Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Sense of Normalcy

We threw a party on Sunday to thank everyone who pitched in with post-fire help and got us settled into the rental house, which happens to be a great party house. It's got a large, built-in gas grill (somewhat larger than our own propane grill, which we did bring down from our place for safe-keeping) and enough patios to give everyone a place to hang out. There were more than 30 people who came by, which was almost everyone who dug through ashes, loaded cars, counted rags, rearranged the garage, babysat Dexter, or did anything else to help during the crisis. And, after all, what would Memorial Day Weekend be if the Wein-Valada household didn't throw a barbecue?

The big hit of the weekend was a 5-compartment plexiglass gizmo I bought for Len last year which keeps condiments chilled over a bed of ice. It's got a cover, so bugs don't get in. Several of our friends who do a lot of parties ooohed and ahhed over it. I see presents in their futures.

Our friend Gillian Horvath, who had put us up for the nights between the loss of our own bedroom and moving into the rental house, brought a "house cooling" present: a butter bell. We had cooed over the one she had when she explained what it was and what it did. She figured we hadn't had time or thought to buy one for ourselves, but she saw when she arrived that wasn't so. I got one at Le Cruset in cobalt on Saturday, which Gillian saw when she came in to the kitchen. So she suggested I pass her gift on (mathom-style--read Tolkein for the reference) and I shall. As it happens, I was gushing about the joy of room-temperature butter at dinner last week and it will be regifted to the person who helped us bring our new television to the house.

Len tried out the automatic hot-dog turner that Harlan Ellison had given him last year. Many of the barbecue implements were saved from the fire because they were stored outside in the "barzebo" or the file cabinets on the back patio at our house. It worked well until either the batteries slowed down or grease got into the works. We're hoping that the cleaning I did yesterday brought it back to life.

Last Tuesday, I went over to the packers/restorers warehouse and went through 80 boxes of stuff from my kitchen to pick out things I needed to feel settled in the rental (and so I could entertain.) Highest on that last were my 14-cup Cuisinart and my 5-quart Kitchen-Aid mixer, without which I believe no kitchen is complete. I also brought my Oster blender home. I must say this about J.J. Cherokee. They know how to clean things. I don't think the blender has looked this good since it came out of the box. They must have taken things apart to clean them, because the metal clip that holds the Kitchen-Aid bowl in place was upside down (easily fixed), but they did an incredibly thorough job.

I brought home 17 boxes, including one I hadn't intended to bring with me. We're expecting several more boxes once the contents have been cleaned, plus the two boxes with stemware that were accidentally left behind when I came home from the warehouse (containing the missing stemware.) I am so glad to have most of my stainless flatware back, because we kept running out of forks.

Because I had the blender, my friend Michael Olecki made margaritas. Except for a bottle of wine, the tequila and Grand Marnier were the only alcohols in the house (guess what I drink on those rare occasions that I do.) There were two bottles of Temequila blood orange mixer (purchased at the Hollywood Farmers Market) in the refrigerator for that very purpose. Michael said "the only thing missing from your parties is a bar, but I realize you and most of your friends don't drink." We do sometimes, but only in moderation. When I pulled out the tequila, he said "you know this is aged, right?" Yes, I told him. Who wants margaritas with crappy tequila? The margaritas were a big hit, and Michael loves to bartend. The only problem was, none of my stemware is back from the cleaners yet so we had to make do with small portions in big glasses or plastic cups. Not a dissaster by any measure, since it was all about the company.

Michael's wife Karen Bodner and I went to college together and we were both second-career lawyers in IP. She does trademarks, I do copyrights. We became friends after I met her at an interview for a summer clerkship out here in L.A., almost 20 years after we had graduated from New College at Hofstra University. She and Gillian are my two favorite people to have in the kitchen with me at Thanksgiving, because we work very well together. We have spent Christmases with Karen and Michael since about our 5th anniversary, and they are the closest thing we've got to family in Los Angeles. Karen went right to work prepping celery for snacking along with the carrots and getting the cheese out on the beautiful Nambe cheese and cracker server I bought for myself after the fire. You can tell what I consider nessesities by that and by what else I made sure I got back from the cleaners: two dozen appetizer plates which have a slot to hold a stemmed glass and the four dozen small square amuse bouche plates that can take a couple of tidbits so people can graze.

I think we'll be doing a lot of entertaining in the new house.

Monday morning was the first time I've slept late since the fire happened. I think the tequila helped.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fire Report

I thought I would post a few pictures of the fire aftermath. Here is one of the few Breyer horses I owned, the Christmas Arabian Knight from a few years back. The cellophane window has melted onto the horse. He's a total loss. Fortunately, the ceramic chestnut Arabian they did for a Christmas ornament around the same time was in the garage and survived just fine

In the second photograph, we have the remains of several Wolverine figures. I don't know if they can be replaced. There's one Sideshow Collectibles diorama which I found disfigured and is definitely too expensive to buy again.

We had a bookcase in the hallway between the bedrooms. It had only paperbacks on it, some of them quite old and some of them worth a good deal of money to collectors. The third picture is what the upper part of the bookshelf looked like. There were 9 or 10 shelves altogether. The books on the lower part looked better, but only because the framed posters that stood in front of the shelf protected them from the flames. Most of them were fused together or water damaged. They fell to pieces in my hand when I tried to remove them. My insurance agent wanted me to list each one of the books. I can't even see what many of them were.

In a shelf that kitty-cornered this one (picture an L, where our bedroom door is near the angle of the bend, the shelf shown was on the underside of the base line of the L, then there was another bookshelf--Len's brag shelf, then my son's door was on the same side of the baseline near the serif, his bathroom was at the serif, the door to Len's office was opposite the door to Michael's room and kitty-corner shelf was to the left of Len's door) were a pretty complete set of DC and Marvel Showcases--hardback reprints of comic books. They were all in mint condition, complete with pristine jackets. Many were still shrink-wrapped, and they fused together shelf by shelf.

The fourth photograph gives you a sense of what the back of the house looked like after the fire. The plywood covers what used to be the windows to our bedroom. The roof rafters are covered with plastic, in case it rains. There were more than 30 bags filled with clothing, blankets, shoes, and books in the pile, and that didn't even come close to containing all of the debris. To the left of the area in the picture are two hugepiles of wood and roofing material and what was left of the furniture from the room. There were various other piles of clothing, books, DVDS, and belongings down the middle of the lawn.

I'm picturing a second story and/or a build-out that goes to where the gate should be on the fence in the rebuilt house. Maybe a windowseat looking out at the pool or a balcony on a scond level. We need the space, and if we aren't going to find a different house, we should make the most of the one we've got. It's in a great location, although I'd prefer one where I could have Ace in the back yard.

The pool is pretty disgusting, but a mated pair of mallards have been calling it home for several weeks. I don't think there's a nest--at least I haven't found one. I've startled them several times when I've walked into the pool area. It's amazing they can get themselves into the air at an angle of about 80 degrees.

Once I realized it had to be there somewhere, I spent a lot of time over the past month looking for my high school ring. I found it in the ash near the house on Sunday. all I saw was the plain gold of the back side of the ring, and the color appears to be redder than it once was, no doubt thanks to the heat. I'm really glad I found it because it became terribly important to me that it be found. I'm still remembering pieces of jewelery that haven't been found and probably won't be: the gold ring as wide all around this one is in front that has five ovals of different colored jade, the black pearl drop necklaces and earrings we've had made from pearls we've gotten from oysters at the county fair, a lovely rhinestone bracelet, a fused-glass horse pin, the Noble Collection horse-head pin from the Lord of the Rings collection, a moon-face ear cuff and a necklace with charms based on The Hobbit from Marty Magic. A few of the pieces that wound up as silver slag were new enough that I could order replacements, but most cannot be replaced that easily. I'm hoping the Lord of the Rings piece will show up on E-bay. I will eventually take all of the silver lumps to a jeweler and have a new piece made. I'm thinking about a phoenix (ah, yes, the symbology) or a horse jumping through a hoop of fire.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Trekking

We went to see the new Star Trek film last night and we loved it. I went with few expectations, because I had pretty much given up the series years ago. It's a fun ride and did remind me of how I felt when I first saw it on television (in beautiful black and white at my house) 40-some years ago.

Yes, I am among the people who were fans in first-run, not the johnny-come-latelys that discovered Star Trek in syndication. I wrote letters to NBC to save the series, which did help twice. I attended the second Star Trek Convention in New York, in February 1973 at a hotel near Grand Central Station (the Commodore?) and the much bigger one the following winter at the Americana Hotel up around 57th Street. I photographed David Gerrold, writer of the ever-popular "The Trouble with Tribbles" episode at the 1973 convention and bid $75 for a hour of his time in 1974. I lost to a couple of girls who pooled their resources. My then-fiance, now ex-husband, wouldn't front me the money to up my bid.

I met and photographed Gene Roddenberry for the Stanford Daily around March of 1975. Because of a bomb threat, presumably made by someone who didn't get into the theatre for his speech, those of us in the press group were ushered into a room where we were told tales by Gene for over an hour while there was a sweep done of the venue. When Gene finally got back on stage, he told the audience of plans for resurecting the series with a Major Motion Picture. We usually refer to that as Star Trek: The Motionless Picture. Boring.

There were better films in the franchise, fortunately, but I did lose any enthusiasm for them after ST 4. I entirely missed seeing 5 and the only subsequent one I'm sure I saw in a theatre was ST: First Contact. Until last night.

Many of us have thought that Star Fleet Academy was what Paramount needed to do to bring back the television franchise. While that may or may not be in the plans, a good script, a good director, and the best genetic casting of a talented group of actors may have just rebooted the series for the big screen. I'm planning to pay to see it again, which is not what I was expecting.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Horse Story

I started this draft months ago. Life got in the way of the post.

Arlene, who writes the Gray Horse Matters blog, posted this meme which originally was sent to her on Facebook. I decided to play along for the benefit of all of the horse friends I've made through my blog. The rest of you, just talk among yourself. If anyone decides to play along, let us know.

1. How old were you when you first started riding?

Although I've been on horses a number of different times during my life, I took up riding as a serious hobby when I was 48.

2. First horse ridden:

Probably one at an amusement park when I was five. The same day I met Zippy the Chimp, who slobbered cheese on my hand (there's an 8mm movie somewhere.) The first one of the school horses I rode was probably Loblolly at Pierce College. I developed a relationship with an old guy named O.P. there before I got Ace.

3. First horse trotted on:

O.P., one of the Pierce College school horses.

4. First horse cantered on:

I'm still working on that! Actually, it's Ace. Often when it is his idea and not mine. I'm a big coward and speed still scares me.

5. First Horse fallen off of:


6. Most recent horse fallen off of


7. Most terrifying fall:

Not the one where I broke my arm, although that wasn't any fun. The one where the breath was knocked out of me two years ago and resulted in a bruise the size of Nebraska on my hip. Man that hurt, but not being able to breathe terrified me.

8. First horse jumped with:

That's not going to happen. Ace doesn't even like cavalletti very much.

9. First horse who ran away with you:

His name was Scooter and he belonged to my writer friend A.C. (Ann) Crispin. I thought I had gone 100 miles and he only went about three strides after he got bit by a monstrous horse fly.

10. First horse that scared the crap out of you:

My friend Lira's mare Lark, a huge Holsteiner with 24/360 PMS.

11. First horse shown :!)

Hasn't happened, since showing isn't my thing.

12. First horse to win a class with:

See 11.

13. Do you/have you taken lessons:

Several times a week, actually.

14. First horse you ever rode bareback:

Ace, on my own on day. I didn't fall off, but it was a dumb idea to do it for the first time when there was no one around and I clearly had no idea what I was doing.

15. First horse trail ridden with:

I did a trail ride back in college on Long Island and managed to stay on because I was too stupid to know I didn't know enough to be riding on a trail. I took another such ride for two hours in Yellowstone National Park a few years later. I was fine until the wrangler told us that the camera I had slung over my shoulder and under my arm was the most worthless thing I could be carrying. He was right, but in retrospect, I think riding without a helmet was even dumber.

16. Current Barn name:

Independence Ranch.

17. Do you ride English or western?:

I ride in a western saddle with an English attitude.

18. First Horse to place at a show with:

See 11.

19. Ever been to horse camp?:


20. Ever been to a riding clinic?

Yes. I've been in a clinic with Harry Whitney several times. I've done Rod Bergen's bomb-proofing clinic lotts of times.

21. Ridden sidesaddle?


22. First horse leased:

I skipped over the lease and went right to ownership.

23. Last Horse Leased:

See 22.

24. Highest ribbon in a show:

See 11.

25. Ever been to an 'A' rated show?:


26. Ever competed in pony games/relay races?:


27. Ever fallen off at a show

No, but I did at a clinic--I passed out in the saddle.

28. Do you ride Hunter/Jumpers?: 29. Have you ever barrel raced?


30. Ever done pole bending?:

Not really--I don't go that fast.

31. Favorite gait:

Sitting trot on my very smooth Arab.

32. Ever cantered bareback?:


33. Have you ever done dressage?:

Working on it. The horse knows more than I do.

34. Have you ever evented?:


35. Have you ever mucked a stall?:

Almost every day since I bought the horse.

36. Ever been bucked off?:

Nope, none of my falls has been that interesting.

37. Ever been on a horse that reared

Yes, and stayed on.

38. Horses or ponies.


39. Do you wear a helmet?:

All the time.

40. What's the highest you've jumped:

A ground pole.

41. Have you ever ridden at night?:


42. Do you watch horsey television shows?:


43. Have you ever been seriously hurt/injured from a fall?:

Broken arm.

44. Most falls in one lesson:


45. Do you ride in an arena/ring?:


46. Have you ever been trampled by a horse?:


47. Have you ever been bitten?:

Yes. Ace was a yearling and I was visiting my friend Melinda, who bred him. We were having a conversation outside of his stall. He took exception to being ignored and took a piece of my shirt and upper arm. Ouch. Melinda smacked him so quickly, I couldn't believe how fast she reacted. He never did that again, and I decided to buy him anyway three years later.

48. Ever had your foot stepped on by a horse?:

Yes. Who hasn't?

49: Favorite riding moment:

The first time I cued Ace to the canter and we did a complete circle.

50. Most fun horse you've ridden:

Ace is a great deal of fun.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Helmets and Falls

Arlene over at Grey Horse Matters wrote an excellent post on helmets that was mostly appreciated by her readers. Unfortunately, a couple of posters seem to think that (1) there's no proof helmets prevent serious injury or (2) people who wear helmets engage in more risky behavior or (3) people who insist that others wear helmets are socialists, Nazis or worse.

I definitely belong to the wear a helmet every time you ride a horse club. I'm not so good about wearing a helmet when I'm around my horse on the ground, but I do tend to wear one when I'm dealing with a horse I don't know. If I wanted perfect hair, I'd find another hobby.

Where I work, the college way of safety requires the wearing of helmets whenever someone is handling the school horses. When there was boarding, the boarding agreement originally required the wearing of helmets, but, apparently because the barn manager's wife didn't want to wear one and some cowboys insisted that they shouldn't have to wear them, the requirement for adults was lifted if they signed a waiver. That was a stupid decision made by someone who doesn't know a damned thing about horses. There was also a requirement about footwear, but that too was released (probably because the barn manager's wife liked to ride in sneakers.)

Helmet rules at shows seem to depend on who is sponsoring the show. The western competitions are very helmet unfriendly. The English stuff tends to insist on helmets. While I tend to ride in my western saddle, I always wear my helmet. If I could find a western hat with a helmet inside, I'd buy one. They are hard to come by and generally expensive.

At my barn, no one goes on a horse without a helmet. The trainer is insistent, and she's absolutely right. When kids are trained that way, they think nothing of it and will continue to wear a helmet as they grow older.

I do remember taking trail rides in groups when I was in college or later, where helmets were not an option. These days, most string rentals require riders to wear a helmet or sign a waiver. When the string arrives from the stable in the Hollywood Hills down at the Mexican restaurant near the Equestrian Center, I always think about what kind of idiot drinks a couple of margaritas and then hops back on a horse without a helmet.

One of my instructors always says "the only person who never falls off a horse is one who never gets on a horse." I've fallen off more times than my 50-something body would prefer:

1. I slid off at the trot about 6 months after I got Ace in a well-dragged arena. Got up, dusted myself off, and determined that maybe the saddle (a very flat English saddle) was the wrong size for me and/or the horse.

2. I came off the horse to great damage when I was positioned to circle left and he caught something out of the corner of his eye, did the Arab squat and ducked out from under me to the right. I tried to stop the ground from coming up at me with my arm, because there were a number of items, including a mounting block, I was afraid I was going to hit (they'd been left there by the trainers for the handicapped riding program.) Result: broken ulna, dislocated radius, broken wrist (there's a name for it, but I can't remember what it is.) If I had tucked and rolled, I would have walked away. I was riding in a dressage saddle.

3. About a year after the broken arm, I was in a group lesson at the trot, another horse came up behind Ace and he took off at what must have been a buck, because I realized I was flying. I had enough time to think "relax, relax, relax" and came down quite limp, full bodied, like a snow angel. Got up, and got back on. The helmet definitely came into play in that one. I was riding in my western saddle, thus disproving my husband's theory that a western saddle is safer.

4. Two years later, I was in a clinic with Harry Whitney. We had a great day. All was well. We were in a group doing the last ride down the arena at a walk to a trot before finishing for the day. I was laughing and having a great time. That's the last thing I remember about being on Ace's back. Spectators said I simply slid out of the saddle and down the right side of the horse like a sack of potatoes. Apparently, I fainted in the saddle from the heat or a failure to hydrate. I definitely hit my head, because it was a while before I came out of it. The next thing I do remember was being asked my name, my horse's name, my birthday, Ace's birthday. Harry was on Ace's back, giving him a good workout, but it was clear to everyone that Ace had not a single thing to do with me coming out of the saddle. We did go to the hospital, and the decision was I might have a slight concussion but it was a good thing I was wearing my helmet. I had an MRI a few days later and all was clear. I actually went back and rode on the last day of the clinic. I was riding in my western saddle when this happened.

5. My last fall was two years ago. I was taking a lesson on a longe line and riding in my custom-built, English saddle. I lost my balance at the trot and my trainer says I just gave up trying to right myself. I flew off his back. In some ways, it was the most scary, because it knocked the wind out of me and I didn't think I would ever breathe again--longest few seconds of my life. I also gave myself such a bruise on my hip that I never thought the black and blue would go away. I hit my head when I landed, but the helmet definitely protected me there. Crushed foam, no concussion. Eventually, I was able to roll over, get up on my hands and knees, and finally sit on the mounting block. Everything hurt. The x-rays showed no broken bones, but the jolt kept me off the horse for a few weeks and I still can't bring myself to ride in my Schlesse saddle.

I do think about wearing a padded vest, even though I don't have any interest in jumping, but it gets really hot in L.A. But I would never get on my horse, or any other horse, without a helmet. I value my brain too much. Len would rather I keep Ace as a lawn ornament than as transportation, but I'm not willing to give up riding. It's a skill I might really need someday.