Wednesday, December 31, 2008


...and continuing:

In 1962 I belonged to an early-morning bowling league and we paid ten cents a line. There was no charge to get into Knott’s Berry Farm because there were no rides. School lunches were twenty-five cents. In 1964 I quit smoking because cigarettes went up to twenty-six cents a pack. Girls wore dresses to school and boys wore shirts and pants.

This is all relative, of course; our income was lower but costs were lower too. We were poor as church mice when Joe and I started our married life, but not as poor as our parents were when THEY were married. And at the time all of our kids married, the were considerably better off than we were at the same point in our lives. The big difference is that each generation expects to have more than their parents had I should say that since my parents were married during the Great Depression, they had NOTHING. As times changed economically for the better, we all got use to expecting more and though Joe and I were poor as church mice, that poor was a whole lot different than my folks’ “poor.” But we were the last generation in our family to start out “poor.”

Now for all you younger ones, I’ll tell you what Ginnie Lou and I did to entertain ourselves when we were kids. You must remember that we did not have our own radios, the family did not have a television set, and our moms were housewives. We played with our dolls – baby dolls - until we were probably ten or so. Our playing with them consisted mostly of changing their clothes and taking them for a walk in a dolly baby-buggy. I also collected Storybook Dolls, little 8-inch dolls that were dressed as storybook characters. There was a take-off on them that were called Hollywood Dolls. They cost less than the Storybook Dolls and I did get some of them as gifts, but mostly I got the Storybook dolls. I kept the collection until I went away to college. I remember who my mother gave them to, for she asked my permission to do so, but the recipient doesn’t remember this happening, so I won’t mention names here. They stayed in the family for a while but are probably now off in the hands of adult collectors (or possibly in the big land-fill in the sky).

Besides dolls, my sister and I played board games and card games. I don’t think Chutes and Ladders had been invented yet. We didn’t have Candyland either. We had a board game of horse-racing. Among the little wooden horses that were moved along the board were Secretariat, Man of War, Sea Biscuit and War Admiral – those being the only ones I can remember but there were probably 8 horses altogether. I think we spun a dial and moved the appropriate yardage and of course the horse crossing the finish line first was the winner. Obviously it was a no-brainer kind of game but we loved it. We played a lot of Fish and Old Maid. When we got a little older we played War, but Ginnie Lou got tired of not reacting as fast as I did and losing her card, so that game had an early demise.

Our parents always invited the relatives over on Saturday nights to play poker. They used matchsticks or pennies for chips. No money was ever exchanged. The children were not allowed to play poker, of course, but Ginnie Lou and I watched carefully and devised what we called “Rekop” (Poker spelled backwards). We would sit on the floor beside the big table in the dining room where our folks sat and play along with them. We used bobby pins for chips.

We had a jigsaw puzzle of the United States and we had to fit the states into their proper place. While we did that we memorized the capital of each state. At that time there were only 48 states.

Mother gave us a book of dog breeds, and at one time Ginnie and I could identify every breed of dog without looking at the name. We had a book of chickens, too and memorized them. We memorized all the poems in “A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Lewis Stevenson. In Sunday School we memorized the Books of the Old and New Testaments, the 10 Commandments, the 12 Disciples, the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23, the Beatitudes, John 1:1-14, The Easter Story, The Great Commandments, the 100th Psalm, and the Salvation Verses. In school we memorized “In Flanders Field,” “Daffodils,” “The Raven,” “The Preamble to the Constitution,” “The Gettysburg Address” and untold other documents. We loved to memorize. Not surprisingly, it is much harder to do now.

To be continued.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I don’t whether it is getting into genealogy that makes you start thinking about the differences between the generations, or whether it is old age….or in my case, both of them coming together at approximately the same time. But I want to lay out some comparisons and speculations for those of you who down the road will be wondering about how life was different for us who lived in an earlier century.

I can remember a time before television, my dad could remember a time before radio, my grandma could remember a time before automobiles. My children will remember a time before computers ….and here I sit in 2009, wondering what on earth will be developed that we have no idea about now. It is hard for us non-nerds to see where technology is going to take us and what is going to be the next exiting major development. But I know it is being thought about, and worked on, now. I wonder what it will be. And my grandkids will know of a time before it existed.

When I was a kid about 13 or 14 years old I could walk up to the Grass Shack Drive-In on Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach and for a mere 25 cents could have a Coke and french fries. I could ride a bus downtown for 10 cents. Postage stamps for first class mail cost three cents and we called a postcard a “penny postcard” because that is what it took to mail one.

In 1959 my first husband and I bought our first house - 14151 Shirley Street in Westminster. The total cost was $15,250. We had to make a $50 down payment and our total monthly income to be eligible for the loan had to be $345. We barely qualified for that loan. Our payments were $90 a month on a 30 year loan, and that $90 included principal, interest, taxes and insurance. In 1984 Jerry and I bought a Mazda RX7 that cost what that house on Shirley Street did. In 1976 Jerry and I bought a house at 3947 Greenwood in Orange and paid $68,500 for it. Our monthly house payments were $700 on a 30 year loan. In 1991 we sold it for $240,000. In 1994 after our return from Istanbul we rented a smaller, older, uglier house in north Orange and paid $1,200 a month for it.

When I first started to work part time in 1951 as a sixteen-year old I was paid 50 cents an hour. In 1959 when I went to work for Sears I got $1.00 an hour. In 1968 when I went to work for The Salvation Army in Ontario I made $2.00 an hour, and three years later when I switched to a Secretarial service, I "upped" my hourly wage to $2.10. At my first real job – at Pascoe Steel as an executive Secretary – my monthly salary started at $475 and I eventually was raised to $600. The most I ever made in my life was with a medical malpractice insurance office where I worked part-time for $15.00 an hour. I ended my career at The Salvation Army ARC in Anaheim earning $13.00 an hour, a bit backwards in pay but with a job security I would not have had anywhere else. And perhaps my generation was the last to know what job security was.

To be continued.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


I started researching my family ancestry in 1984. At that time my dad, at the age of 76, was a new widower, so I spent a great deal of time with him, much of which was in finding out about his early life, his parents and so on. He spent a lot of time telling me about his depression era jobs as a door-to-door salesman for Wearever Aluminum, selling tap dancing lessons, registering voters (for 5 cents a name) and representing American Alabaster Company of Colorado in Southern California and Arizona. By 1940 he was working for Montgomery Wards, from then on he was a salesman, a "promoter" and finally owner of a large appliance sales and repair shop. There came a time when I thought I pretty much knew everything about him.

I spent a lot of time researching in the Los Angeles Public Library. One day while I was waiting for my friend to wrap up her research, I had to kill a little time, so I decided to see if I could find a city directory for Long Beach and an entry in the late 1930s that might show my Dobbins family. I really was looking to see if I was in it, as I was born in 1935 and sometimes those directories list the children. The first city directory I grabbed was for 1936 and sure enough, I found a listing for Scott W. Dobbins on Dairy Avenue, where they lived when I was born. Here's the entry:

So you can imagine my surprise when in 1936, the year after my birth, my father was listed in this city directory as a musician. I was dumbfounded and had no way to account for this entry. Surely my dad would have told me if he had been a musician.

I photocopied the page and the next time I drove in for a visit to my dad I took it. Pointing at the word “musician,” I asked him what on earth that meant.

His face lit up. “I played the banjo!” he offered. And with my mouth hanging open in surprise, I listened to him tell about growing up on the dry lands of eastern Colorado, where Sunday fun in the winters was getting together with neighbors and making music. My dad was 8 when his father died, and a kind neighbor fellow sat my little dad down beside him at these music fests and over those tough first few months taught him to play the banjo.

Dad also said he played the banjo in a WPA “B” band during the Great Depression. These “B” bands were comprised of non-professional but talented musicians and played on weekends at local dances. Musicians were paid $5 each time the band played, and frankly that was about all the money that was coming in to our family during those depression years.

As he was talking, a memory came back to me of the Christmas that my mother gave my dad a banjo as a gift. It must have been after I had been married and out of the house, because I do not recall being there on the Christmas morning when he received it. I also have no recollection whether or not he played it, or what ever happened to it. You know, when you are young and involved with starting a new family you don't pay much attention to the details of things your folks do. As far as genealogy goes, who would ever have thought to look themselves up in a city directory and find such a piece of information that opened up a whole new vista of their parents' lives.

And it was in listening to his story that I finally realize the musical heritage that the Dobbinses left. Dad played the banjo, his father played the cornet, his one Dobbins uncle the trombone and other the clarinet. He had great-uncles who lead singing schools back on the Illinois farm land. My folks insisted that my sister and I had violin lessons, and I continued with piano, guitar and ukelele. My son and grandson are horn players and a granddaughter a flute player. So the musical heritage is still being made. I might not seen that connection if I hadn't stumbled across that little entry in the Long Beach City Directory of 1936.

I have to admit that surprises like this are what keep us researchers going. We never know when we are going to turn up something new, a real serendipitous find, like a banjo playing father.

Friday, December 26, 2008


For those of you who aren't genealogists, I know you can't possibly understand that researching family trees can be a very happy thing. It is happy not only when you are researching your own family but also when you are researching for someone else.

A good friend in San Francisco, Nancy, has been tearing her hair out trying to find some additional details on her ancestor Isaac Morris. Now you'd think with such a name, it would be fairly easy to find the right Isaac Morris in the right place. I mean after all, his name isn't James Smith -- who is almost impossible to find. But actually, when you get into the research mode, there are way too many Isaac Morrises in New Jersey and in Butler County, Ohio in the time period Nancy is looking for. So last night she and I had quite a workout thinking about how to get more information on old Isaac. This morning I found a website for her that with any kind of luck will provide the name of Isaac's father. This isn't a sure thing, but finding it sure made me happy and I am hoping it will make Nancy happy too.

This morning I was still thinking about Morris - and remembered that I had just recently taken two pictures out of my photo album for use in a future Blog. These pictures were of Morris dancers we saw in England. So one happy Morris now becomes two happy Morrises.

In 1985 Jerry and I made a three-week driving trip around England. I had plotted the route to make sure we saw all the things that were on my "must see" list -- such as Oxford and Cambridge universities, Stonehenge, Penzance, the lake district and other such places. Beyond that, we were open to see what we could see along this wandering route. We did find some marvelous things but my favorite was unexpectedly stumbling upon some Morris Dancers performing on the wet streets of a tiny village called Reath.

Now if you can believe what Wikipedia says (and sometimes you can't, but this matter really isn't so important that you need to toss it out) A morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers. Implements such as sticks, swords, and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers. In a small number of dances for one or two men, steps are performed near and across a pair of clay tobacco pipes laid across each other on the floor.

There are claims that English records of the morris dance dating back to 1448 exist, but these are open to dispute. There is no mention of "morris" dancing earlier than the late 15th century, although early records such as
Bishops' "Visitation Articles" mention sword dancing, guising and other dancing activities as well as mumming plays. Furthermore, the earliest records invariably mention "Morys" in a court setting, and both men and women are mentioned as dancing, and a little later in the Lord Mayors' Processions in London. It is only later that it begins to be mentioned as something performed in the parishes. There is certainly no evidence that it is a pre-Christian ritual, as is often claimed.

We had stopped to gas up (or actually petrol up) our rented car on the outskirts of Reath, having no intention of even stopping in the town. But we heard some amazing music coming from just a wee bit down the road and in following the sound we came upon these two groups having a display of their dancing. Behind the group was a coterie of musicians on rustic instruments, providing the really lovely music for the dancers.

The view of these dancers totally transported me to medieval England and standing there was like a trip back in time. It was what I would call a real serendipity, and for me was one of the absolute standout things I experienced in England. There was only a small group of onlookers and I'm sure it was easy for the locals to tell that we were vacationers. Upon the conclusion of the dancing, one of the men in green pulled a bell from the front of his stockings and gave it to me for a little remembrance. I still have it, and I'm sure when I depart this earth my kids are going to wonder why I kept a single little bell in my china cabinet.

Anyway, you can see that one Morris has led to another Morris - and provided the means for me to make a nice happy blog for a happy day after Christmas.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


The Kirkpatrick family - Sean, Nancy, Brendan and Caitlin - are standing in this Christmas morning to represent the families of our six children. The top photo shows four stockings hung on the fireplace. Sean's stocking, on the left, was made back in 1956 by the grandmother of a dear friend, Homer Heath. She made one for Sean's sister Erin the next year. When my kids began having their babies, I decided to knit each of them a stocking. So in the above photo, there are three hand-knit and one store-bought stocking. I always had in the back of my mind to knit one for the spouses, but alas, there was always another grandchild to knit for and I just never got around to doing that.

Here is little Brendan in 1987 showing off his own personal stocking. He was not quite 6 months old in this picture and he appears to be a sober little tyke. But in reality we now know that he was thinking deep thoughts, probably trying to figure out how the camera worked. He was a charming little kid, very smart and very likeable. And he grew up with all those attributes, too. Now I know you aren't going to believe me, but do you know that all of my 13 grandchildren fit this description exactly? I am certainly not bragging, but they, like Brendan, have grown up well.

So now here is Brendan going into adulthood. He is attending college at CSULB and carrying a double major - I wish I could tell you exactly what they are but he didn't get his brains from me and I am not so good at remembering details anymore, so just hold lightly that he may be majoring in biomedical engineering and some other field of engineering. I know when his father reads this he will immediately e-mail me with the exact majors. (Yes, his father says Biomedical and electrical engineering!) Brendan also is an accomplished musician who has played the French Horn with his father in many, many orchestras in the Northern California area. Brendan's mom and sister both play the flute and handbells and they too are exceptionally talented.

Remember that I asked you to let this family represent all our families for this Christmas Blog? We have families of Pramls, Davises, Lambriches, Broughtons and Katzes besides the Kirkpatricks. We have them scattered about from Alaska to Florida. We have some we see a lot of and some we don't see often enough. But they all are charming, bright, likeable and loving. We send to each of them our love and best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous new year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Jerry brought with him into our marriage an old Hebrew "Daily Prayer Book." We use it for various purposes: it is used at Chanukah during the lighting of the candles; it is where Jerry lists the birthdates, death dates, anniversaries and Hebrew names of all the families, his as well as mine.

In the back of this book there is a section called "Blessings on Various Occasions." I am always inspired to read how many things the Jews considered blessings. These blessings should be read in Hebrew, but since I can't do that, I’ll share with you a few of my favorites – in English.

On hearing thunder, witnessing a hurricane, or an earthquake say: Blessed art thou, - the Eternal, our God, King of the universe, with whose power and might the universe is replete.

On smelling fragrant fruits, say: Blessed art thou, - The Eternal, our God, King of the universe, who hath given fragrance unto fruits.

On seeing a person who has recovered from a dangerous illness, say: Blessed be the Merciful One, who hath given thee back to us, and not given thee unto the dust.

He who takes new clothing says: Praised art thou, Eternal our God, King of the world, who clothes the naked.

And a special one: On seeing a giant, dwarf or other lusus naturae, say: Blessed art thou, - the Eternal, Our God, King of the universe, who producest various formed creatures.

I constantly need to be reminded to see the good and to avoid being critical. I love reading blessings, no matter the source, and a glance into this little prayer book helps keep me focused on the good stuff that is all around me.

At at Hanukkah, which this year falls during the Christmas season, Jerry lets me read the Hanukkah blessings each night:

"Baruch atah Adonai, eloheynu melech haolam, asher kidshanu bimitsvohtav l'hadlik neyr shel Chanukah." (Praised are you, God, Creator of the Universe, Who has made us a spiritually unique people and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah lights.)

"Baruch atah Adonai eloheynu melech haolam sheh ahsah nisim l'avotaynu, bayamin hahem bazmah hazeh." (Praised are you , God, Creator of the Universe, Who prompted courageous deeds by our ancestors in days of old at this season). Amen.

Monday, December 22, 2008


When Jerry and I knew we would be returning to the US from Istanbul for good, we decided that we would like to have a two-month transition time in changing from the "east" to the "west." And frankly, we were looking to go to a place where English was spoken. Our choice would have been London, because we not only love the city itself but we also have relatives who live there. However, Englad at that time had a 6-month quarantine for animals being brought into the country, so because we were bringing our two Turkish-acquired cats home with us, that eliminated London. Our next choice was Amsterdam and a good choice it turned out to be. We rented a flat in a very modern building on one of the outlying canals and we had a great two months.

While it had been cold in Istanbul during the winters, it wasn't until we got to Amsterdam that we learned what cold really was. When we first went to Istanbul, we took California clothing. You know that for the most part, Southern Californians dress the same way in winter as in summer -- maybe we change from shorts to slacks but cotton tee shirts and tops stay the same year-round. So as the first winter in Istanbul approached, we could see that we would be woefully underdressed in our California clothing. I made a trip to England and bulked up my wardrobe. Jerry bought a "Palto" in Istanbul that cost an arm and a leg, and a Persian Lamb hat to finish off the outfit - and he was set. It got cold and snowy in Istanbul, but for sheer icy cold, Amsterdam had Istanbul beat by a longshot!

At the end of the first week we were there, all the canals froze over -- and imagine our delight when we took our morning walk and found this wonderful goose walking on the ice alongside our building. As we got a little further on, we found all the local Hans Brinkers skating along, just exactly looking like every image we have ever had of skaters on the canals.

We didn't let the cold weather stop us from doing anything. With two months to sightsee, we spent every moment making them count. We saw every museum Amsterdam has to offer, and that was plenty. Outside Amsterdam we went to a museum that featured Scherenschnitte, which is paper-cutting. I have never in my life seen anything as fantastic as I did in that museum. I still cannot imagine anyone wielding a pair of scissors in such intricate designs. I mean, can you visualize something like the Gettysburg address cut out of paper?

We also went to the Tulip market, saw the windmills, the Ann Frank house, and some of the other major cities as well. We stumbled upon a ceremony remembering the dock-workers strike that took place during the Second World War. It was very moving -- and of course since we were so young at the time it happened, we had heard nothing about it. The history of the Dutch people's care of the Jews during that war is not stressed nearly as much as I think it should be.

One of the things we did lots of while we were there was to walk up and down the streets of the town, looking at the most interesting architecture and the historical sites. By the end of our two-month stay, we were ready to tackle the "west" again, and we left Amsterdam with many good memories of our time there.

The picture below shows Jerry dressed up in his Palto and his Persian lamb hat, with a nice maroon mohair scarf that I knit for him tucked around his neck. He actually looks like someone out of a "spy" movie. It's his "incognito" look.

He brought home his warm clothing, but you can be sure that the hat languishes in his dresser drawer and the palto hangs limply in the closet. He can't bear to part with them, but unless we take a trip to Alaska to visit our daughter Bryn (which is very unlikely) neither will see the light of day again.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


When I was a kid in Long Beach we used to go grunion hunting down at the shoreline once or twice a year. Now maybe most people, not having heard of grunion, would suppose that what we were talking about was akin to snipe-hunting. But sure enough, grunion exist. They are tiny little fish (probably "small" is better word to use because "tiny" might cause a person to think of a guppy, and grunion are much bigger than that -- and even bigger than a goldfish). Anyway, when grunion were “running” – the times always being announced in the newspaper – the beaches would be crowded with people carrying pails or gunny sacks, hoping to be in the right spot when the fish came up to spawn.

The night had to be dark, the tide high and everyone had to be very quiet and watchful. It was hard to see the grunion unless you happened to be standing in the very place they were brought to by the wave – and then it was a miraculous sight. The wave brought hundreds and hundreds of grunion up on the wet sand. The female fish flopped around in the sand, using her tail to dig a hole in which she deposited her eggs. The male grunion then flopped over the hole placing his “spawn” on the eggs to fertilize them. The object for the fish was to produce progeny; the object for us grunion-hunters was to catch those slithery, floppy fish while they were out of the water and take them home to feed to the neighborhood cats. None of us would have been caught dead eating a grunion, although we were told if you dipped them in crumbs and fried them they were very tasty. We wouldn't know. At that age we were not adventuresome eaters.

Our Girl Scout Leader often took our troop grunion hunting. If we were lucky and were in the right place at the right time, our leader's car would smell fishy for a while afterwards, but she was a good sport about it. She made sure “her girls” were doing chaperoned things instead of “hanging out” somewhere.

There are some people who have gone grunion hunting many times but have never yet seen a grunion. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t arrive. The folks just were in the wrong place.

It’s been over 60 years since I’ve been grunion hunting. It isn't something someone who lives way out of the area would even think to do, since the local newspapers to not remind you now and then that the grunion are running. But if I were lucky enough to again live near the shoreline in Long Beach and read this in the newspaper, I'd call for my daughter to bring the little girls down from Los Angeles, to bring their buckets and a change of clothing, and we'd all set out for the wonderful adventure of grunion hunting. And if we were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, the girls would have a very unusual "show and tell" presentation for their school class, and their four cats would have a feast unlike anything they'd ever imagined. My daughter's car might stink for a while, but my daughter would be a good sport about it, I know.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


In September of 1953 I moved into Marilyn Hall, the women's dorm at the then-named George Pepperdine College at 79th and Vermont in Los Angeles. My room-mate, Carolyn, and I had become instant friends. Although both of us lived relatively close to the college, she in Inglewood and I in Long Beach, we wanted to experience dorm life and because of our compatibility we spent as much time as we could together.

As Christmas neared, we both knew we'd be at with our families once school closed for the holiday break but we also wanted to make this first college Christmas something special. I took lots of photographs as we readied our little dorm room for festivities. The picture above is really a good depiction of the fun of dorm life and the inventiveness of young people. You can see our little Christmas tree, complete with popcorn and cranberries that Carolyn and I strung as decorations. I am standing over an ironing board, not ironing but making frosting for the cookies that Carolyn had just made and brought up from the dorm kitchen. We had invited some girls from down the hall to a little party. These were the final preparations. She and I laughed through the entire planning and decorating process. To this day, every time I open an ironing board, this picture flashes through my mind.

Probably the funniest thing about this picture is that I am wearing an apron over my skirt and cashmere sweater. Today you would never catch a kid in an apron! I am sure none of my daughters even has an apron -- and probably the grandkids don't even know what aprons are, but our mothers wore them when they cooked so both Carolyn and I did too. The fact that I was running around the dorm in a cashmere sweater is also a recollection that makes me laugh. How different today is!

The party was a success. All the girls who attended were ultimately to end up in the same sorority - and for the most part we stayed friends for a long, long time. Although my childhood Christmases were wonderful, I think of all the Christmases I can recall this is the one that is most special. For me, that period when I was learning to be an adult but had the freedom of not being burdened by heavy financial expenses which one experiences as an adult was a most wonderful time in my life.

This picture serves to remind me of that special time -- and also of how things have changed. It seems like it was only yesterday, but it was over a half-century ago!

But most of all it reminds me of Carolyn and what a great friend she has remained all these years.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Chestnuts are not something that Californians are very familiar with, except of course at Christmas time when we sing that old familiar song that starts "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...." Well, we don't use Chestnuts and we don't have open fires, so no wonder they are unfamiliar to us.

I had never paid much attention to the chestnuts that appeared in bulk in our markets during the holidays. As far as I was concerned, they were for looks only, to sit in a bowl of nuts that one was supposed to have out on a table next to a nutcracker.

But when the cold weather of winter arrives in Istanbul, chestnut vendors with their hibachi-like grills were on every street corner.

We had been in Turkey for 6 months when winter came, and by that time we were fairly comfortable eating food off little carts and from little stalls. And so late one afternoon while we were at the dock waiting for the ferry that would take us across the Bosphorus to our home on the Asian side of the city, we bought a bag of roasted chestnuts from a vendor. It was cold and windy, we were bundled up within an inch of our lives, and I can't remember when anything warmed the cockles of our hearts the way those hot chestnuts did.

From that time on, we ate them whenever we could, always hot and from a little brown bag. We were sorry to see winter go, and happy when it came again, just because of the chestnuts. And we have not had a chestnut since.

It was not particularly hard to celebrate Christmas in Turkey because first, there are a lot of westerners there who do, in fact, keep to the holiday tradition. And it was possible, also, to buy Christmas trees, as attested by the photo below. At the time we were there, in the early 1990s, the only thing we had difficulty finding were tree decorations, so for the most part, I hand-made them. We were very fortunate to make the acquaintance of a young teenaged Turkish girl, Gulsum Ozturk, who was studying the English language. We became very close friends, and we invited her to come to our house to share Christmas with us and help us decorate the tree. She is the one who introduced us to roasted chestnuts.

Gulsum is probably the brightest and most dedicated person I've ever met in my whole life. When she makes up her mind to do something, she will do it. She put herself through the University of Istanbul with a major in Comparative English Literature, then came to San Diego State University where she got a Masters in both Comparative English Literature AND in business administration. She is now married, has two children, and holds a management position in a San Diego firm. And she is well on her way toward American Citizenship. Of everything we experienced in Turkey, becoming friends with Gulsum and her entire family, both in Turkey and here in the States, has been the most delightful and rewarding.

But I have never thought to ask her if she roasts chestnuts here in San Diego's sunny winter weather.

NOTE: I borrowed the picture of the chestnut vendor from off the web. I attempted to find "Paul" who is the photographer to ask his permission to use the photo, but to no avail. By means of this note, if he should see his photo pasted here, I want him to know that I have been totally enchanted by his many posted photos of Turkey -- and wish I had been able to make mine as visually appealing as he did his.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I walk into the living room to tell my husband something. The minute I arrive, the thought is totally gone. Wheeling around, I scurry back into the kitchen where I know the thought is awaiting my return. When my foot hits the linoleum floor, the thought jumps back in my mind and I manage to keep it there this time long enough to tell him.

Oh dear! That is about the same as remembering something I need to buy at the market and by the time I find a pencil to write it down, I can’t remember what I needed.

I propose these little lapses aren’t exclusively owned by the over-55 gang, but they certainly hit us more often as we move on in years.

My friend Bev, a top-notch executive secretary, trained me when I went to work for a company in Pomona back in the ‘70s. After several years of working together, we thought we were probably the best executive support team in the valley. Both of us are now retired, and we laugh a lot over old times. The biggest laugh can be simply stated this way: when we were 35, our bosses could tell us what they wanted done, and we would do it. At 45, our bosses could tell us what they wanted done and we would write it down so we wouldn’t forget to do it. At 55, our bosses could tell us what they wanted done, we would write it down but then forget where put the note! We laugh now, but it wasn’t very funny then.

There were days before I retired from my last job when I felt I was losing ground. It seemed that I had an allotted number of brain cells left to finish up this fast-paced job and if the boss didn’t slow down, I was going to use them up well before retirement date. It was a scary time, but I stayed the course.

My sweet husband Jerry and I poke good-natured fun at each other when one of us has a momentary lapse, but we have made a pact that we are not going to tease each other in front of other people. We will help each other out, rather than make an issue out of one of those honest but happening-more-frequently blanks.

We also have agreed that we are not going to waste time trying to remember some insignificant thing – was it Thursday or Friday? 1973 or 1974 – you know, those times when it seems dreadfully important to get the exact jot and tittle correct while the world waits for us to get on with our story. Jer and I have agreed to kick each other under the table when that starts to happen. The kick will jog our stuck record and get us back on track. It’s our little secret.

We’d like to go gracefully into old age, making allowances for each other and being one of those couples younger people think of as “darling little old people.” We’ve got to work at staying sharp. Techniques for exercising the mind abound, if you listen to the authorities. I’ve chosen my technique – memorizing my favorite old poems, starting with “Abou Ben Adhem, May His Tribe Increase.” (I can hear you speculating that maybe some of my cells have already gone missing). I’m a firm believer in the value of memorization! I think if I can just get that first poem down pat, the rest will be easier and I will be reassured that my brain cells are still alive and kicking! Though Jerry may think otherwise.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


At the Hyde Street Pier on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco there is a wonderful old windjammer named the Balclutha. She was built in Scotland in 1886 and rechristened the Star of Alaska around the turn of the century when the Alaska Packer fleet made yearly sojourns to the Bering Sea, leaving San Francisco in June and returning in August, their holds brimming with King salmon. She made 17 trips around the Cape Horn and survived a ship wreck off Alaska

Today visitors can explore the decks and the nautical lore of this lovely ship and in their imagination take a trip on this old square-rigger. She has a museum on board and it is possible to learn details of her life on the sea.

One thing you won’t learn, though, is that from 1951 to 53, a bunch of teenaged girls, myself included, of the Girl Scout Mariner Ship S.S. Saratoga of Long Beach, California had a standing invitation from Frank and Rose Kissinger, who at that time owned the Balclutha but which was then named the Pacific Queen, to come on board whenever we wanted and stay as long as we wanted. The ship was berthed in Long Beach and the Kissingers had been working to restore her. They told us if she ever set out on the high seas again we could go with them. We spent hours on the ship, dreaming of sailing the ocean wide. We set about learning nautical terms, and how to tie knots and do all those other sea-faring things that Mariners were supposed to do.

It was mostly in the summers when we spent large blocks of time on that ship. During the school year our studies came first, but we always made sure we touched base with Frank and Rose every so often. By the end of those three years, we knew every inch of that ship intimately except for the masts which, for our own safety, we only could observe from the deck. Eventually, we graduated from high school ….and time passed and our interests changed and we left Mariners behind. The Pacific Queen was sold and eventually made its way up to San Francisco, which is the best thing that could have happened to it.

Whenever I go to San Francisco, I am drawn to make a trip down to see her again. It is enough for me to just look; I don’t need to board her because I know her so well, even after all this time. Though she looks spiffy now, she exists in my memory in a more rustic fashion (she was probably a little run-down when we were playing on her decks but we didn’t know it.) I look at her snug up against the pier and I smile, remembering our wonderful Girl Scout leader, “MizAllen,” who was our leader from 1945 to 1953 and all the other Mariners who still are my friends – Ro, Dorothy, Frances, Irene, Mary Lee, Kathy, Pat, Shirley, Carol, and Zoe, along with Kay, Barbara and Dokey, these last three no longer alive.

And I am now reminded of John Masefield's poem of yearning, “I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky. And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by….” In the reading of this poem, I am taken back 60 years to remember all those times as if it were just yesterday.

NOTE: Thanks to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park who made the wonderful photo of the Balclutha available to me.

Kay Bostwick, Bobby Dobbins and Ro Lorenzen, Mariners of Girl Scout Ship S.S. Saratoga. 1951-1953

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


A tiny town in southern Turkey called Myra was the home of the original St. Nicholas, dating back to the 4th Century AD. At that time, the entire Christian world was under the care of the Pope. Nicholas was a generous Bishop, keen on giving his wealth away to the poor and unprotected small children, usually working in disguise to avoid spongers. On one occasion an unmarried girl, whose father was too poor to provide her with a dowry, found a bag of gold from Nicholas tucked in her stocking, which had been hung out to dry.

After his death on December 6, AD 345, Nicholas became a hugely popular saint all over Europe. Children were told that if they left food out for his horse on the anniversary of his death, Nicholas would leave them sweets. In the 17th century, Dutch settlers brought the idea of St. Nicholas to America and, in time, the date of his visit to the children was conveniently switched to Christmas Eve. By 1870 the increasingly generous figure had arrived in Britain ready to merge with the Viking-originated Father Christmas. In Holland, however, the 6th of December is still celebrated.

The Santa Claus that we know of today seems to post date 1885. That was the magic year that Santa began being commercialized. The red and white suit got its toe in the door, but it wasn’t standardized yet. Prior to the 1930s, Santa had been depicted in a variety of little numbers ranging from snug jumpsuits to multi-colored five-piece suits. In 1931, Coca Cola decided to use Santa in its winter advertising campaign and chose an American artist, Haddon Sunbloom, to design him. He decided to match Santa to the Coca-Cola colors and came up with the black boots, floppy hat and red tunic we know and love.

Most countries do not care that we have a “commercial” Santa Claus. But back in 1991 a newspaper journalist in Turkey became incensed that the west would “steal” St. Nicholas and commercialize him as a drinker of Coca Cola in all the ads for Coke. The newspaper urged the Turkish government to call for a referendum to force Coca Cola Inc. to stop degrading St. Nicholas by placing him in advertising. Apparently not all that many Turks could get worked up over that idea and the hullabaloo died down. How do I know this? I lived there when it happened and read about it in the Turkish Daily News. I have to admit I laughed

Because the Turks are mostly Muslim, they do not celebrate Christmas, although more and more they decorate with trees and lights and garlands and icicles just as we do. But in place of St. Nicholas, the Turkish people have “Baba Noel,” visually a “Father Christmas”- type of personage who fetes the New Year holiday.

So there’s something for everyone, as my cousin Shirlee rightly says. Just depends on what you want and what you expect.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


What you see in these three photos is the same thing you see in my face - aging! I had to laugh when I looked at these three trees all in a row. The top photo taken in 1975 was of our first Christmas tree after we were married. We still had children in school, although some of them were out on their own already. I was 40, and for the most part my face unlined, my calcium level high and my energy lively. The presents under the tree were waiting for "THE BIG DAY" when we gathered together and had the grand opening. I tried to make the day as good for our kids as my mom and dad made mine.

The second photo was taken several years ago. The tree has shrunk considerably, as did our living quarters. Even to use this tree in our living room, we had to muscle the occasional chair into my office, where it would stay amid the empty boxes of decorations until after Christmas. I still had the energy to decorate the house, do lots of baking, and although the kids now were all celebrating their own family Christmases in their own house, we still made cookies for the local fireman, went down to the local Christmas parade, and did a little socializing with our friends for the holiday season.

The last photo was taken this year. You can see the chair has NOT been moved. Jerry and I might have been able to drag or push it into the office again, but then we might have been forced to sit down and push it there with our feet, as our energy flags quite often now. The tree is miniscule, big enough for 35 tiny lights and maybe 15 tiny ornaments that came with the tree when we bought it decorated at Michaels Craft store. It is a poor excuse for a tree, but at least we haven't given up entirely on Christmas decorating. We did as much as our bodies would allow us to do; when we got tired, we said, 'That's enough" and the remaining decorations got shoved back under the bed.

This is what aging is like between 40 and 73. Oh, and my calcium level isn't so high anymore and I've certainly added some more laugh lines (as well as other unnamed lines) to my face. In fact, I can't she how it is possible that I got so old looking so fast.

I have always loved Christmas and I still love it, although I can't celebrate it like I used to. But Santa still knows where we hang our stockings and I'm sure he'll arrive again this year. I still have a healthy handsome man at my side, we still are in our right minds and still have a little money in the bank, which is more than a lot of people have this year.

Jerry and I are grateful for all our children and grandchildren. They are good to us -- and for us! We now sit at family gatherings like benevolent buddhas, smiling while the young, healthy ones cook and clean and chat and chase after the little ones. Our wants now are as small as our Christmas tree. A hot cup of coffee to start the day, electricity to keep the house warm and the tree lights on, and a tiny present or two in our stocking from Santa.

What more could old folks want?

Saturday, December 13, 2008


If you believe the restaurant reviewers at the L.A.Times, you will learn what is "in" -- pig parts.

Meson G on Melrose features pig feet cooked in white wine and aromatic vegetables. The chef shreds the meat, cooks it with stock and butter and then cools it until it "sets." Then he cuts hockey-puck size disks, deep fries them and sells them as "Crispy Pork Trotters."

Sona offers a main dish of braised pig feet, stuffed with foie gras and served with lentils. The chef likes pig feet because they are gelatinous.

Spago often buys a whole pig head and grinds it to make sausage.

But the piece de resistance appears to be at Providence, where the chef does a warm salad of julienned braised pig ears and roasted squid topped with frisee, wild arugula and dried black olives. "They're soft and melting on the outside with a strip of cartilage in the middle that stays firm no matter what you do with it." He adds, "I think that's why so many people appreciate it: that snap between your teeth when you bite in."

Now LALA land is not the only place that features pig. I had my introduction to North Carolina Pig Picking from my transplanted cousin Shirlee. Shortly after she moved there her grandson wanted her to experience a "pig picking" - the equivalent of what we would call roasting a pig for a barbecue. She tried to describe it to me but for some reason my mind refused to conjure up a picture of what she was talking about. As it turns out, for good reasons. Here is a link to an authentic pig picking. Be prepared for a picture that, depending on your frame of mind, you'll either say "OH YUMMY" or "GROSS":

When I was back visiting her, luckily we did not get to attend a pig picking, but she did take me to a barbecue restaurant somewhere, I think, on the way to New Bern. In the window they had a written paragraph of just how the pig is chosen and prepared for their restaurant, and the coup de grace is all done in the back of that place. By the time the pig meat got to my plate, it was visually unappetizing and even as bad as my "taster" is, what with my dysgeusia, it tasted worse. They put some kind of vinegar on it, and it does not look at all like what we in California consider BBQ anything. Shirlee's sister Nancy had been taken there too, and she called it "indeterminate" meat. That is as good a description as anything I could call it. You might want to look up that word in the dictionary to make sure you fully understand what she called it.

Personally, for roast pig I'll take the pork sandwich as prepared at Felix's Cuban Restaurant in Orange, California. It has on it some roast pork, some ham, a dill pickle and a few other things that make it a cut above any other pork sandwich you'll ever have. I suppose like anything else, picked pig is something you are brought up eating if you live in the area and it doesn't seem so out of the ordinary. However, I am warning all of you travelers to stay away from picked pig in North Carolina, and if you are waivering in your choice of meat to try, take another look at that picture!

And try not to gag.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I was a late bloomer, and didn't date much as a teenager. Finally at the beginning of my senior year I met a fellow and began seeing him on a fairly regular basis. He was nice enough, but he seemed to be getting serious way too fast. I tried not to encourage him, but I did like having a boyfriend.

As Christmas approached I was afraid he was going to give me an engagement ring for a present. He kept asking me what I wanted for Christmas. I’d always say, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth” - the first line from a song that was popular at the time. I hoped fervently that this would convey to him that I wanted something other than a ring.

Two days before Christmas he brought over my present - a smallish square cardboard box wrapped in Christmas paper and tied brightly with a red ribbon. He put it under the tree and told me not to touch it, push on it, or try to figure out what it was. He made me promise that I wouldn’t open it until Christmas morning. Of course the minute he left the house I grabbed that box and started kneading it. I swore to God I could feel a ring box inside. I had a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. If it was, in fact, a ring, I knew I would have to accept it because I wasn’t brave enough to tell him I didn’t want it.

On Christmas Eve after he had gone home and I had gone to bed, I lay there thinking about that box. Unable to bear any longer the anxiety of not knowing for sure what my fate was, I crept out into the living room in the dark, snatched that box from under the tree and ran into the bathroom, sure he wouldn’t be spying on me from outside while I was in that room. I tore off the wrapping paper, pried open the box, pulled out all the paper stuffing around what I hoped was not a ring but seemed that it probably was going to be – and lo, there in a ring box were two false teeth, taken from a set of Halloween Dracula teeth.

Relief from all that anxiety swept me up and I began laughing hysterically. Everyone in the house heard me. One by one they tromped into the bathroom to see what was going on. I showed them the present, told them how worried I had been, and made them promise they wouldn’t tell my boyfriend that I had opened my present early. They kept my secret.
Dick and I continued to be a twosome throughout our senior year - and I remained ringless. For our senior prom and for a gift, he gave me the present above. I was sure by this time it wasn't a ring, and sure enough, it was a practical gift, for which I was very grateful. We grew apart as I headed off to college, but not a Christmas goes by that I don't hear that song played occasionally and I think fondly - and a little giddily - about that awful time when I though I was going to be engaged in spite of myself.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


We are used to reading stories of children writing letters to Santa Claus. Usually kindly elves somewhere close to the child step in and help Santa make the tot's Cristmas better than it might have been. Some letters end up at the local post office and others are highjacked to put in the child's "baby book." But today I read, on a website I subscribe to, how letters addressed to God in Jerusalem or Israel are handled.

According to this story, once a year, usually just before Hanukkah and Christmas, a group of Israeli postmen gather boxes full of letters addressed to God and received at the main Post Office in Jerusalem and take them to the famous Western Wall, pictured above. Once there, they carefuly open the envelopes, fold the letters until they are slivers and insert them into the crevices between the stones.

Interestingly, "The majority come from Christians, but a sizeable number come from Jews and even a few from Muslims." They come from dozens of countries, including some like Malaysia and Kuwait, that don't even have diplomatic relations with Israel. But the pleas noted in these letters transcend country politics and are words from the heart of a human being to a God of all living creatures.

Throughout the year, letters to God are placed in a separate Post Office cubbyhole and are treated with respect by the postmen. According to the article, "Like all of the messages placed in the wall's crevices, those addressed to God will eventually be collected by employees of the Western Wall Plaza and buried in the 'Geniza,' a repository for texts considered holy, such as the Torah and prayer books."

I found this story very touching. It is certainly not a Christmas story with particular gifts being the object of the letters, but coming at the holiday season it surely represents a sensitive human approach to what otherwise might have been looked at as merely a bothersome happening at an already fast-paced time of year.

The full story, which is enlightening and worth reading, can be found on the website of the Religion News Service at

Except for the Santa Claus picture at the heading of this article, the other two photos were ones taken when Jerry and I visited Israel in 1980. The middle photo is an overall view of how the Western (or Wailing) Wall appeared at that time, and the picture directly above is of Jerry standing next to the wall. In it you can see just how large those stones are, and you can also see the letters stuck in the crevices of those stones. I have to admit I had a hard time taking this picture; I was very moved by seeing Jerry standing at that sacred place, and tears kept popping out of my eyes, making it very hard to focus my long-lens camera. It was a moment neither of us will ever forget.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Poloroid pictures don't hold of very well, but I am lucky that this one is still here to share. This was our first Christmas at the big old house in Ontario California. In the background from left are my dad, my brother Steve, my mother, my mother-in-law, me, father-in law, sister Ginnie and brother-in-law Don. In the front are three of my kids - Sean, Erin and Bryn - and my sister's oldest son, Dennis. There are two missing tots, my youngest daughter Kerry and her cousin David. They might have already been put down for the night, or they could have been off playing cowboys in some other room. This was the year of the vacuum cleaner, and below is the story, written some years ago:

When my kids were little shavers, we lived in a big old two-story house. On the day before Christmas, my sister and her little family would come early and we’d spend the day talking, laughing, eating and getting the last minute presents purchased while the little cousins played together. Just before bedtime we all gathered by the fireplace to hang seven stockings. The kids were always glad to go upstairs to bed, because they knew they had to go to sleep before Santa would come.

As soon as they drifted off, the four of us adults would start assembling all the various toys, which was no small project, although in those days they were mostly mechanical things. Electronic toys hadn’t been “discovered” yet. On this particular Christmas we lined up each kid's toys directly underneath their stocking so child could quickly identify whose was whose. After all the presents were assembled, I vacuumed the floor and we readied the house for the Santa’s arrival. I left the vacuum cleaner in a nearby corner of the living room because we knew we’d be using it again after the mayhem of present-opening the next morning was over.

This particular year my sis’ oldest son, Dennis, was about 4 years old. He was at the stage where he liked any machine that made a noise, and he was particularly fond of his mom's vacuum cleaner, of all things. So his folks had purchased a clever little upright vacuum made of plastic, with a battery operated “mechanism” inside made to sound like a motor. They knew he was going to be really happy.

The adults slept downstairs. We managed to stay in bed until about 5 a.m. The kids started waking each other up about 5:30 and we adults stationed ourselves at the bottom of the stairs until they all were up and ready to see what Santa brought them. When we turned them loose, six little kids went through that door all at once. Over the yelling we could hear little Dennis screaming, “A vacuum, a vacuum, Santa brought me a vacuum” – and by the time we got into the living room, Dennis had a vacuum in his hand gleefully pushing it around as he yelled, but it wasn’t his toy vacuum. It was my real one.

His little face fell when he learned that the real vacuum was not his, that instead his was the little puny thing by his stocking. It took a lot of explaining on the part of his folks to get him to accept the reality of the situation – that Aunt Bobby needed her vacuum and she couldn’t let him have it but that Santa brought him one of his very own.

Dennis grew up to be a nice, well-adjusted kid. Obviously he was not damaged irreparably by Santa’s faux pas. Through the years, when ever my sis would say something about one of the kids' disappointments, she would always qualify it by saying, "He wasn't as disappointed, though as when he couldn't have your vacuum cleaner." And when I would tell her something like, "Well, Bryn was upset that she didn't make concert choir" I'd always add "But not as disappointed as Dennis was when he couldn't have my vacuum."

Every family has stories that take on a life of their own and become the makings of great lore. Dennis probably doesn't even remember the Christmas that this occurred but at least he will now know that he is famous for something!

Monday, December 8, 2008


I’ve been thinking a lot about ants lately. It’s hard not to think about them when every time you go into the bathroom for your morning ablutions you discover the ants have beat you to it! In the bathtub. Around the shower tiles. Across the floor. Up the sides of the commode. I have never had to combat ants in my bathroom before.

I’ve had bad moments at various points in my life where it appeared the ants were on the way to taking over the house, but this is the first time I’ve had the bathroom as the battleground. I can’t tell where they are coming from, but they come in the night and are always awaiting us at the crack of dawn.

I’m not the only person in our apartment complex to battle ants. Whoever calls the office and asks that the pest control people come to their apartment and spray for ants will be the cause of an ant infestation in one of the four adjoining apartments. I am convinced the ants have built an entire subterranean city under our apartment building. The minute the lucky ant at the end of the line who can make it back to the nest unscathed after any spraying issues the call to move operations into one of the other apartments. It’s always with a bit of ruefulness that I call for pest control; it’s like siccing my ants onto someone else.

I also suspect that with this network of tunnels under our apartment unit, in the event a decent-sized earthquake arrives and centers itself in the Mira Loma area, our one story apartment building, composed of 12 individual apartments, may simply disappear into the ground. If we disappear suddenly, it won’t be the rapture nor a sink hole; it will just be a case of ant-tunnel collapse. The ants may see it as “payback” time for the many times we’ve come at them with ant spray. Or fed them corn meal, or tried any of the other tricks that are supposed to do them in. (Early this morning it was spraying them with Tilex, which was the handiest thing available).

Just so you know as much as I do now about ants, I just read an interesting Slate article on them, and found an article in the newspaper about a new ant book: The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies by Bert Holldobler and E.O. Wilson. Slate writer Christine Kenneally tell us the following:

“The Superorganism” is a completely wonderful book. It is packed with astonishing findings and beautiful illustrations, and, happily, it also contains enough information about ant civilization to set up a few ants-vs.-humans scenarios. Let us skip lightly over the fact that to compare ants and humans is to pit thousands of species against just one. Rather, let's start with the idea that we begin the contest evenly matched—at 6.6 billion humans and approximately 5 million billion ants, humans and ants have roughly the same biomass. What if a global disaster struck? Who would come out on top?

I’m not sure I’m interested enough in ants to read this book, especially since I have enough global disasters to worry without adding a new one to it. Nevertheless, it does sound like a book to nose through while sitting in Barnes and Noble with a nice Pumpkin Spice latte.

Oh, and just so you learn something new today, the study of ants is called myrmecology. Store that little piece of trivia as your “new word for the day!”

Saturday, December 6, 2008


The fun of Christmas -- and the fun of looking back on Christmases -- has a lot to do with my kids. I had a passel of 'em. This picture dates from Christmas of 1961. Kerry was getting ready to turn 1 in January of '62. That meant that Bryn was 2-1/2, Erin was 4 and Sean was 5-1/2.

We lived in Westminster, California in a small 3-bedroom house that had 1140 square feet in it and that cost $15, 250 when we bought it in 1959. Sean and Erin had one of the bedrooms and Bryn and Kerry were in the other. Our house payments were $99 per month, which included principal, interest, taxes and insurance. We didn't have a whole lot of money but we had enough to get our children exactly what they wanted for Christmas.

Sean knew his dad had served in the U.S. Marines, and he spent a lot of time play-acting being a "soldier." For his Christmas present he got a set of little "dress blues" -- and for months after he got this outfit he wore it everywhere except to school. He "became" a Marine; there was no doubt about it.

Erin wanted a certain doll. I can't remember what it was called, but of course she found it sitting under the tree on Christmas morning and she was in seventh heaven (as you can tell by the expression on her face).

Little Bryn, the child that was always smiling, finally got her own cash register, and she rang up sales until we were sorry we'd bought that toy for her. It made an awful "ca-chunking" noise every time a register key was punched. There wasn't a thing electrical about it, but manually pushing on the keys produced the exact noise she knew was for ringing up a sale -- so her dad and I emptied our pockets into the till and she, little tyke that she was, kept trying to sell us things.

And baby Kerry was too young yet to signify her wants. She liked everything, even the bows that came off the presents. There was no squawking from her about not getting what she wanted.

I look at this picture and I remember how blessed that Christmas was. The kids got lots of other presents from Santa Claus, and of course from their grandmas and grandpas. None of the presents were big expensive things. There were no electronic gadgets being shown on television that made the kids want to have one just like it and cry if they didn't get it. It was possible then to have a reasonably inexpensive Christmas holiday and still provide enough goodies for your kids to be wowed!

In fact, my kids grew up and celebrated Christmases before the electronic age hit. I am stunned when I see the prices that parents nowadays must pay if they want to give the kids what they have seen on TV and are asking for.

But I have to remember that just because I am shocked at the prices, it is probable that their parents aren't; if $25 was a lot to pay for a present in 1961 when cigarettes were 25 cents a pack, then now in an economy where cigarettes may be $5.00 a pack parents may not think comparably higher-priced presents are too expensive either.

I have never been one of those people who crabs about the commerciality of Christmas. I have always loved the Christmas season, the hunt for the perfect gift, the music, the congeniality of holiday, and most especially the happiness in the eyes of my children.

And I guess that is why I look at this picture and see the tiled floors with no carpets on them, the raggedy and sparcely decorated little Christmas tree which was the biggest we could afford, and remembering how hard it was to make ends meet when we were first starting to be a family -- and I remember those things but what overshadows them all is the look of happiness on the faces of my kids. They may not have always received exactly what they wanted, but apparently it was enough to make them want to do likewise for their own kids.

And that's the pleasure of being grandparents, watching your grandchildren, both big and small, knowing that they will be smiling when the unwrapping starts.

Friday, December 5, 2008


My daughter came over the other night somewhat distraught because of various e-mails flying back and forth between union members and the brass in the organization she works for. The "combatants" had copied every employee - and the e-mails truly were not only disgusting, disheartening, and demoralizing but also exceptionally unprofessional. My daughter tries to do her work and keep her nose clean, but it is hard to remain aloof when the whole place is buzzing.

I was reminded of one of the passages in the Bible that I have always felt was a lot more down to the level of each individual than the Ten Commandments. It's from Proverbs 6:16-19.

There are six things doth the Lord hate; yea, seven are an abomination unto Him: A proud look, a lying tongue and hands that shed innocent blood. An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

I suggested that my daughter delete the e-mails without reading them and remove herself from where gossip is being spoken. Keep her thoughts to herself and continue doing the best job she can. I told her she simply had to choose to rise above it because unfortunately it isn’t going to go away.

Her life has way too much drama in it anyway without all this negatively swirling around her in the workplace. And it's her choice as to how to comport herself through it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I think I am a person of few quirks. In fact, my ordinariness bugs me. Nevertheless.....there are a few things I do that most people don't. And as a child I was quite surprised when I found out that everybody doesn't do these kinds of things.

First of all, I have always written backwards - mirror writing, as above. Now I'll be the first one to admit that it's not really beautiful penmanship, but neither do I have to think carefully about which way each line is to be turned to make it backwards. There is absolutely no reason to write backwards: everyone can read it if they can read backwards writing (some can without too much trouble) and some would be smart enough if they thought it was important enough to simply hold it up to a mirror to read. But why would anyone do this? I don't know and most people wouldn't bother. But lots of times when I'm sitting in a talk or a lecture listening to a boring rehash of something I already know (or could say better), I resort to backwards writing. Just to have something more interesting to do. (I can hear you thinking that the speaker MUST be boring to cause me to think this is interesting!)

Being able to write backwards from left to right also held me in good stead when I took a class in Hebrew. The letters just flew out of my hands. My finger-brain connection for backward writing had been already set and I was #1 in the class when it came to writing the Hebrew characters. I earned an F, though, in understanding. I knew the letters and the sounds that went with them. I could write them easily. But I couldn't understand a word that was said to me and was no better at the end of the class than at the beginning, so that was that. Lotta' good that backward writing did for me in that instance.

The second thing I have always done is to spell my name (and everybody else's name) backwards. I grew up sometimes being Barbara Gail Dobbins and at other times I was Arabrab liag Snibbod. After my first marriage I became Arabrab Kcirtapkrik, and most recently (well, for the last 33 years anyway,) I became simply Ybbob Eltit, which is not the most esthetically please variation but does have the attribute of conciseness that the others were lacking. Jerry does not understand the reason for doing this, and he doesn't understand that there IS no reason for it. I have always just done it. I have children whose other selves are Naes, Nire, Nyrb, and Yrrek. (I don't think I ever told them this.) One time Jer and I were at the horse races at Santa Anita and we were discussing who to place our communal $2.00 bet on. We of course didn't handicap horses but chose them sometimes based on their color (we liked grey horses), if they had socks or not (yes on socks), or had a particularly meaningful name. In one race there was a grey horse with socks whose name was Navonod. I immediately recognized the name as Donovan spelled backwards so convinced Jerry that this was the day we were going to win big. As I recall, Navonod should have been named "Beetle-Bomb."

I also have a funny little story about one of my online name of "Snibbod1." When I signed up to go on AOL back in June of 1997, I of course wanted the name "Snibbod," which if you are not used to backward spelling is my maiden name of Dobbins. But lo, someone had beat me to the punch. There already was a Snibbod on AOL, so I became Snibbod1. I do know there is a Snibbod2 from New York, so I know there are others who do the backward name thing too. There just aren't a lot of us.

There is one more thing I do differently from most people. I read magazines from back to front. Not only slick magazines but also all the "feature" magazines that come in the newspapers. (I read the newspaper the right way, however.)

I find the most interesting things in the last quarter section. Tidbits of information, little ads with fascinating things in them from businesses that can't yet afford big display ads, columns of things to do, or where to buy featured items, or tiny restaurant ads with coupons attached. If I hadn't read the back pages first from the old Genealogical Helper magazine, I probably never would have seen the little ad that promoted counted cross-stitch charting from old photographs and I'd have missed the joy of making all those sepia-stitched pictures of my uncles and my sis and me when we were little tots. And especially the one of my mother when she was a young Flapper in the late 1920s.

Although I can sit down and read a 600 page book without batting an eye, I have trouble reading a magazine straight through. Usually I give it a cursory glance and then consign it to the "finished" pile, which is why I start at the back. If I'm going to lose interest, I want to reap the good stuff first before that happens. I think I probably do not get my money's worth out of magazines, but I am always satisfied with what I find.

Are all these things unusual quirks? I think probably so. But as long as it isn't hurting anybody and as long as my family and friends know I'm not totally crazy, I intend to continue with them. I wonder if you all have any quirks that you don't usually speak about?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I have looked at these pictures so many times over the years I feel as if the people in them are old friends. And of course for me these little boys will always remain little boys, even though by now, some 17 years after taking the picture I'm sure they are grown men, married, working hard and probably getting their own children dressed in uniforms for school.

Jer and I spent a lot of time nosing around the outlying villages. I was always so astonished at what I saw. I had to keep reminding myself that there were probably rural areas in the United States where I would be just as astonished at what I saw there....but since I was a city girl and never lived more than 50 miles from where I was born, everything that I saw in the US looked so ordinary. So this is why I loved to photograph the people of Turkey. For me, they were the essence of this remarkable country.

One of my favorite things to do when we were traveling was to be in a town that was having their "market day" on the day we were there. A street would be shut down and all the vendors from near and far would bring their wares and set them up along the street -- both sides and in the middle. Everyone came to market -- and what I saw was literally a visual feast. I saw heads of cabbage and pumpkins so big that they were being sold in pieces, rather than whole. I saw displays of cheeses sitting in bags made of the midsection of a cowhide, sewn together to make a barrel shape and perfect for storing home made cheeses. I saw rugs and cloths spread out in the streets, displays of canarys, more olives that I ever saw in my whole life.... but I also saw women like the one above who didn't rely on a commercial carrier or stroller for her infant but simply tied the baby onto her back. Oh, how I loved those markets.

But best of all was when we, along with our driver, were climbing around an area near a village of Kumbetkoy, fairly near the larger town of Eskisehir, and came upon this young woman tending wheat spread out to dry on large white sheets. It was always easy to find men who wanted their picture taken. Finding women was not so easy. But this lovely woman obliged me and posed with her wheat. Her skin was dry and rough from being out in the sun each day, but she was simply beautiful and was so kind to let me take her picture. I was able to send a photograph back to her from Istanbul after I got them developed. I asked our driver, Ahmet, to tell her how much I appreciated her kindness is letting me take this photograph, and of course he did, and he was the one who arranged a way for me to get the picture back to her.

I have an 8"x10" photograph of her that has hung in our house now for all these years. It is always reminding me, as if I needed reminding, of those magic years we spent in Turkey, seeing the beauty of both its countryside and its people.

Monday, December 1, 2008


I did not have as much luck with my Weimaraner as William Wegman, the wonderful photographer of Weimaraners, has had with his. Of course I'm not an artist, either, and had I an inkling to put Heidi Weimaraner in front of my camera perhaps things would have been different.

We found her at the local humane society; she was a year old and in good health. She had such soulful yellow eyes looking out at us from behind bars that we could not walk away without her on a leash. Our four children ranged in age from 4 to 9, and it seemed like a good match. We, or more truthfully my first husband, thought Heidi was the dog our family needed. Heidi was definitely Joe's dog and she was his first love affair.

What we didn't know yet was that we were not particularly good at dog-training, not having it in us to make and enforce demands of the dog. Neither did we know that a one-year old large Weimaraner is still an enthusiastic puppy and that the breed itself it not known for its brains, Wegman's dogs excepted.

We lived in a big old two story house in Ontario, California, with a large fenced backyard. The previous owner many years earlier had made a wonderful rose garden in the back yard, planting about 25 rose bushes around the edges of the back yard but leaving enough lawn in the middle for his children to have room to play. Heidi was going to be an outdoor dog, so the first thing we did was to get her a lovely doghouse and all her feeding equipment, along with assorted ropes, bones and accoutrements that dogs need to entertain themselves.

Heidi soon decided there was plenty of entertainment to be had without resorting to artificial means. She began digging the roses up, one by one. We consulted "the books" to see how to stop this digging; I remember only one suggestion and that was to pour water in the hole as she started to dig. It did not work. It just made a muddy dog. One day after finding yet another rose bush lying prone in the garden, Joe signed himself and Heidi up for a dog obedience class.

Heidi did not want to be obedient. And furthermore, the suggestions the trainer gave to the dog owners for coercing their dogs into obedience didn't set very well with Joe; dog-beating was not what he wanted to do. The class became history and we went back to pulling our hair out over her behavior. Within two months, all rose bushes were gone. The back yard looked as if it had been struck by a shower of asteroids. And to our dismay, the children could not play in the back yard because Heidi's exuberance at having playmates kept knocking them down like bowling pins.

One Sunday morning an unexpected rain came up just as we were ready to leave for Sunday School and church. We had a large den in the house into which we could shut Heidi up while we were gone. It had a linoleum floor, a vinyl couch and a small TV. It seemed like a good place to store her for a couple of hours. We brought in all her toys, left her with food, water and a warm blanket, and headed out to church. We were confident that she would be safe and dry for that two-hour period we were gone.

Heidi ate our turquoise vinyl couch while we were learning about God.

Well, she didn't "eat" it exactly; she first tore the vinyl off in strips, starting at one edge and pulling to the other. She did a good job. The only vinyl that remained on the couch was on the back, which was up against the wall. Once the vinyl was gone, she began pulling at the stuffing with her flea teeth (the little nippers in front, my cousin calls them), and when we came home we found Heidi lying on her blanket smiling, surrounded by clouds of stuffing and wooden couch frame. Needless to say, Heidi's time in our family was marked.

We put an ad in the paper looking for a family who had a lot of acreage and wanted an outdoor dog who could run to her heart's content. A vineyard owner in Etiwanda saw the ad and claimed the dog. We told him that we thought the dog had potential, but she just couldn't live cooped up. We used a "don't ask, don't tell" kind of sales pitch and then in a fit of guilt, told him that if she didn't work out to please not take her to the pound; bring her back to us.

For about a month we didn't answer our phone, fearing that it was Heidi on the other end. But one day a call did come through from the new owner saying she had adapted nicely, his children loved her and thanking us for putting that ad in the paper.

Every time I look at one of Wegman's Weimaraner pictures I think of Heidi. She was beautiful, that's for sure. And forty years later I am still drawn to Weimaraners. I see Heidi in each of them. Having her was a short and sweet love affair, and left me with good memories, except for the one of my vinyl couch.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


One of the surprises of genealogy is learning that divorce was fairly common in the “old days.” It’s also a surprise that newspapers then were every bit as explicit then as now – and actually, much more gossipy. Here’s what happened to Levi & Nancy Sperry, residents of Lawrence, Kansas. Levi’s first wife was Paulina J. Dobbins, sister of James Sellers Dobbins, but she died in childbirth and Levi then married Nancy Sperry, a neighbor.

In 1885 everything fell apart for the Sperrys. A divorce action was filed by Nancy Jane against Levi, alleging that in their 28 years of marriage he had scolded her, beaten her and threatened to kill her many times. The youngest daughter, Lilly Sperry, testified for her mother, stating that she heard him threaten to kill her mother and had been present once when he tried to choke her. Other family members, including son Watson, and Mrs. Sperry’s sister, Dicy Carter, also testified. In his portion of the trial, Levi stated that after their first year, their marriage had been a stormy one. It had become worse when she later wanted the boys to run the farm. Levi was upset that in any differences between him and the children, she always sided with the children. In cross-examination, he admitted having at one time threatened to split her head open with an axe. The divorce was granted. During the course of the trial, two of the four Sperry children, both adults, died. All the lurid details appear in the local Lawrence newspaper.

Levi was fit to be tied. On November 24, 1886 he wrote out a new will. A couple of items bear noticing:

1) Item #2 states, “I give, devise, and bequeath to my two children, James Sperry and Nellie T. Jones, each the sum of one dollar, and direct the same to be paid them out of my estate, as soon as possible after my decease, upon their each executing and delivering to my executrix, a full receipt therefore, in full for their share and interest in my estate. Because of the well-known domestic difficulties which I have had with my former wife, Mrs. Nancy J. Sperry, from whom I have obtained a legal divorce, and because my said children, James Sperry and Nellie T. Jones, bore a conspicuous part in my said domestic difficulties, thereby greatly aggravating my afflictions and embarrassments, both socially and financially, it is my will and purpose that my said children shall have no further share or interest of and in my property and estate, beyond the sum of one dollar each as above provided.

He certainly made clear his intentions in this matter.

2) Item #3 states, “I give devise and bequeath all the rest, residue and remainder of my estate....unto Mrs. Eliza J. McFarland to be the sole and absolute property of the said Eliza J. McFarland, and her heirs and assigns forever, and in case I shall survive and outlive her, then I hereby give, devise and bequeath all the property of every kind herein devised and bequeathed to her unto her children and their heirs forever. This provision and bequest is made by me, as, and by way of an inducement and past consideration for the agreement of the said Eliza J. McFarland this day made, that she will become my wife”

His will also appoints Eliza as executrix, which of course would necessitate his children going to her to get their $1 each when their father dies.

There is a Marriage License issued in Lawrence on November 23, 1885 and a return recorded on November 24 confirming the marriage of Levi J. Sperry, age 57 and Eliza J. McFarland, 38. Eliza was no dummy.

Eliza and Levi had 15 years of married life. His will was admitted to probate on January 25, 1901.

Although the records do not show if ex-wife Nancy Sperry received a settlement, she had a unique way of rebuilding her life. On February 17, 1887, Nancy Sperry, age 48, married young Edward A. Carlson, age 26, in her home in Lawrence -- and lived happily ever after!