to keep them fresh and crispy. The muggy
weather turns crunchy into soggy slush very quickly.

So I’m trundling up and down the grocery isles, gasping at prices, oohing at this and that, but alas not finding any chip clips. So I
corral a lovely store clerk, “excuse me,” I ask, “do you have ‘nip
bips.’ Oh I mean ‘thip hips.’ Um ‘kip zips?'”

At least I am getting closer.

know, the snappy thingies that keep your bag of ‘chippy crunchy stuff’
fresh like this?” By now I’m resorting to pantomime and making
large hand gestures.

It should be no surprise that she
says “no.” Anyone in their right mind would say “no.”
Furthermore, she is probably hoping the friendly idiot ‘fip-gip’ lady
will please stop talking, buy the two papayas in her basket and leave.

The lesson here is take care of your body. Because, as you know, it takes care of you. One way or another…

July 25, 2011 — Lahaina Noon — Loving Kaua’i/Chapter 1


a year something happens in Hawaii that doesn’t happen anywhere else in
the world. It is called Lahaina Noon and this year, on Monday, July 11 at exactly 12:47 P.M., the sun is directly overhead and
casts no shadow on vertical objects, such as telephone poles, husbands
and wives.

Craig and I are winging our way across the
Pacific on Hawaiian Airlines when Lahaina Noon happens in Lihue, on the
island of Kaua’i, our vacation destination. We will spend
the next ten days nesting on the North Shore in the
charming hamlet of Hanalei. We come here to this beautiful
place because the air, the water, the mountains, the trade winds, the
warmth of the people, taken together, become a mysterious brew of

We don’t know how over-buzzed we are, stressed
about everything from global warming to the bathroom door that won’t
close because the hinge is rusting out. We get lulled into
thinking that multi-multi-tasking, racing here, rushing there…is
normal. Until we unpack our tee-shirts, shorts and swimsuits in
our little studio apartment, Beach Bums Bungalow,
and are reminded once more (because we always forget) that living like
a rat in a maze is not normal. Now I’m not saying I know what
normal is. But for me, I get so drawn into the whirlwind of being
busy that, are you ready for this? I forget I have a body.
My head is doing all the work and my body comes along for the ride,
because, well my body does keep my head off the ground.

So being
in Hanalei, even for only a few days, helps me remember the wholeness
of what I am. What we all are. That said, it doesn’t happen

Granted, my husband and I “sit” our way from Los
Angeles to Honolulu and then onto Kaua’i, and it’s not like we have to
flap our arms to keep the plane in the air, but we are just plain
exhausted and testy. Not a good combination for married
people. By the time we have rented our blue Nissan from Budget
and pulled into the Foodmart for groceries, we are about ready to tear
each other’s eyeballs out. The proverbial Lahaina Noon is
roasting us alive.

I’d like to tell you that we kiss and make up
before falling into bed, but that doesn’t happen either. He rolls
east, I roll west. We sleep for twelve hours. The next
morning, we step gingerly back into the world of civility. My
husband admits that he was very angry yesterday, but it was more like a
non-specific kind of rage, and he took it out on me. And quite
honestly, I was doing the same thing. Oh the angst we store in
the cells of our bodies. Then we find someone, usually a someone
we love, to a wail on. That doesn’t sound like normal to me.

Already Hanalei is bringing me back to myself.


July 13, 2011 — I Wish I Was A Cowgirl


upon a time, I am trapped in afternoon rush hour traffic, inching
forward on the Santa Monica Freeway towards the East L.A.
interchange. The sky is a murky gray-green-purple. Even
though my windows are rolled up tight and the air conditioning is
pumping cool onto my face, I still smell the outside and it hangs over
me like a musty old coat. Smog alert weather indeed.

study the faces of my fellow drivers, sheathed, all of us, in our
virtual car worlds, yet sharing, at the same time, this communal
experience of utter dissatisfaction. No one appears to be a happy
camper. Including me.

In fact, the thought “get me out of
here” freezes in my brain. “Get me out of here. Get me out
of here.” Like am I going to levitate or something?

then a melody appears, as if a magician, a sorcerer waves a wand.
I don’t know how this happens, but I hear it. There are words
too: “I Wish I Was A Cowgirl.” I reach for paper, pencil,
rest them on the steering wheel and begin scribbling.

something out of nothing is such a mystery. We all do it.
Our thoughts, our words, our feelings, our recipes, our drawings,
poems, crocheted hats, sandcastles and skyscrapers. They
appear. For a while.

When I am writing, I usually
wallow and fret, re-write and re-write. Then I let the thing get
cold for a few days and rewrite some more. But not in this
case. The song appears and essentially writes itself.

Speaking of wishing… I wish they were all like that…

what is this song about, this ode to “get me out of here”? Well
it’s a fantasy—that there is a way to escape this moment, that there is
somewhere better. The song describes that somewhere.
There are mountains that stretch forever, there is a horse, my horse,
and we ride and ride until time doesn’t matter any more. There is
a log cabin with a rocking chair. The perfect rocking
chair. There is a window that is so big and clear that you don’t
know where the inside ends and the outside begins. And oh the
quiet. It’s the kind of stillness that makes you feel whole.

Maybe that place does exist and maybe it’s right here, after all. You be the judge.

did a video that combines an excerpt from the studio recording of “I
Wish I Was A Cowgirl” with a live performance where I accompany myself
on the piano. You can watch it on YouTube.

And if you totally love this song, you can purchase and download a copy at iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby.
The CD single, that includes the song, piano sheet music, a ukulele
chart and another video that features my ukulele version, is available
at my website store.

Thanks for listening all you cowgirls and cowboys.

July 5, 2011 — Finding Family – Part 3


Beach is quintessential SoCal. Sun, surf, sand, skateboards,
skinny bikinis, sassy street performers, shopping, sights to see and
smell. Venice Beach is shrill and shining!

We have a lot
of serious issues in Los Angeles, but I marvel nonetheless, how
Angelinos manage to hang together and let it hang out at the same time
and this is never more evident than on a Saturday afternoon in Venice
Beach. What awaits us are blocks and blocks of little shops, mom
and pop food booths, artists making and selling their wares. California
beach bunnies and muscle-bound hunks mingle amiably with visitors from
every point on the compass. The people-watching is primo.

cousins have gifts to buy and the first t-shirt store on the way draws
them in like a powerful magnet, and so it goes. We buy necklaces,
bracelets, street art, matching dresses and a patchwork coat.
Nothing is expensive and we feel that, in our own way, we are
supporting the arts.

Occasionally people gather at Venice Beach
to express their different points of view, often at the same
time. For example, we witness a very attractive fellow, wearing
only a loin cloth, a straw hat and a couple rubber snakes. He is
surrounded by some lovely folks who are carrying big yellow signs that
implore us to “Seek The Lord Jesus.” The snake guy insists, with
a big smile, that we are all naked in the eyes of the Lord. The
thing is, this scene is so normal on Venice Beach that hardly anyone even notices or cares. Not when there are earrings to buy at the $2.00 table…

quicky trip to Los Angeles is complete without a cruise down Rodeo
Drive in Beverly Hills. Along with everyone else and their
mother, I might add. Enough of these crowds and Louis
Vuitton. We drive into the canyons above Sunset Boulevard, the
land of enormous mansions, very tall walls and camera decorated
cast-iron gates. I don’t think they have a lot of neighborly
Tupperware Parties in this zip code. We see a couple people
standing outside their car snapping pictures of a palatial estate, with
a very ornate garage entrance. My cousins lean out the window,
confess they are tourists and wonder aloud, like, why are you taking
pictures here??? Oh…it’s Michael Jackson’s house. Just then
a “See-Where-The-Stars-Live” tour bus slows and inches by, then another
appears and another. Welcome to the circus!!!

So we
decide to follow the next one that rounds the bend. We have no
idea why they are stopping at this house or that one, but we pull over too and soon are drawn into the world of the rich and famous, or rather our fantasy of how it would be to live like that.
An old Italian proverb comes to mind: “After the game, the king
and pawn go into the same box.” But oh, what a game…

cousins remind me often during this trip how fortunate I am to live in
Los Angeles. It’s so clean, they say. And new (remember
they are from Baltimore). The fruit and vegetables are so fresh
and delicious. The people are really nice.

On Sunday
morning, we have a little extra time before I take them to the airport,
so we scoot over to Playa del Rey and walk west along the jetty where I
take this picture. Just look at their faces. I think
California sunshine has melted into their bones.

May we all feel the kiss of sunshine in our lives. Wherever we are.

July 3, 2011 — Finding Family – Part 2


we moved to California from suburban Washington D.C., my parents and I
settled in Hollywood. My first impression of the neighborhood was
that we had landed on the west-facing side of Neptune.
Unbeknownst to us, our budget apartment was in an artist enclave.
Well, let me rephrase that, a starving artist enclave. Never mind that our next door neighbor was a shy, struggling actor who introduced himself as Fess Parker.

far as I was concerned, Hollywood Boulevard was a freak show, which I
suppose is part of its charm. Little has changed since those
days, although now it’s a more sanitized and spruced-up freak
show. Bring your camera and credit cards. Which is what my
cousins Halaine, Laura and I do as we begin our L.A. Tourist
Excursion. I have two days to hit the hot spots with my new
“they-feel-like-sisters.” Grauman’s Chinese and the Hollywood
Sign are at the top of their “wish list.”

So here we are,
snagging the cheap parking ($8.00) at the Fresh & Easy Grocery
Story, and walking a couple blocks to “Wacka-Doo-Central.” That
would be Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Even though my husband and I
live about ten miles away, I don’t think I’ve visited the theater
since, gasp, the 1980’s. I’m happy to report that cement holds up
well. I guess that’s why it’s cement. Artifacts from old
stars mix amicably with the newer movie royalty and not surprisingly,
visitors from near and far press their hands and feet into the big gray
squares to compare body parts. When you think about it, this may
have been one of California’s first “interactive” exhibitions.

we lived in Hollywood, I remember one of the neighborhood “characters,”
a cantankerous old codger who paraded up and down Hollywood Boulevard
wearing nothing more than a two-sided placard that warned “The End Is
Near.” It scared the hell out of me until my parents reassured me
that not everyone shares his world view. Today, on this
sun-kissed morning, all I see are Darth Vader, an Empire Stormtrooper,
a Dominatrix and Spider Man. Hey, it’s a living. For a
five-dollar tip we pose several times with our fantasy men from Star
Wars. I might add that Darth definitely gets into it, rubbing our
backs and informing us, in his perfect James Earl Jones voice,
that the force is really really strong in you. He is quite convincing and I believe him, because well, he is wearing a uniform…

The force is also reminding me that we have to skedaddle back to Culver City to
catch the Sony Pictures Studios Tour at 2:30. You can do the
“bells and whistle” tour at Universal City if you want, but when it
comes to up close and personal,
you can’t beat Sony. This is a working studio and we get to watch
them at work. Before the tour begins, a Sony photographer places
the three of us in front of a green screen and snaps a picture that
will be super-imposed against the “Wheel of Fortune” set.

picture is a freebie. In fact, everyone gets a prize from Will,
our tour guide, for answering movie and T.V. trivia questions—whether
the answers are right or not. During the tour, he sets up an
impromptu movie scene outside an office building facade. He
chooses a sweet faced-teenager to be my niece and, as “extras,” we
saunter past the pretend camera and have a pretend conversation, as
the” main characters” deliver their lines to each other. Just
like real life.

rest of the group applauds our efforts and we move onto the Foley
studio where they do sound effects. Will chooses yet another
“volunteer” to rattle a plastic tarp (for thunder) and roll an empty
water bottle in her hand (crackling fire). Then he tells us that
Foley artists make $1900 an hour. We all groan at the same time,
and that is not a sound effect.

see the Barbara Streisand Recording Studio, the second largest in the
world, the Jeopardy set and oh my, the sound stage where they built the
Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz and the actual trap door that Margaret
Hamilton dropped through as the Wicked Witch. You know
what? This is cool.

the coolest part of the day is after dinner when the three of us
stretch out on our living room floor and look at old pictures. My
cousins have brought several along and I have a grocery bag full of
black and white snapshots from the past. A lot of mysterious
stuff has gone down in our family and here we are, gazing into the
faces of grandparents (we think), uncles (maybe), aunts (could be),
searching for a clue, a sign, a certain demented glance. The
pictures smell like the old trunk where they have been residing for
decades. Our curiosity is on fire and answers are thwarted photo
after photo. We call out to these dead people, across the
generations, “why the hell didn’t you fricking write the names on the
back of the fricking picture so we would know who the hell you
are?” Or something like that.

But we marvel at the images
of our Aunt Helen, the ancestor goddess in our lives. As a young
girl, she is luminous, with big dark eyes, sensuous lips and a gaze
that is at once ephemeral and lusty. She grows up to be a
no-nonsense business woman, feisty, opinionated…and well…married three
times. It isn’t until we cousins share our stories that we
discover Aunt Helen taught all of us how to play the piano and
sew. She taught us that it’s okay to be a woman ahead of her

As our Los Angeles adventure continues, we embrace
the present–our girls-weekend-out. We embrace the past–our
shared past. And look forward to the future, because now we have
each other in it.

What’s next? Venice Beach. Of course…

June 30, 2011 — Finding Family – Part 1

meet on Facebook, my newly-discovered cousins and me. Like most
families, our so-called family tree is more like a bewildering, and
sometimes haunted, forest of saplings, evergreens and shrubs.
Because of various dramas, or shall we say “misunderstandings,” and
geographic escapes to greener pastures, I have lost connection with
just about everyone that can be called kin.

over the years I hear stories. You know those stories. Part
myth, part grandiosity and maybe a little sliver truth. One of
the stories is about my great-uncle Sidney, the musical prodigy of the
family, who for reasons that remain a mystery to this day, estranged
himself from the family and in my world, is never heard from again.

today we have Google, and Facebook, and if you can turn a computer on,
and type, there is a chance you can scratch at the bark of some ancient
family trees.

And so it happens to me. I learn that my
Uncle Sidney moved to the Midwest from ground zero (which would be
Baltimore), marries a fellow musician and has five children, all
musicians themselves. Of course his grown children and I “friend”
each other on Facebook. But that is just the beginning.

I receive an email from yet another mystery cousin. A
Facebook friend of a friend. Her name is Laura and she lives in
Baltimore too. Her mother and Sidney were sister and
brother. My grandmother was their older sister. Do you need
a flow-chart to follow this? I do and thankfully they make me
one. Within days Laura’s sister, Halaine, emails me too. We
set a date to have a three-way conversation on our cell phones and
within seconds of saying “hello” something in all three of us clicks
and a connection is made.

I grew up an only child. My
parents and I left every trace of “family” behind when we moved from
Washington D.C. to Los Angeles, so even the slightest possibility of
connecting with those who share a family history leaves me almost giddy.

Now of course it’s one thing to say “let’s get together.” But Laura and Halaine actually make plane reservations on Southwest Airlines.

that is how I get to meet my fabulous new cousins and we just spent the
most dizzying and remarkable two and half days together. They fly
in for the weekend. That’s all. Just two and a half
days. Of course we do the L.A. tourista things and I get to play
goodwill ambassador for my adopted home. But there is so much

We sacrifice sleep-time, for talk-time, as we unravel our
pasts together, gingerly stepping into the quicksand, also known as
“family secrets,” until we trust each other enough to let ourselves
sink into the whole mess of it. And what a mess! But
then again who does not understand family mess?

As Plato says, “be kind, for everyone is having a hard battle.”

first foyer out into the wilds of Los Angeles is the scenic overlook
near our home in Culver City, with its birds-eye view from the Pacific
Ocean to downtown and beyond. It’s still early and a gray mist
lies across the landscape. We can’t even see the Hollywood Sign,
which under sunnier conditions would be the familiar beacon that my
cousins are especially excited about seeing.

Nevertheless, I am
reminded once more that in this big sprawling city, people are gracious
and friendly. In fact, during our entire visit together we will
experience the warm spirit of my fellow Angelinos again and

At the top of the overlook, Halaine asks two lovely women to take our picture. They insist on posing us just so and do not easily relinquish the camera. “Let me take another
one…wait a minute…stand over there.” They really look at us, with
fresh eyes and declare that we have a strong family resemblance.
“Your jaw lines are the same,” they agree. Halaine, Laura and I
laugh in surprise, a little embarrassed maybe, and glance at each other
like we are looking into each other’s faces to learn something new
about ourselves. Perhaps we would have noticed the resemblance,
eventually, but Tracy and Simone see it first.

I have heard a
philosopher say that the purpose of his whole life has brought him to
this moment and then this moment. That whatever is happening
right now, whatever I am encountering and with whom, it is the whole of
my life. This moment. And here we are standing on an urban
mountaintop, four women, from four different backgrounds, coming
together, so briefly, and stretching the fabric of this very moment into something special.

soon the moment passes, we climb back into the car, wend our way back
down into the city and follow the freeway signs to Hollywood.

Stay tuned…

May 30, 2011 — Shredding My Life Away


What do we have here?

after box. Bag after bag. Of old tax returns and other
assorted goodies. Starting with the year 1990. I bet there
are people who think 1990 is when the dinosaurs trundled west on
Wilshire Boulevard.

My husband and I need to get rid the STUFF and what better time to do it than Memorial Day weekend because this is a memorable kind of experience. Wisdom tells us that we have to let go in order to move on. I know that’s true, but right now, if you ask me, they can take that wisdom and shove it.

so easy to pack up the cancelled checks, receipts, old contracts,
medical records into a neat cardboard time-capsule, scrawl the year on
the outside of the box with a Sharpie pen (which is supposed to be permanent) and squeeze it into a dark corner somewhere. One
year of life reduced to pieces of paper, staples and paper clips.

Craig and I go through five boxes and five grocery bags in one
day. He does the macro sorting and I look at things more closely,
deciding what goes into the shredding pile, the recycle pile or the
trash. Most of the paper clips are rusted to the paper and rubber
bands have almost disintegrated or fused with the documents they are
clutching. We are at eyeball level with the undeniable truth that
nothing and no one lasts. As go paper clips and rubber bands, so
do we…

Naively I think we will buzz saw through this task.
I mean how interesting are bank statements from two decades ago?
But the unexpected usually happens. For example, I find the old
contract for one of my favorite gigs, The Queen Mary in Long Beach, and
suddenly memories wash over me like a tropical breeze. I have my
first “hot flash” in Sir Winston’s, the piano bar lounge just off the
Sun Deck, while I am singing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
I think I am going to die, but keep singing anyway, mostly because I
can’t come up with anything better to do at the time. Calling 911
seems too grandiose even though the piano has caught on fire, the ship
is listing at a 45-degree angle and I am ready to throw up. At
least that’s what is happening in my world as I sing about little cable cars climbing halfway to the stars. Fortunately the estrogen unspikes
about the time I finish the song. “What the hell was that?” I
wonder, relieved to be alive and hoping no one else noticed. Just
then I over-hear the conversation of a couple seated close by, “She
really gets into her music doesn’t she…”

happened to the 1990’s anyway? Or the 2000’s? We remember
moments, I think, but big chunks of time escape me. The real
stuff of my life seems to be hidden in the spaces between the papers,
between the images and memories, between the tick-tick of the clock.

Depot shreds documents for 99 cents a pound. That doesn’t sound
like much does it? On the drive over we make a bet, my husband
and I. “We have fifty pounds of paper to shred,” I
announce. “No way!” He retorts, “twenty-five pounds,
tops.” End of discussion. We aren’t in the mood to
cash in any chips. Craig and I haul our booty onto a pushcart and
roll towards the sweet-faced kid behind the shipping & shredding

As for the bet, we are both wrong, although Craig
is a whole lot more wrong than me. Office Depot Jeff carefully
weighs one Hefty bag after another and in the end the bill comes to $80
for almost 80 pounds of family history. It takes him three hours
to shred and load into giant plastic bags which we dump into the local
recycling bins on the way home.

This morning what sits
before us is thirteen years of our life, in words and pictures, that
evoke even more words and pictures in our minds. And now it’s all
just a colorful mess, bags filled to the brim with little slivers of

As for “letting go…” Well it does feel good to
chuck the stuff. Now I’m all revved up to go through more files
and drawers and closet shelves looking for things that no longer serve
or nurture.

But today, I got to revisit the past, from a place
that is solidly grounded in the present. Really when all is
said and done, what more can I say than “thank you.” And move

May 5, 2011 — The Apple Store


am an “Apple” girl from way back. In the dinosaur days, my father
purchased a first generation Mackintosh computer–the one that is
shaped like a small white doghouse and supposedly has the signatures of
the original designers inscribed inside the case. It changed our
lives. The computer has changed all of our lives.

I have
used Apple computers ever since. Love, love, love them. I
also love AppleCare because it’s worth it’s paper weight in
gold. For a few extra bucks, okay, quite a few extra bucks, this
program covers repairs for an extended period of time. Listen, we
don’t spill coffee on the keyboard, we don’t dropkick our computer
across the living room when the screen freezes. But a few days
ago my husband couldn’t get his computer to eject a DVD.

Apple support people answer the phone right away and send us to the
nearest brick and mortar store, in Century City, where Craig drops off
his umpteen-inch iMac with the crew at what is charmingly referred to
as “The Genius Bar,” located in the back of the store.

Two days later, the repair is complete and costs us nothing because we have, you know, AppleCare.
We machete our way through Friday evening rush hour traffic to pick it
up. I tag along this time because, well, we’re going to a
shopping mall…

Apple stores are wild dens of sounds,
flashes of color and frenetic energy. Friends, families,
strangers gather around computers at communal tables, immersing
themselves in their own virtual worlds. The vibe washes over me
too and I soon forget I have a body. It’s all mind candy here.

techie clerk presents us with our computer, all wrapped up in a white
diaper bag, and sends us on our way. It’s large and awkward but
Craig hoists it under his right arm and we head for the escalator that
will take us to the parking garage.

I get on first, turn around
and watch in horror as my husband, losing his balance, lurches right,
then left, before he goes down. Being the loving wife I am, I
save the computer first. Okay, cut me some slack
here. I do some quick prioritizing and my husband is already
laying across the metal slats, but there’s hope for the computer.

ride the escalator down in a heap resembling a human sandwich with the
computer resting precariously between us. Miraculously, my
husband and I rise to our feet at the bottom, unhurt, the computer
never hits the ground and a good Samaritan grabs the paper work that
flies from the back pocket of Craig’s jeans.

Mercifully, we find
our car in the parking lot maze and get home safely, marveling at our
good fortune. No broken bones or sheared skin and no cracked
computer monitors.


Craig plugs the thing in, turns it on and eyeballs a most unfamiliar screen saver. OMG, they gave us the wrong computer!

Apple Store people make nice-nice on the phone, apologizing over
and over. They also make things right. Right
away. An hour later, a sweet doe-eyed biology major from
UCLA, wearing the signature blue Apple Store shirt, arrives at the
front door with our computer under his arm. We take it for a test run this time
before sending him back to Century City with the other “escalator

In the trenches of everyday life, on this day, in
this place, corporate America does good by its customer. The
delivery kid apologizes one more time and says, with utter sincerity,
“I really hope you’ll come back to our Apple Store.”

Not to worry. But next time we’ll do the elevator.

April 25, 2011 — A Lovely Luau


I love to sing, play the piano and ukulele, do my entertainer thing and write these blogs too. I even like to “swiffer” the
floor, clean the toilet, shop at Trader Joe’s and, gasp, drive in L.A.
traffic. But the newest and sweetest joy in my life is teaching
the ukulele. I didn’t plan on this but “life is what happens
between the plans you make.”

The idea smacked me in the middle
of the night. Why not offer a ukulele class for beginners at my
local senior center where I’ve been doing shows for years. Coincidently,
I was performing at their monthly birthday party the next day and why
not ask Debbie C., the Senior Program Specialist, about teaching a
class. I did. She said yes. Within minutes the craft room was booked for two months. Just like that.

didn’t take long for our little band of beginners to decide we
shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t let the fun end after two months, so we
christened ourselves The CC Strummers and became the official ukulele
group of the Culver City Senior Center. We’ve added newbies along
the way, including several from my second Ukulele for Beginners class,
which ended in March.

About that time Debbie comes up with her
own idea. “Let’s do a luau and have the CC Strummers play.”
We ink it in the calendar. April 21st. At our Thursday
morning classes we learn “Hawaiian War Chant,” “Somewhere Over the
Rainbow,” “Tiny Bubbles” and more. Folks passing by linger near
the door of the craft room to enjoy the music. That’s a good
sign, wouldn’t you say?

Then I happen to glance at the cover of
the local Culver City News. The one with the picture of
President Obama on the front page. He’s coming. He’s coming
to Culver City. April 21st. Our April 21st and he will be attending two fundraisers at Sony Studios that afternoon.

friends, let’s look at the map. The west entrance to Sony Studios
(once the iconic home of MGM) is across the street from the parking lot
of our Senior Center.

As you know, presidents don’t travel
light. There are cars and vans and ambulances and helicopters and
secret service staff, not to mention news crews, supporters,
demonstrators and other assorted pissed-off people. The signs on
the main street by the Senior Center are posted a day early. “No
parking or You Will Die.” (Okay, slight exaggeration).

of our hearty ukulele band, a woman born with the “promotion &
marketing gene” in her DNA, contacts the president’s people, inviting
him to our luau. It makes perfect sense of course. He is
from Hawaii (“birthers” cover your eyes) and seniors are a very
important demographic for him. It’s a win-win situation,
right? Never mind that Mr. Obama will have to parachute into the
parking lot from Air Force One in order to make it on time and catch
our charming rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

point is, this is the first time The CC Strummers have ever performed
in front of an audience. Can you imagine the president of the United States walking in???

of course it doesn’t happen. But everyone, including friends,
families and audience members find parking, traffic runs smoothly and
the show is standing room only. The ukulele guys dress in their
aloha shirts, the gals wear leis and flowers in their hair and we make
a joyful sound. Yes, The CC Strummers rock the room. The
audience is ready to party, applaud hearty and you can feel the good
vibes bouncing against the walls.

“People will forget what you
said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how
you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

Our lives are a mixed
bag. It rains, the sun comes out and then it rains again. I
know that music can feel as soothing as a glass of warm milk at
night. Music can give us a second wind, a time-out from the
messes and stresses of our lives, a window of opportunity to experience
something in a new way. Sometimes music just makes us feel better.

For me, the sweet memories of that day linger on and it feels so good.

P.S. Wanna feel dem good vibes too? Watch The CC Strummers on YouTube (click the pink):

1) Our opening number “Hawaiian War Chant.”
2) The CC Strummers sing and play “Hound Dog” then introduce themselves.

April 1, 2011 — Graduation

Take a strip of paper, give it a quick half-twist, join the two ends to form a loop and voila, you have a Möbius band. In other words, who knows where it begins, who knows where it ends but it is looking pretty darned good right now!

brings us to “Graduation.” As if there is such a thing because
the scenes of our lives seem to melt together into one big Möbius
band. But technically speaking, a room full of ukulele newbies
graduated this week from our second Ukulele For Beginners Class and
with ukes in hand, are ready to conquer the world. With

Two months ago this hearty band of novices
gathered at the Culver City Senior Center. After our first lesson
in February we were playing and singing the beloved old chestnuts “The
Farmer in the Dell” and “Row Row Row Your Boat” with the magic look-ma-no-left-hand chord of C6. Suddenly people who have never played a musical instrument before are really doing it.

forward eight weeks to “graduation.” We had our last class on
Monday and breezed through Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” and Don Ho’s “Tiny
Bubbles” as smiling bystanders gathered by the door, listening (and
watching) ukulele-magic-come-true. Graduation indeed.

newbies learned several user-friendly strums so they can rock and swing
and waltz. They learned enough chords to play songs from here to
eternity and how to read those chord diagrams on sheet music so they
can keep learning.

Some will go their own way and I hope they
continue to play the ukulele because this world needs all the good
vibes it can get. Others are joining our ongoing group, The CC Strummers, and melting into a really good thing.

I know some people think the ukulele is nothing more than a toy and the
fact that you can buy one at Toys R Us doesn’t exactly burnish its
image, but my friends, this mighty little muse is the real deal (check out Jake Shimabukuro on YouTube if you don’t believe me). Above all the ukulele is a joy-maker.

So let’s give each other a pat on the back for a job well done. Then practice and sing some more.

I hope to teach another Ukulele For Beginners Class this September and
also offer private uke lessons to get you started on the road to joy!

March 15, 2011 — Collecting Memories


man sits comfy against the small sandy embankment. His tan buddha
belly hangs over his khaki shorts and a big droopy hat protects a warm
wizened face from the afternoon sun. He looks friendly enough so
I ask him to take our picture and hand him my camera. He quickly
rises to his feet, arranges my friend and I just so, snaps our picture and heartily welcomes us to Santa Barbara.

My friends are gold and I am extraordinarily fortunate to have a treasure-trove. I’ve
known “Miss Seattle” for a long time. We are both musicians and
closet-philosophers and for years enjoyed regular dinner-dates after my
Chatsworth gigs. We untangled the mundane and grappled with the
unknowable over Kung Pao and fried rice. But a few years ago she
and her husband left the San Fernando Valley and moved to Seattle where
they have settled into a wet, but wonderful kind of bliss.

for email, cell phones, Skype! This glorious technology keeps us
connected but ultimately it is no match for the real thing: To
actually BE with each other. I haven’t seen my friend for a
couple years and she is visiting Santa Barbara for a week, so I happily
drive a hundred miles up the coast for the chance to spend an afternoon
together before she catches her plane home.

So here we are,
walking along one of Santa Barbara’s magnificent beaches. It’s a
beautiful day. Not too cold, not too hot. The sky is almost
the same teal-color as the sea anemones we find clinging to a
rock. Dozens of dogs–big Irish Setter types, mutts and soaked
poodles–are leaping in and out of the surf as their bemused masters,
holding the empty leashes in their hands, look on. Folks we pass
along the way are friendly and funky.

As usual, my
friend and I take on the big questions in life then fall into an easy
silence that melts into the soft breeze. The waves of the Pacific
roll gently onto the shore and lap at our feet with a blast of
cold. This is the same water, the same ocean that continues to
wreck havoc in Japan, but here, in this place, on this day, it is
calm. The birds clamor and cry out. Children laugh. Life goes on.

We are having a splendid time and I
want to hold onto the memory like most of us want to hold onto the
sweet memories in our lives. So I collect them. But it’s
not enough to file the story away in my mind. I need a thing too, a material reminder of the special moment. In the past I’ve
found a little pebble or tiny twig, a pine cone, feather, a coin.
Today it is a twisted mollusk shell that has no symmetry or discernable
pattern. The thing is wabi sabi,
a perfect mess and calling to me. My friend picks up a shiny crab
shell glistening in the sun. Walking back to the car, we hold our
treasures in our hands and our hearts.

I used to have a wooden
bowl where I placed these psychic souvenirs. But an interesting
thing happened as the bowl filled up with stuff, I lost track of what-was-what and who-was-who. “Where did that pine cone come from? Was it Humboldt County or Idyllwild? What was I doing?”

the bowl overflowed and I had to do something, so I recycled the
stuff. Because I couldn’t actually let it go, I placed the
assorted collection in the big potted plant on the balcony. After
weekly watering, rain, wind and infusion of the usual airborne Los
Angeles pollutants, the stuff has slowly disappeared into the dirt, even though I
know, somehow, it’s still there. Does that make sense?

it’s all borrowed anyway–the stuff, the memories–and as hard as I try
to hold on, it slips away. The memories turn from
Technicolor to sepia, to gray, to ocean mist and the sea-kissed mollusk
will eventually lose it’s magic and power to bring back the past.
It becomes just another crazy shell.

But I keep collecting anyway…and treasuring each moment and the people who make this life worth living.


March 12, 2011 — Troubled Times


our busy lives, it’s so easy to forget that Mama Earth gets the last
word. She rules. She rocks. She stresses out and
relieves herself in ways that terrify human folk and cause great sorrow.

events have jolted me awake. Again. One more time I
remember that we’re just hanging by a thread and let’s be honest here,
we don’t know for sure what will happen in the next ten seconds.
Might as well cop to it. Denial works too. But only for
awhile. Until the next earthquake…

Here’s the good news. If you’re reading this that means you’re still here. How lovely is that?

my heart goes out to all of us right now, especially those with deep
connections to and dear ones in Japan. And Christchurch, New
Zealand. And Haiti. And… Well, all of us who
suffer and might be experiencing our own personal tsunami.

If you can, make a little music today. And I will too.

March 6, 2011 — Baby Boomer Battle Hymn


couple years ago a friend emailed me a video entitled “Baby Boomers
Battle Hymn.” This doesn’t exactly sound like a “July 4th”
version of the revered patriotic song. I click the link right
away and that is how I begin my infatuation with this clever and
wickedly funny parody.

It is written and performed by an
interesting fellow, Bill Dyszel, a Renaissance man if there ever was
one. Bad-ass, bald, bodacious and obviously bright, he knows
computers and contributes articles to PC Magazine. He sang for
the New York City Opera for years and has started his own entertainment
eco-system producing one-man musical videos.

I don’t know
Bill. But I like him and if he ever comes to Los Angeles I hope
he’ll let me take him out to lunch. And I really really like his


It’s right up my absurd and twisted alley. He makes fun and mockery of the very things that scare the
hell out of us. Things like feeling that our time has come
and went and not even
plastic surgery can save us now. Things like freaking out
because if we do make it to 93, the money won’t.

kind of stuff. And all to the venerated melody of the “Battle
Hymn of the Republic.” That said, if you are celebrating a birthday
this year, any birthday, there is something in this song for you too.

someone takes a well-known song and changes the lyric to reflect their
point of view, that is a parody. I decide from the get-go to sing
this song at my gigs but I have to “tweak” Bill’s version and make it
my own. Unfortunately that includes excising some of his more
colorful language for my PG audiences. Kills me to do that
because, as many of you know, I love four-letter words, like sailors
love four-letter words. But alas, there’s a time and place…

sang the “Baby Boomers Battle Hymn” last November for a very special
audience that really appreciates life’s absurdities and humor.
Fortunately I also capture the performance on my video camera which is
stationed by itself on a rickety tripod in the back of the room.

Check out my version on YouTube.
Then check out Bill’s.

Either way, a laugh a day keeps the Metamucil away…

February 19, 2011 — A Great Big Little Kindness


a little embarrassing to have spent one’s entire life pondering the
human situation and find oneself in the end with nothing more profound
to say than try to be a little nicer.” Philosopher Aldous Huxley

is a cool new grocery store in the neighborhood. It’s a cross
between Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods except this store has sales.
Big bodacious sales and knowing I’ll get a few cents off fresh broccoli
crowns acts like a magnetic tracking beam that pulls me in.

So here I am at Sprouts happily pushing their tri-level minicart through the automatic glass
doors which open onto an arena of gastronomic delights. I toss my
pile of canvas bags on the bottom rung of the cart. The five-cent
rebate per bag adds up and is incentive enough for me to keep a mess of
them in the trunk of my car.

Lest you think I have gone totally
organic or rabidly vegetarian (neither of which is true) I head
straight for the free coffee station where I mix up a brew of
“thirds.” That would be one part coffee, one part cream and one
part sugar. Yes, within minutes I am bouncing against the walls
at Sprouts.

This almost explains my “close call” which
is about to unfold in the fresh produce department. Ever the
multi-tasker, I am holding a bouquet of zucchini and yellow crookneck
squash against my chest with my left hand as I forage for the perfect
cauliflower with my right.

The produce guys and gals at our
grocery stores are masters at arranging fruits and vegetables into
beautiful pyramids of color and design. Have you noticed?
Really what they do is art. Art. And frequently I lament,
albeit briefly, the impermanence of it all, before I desecrate their
display, rummaging for the one apple that is speaking to me. It is usually the apple on the bottom…

And so it is with that particular cauliflower. The one speaking to me. I dig deep
into the pile as the bundle of squash is perched precariously in my
left arm. And then it happens. Like in slow motion.
The cauliflowers lurch free of their little nests and begin to fall
forward, like a mighty glacier whose face is calving as the awestruck
passengers watch from their safe perch on the observation deck.

just as this mountain of white begins its descent to the floor, a hand,
then an arm appear to my right. It finds the exact cauliflower
that is leading the charge, snags it mid-air and tucks it back into its
place, thus preventing the whole lot of them from becoming
disgorged. Is this person a magician? A saint, maybe?

“I saw that coming,” smiled the woman shopper who rushed to my aid. Well I
didn’t see it coming at all, but stand there marveling at her and her
great big little act of kindness. And grace. And timing. I thank her profusely as she rounds the corner and disappears.

way we move in the world can make a mountain of difference to someone
else, to a lot of someone else’s. I don’t remember the woman’s
face or the sound of her voice, but her kindness leaves a sort of
residue that clings to the memory like perfume. Alas there is so
much sweetness in the world. Too. And it happens in the
little moments that are the whole of my life.

February 6, 2011 — The Overlook


is Super Bowl Sunday and since my husband and I aren’t really sure what
football is, we decide to take an urban hike, to the new Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook nestled in the chaparral-covered mountains of Culver City. We
pass the skateboard park and cut across the ball fields to join up with flocks of Angelenos trekking up the main switchblade trail. It’s a delicious mix of humanity,
which for me, makes Los Angeles a jewel of a place to live.

are jocks and jock-wannabes, families with kinetic children, young
googly-eyed couples, baby boomers clinging to their youth. At the
top I see folks doing yoga and Tai Chi. The view is killer.
Even with the gray-blue fog that rests like a soft blanket across the
landscape, we see Malibu to the left and well past downtown L.A. to the

My husband is a goal oriented guy and I’m more into
sightseeing and enjoying the trip, so it’s hard for us to walk
together. At the same pace. At the same time. He
forges ahead because the goal is to get to the top as soon as
possible. Or else. On the other hand, I kind of bounce along,
stopping to talk to people on the way. Maybe this difference is a
“gender” thing. At least that’s what he says it is.
The good news is that we manage to hang together while giving each
other the space to be who we are.

At least most of the time…

said, as I stand at the very top of the overlook, gazing at this big
broad city I call home, I am struck by the way the currents of life
move. It’s almost like life is “living me” rather than the other
way around. I had no say in the matter when my parents relocated
here from Washington D.C. My father always wanted to live in the
sunshine, near a warm blue ocean. He was a scientist, working for
NASA, and ready to catch the aerospace tsunami in the early 1960’s that
washed over Southern California. Mostly he wanted to get as far
away from the in-laws as possible without leaving the continental
United States.

Like all of us, I’ve had plenty of
switchbacks in my life, but standing at the top of the mountain with my
fellow Angelenos, I feel so much gratitude because on this day, Super
Bowl Sunday, I am here. An unfathomable number of people and
events have made this possible. In the end, the only two words
that come to mind are thank you.

my father was still here, he’d be camping out by the television,
rooting for a good game and glad to be watching it from his home in Los

January 24, 2011 — Joshua Tree


couple years ago we met The Doc and his wife, The Nurse, while we were
all standing in line for the evening Luau and Concert at the Southern
California Ukulele Festival in Cerritos. He may do oral surgery,
implants and all that good teethy stuff and she may assist and help
keep the office running smoothly, but their hearts belong to the
ukulele. That is why every Saturday they leave their home in the
high desert near Joshua Tree and drive to Huntington Beach so they can hang with their fellow uke
peeps AND take Shirley Orlando’s Intermediate Ukulele Class at Island Bazaar.
After some hearty strumming and mingling they head home. The
Nurse tells me they stop off at MacDonald’s for burgers and a quick nap
in the car before driving the final stretch. That would be 230
miles round trip. They will celebrate their 50th Wedding
Anniversary next month.

The Doc and The Nurse invite me to
entertain at their “Annual Thank-You Party” which they give for the
dentists and their office staffs throughout the Coachella Valley as a
way of saying thank you for their support and referrals. The room
is decorated in festive yellows and blues. There is hand-sliced
Filet Mignon, shrimp in creamy asparagus sauce, luscious red potatoes,
crazy-good rice, big bowls of fresh salad greens festooned with
bouquets of multi-colored cherry tomatoes, cheesecake to die for, a
wine bar. It is a feast for the eyes and nose and the rest of
ya! There are gift bags filled with delightful goodies for every
guest in attendance.

You can feel the sweetness in the room. This lovely couple really walk the gratitude-walk
and that is something to behold. The evening belongs to
them. For my part, I cajole four slightly inebriated dentists to
the front of the room so they can help me with the song “Those Were The
Days.” All these guys have to do is sing “La La La La La
La.” With choreography. Can you imagine your dentist doing that? Need a second?

I love audience participation because it gives us a chance to be spontaneous, to do the unexpected, to be ourselves.
The gals who work in the dental offices are grabbing the cameras and
doing a fair share of hooting and hollering themselves.

I bet
it’s not so easy being a dentist. Patients don’t go giddy because
today is the day for drilling (or worse). But I wouldn’t want to
imagine my life without them or the staff that supports their
work. My husband and I visit the Doc and The Nurse in their busy
office before heading to the banquet hall a few miles down the road to
set up my gear. “Aloha ‘Oe” is playing softly on the sound system
and suddenly I feel my body uncoil and relax. Of course I am here
for reasons other than gum surgery, but nevertheless it’s a happy
surprise to feel the flush of nice-nice at a dentist’s office. Maybe, just maybe, The Doc and The Nurse
have created this peaceful space because they have found balance in
their own lives.

So I say “Ahhhhhhh…”


January 9, 2011 — The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius

been plotting, my deliciously outspoken neighbor and me, to see the
Tony-winning Broadway revival of “Hair” ever since we heard it was
brushing into town for a short three-week run. Barely enough time
for the roots to grow out. Diane, who lives at the end of the
hall, ruminated on the joys of live musical theater as we folded our
clothes in the communal laundry room. Actually I was the one who
couldn’t stop talking about the infamous ending of Act One, when, shall
we say, on-stage wardrobe is optional.

You may find this hard to
believe, but I actually saw the original production of “Hair” when it
opened at the Aquarius Theater on Sunset Boulevard near Vine way back
in the late 60’s. I was young. Very very young. And I
saw it twice. For a while, the music became the soundtrack of my
life. Let’s be honest here: I was a nerdy, girl scout of a
kid who would cross the Mojave Desert not to ruffle feathers in the
family. But I had my fantasies and that’s where “Hair” came
in. I would never “do that stuff they do in the show” like drop
acid or get laid in festive group settings or even burn my bra (which
wouldn’t make much of a fire anyway) but I sure could sing about
it. In fact, I learned most of the score from the show by heart
and when no one was around, I would perform my favorite songs, to
myself, for myself, on the Baldwin Acrosonic piano which sat in the
corner of the living room. One time my father caught me in the
act, however. Out of the corner of my eye I saw his face turn
ashen as I quietly sang the irrepressible tune about, um,
“self-gratification.” He must have thought I’d taken the off-ramp
to hell.

All that aside, the main reason I wanted to see “Hair”
was because, well I had heard, the actors and actresses get naked at
the end of Act One. Please understand that my immediate family
had “body issues.” Like what else is new in this topsy-turvy
world? I was barely a teenager, for heaven sakes, and still
hadn’t seen a person naked. Except myself of course and frankly
that got boring after a while. Remember this was before today’s
free-for-all internet where we Google “naked person” and thousands of
pictures come up that range from the normal and sublime to
“you-have-got-to-be-kidding.” In the olden days, all I had was
the Encyclopedia Britannica.

So there I am in the rear
of the orchestra section, ready to jump out of my skin as the cast
launches into the poignant song “Where Do I Go” and disappears under an
undulating diaphanous tarp that covers the entire stage. Suddenly
the tarp is yanked away by a bemused stagehand and they rise onto their
naked feet, standing ramrod straight and still, like marble statues
facing the audience. There would be plenty to see, if only the lights were on.
But no-o-o-o. The theater turns pitch black except for strobes,
which are accompanied by the ear-splitting wail of a police
siren. A flash of light hits a body part, then it’s gone…the
light and the part.
Oh hell this is like viewing a giant mosaic, one piece at a time.
It is a brutal disappointment for me and the scene is over before I can
exhale. The house lights come on and we are released for

Flash forward to January 2011. Diane and I
head to the Pantages Theater, also in Hollywood, a mere ten miles from
home and forty-plus years from the late 1960’s. Unlike my solo
sojourn last year to see “South Pacific” (remember that blog) with a $20 Hot Tix in hand, we choose to pay full price because, well, watching naked people sing is expensive.

our perch in the mezzanine, we miss some of the audience interaction
which is so integral to this show, but the music is grand and the story
brings me right back to those times—the Vietnam War, Civil Rights,
asking the big questions and settling for little answers or no answers
at all. And death. Death of our dreams and the people we
love. But through it all, we sing, sing some more and let the sun shine in.

neighbor Diane has never seen the show and this is the fourth time for
me, so I know when the naked scene is about to commence. Ever
gracious, I hand her the binoculars so she can take a serious
gander. There is no tarp, the kids just strip down on stage and
the lights are only slightly dimmed. The girls are girls, the
boys are boys and the bikini waxers and chest shavers in town are
enjoying robust business, at least this month. God bless them,
the cast members shake their booties, or whatever’s, in exuberant
dance. The scene is over in forty seconds, the house lights come
on and the people behind us ask each other if it’s intermission
now? Like maybe the Teamster guys, who have begun sweeping
the stage floor, are going to tear off their overalls too?

As we are driving home, it strikes me that “Hair” is a period piece, like a western is a period piece, except I lived through it.
On the other hand, I did not cross the Great Plains in a Calistoga
wagon. The show opened in 1967 and they sing about what is
happening in 1967. My husband, the history teacher, reminds me
that each generation thinks history begins with them, so it should be
no surprise that we “repeat history” over and over again. Lucky
for us, there is a soundtrack too.

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