Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I met a girl who sang the blues, and I asked her for some happy news. She just smiled and turned away.

Just when you thought there was nothing affordable to do in NZ: A free wine festival!!! 12 wineries pouring way too much wine.

A guitarist was playing all your favourites of the 60s and 70s. Nico is the only person I know who won't get bored listening to all 6 verses of American Pie...twice. (We also saw him the day before at the Hastings Market.)

Here's Nico enjoying a pint of ginger beer.

PS: The wine cellar is now full.

PPS: Takealotofdrugs has about 6 regular readers...hard to believe I offended all of them with one post. My sincere apologies to all affected parties.

PPS: This blog is like bad television: You really don't have to watch.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Something a little brighter

First things first: These are limes. They came from a coworkers farm...there are a whole bunch, and we already ate/drank 20 of them. They are a little past there prime, so we're in a hurry to finish the rest of them off. If you drink a lot of margaritas, it is easy to go through a whole bunch of limes. I know the limes look orange, but trust me...they are limes. I ate one thinking it was an orange. They look orange, because we are in the southern hemisphere, and the earth refracts colours differently down here. They are not oranges.

Up next, Maraetotara Falls. It was on the way to the beach, so stopping at a waterfall sounded like fun. I am confident that those girls had help carrying the kayaks to the little lagoon.

Here's a Kiwi doing what Kiwi's do.

Apparently, everyone else had the same idea as me. Our quick stop at the waterfall was the first time I have felt crowded in New Zealand.

But a short walk down stream, and we were alone.

Onward to Waimarama Beach. XMAS Day is like the 4th of July for beaches in NZ. Here's a crowd shot.

Christmas Dinner.

Nicole with a glass of wine.

Nicole's feet in the water that was clear enough to drink. (Her feet are under about a foot of water.)

And a picture I shot from the water.
XMAS in paradise

I've just been rereading how I spent my last few Christmases:

2009: Our house had just sold, and Nico had gone up to visit her parents leaving me to move out on XMAS eve. The next day, I appear to have gone sailing, and snapped this photograph of a pelican with my cell phone. Afterwards, (a common theme over the last few years, I went out to dinner with my a restaurant that was open and not Denny's): Cafe Tu Tu Tango. We had planned on seeing Avatar, but by 2009, everyone had apparently discovered that Christmas is boring, and everything except a late night 3-D showing was sold out. We both agreed a 3-D movie would give us headaches, so we skipped the movie. I ended up with a headache anyway, after meeting mi heathen amigo Tak at a bar in Orange. We drank a lot of Guinness...

2008: No XMAS day post. From a couple of nearby posts, I see we drove up to Nico's parents...if my memory of the complaints is correct, after arriving in the middle of the night on XMAS eve, we left on XMAS day (note: this was actually spending 2 nights in Red Bluff, not one--also days in Red Bluff last longer than other places...which reminds me of a joke I probably have already typed somewhere on this blog: "If your doctor ever tells you that you only have a year to live, spend it in Red Bluff.") If my memory of the complaints continues to be correct, we then stopped at my sister's Hanukkah party, and left without staying long enough...and fled across the bay to the City. We ate in some restaurant near Union Square...that's the great thing about XMAS in San Francisco: everything is open.

2007: XMAS in Wine Country. I remember a few days of bicycling around in freezing weather. Hagafen Cellers was open on XMAS Day. The people working were more interested in talking to the more Jewish looking people in the winery. We went back the next year, and the winery across the street was also capture the overflow traffic, I guess. We drove home on XMAS Day, and were going to have dinner with my mother (at a Downtown Disney restaurant), but I think I was feeling sick from an encounter with the nephew, so we cancelled.

2006: XMAS in Vegas. Vegas is even better than SF for Christmas. The casino buffets tend to get very crowded, because some of the restaurants on the Strip close down...but it takes very little effort to find non-buffet restaurants that are open as usual.Open Table shows we ate at Tortilla Joe's (Downtown Disney), so we must have driven home on XMAS Day and had dinner with my mother.

2005: I have no entry for 2005. Open Table shows we ate at Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria (Downtown Disney). Nico may have been at her parents, so probably just me and my mother. There was a 3 hour wait for people without reservations; by the next year, I was making reservations at all the Downtown Disney restaurants, so we would have our pick of places to eat without waiting.

2004: No entry...I think my mother and I ended up at a Mexican restaurant (El Pescadero, or something fishy that isn't there anymore), as it was the only thing except Denny's that was open in Whittier. The menu was a bit scary (real Mexican food has a lot of things with brain in them), but they made us some more conventional fare by request.

2003: The day of two Denny's. Enough said. We waited an hour for dinner (my mother's neighbor came with us). My mother was supposed to find a restaurant that wasn't Denny's that was open. She failed! After the same problem in 2004 (where we happened on the one place that was open after driving around for an hour), I got a little smarter and came up with the Downtown Disney idea.

I often tell people that we used to go to Disneyland every year when I was little, then when I got older, I worked I never want to go again. Most of this isn't true: I may have gone a couple of times as a teenager, but I don't remember going as a child; oddly, we did have a few Thanksgivings there...probably because my father didn't like my mother's family. For the most part, Christmas was just another day...when nothing was open. The part about working at Disneyland is true, at least for a few years; and I spent many Christmases working at other jobs...partly as a good deed, partly for the overtime, and partly because it's just another day...except nothing is open.

Anyway, nothing is open in NZ today. But the weather is beautiful...I'm still 3 weeks behind on gardening, and maybe I'll have some beach photos later.

I miss you Mom; I wish we were out looking for an open restaurant (that's not Denny's) tonight.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Something big

Since my mother's passing, I've been recommending (in lieu of flowers) that interested parties make contributions to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. My mother was a strong supporter of diabetes research, and always helped Nico and I fundraise during our annual (and sometimes biannual) Tour de Cures. Tour de Cure is actually run by the American Diabetes Association, and their main interest is Type II diabetes...but my mother (with Type I, or "juvenile" diabetes) never seemed to mind. We have received several contribution letters from the JDRF; thank you to everyone who made a donation. I know she would have appreciated it.

But I digress. I've been trying to come up with some better way to memorialize my mother, and was drawing a blank...until Nico and I undertook the unenviable task of cleaning out her house. We came across several "Plant a Tree in Israel" certificates. Some were probably gifts for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs of her children; I remember planting one by hand when I was there (if it's still alive, it's probably a pretty tall tree by now), and my mother also planted one during her pilgrimage.

Our discovery came at a good time, as Israel has just suffered her worst forest fire in recorded history. The only problem: we already have a bunch of "Plant a Tree" certificates...I want to do something big; something that would allow my mother's friends, relatives, and descendants to visit and remember her. I had inquired with the JNF (the organization which plants the trees), if they could create a plaque or something (like the "Janice Lasko Memorial Woodlands") and place it by the trees. Unfortunately, they do not provide this service...but if I have 360 trees planted, they will inscribe her name on a plaque in American Independence Park in Jerusalem.

As of this moment, the Boat Fund and the Lasko NZ Timeshare are closed. If you can help me plant some trees, please do so. No donation is too large or too small ($5 buys a tree, if you had a number of trees in mind).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Videos of my mother

I've run through my 1 terabyte external hard drive and discovered I have no video of my mother. I was never that in to shooting video; our only video camera is our little Sony point and shoot that just happens to have a video function--in fact nearly all the videos that are saved on my hard drive were taken by accident when someone flipped the switch to movie mode.

A gem I did come across during my search: Tana and Jaemon in a Kayak. (I feel obligated to type: "She's not paddling."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stories My Mother Told Me II

I read something like that, and I wonder: "How did I never hear that story?" Then almost instantly, I start to wonder if I had heard it, and merely forgotten it. Such is the richness of one's life, that there is no need to mention a stint as an eleven year old adman. Then I start wondering, "What would an eleven year old do with a savings bond...and where is that savings bond now?"

Several years ago, but not so long ago that my grandfather was still alive, my mother got a call from a man who held a savings bond (purchased by his father) in her name. (Or have I got this backwards, and it was the other way around?) Apparently, my grandfather was involved in some sort of pyramid scheme with US savings bonds; there are probably several more of these bonds out there somewhere.

In case you were interested: E series savings bonds (available from 1941 to 1980) earned interest for up to 40 years; a $25 bond purchased in 1952 (at a cost of $18.75) would be worth around $170 today.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Stories my mother told me

My mother loved having a bright house; she loved having a bright house so much, that there are no curtains in her bright house. I must have lived here for a summer or two during college, and not being one to wake up with the sun, I taped aluminum foil to the windows. She did not care for this look, and bought a couple of removable/expandable curtain rods...from which I hung beach towels.

Whenever I'd complain about the brightness or lack of privacy, she'd tell me about some great-aunt with diabetes, who due to complications (from diabetes) was in a wheel chair and blind. As a child, my mother had hated visiting this aunt, as all she seemed to do was sit in the dark all day.

Everyone who has walked into her house in the last week has commented on how bright it is...Nicole and I had been thinking it looked darker than we remembered, probably because 1) our NZ house is pretty bright and opening/closing Kiwi curtains is a lot of work 2) it's summer in NZ.

This wasn't a very good story, was it? I'll try harder next time.

Saturday, December 04, 2010


Everyone has been telling me that my mother could talk for hours about her children and grandchildren. Please cut me off if I go on for too long.

My mother was the most generous person I have ever known. She hated spending money on herself. In recent years, she began giving her house a well deserved renovation, though she always worried about how much it was costing. We had several conversations about how expensive her new furnace was, and how the old one was only leaking a small amount of carbon monoxide.

A long, long time ago, she paid for my college almost entirely on her own; tuition, books. dorms, a little extra to allow me to order a pizza every once in a while. This seemed fair to me at the time, as I wasn't really that interested in going. After college, her home was always open to me and my sister when we got tired of paying rent elsewhere...and her home still seems to be open to way too much stuff that never made a permanent move with either of us. When I started pharmacy school, I never asked for any tuition money, though I'm sure she would have given it to me if she could have. She did lend me money to buy a car when I started, and never complained when I took lot longer than planned to repay her. When we bought our first house, we needed a little extra money to prove to the bank that we were worthy of a loan...the next day we had 3 months of mortgage payments in our account. Years later, I told her to stop sending me $25 for birthdays, anniversaries, and Hanukkah, as I figured she could use the money more than I could. Occasionally, she would let me take her out to lunch (on her birthday or Mother's Day), but the checks never stopped, and after we moved to NZ, she began mailing them directly to our American bank.

Nicole says I had been talking to my mother every day since moving to NZ. I think it was more like once or twice a week, but over the last 9 months she had started to get very good at skyping. She was eventually able to tell when I was online, and sometimes could manage to stay in the frame of the camera. Many of our conversations were about movies she had seen or books she had read. Perhaps because of this I have been feeling much guilt for being so far away.

My mother loved meeting new people, especially Jewish people. I cannot count the times when she spotted a Star of David or a Chai on somebody and exclaimed: “Are you Jewish; I'm Jewish too." I still have a fear of elevators. If you met her more than once, she would probably hug you the next time you saw her. I think I hate hugging people because of this.

Nicole probably remembers the transcript better than I do, but I believe my last words to her were: “I'm sorry I moved here.” “Are you crying? I'm crying, too” she replied. She was having a little trouble catching her breath, but if she was crying, it was not noticeable.

Maybe this doesn't really relate: radio in NZ is horrible (especially because Nicole's car stereo only gets one station). Last week this one station played Werewolves of London (by Warren Zevon). Warren Zevon was best known for this song, and also for being a frequent guest on David Letterman (and a frequent stand-in for Paul Shaffer). A few years ago he was on Letterman one last time; he was dying of mesothelioma, and knew he only had a few months to live. Maybe you've heard one of his quotes: “I enjoy every sandwich.” Today we're at a funeral; tomorrow go and do something you enjoy. Eat a sandwich. I don't know if my mother enjoyed every sandwich, as she thought she had at least another 10 years in her, but she was living up until the very end. She could walk, she could see (two of her biggest fears about having diabetes), and she was on a South, South Pacific cruise. And if she had ever met Warren Zevon, I'm sure she would have said: “You're half Jewish? I'm Jewish, too”.