from Sandy Needham

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Holiday Dispatch

We spent four mid-December days in Los Angeles with Elise. It was our first stay since she began working full-time with a long commute, so we missed her during the days. She has created a very warm and inviting atmosphere in her Hollywood apartment! 

We saw her office in Santa Monica, but the start-up company was moving in four days to a new building they purchased. The company provides video presence online for corporations, so Elise’s talents for graphic design, videography and editing are all being utilized!

We had some fun dinners, starting with “The Stinking Rose” restaurant in Beverly Hills, which specializes in garlic! I had my third and best burger of the decade at Pono Burger, where everything is organic and homemade and first quality. Superb. We had Mexican food with my niece April’s darling family. Ryan (10) and Addie (9) are both hockey players and piano players! 

It was old home week for Nyack, New York friends when we dined with our homies, Anya Degenshein, her mother, Nadja Hoyer-Booth, and Aaron Camper. His lovely fiancée Kat and her parents from England were there for the wedding in two days!

Luckily, Elise got an afternoon off, which afforded us the beautiful hike in Runyon Canyon we were all longing for:

This place offers a panoramic view of the city, as you can partly see here (along with a little holiday spirit thrown in):

Some Christmas shopping at LA's 'The Grove' was dazzling, as always:

The three of us flew to Las Vegas for Christmas at Jake and Larissa’s house.

First event: driving home from the airport in their new Tesla electric car! The aesthetic aspects of the design work are spectacular; the MOMA-worthy door handles retract into a piece with the car’s surface, elegantly issuing forth for use as the car key approaches (the approach requires a human!). The interior lines are graceful and integrated. The engineering aspects of the design work render the ride nearly silent and nearly floating! This is with an acceleration capacity that would leave one breathless if it did not occur so effortlessly. I am not a car person, but riding in this car is a feast for the senses! It travels up to 265 miles between charges. It is on the left:

No one could have suspected that Jake and Larissa had only returned to Las Vegas from the fall season in Vancouver a mere eight days prior, as a new floor had already been installed in the living room to replace old carpet, a new patio had been laid and outdoor furniture assembled, and Larissa had cleaned and prepared the whole house with attractive décor, beds made for seven occupants, and towels at the ready.

We had to try out Larissa and Jake's lucrative new roulette wheel in their game room (OUCH):

Larissa’s mother, Danya, and her spry, sharp 90-year-old grandfather, Sylvan, arrived from San Diego, where they recently moved from Albany, New York. It was fun decorating the tree with the exquisite collection of ornaments Larissa’s mother had given her over the years. We even conjured up a welcoming fireplace aflame on the flat screen!

We managed a bona fide fire in the new ‘fire pit’ on the new patio. The days were mild enough, but the evenings were very chilly-to-freezing, so a blazing fire was welcomed.

We went to a lively show on the Strip called "Raiding the Rock Vault." It featured rock from every decade, expertly performed...

...and then we hit a sky bar under those winter heaters!

Christmas Eve dinner was a “spread” of dips and cheeses, deviled eggs and smoked salmon at home with champagne. Spontaneous singing ensued. 

This inspiration for "TRO-LO-LO" - in case you have not come across this already - came from the Russian singer who entered a European contest some years back, but was not allowed to sing in Russian. His solution became a viral YouTube sensation. Worth looking up.

We played the hilarious “add a paragraph to the hidden narrative” game. This yields quite absurdist stories, full of accidental narrative genius!

Christmas morning was overwhelmed by gifts, gifts and more gifts!

Newton was both "iced" (surprise Smirnoff Ice - ugh) and "toned" (surprise Panettone, the ubiquitous and enduring Italian/South American Christmas cake; could it have been from last Christmas??).

I have the immense privilege of starting 2015 immersed in Joni Mitchell’s new 4-CD box set, “Love Has Many Faces” as well as in a book of interviews with her, In Her Own Words. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to disturb the iconic status she occupies in my esteem by knowing too many personal details, but it turns out I am ever more blown away by the intricacies of her genius reverently plumbing the depths of music, lyrics, painting and love. Thank you Jake, Larissa and Newton.

I have some beautiful reminders of my summer trip with Elise to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous house, Fallingwater, in Pennsylvania. She gave me elegant FLW coasters and a carved wooden trivet I have hanging in the office.

Danya finds the best organic personal products. I’m so glad to have expanded my collection from her! Sylvan supplied each and every one of us with electric toothbrushes!

And everyone gave me dark chocolate.

Christmas dinner consisted of my non-cook Mother’s delicious macaroni-and-cheese recipe she passed on to her non-cook daughter; the kids love it! We added the Thanksgiving fare I had craved since late November - thanks to Trader Joes, our favorite supermarket in the USA. We bought deliciously seasoned boneless turkey breast we could pop into the oven with the trimmings, and perfect cranberry sauce. Larissa made a brilliant dessert of pumpkin cheesecake with Sucralose that qualified for Sylvan’s diabetic diet and my own limits…to compensate for all the dark chocolate I was mainlining at this time.

Jake gave all of us the following generous group gifts: a ride on the High Roller Ferris Wheel in the open bar capsule, where up to forty people are carried ‘round to the sky and back with the Las Vegas Strip laid out before them; dinner afterwards on the Strip; and yet another dinner at my favorite Las Vegas restaurant, Bootleggers, where I always enjoy the Italian wine and fare. This year we were treated to exceptional renditions of jazz standards by a Sinatra-worthy vocalist. 

The light on top of this pyramid can be seen from space:

Danya gave us all the gift of the movie “Into the Woods” in a comfy VIP theater. Stephen Sondheim’s music worked its way under my skin and left me devastated at the end – I cannot be sure how he did it. Enchanting enough that children’s (and adults') wishing to understand themselves/the world sustains fairy tales...just ask Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell!

Jake’s darling German poker friend and wedding groomsman, Thomas, arrived after Christmas and slept on the sofa. He lives in Thailand, but had just visited his high school exchange family in rural Michigan. He had touching stories to tell. Thomas is smart, funny, wears a perpetual grin, and made us his heavenly scrambled eggs with veggies for more than one breakfast! Here we are partying on the Strip:
That cash-out coupon is for $6!

Yes, the table has four beers on draught in the center!

An outing to the go-cart racing track was exciting (I watched). It was disconcerting to see Newton slowing down on the second race, visor up and hands to his eyes. I couldn’t imagine what happened, and was hoping the visor hadn’t been left open and something had flown into his eye. Comically enough (since he came out in one piece), he had to drop out because the white cotton “head-sock” they have everyone wear under the helmets had slipped first over one eye and then over both, so he was driving blind for a moment and couldn’t easily remedy his predicament. So much for his Walter Mitty/Formula 1 fantasies (which thrived, at least, in the first race!).

All we adults left the kids to their own devices on the 29th. They went skating, burned the ever-drying Christmas tree in the fire pit and, of course, celebrated New Year's Eve. What Adorables! 

We returned home in thirty hours, even though one of our suitcases didn’t make it till three days later. United couldn’t get this ONE suitcase on our flight from Houston to São Paulo, so put it on the next flight that would connect to Natal...EXCEPT that was through Rio and on a different Brazilian airline than the one we were taking from São Paulo to Natal. Imagine the complications, especially considering that United Airlines is as Third World as any Brazilian airline. Naturally, each airline suggested we talk to one of the other two! Newton prevailed that we weren't required to make the two-hour trip to retrieve our bag at the Natal airport, but had it delivered by a reluctant United Airlines. I’m sure this only happened because Newton is double-golden-priority, or whatever it is called on United.

Our nephew, Michel, and his girlfriend, Marina, visited Natal from São Paulo over the holidays. They accompanied us on New Year’s Eve to an exquisite dinner party at our Belgian gourmet 'chef' friends'. A midnight highlight was the great city-wide fireworks show from their balcony! They even printed a dinner menu. It is in Portuguese and French; they also speak Flemish and perfect English. Thank you, Darlings, Mieke and Joris!

Michel and Marina cooked us several meals, including barbecues on our outdoor grill, and brought us Brazilian wine from the South, made by French vintners! They frequented the beach to relax from their work and studies schedule (engineering and law) and never ran out of astute conversation in English (my Portuguese was stunned by exhaustion and jet-lag). They make a beautiful couple!

Elise returned to work in Los Angles after New Year’s and – after two weeks – returned to Las Vegas for a bachelorette bridesmaids party weekend. Her college roommate from NYU is getting married in Granada (the island), so Elise has yet another adventure coming up in March! I believe she found her Vegas satiation point.

Jake and Larissa had already left Las Vegas for three months in Melbourne, Australia. There is an online poker group there, as well as a casino scene. Here is their view:

We are adjusting to the annual January ordeal of our neighborhood becoming inundated with all the people who own these otherwise-empty houses by the beach... accompanied by all of their relatives and friends. The weekdays are not so bad, and the screaming Evangelicals-with-a-microphone did not return next door (whew). The weekends are pretty noisy and the music is pretty bad. There are also concerts booming across the water till around 3:00am from the next beach town. What I do enjoy is people-watching on our Cotovelo Beach, which is generally far emptier. The color is always amazing in the summer, but we returned to a deeper aqua this year; simply magnificent. (This is not retouched.) 

And I know you are asking the burning question about all the new residents arriving at the completed In Mare condo across the road? Well, there is no evidence of residents yet, unless the two small groups we’ve seen in the pool moved into interior sections we can't see. My guess is there is still some further bureaucratic delay; BUT there have been signs for two visible units: one of them has been removing a wall inside, so we wake up to hammering and circular saws at 7:00am, just like old times; the other is next door to it, and we’ve only seen the owners examining the place once. Where are these only units with signs of life: EXACTLY IN FRONT OF OUR HOUSE; they look directly into our bedroom and onto our veranda. That damned In Mare trumps me every time.

Ring in the new!



  1. Even though we do travel a good bit, I must say that you can pack more into a single trip than we experience in a year. Your kids do expose you to great adventures and I suppose having young grandchildren provides limits on our excursions. We visit museums instead of riding go carts and our grandchildren are normally in bed no later than 9:00 and usually by 8:00 so that cuts out our late nights, something for which we are somewhat thankful. Jake's new car is very impressive. Has he considered installing that sound system to make it roar like a Mustang?



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