Moxie’s Resolutions for Everyone Else: The 2017 Edition

What a crazy clusterf**k of a year it’s been. I’m ready for 2017, but there are a few things I’d like y’all to do better, okay? Hence my annual resolutions for everyone else. On with the show.

Stop using “Ch-Ch-Changes” as an editorial or article title (editors and journalists). If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen this popular David Bowie song used as a title for an op-ed, editor’s note or even an article, I would not need a day job. Now that Bowie is no longer with us, how about honoring his memory by NOT using this song as an article title anymore?

Participate in the 2018 California State Fair by having an exhibit in the exhibition hall (California counties). 

Create a buddy movie or sitcom starring Gwendoline Christie and Miranda Hart (British film/TV industry). If you’ve watched “Game of Thrones”, you’ve likely seen actress Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth, the tall, powerful female knight who has sworn to serve the House of Stark. She’s fabulous.

Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth on
Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth on “Game of Thrones.” Strong, powerful, flawed character and one of the reasons I keep watching.


Gwendoline Christie, actress, British actress, Brienne of Tarth, Game of Thrones
Gwendoline Christie all dolled up for awards show.

Just as fabulous is the statuesque actress and comedian Miranda Hart, who had her own sitcom on BBC and has been in several films, as well as on PBS’s series “Call the Midwife” as Chummy.

Miranda Hart, British actress, British comedian
Miranda Hart, British actress and comedian.

Why not put these two tall, lovely British ladies in a buddy movie or sitcom? Rumor is that “Miranda” is returning – how about a guest spot for Gwendoline, hmm, Miranda? Maybe Miranda dresses up as Brienne for a fancy dress party and ends up in some wacky situation where she is mistaken for Gwendoline?

Make US Postal Service-compliant stationery and cards (stationers and greeting card makers). 

Declare a moratorium on remakes of movies that are less than 50 years old (Hollywood). I feel like I’ve made this resolution before but once again in my life, I am freakin’ Cassandra yelling at the Trojans to not let that damn horse through the gates. Reading this round-up at Den of Geek got me extra annoyed. I get that there’s an assumption on the part of film producers and major studios that a remake has much better luck at doing well at the box office, but come up with some new material, okay? Or just make another sequel or prequel to an existing property, since you’re doing that already.

Accept that email is not a secure form of communication (federal government, Democratic National Committee, and, really, everyone). If we learned anything in 2016, it’s that email servers can be easily hacked. Honestly, I think there’s a lot of ignorance on the part of politicians and others about email security. Unless you work for the NSA, CIA or FBI, or you’re intentionally using email encryption software or services, assume that none of your emails are safe from prying eyes, and act accordingly.

Create/produce a TV drama about Baltimore that’s positive & uplifting (Josh Charles).

Kill Flash Player already (Adobe). I feel like this has been a resolution in years past and yet this stupid thing continues to exist and slow down everything on my computer. Please, for the love of Steve, just kill Flash already.

Get a smartphone already (Pops). He’s had an iPad for a few years now, and the iPhone is not that much different, yet Pops refuses to get a smartphone. He says “my phone is smart enough to work,” and I appreciate that, but the moments when you are dealing with crappy traffic because your Garmin doesn’t tell you about road closures are moments you can avoid with a smartphone that’s equipped with Google Maps and Waze.

Restore Jerry’s Subs & Pizza to its former glory (DC, MD and VA sub-loving citizens).

What are YOUR resolutions for everyone else?

Road Trippin’

Create Your Own Visited States Map

This interactive map is floating around on the interwebs so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I’ve visited way more states than I thought, though a few of these are ones where I didn’t do much beyond stop to pee, have a snack or get gas, as most of my visits were during road trips with Pops and Momcat. We did several drives to New England when I was growing up, as summers in the DC area were humid and uncomfortable. Imagine living in a sweatsock or plastic bag and that’s what mid-Atlantic summers are like, though the beach areas are really nice.

My travels through the southern part of the U.S. were trips down I-95 to see my grandparents in Florida, and all my midwest travels are due to having family in Michigan. In 2008, I went to New Orleans on vacation: I went to Voodoo Experience, a 3-day concert event at City Park, to see a ton of amazing bands & singers, including Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails, R.E.M., Thievery Corporation, Erykah Badu, Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean, etc.; I wandered around the French Quarter; I had a hurricane at Pat O’Briens; I ate beignets and drank coffee at Café du Monde. Great trip.

There’s a good chunk of the southwest I wouldn’t have seen if it hadn’t been for three cross-country drives from Maryland to California with Pops. The first was in the mid ’80s. Pops signed up with a car delivery service and we drove a two-seater Mercedes out to L.A., cutting through the middle of the U.S. I remember watching the speedometer hit 100 a few times in the desert – Pops had a blast driving that car. In 1991, our second cross-country drive took a southern route, and that’s when I first remember seeing the road sign for Galax, Virginia – the setting for my novel in progress (which is close to complete, whoo hoo!). The third cross-country drive was when I moved to California in early 2000, the station wagon loaded down with my computer and clothes.

I also wouldn’t have gotten to see Idaho and Montana if it hadn’t been for a road trip with Pops. Last summer he did what I call Pops’ Poker Tour, driving his car to California and stopping along the way to play Texas Hold ‘Em at various casinos. He spent a few days in CA with me, then we drove to Montana, stopping in Idaho and visiting Yellowstone along the way. Gorgeous drive.

Just looking at the map and thinking about all the places I’ve been gets me all nostalgic for a good road trip. I highly recommend them, especially if you have kids who are old enough to appreciate them. It’s such a fantastic way to learn about the U.S. and how people live in different parts of the country.

Where would you go on a road trip?

Games People Play

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Rubik’s Cube, the six-sided, three-dimensional puzzle that was the bane of many a Generation X’er back in the 80s. It got me thinking about all the games I grew up with and the role they played (no pun intended) in my childhood.

My family loved games – the old school kind that involved tiny plastic or metal pieces, rainbow-hued paper money, and coated cardboard playing areas. Our den closet was the main storage area for our game collection; it was where you could find Battleship, Monopoly, Sorry, Risk, Clue, Benji (which was an awesome game). On a shelf by the stereo in the living room, there were two clear plastic storage boxes where we kept travel games, card games and 3-D puzzles.

Rubik's Cube, Rubik's Missing Link, Rubik's Magic Snake, Pyraminx, Ivory Tower, Whip It, puzzles, 3-D puzzles, games
Some of the puzzles from my youth.

Because I was an only child, I had to either convince Momcat to play games with me, wait until the weekend so Momcat, Pops and I could play a game together, or find a friend to play. Deena loved games, too, so we played many of them together. Inner Circle was one of my favorites, as was one that had plastic square pieces with rotating numbers that would change as you moved around the board (anyone remember the name of this game?). But our favorite was the Mad Magazine game.

board games, games, Mad Magazine, humor
Mad Magazine Game – never read the magazine, but man, I loved this game.

A few years ago I gave the game to Deena, who was so excited as she’d lost her version. We played and she beat me, and we had a great time, but it wasn’t as fun as when we sat in my carport on a warm spring day, avoiding the oil spots, putting the “this card can only be played on Friday” underneath the board when we played the game on a Friday.

Two summers ago I found a good home for many of our board games with my friend Kirsten and her family – I heard her husband was even more excited than her kids about the games. Deena ended up buying several of the old 3-D puzzles from me, too. But that Rubik’s Cube? It’s staying with me, even if I’ll never be able to solve it.

What were your favorite games from your childhood?

Travelin’ with Moxie

After many years of hearing from Pops of how fabulous Montana is, and after many years of me saying, “Not yet, it’s too rural for me,” I finally did it. I rode with Pops from Sacramento to Montana, where Aunt Gigi & Uncle Ned have a cabin.

And I get it now. I get why my family members love this place so much. Montana is beautiful, so beautiful that the first couple of days I was overcome by the beauty that I couldn’t talk about it without wanting to cry. Or actually crying, which was embarrassing. I did my best to act like it was just seasonal allergies kicking in, which isn’t hard with all this pollen and nature around.

I will always be a city girl at heart – the girl who grins like a damn fool when she sees skyscrapers and tall buildings – but there is something about being surrounded by the stillness and solitude of nature, and all you can see for miles is sky meeting mountain and hillside and plains.

I’ve posted a few pictures from the trip, which included stops in two other states I’ve never visited: Idaho and Wyoming. I finally got to see Yellowstone Park and I did not make a Yogi Bear joke once.

While you will very likely never find me up this way in the winter months, I definitely plan on coming to Montana again in the summer. In a way you could say my newfound appreciation for Big Sky country means I am finally “showing some gumption”, as Uncle Ned would say. And gumption is really just another word for moxie, right?

Friday’s Hot Tip: Homemade Salsa

When I was growing up, my parents and I would frequently go out to lunch on Saturdays. It was a post-church treat as Momcat didn’t have to cook or clean anything up. One of our preferred lunch spots was Alamo, a Mexican restaurant with a more Tex-Mex flair. The salsa came to the table in a big Melamine bowl and was the perfect consistency: finely blended fresh tomato, onion, garlic and cilantro. This is the place where I first heard Pops say “Don’t fill up on chips! You’ll be too full to eat your tacos.” But they were so good, and the salsa was so tasty, it was hard to stop.

For many years I have searched for the perfect salsa like Alamo makes (yep, they are still in business), without much success. Sure, there have been some strong contenders – I particularly like Trader Joe’s Salsa Especial. Only in recent years did I consider the possibility that making my own salsa could bring me to that same blissful state as Alamo’s chips and salsa did so many years ago.

A few months ago, I had lunch with a friend who makes all sorts of fabulous sounding dishes at home. I mentioned wanting to make salsa and she whipped out a notebook and started writing down a recipe a friend had given her years before. I believe its origins are from someone’s Mexican grandmother. Todo del mundo ya sabe that abuelitas make delicious food, and this salsa is no exception. Even better? It’s super inexpensive to make and all you need is your blender or food processor. I’ve even made a short video to show you how easy it is.

You can easily adapt this recipe to suit your tastes. Can’t get fire-roasted tomatoes? Use regular instead. Don’t like cilantro? Leave it out. (You have made abuela cry, but she understands.) Too spicy? Use mild chiles instead. No lime? Use a lemon, or, if you must, use ReaLemon or ReaLime in the plastic container.

Homemade Salsa

  • 2 14-oz cans fire roasted diced tomatoes (Make sure there’s no added garlic, onion or chiles in the can. Trust me on this. You’re going to be adding fresh garlic, onion and chiles anyway, so why do you need it here?)
  • 1/4 C onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 4-oz can diced jalapenos
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, rinsed (jam the cilantro – leaves, stems and all – into a measuring cup)
  • 1/2 lime, juiced

Put all ingredients in food processor or blender. Process/blend on low speeds until ingredients are combined. Makes approximately 4 1/2 cups.

From My First Breath*

“So, does Sacramento feel like home?” T-Wizzle asked me. It was the third time she’d asked me that question in the last three months. And for the third time I couldn’t give her a clear answer.

For many years I haven’t felt a sense of home in the way that others do. I will remain longer than I should in apartments and townhouses that do not meet my needs, but I also avoid making investments in furniture until absolutely necessary. I have never hung drapes or curtains, and I have never done major remodeling. I bought a house with Mr. X but we never got around to decorating it. We didn’t build knee walls or repaint bathrooms in an attempt to make the house truly ours; we never quite made that house our home.

But I have also designed and planted a garden, much to the surprise of others – and myself, to be honest. More recently, I installed a new shower head in my apartment and, when I discovered how easy it actually was, I cursed my narrow-mindedness for not installing one in the last place I lived. I have hung pictures around the apartment and installed shelving in my kitchen to accommodate my pots and pans. Between these tasks and getting involved in the community, I do have more of a sense of home than I ever had when I was living in Southern California. In many ways my new town reminds me a lot of where I grew up on the East Coast. But it’s still not quite home.

Because while decorating a kitchen and installing shower heads can mean one considers a place to be home, I don’t believe that material goods create that feeling of home, that sense of this is where I belong. That feeling comes from something much deeper. Home is that elusive smell in the air in the town where you were born. It’s recognizing the once-vacant lot where you once played ball with your friends. It’s holding on to the belief that the world you knew at the age of five is the biggest, widest, most fabulous world that ever was, or ever will be.

Last night I was with Pops, Aunt Gigi and Uncle Roy as they found their childhood home. I listened quietly as they recounted stories from their early years: stories of dollhouses and comic books, neighborhood friends and schoolhouse bullies. I saw Roy beaming with bliss at the discovery that the  built-in milkbox he remembered playing with as a toddler was, indeed, exactly where he remembered it was.

And even though I never lived in that neighborhood or spent time in that house as a child, in that moment, I felt home, too.

This post was inspired by Kirsten’s entry for the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival, hosted by Peter Pollock.

*The title of this post comes from a line in a Depeche Mode song, “Home.”

Hard Habits to Break

When I was a kid, Momcat and Pops had specific ways of doing things but didn’t necessarily have reasons as to why they did these things the way they did. It was likely the way they were taught by their parents, and their parents before them. These things ranged from food preferences to cooking styles. Momcat did not use any other white rice but Uncle Ben’s Converted Long Grain, nor did she ever buy white bread, grape jelly or shredded cheese. We never had honey in the house because Pops hated it. All of our towels came in sets of two and included a matching hand towel and washcloth. When I got my driver’s license and started driving the family vehicles, Momcat was vigilant in letting me know I needed to move the seat all the way back when I was done using the car, because the next person driving the car might be Pops and he needed more legroom. And you never, NEVER, put a bumper sticker on a car.

Once I was living on my own, I did a lot of things the same way as I was taught. I bought block cheese and shredded it as needed. I never bought honey. My towel sets were always two bath, two hand and two washcloths. I always pushed the driver’s seat all the way back when I got out of the car – even though it was my car and no one else was driving it.

It took me a while to realize that a number of these habits weren’t really Moxie originals – I had taken them on because they had been instilled in me by my parents.  I started questioning each one. Was oatmeal for breakfast something I really liked? No. I like oatmeal but it doesn’t fill me up. Same with cereal. So I stopped buying cereal. I stopped drinking most juices because they gave me heartburn. Tired of shredding my fingers on the cheese grater, I stopped buying block cheese and now I only buy shredded. On my 30th birthday, for the first time ever, I had honey in my peppermint tea and was astounded at how good it was. Now I’m never without a jar of honey. And the bumper sticker thing? I put a window cling for my alma mater in my car’s back window and Momcat lit into me when she saw it. “WE do NOT put stickers on OUR cars!” she said, glaring at me.

Some of those habits, have passed my idiosyncrasy litmus test. While I may not be buying Uncle Ben’s anymore, Momcat’s rice cooking methods (2:1 ratio, boil water, add rice, cover, lower heat, DO NOT LIFT THE LID) have proven to be failproof. I like having handtowels because I use them to dry my hair – the bath sheets I prefer to buy are way too big for my head. And while grape jelly is fun to eat, especially with peanut butter, there’s something quite spectacular about apricot preserves or a lovely mixed berry jam on good bread.

Oh, and the driver’s seat? As it so happens, the car I’m currently driving has a programmable seat. I positioned the seat just the way I wanted it, then I pressed a button that saved the settings. Now every time I turn on the ignition, the seat automatically moves to where I want it, and slides back when I turn off the engine. God bless technology.

What habits were passed down to you from your parents?

Overheard at Starbucks

Pops: Coffee is supposed to be hot, not cold. God intended for us to drink coffee HOT.
Moxie: (shaking head).
Pops: The first cup of coffee in the Garden of Eden that Adam drank was hot.
Moxie: How did he heat it up?
Pops: A geyser. He used a geyser.

Happy Birthday Pops

Today is Pops’ birthday. He’s celebrating down south with family and having a great time. Just like I did for Momcat, here are a few of his favorite things.

Baseball is extremely important to Pops. He actually plays in several over-50 leagues, and manages his own team (see angry rooster above – that’s his team’s mascot) of old guys that love to run around and play ball. His favorite professional team is the Detroit Tigers, but he will go to see major league games anywhere there’s a ballpark. While I was growing up, I went to many Baltimore Orioles games, thanks to Pops and his baseball-loving buddies.

When Pops isn’t playing baseball, he’s playing Texas Hold ‘Em. He’s competed in a few tournaments and done fairly well. One year for his birthday I gave him a couple of books on strategy and how to win. I told him, “If you’re going to gamble away my inheritance, I want you to at least do it intelligently.”

Remember this poster? When Bo Derek came on the scene with the movie “10”, Pops was smitten. Interestingly enough, she has the same birthday as Momcat. Guess Pops likes those Scorpio women.

Pops is also fond of Barbra Streisand, but for different reasons. He loves her music and I grew up listening to many of her tunes – heck, I even sing a few at karaoke.

Pops has seen every episode of “Bonanza”, I think. Once we were walking through Inyo National Forest and he stopped and said, “Hey, Moxie, this looks like a scene on Bonanza where Hoss and Little Joe were riding over the hills…” We kept walking. A few minutes later he stopped again and said, “Now this looks like a scene where Hop Sing and Joe Cartwright came up on some bandits…” I gave him a look and we continued walking. Another few minutes pass, and Pops stops. “Moxie, you see that hill over there, and the trees?” “Yeah, I see it,” I muttered. “That doesn’t look like anything on Bonanza,” he said, and started laughing.

Human Kindness Is Overflowing

All names have been changed.

It’s popular belief that death comes in a series of three. This past Friday marked the 3rd person I’ve known that has passed away over the last 3 months.

On February 25, my maternal grandfather died. Grandpa J was in his early 90s and had just come home from an extended stay in a nursing home.

He was a true jack-of-all-trades, fixing and building many things. When I was little and would go to visit, Grandpa J would always be wearing his work clothes: a navy blue button-down shirt and pants in either black or dark blue. His hair was a thick shock of white and his eyes were a cool blue-grey. He scared me a little, but at the same time, I would talk to him about his life and he would always answer my questions. Momcat remembers when, at the age of 5, I cornered Grandpa J for an inquisition. “You asked him all these personal questions,” she said. “I wanted to crawl under the table.”

He wasn’t very good with interpersonal relationships – family connections were often strained and tense. But during the icy cold Michigan winters, he would go out of his way to ensure that poor families had heat and that their pipes didn’t freeze. He was also a volunteer fireman and injured his leg on the way to fight a fire that had started at a local mill.

In his last years, he softened up a great deal, but still struggled to connect with family. Pops went to see him in the nursing home a few months before he died. “Don’t ever get old,” Grandpa J told Pops. “It’s awful.”

On April 25, Momcat & Pops’ next-door neighbor died. Fifty years ago, Margaret Woods built a house next door to my paternal grandparents. Even after my grandparents retired to Florida and Momcat, Pops & I moved in, she stayed on.

Mrs. Woods worked for the police department for many years – she would pronounce it poh-leece. She’d seen and heard a lot of crazy stories by working there and as a result didn’t put up with much foolishness. I think she chased away some mischievous boys with a broom once – I could be making that up, though. I remember sitting in her air-conditioned rec room for a couple hours while she talked about all sorts of things. I considered writing mysteries based on our relationship. In these tales, I would be the Nancy Drew to her Jessica Fletcher. I never did write anything, though.

Her garden was phenomenal – my best friend Deena and I often referred to her place as “Better Homes and Gardens.” I think Mrs. Woods’ well-manicured lawn was viewed by many neighbors as a challenge to make their yards look just as nice. But she wasn’t one to lord her gardening skills over anyone. She just loved to work in the dirt, and she was happy to offer suggestions and advice to anyone that asked.

On May 4, my cousin Sasha’s grandfather died. Dr. Y was Estonian and had come to the U.S. during WWII. After the Nazi occupation of Estonia, he lived for a while in a displaced-persons camp with his young son Ned, who later married my aunt Gigi.

Dr. Y lived near Pops & Momcat, so when Uncle Ned & Aunt Gigi came to town, we would all get together for pizza or a barbecue. At one of those gatherings, Dr. Y cooked one of the best porterhouse steaks I’ve ever eaten. Remembering it now makes me long for a juicy slab of meat, perfectly grilled, with some A-1 sauce.

Dr. Y always had a gleam in his eye and a quick laugh. The last time I saw him was Christmas 2005, at Ned & Gigi’s house.
“Moxie, psst!” I heard Sasha’s husband, Mark, whisper. He gestured at a bottle on the kitchen counter. It was time for the drinkers in the group to surreptitiously enjoy a shot of Estonia vodka that had been infused with jalapeno pepper.
I headed for the kitchen. Uncle Ned poured the shots. Dr. Y’s eyes gleamed and he grinned at me. “In Estonian, the word for vodka is the same as in English,” he said. “You just pronounce it wad-kah.”
Wad-kah,” I repeated. “Any way you say it, it’s good stuff.”
He laughed. “That’s right!”
We lifted our shot glasses and toasted – to what, I don’t remember. A good year ahead, perhaps. All I remember is the burn of the vodka down my throat.
“Gaaack,” I sputtered. “Good – stuff.”
“Yah!” Dr. Y laughed.

Three deaths, three very different people. Yet their acts of beauty, integrity, kindness, and generosity made an impact on the world. Grandpa J would refuse to charge people for fixing their furnace, if he knew they couldn’t afford it. From what I understand, Dr. Y was pressured by the Nazis to work for them, but he refused, showing incredible courage. And Margaret Woods beautified her corner of the planet by making her garden a lush, gorgeous sanctuary that would literally make people stop and stare.

I can’t really quantify the influence that these 3 people had on my life. But there’s a Randy Newman song that I’ve been listening to a lot lately, and I have a feeling it’s resonating with me so strongly because of these three people:

Bright before me, the signs implore me,
Help the needy and show them the way.
Human kindness is overflowing,
And I think it’s going to rain today.