family, growing up, music

The Bakers’ House

From the mid-1960s on, Joan and Nelson were my parents’ friends, and their kids, Mark, Allison and Betsy were friends with me and my sisters. I loved visiting them at their home (they almost never came over to ours) – and I loved their dogs, Mitzi and Thurber.

Special stuff was always going on “Chez Bakers” – theatrical hijinks, of course, since, like my folks, Joan & Nelson loved performing, producing, directing – but also music and art, books and politics and lots and lots of talk. I’m sure they had their challenges but the Bakers were such upbeat people, involved and animated and good humored. They were open to new ideas and inspired my parents to stretch a little, too; Nelson drove an Austin Healy bugeye Sprite, energizing my mother’s appetite for imported sports cars, and Joan’s fashion flair encouraged us all to wear clothes that were a little different (I once remade a thrift store fur coat into a very warm skirt!)

They’d open their dining room and invite friends to set up drums and come over with instruments to make music together. There was always a new project they were working on, thinking about, planning to do. While their lawn was never pristine, and I do recall visiting their cellar and seeing the same unfinished repair project on the workbench that I’d spied 6 months earlier – the Bakers always managed to take care of the important stuff, and I felt accepted, heard and noticed when we were there.

The summer of 1971, they were all going to be away and asked me if I’d be willing to stay over, water the plants and look after the dogs for a few days; ooh, I jumped at the chance! To be by myself, away from the noisy chaos of my own family, alone in their quiet house with the piano and tape recorder for a few days? Heaven!

(Actually, I did get a little lonely and was relieved when my dad and sisters dropped in one afternoon and took me to McDonald’s over on the Berlin Turnpike. Otherwise, it was a perfect staycation!)

One of my very favorite memories is the time when Nelson and my dad spontaneously broke into a performance of SONNY BOY – with Nelson’s Irish tenor ringing out so sweet and tender, as my dad gave voice to the Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy smart aleck responses. Without any rehearsal at all, it sounded pretty much just like this:

“For who right where on what?” I still laugh at how much fun it was.

family, growing up, politics, religion, Responsibility, self-acceptance

Terra Mater

C’mere, you big beautiful planet!!

I had a thought this morning when I couldn’t get back to sleep after waking too early – about Mother Nature’s intentions for our home, planet earth. I think she’s programmed us all to “be fruitful and multiply”, i.e. for everything that grows, flora as well as fauna, to KEEP growing and REPRODUCE for the continuation of Life. I see this every morning in my backyard; the lemon tree enjoys monsoon rains, greening up more and more every day, while the mourning doves cuddle together in their nest, and spiders spin webs, geckos race across the side of the house… Mother Nature DIGS monsoon-time in a big way!

Fair enough.

And perhaps our patriarchal society conspires to compel that by attempting to control women and FORCE them to be mothers or at least baby incubators. I think this is the belief behind the recent SCOTUS decision to rescind Roe V. Wade and criminalize/outlaw choice. 

Whether this is rationalized as “a divine mandate from God” or anything else, the bottom line is that Mother Nature is calling the shots. She decrees: Human beings are supposed to make babies, period. Everything else is nonsense and poppycock.

In grammar school I’d learned how the parasitic embryo took whatever it needed from the mother’s body; calcium from her bones and teeth, every other nutrient from her glands, muscle, blood… basically laying waste to the “host” for its own survival. I knew very young that I didn’t want any part of that! That was just yucky. Yet, in younger years, in spite of my conscious desire to remain barren, my hormones kept telling me to have sex, to get pregnant. I knew from an early age that giving birth was not something I ever wanted to do. Aside from the financial and emotional considerations, abortion was illegal so I chose to take every precaution to avoid popping out any “Mini Me”s.

Viewed in a certain light, using birth control appears to be an affront to Mother Nature’s insistent edict, and getting a tubal ligation or vasectomy is the ultimate insult; the biggest, loudest way to say “NO!” that exists. Both procedures involve surgery – cutting into the body, which is pretty drastic.

It might be different if society actually liked women. If collectively we supported and honored mothers truly – not just paying lip service on Mother’s Day, but holding them consistently in high regard. If women were genuinely accepted as essential to humanity. If women weren’t treated as 2nd-class, but true equals, with their own unquestioned autonomy universally respected and cherished.

It might be different if we treated Mother Earth with respect, instead of laying waste to her ecology, drilling for oil and mining for minerals; despoiling the landscape and the air and the water; polluting the food chain, creating toxic chemicals, climate changes… for what? So a few rich folks can get richer?

42 years ago I staged my own little “sit-in” with my lady parts. I’m still chewing on this, aware that I’m at odds with Mother Nature and disjunct in a way inside my own body = disembodied by my choice. The way I see it now is the same as how I saw it then; it was my only chance at survival.


Mrs. Jinks

I’m resigned to the fact that I will never be spiritually enlightened; I’m pretty sure that involves embracing all of creation with love. But like Mr. Jinks, I draw the line at rodents, and especially “meeces”.

I hate meeces to pieces!

A couple days ago I noticed a small amount of coffee grinds on a pantry shelf – and then the next day there were MORE coffee grinds, and I wondered, “might a mouse have invaded our home after the last monsoon deluge that flooded the backyard for an hour or so?” Alas, that was the case! And BOY, did she make a mess!

I say “she” because while we’ve had “mus musculus” breaches in the past, I’ve never before seen such incredible hoarding of foodstuffs. As I began to clean up, peeking into every corner on every shelf and finding more and more stuff stashed all over, she jumped out at me! Really got the old adrenalin pumping! BOY, was she fast!

I think she was “expecting”. We had most of our bagged foods in plastic boxes but nothing deterred her from stockpiling HUGE amounts! And she got into EVERYTHING! Coffee! Hibiscus tea! Almonds! Pistachios! Atkins peanut butter cups!

What she couldn’t chew into (jars of artichoke hearts, canned green chilis, worcestershire sauce), she soiled on, EVERYWHERE! If anyone needs inspiration to declutter and recycle unused kitchen appliances, extra place settings or anything else they’ve been storing in their pantry, I’d advise them to invite a pregnant mouse over for a few days; they’ll wind up needing to clean EVERYTHING and probably feel much more ready to part with those items they rarely use!

All creatures great and small – yes, perhaps God DID make them all. But meeces who invite themselves to be houseguests will be meeting their Maker sooner rather than later – dispatched to Mouse Heaven in short order!

“Who, me?” Yes, YOU!!
family, growing up, Home


“I’ve been sweet and I’ve been good 🎵 I’ve had a whole full day of motherhood 🎵 But I’m gonna have an Aviance night!”

I didn’t need to see this commercial in 1977 to know that motherhood was something I wanted to avoid at all costs. My mom had profound ambivalence about being a parent, which she shared openly with her girls while we were growing up, and we harbored few romantic illusions about “the pitter-patter of little feet.” Raising kids was hard work!

My mother hated the overtly commercial nature and artificiality of Mother’s Day. She’d accept flowers and chocolate any day of the year – but greeting cards on Mother’s Day? No way! One year I sent her a card intended for a NON-mother, and it made her laugh – which was my intention. (I loved to make her laugh!)

I don’t recall her ever complaining about how “pregnancy had destroyed” her figure, as other women have been known to do; in fact, she said she liked how nursing babies filled out her bosom. She wasn’t crazy about housework (who is??), and once she allowed herself to spend the money, really loved going out for meals instead of cooking at home. And treating you! She was generous like that – and lots of other ways.

However, she had mixed feelings about possessions, including furniture. For the longest time she didn’t have any. This worked almost as an anti-welcome mat, except that she had friends and family stay over frequently. Still, I remember visiting her in San Francisco where the only place to sit (besides the FLOOR!?) was the toilet! She had sewn up some multi-colored pillows for the hardwood floor and that night I slept on Chiclets!

not the most comfortable bedding!

When her older sister came for a visit in NYC, my mother finally broke down and bought a couple of captain’s beds, a table and 2 chairs – “they’re for Helen!” she said. But she kept them after that, so maybe they were for other guests, too?

The incongruity of her resistance to motherhood is that she was actually quite gifted at the most important parts of being a mother; she liked to teach us, to share her enthusiasms (art, music, theater, fashion, movies, other people’s cooking, etc.) She followed her interests and tried new things – she wasn’t fearless but she did it anyway. And she could be extraordinarily affectionate and playful; sometimes she’d hug you and refuse to let go, until it got silly and you both collapsed in laughter! And then she’d grab and hug you again!

NOT letting you go!!

Among my loved ones, she was “the one that got away” – the person I most wanted to impress, whose attention was most elusive and thus most precious. In a way, I never stopped being her baby; looking for her approval, desperately wanting her to be happy. I think she always wanted to be wanted – and she was!

the center of baby’s world!
more than she ever knew!
Please, please, please love me too, Mamala!
excellence, family, growing up, music biz

A Major Award!

OH, yeah!!

I’m not much of a prize-winner – (one reason I don’t play the Lotto!)  Ten years ago I won a couple Toastmasters ribbons for fairly coherent Table Talks. And I won a trophy for Safety Patrol service in the 6th grade – essentially for good attendance, not because I’d saved anyone’s life or anything like that. The next year my older sister took home practically every award and prize given by the school when she graduated from 8th grade. Meanwhile I slumped into ignominy in junior high, receiving my first of several troublesome report cards. My dad was very nice about it – he even defended me to the teachers, but it was obvious I’d never be the superstar student my older sister was.

Competition was a fact of life in the Harris household – for applause from the outside world and for attention within our family. But at the same time that the quest for the spotlight was expected, it was also sometimes shamed and ridiculed. I grew up feeling somewhat ambivalent about such recognition, as it could invite jealousy and sneering contempt. 

Still, it’s gratifying to be acknowledged for our accomplishments; high school diplomas, college sheepskins, gold records, acknowledgement for one’s work being chosen in competition. Tokens of friendship, mementos of belonging.

not quite an Oscar…

It’s even become Big Business! Win or lose, these days kids get participation trophies for just showing up! 

no, we are NOT all “the best!”

When we got married, my husband had several boxes of awards he’d won on graduating from high school. The John Philip Sousa trophy. Outstanding Musician plaque. Awards for conducting, prizes for arranging, medals for performing, assisting, leading the section….   I honestly couldn’t believe how many there were – WAY more than the haul my older sis had!!

(And over the years I’ve learned how deserved they all were – how Mark had EARNED these awards and lived up to his potential – no, surpassed the expectations of his teachers.)  

I was overwhelmed, and once again felt horribly inadequate. I told him they had to go, that our midtown Manhattan apartment was too small to keep them, even tucked away in a closet.

Truth is, I was envious. I had never had my talents publicly acknowledged like that. I wanted those trophies GONE.

So we took photos of them and threw them in the trash.

Not my proudest moment. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t make that demand today.

THE “major award” from A CHRISTMAS STORY
Home, learning, self-acceptance

Dog Trust

When it comes to trust, I’ll almost always choose dogs over people. We recently watched an episode of the Netflix series DOGS, and I found myself judging Alana, the young military woman who had rescued a beautiful homeless puppy while based in Iraq. Her support system moved heaven and earth to bring Jet🐾 home to Boise, ID for her, before her latest deployment was over. Everyone involved gave their all, especially Tara, the woman who fostered Jet back in the States. It was heartbreaking to see Alana ultimately return Jet back to Tara, his foster mom, but I also found myself thinking, “what’s wrong with Alana that she can’t handle Jet, after ALL these people went to such lengths to bring him back home for her?”

Granted, Alana is a single woman in her 20s who had never had a dog before, and a lot had happened to both Alana AND Jet while they’d been separated. Jet had grown into a much larger dog, and after being held in quarantine and moved halfway around the world, whatever bond they had originally had was broken – on both sides. Neither Jet nor Alana were the same people they’d been when they’d met, and they just didn’t trust one another!

And then I began to feel guilty, as I realized that we’d had a very similar experience just a few years ago. In May 2019 we rescued a pair of beautiful mini-schnauzers but the chemistry had been “off” pretty much from the get-go, and they’d never bonded with us OR our other pups – so after 10 days we chose to return them to their foster mom! We were inconsolable, but Elke & Dana never relaxed around us, and we could never relax around them. They wound up being adopted by a different family and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Sometimes it’s nobody’s fault – it just is.

Home, learning

Tom Sawyer 101

easy for YOU to say, Bob Ross!

All the monsoon storms made everything grow this past summer and the desert had more green than I’d ever seen here before. Since moving to AZ, I’ve missed the deep greens of summer in CA, CT, IL & NY, and inspired by the late great Bob Ross, I’d originally envisioned coloring the back fence/wall with images of “friendly little trees, shrubs, etc…” like a mural. At first thinking I’d hang recycled shower curtains for a temporary change-of-scenery, but then seeing how quickly they deteriorated when exposed to the elements in the great outdoors, I finally settled in on the idea of applying actual paint to the actual fence.

Once I started I began to see how much actual WORK it was going to be, and as my visual artistic skills are not the greatest, my first attempt at painting wound up looking like very ugly camouflage:

After conferring with my beloved, I tried just using the green samples I’d purchased years ago; we decided we preferred the darker one:

I finished prepping the wall (moving gravel away) and primer-painting all 7 sections in the dreadful light green “industrial hospital wall” color that I had purchased 6 gallons of last spring. (recycled paint = very cheap!) This step took a lot of time, as the cinder blocks drank in the paint like a sponge, and confirmed my suspicion that a much deeper shade of green was called for!

In the process, I kept learning (and re-learning) things; wearing a mask while painting is a GOOD thing (to keep paint dust/particles from my lungs) – and don’t make your primary coat so much LIGHTER a color than your final coat, since you can see every little blurble that pops and then you’ve got go over it again… and again…
And take a shower as soon as you’re finished cleaning up – it really helps your body RELAX and REPAIR!

Mostly, it takes a lot longer than you think it will when you start; I figured I’d be done in 4 or 5 days, but between indecision, weather conditions and my own physical limitations, it took over 3 weeks to finish!

The desired effect was ultimately achieved, however. The color feels calm and the fence almost disappears in some light.

family, Home

Putting It Together

I wasn’t a fan of jigsaw puzzles until I got married. In lieu of hard partying at a big New Year’s Eve bash, the Wolfram clan traditionally brings in the first of the year by completing a picture puzzle. Over the years I’ve played enough NYE gigs to know that puzzle-making is a more peaceful (if less lucrative!?) way to celebrate the holiday, and I’ve grown to appreciate them.

Certainly jigsaw puzzles, like board games and other pastimes, have flourished during these pandemic lockdown times. And they are satisfying to assemble; I’ve found them to be calming to work on, giving a sense of accomplishment and control as the pieces come together and the picture takes shape.

What makes a good-but-not-too-challenging puzzle is up for conjecture. Go on YouTube and you’ll see there are many differing opinions – some prefer still life, or scenic beauty, while others like abstracts. I lean towards scenes with lots of tiny details, because sometimes the loveliest photo has too much same-colored background, making it almost impossible to finish.

I’m comforted by the familiar – old LP covers of records I used to own, or Times Square in NYC, or old movie posters, or candy bars from the past. (Hey – a gal can dream!)

Then there are some puzzles that are just plain EVIL:

When it comes to puzzles, you’ve gotta choose your battles!

family, growing up, learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Human Doings

“So what have you done lately?” It used to really bug me when my dearly departed dad would ask this question; while I’d be eager to show him my newest song, I sincerely doubted his interest, as I rarely felt he actually liked any of my work.

And I felt challenged, as if what he was REALLY asking was, “what have you got to say for yourself? Give an accounting of what you’ve accomplished to justify your existence!” It almost felt like an attack, although I’m pretty sure that wasn’t his conscious intention.

‘Tis the season for Christmas letters, and as one might expect, we didn’t receive as many as we have in earlier years; 2020 was a year of delays, postponements and cancellations, so many of us didn’t have as much to report. (Maybe it’s enough that we survived!?)

Which reminds me of the first attempt we made in 1984, to include a Christmas letter in with the greeting cards we mailed to family and friends; we’d moved precipitously from Chicago to Los Angeles (on a wing & a prayer, AKA hope & credit cards!?), and had recently purchased our first computer. The word processing program had a

We didn’t have much actual NEWS to share, and were frankly floundering, trying to get our bearings in a new market. But after 6 months on the west coast, we still felt hopeful we could break into the Hollywood music biz, and we included all of the new people we’d met since our move on our mailing list, many of whom we hadn’t followed up on after our initial meetings. We hoped the holiday letter could be a way to reconnect and perhaps build relationships.

We got one response that took our breath away; an anonymous recipient of our holiday greetings had gone to the trouble to write a very snarky letter back, using the same format. Since we didn’t really know many of the folks we’d mailed to, we puzzled for weeks over who we had offended so grievously! And we haven’t written many Christmas letters since then!

Since the advent of social media, bragging rights aren’t limited to Christmas letters or websites, or even blogs. And I’ve posted on this subject before: and So it’s pretty obvious that it’s something I’m still chewing on. But I’m pretty sure that eventually I’ll find my freedom – I can almost taste it!

Home, self-acceptance

What’s For Dinner? Freezer Surprise!

I don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to New Year’s resolutions; sure, I’ve MADE ’em – but haven’t had much success at KEEPING ’em! But it occurred to me a few days ago that I could take a baby step in the right direction this last week of 2020 – by cleaning out the freezer of pre-cooked meals of indeterminate age and genus! A week of Freezer Surprise will create a Fresh Start in 2021 by LABELING these meals before committing them to their frosty depot! Alas, reluctant cook that I am, I don’t have the skills to identify mystery meats like the cashier at the studio commissary in BLAZING SADDLES (; trying to guess whether a dish contains chili or beef stew or chicken divan or curry, without opening it up… well, it’s not my forté. But armed with a grease pencil (and my resolution for a new paradigm!), I may yet be able to predict what exactly we’re having for dinner before defrosting in the future. For the next week or so… well, it might be Tuna Surprise!?!