Thursday, December 31, 2009


Last week, Christmas Eve day to be exact, Jer and I went grocery shopping at our local supermarket. Immediately upon entering we found a huge display of Poinsettias right in front of us – big ones, little ones, real ones, fake ones – and amazingly not even marked down yet, although the time had almost passed that anyone would purchase one. I might have bought a couple more to set on my porch but at that late date I sure wasn’t going to pay full price for them.

So we ignored them, headed on into the market and found ourselves next in the middle of a monumental pink, fluffy and frilly display of all things Valentine. February 14th had come before Christmas even got off the calendar. Today’s marketing strategies say good-bye December hello February all in one breath. January doesn’t have a chance. I suspect if I had looked in the middle of the Valentine’s Day display I would have found heart-shaped or cupid-shaped Peeps for the granddaughters. But I couldn’t bring myself to look. Yet.

When I saw the picture above of women running I was struck that it pretty much reflected today’s woman and today’s world. I see myself in it. There is not much that is leisurely anymore. Money flies out of our hands. Fashion seasons are gone before we get to the store to make a purchase. Go back to a restaurant for your favorite sandwich and it’s no longer on the menu. What IS on the menu costs a dollar more than it did last week. You are lucky if you get a year’s use out of a new coffeepot before it breaks and you have to buy a new one. Even the use of e-mail, as much as I love it, is a hurry-up thing -- sit down at the computer, whip it out, and get on with the day.

I remember my teenage years, when each summer we walked to the beach, spread out our beach towel, and baked in the sun for four or five hours before we headed back home. I remember my years of living in Orange, when the pool in the backyard beckoned me to come float a while on the raft and unwind from a day’s work. I remember sitting outdoors on the porch of a rented house in Lake Tahoe, doing cross-stitch for hours at a time and watching marvelous patterns develop in the piece of stark white fabric. And of course there were the times of reading and of listening to Faure’s Requiem…. Life for me then was not so fast paced and I did take time to smell the roses.

I look at my girls and feel so sorry for the monumental pressures they have at their jobs, the huge amount of stress they have just to get through the day. They seem to have no time to savor anything. It seems to me that they are all doing the work of 2 people – and I see them running in the photograph too. And for the most part I think their kids are going to be running like that too.

In retirement I have the option of slowing down a bit. I just think I might try to do that in 2010. Listen to a little bit more good music. Go to a few art galleries. Take a day off and walk around Laguna Beach. Drive down to Balboa on a summer evening and get a frozen banana like we did in the old days. Go visit a few old friends. Yep, I just think I might try to slow down a bit.

Maybe I’m just entering 2010 a little bit tired. But hopefully a little bit smarter.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Cats have always been a part of my life. It isn't that I don't like dogs; I do. But there is something about a cat...

The cat above is JimBob and he chose my cousin in North Carolina to live with. Someone must have dumped him, because he was pretty scroungy looking when he found my cousin's house. But you can see that he is a cat with a special talent. My cousin was pulling in her driveway when JimBob broke into song, and she didn't have much of a chance to get a good focus on the old boy. But we both decided it was good enough to show off his talents to you all.

Tigger's ashes presently reside in a little box in our curio cabinet. We've never had a cat cremated before, but Tigger was a cat of a very special ilk, and we have chosen to keep him close to us. But look at what a wonderful picture we got of him. He was in the process of taking his bath on our couch. The camera caught him with a very funny face that we did not see until we looked at what the camera saw.

Squeaky has lived three lives. One was prior to a friend Joan's rescue of her as a very abused little kitty. For her second life, Joan named her Trixie, as a companion to her other cat Tuxie. When Joan had to move, she needed to find a home for Trixie, and we became her third (and hopefully last) family. Because she doesn't meow but merely squeaks, we changed her name and provided her with a home complete with good pampering and birdwatching.

The cat above is Chauncey. He was a cat that appeared many years ago in our neighborhood one day and took up residence in our back yard. We invited him inside and kept him there for five days, trusting that this length time would imprint our house as HIS house and he would stick around. At the end of day five we let him outside. He moved to the roof for the next five days and then he was off on his next venture. Luckily we have this marvelous photo to remember him by. He was a beat up old Tom cat, not all that attractive, but by giving him a name like Chauncey, we hoped to give him a feeling of self-worth. (He obviously peferred "Tom")

Old Spot came to us when she was eight weeks old, on August 1, 1975. She was a wedding present from our friends, Ed and Bev Duffy. Spotty was the world's best cat, and we had a great 16 years with her. This picture was taken when she was quite old. At the end of her lifetime she looked like a bag of calico fur with a few bones inside it. We mention her name often; she gave us a great deal of pleasure.

This morning I was looking for video showing a cat sneezing. I happened upon this one, and although I hope the cat didn't use up one of its lives, I laughed so hard I cried. So here, for closure to a cat column, is a pretty darn funny video of a cat:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I have always felt that New Year’s Resolutions were nice to make, although I have never spent much time in thinking about them. In fact, beginning about 1993, about the time we returned from Istanbul and started a new phase in our lives, I got serious with them.

For some reason my idea of “resolutions” meant there were things about myself I didn’t like and that I would resolve to change for the better. I occasionally wondered if it might be appropriate to say, “This year I resolve to go to Ireland” or “This year I resolve to earn a million bucks” but apparently there was some kind of ingrown negativity in my very being that only looked for “bad” things that needed changing. I do remember as a kid one of my resolutions came from my mother. She said to me, “For your New Year’s Resolution I suggest you resolve not to bite your fingernails any longer.” It was a good thought and a needed resolution but since I was only eight years old, it might have been what laid the groundwork for my constant feelings of inadequacy.

At any rate, I always thought about resolutions, though over the years rarely made them. Until 1993, that is. We had been in Istanbul for two years, living in a way that we had never experienced before. Coming home was like a starting life over again. To be honest with you, Jerry and I both knew that we had moved into the last phase of our life. I needed a job that would last until I retired. We took a look at our retirement financing and knew that we would never live anywhere again except in a rented apartment or house; no more home ownership, no more new cars, no more big vacations. In a sense, for me it seemed that downsizing was downsliding, and although I didn’t like it, there didn’t seem to be much choice. This was it, Bobby.

So rather than wallow in what we wouldn’t have anymore, I decided that each New Year I would set five goals to work toward for the coming year. Doing this caused me to focus really on the here and now, as well as know that within the coming year there would be five different times when I could experience an ego-affirming sense of accomplishment and success. Doing this worked the way I had hoped it would. I set reachable but necessary goals and I reached them! As an example: my goals for 2008 were simple: 1) Get Jerry’s grandkids’ family history booklets done by March. 2) Illustrate the Cat Necrology, 3) Get the cross-stitched Lion and Chicken framed. 4) Take a photo-editing class, and 5) Begin an indexing project. Did I accomplish them? Yes, I did. Do I feel good about them still? I sure do.

So here is 2010 coming up and I need to come up with 5 more goals. Over the years I have learned that I am motivated by setting a deadline for myself, or better yet, breaking a project down into workable pieces and then noting when I expect to finish each of the pieces.

I know what 2010’s first project will be. Our apartment has a living room, a dining room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, a back porch and a bathroom – 7 teeny tiny rooms that hold about 14 rooms full of “things” (Oh, how I love “things”.) So my goal is to get rid of extraneous things that I no longer use, no longer want, don’t need or simply can live without. This is not going to be easy, but it is needful. Between now and Friday I will try to come up with Goals #2-5, but as I slow down with age, I just may slow down a little in coming up with 4 more. Nevertheless, this is where the 2010 Resolutions – or Goals – or Projects (call them what you want) start.

Do any of the rest of you make and attend to New Year’s Resolutions? I think not, and I do sometimes think I am a little odd.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


I have never given the subject of mosquito reproduction any thought, although I do have to admit that the puzzle of non-human, non-pet reproductive organs and methods has always interested me just a wee bit. If you go back far enough in my blogs, you’ll remember reading one about the chicken and its cloaca, which information was not only a total surprise to me but also engendered a lot of clucking from my adult children about my “prurient” interest.

Anyway, the headline of a Reuters article in today’s LA Times said, “If mosquitoes can’t reproduce, they can’t spread malaria.” Now to me that headline intimates much more interesting reading than the myriad of political headlines surrounding it. The article tells that it is the mosquito, specifically the Anopheles gambiae species, which is responsible for malaria transmission in Africa. This statement is not so interesting, but it is actually the mosquito and its “privates,” so to speak, that pique my interest - and I hope yours - today.
Seems that each male mosquito is responsible for making a “plug” of goop (my non-scientific word ) from its body fluids which, when delivered to the female in the right place of her anatomy, ensures that the male mosquito’s sperm will fertilize her eggs. Of what is this goop made and how does it happen? The article quotes a researcher who indicates that a male mosquito enzyme (called transglutaminase) interacts with proteins in the seminal fluid. This interaction causes the fluid to clot into a gelatinous mass, thus forming the plug. And once the plug is delivered to the proper place in or on the female (the article is not specific in that destination), the male mosquito can just get on about the business of dying, because he only mates once in his life.

If the mating plug is not delivered to the female, the sperm is not stored properly and fertilization is disrupted. Interestingly, the article says this renders the female sterile, which seems to me a wrong gender rendering; that is, if the male mosquito does the job right in the first place she never will be sterile. But I guess that is the researcher’s call!

Anyway, I was surprised to read that male mosquitoes had sperm. I certainly have a hard time conceptualizing the size of mosquito sperm, which could be an interesting thing to ruminate on when one has the time and is inclined to ruminate.

Now the object of this article is very positive. If a way can be found to keep the plug from being formed in the first place (an anti-clotting agent perhaps delivered like an insecticide), the sterility of mosquitoes would cause them to die out, thus preventing the transmission of malaria to humans. Certainly this method beats trying to round up and catch all male mosquitoes for an inoculation-type of prevention.

So the researchers are delighted with their progress and are now working on knocking out the enzyme in the males. The World Health Organization recently said their increased funding is starting to pay off.

So Hail to the researchers; more power to them in ridding the world of this terrible disease that has taken so many lives. And Hail to Reuters for reporting such – and to enlightening me to the further reproductive methods, powers, and anatomy of one of God’s little creatures. Oh, I am truly getting so smart in my old age!

Thursday, December 24, 2009


I don’t think Christmas is a time to be philosophical about what the holiday is and isn’t. But this morning while fresh out of bed, wrapped in my warm fleecy bathroom, drinking my hazelnut-flavored coffee – and looking at the tiny Christmas tree sitting across the room from me on its tiny little round table – I just couldn’t help but think about what Christmas in old age is about.

Christmases in my childhood looked like this. We had big Christmas trees with piles of presents around them. We opened our presents on Christmas morning, and as our family had no traditions or regulations as to how the present-opening was to be conducted, it truly was every man for himself. The only rule we had was that in the morning my sister and I had to wake our parents up and wait in their bedroom until they called us from where the Santa stockings had been hung. Once we heard their calls, we made a mad dash into the living room to see what Santa had left. Santa was always a very generous fellow, and aside from the many little items we had asked for he always left an apple and a silver dollar in the toe of each stocking.

Once the stockings had been turned inside out, we then tackled the presents under the tree. Daddy would crawl around under the tree finding presents with our names on them; he passed them to mother, who then passed them on to us kids. There was no order to the opening, We ripped and tore and tossed the ribbon and paper aside, took one look at the present and grabbed for the next one. It was yelling and ripping and grabbing and oohing and aahing – bedlam would be a close description. Our folks let us act like heathens, and when Ginnie Lou and I finished opening our presents, the room was little better than a disaster area. Daddy crawled out from under the tree, grabbed all the trash, and put it in a huge bag. Many times we had to dig through that trash bag to find something that had inadvertently been mixed in with the trash – like a card with money in it!

When I became an adult and had children of my own, our Christmases were just like the ones of my childhood. I was shocked when I found out that some families sit down quietly and open presents one at a time, with everybody watching the gift receiver. In other words, some people were civilized on Christmas morning, but that approach wasn’t in my genes or my traditions. We allowed wild people to have a go at it! Oh, I think about those Christmases with such nostalgia.

So part of the philosophical ruminations I had this morning were because I looked at our little tree of this, my 74th Christmas. It is exactly 24” tall, fake, with a mere handful of tiny ornaments on it. I think of it as merely a “reminder” tree, because it sure doesn’t have the cachet of the trees in my past. It suffices, but what a difference growing old has made.

But of course Christmas never was for the adults anyway. We had our own fun and our own presents, of course, but it was in doing for the children and for giving them Christmases to remember that was our goal.

This is of my son Sean’s 2nd Christmas. He was too young yet to understand Christmas, but he understood that he had a new horsey to play with. I have kept this picture all these years for many reasons. One is that it shows a time in our lives that is long gone. Sean’s dad and I were both still trying to get through college, and all our textbooks are sitting on the shelves below the little desk we used, and which we conscripted for hanging the stockings. We were poor as church mice, but you can see by the old vinyl LPs in the rack behind the horse that we may not have had a lot of possessions but we did consider music to be a priority in our lives. And the TV set was one that my father brought from his appliance store so we could watch TV. We didn’t have much, but we did have a darling little boy on a horse and a 4 month old little baby girl, Erin, still asleep in the bedroom -- and we knew that this is what Christmas is all about. All we had to do is to look at the happiness on Sean’s face to know that.

And this morning I thought of how the children had grown up – and that this is all part of Christmas too and a part of the aging process. We grow old and our children grow up, as shown by a current picture of Sean taken just before Christmas this year.

It was Sean this year who rallied our other children to give us a really wonderful new TV as a Christmas present. And it was delivered and installed by Sean’s son and our grandson Brendan, who is an adult himself.

So our trees get smaller and our kids get bigger and Christmases change – but what never changes is the Christmas Spirit that is passed from parent to child through the ages. And for me, having a philosophical thought about it all and being able to tell our kids we love them and thank them for the gift via this blog is the best thing that could happen at Christmas in this year of 2009.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


It was a grim December. The year was 1943 and we were at war. Daddy was sick and couldn’t work, and we were all worried about Mama’s three brothers overseas.

When we could get gasoline that winter in Long Beach, California, Daddy would take us to the harbor. Huge, blimp-shaped balloons, tethered by strong cables, rose above the docks. Daddy said we put them there so that enemy war planes couldn’t come in low over the desperately needed ships. The steel cables would tear off their wings, he said.

At night all the homes used blue light bulbs because of the blackout. Even so, the block warden walked our neighborhood looking for an illegal crack of light. The cracks were mostly caused by the ill-fitting black shades at every window. Sometimes at night there were false alarms with stomach-churning wails of air raid sirens.

Most everything was in short supply, so that Mama, who carefully kept our ration books, often couldn’t get us what we needed anyway. Christmas looked bleak that year. There would be no tree, no toys, no Santa. Daddy swore. Mama cried and my sister Barbara and I had no illusions when we climbed into our shared bed on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning came with thin sunshine. The air was crispy, the hardwood floor chill in our small bedroom. My sister and I woke early, padding hesitantly toward the living room. There in the corner was a beautiful, no, the most beautiful Christmas tree. Thick and verdant it stood, stray beams of light shining on the tinsel, which then scattered sparks of brilliance across the carpet. The whole room smelled wonderfully rich of pine. Under the tree were shiny red apples, sweet oranges and nuts of intriguing shapes and shades of brown. Dancing with excitement, we girls rushed back to awaken our parents. Christmas came! Santa came! It was a magical day!

Years later I heard the story. That Christmas Eve, as the few tree lots began to close at dusk, Grandma Jessie had walked the streets, asking at nearby lots if she could have the broken or discarded boughs lying in the sawdust. When Barbara and I were soundly sleeping, the boughs were brought into the living room. After sternly lecturing Mama and Daddy about “making do,” she created a tree.

Grandma carried in two wooden chairs. One she set upright, and the other she turned upside down atop the first. Using twine, she began to bind the piney boughs to the upturned chair legs. Every branch was attached until the results almost, almost, looked like a tree.

Below the greenery, parts of the chair were carefully skirted with a clean white sheet. Then she pulled a package of tinsel from her apron pocket and had Mama and Daddy, heartened by her peppery spirit, draping those silvery icicles over the needles. Out of her string bag came the fruit and tightly wrapped hoard of nuts.

Oh, the tree was square, all right, but those two little girls didn’t see the shape that magical morning. They saw instead, with eyes of hope fulfilled, a glorious, splendid Christmas tree, with all its beauty, love and tenderness.

With the determination and faith of an old woman to celebrate life in the face of that dreadful war, Christmas had come.

Written by my sister Ginnie Lou, the little blond below.

Monday, December 21, 2009


In a 1992 issue of The Sunday Times, which if I recall correctly I picked up either in Amsterdam or London, there was an interesting article on "The 12 Tribes of Christmas." A British writer, Desmond Morris, had just published a book called "Christmas Watching." He said about his book, "Although people tend to assume that the proper roots of Christmas lie in Christianity, in fact hardly anything we do during the Christmas festivities has the slightest connection with the arrival of the infant Jesus." Whether we do or do not agree with his statement, he does relate a few interesting back stories to some of the festive trappings that we use during the Christmas season.

First is from the Celts:

He says the ancient Celts invented the precursor of Christmas pudding to honor the Dagda, a god who, to ensure a good harvest, selflessly spent his life stirring a giant cauldron of porridge containing all the good things in the earth. At feast times the Celts used to encourage the Dagda by stirring their own cauldrons of a porridge called Frumenty, a mixture of wheat, milk, sugar and spices. Over the years more ingredients were added, such as bits of meat and fruit. In the late 1600 the mixture was thickened up, baked in a cloth, and plum pudding was born.

Next is Lapland.

Looking at the average house, the choice of chimney as entry point for a fat man with a sack would seem, at best, illogical, but not in primitive Lapland where the early Lapps lived in igloo-type houses where only the top protruded above the snow. The hole in the roof that let the smoke out was also the front door. Most modern references to Santas down chimneys can be traced back to Clement Moore's poem, called in 1822 "A Visit from Saint Nicholas." Moore was a scholarly chap and drew on a wide range of Christmas myths and legends for his story, apparently borrowing the chimney and the reindeer/sleigh from the early Lapps.

Of course we don't need to get rid of our Christmas traditions just because there is a tinch of the old heathenish origins assigned to them. To quote another old saw, that would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What we embrace in our old fashioned Christmas traditions can be imbued with our own values and our own meanings, regardless of where the idea started. Thank goodness we don't have to be bound by ancient ideas and suspicions to enjoy fully all the figgy pudding we can chuff into our stomach at Christmas time.

What??? You don't make either plum or figgy pudding for the holidays? How 'bout fruitcake? I love it and would hate to see the holidays without it.

P.S. I do Chex Mix!

Sunday, December 20, 2009


How long is tolerable to wait on hold for someone to come to the phone? I think probably everyone has his or her own time frame, but an article in the paper this morning said in an informal poll, as long as there was music playing while holding, the bulk of the people questioned said 15 minutes was at the far end of the tolerable to intolerable juncture. I was surprised that in this day and age anyone would find 15 minutes of waiting acceptable. Now having said that, I must 'fess up to being on hold that long when I call to make a doctor appointment. Not waiting is like shooting yourself in the foot.

My tolerance level for waiting on hold is probably 5 minutes, unless country music is playing, in which case I hang up immediately.

I have never been a very good wait-er. Jerry is a good influence on me. He doesn't ever try to fight the system -- if it takes ten minutes, well, just relax; you'll get there when you get there. He also has a slow tempo to his life -- he walks slowly, acts slowly and sometimes thinks slowly (no offense meant). He has helped me be more patient when I wait in line.

When I lived in Istanbul and dealt with the postal service there, I swore I would never again gripe about the United States post office, or their lines, or their service. To date I haven't, though on occasion I have been mightily tempted.

I think what irks me the most about waiting is when I call someone and then they put me on hold while they take another phone call -- that irritating "call waiting" feature that so many of the younger people have. And a corollary to that is standing at a counter in the middle of a transaction and having the salesperson take a phone call and then deal with that person while I wait. Yes, that is the most irritating! I am always mentally picturing myself taking the goods, gathering my purse and marching away, leaving the salesperson stuck on the phone with the person who interrupted me. Of course I never do, because I don't make scenes, but I always run that scenario through my brain when it happens.

I don't fuss at standing in a long line at a grocery store, unless the cashier and the box person are having a chat about last night's date, which slows down the movement of the line.

One time I went through a checkout stand somewhere - maybe at a drug store - and since there was nobody in line behind me, I was digging in my coin purse to get the right amount of change. The cashier, a man, took my change and said, "I hate it when you pickers hold everything up while you hunt for nickels and dimes." I would have liked to punch him in the snoot right there on the spot; instead I wrote a letter to the manager regarding his nasty attitude. However, it affected me so that now I never, ever try to get the right change, and when I see someone doing it I think, "Look how that picker is slowing everybody down." I always feel ashamed of myself but it happens, I admit it. Old people are particularly bad and when I get old I hope I don't do that!

(P. S. I am old, but I don't admit to it yet!)

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I do believe there are some people who would call the displays featured in today's blog "sacrilegious." I think maybe that would have been the first word out of my mother's mouth, too. But I don't see it that way. Nor do I see it as religious art. "Cute" and "funny" are descriptors that rattle around in my head. What do you think? Over the years I have seen many dogs dressed up in manger scene costumes. I have laughed at each one. I laugh in the same way when I walk through our local PetSmart and see all the regular clothing that is now made for dogs who are clothes-horses. I see cat clothes too, but designers of those mostly realize that you can't pull many wool sweaters over a cat's eyes!

Now this is somebody's work of art. I think it is just too cute for words. I can tell it took a lot of talent to fashion these little guys. And I would have no problem at all setting it up in my house -- except that Squeaky probably wouldn't let it be! I'd have cats all over the place, as she does like to push little things around and under furniture.

Next up is a manger scene for foodies. I see the makings of s'mores. Add a few sticks of cinnamon and a pretzel or two and voila! What creativity! Not Peeps, exactly, but very marshmallowy. And cute to boot! (And maybe neat to eat.)

And now a nativity belt buckle for the man whose wife or girlfriend can't think of what to get him for a Christmas present. Look at the detail in the buckle. Who would ever have thought up this kind of a gift! I haven't seen any for sale in the stores, but then we don't live in belt-buckle country either, so maybe this is a regional variation of the manger scene.

I would be willing to retire my black and white chicken timer during the holiday season if Santa brought me a fancy timer like this. Would it be sacrilegious to time all my Chex Mix batches using such a thing? I think not, but I do think some of you might find it slightly distasteful -- the timer, not my Chex Mix, which is always good and always asked for at every Christmas season by my kith and kin.

Now many years ago when Jerry and I had our talk before we got married about whether or not he was ok with my putting up a Christmas tree every year, I was so delighted at his answer that I decided I would not push it by putting up nativity scenes. I have always been charmed by the variety available. If Jerry and I had not married I probably would have ended up life single and as the old woman who has a hundred cats and a hundred manger scenes. But to my delight that didn't happen, although my interest in both has never abated.

So for me these creches are extremely satisfying to look at; I don't need to have them in my house. And in case you find them as fascinating as I do, you can find many more at Thanks to that website for giving me a good giggle or two.

Friday, December 18, 2009


I have always liked Peeps.

But I think I have mostly liked them because they were cute, and mostly cute were the bunnies and chickies. I am ambivalent over the pumpkins and ghosts and Christmas trees -- they don't have the souls that the bunnies and chickies have. Nor the amazing colors.

I introduced my two youngest granddaughters, now 8-1/2 and 7, to them a number of years ago, and the earliest phone calls I can remember from them were tiny little voices at the other end of the line saying, "Grandma, do you have any Peeps?" My daughter and her husband weren't crazy about the kids having candy, and I tried to keep my supply for them at a reasonable level; but how can you not produce Peeps when those little voices and big eyes stare at your freezer and wonder if there are any Peeps in it?

Now being a fan of Peeps doesn't mean that I like to eat them. I am not a marshmallow lover unless they are stale. Therefore I only like stale Peeps. If you are in a group of people and ask them if they like their Peeps fresh or stale, you'll find opinions split about 50-50, with the stale Peeps lovers being the loudest responders. It takes about six months sitting on top the refrigerator for them to get really stale enough to be yummy. And if you think Peeps are only for children, think again. Adults not only eat them but also play with them.

I don't happen to do that, but my first introduction to playing with Peeps was from a website on the internet where a bunch of Peeps were going to the library. It was just too funny! I have a link on my blogsite that will take you there. But just recently I learned that a totally Peeps store has opened in Maryland. Not everything is marshmallow or even edible, but it is pulling in Peeps fans in droves, while nearby stores are hard-pressed to get anything but looky-loos this holiday season.

But not only is there now a Peeps store, but there have been Peep documentaries filmed, fan clubs organized, diorama contests sponsored and many heated discussions about proper Peep-eating manners like whether to eat them head first or tail first.

The rise in Peep interest isn't due to the poor economy. They have been around and popular since they were created in 1954. Jerry and I don't eat them ourselves anymore, though we would if we could. They are not good for Jerry's diabetes and they aren't good my my flagging taste buds. But we do try to keep a little store of them in the freezer (next best to being stale) just in case the granddaughters arrive with Peeps on the brain. I am sure the little girls haven't yet discovered the big surprise of watching them explode when heated in a Microwave. I've always had that operation in the back of my mind when baby-sitting them, thinking that if they ever get too bored or too fidgety or too cranky, I might entertain them with a few microwaved Peeps. But ya' gotta save that for a really important occasion.

If the knowledge of Peeps isn't in your databank at the present time, you need to do a Google-Image search and see what is going on. You'll be amazed!

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Many years ago when my kids were quite small we attended Westmoreland Chapel in Los Angeles. It was a no-nonsense kind of church and was so important to us that we drove in each Sunday from our home in Ontario, some 50 miles to the east of L.A. We met in an old two story house; the smaller children had their functions upstairs and the adults met downstairs. The service began at 10 and concluded at noon - no choir, no announcements, no performances, nothing to take up that time except preaching the word of God, and that is what the adults came to hear.

As a matter of fact, because so many families came from so far -- Redondo Beach, Eagle Rock, Ontario -- we all brought our lunch so we could have another teaching period in the early afternoon. Because the pastor and his wife were from England, late in the afternoon we had a nice tea and it was only then that we headed home for another week, usually between four and five in the afternoon. This was our choice and we came from near and far.

The kids' dad and I had met in a college choir and singing had always been a big part of our lives. We integrated our children into our continuing interest in music. Early on we began going to nursing homes at Christmas time. I played the guitar and our family sang the familiar Carols. I also taught my kids (who ranged in age from 4 to 8) a very special, unusual Christmas song called "The Friendly Beasts" and they would sing that to the old folks as the close of our time at the nursing home. I taught them a tiny bit of harmony and as you can imagine, there was hardly a dry eye in the house.

At the same time I began working with Children's choirs at Vacation Bible Schools and Christmas programs at various Ontario-area churches. This was something that I loved doing; my own children always went with me and helped bolster the little choirs that I worked with. When we made the move to Westmoreland Chapel - I'd guess the year was about 1966 - there were really no activities specifically laid out for children. I was reluctant to get involved in anything that would take me away from the adult learning that was going on downstairs, but as the first Christmas neared I talked to the pastor about teaching the children some Christmas songs to be sung for the "congregation" on the Sunday before Christmas. He agreed, and I began working with the few children we had.

The picture above is "the children's choir" of Westmoreland Chapel for that year. This was the sum total of all elementary aged children. But those kids sang their hearts out. They responded to my coaching and did a wonderful job that morning. I think maybe we had five songs to sing, and as usual, "The Friendly Beasts" was the finale. The kids loved singing as much as I did, and for me, it was a very special Christmas. I asked my kids the other day if they remembered "The Friendly Beasts" - and of course they did.

Here's the song, in case you are unfamiliar with it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Personal Chefs. Personal Trainers. Life Coaches. Birthing coaches. And now Personal Baby Planners.

Talk about a “me-centered” society!

What is our world coming to, for crying out loud!

Want to know the right stroller for your upcoming baby? Hire a Baby Planner.
Want to make your house safe for the little darling? Hire a Baby Planner.
Which car seat is safest? Hire a Baby Planner.
Need a coming home outfit for the newborn babe? Hire a Baby Planner.
Want to post a “want” list in a baby registry? Hire a Baby Planner.
Need a few more maternity clothes? Hire a Baby Planner.
Hope to keep a scrapbook for the baby? Hire a Baby Planner.
What colors should you use in the nursery? Hire a Baby Planner.

We’ve changed from a do-it-yourself culture to a “hire-it-out” culture -- at least for those who have money left over at the end of the month after paying all their bills. The rank and file still do it the old-fashioned way. Cook dinner themselves, push strollers around the block for exercise, ask mom or grandma for advice, and have fun getting ready for the baby’s arrival.

An article I read about these new baby planners quotes a woman who thinks society imposes on parents-to-be the idea that they should want to do everything themselves for their baby – and she indicates that this is just not necessary, which makes a good reason for hiring a Personal Baby Planner. If the details of becoming a parent bore you, a planner will most definitely alleviate stress over feeling guilty, she seems to be saying.

Well, I say then don’t bother to have kids.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Doing genealogical research turns up many interesting things; it sometimes turns up very sad things too. Below is the story of “Great-Auntie Winton,” a relative on my Dad’s side.

In October of 1857 Elizabeth Dobbins Kinsey married John A. Winton, a businessman and postmaster in Prairie City, Kansas. After this marriage, she does not appear on any further Kansas records, but almost her entire history can be found in John Winton’s Civil War Veteran Widow’s pension files in the National Archives. In these pension files there is a copy of a letter she wrote in 1898 from her home in Las Animas, Colorado to Washington DC. after she heard the news of her husband’s death in an old Soldier’s home in Leavenworth, Kansas. She appeals for assistance. Here is her letter, in part:

….Now I will tell you something of the former part of our lives. John R. Winton and I were married at a hotel in Lawrence, Kansas on the 26th day of October in 1857 by a Camalite [sic] minister, and we lived at what was then Prairie City, now called Media, Douglas County, Kansas until about 1863 in the spring. We then went to Dayton, KY where we lived until the fall of 1881, when John R. Winton came home in July that year with a very loathsome case of gonorrhea. In all those years we had had four children, two girls in Kansas and two boys in Kentucky. Now in 1881 we just had one daughter living about 14 years old. She was already very sickly so I was compelled to leave him. I stayed in Dayton till in December 1881 then came here to Las Animas [Colorado] to my brother [James Sellers Dobbins] and have been right here ever since. John wandered about from one [Veterans] Home to another, up in Wisconsin, at Leavenworth, and Dayton, Ohio, and finally wanted to come back to me. He said he was well and wanted to come back. I had not applied for a divorce but heard that he had, but he denied ever getting a divorce, but I said I would not live with him unless he married me again. So you see he came here to my home that I had earned all myself and had three hundred and ninety eight dollars laid by beside taking care of my daughter and making the living for her. She died in 1885, and now my money is all gone and I have broke myself down waiting on him for he has been sick nearly ever since he had come here. I have been an invalid ever since last May, am scarcely able to cook a bite for myself. Can you do anything ….?

Mrs. E. C. Winton.

The records show indeed she did remarry him when he came to Las Animas, Colorado. She was, of course, eligible for her Widow’s Pension.

She died on January 27, 1922 in Las Animas. Her obituary says she “was one of the pioneer residents of 1882….accompanied by her daughter, Alvira, who later passed away. She opened a boarding house shortly after coming to the city and conducted it for some time, after which she followed dressmaking as long as she was able to do this work. She was a faithful member of the First Presbyterian Church….”

Saturday, December 12, 2009


And here's a wonderful addition to the holiday season -- a unique cranberry sauce recipe that I clipped from the L.A. Times newspaper back in the late 1970s. It was called "Cranberry Sauce for Helen." It is quick and easy. Why settle for something canned if you can do a really yummy homemade version that is better!


4 cups cranberries
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup brandy

Place cranberries in a 13x9-inch baking pan. Sprinkle evenly with sugar. Stir in brandy. Cover and bake at 300 degrees for one hour. Store in covered container in refrigerator. Makes about 1 quart.

As all you cooks know, the alcohol burns off in the cooking, and all you have left is a great touch of flavor. Try it; you'll like it!

Friday, December 11, 2009


So to continue the list from yesterday, here are more ideas:

~ Tie a bow on your pet's collar.

~ Give your place in the checkout line to someone who looks like they have had a hard day.

~ Wrap your child's bedroom door like a present.

~ Make it a holiday practice to do something without telling them you did it.

~ Make your family feel just as important as your holiday company.

~ Add a new Christmas cassette or CD to your collection each year.

~ Dress the kids for bed, then get in the car to see Christmas lights.

~ Keep plenty of Apple Cider and microwave popcorn on hand for unexpected guests.

~ Let someone else have the parking space you've just found. Think of it as a gift to a stranger.

~ This Christmas, write letters to several people who have had a positive influence on your life. Thank them for the gift they have given you.

~ Buy something from students holding a Christmas bake sale and tell them to keep the change.

~ Cut others - as well as yourself - more slack than usual.

~ Take a walk with someone you love on Christmas afternoon.

~ Turn off the lights and put on "White Christmas." Ask your spouse to dance.

~ Pay the toll for the car behind you during the week of Chrismas.

~ Don't try to do everything yourself. Ask for help.

~ Decorate the backs of dining chairs with bows or stockings.

~ Don't forget to hang the mistletoe.

~ After opening all the presents, hug all your family members and tell them they are the best gift of all.

Make it a good holiday!


Several years ago I found a Christmas book that offered some ideas to consider when thinking of making Christmas as cheery as possible. The book was called "The Little Book of Christmas Joys," by H. Jackson Brown Jr., Rosemary Brown and Kathy Peel. Today I'll share a few ideas they present and finish up tomorrow. I think you'll find something to incorporate into your busy holiday.

~ Be the first to wish everyone you meet a Merry Christmas.

~ Mend a broken relationship with someone during the holidays.

~ Take a basket of goodies to a notoriously grumpy neighbor.

~ Let go of a problem you can't solve.

~ Hang a favorite Christmas ornament from your car's rear-view mirror.

~ Take a basket of goodies to your local fire and police station.

~ Try at least one new Christmas recipe and one new decorating idea.

~ Tie jingle-bells on your kids' shoelaces, or on yours, if you are brave.

~ Buy yourself another set of lights for your Christmas Tree.

~ Enjoy a couple of meals illuminated only with the Christmas Tree.

~ Go to a Christmas Parade.

~ Deliver a coffee cake to a neighbor.

~ Call a nursing home and get the names of five people who don't often receive mail. Send each one a Christmas card and sign it "from Santa."

~ Wear outrageous Christmas socks.

~ Record a cheerful Christmas greeting on your answering machine or voicemail.

~ Make French Toast with eggnog.

~ Give an anonymous gift of money to someone who has been laid off.

~ Put something Christmasy in every room in your home.

~ Throughout the season, give family and others the gift of a good disposition.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009



1 medium size Elephant
2 rabbits (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Brown Gravy

Cut Elephant into small bite sized pieces. (This will probably take about two months, so allow for time)

Trunk – Keep the trunk handy. You can store the bite size pieces in it.

Add enough Brown gravy to cover.

Cook over Kerosene fire for about four weeks at 465 degrees. Allow to simmer for an additional two weeks.

This lovely dinner will serve about 3, 800 people. If more people are expected, the two rabbits may be added. However, most people do not like to find Hare in their Stew.

(from Lorraine Stump, 1971)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Christmas is a holiday that every year brings with it a whole bag full of memories. While we look forward all year to the joy and happiness of the celebration, mostly we measure it against the wonderful Christmases of our past, especially the ones where we were the little kids and the presents under our tree were for us!

But there also are some standout Christmases we've enjoyed as we nudged into old age. Today I am thinking particularly of how the Hallelujah Chorus played into my own celebration of the holiday. I really didn't get involved in the singing of this familiar chorus until I went off to school at George Pepperdine College. Because my roommate had chosen a choir class, I decided I would like to participate too, and I added it to my schedule. At Christmas the Hallelujah Chorus was added to our repertoire and I fell in love with it. It was in the second year of chorus that I met my future husband - and from then on, singing became our common denominator (aside from our kids!). Early in our marriage we joined the Alamitos Friends Church and sang it there. In 1964 we moved to Ontario, California and joined the Community Chorus that always sang the Hallelujah Chorus for and with the public during the Christmas Season.

And there is where an odd coincidence occurred. I sang in the Alto section, and unbeknownst to me, another of the singers, Carole Title, also sang every year in that event. I do not recollect knowing her then, but later, a number of years after my divorce, I went to work for Pascoe Steel in Pomona and I met her because she was the wife of Jerry Title, who also worked at Pascoe. It wasn't until after her untimely death, and after Jerry and I fell in love and married in 1975, that I learned that she and I both had sung together in this wonderful community event in Ontario. So every year when I hear this song, I can't help but think of her -- and how much we had in common.

Recently I enjoyed the video below of a group of "Silent Monks" singing the Hallelujah Chorus. It is worth sharing with you this season, and I think you'll agree that it is an amazing, and hysterical performance - one I know Carole would have enjoyed as well.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Do you think reading things like this is really interesting? I not only found it interesting but it made me laugh. Talk about overkill! You'd think the techwriter's (tech writer?) salary was based on a word count? or is that "wordcount?"


Subject: GROUNDWATER: Ground water versus groundwater

It has been a longstanding practice within the USGS to spell ground water as two words and to hyphenate when ground water is used as a modifier (e.g., ground-water hydrology). Ground Water Branch Technical Memorandum 75.03

( issued just under 35 years ago specified that the two-word form should be used.

Language evolves, and it is clear that the one-word spelling of groundwater has become the preferred usage both nationally and internationally. The one-word spelling has been used by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary since 1998. Most water-resources publications also use the one-word spelling, as do many technical groups, such as the National Research Council. With the emphasis on interdisciplinary science, many USGS scientists who are not specialists in the field commonly use the one-word form, as increasingly do many hydrologists within the Water Resources Discipline.

The term surface water has not seen the same language simplification that has occurred with the term “groundwater.” “Surface water” continues in the English language universally spelled as two words. Use of the two terms together spelled as “groundwater and surface water” has become common usage.

With this memorandum, we are making a transition to the use of groundwater as one word in USGS. Changeover to use of the one-word spelling in our publications and web sites will be accomplished as seamlessly as possible. Reports in preparation should be converted to the one-word spelling where this does not require a special effort. Reports submitted for approval after August 1, 2009, will be expected to use the one-word form. During this transition period, the one-word or two-word spelling should be used consistently throughout a publication.

William M. Alley
Chief, Office of Groundwater

This memorandum supersedes Ground Water Branch Technical Memorandum No. 75.03
You can find this memo at

I love it!

Sunday, December 6, 2009


A little of this and that today:


I saw a magazine advertisement that suggested buying "Snuggies" -- those blankets that are constructed to be worn during the cold winter days and nights -- for everyone on your list. It also showed a special snuggie for your dog, which came in pink and blue, and in sizes extra-small, small, and medium. Poor big dogs get left out in the cold.


Yesterday when we came home from our errands there was a Lincoln Towncar parked in front of our apartment and two older gentlemen dressed nattily in sports coats and slacks standing at the car door talking. I was sure they were members of a religious group known for dressing nicely and going door to door with their literature, and I wondered how on earth they were going to avoid being tattled on by disgruntled residents, since solicitors are not allowed to come into our complex. But a few minutes later one fellow got in the car and drove off. The other one walked into one of our buildings, obviously going to his apartment. Why do I tell you this innocuous event? Because it is the first time in 4 years of living here that we have seen men dressed in anything other than grubbies.


In a magazine insert the other day I read a review on the "Dal Rae" restaurant in Pico-Rivera. This restaurant is one of the old time "Steak-House" type restaurants that are all but ghosts of the past. There used to be the Duck Press in Los Angeles, the Plush Horse in the Southbay area, the Arches in Newport Beach, the Brown Derby in Hollywood and the Sportsman Lodge in the Valley, along with zillions of others, most noted for good food, dramatic presentation, men waiters with white napkins draping over their arm. And that is where we all learned to drink gin martinis up. I think all of them are gone now -- at least in their original iteration; I think the Arches may have relocated, but according to the magazine, the Dal Rae is still up and running. The point of the article is that its menu still features items popular in 1958, the year it opened - Veal Oscar, Chateau Briand, Steak Diane, Oysters Rockefeller and Cherries Jubilee. Three cheers to the Dal Rae. 9023 Washington Boulevard, Pico Rivera.


I read one of the "doctor" columns in the newspaper yesterday - I think in our local PE newspaper - where an elderly gent was asking why, since he was so physically fit and active, he continued to experience "shrinking" in his height and gaining size in his girth. The good doctor answered that as the spine shrinks from normal bone loss in aging, the extra flesh has to go somewhere, so it settles around the waist. In other words, (my interpretation of his remarks) if you shrink two inches, you will carry all the existing flesh and innerds that existed in those two inches in your midsection, which will have to expand to make room for them. Now really!!! It made me want to rush over to the wall and have Jerry mark my height so I can see if that is really what accounts for my growing midsection. Perhaps I'm 5'3" now instead of the 5'6" that I've always been! Or maybe I don't want to know.


I'm presently reading Barbara Ehrenreich's new book on why positive thinking is a farce. She deals with it in many different situations - psychology, religion, business - and I have to agree with her 100%. I can't help but remember the article I read in an old issue of Psychology Today about a test with rats, wherein depressed rats had a more accurate assessment of facts than rats who had experienced positive thinking. (Now I'll explain that whole test one of these days, but trust me, it isn't as screwy as it sounds.) The positive-thinking rats weren't able to change the facts at all and they died still making positive confessions as if it would change anything. The only difference was that they died more tired than the depressed rats did!


I got a Christmas Card from Jimmy and Roslyn Carter this year. Why?


That's all for now, folks.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Nosing around on blogs are my idea of fun. The list below seems to be making its way around blog-land. For my own blog I picked out my favorite 20 and also substituted a few of my own words for some of the writer’s -- a generational thing, I think. I’m sure you’ll get a chuck or too also.

1. More often than not, when someone is telling me a story all I can think about is that I can't wait for them to finish so that I can tell my own story that's not only better, but also more directly involves me.

2. Nothing is more distressing than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

3. Have you ever been walking down the street and realized that you're going in the opposite direction of where you are supposed to be going? But instead of just doing a 180 and walking back in the direction from which you came, you have to first do something like check your watch or phone or make a grand arm gesture and mutter to yourself to ensure that no one in the surrounding area thinks you're crazy by randomly switching directions on the sidewalk.

4. I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.

5. How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

6. I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.

7. I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.

8. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

9. How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear what they said?

10. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars teams up to prevent a dick from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers!

11. MapQuest really needs to start their directions at #5. Pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

12. Obituaries would be more interesting if they told you how the person died.

13. Is it just me or do high school girls get sluttier & sluttier every year?

14. There's no worse feeling than that millisecond you're sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.

15. I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten page research paper that I swear I did not make any changes to.

16. Why is a school zone 20 mph? That seems like the optimal cruising speed for pedophiles...

17. Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

18. I think that if, years down the road when I'm trying to have a kid, I find out that I'm sterile, most of my disappointment will stem from the fact that I was not aware of my condition in college.

19. It really irks me when I want to read a story on and the link takes me to a video instead of text.

20. I wonder if cops ever get ticked off at the fact that everyone they drive behind obeys the speed limit.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Did you know that humans are not the only recipients of “planned parenthood?” I learned a very interesting thing recently in the field of population control. Only it didn’t have anything to do with humans.

Do any of you remember the song “26 Miles Across the Sea?” (If you know it ya’ just gotta’ sing it!) The first verse goes like this:

Twenty-six miles across the sea
Santa Catalina is a-waitin' for me
Santa Catalina, the island of romance
Romance, romance, romance

Well, there are bison (also known as buffalo) on beautiful Santa Catalina, and those bison are way too involved with romance, according to the Catalina Island Conservancy, which owns 88% of the island and is charged with preserving its wild state. It seems that these big hairy animals, now numbering about 200, are descendants of 14 who were shipped to the island in 1924 because a silent film, scheduled to be shot there in 1925, called for bison. Ten years ago there were almost 500 lumbering around. And unfortunately, culling them down to a manageable 200 meant that three hundred of them were either slaughtered or sent out to breeding programs.

The permanent residents of Catalina are fans of the bison; many of the gift shops sell images of the shaggy beasts, and tourists are lured to events like “Buffalo in Paradise.” Recently one of the shop owners came up with an idea for contraception and the Catalina Island Conservancy believes the program will be cost-effective and is a much more humane method of controlling the herd. The female bison will receive annual injections of a wildlife contraceptive known as PZP. Since it is thought to be 90% effective, the herd will be downsized because the females do not get impregnated so often.

The tricky part is that the bison herds, which basically are feral animals, must be rounded up and taken to the bison “medical center” for the inoculation. That’s not easy to do, but where you find buffalo, you always find cowboys so the bison end up exactly where they are supposed to.

Who would have thought all this is going on behind our backs on that Island of Romance? There is so much we don’t know. Since I seem to want to know everything, I must again thank the LA Times for such an interesting revelation!

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I couldn't believe the headlines I was reading: "JUST IN CASE SPACE ALIENS VISIT DENVER - A Ballot Initiative Will Ask Voters to Approve a Welcoming Panel for Extraterrestrials."

According to this morning's LA Times, a fellow in Denver has garnered 4000 valid signatures that were needed to place before the electorate in 2010 an anitiative to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission, whose job would be to promote good relationships between any visiting extraterrestrials and the ordinary people of Denver. Among other things, there also would be an expert appointed to take testimony from people who have already had encounters with such ETs.

Now further on in the article it says that all the other UFO-type organizations in the US are somewhat nonplussed about this fellow getting this far in his quest for civility and they all have something to say, mostly things that sound to me fairly like sour grapes. The person who has started all this, Jeff Peckman, says they needn't worry, as their concern is mostly with UFOs and his is with the ET civilians.

The Times indicates that Colorado is not known for its active UFO enthusiasts like the New Mexico Area 51 has - and I would think maybe the old Wright-Patterson area still has. But it also intimates that primaries usually have low turnouts and an oddball initiative just may have a chance of passing. One never knows!

As some of you know, I have relatives peppered all over Colorado but since none of them live in Denver proper, I can be assured that it wasn't my kith and kin that had anything to do with this. We may do strange things sometimes but wanting to form such a Commission isn't one of them, I'm sure.

I'm going to have to keep my eyes open on how this very strange initiative turns out.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Do you ever find that your spirit needs a lift? I do. Just recently, after a perfectly wonderful week filled with family and friends and celebrations and even a holiday, I found myself feeling a tinch – well, I hate to say “depressed” but just more “down” and in need of something. At my age I can’t attribute it to PMS or any hormonal thing. But I’ve been kind of at loose ends and wasn’t sure what to do about it.

Last night I was just pecking round on the computer killing time and I suddenly remembered what always makes me feel good: there is a wonderful website that has a Mercator-projection-like picture of the world at night, with the most amazing array of lights in all the nooks and crannies where human life can put them. On the webiste the photo is much larger and much more "visual" than the photo above. This picture of our earth touches something deep in me. And in a strange way it gives me peace and a great settled feeling. I also have learned that for me the website is best seen against a background of my favorite “cool jazz” and I use the AOL radio feature to accomplish this. If anything can bring me out of a funk and boost my spirits, this can:

Last night as I was looking at the world and naming off the countries I could identify, I suddenly thought of all the books I’ve read in the last year or two that have been situated in one of those countries. I made myself up a list but only included the really good books, ones that I could recommend to all my reading friends. And then it occurred to me that I could share that with you this morning, along with this very special website. I’ve listed the country that the book encompasses first, then the title and lastly the author. I’ve put an asterisk behind the non-fiction books.

MEXICO - Esperanza’s Box of Saints – Mexico – So. Cal – Maria Amparo Escandon
VENEZUELA - Living to tell the Tale* – Gabriel Garcia-Marquez
HAITI - Brother I’m Dying– Edwidge Danticat*
ENGLAND - Year of Wonders : A Novel of the Plague – Geraldine Brooks
CHANNEL ISLANDS - The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society - Shaffer, Mary Ann
ITALY – Under the Tuscan Sun,* and Bella Tuscany* - Frances Mayes
ITALY – A Thread of Grace – Mary Doria Russell
SPAIN TO JERUSALEM - People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks
TURKEY - The Garden of Water – Alan Drew
YUGOSLAVIA - The Cellist of Sarajevo – Steven Galloway –
ERITREA – My Father’s Daughter - Hannah Pool
EGYPT - Dreamers of the Day – Mary Doria Russell
CHINA - The Man who loved China – Simon Winchester*
ISRAEL– A Pigeon and a Boy - Meier Shalev
INDONESIA – Crack at the Edge of the Earth* - Simon Winchester

I’m feeling much more centered this morning, ready to tackle breakfast, a walk and then a little housecleaning in preparation for hauling out the Christmas decorations. All that is much more beneficial than staring at my navel.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Some dishes are so succulent and delicious that I feel guilty even reading the recipe! This is one of those. It is very simple to make, but you do have to go on a little hunt to find arugula, as it isn't a green that the run-of-the-mill big grocery stores carry. I find it odd that in Istanbul it is called "Rocket" and it's abundant and cheap, but here in California it is a delicacy and is quite pricey. However, you dare not omit using it if you want to bring this recipe where it belongs -- in culinary heaven.


12 oz farfalle pasta
1 pack (10 Oz) frozen green peas
1/4 Cup heavy cream
1/3 cup canned reduced-sodium chicken brother
1/2 c grated parmesan
2 T pine nuts, toasted
1 bunch arugula

Toast pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat, shaking frequently until golden - 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente. Addpeas 1 minute before end fo cooking. Drain; return pasta and peas to pot.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, combine cream and chicen broth. Simmer until thickened slightly, about 7 minutes. Stire in Parmesan until melted.

Add sauce to pasta and peas; toss to combine. Season with salt. Add to reserved pasta along with arugula. Season wiht pepper. Toss to combine and serve immediately.


How much closer could heaven get?

Saturday, November 28, 2009


As nearly as I can remember, the only time I ever showed the least interest in comics was when I was little and my dad used to read the “funnies” to me from the evening newspaper. I listened and looked while he read Moon Mullins, Blondie and Dagwood, Li’l Abner, and Dick Tracy; those are the only ones I can remember. Now that I think about it, I do remember always reading Pogo when I was a teenager in the late 40s. But for the most part comics have not been anything I was interested in.

So that is why I am surprised at my glee over the R. Crumb book - “The Book of Genesis, Illustrated” that I blogged about sometime ago. On the cover it says, “All 50 Chapters” and “Adult Supervision Recommended for Minors” and “The First Book of the Bible Graphically Depicted! Nothing left out!” It truly is what it says it is and moreover, it is truly amazing.

Every time I picked it up I would have to interrupt Jerry periodically to say, “Look at this; Listen to this! You’ll LOVE this!” And other times he laughed heartily at the same things I did, which doesn’t always happen. And sometimes he said, “Oh My!”

The illustrations are superb. His rendering of God is perfect, and I will have to say that God appears just about how I would have drawn him if I were an illustrator, (although I can’t draw anything recognizable so I’m off the hook there.) Crumb’s creation sequence is really ‘right on.” My first surprise was about Noah and the ark.

Now who would ever have depicted the inside of Noah’s ark like this? The best way I can describe it is that if Jerry had an ark, his would look like this. Mine would look like every picture I’ve every seen of animals in the ark in picture books and Sunday school papers – full to overflowing with animals running around, getting into things, leaning over the rails – total bedlam! Crumb’s ark is so Jerry-like. And it never entered my mind to think of such a tidy ark. That made me laugh.

Another thing that made me laugh the most was when Joseph was in Egypt – had been in Egypt for enough years that obviously he spoke in an “Egyptian” language, but when his brothers arrived, who would not have been able to understand him, Joseph had a translator – and Crumb’s depiction of the event looked like this.

Don't you think this is hystericallly funny? Crumb didn’t need words of explanation to tell us what was going on. And as these conversations between Joseph and his brothers went on a long time over many sessions, Crumb doesn’t waiver in his hieroglyphics! You get the original and the translation page after page after page – and I have to tell you, both Jerry and I laughed and laughed about this. How clever. What a creator Crumb is.

And then if it is at all possible to make the begats even a tiny bit more interesting than they really are (and if any of you have tried to read through Genesis, including those begats, you’ll know how very tedious and boring they can be) – but Crumb doesn’t bat an eyelash at them. If Genesis says “This is the lineage of So and So” – then Crumb starts drawing faces of each of the people who were begat, and their sons and daughters as well. And they all look different! Can you imagine drawing dozen and dozens of different faces?

Now when I got to Jacob and his twelve sons, I was just very pleased. I’ve always known the story, and when I was in Jerusalem I bought a set of postcards of Marc Chagall’s famous stained glass windows at the Hadassah Medical Center, one representing each of Jacob’s sons. But never would I have expected anywhere to see faces of those twelve sons staring at me from a book. No one knows what they really looked like but Crumb doesn’t let that stop him. Such an amazing bit of art work.

I could go on and on. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and browsing through this book. It is a visual treat, even for a person who normally does not like comics. I can imagine some rigid religious people thinking this book should be left alone. It does depict quite graphically the business of men “knowing” their wives, (which actually I find a little bit easier to take than the slaughtering of sheep and goats for offerings). But I have found myself impressed, delighted and enthusiastic about it.

Hats off to Mr. Crumb and his amazing talent and for taking on a project such as this, which incidentally he says took five years to complete. If R. Crumb doesn't win some top prizes for this astounding book, then life really, really ain't fair at all!


This morning we had a short storm pass through, with lightning and thunder (a rarity here in SoCal) and I turned off my computer, just to be on the safe side. Left with nothing to do, I decided to hunt through one of my craft drawers to see if, by any chance, I had the right sized knitting needle for one of my infamous projects. This necesitated removing a large box in which those needles, crochet hooks and embroidery needles are kept.

In taking the box completely out of the drawer, I discovered these old War Ration Coupon books from the WWII, made out in my name. Many years ago my mother had made a display of them for me, and I took it apart so I could put them in an album. I never did, and in the intervening years I wondered what happened to them.

Well, here they are.

Inside the first one it says I am 4'1" tall, weigh 52 pounds, have brown hair and brown eyes and am 6 years old. The date is May 7, 1942. Apparently my size isn't important for the next year's card, as all it says is that I am 7 years old. And then in War Ration Book Three, I am noted as 8 years old and still at 52 pounds.

When I saw that, I thought to myself: No wonder my mother and father were worried about my health if I truly went from May of 1942 to May of 1944 without gaining any weight. But since "growing up" and having babies I've had to fight fat, so obviously there was not a big problem with my being a skinny child.

We kids were not really all that aware of what "war" meant. We knew about rationing, we knew certain things, like shoes and tires and butter, were hard to get. We knew our uncles were overseas fighting but our dad wasn't, so our home life wasn't so disrupted. We knew we had to pour any grease from cooking meat into an empty coffee can and our mother took it to the grocery store to turn it in. We bought saving stamps each week at school and pasted them into a book which, when completed, we turned in for a War Bond. We collected scrap metal, we had a victory garden and blackout curtains, and we knew what all the searchlights around Long Beach harbor were for. Interestingly, both Jerry and I still call them "searchlights" instead of "spotlights" or whatever their real name is now!

In the schools we practiced what to do for air raids (go into the halls and line up outside our classrooms. Later in the atomic area we learned to drop to the floor under our desks). But out on the playground we called each other "Allies" or "Axis", depending on which class got out a little early and ran to get the rings first. They were always the Allies and the slower class the Axis. We knew to insult each other by calling the other Tojo or Mussolini. Kids 6 and 7 and 8 didn't really know what all these terms mean, but we had picked up the names from our folks and knew who the bad guys were.

As "The Greatest Generation" and as we who experienced it peripherally as little kids die off, all this will be forgotten, unless one can dig into a social history of that time. When I saw these books this morning, time telescoped and I remembered being little and watching how my family operated with the wartime constraints on us. It was as if 70 years ago was just yesterday, my mother standing at the stove, an apron over her house dress, tipping the skillet over the coffee can and grease running down into the container. Yes, lots of memories.

So back to reality: Of course I did not find in the box the size knitting needle I needed. Guess it's back to Michael's today to buy one!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I don’t like to trivialize Thanksgiving, because I am truly grateful for all the things we are supposed to be grateful for – health, family, nation, etc. But over the years I’ve always made a list of things that make me happy, to remind myself that not only is it better to give than to receive but also it is better to count your blessings instead of your woes. So here is my list for 2009.


1. Jerry’s beautiful grey hair and the new hair stylist who knows how to cut it!
2. Living in Southern California, which I believe has the best weather in the world.
3. Newspapers and books that I can hold while I read.
4. The gift of a used digital camera when the owner upgraded.
5. Music, especially cool jazz, classical, oldies of the ‘70s and anything Dudamel.
6. New friends in Corona and San Francisco and old friends anywhere.
7. Levis, bracelets and long-sleeved t-shirts
8. Squeaky
9. Having such a workable library system in the area.
10. An easy-going, agreeable spouse
11. Discovering wigs
12. Net-flix, which makes reliving movies of the ‘50s accessible, enabling us to
take a great walk down memory lane whenever we want.
13. Patterned socks!
14. My cousins
15. My computer and the gurus who keep it (and me) running.
16. Hot Coffee and Cool Jazz – and those who read it.
17. Grandkids old and young who hug me like they mean it.
18. Two classes of “Beginning Photoshop,” which opened up another world to play in.
19. Walking on the Outer Banks, a lifelong dream.
20. The Internet

Have a good one, everybody!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


As many of you know, I am engaged in a big genealogy project of my own making: the goal is to get everything I know about the ancestry of each of my four grandparents into a written and illustrated booklet and into my kids’ hands. I figured it would take me two months to complete one grandparent’s book, so the overall project would be, allowing for slight variations of time available to do this, done in a year’s time. I finished up my Grandma Maud Susan McConnell Dobbins’s family in two months. I finished up my Grandma Jessie Davis Ryland’s family in two months. I’m now working on my Grandpa Byrd Ryland’s family and I may need to use a little bit of that built-in variation time for him, because his two month period spans both Thanksgiving and Christmas, never a good time to find oneself at a loss for something to do. Anyway, I’m still on schedule as of this writing.

This morning I was at the Laundromat knitting furiously while the machines did their work and I was thinking about when this knit-hat project was going to be done. The hat I made for Olivia didn’t fit well, so I’m knitting another one. It needs to be done by Saturday, because that’s when I’ll see her next. I thought to myself, “Projects, projects, projects!”

Lurking in the back of my mind is an unfinished cross-stitch piece that I set aside some time back and just haven’t returned to finish it. I thought how unlike me to not finish a project. And at that point I felt my nose growing longer and my tongue turning black, both signs of a big, fat lie. And once I acknowledged to myself that I had more than one unfinished project, my mind’s eye remembered what was in one of my office drawers. In addition to the three unfinished cross-stitch pieces I’m showing, I found two that hadn’t even been started yet, and found four that I had started but didn’t like and know I’ll never get back to them. Those four are now residing in my trash can.

And because I DO know that I will keep doing the cross-stitches I dare not throw away all the threads that I’ve collected over the years. I started putting them into nice little cubby-holed boxes but finally rather than buy MORE boxes I decided to chuff them in zip-lock bags. That quantity of possibly usable embroidery threads takes up a great deal of space; I am not able to let even 1 of them go!

I do hate to have unfinished projects hanging around. Whenever I used to go housesit for Kerry I always took a bunch of projects with me. I never knew what I would feel like working on. “Feeling” is not a good rationale for completing projects. But if I assign myself too many deadlines for completing things, I feel that I don’t have time to smell the roses.

I am definitely not going to buy any more pieces to cross-stitch, nor am I going to do any more hats once Olivia’s gets finished. I AM going to make a little something for the newest Great-granddaughter, but I think I’ll draw the line there. One by one I’ll finish the projects I’ve started, finish up Grandpa Scott Dobbins’ family report by February 2010, and just maybe do nothing for a while except read. And smell a few flowers, too.