Sunday, August 31, 2008


You will remember that last week on the 27th we learned a bit about old Abner Hall, one of our old relatives. When Abner wrote his will, he knew he was going to die soon, but there was no way he could have imagined it would happen like this!

Our direct ancestor is Abner's son, John, who is the John of the story below. You can imagine how startled I was when I came across this information in an old Franklin County, Missouri history book. If John's brother, William LeGrand Hall (about whom this story pertains) had had his way, we wouldn't have been around !

There is another version of this story printed in the St. Louis, Missouri newspaper shortly after this event occurred. It differs in several respects from this one, and we will never know the exact truth, but the final results were the same. I'll reprint that story with the next installment sometime this next week. For now, read about our great-great-great uncle William LeGrand Hall.

If you are not my cousin but are confused about how you fit into the family, drop me a note and I'll help you.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


One Sunday not too long ago my daughter and I decided to go over to the senior center for a pancake breakfast. It seemed like a good way to start the day.

We had a nice breakfast. The pancakes and coffee were hot and the orange juice cold. Best of all, the line was short and the price right. We were waited on hand and foot by a nice little lady (why do they all seem so much older than me?) who made sure we had refills. When it was time to go, as we passed her I thanked her and told her the food was very good. I started to walk on out the door when she grabbed my arm, whirled me around and said, “Let me give you a hug!”


But of course it happened before I could stop it, and I tried not to huff under my breath as I hustled out the door.

I do not like to be hugged by people I don’t know. I hug my kids and they hug me. I hug all my family members. I have no problem being hugged by someone in my genealogy group that I’ve helped. I hug my friends when I haven't seen them in a long time. But being hugged by a stranger just for the sake of hugging makes me think these huggers are very emotionally-needy people.

I am totally against indiscriminate hugging. I find it offensive and a real intrusion into my space, not to mention my body. I know there is a large group of people who think that hugging is a wonderful cure-all. There is usually a booth of them at every street fair, and with arms outstretched they fly into the crowd yelling, "You look like you could use a hug." I always avert my eyes as I walk past their location. I don’t want to give them the least bit of encouragement. But the catch is that if I signal in any way that I am not interested, they will hone in on me like a bee after nectar, thinking in their heart of hearts that their magic hug will make me feel so much better.


Passive-aggressive that I am, I would never say to them, “I prefer not being hugged.” Instead I try my hardest to avoid placing myself in their line of vision. Perhaps I should practice standing in front of the mirror and saying over and over, “Please, I don’t want to be hugged.” Maybe I could say it so many times that eventually it would feel natural coming out of my mouth. But I doubt it.

So I now forego street fairs AND senior breakfasts. Instead, if I want pancakes I go to IHOP, where my pancakes come with a smile instead of a hug.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Here I am, sitting in a goat cart having my picture taken. The year is 1937; I am almost two years old. Other kids in my generation had their picture taken either on horses or in horse carts, but I got the goat! This photo is placed prominently in my baby-book.

I was nosing around last night in this ever-so-complete book that my mother kept on me, in which every jot and tittle of my life was recorded: little Barbara was born on Wednesday, June 26 at 6:05 p.m.; began her sun baths at one month; started eating peas and carrots at 7 months, took 2 steps at 10 months, etc.). Many of these photos and details are fairly mundane, but the goat cart and a few other select items are quite delightful, and sometimes downright peculiar.

Along with my baby-book my mother saved for me a little booklet entitled “Baby Record” from the Parents Educational Center of the Long Beach Social Welfare League. My understanding of this organization was that it was where depression-area poor people could take their young babies to receive simple medical care and information on raising them. The motto of this group was “Save the Babies: Save the Nation!” (That was a big burden to put on our parent's shoulders, as well as the babies' shoulders!) In this book, which my mother received when I was three months old, it tells about ordering a birth certificate, rules about feeding, sunbathing, preparing formula and getting baby shots. It also gives a list of things that children should be able to do at certain ages.

Here’s a photo of a page from the book. I show it in this form because if I didn’t, you might think I had made it up.

First of all, please notice what the expectations are for a child at 1 year and again at 15 months.
On the next page, not shown, it says that at eighteen months the baby should be setting and clearing off the table, wiping dishes, using a handkerchief and replacing it in his pocket and unpinning safety pins in clothes. Can you believe this?

But actually what I want to deal with now is back in the three month category where it says, “He should…use the vessel.” That "vessel" was an old-fashioned chamber pot, baby-sized, of course.

Now remember where I mentioned the jots and tittles in my baby-book? Well, in my mother’s own handwriting I read, “When Barbara was three months and 22 days old we began training her to ‘to-to.’” (For you uninitiated in the Dobbins euphemisms, “to-to” was my family’s word for urinating.) Yep, my mother began my toilet training when I was just a little over three months old. She took off my cloth diaper, slipped a little white “potty” mug under my tiny behind and waited to hear the magic tinkle.

I’m sure she thought she was doing exactly what she was supposed to, and I have no idea if or when I finally produced on demand. It may have been a long wait. Luckily, at some point in time I walked, talked and tinkled like the best of them.

Also during this same period in time babies were fed on a schedule – not when we were hungry, but every 4 hours, PERIOD! If we weren’t hungry, we got a bottle shoved in our mouth anyway. If we were starving at the three-hour mark, we were allowed to cry until the 4 hours were fulfilled. My mother told me she would hold me and cry with me during that last hour. But she followed the book and had to make her peace with her tears, she said. I think probably the first child in the family was the one who was the guinea pig and by the time my sister came along, this foolish theory of feeding on schedule was tossed out by my mom. But be that as it may, my generation seemed to grow up ok. We turned out to be reasonable, responsible citizens, bore children who were raised under Dr. Spock’s tutelage and who have since produced wonderful grandchildren for us.

But if any of you wonder why your “elders” act kind of strange sometimes, just remember, most of us were put on the potty to begin our training at 3 months and nearly starved to death in the process of being raised. It has to have left some kind of residual but excusable bumps!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


All relatives of Louise Hall Ryland -- and these relatives would be all my cousins and their kin -- will find the will of Abner Hall very interesting. I will have to tell the story in two parts, but the will is the first part that sets the scene.

His will is the first one I found where our ancestors were slaveholders. I was shocked, to say the least. Abner Hall was from North Carolina (Rowan County, for you genealogists) and had come to Missouri in the 1830s. He was a died-in-the-wool southerner and as such, being a fairly well-to-do man, had many slaves. It took me a long time before I could like him, especially because of the way he doled out his slaves as time grew closer to his death. You can see by the date that things were to change shortly.

But if you read his will carefully and note specifically what he says about his oldest son, William, and the making of his second-oldest son John A. (our direct ancestor) his executor, in the next section of this story you will find another more dramatic change that was soon to take place.

Last will and Testament
Abner Hall, Franklin Co., MO
dated April 19, 1862

I, Abner Hall of the County of Franklin, State of Missouri, being now in feble health but of sound and disposing mind, do on this the nineteenth day of April, 1862, make, publish and declare the following to be my last will and testament, hereby revoking all former wills by me made.

First I desire that all my funeral expenses and just debts be first paid.

2nd I give and bequeath to my beloved Mildred Hall, to have and to hold during her natural life the following named slaves, To wit Thom, Minerva and Ester.

It is further my will that in the event of any one or all of said Slaves become unruly, unsafe or unprofitable, then and in that event my executor herein after mentioned shall have full power to sell or dispose of such slave or slaves so deemed to be unruly or unprofitable to my said wife, out of proceeds of said sale my said Executor shall apply the interest arising from the sale to the benefit of my said wife or to be subject to her control.

I further give to my wife, in addition to the slaves herein before mentioned during her natural life, my home stead farm situate on St. Johns containing two hundred acres being the farm upon which we now reside and at her death the same to descend to my youngest son James E. Hall in fee simple.

3rd I give and bequeath to my daughter Caroline the following named Slaves. To wit Amanda, Lydia and Laura.

4th I give and bequeath to Nancy E. Hall the following Slaves to wit Mary, Augustus and Lucy.

6th I give and bequeath to my son James E. Hall the following named Slaves to wit Washington, Mariah and Elen the youngest child of Minerva and in addition to the three slaves herein named that at the death of my said wife the said James E. Hall is to have the farm upon which I now live as his absolute property which said farm contains two hundred acres being the same in which my wife is given a life time interest.

5th I give and bequeath to my son R. M. Johnson Hall the following slaves to wit Anderson, Allice and Daniel.

7th I give and bequeath to John A. Hall the following slaves to wit Charlotte and her increase, Gracy and Joseph, the two first named he is to take immediate possession of.

8th I give and bequeath to William L. Hall ten dollars and such a sum to be paid him annuly as his necessities require or as my said executor may think proper, not to exceed the one half of the yearly value of the three slaves willed to my said Executor, after first deducting out clothing, sickness and doctor bills, the annual legacy to be paid by my Executor to the said William L. Hall is to be paid by said Executor and not to be paid out of my estate, this left alone to the sole discretion of my Executor.

9th It is my will that the personal property on hand at my death remain together and be kept for the use of my wife and the raising of my four youngest children, this clause of my will to mean the household and kitchen furniture and all the stock on hand at my death.

10th It is my will that the Real Estate situate in the town of Washington County and State aforesaid, one a lot and brick house on Jefferson St. and five other lots with all and singular their improvements these situated in the western part of said town and described as follows to wit, lots one, two, three, four and five and being the whole of Elijah W. Murphy's addition to the town of Washington as the same is laid down on the plat of said addition, that this property be sold whenever my said executor shall deem it advantageous to my said Estate and the proceeds of said sale shall be equally divided between Caroline, Nancy E. and R. M. Johnson Hall, my said executor being fully authorized under this will to convey title to said property without any order or decree of any court.

11th That it is my will that at the death of my said wife Mildred Hall the slaves herein before bequeathed to her or the proceeds arising from them shall descend to the four youngest children, to wit, Caroline, Nancy E., R. M. Johnson and James. E. Hall, share and share alike.

12th It is my will that all of my estate personal and mixed not herein specifically disposed of shall be collected, preserved and applied to the payments of my debts and the expenses of the settlement of my estate and the residue if any to be divided among the four youngest children, Caroline, Nancy E., R. M. Johnson and James E. Hall.

13th and lastly, I do hereby appoint John A. Hall the sole Executor of this my last will and testament with full power to employ such assistance as he may choose in order to carry into effect the purposes and desires of this my last Will and testament.

In testimony whereof I, Abner Hall, have hereunto set my hand and seal this the day and year aforesaid.

A. Hall

Signed and declared by the above Abner Hall to be his last will and testament in the presence of us who at his request and in his presence have subscribed our names as witnesses thereto.

Robert F. Sullins
John D. Jump
George W. Hawkins

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I don't specifically follow the celebrity gossip circus that seems to be prevalent today not only on the Internet but also in the daily newspapers (much to my chagrin). But it is hard to avoid seeing that new little babies are being assigned some strange names. I think of Apple, Zuma, Suri, and Rumer, for a start, although Rumer is not exactly a baby anymore. And I have to remember that Moon Unit Zappa was rather unusual in its day too.

And I remember that in 1956, when my husband and I chose Sean for the name of our firstborn, my mother in law said she would never call him that; instead she would call him Robert, which was his middle name. Aside from the fact that she was from a tiny town in southern Tennessee, there really were no Seans around to speak of, except for the Irish Playwright Sean O'Casey, which is where we got the name.

While we sometimes scratch our heads at the strange and remarkable names our celebrities name their children, in some indexing I am doing for the website, I have found some names of yore that can top any current expression. These date generally in the period from 1870 to 1890. Can you beat these?

For females: Philander, Alfaralta, Union V., Paradine. For males: Dilador, Previs, Huricha, Linguilla. I found a Sandusky Casto (a male, I suppose) and a Larkin Stark. I have found women named America, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. I do think most of these are more bizarre than today's selections.

I had an uncle who was named Nevalyn and most of the time he appeared on a census as Evalyn and as a female. As it happened, he was gay and one wonders if his name had anything to do with it.

My dad's best friend, Wilmer Funk, was called "Son" by his family and that name spilled over to his friends. Dad and mom called him Son, and since in my day children didn't call adults their given names, my sis and I had to call him Uncle Son. Which didn't mean anything to us then but later we had good laughs over it. And my own father, who was so reluctant to become a grandfather (or at least to be called a grandfather), had his grandchildren call him Uncle Granddad.

I do think names and naming is a very interesting subject. I hesitate to pass judgment on other's choice of names: I had my fun (with Sean, Erin, Bryn and Kerry) and I say let other people have their own fun, even if I think it is pretty darn strange sometimes!

Monday, August 25, 2008


Among the fascinating sights we saw in Turkey was people at work. Oh, it is so different than we in America are used to. This photo was taken in one of the towns along the Black Sea coast. In this particular town the sidewalks were exceptionally wide, because at the appropriate time of the year hazelnuts were harvested and put on those sidewalks.

The nuts have a tight green husk around them and to avoid mold and disease problems they need to be dried as quickly as possible. To facilitate this, the nuts are spread out on the sidewalks and tended to by men who spend the hot summer days moving and turning the hazelnuts and disposing of the husks as they dry and fall off.

I can't begin to estimate how many feet of sidewalk this man was tending, but it was big enough to make my mouth fall open when our guide explained to us what this fellow's job was. We always think there is a mechanized way of doing everything, and maybe back in 1992 it existed somewhere, but not for this man. I'd guess that it was a job his father and his father's father before him had done and he was simply continuing the family business.

I loved this picture. There is a certain serenity to it that reminds me that although some jobs may look (and be) terribly tedious, the secret to success is just to do it and not fuss about it.

In a talk with my Cousin Nancy a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I wish I could be more content with things. My husband Jerry doesn't fuss about things that he can't change. He is a good example to me. The Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:11 says, "...for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." But alas, "content" doesn't seem to be in my makeup. But change is! (Obama and I are for change!) When I was working full-time I looked forward to Mondays because it was a change from the activity of the weekend. I looked forward to Fridays for the very same reason. I have always thrived on change.

I guess what all this says is that I could NEVER, EVER tend hazelnuts! But more power to the man in the photo who could.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Newspaper articles tell the stories:

Fontana, California


"A 22-year-old man was arrested on weapons charges after he accidentally shot himself in the thigh, Wednesday evening. …Further investigation revealed he arrived at his mother’s house and began waving a .22 caliber gun around while threatening to shoot anyone who called police. He shot himself in the right thigh after he placed the gun in his waistband."

Ankara, Turkey


"Two soldiers on guard duty at the main entrance of General Staff Headquarters gunned each other down for reasons that are as yet unclear, the Anatolia news agency reported Sunday. The soldiers started arguing for an unknown reason…. Later they fired at each other. One has been hospitalized in the intensive care unit of the hospital. His condition is reported as critical. The other died at the scene."

Now there is nothing funny about guns when they are used in inappropriate ways. But when I read the first article in the newspaper I immediately remembered the second and dug the copy of it out of my files. I just couldn't help laughing.

I probably shouldn’t have done that, but except for the seriousness of the results of the latter shooting, both scenarios played out in my mind like something I might see in a very funny movie, maybe a movie like "Mr. Hulot's Holiday," in case some of you are old enough to remember that hysterical movie of the early 1950s.

But to mitigate my distress at finding anything funny in a shooting, I tell myself that while I am sorry that I am laughing at someone else’s misfortune I am happy to find something to laugh at to start my day.

Friday, August 22, 2008


Back in 1947 our little Girl Scout troop decided to take on some pen pals to help in our badge work. My assigned pen pal was a little girl my age - Johanna "Hannie" Nicolai - who lived in Breskins, an area close to the Belgian border. In my first letter to her I asked if there was anything my family could send her that they could use. Things were still pretty rough in the parts of Europe that had suffered during the Second World War. She asked for "pajamas, or wool to knit with" - and a package of chewing gum. She said in that letter, "Breskens was a well-to-do place but on Sept. 11, 1944 was heavily bombed and many houses damaged or entirely demolished. Our house was very badly damaged but luckily we can live in it again. Many died in the ruins from the pieces that fell on them. Luckily we escaped unharmed, for which we cannot thank God enough."

She had an older brother who could translate my letters in English to Dutch, but I had a dickens of a time finding someone in Long Beach who could translate hers to English for me. Below is just a part of a subsequent letter I received.

If I had to guess, I'd say that we probably corresponded for 18 months -- and then as we were going into our teen-age years, we lost contact with each other. But I kept all her letters and her sweet picture in my scrapbook.

When Jerry and I left Istanbul for home in 1993, we decided to spend a couple of months in a western country where English was spoken, as kind of a help to transition us from a rather unusual way of life in Turkey. We chose Holland mainly because England required incoming animals to be in quarantine for 6 months -- and we didn't want our cats to be subject to that.

I never expected to visit Holland so I hadn't brought my "Hannie" documents with me, but with determination I marched myself down to the main telephone office, asked to look in a Breskins phone book -- and lo, there was one lone Nicolai family, still living at the address where I'd sent those letters so many years before. To make a long story short, I found Hannie again; unfortunately she didn't speak English, probably one of the only people we found there who didn't. But she had a friend in Amsterdam (where we had settled) who contacted me and we arranged for a day together. Greta and I went to the train station where Hannie was arriving from Breskins and there she was, looking exactly like a grown-up version of her picture!

The three of us had a wonderful but frigid day in January of 1993 in a restaurant out close to the Dunes and the North Sea -- not the optimum time for seeing that part of the country, but I wasn't there to look at the view anyway. With Greta helping us out, Hannie and I relived our little childhood connection and discovered we really enjoyed each others company almost 50 years later.
I have to admit that when we parted, the three of us cried. It was such a special and unforgettable connection, and in our heart of hearts we knew we would never see each other again.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


If you had lived back in 1833, what you saw just before dawn on November 13th would probably have scared you to death. You might have thought the world was coming to an end, or you might have thought that it was the Second Coming. But whatever you might have thought, you would have seen the skies lit up by thousands of shooting stars every minute in one of the greatest meteor showers of recorded history. It was enough to make educated men gasp, and most of the common men, not privy to the study of heavenly bodies, at the least found their knees knocking together and at the most fell to their knees in prayer.

Samuel Rogers, a traveling preacher, wrote in his autobiography, “It did appear as if every star had left its moorings, and was drifting rapidly in a westerly direction, leaving behind a track of light which remained visible for several seconds. Some of those wandering stars seemed as large as the full moon, or nearly so, and in some cases they appeared to dash at a rapid rate across the general course of the main body of meteors, leaving in their track a bluish light, which gathered into a thin cloud not unlike a puff of smoke from a tobacco-pipe.”

Denison Olmstead wrote on 25 Jan 1834, “The reader may imagine a constant succession of fire balls, resembling sky rockets, radiating in all directions from a point in the heavens. . . . The balls, as they travelled down the vault, usually left after them a vivid streak of light. . . .The flashes of light, although less intense than lightning, were so bright as to awaken people in their beds.”

The famous Frederick Douglas wrote in his 1855 autobiography, “I witnessed this gorgeous spectacle, and was awe-struck. The air seemed filled with bright descending messengers from the sky. It was about daybreak when I saw this sublime scene. I was not without the suggestion, at the moment, that it might be the harbinger of the coming of the Son of man; and in my then state of mind I was prepared to hail Him as my friend and deliverer. I had read that the ‘stars shall fall from heaven,’ and they were now falling.”

In Greene County Missouri the sight is recorded in their history book and includes a funny anecdote. “A man and his wife were sleeping the sleep of the just, the lady by a window. Awakening, she saw the wonderful celestial pyrotechnical display, and arousing her husband in great terror, she exclaimed. "Get up, old man, quick! The day of judgment has come?" He…hesitated but a moment, and turning over grumblingly replied: "O, lie down and go to sleep, you old fool; do you suppose the judgment day is going to come in the night?"

Take another look at the picture above. How would YOU have reacted if you had been awakened one morning by thousands of strong lights flashing brightly and soundlessly in the sky outside your house. Might you have lit a candle and gone outside to see what was going on. I would have probably taken my usual way of handling fearful things -- dived under the bedcovers! What would you have done?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I think one of her early works was "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." I read it many years ago, which is one of reasons that I am not 100% sure of the title. But I'm here to tell you today that I feel like a caged bird and I am definitely not singing!

At the time of this writing, I am sitting in a branch library in Los Angeles, checking e-mail and writing this entry. I signed on for a 4-day housesitting assignment at Kerry and Brian's place but had no idea their computer would decide it couldn't find a connection to the Internet within 24 hours of my arrival. I decided then to do some genealogy and attach the Word documents to e-mails and send them home. Can't do that either with no Internet connection. To make matters worse, I can't get their printer to work.

I am definitely not singing. In fact, I am close to having the heebejeebies, which is what happens when I'm taken away from the computer for any length of time.

Do you remember the old saw, "When the goin' gets tough, the tough get goin'"? Well, when I leave this library computer I'm heading for the Grove where I at least will get in some good window shopping, and then I'll head down to Target where I may just drop a buck or two.

I've got a couple of ideas for the next blogs I want to write -- but for the present they just have to stay rattling around in my head. Sorry for the delay, folks.

Monday, August 18, 2008


The pictures aren't worth having restored, but since the two sets made me laugh so much, I figured if I got them on the computer -- and on Hot Coffee and Cool Jazz -- at least they would have a fighting chance to be seen in the future.

The upper picture is on a birdwatching jaunt one morning -- I'd guess maybe about 1987 -- in which my cousin Shirlee, a long-time birder, is showing Jerry and me how to do it. I can't remember for sure but I must have brought along my tripod, since the three of us are in both pictures and at the hour we arrived at the park, there were not yet any other people around. And just a word of explanation, the picture was taken during my "grey hair" phase.

You won't see any birds in the photos, but you will definitely see us looking directly for one!

The next picture has a similarity.

Two of our cats, Dolly on the left and Spot on the right, always ate on the dryer. We had a dog who would scarf up any cat food we put within her reach, so it was necessary to get the kitty food up off the floor. When I snapped the first photo I had no idea the cats were going to turn around and look where the flash came from, but my reaction time was so good at that early stage in my life that I managed to pull off a second photo just at the right time. What you don't see in these photos, but could when the slide was projected onto a screen, is that both cats were caught with their little pink tongues hanging out.

For about a 15 year period, I shot only slide film. That period of time included scenes from a tour of Egypt and Israel in 1980 and a month-long visit to England in 1985. I had two SLR cameras and Jerry had one. You can imagine that by the time 1990 came, we had at least one closet-full of slides. I did make a few prints to put in scrapbooks of our trips, but by and large the slides sat unlooked at in their little carousels for all that time.

One of my projects after I retired was to go through all the slides and ruthlessly throw out all scenic pictures, blurred pictures, etc. We kept funny, cute and/or charming family photos so that we would have one carousel's worth to show at family parties. We kept some pictures that when seen by our grandchildren caused them to dramatically fall to the floor in laughter. I think one was of their own father naked as a jaybird lying on a baby blanket in the back yard. This little slide show has been worth all the hours and hours of work it took me to cull out the slides we thought were important to keep.

Because these colored films are not going to hold up like the black and white ones of earlier generations, I have made some b/w copies of some of them, and then as noted above have posted them online in various places, hoping that they will survive for a while yet.

At any rate, the photos above have always been special to me, because you have to admit, they ARE funny!

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Most of my friends know I read a lot. I do not belong to a book club because for the most part I'm not smart enough to know what all those highly-educated eggheads are talking about. (Apologies to you who do belong to one; I envy you and wish I could too). I probably read two non-fiction book to every one fiction book, although you will not think that when you see my "list" below. My mother was a reader, my sister and I were both readers, and one of my children is a reader. I am as much impelled to read as I am to write.

Today you get to see what books I have liked the most in the eight years that I have been retired from gainful employment. These books are only my favorites, not everything that I have read. I've separated out the fiction from the non-fiction, and then in the fiction section I have put a separation down towards the bottom. The books are in that little separation are a bit lighter reading, more on the 'chick flick' side in some cases, and of course once you read Carl Hiaason, you will see that he truly does belong in a class of his own. It is impossible to read him without laughing out loud.

Anyway, here they are.


The Book Thief - Marcus Zusak
Thread of Gold - Mary Doria Russell
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Nieffenegger
Gilead – Marilynn Robinson
Cloudsplitter – Russell Banks
When the Emperor Was King – Julie Oksuka
A Lesson Before Dying – Ernest J. Gaines
The Piano Tuner – Daniel Mason
A Pigeon and a Boy – Meir Shalev
Loving Frank – Nancy Horan
The Garden of Water – Alan Drew
House of Sand and Fog – Andre Dubus III
Henry & Clara – Thomas Mallon
The Master Butcher’s Singing Club – Louise Erdrich
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse – Louise Erdrich
A Book of Matches – Nicholas Baker
Dogs of Babel – Carolyn Parkhurst
Eclipse – A Novel of Lewis & Clark – Richard S. Wheeler
Masterson – Richard S. Wheeler
Plainsong – Kenneth Haruf
The Short History of a Prince – Jane Hamilton
A Map of the World – Jane Hamilton
The Story of Ruth – Jane Hamilton
The All-True Travels & Adventures of Lidie Newton - Jane Smiley
Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
The Tennis Partner – Abraham Verghese
Mendel’s Dwarf – Simon Mawer

Esperanza’s Box of Saints – Maria Amparo Escandon
Gonzalez and Daughters Trucking Co. – Maria Amparo Escandon
Eat Cake – Jeanne Ray
Basket Case – Carl Hiaason
Tourist Season – Carl Hiaason
Skin Tight – Carl Hiaason
The Worst Day of My Life So Far – M. A. Harper

Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the
Battle for America’s Soul – Karen Abbott
The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion
Stiff – Mary Roach
Walking the Bible – Bruce Feiler
Revenge: The Story of Hope – Laura Blumenfeld
Under the Banner of Heaven – Jon Krakauer
Son of the Morning Star – Evan S. Connell


Saturday, August 16, 2008


I would like to live 10 more years - if I am in decent health, of course. Let me refine that a little bit, if I am in decent mental health. In 10 years I will be 83-- and if my mother's genes win out, I'll be long gone, and if my dad's genes win out, I'll have a few more years than that. Ten years will take it to 2018, which is before the asteroid is due to hit and before Medicare runs out, so that is good news.

I have picked the number ten because that will be the year my youngest grandchild, Justine, turns 15.

I was one of those kids who didn't much have grandparents available to them. Both grandpas were dead before I was born and one grandma died when I was 5 but since she lived in Colorado I have no recollection of her at all. My other grandma I only remember vaguely. I was 10 when she died and should have remembered, but she was busy with a job and a boyfriend and they went dancing all the time and she simply was not a part of my life at all. I have a picture of her holding my 5th birthday cake, but if it wasn't for the picture, I am not sure how much of an independent recollection I would have.

I have 13 grandchildren, ranging in age from 34 to 5. Justine and Olivia, the two youngest, are 5 and 7. The rest of the grandchildren are all 16 and older. The reason I want to live 10 more years is because I figure by then I will have played enough of a role in the lives of these two little ones that they will remember their grandma -- and will have these memories to share with their own kids when the time comes.

This of course is one of the reasons I baby-sit them as often as I can. I also sit on the floor a play with them, something I didn't do with the other grandkids. My mother was a floor-sitting grandma and my kids adored her. I don't know that I want to be adored, but I surely would like to be remembered by them as a grandma who was a lot of fun.

This business of creating memories takes odd twists. One evening I was getting the girls ready to get into the bathtub and they were horsing around. I finally said, "Get your bahunkases in the bathtub!" They came to a dead stop. What is a bahunkas, they asked. I told them it was their rear end, which sent them into peals of laughter, for they call it their "tush" or "tushie." My mother used the word "bahunkas" on occasion and it was a perfectly good word in our household. (Actually, any euphemism was ok, just not "butt" or "ass," two forbidden words at our house.) So the girls had to carry on in the bathtub about their bahunkases. It made a hit.

Several days later, daughter Kerry phoned and said "What word did you use for the girls' tushies?" When I told her she said, "Oh, yea, I remember Maa-Maa (her grandma) used to call it that." It was then I realized the making of memories was not necessarily what I did for the girls or where I took them or what I gave them; rather, it would be merely imparting of the essence of me, whatever that is.

One day several years ago when they were fussing while I drove them home from their day care, I told them if they would be very quiet I'd sing them a song about a little birdy. I pulled out of my bag of memories an old girl scout song, "Way Up in the Sky, the Little Birds Fly" -- and I did the hand movements with the song. It is not a stock nursery school song, and the girls were delighted with it. We sing it at least 5 times a day whenever I baby-sit -- always at their request. That too is part of the essence of me.

I don't care if down the road they don't remember exactly what I looked like, but I am hoping they will have a warm comfy feeling about this grandma who can't be in their lives as much as she would wish. I figure I'll have that essence imprinted in them by the time "Tini" is 15.

Friday, August 15, 2008


In a little section of Page A2 called “For The Record,” the Los Angeles Times is always quick to make corrections to the stories appearing appear in print. Most of the corrections are minor – a misspelled name (Goddard instead of Godard), or a wrong attribution, (putting words in the wrong mouth) or something that seems simply like a reporter didn’t know what he/she was talking about (“She fell off the balance beam during her mount”, instead of her dismount). I have always been surprised at how quickly the Times makes such corrections but more surprised about how many things are printed without someone catching the mistakes ahead of time. It makes me wonder if there is anything anymore like an editor.

But this week the LA Times made an unbelievably bizarre correction. I did not read the initial story but “For the Record” made it clear what had been said.

"An article in Saturday's Calendar section about the Armenian Navy Band
making its US debut Friday at Walt Disney Concert Hall said, 'Armenians
carry in their collective DNA the memory of what they consider a
genocide by the Turks in the early 20th century.' The statement
should not have qualified the term 'Genocide'; historical evidence and
research support the accuracy of the term." (Bolding mine)

When I read the correction I just about fell out of my chair. First of all, why on earth was it even necessary in a musical concert notice to make such a reference to an almost 100 year old problem which is still being debated and which is far from being settled. The reference has no business being there. The wording used in the article first tentatively puts the Times on one side of the dispute. But next, why on earth would a Times editor have allowed a correction to be made that takes all tentativeness away and says in effect, “We’re sorry. It wasn’t just considered a genocide; it WAS one!” None of this needed to be in an announcement of a band concert. Why would an editor allow such an inflammatory statement to be made into an otherwise non-political article and then compound it with what was not at all a correction but a solid taking of sides?

Is it possible that whoever oversees the “For The Record” had no idea of what a hornet’s nest could be stirred up?

I am aware of the historical Turkish/Armenian “conflict” over those events. Whether or not it was genocide is something our own US Government is now being asked to decide. I have read much and do not claim to understand enough about what happened to make an informed decision on it. But the Times department would have to be staffed by those born yesterday to believe they were in any way “correcting” one error by making a more egregious correction. My thinking is that after the first write-up, the Times got some complaining phone calls and the second write-up was an appeasement. Pity the Turks who just obliquely got kicked in the teeth.

I’d like to think the LA Times can do better writing and editing than this, but I have to guess no one at the LA Times really cares.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


In 1993 my cousin Shirlee and I, along with several of her friends, got together once a week to do some crafts. One of our first discoveries were these darling gnomes that we purchased at a local craft store. They were resin figures made out of pecan shells by Wood World, Inc. of Marion, Virginia, a company now out of business. They came unpainted and it was our job to paint them.

Periodically through the ensuing years Shirlee and I tried to find a new source for this type of figure, but that was not to be. I made enough to give each of my children's families a set for Christmas, and I kept a set for myself. When I decided I wanted to use them in HOT COFFEE & COOL JAZZ I had to e-mail the troops to gather enough for a showing! Cousin Shirlee, who now lives in North Carolina, dug in her storage container in the back yard to find three gnomes that she photographed in her garden. She made quite a dramatic setting, don't you think?

This set above is obviously patterned after the biblical Wise Men, although I'm sure the original weren't so gnome-like. I loved doing these. They are actually candlestick holders. The hats come off and a candle is to be set in the hole. No one ever used them that way, however, because no one wanted to take a chance with the wax running down, and possibly ruining, the paint job. They are cute even without candles!

The gnomes above are from a set I gave to one of my daughters. She had just moved and luckily knew exactly which box her gnomes were in. I took this picture as a close-up (cutting off the tall hats) so the facial features would show more clearly. It was great fun making them come to life as we painted. These two gnomes actually had names associated with them: The guy in green is "Nelvin" and the tall cream-colored fellow is "Winchester."

And the Santa Claus candlesticks are the ones I kept for myself. Mrs. Santa is holding a sign that says, "The Fat Man is Coming." Every Christmas these two little gnome Santas come out from their box residence and help decorate our little apartment. And when I see them I am reminded of all those hours we spent making them.

After the resin figurines were no longer available, we had to switch to plaster of paris figurines, which also ended up pleasing us but not in the same way the gnomes did. Shirlee and I agree that had we known the company was shutting down, we would have figured out a way to buy all their gnome stock. It is probably just as well that we didn't, because it would surely seem unseemly now to have two old ladies with trifocals and arthritic fingers spending their final days tending to gnomes!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


For eons, scientists, philosophers, theologians and many lesser mortals have tried to sort out just what the "soul" is, whether it is located in a specific part of the body or if it exists throughout the body. Mary Roach, in her delicious book Stiff (as in cadavers) has a very interesting and humorous chapter titled "How to Know If You're Dead."

Among other examples she cites, she talks about our illustrious inventor Thomas Alva Edison, stating he believed that "living beings [us] were animated and controlled by 'life units,' smaller-than-microscopic entities that inhabited each and every cell and, upon death, evacuated the premises, floated around awhile, and eventually reassembled to animate a new personality - possibly another man, possibly an ocelot or a sea cucumber."

Roach adds Edison to the ranks of other "loopy" soul speculators, citing from his diaries the following illustration: "We do not remember. A certain group of our little people do this for us. They live in that part of the brain which has become known as the 'fold of Broca.' . . . There may be twelve or fifteen shifts that change about and are on duty at different times like men in a factory. . . . THEREFORE [my emphasis] IT SEEMS LIKELY THAT REMEMBERING A THING IS ALL A MATTER OF GETTING IN TOUCH WITH THE SHIFT THAT WAS ON DUTY WHEN THE RECORDING WAS DONE."

So there!

Whether or not the idea is loopy or Edison is loopy, I have to admit that I am relieved to finally find an explanation for my increasingly faulty memory. If it's good enough for Edison, it's good enough for me.

And for Jer, too.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


My sister Ginnie Lou, had she lived, would have turned 71 today. So this column is my way of saying “Happy Birthday” to her.

When we were little our mother always told us that she wanted to have two girls. She wanted the first one to have brown curly hair and brown eyes, and the second one to have blond straight hair and brown eyes. What always amazed us was that somehow she got exactly what she wanted, and of course we always felt very special and very loved. I became Tibby and my younger sister became Toode.

From an early age, Ginnie Lou loved animals. She loved the little ones like fish and baby chickens so much that the fish died from being overfed by her little hand and the little chickens our folks got us for Easter one year succumbed to being handled too much, in spite of the warnings mother gave her.

Later caterpillars became her choice of “pets.” She devised little carts out of paper and God only knows how she fashioned that little harness for the caterpillars, but she’d have that caterpillar pulling the cart around on the driveway, encouraging it along by stroking its hairy back with a feather.

I know for a while she had thought about making a flea circus, which we had seen once down on the Pike. Luckily that idea never materialized.

By the time she was 8 or 9, she had laid claim to my mother’s dog “Pal” and a banty rooster she got somewhere and named Earl. First she trained Pal, who was a darling little female mutt rescued from the pound, to carry a flag in her mouth. Then she trained Earl to ride on Pal’s back by clutching the dog’s harness. In 1950 the entourage won first place in the Long Beach Humane Society’s Animal Fair at Bixby Park in Long Beach. As a prize, their picture appeared in the newspaper.

But animals weren’t her only love. She loved rocks. Our dad had done some mining in his earlier days and he had a collection of various rocks and minerals that he’d picked up along the way. He kept them in a cigar box. Every so often Ginnie Lou and I would ask to see the box and we’d go through it, memorizing each item according to what Daddy had told us it was. I recall there was some fools gold and some geodes but that is all I can remember. But even in later life Ginnie Lou could recall and name every last one of those rocks.

She loved to write, beginning with little family newspapers that she would put together on occasion, and later with poetry and prose that was always acclaimed by her English teachers and that sometimes won awards. Although she didn’t have the drive to write like some of us do, she was always more than willing to edit what I wrote, and she taught me a lot that I had missed somewhere along the way.

She and I didn’t always think alike, and sometimes it caused problems that took a while to dissolve. But in the end, as we started experiencing the deaths of our parents and our aunts and uncles - that generation before us that so enriched our lives - we often commented that “We” were really all we had left to share in those things of our past. We made a real effort to minimize any difficulties and to focus on all that we had in common. She died in February of 2004. I miss her a lot. Happy Birthday, Toode.

Monday, August 11, 2008



James Henry Leigh Hunt
(October 19, 1784 - August 28, 1859)

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An Angel writing in a book of gold:
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?" The Vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow-men."

The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And, lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest!

When my sister Ginnie Lou and I were wee little kids, our mother started reading poetry to us. In those days there were no Dr. Seuss books that played with rhyming words, and if there were silly books, it was something like Alice in Wonderland. Mother read us Aesop's Fables, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Dickens' "A Child's Garden of Verses," and all of the Raggedy Ann and Andy Books. But whenever Mother wanted something special, she pulled out her little 1929 copy of "One Hundred and One Famous Poems" and read some of those to us.

Why Abou Ben Adhem was our favorite is anyone's guess. I suspect the peaceful imagery had something to do with it. Whenever Mother asked us what we wanted her to read, both Ginnie Lou and I always asked for Abou Ben Adhem first. We always cried when Mother read Eugene Field's "Little Boy Blue." "The Children's Hour" left a lasting impression on me, and Laughing Allegra from that poem has been integrated into my being (my sister didn't like either "grave Alice" or "Edith with golden hair" so she always said she was the "blue-eyed banditti," though her eyes were as brown as mine.) And we giggled every time Mother read Joyce Kilmer's "Trees," but only at the line that said, "A tree whose hungry mouth is prest Against the earth's sweet flowing breast." Oh, we were never allowed to use the word breast, so that poem just embarrassed the daylights out of us. As wonderful as these poems were - and it is a really nice thing as I age to have that warm recollection of sitting beside my mother on the davenport while she was reading poetry to us - Abou Ben Adhem truly lead the rest.

I went off to college in 1953 and my sister in 1955. She and I were well ahead of the other students in our respective Intro to American Lit classes in knowledge of American poets and their works.

For some unknown reason I did not read that kind of poetry to my children. I read Dr. Seuss and I sang Girl Scout Camp Songs to them. I don't know what my sis read to her kids but it wasn't the poetry of our childhood. Neither of us could figure out why. If I had to make a guess, I'd guess the inclusion (or intrusion) of television in our lives at that time used up the time earlier generations of kids had for having their parents read to them.

Throughout the years of our adulthood, every so often Ginnie Lou and I would be chatting with each other and one of us would say, "Abou Ben Adhem..." and the other's voice would chime in while we finished out our favorite poem. My sis and I did that up until the day she died.

Since poetry isn't a subject old folks sit and talk about, I don't know if any of my friends know the poems of yesteryear like we did. I will be the first one to admit I don't understand today's poetry. I didn't understand a lot of Shelley's poetry when I was in school either, and I have always felt not understanding was my loss. Perhaps it is that way with modern poetry too.

But just hand me my "One Hundred and One Famous Poems," the same book that belonged to my mother, and you'll see one happy lady.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


This lady is Ellen Stevens Davis Eungard, my great-grandma and of course the great grandma of all my Ryland cousins. She was named Ellen, after her mother, but was always called Nellie. She was the child of Chester Dana & Ellen Madden Stevens and was born September 15, 1862. She had two marriages, first to Joseph Clinton Davis, from which our grandma Jessie C Davis was born, and second to James Eungard, from which Chester Eungard was born. But this story is not about Nellie's adult life.

In genealogy there are lots of surprises. Sometimes those surprises blow you away. And this is one of those times. Two very priceless letters from the Civil War years were handed down in the family of my Aunt Marie Ryland Wilson. She passed these letter on to her youngest daughter. And my cousin Nancy has shared them with me. Here for all of you cousins to feast your eyes on are these letters.

This first is is a partial letter but what remains is simply beautiful. It was written on September 30, 1862, to "Little Ellen, darling" Little Ellen at that time was 2 weeks old. The letter reads:

"You do not know that your father is in the army and you will not understand when MaMa reads you your little letter, but Ma will save it for you until you can understand and until you can...."

The next letter is more easily read. It is dated in December of 1862 and is signed "Your Father, C. D. Stevens."

These pages are so fragile. Nancy graciously allowed me to scan them so we all can have as near the original copy as we will get -- and of course once scanned, they will not get lost.

Not only does finding things like this give me a closer link of my own heritage but it also drives me to the history books because now I know for sure that I have a personal stake in the Civil War. Interestingly, I can find no record of our Chester Stevens serving in the Civil War. This is why genealogy never ends. There is always a loose end to tie up.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


In summer before I started the eighth grade Mother and Daddy called my sister and me into the living room for a family meeting after dinner. Ginnie Lou and I looked at each other surreptitiously. What was this about, we wondered? We’d never had a family meeting before. Were we going to move? Were our folks divorcing? Was mother going to die, because she had been sick lately? Ginnie Lou and I, just entering our teen age years, had lived very uneventful, ordinary simple lives with no earthshaking events happening. What was going on?

“Girls,” mother said, “We have very important news.” She looked at Daddy, who had a strangely sheepish look on his face as he wiggled uncomfortably beside mother on the couch. “You are going to have a little brother or a sister, and that’s why I’ve been sick lately. It’s called morning sickness and it comes when you are expecting a baby. The baby will be born in six months.”

My sister and I sat silent and dumbfounded. “Oh,” we finally said with one voice, and that seemed to end the family meeting. What mother and daddy expected of us we didn’t know – but Ginnie and I later agreed that all we could think about at the time was the act that was described in Frances Bruce Strain’s book “Being Born” which our mom had handed to us to read a week or so earlier, the act between a man and a woman that brought a baby into the world – and that had caused us then to say in disgust, “Not OUR parents.” And now it was true, our parents did it for sure!

Our innocence had ended.


APRIL 10, 1949 - 8 lbs 10 oz

Friday, August 8, 2008


In looking at an advertisement about necklaces for dogs and cats, I tried to make out what was hanging down from them. The necklaces each looked more or less like a charm bracelet; each had three "charms" on it, but I really couldn't make out for sure what they represented.

That led me to think about an old charm bracelet I had when I was young, which in turn made me wonder what kinds of charms I would put on it now if I were to create such a bracelet for myself. What significant things in my life would I want on it?

My thinking would go like this:
  • An anchor, to represent my years in Girl Scouting, especially the last four when we were in the Girl Scout Mariner Ship S. S. Saratoga.
  • A ukulele like the one I strummed around the campfires in high school and in fact am still strumming when the occasion calls.
  • A bow and arrow, representing the archery contest and medal I won in college.
  • A baby crib, signifying the many babies that it held during those first five years of my married life.
  • A bible that for a 10 year period was the basis of a very rich period in my life.
  • A broken heart for a broken marriage.
  • A sunflower, which would represent the amazing discoveries I made about myself and life in general during that 4-year period I was single.
  • A champagne glass, which first would stand for my feelings about Betty Friedan and her life's work, and then for a new start and a new marriage.
  • A book, which would represent the years and years of delicious reading I have done.
  • A clef sign for all the music lessons, choirs, concerts and late-night jazz sessions that I've experienced in my life that has put music deep in my soul.
  • A replica of a Mazda RX-7 which was my favorite-of-all-time car.
  • A small shovel for digging up my genealogy roots.
  • A camera, honoring all the images I've captured in a lifetime of shooting.
  • A Tugra (fancy signature of a Sultan) to represent my life-changing time in Turkey.
  • A small child's face representing all the kids, grandkids and great-grandkids that are peopling my life and giving me such joy.

Those 15 charms would be more than enough for one bracelet. However, there's not one I could remove, and since sometimes excesses "happen," I just might have to add a few more as they come to mind.

Since remembering these events gives me such pleasure, I do consider that I've led a charmed life

Oh yea, I definitely will need a pirate for Capt. Jack Sparrow!

Thursday, August 7, 2008


If my cousin Shirlee hadn't decided to move from Southern California to a tiny town in North Carolina, I probably would never had one of my dreams fulfilled. Somehow the Outer Banks had always drawn my attention -- mostly, I think, because of what happens when a hurricane takes aim at them, but also because they had a certain mystique, as well as a most interesting history. If I'd had to make a list of what I wanted to see most of all in the United States, the Outer Banks would have been right up at the top.

Shirlee made my dream come true. Once she got settled in her new home, she invited me for a visit. Today I'll share a few photos with you - some mine, some hers - of what she showed me of that part of her world.

Here is the charming little town of Okracoke in the early evening
The Okracoke lighthouse is not as dramatic as some of them are, but the setting is lovely. Shirlee and I snagged another tourist to take a photo of us here.

From this same walkway if you can take your eyes off the lighthouse and look across the field, you can see a weathered green house on stilts looking out over the Atlantic.

We did a little shell-collecting down along the water's edge and saw this house, dramatic in its starkness.

When I look at these photos (and many, many more that we took and shared) I am reminded of what a fascinating place this is and how different it is from what I have seen all my life along the shoreline of Southern California.

But the beauty isn't only along the Outer Banks. My cousin's house backs up to a forest and she has cardinals and bluebirds, deer and racoons around her property. Just this week she sent me a picture taken from her back porch. This painted bunting was so close she had to lean backwards over a rail to even get him into the picture. Can you imagine a bird like this? It's colored like something one of my little grandkids would do to a bird in a coloring book. For my money, it would be worth another trip to North Carolina, even in the humid summertime, to see such a a thing!

I just hated to have my cuz move so far from me, but I do believe she, a native Californian like I am, made a really good decision. There will be no end to all the new and different places and things she can see and enjoy. She's a lucky lady, I think.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Columnist Ellen Goodman is one of my favorite writers, and one of her columns many years ago changed my life. Well, I don’t know that it exactly did that, but it certainly made me think about her often. Here’s what happened and why I bring it up today.

As nearly as I can remember, she had driven up to a curbside mail box to post a bunch of letters on her way to work. One letter on the bottom of the pack had failed to find its way into the slot, so when she let go, the letter dropped in the gutter, necessitating her getting out of car to retrieve it. In frustration, she said “Oh S---! Her column that day was on saving such outbursts for the really important things and not using them for minor glitches. As I was reading the column I kind of got red around the ears because I was guilty of that same problem. I decided that day I would save that particular Bad Word for the really big stuff and stop using it for every little thing. And for the most part I’ve been successful.

When I first get to the computer each morning I play one game of “Snood,” which is nothing more than aiming a little shooter at funny faces on the screen and hoping that in eliminating the right ones I get a high score. This morning early (5 a.m. to be exact) I was blithely knocking down the little faces when I totally misjudged my aim and immediately went down to defeat. Oh S---! I said. And Ellen Goodman’s face loomed into my vision and her column ran through my brain and I was ashamed of myself.

When I was a kid, my sis and I were threatened with having our mouths washed out with soap if we said a Bad Word. My dad cussed up a storm and I’m sure mother didn’t want us to pick up his bad habits. I never, ever heard my mother utter a swear word and, in fact, she not only had swear words on her “Bad Word” list but also words like “pregnant,” “breast,” and “butt, and "ass," among others. But this morning it was not a bar of soap that came to my mind when I let slip that little epithet. No, it was Ellen Goodman and her column.

Snood is a good game. It is short and sweet and by setting the game level low enough I have a decent chance of winning. But I do think that Snood, like the mail box mishap, is not really an important enough reason to use up one of my Bad Words.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Seems like in doing genealogy you either have too many pictures or not enough. Or maybe it is that you have way too many snapshots and not enough portraits. This snapshot is one of many dozens that have survived on my mom's side of the family - and my generation is hard pressed to know what to do with them all.

I look at this picture and know that it is of my uncle Bob and his paternal grandfather. I have portraits of both of them, so I don't really "need" this picture, but for my money it tells me a whole lot more than those portraits do.

Grandpa James Arthur Ryland (my great-grandfather) looks older than Moses in this picture, but I know that since little "Bobby" was born in 1906 and JAR was born in 1847, Grandpa was really only 63 year old and he would live through the births of 8 more grandchildren and not die until the mid 1930s when he did, in fact, look more like Moses.

This picture shows me that little boys even after they were old enough to start walking were dressed in dresses. I don't know for sure but I'd guess it had something to do with putting them in pants when they were toilet trained (and boys are notoriously slow at that!). But whatever, little Bobby (his name was actually Nevalyn Eugene Ryland) sure does look cute and cuddly here. And for sure he is trying to trying to ask his Grandpa what that large black animal is.

James Arthur Ryland came from Indiana to Caldwell, Kansas as a young man, intending on teaching school. There is a book entitled "Midnight and Noonday: Or the Incidental History of Southern Kansas and the Indian Territory 1871-1890" by G. D. Freeman (and ghost-written in 1890 by JAR's wife Louise Hall Ryland, according to a letter JAR wrote that is in the possession of other family members). This book gives a great look at just what kind of a rough and tumble, wild western town Caldwell was when Ryland arrived. He did, in fact, teach some school, but he also bought up old bedraggled cows that were being brought up the Chisolm trail and were too tired to go any further. He bought some land, put the cows on it to fatten then up, and then he sold them at a great profit. It is likely that the photo of little "Bobby" and his Grandpa was taken on that ranch in Kansas.

I look at this picture and I see the world my mother was born into. She was the third of seven children born in Caldwell to JAR's son Byrd Ryland. She told us stories of growing up in Kansas - the farms, the tornados, the hanging of wet sheets in front of the doors to try to cool off the house, the one-room school houses, the animals, the vegetable gardens, and yes, the chickens. The Ryland family (at least most of it) left Kansas for California in 1931. I have gone to Caldwell several times and while I feel some symbiotic feeling for it, I can't help but be thankful that at least my line of the Rylands went west. We may have earthquakes but we don't have tornados!

Monday, August 4, 2008


In the early summer of 1991, Jerry and I moved to Istanbul when he was hired as a consultant to a Turkish-American partnership that hoped to set up a pre-fab building company outside the the city. We had done a bit of traveling in Europe and the middle-east, but neither of us had a clue as to what we were going to find in Turkey.

Once there, and after a few exploratory drives in the countryside around Istanbul, we decided to limit all of our free time to discovering Turkey, rather than to fly off to Italy, Greece or other European destinations that we hadn't yet seen. It was the best decision we could have made.

We were able to join several local groups who had tours that were much more detailed than the usual tourist tours. One of the tour groups was made up of the wives of Consular employees, and I was often invited to go along with them. It was on one such tour, to the Black Sea Coast, that I took this picture.

The Black Sea coastal area is lush and humid and totally unlike any other area in Turkey. All the towns are fairly small, and there are many, many little villages scattered over the hillsides and in the valleys. It also is a place were both tea and hazelnuts are grown.

On one of our day's jaunts, we headed up into the hills in our small tour bus and quite unintentially ended up in the front yard of this family. The men in this family were all down the hill in the town of Tonya where they had their jobs. The women were most interested to see who was coming to visit. Our guide explained to them that we were some American ladies who lived in Istanbul and were visiting the Black Sea area. At one point he turned to us and said, "They don't know what America is. They do not have televisions or newspapers."

In this picture, the old bent-over lady is 90 and her sister next to her 87. The 87 year old's daughter is holding a scarf. She has a daughter of her own standing next to her and the 4th and 5th generation - the young woman and her baby - are at her side. The aprons they are wearing are traditional for this area and are woven locally.

Shortly the oldest woman went in the house and sat at an open window to watch what we were doing. Soon this lady beckoned me to come to her, which I did and she began talking to me in Turkish. I looked for the guide to translate for me but of course he wasn't to be found, so all I could do was listen. When she finished, I took hold of her hand through the open window and said in essence that I was sorry I couldn't understand what she was saying but I knew that she and I would always have something to say to each other because we were wives and mothers and sisters and there was a common bond between us transcended the need for a common language. I told her that I would always remember this wonderful and touching time with her, and I kissed her hand. Tears rolled down her face and they rolled down mine as well.

After we left and got on the bus, the guide came up to me and said the little lady called him over and told me she had a nice talk with you and sends you her love. This is the kind of friendship we found at every point in Turkey, and it validated our desire to focus on this most unusual and special of near-east Countries.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Often there is a great affinity between women and hens -- and I think the reason is obvious: Who else has eggs and raises chickies?

Several years ago I got it into my head that I wanted to do a chicken cross-stitch. It took me a long time to find what I wanted. Actually I really intended to do a New Hampshire Red or a breed something like that, but I'd just finished doing a lion head that took bizillions of reddish/brownish stitches and I just couldn't bring myself to start another project with the same colors. So I chose this little lady and was very pleased with the way she turned out. You will notice, if you have good eyesight, that it says "MOM" down by the shadow. Henny Penny now resides with with my daugher Erin.

Back when we had our house in Orange I had thought about getting myself a real hen. Because we had no grass in the back yard - only a pool and cement, courtesy of the former owners - I knew it would have to be a hen in a cage. It wasn't enough that we had three cats and a dog; I thought a chicken would be a good addition. I even did some research on how to convert chicken droppings into usable fertilizer, thinking that if I could solve that problem I might have better luck in convincing Jerry that I wasn't just talking through my hat.

My own mother used to tell my sister and me about living on the farm and how my grandma used to love her chickens. In fact, she named them all (a dangerous practice if she intended to have chicken dinners, I think). I didn't know my grandma well and she died when I was young, so I think maybe all this is why I had a yen to have a chicken of my very own. Henny Penny, she would have been.

As you probably guessed, I did not get my chicken. So doing a cross-stitched Henny Penny all these years later had to suffice.

Which reminds me that in the Pet Cemetery on Beach Boulevard in Huntington Beach there is a chicken named Henny Penny buried there. On the little tombstone the epitaph reads something like, "The Best Chicken that Ever Lived." Now that was a very loved chicken. I would have loved my chicken like that too. Oh well, if there is one thing in life that is true it is that we don't always get everything we want.

Friday, August 1, 2008


On August 1, 1975, shortly after my 40th birthday, Jerry and I were married. Statistics show that second marriages have a high failure rate. Jerry brought into our marriage the sadness of being widowed and I brought into the marriage the pain of a divorce. And to compound matters, I still had two daughters living at home and step-parenting is one of the minefields of a second marriage that requires lots of careful maneuvering on the part of both adults.

However, we also brought into the marriage some strengths. We had known each other for a couple of years at work, and by and large we were the same people at home that we were at work; there were no surprises. Jerry also had a daughter and a granddaughter and he was very attuned to the temperaments of teenage females; my girls adored him from the first and he was good to them. And with his background of engineering, which translated to neatness and tidiness in our household, it certainly was a much needed complement to my tendency toward, well – shall we say “freedom of expression”?

To make a long story short, we blended well, and while I can’t say that there weren’t bumps along the way, they were minor and we learned to either ignore them or work on smoothing them out. It has been a good marriage; today we celebrate our 33rd anniversary.

Especially during the early years I worked exceptionally hard to make sure that our time together would not become boring or stagnant. It was not in Jerry’s nature to be fanciful, so I did my best to inject the unexpected into our life. I’d like to share one of those times here.

For one Valentine’s Day about five years into our marriage I planned a picnic to be held at the end of the jetty off Balboa peninsula. We had spent many evenings at Balboa walking along the pier and ending up at the Frozen Banana shop, and the area, day or night, had significance as one of “our spots.” I fixed a wonderful picnic lunch – rumaki appetizers, crab claws, asparagus with aoli, a cold bottle of Chardonnay and for dessert a chocolate cake frosted with chocolate and covered with Hershey’s Kisses. I spread a little red checkered tablecloth on a flat rock and we feasted. Luckily the day was gorgeous and although I didn’t plan it, a skywriting airplane overhead drew two hearts and a happy face for us. (Yes, I told Jerry I DID arranged it!).

For a gift, I had sent away for a black satin rhinestone-encrusted Chippendale G-String. I scrunched it up and put it in a black velvet ring box, tied with a big red ribbon. It looked for the world like I was giving him a ring. What makes this especially funny is that at the ages of 50 and 45, Jerry and I did not look like Rock Hudson and Kim Novak! We had started showing the middle-aged droop – but of course love sees something different, and it was with that sentiment that I gave Jerry his Valentine and his gift. He said afterwards that he really expected to find a ring in the box, so when he found a crumpled up black something he was really puzzled. There were other people on the jetty and they were surreptitiously watching to see his gift. It took him a minute to get the G-string all straightened out, and when he finally saw “Chippendale” on the front he burst into laughter. He also got a round of applause from the bystanders. He laughed all the way home. And the happy face in the sky laughed with him.