Thursday, June 18, 2020


I have not reformed my virus time ways; I am still staying up late at night watching dumb TV and lolling in bed until 9 or 10 am.  When I finally do get up, I have to remember not to swing my legs out of bed and stand up, because the dog has taken to sleeping right where my feet go.  There are so many other square feet of floor he could choose to sleep on; I do not understand why he chooses to place himself directly in harm’s way.  I have stepped on him so many times.  He literally never learns. 

I love eating breakfast and drinking coffee while reading the Mercury News in my pajamas.  I also love living at the bottom of our long, shared driveway.  What I don’t love is having to trek up the long, shared driveway in my pajamas to get the newspaper.  Our neighborhood is full of early risers and energetic walkers and they all seem to congregate on the sidewalk and in the park at the top of my driveway.  Everyone is super-friendly, and I feel like the mayor of Pajamaville, waving to my subjects.  I am embarrassed that the neighbors with whom we share the driveway have seen me braless so many times, but I guess not embarrassed enough to get dressed.

One morning this week, after I had greeted everyone and was walking back down the driveway, I felt a pinching on the bottom of my arm.  I lifted my arm to look, and there hung a lifeless bee. I shrieked and dropped the paper and waved my arm around, providing a nice diversion for everyone.

As Mr. Bennett observes in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

This quote is fresh in my mind, as I spent the day after my oral surgery last week watching all six hours of the BBC Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth.  (The one where Darcy is so overcome by his feelings for Elizabeth that he jumps into a pond fully dressed.  So hot.)

As I rubbed Benadryl cream onto my sting, I reflected on the last time I got a painful insect sting. Two of them, in fact.  It was in Croatia a few summers ago, back when we used to travel.

We were in Zagreb, walking through that big park in the city center, the one with the fountains and the outdoor bars and ice cream places (Zrinjevac Park, I just looked it up.). Suddenly a big, black wasp whizzed under the brim of my straw hat and stung me right in the neck.  I was deeply offended and also in a fair amount of pain.

European pharmacies are so much more comforting than the ones in the States.  The clerks wear lab coats and sensible hairdos and look like they know what they’re doing. (As opposed to the clerks in our local drugstore, who look like disheveled, disoriented preppers who just climbed out of the bunker.)

We found a Ljekarna and the nice lab-coated ladies clucked over my neck and sold me a tube of some ointment that actually helped quite a bit.  Then I got a strong to-go cocktail from a drinks truck in the park and we continued sight-seeing.

The next evening, on our way to an outdoor folk-dancing festival, we stopped and got pizza slices to eat as we walked.  As I was enjoying my slice, a wasp zoomed down from on high, making a direct line for me, and stung me right on the tender spot between two fingers.  That one hurt so much that I dropped my pizza and started crying, wailing “Why me?” until my family told me to stop being such a baby.

After an enjoyable three days in Zagreb, we drove down to Pag on the coast.  We checked into our AirBNB then Susan, Ellen, and I walked to the grocery.  As we left with our bags, the heavens opened, rain poured down, and lightning zinged everywhere.  We flagged a taxi and arrived back at our apartment, completely soaked.  And surprise! Our Croatian friend from California, Davorin, our inspiration for our trip, was there waiting to greet us.

Davorin noticed the big welt on my neck and I told him about the Zagreb wasps.  He examined my neck and told me the stinger was still in there, and began looking around for a knife to get it out.  I trust Davorin, but not that much, so I went and got a needle from my sewing kit instead.  He administered rakija inside and out (some in a shot glass, some wiped on my neck), and as the thunderstorm raged outside, he dug around and removed the stinger.

It was such a cinematic moment.  And Davorin was right, the welt went down pretty quickly after his impromptu clinic.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Enough of Your Dreams

One lunchtime about fifteen years ago, a family friend uttered a phrase which has firmly entrenched itself into our family lexicon: “Enough of your dreams”.  In our family, this phrase is used to indicate that the speaker has had the floor for long enough and should let someone else have a turn.  It also has a nice snarky undertone which we enjoy.

It happened like this.  I had arranged to meet a working friend for lunch.  As it happened, the scheduled day turned out to be a half school day for Susan (age 10), Ellen (age 8) and Amy (age 4), so we met at Chevy’s and I brought the kids.  As Amy played with her raw dough from the tortilla machine, Susan launched into a description of a really interesting (to her) dream she had the night before.  Naturally, Ellen was eager to share her dream also.  I was enjoying my margarita and making little noises as if I was listening, when my friend decided (correctly) that listening to long, rambling descriptions of children’s dreams was maybe not the best use of our time.

“Enough of your dreams,” she declared.  I laughed so hard I wasted some of my nice margarita, and the kids were so surprised that they actually stopped talking for, like, a minute.

Despite that excellent advice, I am now going to share two of my dreams.  Like many people during this quarantine, I have been having very vivid dreams.  I have no reason to get up in the mornings, so I usually sleep pretty late.  The last two mornings I have been awakened suddenly right in the middle of dreams, so I remember them very well.

Yesterday I knew that the screen door repair guy was coming, but I didn’t know when, so I figured I’d just sleep in my nicer pajamas and a bra and pop out of bed when he showed up.

Side note, during quarantine we have had to have the plumber over six times, the termite guy three times, and the screen guy twice.  Remember before the virus times, when you had to do an elaborate scheduling ballet to find a time when the professional was available and you were at home?  Now they just tell me they’re coming on Thursday and assume I will be here.  I mean, they’re not wrong, but I always feel compelled to say, “Aren’t you going to ask if I’ll be at home?” and then indulge in despairing laughter.

Yesterday I was sleeping soundly at 9:30 a.m. when the screen guy pulled up in his truck.  I was right in the middle of a dream about my middle daughter, Ellen.  She has been sheltering with Larry’s middle sister, Beth, in rural New Jersey.  Ellen has integrated nicely with the Powell family who have welcomed her warmly.  In my dream, we all went to visit the Powells, and Ellen told me that she was enjoying herself so much that she had decided that she was a Powell now.  She wouldn’t even hug me.

I was so shook by this dream that I texted Ellen immediately upon waking.  She assured me that she still regards herself as a Lang, so that’s good.

Yesterday was Susan’s birthday, and we stayed up very late after cake and presents watching Rookie Blue, Susan’s favorite television show.

This morning I was awakened suddenly by a delivery truck and I was about to be annoyed until I looked at my phone and saw that it was 11 a.m.  That’s late even for me; in fact, I think it is a new quarantine record.

I was right in the middle of a dream in which me and Larry and that perpetually sad woman from Four Weddings and a Funeral were living in an apartment in Berlin.  We had tickets for Depeche Mode in the evening.  I went down to the Späti to get a snack and got very lost. 

I have heard people describe anxiety dreams about an exam they didn’t know about, being naked in public, being chased, falling, drowning, missing a plane, etc.  But I basically have one anxiety dream with variations: I am lost, I am late, and I can’t find a toilet.

As I was wandering lost in dream Berlin without my mobile phone, a kind stranger offered to let me use his phone, but it was all in German?  I didn’t know the address of our apartment and I knew that Larry and Kristin Scott Thomas were going to be SO MAD because I was making them late for Depeche Mode.  I hadn’t got to the toilet part yet when the truck woke me up, thank God. 

Tonight I think I will try to get to bed a little earlier…

Friday, April 24, 2020

Good Night, Sweet Prince

For our TV time after dinner tonight, I chose the 1987 movie Outrageous Fortune, starring Shelley Long and Bette Midler.  I remembered this movie fondly, and it has aged well.  Susan and Amy thought it was funny, and Larry stayed awake for the whole thing, which is about as high a recommendation as a movie can get in our current household.

The movie is about two aspiring actresses who live in Manhattan.  I lived in Manhattan in 1987, so the scenes of city living, and in particular the wardrobe choices, really resonated with me.  Those vests!  Those blouses!  The hair!!

Shelley Long’s character really wants to play Hamlet, and (spoiler) in the end she does.  This reminded me of a production of Hamlet that I saw in Manhattan in 1987.  Back in those days, we actually read posters stapled to phone poles and taped on bus stops.  I guess it was our internet?

So, one day as I was walking through Greenwich Village I saw a poster advertising a production of Hamlet starring DIRK BENEDICT.  I had a huge crush on Dirk Benedict in his Battlestar Galactica days.  I talked a friend of mine who had entertained a similar crush into attending. 

For those of you my age:  Dirk Benedict (Lieutenant Starbuck) or Richard Hatch (Captain Apollo)?  And from Emergency!  - Randolph Mantooth (Johnny) or Kevin Tighe (Roy)?  And from CHiPs – Erik Estrada (Ponch) or Larry Wilcox (Jon)?  I always went for the blondes.

As we made our way to our seats, I was surprised at the tiny size of the off-off-Broadway performance space.  I’m not sure you could even call it a theater.  Also, there was no air conditioning.

It became clear that this was a passion project for Dirk, who probably funded the whole thing.  The acting and the production were awful.  Thanks to the internet, I was able to read this review all these years later.

Here’s what I remember:  the show was so bad and the space was so hot that almost everyone left at intermission.  My friend and I stayed just because, you know, DIRK BENEDICT.  The actors were all dressed in heavy velvet costumes which led to the final scene being more comical than sad.

As the characters were killed one by one, they fell to the floor, where they audibly panted, as they were so overdressed and hot.  It was hard to hear Horatio’s speech at the end because all the “corpses” were gasping for air.  But, hey, Lieutenant Starbuck, so it was not a wasted evening.

A Hamlet interpretation which I love is The Sassy Gay Hamlet.  Check this out, it makes me laugh every single time I watch it, which has now easily been hundreds of times.

Another Hamlet intersection: when Ellen was studying abroad in Copenhagen, the whole family went to visit, so now we’ve all been to Elsinore, the supposed setting for Hamlet.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Life During Quarantine

Today is around Day 28 of the Shelter-In-Place, but honestly, you could tell me it was Day 5 or Day 40 and I would believe you.  My days have taken on a sameness that is both disconcerting, but at the same time, oddly comforting.  Two of our daughters have been returned, squawking, to the empty nest that Larry and I were just getting used to.

Susan has relinquished her cool adult life in San Francisco and moved back in here, and Amy was booted from the University of Wisconsin and landed here.  Ellen had literally just signed a lease for an apartment in Brooklyn when everything fell apart there.  She has been taken in by Larry’s sister in New Jersey where she is sheltering with two of her cousins.  We are so happy she has found a safe and fun place to wait this out.

Things are so, so, surreal.  Larry, Susan, and Amy are working remotely as best they can.  I am doing the same household management things I’ve done for 24 years, only more so now, since no one leaves the house except for our state-sanctioned neighborhood walks.

We live within a few miles of ten grocery stores, and I used to go out every afternoon and purchase something to make for dinner.  Now I am trying to go less often, but I’m really bad at advance planning, so I still go out every couple of days.

I was out on my walk one afternoon and I came across a neighbor who has four children at home.  We were commiserating about the difficulty of finding eggs and flour, and she told me that she had actually found some at the Nob Hill the previous morning at 7 am, when she was doing her BI-MONTHLY shopping.  I cannot even imagine being so organized.  Or getting up that early.

Here is how my days go, if you care, which you might, if you are as bored as I am.  Which is also surreal, because there are many people for whom this month has been super busy and scary as hell.  There is a percentage of the population (health care workers, food industry workers, public utility workers, police, etc.) who are carrying us all, and I never forget to be grateful.

I wake up when I wake up in the morning.  This is a nice luxury, as I have always enjoyed sleeping in, and now I have no reason at all not to do it every day.  I wander downstairs and eat whatever in the refrigerator is about to go bad for breakfast.

While I enjoy my leftover sausage on stale pita bread, I read the San Jose Mercury News.  This is the amount of news I can tolerate on a daily basis.  During these troubled times, the Merc has trebled its puzzle content, which is a bad thing for me, personally.  I used to work through the puzzles during breakfast.  Now that there are twelve or so puzzles every day, it takes me until early afternoon to complete them all.  I have had to stop trying.

During the afternoon, I clean some part of my house, since I have had to stop having my cleaning ladies come in.  (Yes, I am still paying them.) I am very bad at cleaning the house, partly because I am out of practice, and partly because I just don’t care very much if it’s clean.

I do some laundry, sew some masks, take a walk, and then it’s time to make dinner.  I do a triage of my vegetables and cook whatever looks like it won’t last.  We have been pretty good about not opening wine until dinner time.  But after that, all bets are off.

After dinner, it’s TV time, the most fun time of day.  I have been taking advice from Netflix and Amazon and friends and the Merc and we have watched some interesting stuff.  Of course we watched Tiger King.  If you come out of this quarantine and haven’t watched Tiger King, you will really be missing out on a shared experience.

We have also enjoyed Cheer, Rookie Blue, the two new Jumanji movies, Fiddler on the Roof, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Love is Blind, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, Agatha Christie, and other fine programming.

Larry is trying to maintain business hours, so he goes to bed at a reasonable hour, but the girls and I stay up until at least 2 am because we can.  The dog is super confused by this, but then, he is super confused by everything.

We watched the SNL-from-home episode this past Saturday, and although I laughed at the sketch where the older ladies couldn’t figure out how to use Zoom, I also had to admit that I am them.  I have had a number of book groups and family calls on Zoom, and I think I am finally figuring it out, but there have certainly been a number of shots up my nose, and as my daughters point out, I do tend to speak more loudly than is necessary.

I have also learned to play Catan, a game that only baffled me before the virus times.  We have of course done some jigsaw puzzles.  I have made many interesting new desserts.  I have explored on foot parts of our neighborhood that I had never been to before.

We had a seder dinner last week, even though we are mostly lapsed Catholic (and certainly not Jewish) just to feel like a part of something bigger.  It was actually quite fun.  And of course we had an Easter brunch yesterday with many mimosas.

Okay, it’s TV time.  We are thinking of revisiting some old favorites, such as High School Musical, School of Rock, Bill and Ted, maybe some Barbie movies.

Again, I am so grateful to everyone who is actively fighting this virus and allowing us to stay home and stay safe.  I know we will have to figure out how to restart society soon, but for now I am going to open another bottle of wine and watch something stupid on TV.  Perhaps The Baker and the Beauty….

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Self Quarantine Day Two

Here we are stuck at home waiting out the corona virus.  Luckily I am extremely good at doing not much for long stretches of time.  It turns out I have been in practice for this for years!!  Today I did four difficult sudoku puzzles and then went down the rabbit hole of cozy mystery titles available on Amazon.  Here are some of my favorites.

Ridiculous Cozy Mystery Series

Chili Cook-Off 
Camper & Criminals
Happy Trails Retirement Village 
Nantucket Candle Maker 
Noodle Shop 
Bead Shop 
Book Editor 
Hawaii Chicken Farm
Bigfoot Bay Witches 
Paranormal Bed and Breakfast
Newborn Pixie 
Psychic Investigator 
Indiana Country Store 
Community Supported Agriculture
Papa Pacelli’s Pizzeria  (there are FORTY books in this series)
Glass Bead  (different from Bead Shop Mysteries?)
Surfing Detective 
Backyard Farming 
Button Shop 
Ancestry Detective 

Monday, March 2, 2020

Visiting Ellen in Brooklyn (and Mom in VA)

Last week I was supposed to accompany Larry to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress on our first empty-nest trip together.  Instead, thanks to coronavirus causing the cancellation of MWC, I only used half my air ticket and ended up visiting my Mom in Northern Virginia and Ellen in Brooklyn.

Over Christmas, while doing laundry in my parents’ basement, I happened upon and whizzed through my Dad’s copy of Dan Brown’s book “The Lost Symbol”.  It is a batshit crazy book but it has very compelling descriptions of all the Masonic memorials and temples in the DC area.

In particular, I was eager to visit the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria,  Virginia. Modeled on the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt, it was built by Masons in the 1920s to honor George Washington.  It is on a hill and dominates the Alexandria skyline.  Until I read “The Lost Symbol” I had no idea you could go inside, but it turns out it is a public museum.  At least parts of it are, there are some super-secret areas that are only for Masons.

Mom and I visited the Memorial last week and enjoyed our tour with a guide who was not a Mason himself and was thus amenable to a little light ridiculing of Masonic rituals.  From the observation deck on the top we had a clear view of the new MGM casino at National Harbor, and I could feel my mom’s yearning.

My mom is descended from a long line of low-stakes gamblers in Texas.  During summer visits with my grandparents, I spent many evenings in smoke-filled Indian bingo halls watching my relatives play bingo.  My grandma could play eight bingo cards simultaneously.  I usually played one card out of sheer boredom but the gambling gene seems to have given me a miss.

Mom and I drove over to the MGM, parked in the cavernous garage, and wound our way through the enormous casino to the penny slot machines.  We were both completely baffled by all the different themed machines with their chasing lights and sound effects and random buttons.

We finally asked a middle-aged couple if we could watch them play and they kindly explained how it all worked.  We agreed to each gamble twenty dollars and no more.  As you may be able tell from these pictures, I came out ahead in the end, and Mom did not. 

 Ellen is currently sub-letting an apartment in Park Slope in Brooklyn.  I booked an AirBNB down the street from her place and made my way to Brooklyn.  On my first night, we dined in an old pharmacy that is now an Italian restaurant.  Just as in college, two friends materialized for dinner when they heard I was paying.

The next day I ate breakfast at Little Purity Diner and set off to explore Prospect Park. By the time I was deep in the park I was feeling the effects of many cups of diner coffee.  I spotted a “comfort station” but it was closed for the season.  In desperation I consulted Google maps and found that the Prospect Park Children’s Zoo was nearby and open.  I paid my $10 and jetted in to find the restroom.  In a calmer mood, I began to appreciate the Zoo.  It reminded me of all the times I took my kids to Happy Hollow Park and Zoo in San Jose.

I called Ellen and she took a taxi over.  We strolled around and watched the sea lions and the tiny monkeys.  In the mongoose house there was a bored intern manning an education table.  We sat in the child-sized chairs and asked to play the game he had laid out, cleverly titled “Rodent or Not A Rodent”.

He held up picture cards so that we could see the animals and he could see the key on the back, which apparently just said either “Rodent” or “Not A Rodent”, because he was able to offer no additional information.  It was perhaps the least educational game I have ever played.

Another day Ellen and I visited the New York Transit Museum, located in a disused subway station in Brooklyn.  It’s a great museum with a lot of old subway cars you can explore and it’s fun to watch all the excited little kids running around.  Trains!!!

On our walk back to Park Slope we stopped and had dinner in an Italian restaurant.  There was an incredibly boisterous bridal shower taking place in the back, lots of full-figured African-American women in amazing outfits singing really loudly and having a blast.  The Italian waiters all looked a little frightened.  We crossed the Gowanus Canal and stopped in that Whole Foods that was featured in a Broad City episode to use the toilet, where I snapped this cool paparazzi picture of Ellen.

On my last day in Brooklyn I visited Green-Wood Cemetery, a 478-acre cemetery established in 1838 among beautiful wooded hills.  It’s such a cool place.  I couldn’t get Ellen to come with me, and it was a cold and windy Monday, so I had the entire cemetery to myself. 

First I spent some time watching the colony of bright-green monk parrots that have been nesting in the gothic entrance gates on 5th Avenue since the 1950s, apparently having escaped from a crate at JFK airport.  Then I picked up the excellent and free(!) map and wandered around for a few hours.

The map has an excellent key that highlights all the best monuments, trees, views, historic points, and famous people in the cemetery.  There are walking paths everywhere, all clearly signposted, so it was like a great scavenger hunt.  I quite enjoyed the lonely brooding mood created by the barren trees and the cold wind, but I would also love to go back in summer when everything is green.

Here are some of my favorite monuments.

Civic Virtue, the centerpiece
of an old fountain relocated
to Green-Wood
Tombstone of artist William Holbrook Beard
(1824-1900) with sculpture of bear added
in 2002 by sculptor Dan Ostermiller
Grave of the composer of my favorite
musical, Candide, with offerings
from visitors (I added the pinecone)
Just some monuments I like