Almond Milk

almond milk

California Vegan

The other day I ran across an old article on (from back in July) that basically trashed almond milk as a poor nutritional and financial value, labeling the beverage as “kind of a scam.”  While I don’t doubt the veracity of the nutritional breakdown cited by the article, I question the validity of its conclusions.  And my cynical side makes me wonder whether the powerful dairy industry had anything to do with this article.

Using a brand of almond milk called Califia as its example, the Salon article lists an eight ounce (one cup) serving as containing 1 gram of protein, one gram of fiber and five grams of fat.  The article compares this to almonds themselves, only one ounce of which provide six grams of protein, three grams of fiber and 12 grams of fat.  Well, if one ounce of almonds contains six grams of protein but eight ounces of almond milk contain only one gram of protein, hmmm… Indeed, the article goes on to conclude that a carton of almond milk is essentially “a jug of filtered water clouded by a handful of ground almonds.”  This would seem to be a poor deal indeed.

The superior nutritional value of almonds notwithstanding, the problem is that you cannot lighten your coffee very effectively with a handful of nuts.

The Salon article admits to the increasing popularity of almond milk as an alternative to dairy milk (particularly among those who are lactose intolerant) and soy milk (which has gotten a bad rap due to allegations of health issues associated with the hormones in soy).  I didn’t notice any mention of vegans, possibly for the reason that the purists among us tend to stay away from any almond milk that isn’t made at home.  The reason is that most brands of almond milk that you find in the store are processed on commercial equipment that is also used for dairy products.  For those of us who are also kosher:  This is why the O-U hekhsher on almond milk, a pareve product, is nearly always followed by the infamous “D” (same thing with many brands of “nondairy” creamer).

I’d like to refute the Salon article’s conclusions as somewhat misleading.  As with so many things, context is key.

I am not familiar with the Califia brand cited by the article, but it would be a mistake to assume that most commercially available brands of almond milk follow identical nutritional breakdowns.  For example, the unsweetened almond milk that we typically purchase at Wal-Mart (sold under its Great Value brand name) presents a slightly different picture on the nutritional panel of its label.  A one cup (8 oz.) serving contains the same one gram of protein as Califia and even less than a gram of fiber.  Notably, however, Wally World’s almond milk contains only 2½ grams of fat per serving, half the fat content cited by Salon.

I admire those who strain their own almond milk, thus skipping additives such as carrageenan (which, although made from seaweed, is now thought to cause all manner of gastrointestinal problems).  But for those of us who are helpless in the kitchen (or who just aren’t interested), I submit to you that almond milk can be a useful product, particularly when used in moderation.

During a typical trip to Wal-Mart, we are usually able to purchase a carton of unsweetened almond milk that is still about six weeks away from its expiration date.  This is great, because that’s about how long it takes me to use it up.  In fact, I often use the last bit even a week or two beyond the expiration date and it’s still fine.

As you may surmise, I do not glug down almond milk by the glassful.  I use it quite sparingly.  It tops off my coffee, a beverage I rarely indulge in more than a couple of times per month.  I am primarily a tea drinker, although I tend to garnish a steaming mug of tea with lemon, not milk.  I also enjoy the fruit-flavored herbal teas that are great just as they are.  I do, however, add almond milk when I drink Earl Grey.  To me, there’s no other way to enjoy that royal English beverage.

I also use almond milk in my oatmeal or shredded wheat, each of which I eat maybe once a month or so.  About the only other use I make of almond milk is when my mother-in-law, a wonderful cook, makes me something special every few months (such as vegan versions of mashed potatoes or chocolate pudding).  Oh, my, I do have a birthday coming up, now don’t I?

All in all, I certainly see Salon’s point of view that almond milk might not be such a great alternative as a beverage of choice, particularly if you have kids in the family downing it by the glassful, day after day.  However, as a top-off for coffee or tea, or in cereal or used to cook an occasional recipe, I find almond milk to be nothing less than a vegan’s friend.


Christmas Morning

Christmas Cookie

A Christmas cookie for breakfast?  Why, yes, I think I will, thank you!

The parsonage isn’t very well insulated, so I was able to hear the wind howling through the door frame last night and again this morning.  Not the kind of frighteningly brain-jarring howl of the wind ripping at the storm windows that I recall from my childhood winters in New York, mind you — more like a low-level “Woooooo!” that would rise and fall every few minutes.  ‘Tis the type of sound effect that one might find useful in a haunted house on Halloween.

Into this wind we ventured at 7:30 a.m. on the way to the Christmas morning opening of gifts at my sister-in-law’s house, just a bit over a mile down the road.  With our niece visiting us for a couple of days, this meant four of us rousting ourselves out of bed at six o’clock on a non-workday so that all of us could get in and out of the shower on time.  We have just the one bathroom, although there are always the church rest rooms just next door for emergencies when someone has to go pee right now!

The hour of 7:30 was selected by our other niece, based on the approximate time that her little one usually wakes up.  After all, that’s what it’s all about.  Our two year old grandniece would be walking into the living room to survey the bounty bestowed by Santa.  We knew her reaction would be priceless and we wanted to be there for it.

So out into the early morning cold we went, the biting wind just tearing right through however many layers you piled on.  We arrived a few minutes late and I hoped we hadn’t missed the big moment.  Trying the front door and finding it locked, I proceeded to knock while my wife extricated Pastor Mom from our vehicle.  Mom recently underwent shoulder surgery and has her arm in a sling, so car travel remains a bit of a trial.  In honor of the day, I started out with the “Jingle Bells” knock.  No answer.  I proceeded to the tried and true “shave and a haircut, two bits.”  No dice.  Finally, I just tried knocking continuously.  Then I gave up and rang the doorbell.  At that very moment, my nephew opened the door, clad only in his underwear and wrapped in a comforter.  No one was even awake yet.

It didn’t take long for the household to come to life.  People stumbled out of bed and appeared in the living room.  Our niece returned from an errand to pick up our nephew, who has been carless since a friend attempted to repair his ride sufficiently to get it to pass smog, instead succeeding in getting it to a point where it won’t even start.

Our little grandniece ended up being carried into the living room by her grandma, neither of them quite awake yet.  Miss Piggy and Kermit were singing “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” through the speaker of someone’s phone.  The two year old began inspecting the pile beneath the tree, rather tentatively at first, and then with increasing abandon.  She refused to wear her new pale blue princess dress and tiara, instead preferring to rip open gift wrapping in nothing but a diaper and a smile.  Last night, she removed her onesie in front of everyone while we were enjoying our Christmas Eve tamales.  When I called her Lady Godiva, her mom, still a teenager, admitted that she didn’t understand the reference unless I happened to be talking about chocolate.

The little one’s favorite gift turned out to be one of her least expensive presents:  A small stuffed Barney that sings the cloying “I love you, you love me” song.  Its purple arms are perpetually outstretched, inviting a hug from all.  We all hope that she doesn’t expect her toy Barney to revert to life size in a starburst of fairy dust.

My vote for best gift of the day, however, goes to a present received by my niece:  A cedar hope chest complete with beautiful heirloom quilts sewn in years past by family members now gone but fondly remembered.

As for ourselves, our favorite gift was a Keurig coffee maker, one of those fancy modern doodads that you just throw a pod into and push your cup under the spout.  My wife admits to having wanted one of those, which I find a little strange since the two of us are tea drinkers.  However, that may be about to change.  Particularly if that box of decaf Donut Shop coffee is anything like what I used to get at Dunkin’ Donuts back in New York all those years ago.

Home(less) for the Holidays


Christmas Eve seems like a good time for an update on the homeless guys who we’ve been trying to assist here at the parsonage.  I am pleased to say that things are starting to look up.

Homeless Guy #3 surprised us all when he entered a local residential program that focuses on leading a godly life, staying clean of alcohol and drugs, and contributing to support of its mission by performing carpentry, roofing and other types of home improvement work in the community in exchange for donations.  We had been feeding #3 whenever he showed up at our door, despite our awareness of his penchant for fighting off demons with the aid of substances that we’d rather not know about.  We’d see him sleeping on a friend’s porch or out in the open or occasionally sharing a tent with Homeless Guy #1.  Every time we’d give him a couple of sandwiches, a bag of chips and a bottle of water, #3 would tell us stories about how he planned to turn his life around by entering a residential program.  We didn’t believe him for a minute, as his ongoing pattern of behavior led us to believe that he was merely telling us what we wanted to hear.  Praise God for small miracles.  I only hope that he’ll be able to make a decent life for himself once he completes the program.

Homeless Guy #2 is homeless no more, or at least for now.  Befriended by our young nephew, who calls #2 “uncle,” they eventually became housemates.  They share a love for music, both of them being guitar pickers with golden voices.  #2 does odd jobs (painting, carpentry, yard work and the like) and receives Food Stamps (known as CalFresh in our neck of the woods), so is able to contribute to their household.  Other things, I prefer not to think about.  I am all too cognizant of the penchant the two of them share for the toke and the six pack.

As for Homeless Guy #1, he doesn’t come around to the parsonage since we had it out with him and let him know that he is no longer welcome here.  We still see him wandering around the area, walking on the side of the road, going in and out of the dollar store down the street.  He wears a monitoring ankle bracelet that was a condition of his release from jail.  We’ve had some cold nights recently (at least by California standards), and we’ve noticed extra layers covering his tent.  Off in the distance this morning, we heard him yelling and cussing and throwing a fit, as is his wont.  He must have gotten into it with his mom and sister.  It wasn’t long before the sheriffs showed up.  Later, we saw him walking down the road again.  I guess the cops gave him a pass as a Christmas present.

While substance abuse, mental illness and even personal lifestyle choice are frequently cited as the primary causes of homelessness (particularly among Republican congressmen), I challenge you to take the time to actually talk to a homeless person and learn his or her story.  It won’t take long before you realize that the primary cause of homelessness is poverty.  To state it in the bluntest terms possible:  It takes a certain amount of money to pay rent.  Either you have it or you don’t.  And if most of the little money you have goes toward food, medicine, clothes for your kids and maybe bus fare, you’re probably not going to have enough to pay for rent and utilities as well.  Many get by, at least for a time, by robbing Peter to pay Paul.  We have neighbors in our community who survive dark nights and empty refrigerators because they’re behind on the electric bill and it’s preferable to at least have a roof over your kids’ heads.  There are those who endure freezing nights without heat and scorching summers without air conditioning for the same reason.  Here in California, our summers frequently involve weeks on end of temperatures over 100°F.  Cooling centers open up in public buildings in an effort to minimize the heat-related deaths we experience among the elderly and the young every year.

There is a woman in our neighborhood who resides in heavily subsidized housing.  She pays only $11 per month in rent.  And yet, there have been a couple of times when we learned that she had run out of food.  Life on a fixed income is a special kind of hell.

Many of us live a hand-to-mouth existence, struggling along paycheck to paycheck.  One unanticipated expense, one illness or automotive breakdown, can send us straight over the edge, into the abyss of homelessness.  Writhing on the precipice like a mouse caught in a trap, we are susceptible to those who prey on the poor, such as the payday loan places, the rent-a-centers and the convenience stores that profit off of inflated prices and cater to those who lack a car to drive into town.

Despite the abominable rhetoric of Congress during the unemployment debates of the past year, there are relatively few who fall into unemployment and homelessness as a result of sloth and lethargy.  Most of us go down screaming all the way.  And once we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, it is next to impossible to climb back out.  You can’t find or keep a job if you don’t have a stable address and a place to bathe regularly.  Destroyed credit ratings and lack of first month’s rent, last month’s rent and security deposit may lead to a protracted period of sleeping in a homeless shelter, under a bridge or over a heating grate.  Difficult economic times have always helped to draw families closer together; pooling of resources can make the difference between extended family members having a roof over their heads or becoming homeless.  Too many people, however, have no family who they can rely on when the going gets tough.  Here in America, we live in a culture that celebrates individualism and views the nuclear family as the sitcom ideal.  Anything less reeks of failure.  We all want to do our own thing, unencumbered by aunts or uncles or grandchildren occupying spare bedrooms and sleeping on couches and making messes and not cleaning them up.  If drugs or alcohol or mental illness brought on by a history of abuse is involved, the situation is often rendered impossible, leading to homelessness.

My boss and I have had some really good conversations while standing at the tall picture window situated at the end of our row of cubicles.  (Next week will be his last with our agency and I will miss him.)  Several of those have been about homelessness.  With our office located high above downtown Sacramento, he has been able to point out the spot where his homeless guy usually hangs out.  He tries to stop to talk with his homeless friend for at least a few minutes each day.  This is a man, my boss tells me, who has been sleeping outdoors for 22 years now.  Even so, he recently told my boss that he is hopeful that his time without a home will soon come to an end.  He just has a feeling, he related, that good things are just around the corner and that something will arise that will allow him to finally have a home after nearly a quarter of a century without one.

Indeed, hope is always the last thing to die.  For when even that is gone, when all hope has vanished, we truly have nothing left but the blackness of despair.  I like to think that hope figures somewhere in the lessons of Christmas.  For hope recognizes the possibility of a better tomorrow, whether it be through the fulfillment of ancient prophesy or through taking action in our local communities toward ensuring housing for all.

Hope is sending off a letter to Santa Claus at the North Pole with the conviction that, if I’m very, very good, he might come down the chimney with all the desires of my heart on Christmas Eve.  Hopeless is knowing that, no matter how good you try to be, you will never be deserving of anything but lumps of coal.  And so, on this Christmas Eve, I put it to you that entirely too many of us fall into this latter category.

Yesterday, we had our annual toy giveaway here at the church, courtesy of an area Spanish-speaking congregation.  While carols played through a sound system, hot dogs were cooked and passed out as parents and their children lined up to receive what may be their only Christmas gifts this year.  Each child who showed up received several age-appropriate toys, while food boxes were given out to the parents.  All of the gifts were donated by generous businesses and individuals.

We have the naysayers, sure.  When I point out that families began gathering at 7:30 am for the 11:00 giveaway, leaning against the church façade, bundled up against the cold, someone always points out that most of these families are not impoverished, that they’re just trying to get something for nothing.  That we are suckers whose generosity is being taken advantage of.  As I think about this, I am reminded of a saying that my mother used to throw at us when, as kids, we became unduly cynical:  “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.”  I laugh now at how old-fashioned this sounds, but there is a truth to it.  There will always be sharpies out there, fraudsters who care about no one but themselves and who, to paraphrase Billy Joel, will take what they’re given as long as it’s free.  For me at least, this will never be a reason to throw in the towel.  The only control we have is over our own behavior.  We have no control over what anyone else does.  The fact that there is evil in the world is not a valid excuse for refusing to be the good in the world.  And as for those who characterize us as bleeding heart do-gooders, I can only say “why don’t you come join us?”

Of course, we are not the only bastions of generosity in our little town.  Far from it.  There’s the Salvation Army, for example.  The Sally had collected hundreds of toys to give away to local kids right before Christmas.  Unfortunately, they stored those toys in a vacant storefront next to a supermarket.  Some malefactors discovered this fact, broke in and cleaned them out on Sunday night.

But for several hundred kids in our community, Santa arrived a day early.  They provided the hope; generous donors provided its fulfillment.  If we are to banish homelessness for good, we must rely on a similar model:  The hopes of the have-nots fulfilled by the largesse of the generous.

So where do we start?  Whose responsibility is it to ensure that each of us has a home?  I submit to you that it is everyone’s responsibility.  In Yolo County, just down the road from here, the local government implemented a ten-year plan to end homelessness in the county.  They report that they are well on the way to achieving this goal.  Other localities insist that they haven’t the resources to devote to a project of such dimensions and must rely on the federal and state governments and the generosity of private donors.  Meanwhile, Congress cites finite resources and too many hands clambering for a handout.  The churches, they say, will have to take up the slack.

Now that I have lived at a church for a year, I am able to appreciate how this zeitgeist trickles down to the immediate needs of the community.  As a local church, there is seldom a time when we are not virtually broke.  We are a tiny church, and despite generous donations on Sundays and at other times, there is never enough available to do all the work we’d like to do here in the community, much less to make contributions to worthy causes elsewhere.  With the help of other churches, we are able to do things like hold an annual toy giveaway or run a weekly food distribution.

What it comes down to, of course, is that no man is an island.  We are all in this together, popular ideas about individualism notwithstanding.  We are our brother’s keepers, whether we choose to ignore this responsibility or respect it.  We have to do it together, though.  Yes, we need the support of Congress.  Yes, we need the contributions of the state and county governments, the tireless efforts of our elected representatives who create programs that provide the neediest among us with housing and food.  And, yes, we need the churches and the generosity of businesses and individuals who provide us with turkeys and canned goods and gift certificates.

None of us can do this alone, but together, and with the blessings of God, anything is possible.  We can bring hope to the hopeless and the homeless.

Merry Christmas, everyone.  May your days be merry and bright.

The Week Before Christmas


‘Twas a week before Christmas and all through our place
the wrapping of gifts proceeded apace.

There were some for the nephews and some for the nieces
and treat bags with Kisses and Kit Kats and Reese’s.

In red, green and blue the tree was ablaze
and we knew that the kids were all counting the days.

There’s a pot luck at church and a service on Sunday
then out-of-town guests here for dinner on Monday.

We’re planning out meals and which songs we’ll be singing
while the doorbell and phone are constantly ringing.

Every three or four hours, we run to the store
and later, we realize we have to get more.

So it’s back in the car for a trip into town
with a grin and a carol and nary a frown.

Then we’ll run out of OJ or crackers or cheese
while everyone’s palate we’re trying to please.

But we try to maintain the old Christmas cheer
although we are grateful it’s just once a year.

For soon we’ll have naught but our mem’ries and pics
and boxes of leftover candy cane sticks.

We’ll pack up the ribbons, the red and the green
just as soon as we ring in two thousand fifteen.

We’re enjoying the blessings of those we hold dear
as we wish merry Christmas to friends far and near.

Happy Holidays!

Sock Puppet

sock puppet

Thank you for letting me borrow this image, Wikipedia, even though I did not ask your permission.  I guess that means I’m joy riding and may be convicted of grand theft sock puppet.  Oh, and thank you to the web series Totally Socks, on which this lovely sock ass is a character.  You see, I nearly always take my own blog photos (Thank you, Apple.  Thank you, OS 8.1.  Thank you, tiny camera on my iPhone, to which I am joined at the hip these days.  And thank you, dear wife, for purchasing said iPhone for me two years ago and for keeping it updated.  And thank you, Lord, for bringing me my beloved some 16 years ago.  Oh, and if I left anyone out, it’s not that I’m not thankful for you, it’s just that I’m getting old and forgetful.  Forgive me?), but I couldn’t for the life of me find a decent sock puppet to photograph.  Perhaps I’m just not cultivating the acquaintance of the right people.

See, there’s this job I want to apply for, but I can’t get the employer’s HR website to cooperate.  Apparently, I have a little sock puppet problem.

I may have to ask my two year old grandniece for advice.

The error message consists of a long string of gobbledygook where the job application should be.  It ends with something about mysql/mysql.sock(2).  Talk about a kiss-off!  I suspect this is just a fancy, high tech way of saying “Ha ha ha!  And you really thought we were going to let the likes of you apply for this job!  Sucker!”

Well, not so fast.  I don’t give up that easily.  Let’s take a minute to break this thing down and figure out what it could really mean.  First of all, I’m not sure what all this folderol about “mysql” is.  I’ve heard of a database program called SQL, but I know that’s not it, because how can I be in the company’s database when I can’t even log onto their blessed website to apply for a job?

So what does that leave us with?  It could stand for “my squirrel,” but I haven’t seen any squirrels around here for quite some time.  Now that the wind and rain here in northern California has finally washed the leaves off the trees, there are no more tasty acorns in evidence.  The squirrels must have all gone into hibernation with the bears.  Or else maybe they’ve flown south for the winter along with the Canada geese.  I saw a flock of them (geese, not flying squirrels) zoom over the parsonage in the pre-dawn darkness as I headed out to work of a recent morning.  Employing the classic V formation, they were hauling it double-time in the general direction of Tijuana, screaming their fowl heads off against the wind and the rain, as if to say “I told you we should have gotten the heck out of here last month!  What were you thinking hanging around so long?!”  You’d think they’d have heard of Interstate 5 by now.

Perhaps this mysterious coded message stands for “my sequel.”  But what would it be a sequel to?  It figures.  I’m always behind the times.  Here I am expected to know all about the sequel when I haven’t even been exposed to the original yet.

Then again, it could stand for “my squiggle.”  This might make more sense, as I see many squiggles as part of statements written in various and sundry computer languages.  I don’t even know much Spanish, so don’t ask me to try to converse with a computer.  I still haven’t figured out how to pronounce those squiggles.

Finally, we come to the part about “sock(2).”  On the face of it, this seems pretty clear to me.  As part of my daily routine, I do indeed put on (2) socks, one on my left foot and one on my right.  I do this by performing a subroutine that involves accessing my sock drawer and then following some good old computer logic.  IF a pair of clean socks is in the drawer, THEN pull apart the paired socks + set my feet up on the ottoman + pull socks over my cold toesies = aaaahhhhh!  I haven’t yet figured out where in the program to put the part about removing the lint balls or doctoring up the blister that has mysteriously raised up on one of my toes for no other reason than to annoy the bejabbers out of me.

When running this subroutine yields error messages, it is generally either because I have been left with sock(1) after the dryer has mysteriously made off with sock(2) once again, or because neither sock(1) nor sock(2) will fit on my big old dogs.  In the latter case, I simply proceed to the next subroutine:  IF we are dealing with ankle socks(2), or IF socks(2) are striped or in pretty colors or are anything other than dark blue, THEN return socks(2) to wife’s sock drawer ELSE socks(2) belong to Pastor Mom.  It’s fairly simple, really.  BASIC, one might say, or possibly FORTRAN.  No need for Java or C++++++ or even mysql.

As for my job application, a little research revealed that I have probably run into a sock puppet.  As a general rule, I don’t like to run into anything (the mere thought of it makes me say “Ow!”), but at least sock puppets tend to be nice and soft.  Sock puppets, I have learned, are a form of false identity, basically going online and pretending to be someone you’re not.  So if I were to create another WordPress account under the name of, say, Tasty Avocadoes, and proceeded to praise to the skies this Uncle Guacamole guy and recommend that everyone read A Map of California, I suppose I would then be a sock puppet (not to mention evil, and stupid, and juvenile, and… oh, well, you get the picture).

I have no idea why my prospective employer thinks I am impersonating myself or anyone else (honestly, you get to an age where you have enough trouble just being who you are).  But this gives me an idea.  The next time I run that subroutine and end up with an error because instead of socks(2) I am left with only sock(1), I can turn sock(1) into a sock puppet forthwith.  I don’t have an artistic bone in my body, so I am certain that it will not look anywhere near as pretty as the lovely donkey in the photo that I stole from Wikipedia.  Perhaps I can find some loose buttons to use as eyes, and some threads that have been hanging off one of my shirts as a mouth.  I would then slip sock(1) over my hand, and voilà, sock puppet!  If I impersonate a high, squeaky voice, who knows what adventures I might be able to conjure up?  I bet I could entertain my little grandniece for hours!

Alright, who am I kidding?  My grandniece is two years old, which means that she can’t be entertained for more than three minutes at a time, and that’s pushing it.  Besides, if it’s not Mickey Mouse or Barney or those darned Teletubbies, she simply wouldn’t be interested.  She’d just ask to borrow my cell phone, please.  Not that she wants to call anyone.  She just wants to entertain herself with videos of people taking apart eggs or singing in Mandarin Chinese.

That’s okay.  She may not have any interest in sock puppets, but at least it’ll be a while before I have to break the news to her that responsible adults use the internet for things like applying for jobs and puzzling over Dr. Seuss caliber computer code about sock(1) and sock(2).

The 12 Trips to Walgreen’s

Walgreen's Madera

On our first trip to Walgreen’s, my true love gave to me, one Elf on the Shelf and a partridge in a pear tree.

On our second trip to Walgreen’s, my true love gave to me, two liters of Pepsi, one Elf on the Shelf and a partridge in a pear tree.

On our third trip to Walgreen’s, my true love gave to me, three trashy paperbacks, two liters of Pepsi, one Elf on the Shelf and a partridge in a pear tree.

On our fourth trip to Walgreen’s, my true love gave to me, four boxes of caramel coconut fudge, three trashy paperbacks, two liters of Pepsi, one Elf on the Shelf and a partridge in a pear tree.

On our fifth trip to Walgreen’s, my true love gave to me, five tacky picture frames, four boxes of caramel coconut fudge, three trashy paperbacks, two liters of Pepsi, one Elf on the Shelf and a partridge in a pear tree.

On our sixth trip to Walgreen’s, my true love gave to me, six tablet cases, five tacky picture frames, four boxes of caramel coconut fudge, three trashy paperbacks, two liters of Pepsi, one Elf on the Shelf and a partridge in a pear tree.

On our seventh trip to Walgreen’s, my true love gave to me, seven phone chargers, six tablet cases, five tacky picture frames, four boxes of caramel coconut fudge, three trashy paperbacks, two liters of Pepsi, one Elf on the Shelf and a partridge in a pear tree.

On our eighth trip to Walgreen’s, my true love gave to me, eight Snuggies, seven phone chargers, six tablet cases, five tacky picture frames, four boxes of caramel coconut fudge, three trashy paperbacks, two liters of Pepsi, one Elf on the Shelf and a partridge in a pear tree.

On our ninth trip to Walgreen’s, my true love gave to me, nine Sherpa throws, eight Snuggies, seven phone chargers, six tablet cases, five tacky picture frames, four boxes of caramel coconut fudge, three trashy paperbacks, two liters of Pepsi, one Elf on the Shelf and a partridge in a pear tree.

On our tenth trip to Walgreen’s, my true love gave to me, ten packs of AA batteries, nine Sherpa throws, eight Snuggies, seven phone chargers, six tablet cases, five tacky picture frames, four boxes of caramel coconut fudge, three trashy paperbacks, two liters of Pepsi, one Elf on the Shelf and a partridge in a pear tree.

On our eleventh trip to Walgreen’s, my true love gave to me, eleven pairs of thermal socks, ten packs of AA batteries, nine Sherpa throws, eight Snuggies, seven phone chargers, six tablet cases, five tacky picture frames, four boxes of caramel coconut fudge, three trashy paperbacks, two liters of Pepsi, one Elf on the Shelf and a partridge in a pear tree.

On our twelfth trip to Walgreen’s, my true love gave to me, twelve drums of white chocolate peppermint kettle corn, eleven pairs of thermal socks, ten packs of AA batteries, nine Sherpa throws, eight Snuggies, seven phone chargers, six tablet cases, five tacky picture frames, four boxes of caramel coconut fudge, three trashy paperbacks, two liters of Pepsi, one Elf on the Shelf and a partridge in a pear tree.

Merry Christmas!

The Purple Tree

purple tree

I drove into town to get the oil changed in our car today, and on the way home to the parsonage, I saw a family of six walking along the side of the road, every one of them decked out in red and white Santa hats.  Every last one of them, including the baby in the stroller.

Wow, so it’s really Christmas, huh?

As a New York boy, it never seems as if it’s really Christmas here in northern California.  The mild weather fools me every time.  With all the falling leaves, it feels more like October.

Sac fall color

I took this photo of downtown Sacramento’s fall color from halfway up the office tower in which I am currently employed.

All in all, this was quite a week.  We started out on Sunday with brunch at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants.  They have veggie fajitas right on the menu . . .


. . .which I proceeded to make into tacos, thanks to the vegetarian black beans.

veggie tacos

This may not seem like such a big deal, but believe me, it is.  It’s delightful for once not to have to ask the server to have the cook make up something special, and no butter (no, not even margarine), and by the way, what type of oil do you cook with?  Congratulations, you have instantly become a problem customer.  Just don’t admit to being a vegan, whatever you do.  Better pretend to have severe food allergies.  Or tell them that you’re an Orthodox Jew and have to follow the kosher rules.  Hope they don’t ask you where your “Yamaha” is.  (Out in the parking lot, doofus.  It’s the one with the twin cams and the Star of David).

Monday was pay day, also a big deal when you only get paid once a month.  Pay bills, pay tithes, buy groceries, figure out the budget for the month.  If you really want that vegan coconut milk “ice cream” that costs four and a half dollars for a thimbleful, now’s the time to speak up.  Next week, there won’t be any money for it.  (Don’t cry, there’s always next month.)

Monday was also the first day back at work from our four-day break (Thanksgiving is the one and only time of year that we have one).  Down came my paper turkey from the dollar store and up went my purple Christmas tree, of similar pedigree (see photo above).  Matching purple bows were pinned up both inside and outside my tiny cubicle domain. Fa la la la la…

Although it rained for most of the trip down to and back from the Central Valley for my father’s 81st birthday last weekend, my coworkers report that there was barely a sprinkle here.  Tuesday, however, the heavens opened up over Sacramento.  The entire area instantly turned into a big soggy mess.  “The crops really need it,” I would hear a dozen times a day.  “Finally, a break in the drought.”


As I left work on Tuesday evening, the nearly full moon attempted to show itself through the mass of clouds that had been watering the fields and roadways all day.

By Wednesday, immense puddles had formed all over the area.  We had a brunch at work for an employee returning from maternity leave.  I was able to help myself to orange juice and fresh fruit, and I brought in bagels for everyone to enjoy (along with some hummus as my personal substitute schmear for the cream cheese).

I wanted pasta and hot soup for dinner, so I asked my wife to bring Pastor Mom along when she picked me up from work.  We had a wonderful dinner (“Yes, the cook says we can make the sauce without cheese.  Yes, you can have olive oil instead of butter with the bread.”) and made our way northward toward home without incident, despite the continuing rain.

Thursday morning, many of my coworkers reported that they had a heck of a time getting home.  One person who works on my floor talked about having seen four cars literally floating down the freeway.  Welcome to California.  Dry or wet, it’s always a disaster.

At noontime on Thursday, it was still pouring down rain, but in the early afternoon the clouds parted a bit and the sun struggled to come out.  One by one, we all began to wander over to the picture window on our floor to gawk.  We were treated to this:

double rainbow

The photo does not begin to do this double rainbow justice.  It was a huge arc that gave the appearance of wrapping all of Sacramento in a giant embrace.  This was among the largest rainbows that I had ever seen, and I couldn’t help thinking that this was what Noah saw when God promised never again to destroy the world by flood.  Brighter times ahead.  Yes!

Thursday evening, we all took my sister-in-law out for her birthday.  We had a wonderful time (veggie tacos, hooray!), my niece and nephews showed up, and my two year old grandniece was in high spirits.  She wouldn’t stay in her high chair very much, so we passed her from hand to hand and only had to run after her once when she made her way down the steps and headed toward the restaurant exit.  When it was time to leave, our dear little one, entirely unprompted, offered each of her hands to my wife and myself.  Hold my hand and walk with me, auntie and uncle.  I will cherish this photo forever, my friends.

Hayden Donna Aron

Thursday night, I went to bed a happy boy.  And so, life being what it is, things proceeded directly from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Friday.  Finally, the end of the week had arrived, so let’s go out with a bang, now shall we?  I won’t get into the details of the Friday follies that transpired at work (I am shaking my head just thinking about some of it) other than to describe the celebration we had in honor of the birthday of one of my coworkers.

On Thursday, some people were out, and those who were at work couldn’t decide whether we should have a brunch for my coworker or take her out to lunch.  The last I had heard, it was decided that it was too last minute to do anything.  And then on Friday, as noon approached, I was informed that we would be bringing in Vietnamese pho for lunch to celebrate my coworker’s special day.  Did I want beef or chicken?

Nooooo, not again!  I happened to be working away in my cubicle at the time, crunching on fresh radishes (hot ones!) dipped in hummus.  “I don’t eat meat at all,” I explained.  “I’m a vegan.  See? This is what I eat.  Carrots, radishes, hummus.”

“Oh, I was a vegetarian for six months once,” came the reply.  “Maybe just the noodle soup without the meat?”

Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Also, we had a meeting at which my boss (who is among the best supervisors I have ever had and whom I appreciate dearly) announced that he has found another job and is leaving.

I think I’ll go with crying.

And, uh, merry Christmas.




My father enjoys sitting in the dark.

Sometimes he sits outside, but mostly he sits in the little TV and computer room that my parents made out of one of the spare bedrooms.  It may be late at night, but he keeps all the lights off.  I may see the glow of the television as I walk by; aside from the news shows, my Dad likes watching serials and movies about murders and gangsters and investigations, the bloodier the better.  The ones where the wife kills the husband (or vice-versa) seem to be his favorite.

If my father is not watching TV, he’s on the computer.  Also in the dark.  He owns an old Model A that he’s restored, and he loves surfing classic car enthusiast websites and the parts sales on eBay using his painfully slow dial-up connection.  If I call my parents and the line is busy, I know that Dad is online again.

Other times, my father just sits in the dark and stares off into space, lost in thoughts unknown to anyone but himself until he falls asleep in his chair.

In the daytime, my parents are often to be found outdoors.  My mother, who fancies herself to be something of a farmer, loves gardening of any ilk.  Meanwhile, unless my father’s talents are called upon to dig a hole or haul a heavy wheelbarrow full of debris, he is likely to be somewhere nearby, sitting in his chair, still as a stone.  My mother confided that one of the neighbors, thinking that my father must be silently suffering from some sort of horrible disease or disability, asked what exactly is wrong with him.  That’s just Dad, she explained.

My father turned 81 years old this past weekend, and we made the eight-hour round trip to the Central Valley to celebrate with him.  I am pleased to say that both my parents are in rather good shape for octogenarians.  Lately, however, my mother has begun admitting that it’s not as easy to get around anymore, that the old muscles just aren’t as flexible as they used to be, and that it is becoming more difficult to do the stooping and bending required to keep her trees and flowers and vegetables growing.  Then she told me about all the hyacinth bulbs she just planted — purple, yellow and pink.  So it’s hard to know how much concern is warranted, how much is genuine discomfort and how much is just kvetching.  But one thing is pretty clear:  My parents are slowing down.

Although my parents enjoy living out in the country, on the edge of the rangeland where the cows munch the tall grass contentedly (moo today, Big Mac tomorrow), we are worried about their isolation and what is likely to be their increasing inability to care for a huge house and acres of property.  I have mentioned my concern in this space in the past, but as time goes by, I can tell that this is a snowball rolling downhill.  It is just a matter of time before it collides with an immovable object and goes splat.  I sense that this is the calm before the storm.  As I related to my wife, I am holding my breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Perhaps one of my parents will pass away suddenly, which will be hard enough to deal with.  It is clear that the surviving parent will not be able to remain on that big spread alone.  Arrangements will have to be made, and it will not be pretty.

What I truly fear, however, is that a rather different scenario will play out, rendering things a whole lot messier.  For instance, if one of my parents takes a fall, breaks a hip and ends up first in a hospital and then in a convalescent facility, eventually returning home and being unable to get around or being cowed by the experience into a sedentary lifestyle.  Dad would probably take it in stride; he likes sitting around in the dark anyway.  Mom, however, would go stir crazy.  I haven’t yet forgotten what it was like when she broke her shoulder and had to have emergency surgery sixteen years ago.  I wasn’t around all that much, but I do remember the fit she threw in the kitchen one night when she was unable to serve herself and there was no one in the same room to assist her immediately.  I can’t imagine having to deal with that on a regular basis.

One would think that I’d be able to simply sit down with my parents to discuss the subject of aging and future plans.  I have, however, found that this is not the simplest thing to do.  There is the “squirm factor;” it is an uncomfortable topic for all parties involved.  Every adult child wants to think of his or her parents as young and spry forever, and what elderly person wants to delve into the prospect of incapacity, losing the people and things that are important to them and, yes, mortality?  It’s far easier for everyone to just ignore the subject completely, allowing that particular white elephant the status of honored guest, here to stay and ignored by all.

My wife (God bless her wisdom and her finely honed sense of discernment) recently mentioned, during one of our early morning commutes, that I ought to consider mentioning to my parents the possibility of moving to the Sacramento area when they are finally ready to sell their house and property.  That would place them close to shopping, medical care and all the services they need, and they would be only about 40 miles away rather than a four hour drive down the freeway (which, this time, we did in the pouring rain both ways).  I promised her that I’d bring up the subject.  The worst they could do would be to say no, I pondered.


Raindrops through the window.  “Pray for rain,” read a roadside sign.  California desperately needs the water, but the rain placed a decided damper on Thanksgiving weekend travel in the northern part of the state.

I followed through with this over the weekend and was pleasantly surprised to find that, not only did they not say no, but my mother actually seemed pleased that we wanted to have them near us.  As I said, my wife’s sense of timing is impeccable, and one of the endless reasons that I love her so much.  Not long ago, any mention of the subject would have just ticked off my parents, causing me to be characterized as an insensitive boor.  But time does march on, now doesn’t it?

This is not to say that my parents are actually going to plan to do such a thing.  They just thought it was nice that we asked.  My mother reminded me that property values have dropped considerably since they had their home custom built some twenty years ago.  Despite the fact that they have not kept up the place very well, they have sunk more than a little money into improving and repairing it over the years.  My mother does not want to sell the house until the real estate market rallies sufficiently to allow my parents to get the price that they think the place merits.  My wife and I roll our eyes, as we are well aware that this will never occur.  My parents’ sense of what their home is worth bears no relation to what anyone would ever pay for a place in that condition.

All of which brings me back to what I mentioned earlier:  Nothing is going to change until something drastic happens.  And that, of course, could be any day.  It could happen tomorrow or ten years from now.  It is just a matter of when cruel fate decides to pull the rug out from under all of us.  For it is then that our lives will be turned topsy-turvy, likely in a most dramatic fashion.

My mother told me that my sister from Texas agreed to come out and help her clean out the house, pack things up and donate or discard unneeded items, whenever my parents are ready to sell the house.  This is good news, as it is a big job and my sister (like my wife) is good at such things.  My parents, of course, hope that they do not have to take my sister up on her offer for many years to come.

Before we left, I asked my mother whether she thinks that she will still be able to maintain the house and the grounds and do her gardening when she is 90 years old.  No, she admitted, whereupon I reminded her that my father will be 90 in just nine more years.  “Nine years is a long time,” she replied.  “But it goes really fast,” my wife chimed in.

My mother says that, if someone would be willing to come live with my parents and help them, they could stay in their home a lot longer.  In-home health care is always available, of course, but as for someone being willing to live with them, it’s just not likely.  There isn’t anyone in the extended family who would be inclined to move out to the country, away from everyone and everything.  And my parents are, if I am to be honest, not easy people to get along with.

Still, my parents admit that they are in a precarious situation.  Should one of them experience a sudden medical emergency that required immediate attention, calling 911 simply would not cut it.  It would take bloody forever for an ambulance to get out there even from Madera, much less from Fresno.  My parents are just rolling right along, humming a tune, hoping that somehow the worst never comes to pass.  It is, I suspect, a foolish notion, but what else can I expect them to do?  Move to a condo with nowhere for my mother to dig in the dirt beyond planting tomatoes and hydrangeas in little window boxes as she did in her childhood days?

All in all, it is clear to me that my parents fully understand the realities of the situation, but choose not to dwell upon it.  I can’t say that I blame them there.  After all, it could lead to morbid thoughts, and why shouldn’t they enjoy doing what they can do while they are still able to do it?

So my mother showed me her new sheets and slippers, pointed out with pride the new location of her cactus garden and insisted on giving us gas money.  We drove into Fresno for a birthday dinner at a chain restaurant, splurging on two appetizers before the entrées and singing “Happy Birthday” when the server brought out a little ice cream sundae with two candles stuck in the top.  Then we returned to my parents’ house for birthday cake and sang to my father again.

I can tell that Dad is aging.  I don’t think I would be comfortable asking him to hit tennis balls with me anymore, even if there were any place to do such a thing locally.  We still did that until after he turned sixty.  But, of course, I was a lot younger then, too.  In some respects, I am in a lot worse shape than my father, and who knows whether I could even manage to hit a backhand anymore.

On the way home, I told my wife that, at least to me, my Dad is finally starting to seem like an old grandpa.  As my maternal grandfather aged, we began bringing him the same gift for every birthday and every Father’s Day.  We knew exactly what he wanted:  A bottle of whiskey (which he always referred to by its Yiddish name, schnapps).  Although I was only a teenager, I seem to recall that he favored Canadian Club.

With my father, it’s beer.  The hard stuff really doesn’t interest him, although he’s been known to make an amazing Tom Collins when the summertime heat climbs over a hundred degrees.  For the past few years, my wife and I have gone looking for some sort of beer or ale to present him with on his birthday.  Often, we go for one of those sampler packs that tend to hit the shelves for the holiday season with such corny names as “flags of the world.”  This year, we ran out of time to shop for Dad’s beer properly and had to choose from the limited selection that was available at a store close to my parents’ house.

Now, I don’t know a thing about beer.  Neither my wife nor I drink it.  We are boring teetotalers.  What I know is that my father likes light to medium beers and ales, and has somewhat of a preference for the imported varieties.  I know he doesn’t like the dark stuff, but that’s about it.  I couldn’t tell you the difference between hops and skips or between malt and salt.

Fortunately, my eye fell upon a 12-pack of a light ale that I had never heard of before.  It was a wheat ale, the package reported, made with citrus peel and coriander.  Well, that sounds interesting, I thought.  I doubted that my father had ever tried it.  This, of course, can cut both ways.  He may very well enjoy the opportunity to try a variety of ale that is new to him, but then again, what if he hates this kind?  Then he has a dozen bottles to get rid of.  And although the ale was “Belgian style,” it was actually domestic.  But it’s all Greek to me.  Who ever heard of such a ludicrous thing as an alcoholic beverage called Shock Top in a bright orange case?

Well, we lucked out.  We presented my father with the ale as soon as we arrived, and he immediately popped open a (still) cold one.  He loved it!  He oohed and aahed about how smooth it was, and what a delightful flavor.  My wife and I gave each other the look that says “high five!”

But whether you’re an ale man, like my Dad, or a whiskey guy like my grandfather, the problem with reaching that age is that the number on the birthday cake cannot be ignored, much as we would like to.  Each of my grandfathers only lived about one year more than the age that my father is now.  Losing him would be very sad indeed, and I know I would have a terribly hard time with it.

But losing him or my mother to some sort of cruel life-in-death like a stroke or a fall would be even harder.

And so we sit and wait.  Wait for that day when we receive the dreaded phone call, frantically throw clothes into a bag and take a screamer 200 miles down the freeway.  This haunts my dreams.  My wife reminds me that, to save our sanity, we can’t dwell upon it.  We just have to take one day at a time and leave it in God’s hands.

Indeed, all we can do is pray.  At least until that fateful day when I awake to find that the nightmare has become real.