Thursday, April 30, 2009


There is nothing as satisfying as finding a book to read that is absolutely impossible to put down. Most of the time I find this in a non-fiction book, which makes it all the better when a delicious piece of fiction rises to that point. I don’t know where I was when this book first came out, but it certainly did not hit my radar screen. My daughter Kerry thought I might like it and loaned it to me. Gosh, was she correct! “Like” isn’t a strong enough word.

The focus of this story, “People of the Book” is on an actual book called the Sarajevo Haggadah. A Haggadah is like a Jewish "instruction manual" for properly performing the Seder, the festive meal that is the highlight of the Passover or Pesach festival. The central theme of a Haggadah is to narrate the story of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt. The real Sarajevo Haggadah, which dates back to the 1480s, is unusual in that they are usually not illustrated, but this one is filled with rich, illuminated pictures, which makes it unique and priceless. And it also was saved during the Bosnian war because it was hidden by a Muslim museum librarian.

The above is fact. What Geraldine Brooks, the author, has done is to take this tiny portion of the book’s known history and make up a story about it, its origins, the people who handled it, how it moved from place to place during the intervening centuries. In Brooks’ book we become acquainted with people in Spain, Venice, Vienna and ultimately Sarajevo, into whose hands the book was passed. But in addition, the author builds a story around a young woman, an expert in rare books, who is called to authenticate this book that recently resurfaced, so there is much of modern times in this story too.

It is not a book about religion but religion plays a part in it. It is not a book about war, but throughout the lifetime of the book the wars are always there. It is not a history book, but on every page one finds history as an integral part of the story. I literally could not put this book down. When that happens, I tend to read too fast, and this book is already set aside for another read, although at a much slower pace this time. Now that I know what happens, I can take time to savor the details that I may have missed. I can’t wait to begin.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


One of the places in Turkey that we found exceptionally interesting was a little town named Iznik, which is located south and a little east of Istanbul, across the Sea of Marmara and about 18 miles south of the Marmara shoreline. It's a tiny town of about 16,000 people and off the beaten path for tourists. But Jerry and I found it to be one of our favorite places, and we kept returning to it, even though it was a long drive away. Our driver, Ahmet, was always with us to drive and care for us as we explored his country. He always said he was really getting an education by working for us, as he had hardly seen any other part of his own country than Istanbul.

Iznik is thought to have been founded about 1000 BC. Originally called Nicaea after the wife of one of Alexander the Great's generals, it later became Nicomedia and eventually Iznik. There is a really interesting museum in town, and it was at that museum that we learned of the tomb pictured above and below.

In 1960, while bulldozing the hillside for fill dirt, this old Byzantine tomb was discovered. Luckily its historical worth was recognized quickly and the cement work was placed around it for its preservation and protection. The tomb dates from the late 300's A.D. Ahmet arranged for a museum guide to take us to the tomb, which was kept under lock and key. The guide allowed us to go inside and had no objection to my using a flash camera, which surprised me.

Really lovely Byzantine murals covered the inside walls. It was undoubtedly the tomb of a wealthy family. Some damage has occured over the years from vandalism but overall it has been decently preserved. At the bottom of the picture you can see where one of the owners had been buried. There is a similar crypt on the other side of the tomb.

With my own personal interest in cemeteries and burial places, I was totally taken with this tomb, as well as with a totally different kind of burial place shown in the photo below, which was taken in Sille just outside of Konya. Konya is in the south central part of Turkey, northeast of Antalya on the coast and southwest of Ankara, the capital of Turkey. We were in Sille in the dead of winter. It was frosty cold and everything was brown and dead. This picture shows a burial ground. What looks like little cactus plants growing over the hillside are really the headstones of tombs.

As I understand it, the Muslim idea of headstones is to have them made of impermanent material, available and in good condition as long as there are people alive who remember and honor the deceased, but just as the deceased's physical body eventually ceases to exist, and the people who remember him disappear, so does the marker that indicates his burial place. Therefore what appears to the Western eye as a very unkept place is simply being what it is supposed to be....representative of the life cycle of all things.

From time to time here I will provide photos of other tombs, crypts, mausoleums, cemeteries and such that I found so very interesting. I have that kind of interest in cemeteries here in the US too, but certainly in Turkey there are just layers and layers of time periods in which the remnants of burial practices can be seen. Photographing them was one of my favorite pastimes!

Ahmet was very uncomfortable with cemeteries but he was a trooper. He mostly stayed near the car rather than to go exploring with us, but he never complained. For that we were grateful.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I have never been particularly fascinated by Mandalas - at least as far as the spiritual significance of Mandalas goes. But I have to admit that when I see Monks working on a Mandala like this (which is made of colored sand and which will be destroyed shortly after it is completed, showing the impermanence of life, I think), I can't help but take a quick, sharp breath and hold it while I feast my eyes on the work. Oh, such beauty and such detail. As one who has absolutely no capacity for generating art of any kind, I just cannot imagine the soul and spirit of those people like these Monks who can work in minute detail on what I'd imagine is a labor of love.

When I saw the photo of those men working away at their Mandala, I was reminded that when I was living for a couple of months in Amsterdam, the very cold weather in December and January made us stay inside a bit more than if we had been their during the summer. I found a nice embroidery shop and got acquainted with one of the owners there. This lady told me that the rage in Amsterdam at that time was doing a cross-stitch Mandala. She showed me several that she had done - and they were very large pieces and absolutely gorgeous. They were to be framed and hung on a wall. She said there were "rules" for doing them -- and as nearly as I can remember there could only be 8 colors used and all four quadrants had to be identical.

I was intrigued, so as our time in Amsterdam was drawing to a close, I picked out 8 colors, some material and decided to use that long plane ride home to work on MY Mandala. Before the plane's wheels hit American soil, it was obvious that my Mandala was not going to be anywhere near as fine as the Dutch ones I saw. I knew I had no talent for design or colors, but I guess I'd thought that as a mere "crafter" I could leave the conceptualizing to the artist and I'd just make crosses and let the design fall where it may.

Well, you can see that although the idea was very enticing, my execution of it was lacking in grace! I was so sorry that my skills just weren't good enough to make something as beautiful as what I'd seen in Amsterdam. Yet here it is, 18 years later and I'm still holding on to this scrap of Mandala, tucked away in a box. I really should just dump it! After I die and my kids come to clean out my things, I can hear it all now: "What on earth is this?" "It's horrible, whatever it is!" "Toss it in the trash!" "Yea, I don't want it." "Me neither!"

And that will be ok.
Now, while I was thinking about this I did a Google search on Dutch Mandalas. I found nothing, but I did find a whole area of cross-stitch Celtic Mandalas, and I must say I was as stunned by them as I was by the picture of the Monks doing their sand art. I would give my eye-teeth to be able to work on something like this one below. However, I may not be artistic but I AM smart enough to know that I have neither the eyesight nor the time to work on something like this. But oh, I can see it hanging on my wall, even if it is only in my imagination.

I have always said that artists need appreciators, those of us who stand in front of their works and swoon or drool or sigh or study or have sharp intakes of breath! I am definitely an appreciator, which is the best I can do for all the Mandala designers and makers of the world. Wish I could join you!

Monday, April 27, 2009


Surely everyone remembers that catchy phrase, “Quick Henry, the Flit!” and if Henry did as his wife stated, the mosquito didn’t stand a chance.

Well, this blog is not about “Flit.” But in reading a story yesterday morning in the newspaper, the old phrase came to mind and I just couldn’t help but hee-haw about it. I need to alert readers that if they are sensitive to things sexual, they probably should turn back now. Otherwise, keep on reading.

The findings of a 300-man study is being given Tuesday at the Chicago Meeting of the American Urological Association and the results of this study show that a new anesthetic developed by a London company, Plethora Solutions Ltd., will make a sad group of men very, very happy. Well, this is my interpretation of the efficacy of their product, but I think you’ll see what I mean in a minute.

The article states that one of the most common sexual problems of men, striking about 1 in every 3 is premature ejaculation. This is even a higher percentage than that of erectile dysfunction, which is 1 in every 4. According to the article, a new topical anesthetic by another company, a cream called EMLA that is used to numb one’s organ thus prolonging ejaculation is in the works, but its drawback is that it takes about 45 minutes to work. Complicating the matter is that the man must wear a condom or the cream will be transferred to his partner and cause her to go numb and miss out on the whole thing!

So the Plethora folks have developed an anesthetic spray that once sprayed on the end of the penis is absorbed quickly and goes to work in mere minutes. In their most recent efficacy trial, the company recruited the 300 men in Northern Ireland who had documented histories of prematurity and who were in monogamous relationships. Two-third used the spray and one-third used a placebo.

Now all this I find very clinical. But here is what made me burst out laughing: “The men were instructed to spray it on five minutes before intercourse, and then document the time from penetration to ejaculation with a stopwatch.” Here’s where the “Quick, Henry, the Flit” comes in. The image of 300 men holding spray cans and stopwatches is what really makes me laugh. Oh, how I wish I could draw that scene for use in my blog.

But since this topic needs to stay clinical, I must report that like in all good trials, the participants fill out detailed questionnaires about their experiences and their sexual satisfaction, and the results indicated a “go.” Apparently the spray satisfied everyone, and with FDA approval it will go on the market with a cost less than Viagra and the other erectile-dysfunction drugs.

If I read the article correctly, the name of the spray will be Tempe. (How do you think that will sit with Tempe, Arizona?)

I would think it would be called simply “Plethora” – and if you wonder why, look up the word in any good dictionary and you’ll discover it means more than just an excess. And this makes this whole thing much more interesting clinically, and exceptionally funny, I think.

And apologies to anyone who doesn’t find this a laughing matter.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


If you’ve ever been on a vacation and stopped at the 4 Corners Monument – that place in the middle of nowhere that purports to be the point where the corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado touch – you may have thought you could add all four states to the list of states you’ve visited. But you may have been wrong! Or, if you read the right explanation you have been right. Confused? There is a real answer, according to the government, that says wrong is right. (So what else is new?)

There was a tiny insignificant little article in the newspaper Thursday morning about the 4 Corners Monument that says this Monument is not where it is supposed to be. Seems like all these years vacationing people have had their picture taken with one appendage touching in each state’s quarter, thinking they were doing a remarkable feat, when in actuality the Government’s placement was off by over 1800 ft.

When I read the headline and first paragraph, I thought to myself, “My gosh, if you can’t believe where the government says a boundary is, what CAN you believe?” (The next thought was something on the order of, “Well, can you believe ANYTHING the government says?” and quickly I thought that sounded very jaded so I erased it from my mind.)

But there seems to be a logical explanation for it, although I had to do some searching to find out the “real” answer. Taken from an Associated Press article that was much more detailed than the one appearing in the LA Times, here is what they say:

The marker of the only location in the U.S. where the boundaries of four states meet was placed almost dead on in 1875, said Dave Doyle, chief geodetic surveyor for the National Geodetic Survey, which defines and manages a national coordinate system.

Still, Doyle said, the marker showing the intersection of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah is just a relative smidgen east of where it should have been placed: 1,807.14 feet, to be exact. That's about the length of six football fields.

But Doyle calls the placement a "home run" given the limited tools surveyors had to work with back then. "Their ability to replicate that exact point — what they did was phenomenal….”

So here, the government says it’s a little off, but that’s ok. In 1875 the government finalized the boundaries based on a statute that created Colorado’s western boundary and they mandated the surveyors to use the measurement as taken from the old Naval Observatory in Washington DC. That calculation yields the 1800+ foot disparity.

But today we don’t measure things from that Observatory. We measure from Greenwich – and using today’s standard (from Greenwich), the monument is about 2.5 miles off.

To complicate matters, somehow the Supreme Court got involved in this measurement, which is way too detailed to even investigate.

However, apparently once the marker was placed, the spot became “legal” and “final” and not subject to change. There are 4 states involved and 2 Indian tribes – and apparently no one wants to get into a pushing and shoving match to move the marker anywhere.

"Where the marker is now is accepted," Doyle said. "Even if it's 10 miles off, once it's adopted by the states, which it has been, the numerical errors are irrelevant. It becomes the legal definition" of the Four Corners.

That made me laugh! So the government says since the marker is fairly close to being accurate, we are going to make it be accurate, even though it isn’t really. It kind of makes sense. Maybe like a parent issuing an order and then when asked by their child why, answering “Because I said so!”

Isn’t it amazing what strange things can turn up in a newspaper? Even stranger, I know, is that something like this can get my research juices going so early in the morning?

I find there are two extraneous leftovers from this informative little article and from the picture of the marker above. One is the pesky Supreme Court involvement (“How?” & “Why,” my inquisitive nature yells out). And the other is reading a notation on the monument pictured above that says “Cadastral survey.” What on earth is that? I never heard of such a thing. That answer may just appear in another blog down the road. A Cadastral Survey, something everyone should know about, right?

Thursday, April 23, 2009


People's names often make me laugh. In the newspapers I don't read the funnies but I do read the obituaries because I find such interesting things there and such funny names.

The other day I read an obituary for a lady whose name was shown as Sweet P. Smith. In reading the obit I saw her middle name was Pecolia, but obviously she went by Sweet P. Can you imagine going through your whole life being called Sweet P? I call all little girl children - and sometimes my own grown daughters - "Sweet Pea." But as a given name, I'm glad it wasn't mine, because I'd consider it an affliction!

Also I noted there was a lady listed whose last name was Crapsey. Now that is not a very pretty last name. I'd probably think twice before marrying a man by that name, or if the fellow really was a "keeper" I'd choose to keep my maiden name

In doing some genealogy the other night, I was researching a family of Cowens who were southerners, and in the manner of southerners they called all their male children by initials. There was C.W., the father, and sons O.L., D.D., J.L, and W.D. Later I had come upon a paper showing that W. D. actually went by the name W. Dee Cowen. I learned they were all from Tennessee so in doing a census search, I found that the O stood for Oswald, the D for Douglas, the J for Jack and the W for Wolsey. Then, to top the whole thing off, I discovered that the father's given name was CARDINAL WOOLSEY COWAN, which accounts for the C.W! Now how's that for a name!

In my own family I've got George Washington Ryland and Francis Marion Ryland, and Lorenzo Dow Brower -- but you'd really have to stretch back in time to come up with Cardinal Woolsey for a first and middle name.

The cleverest group of names I can remember came from my college years. In 1954 there were three pledges to one of the fraternities on our college campus: The first fellow's name was Harry Schmoll. The second fellow was Glen Dill and the last was Mel Pic'l. Now all those names could be considered fairly ordinary but put those last names together and what do you have?

A Schmoll Dill Pic'l!


Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Even though I am not a bible scholar nor, for that matter, a bible reader, I still have a great fondness for some of the old bible stories I grew up with. And while I never was a church attender who believed that every word of the King James Bible translation was accurate or, for that matter inerrant, the fact is that I do like to believe in retelling the stories the way they were portrayed in that version.

Now two Friday nights ago, Jer and I were sitting in the Riverside Temple Beth El at the Shabbat service. We had gone specifically to see a female rabbi conduct the service. I, of course, haven’t seen many rabbis conduct services but since Jerry had, it was more his curiosity than mine that took us there. And we both agreed afterwards that she was certainly a good leader and teacher. So his curiosity was satisfied. However, mine was piqued.

First of all, to my surprise she actually gave her “sermon” based on a story in the Old Testament. Why this surprised me is that I had to learn early on in my introduction to Reform Judaism, which is what Jerry affiliates with, that at least in the temples he went to, Rabbinic sermons were never based on what I would consider “religious” teachings but instead most always were given in the manner of a book report, or a political commentary, or a non-religious ethical position. This, of course, was amazing to me because in my many years of church going, there was rarely a sermon in which the ending was other than an altar call to come to Jesus and be saved. (Now of course I didn’t expect that in a Jewish temple but I must admit I did expect a “religious” sermon.)

So Rabbi Singer did preach out of the bible. But what piqued my interest most was that in relating the story of Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, she called it the “Sea of Reeds.” I could hardly wait to get home and see what I could find on the internet about the Sea of Reeds.

Sure enough, on both Christian and Jewish websites, I found something akin to this:

The problem is that the biblical account never refers to the Red Sea by name. In fact, nowhere in the entire Old Testament Hebrew text is the body of water associated with the exodus ever called the "Red Sea." Instead in the Hebrew text the reference is to the yam suph. The word yam in Hebrew is the ordinary word for "sea," although in Hebrew it is used for any large body of water whether fresh or salt. The word suph is the word for "reeds" or "rushes," the word used in Ex. 2:3, 5 to describe where Moses' basket was placed in the Nile. So, the biblical reference throughout the Old Testament is to the "sea of reeds" (e.g., Num 14:25, Deut 1:40, Josh 4:23, Psa 106:7. etc.).

Now the simple fact is, we do not know exactly what body of water is referenced by yam suph in Scripture, which is the origin of much of the debate. The translation "Red Sea" is simply a traditional translation introduced into English by the King James Version through the second century BC Greek Septuagint and the later Latin Vulgate. It then became a traditional translation of the Hebrew terms. However, many modern translations either translate yam suph as "Sea of Reeds" or use the traditional translation and add a footnote for the Hebrew meaning.

And of course this understanding would give rise to questions about Moses crossing the Red Sea, where God parted the waters and allowed the Israelites to escape out of Egypt. Apparently it didn’t happen the way it is pictured, not only in my mind but in all the pictures I have ever seen illustrating this event.

When Jerry and I went to Israel and Egypt in 1980, we came home with a large silkscreen print done in a naïf style of this parting of the Red Sea. It hung on our den wall for over 17 years and was a great picture. The cute little Israelites were all nearing safety, and the artist showed the parting waves beginning to crash over all the little Egyptian horses and chariots and soldiers that were hard on the heels of Moses’ charges. When we sold our house prior to moving to Turkey and knowing that when we returned we would be downsizing, we donated much of our collected artwork to Temple Beth Israel in Pomona, which was the Temple Jerry belonged to. Moses and the Red Sea was one of those. We assume that picture is still hanging there, even though it tells the story wrongly. At least we gave it in good faith!

I suppose if a person lives long enough, there are lots of illusions you must give up. And this is one of them, although I am loathe to do so. The image of the Sea of Reeds just doesn’t do it for me! Sorry.

Aside from that, I must share with you the most amazing website, from whence the picture at the top of the blog came from. (Prior to using the picture, I tried to contact the holder of the copyright for permission to use it, but I had no response.)

I think you all will enjoy seeing this fellow’s work, just as I did. And I have to admit, that when it comes right down to it, his image of Moses crossing the Red Sea is now stuck in my mind too. And I think I just won’t worry about the Sea of Reeds.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009



….once something is put on the internet and it turns out to be incorrect, it is absolutely, positively impossible to ever get it corrected. Today I am going to try one more time to correct an honest error made by someone many years ago – and hope that anyone who wants to know about Thomas Loeni Bradley will find the truth here if they do a Google Search.

In 1932 a lady named Mrs. Minnie Alverson of Moberly, Missouri had in her possession a family record of the birth of the children of Leonard Keeling Bradley and his wife, Mary Boone Bradley. This lady said in a letter to researcher Bess Bradley that she believed this record was written on old sheepskin parchment and she believed it to be the original record. At this time Bess Bradley had a copy of this record and was trying to get Mrs. Alverson to send her a notarized copy of the information it contained. I have no idea whether this every happened. Nevertheless, Bess typed up the record and shown below is what it says:

Mary Boone was born March 7, 1766 and was married to Leonard Keeling Bradley on the 20th day of June 1785, by Eli Cleveland, Squire, at Boone’s Station about one o’clock in the afternoon.

Terry Bradley, first son of Leonard K. Bradley, and Mary Bradley was born April 16, Sunday night in the year of our Lord 1786.

Elizabeth Bradley was born about 10 o’clock Monday morning on the 22nd day of October, 1787 and departed this life April 27th 10 o’clock in the morning, 1819.

Elizabeth B. Moore was born the 10th of September, 1810.(*) Samuel Bradley was born January 30th in the year of our Lord 1790, Saturday morning.

Thomas Bradley was born October 1st in the year of our Lord, 1792, Monday morning
Keeling Bradley was born September 22nd in the year of our Lord, 1794. Monday, 12 o’clock.

Edward Bradley was born February 10th, in the year of our Lord, 1797, one o’clock afternoon of Friday.

Levi Day Bradley was born on January 28th, in the year of our Lord, 1799. Monday morning, about four o’clock.

Squire Boone Bradley, the seventh son and eighth child of Leonard K. Bradley and Mary Bradley was born on Thursday morning about daybreak, March 10th, 1801.

Milton Bradley, son of Leonard K. Bradley and Mary Bradley, was born on Monday, the 7th day of March, 1803. His mother being that day 37 years of age. The fiftieth year of age of L. K. Bradley, his father.

Newton Bradley, the tenth child and ninth son of Leonard K. Bradley and Mary Bradley, was born on Thursday night at 11 o’clock and thirty minutes afternoon, on 14th day February, 1805, and departed this life on the 12th day of March, 1805, about 10 o’clock in the morning.

Lura Bradley, the daughter of Leonard K. Bradley and Mary, his wife, was born on Tuesday, August the 26th, 1806, about 9 o’clock in the afternoon.

Calvin Bradley was born August 26th, 1811, at 11 o’clock in the night. He being the twelfth child of Leonard K. Bradley and Mary, his wife.

*This Elizabeth B. Moore is the child of Elizabeth Bradley who married William Moore. The baby lived to adulthood and married Mathew David Oliver.

Now because Leonard Keeling Bradley (LKB) fought in the Revolutionary War, there is a nice fat pension file for him at the National Archives. Included in this pension file is a handwritten letter to the Commissioner of Pensions dated 24 March, 1844, signed by his living heirs. Those signing were Milton Bradley, Calvin Bradley, Loura (x) Dry, Terry Bradley, Samuel Bradley, Thomas Bradley, Levi D. Bradley and Squire B. Bradley.

At some subsequent time, the Bureau of Pensions filled out a form for someone asking for a statement of the military history of Leonard Bradley. A copy of this form was put in the pension file. The person filling out the form gathered information from two sources. The top of the form contains information from LKB’s military pension records, and at the bottom under “Remarks,” he or she copied the names of the heirs listed on the bottom of that handwritten letter sent to the Commissioner of Pensions. I am sure this was an honest effort to provide information for the inquirer, but a mistake was made in the names and that mistake has taken on a life of its own. Take a peek.

Now the names of Milton, Calvin, Terry, Samuel, Thomas are correct…..but right there is where the confusion is. If you look at the original handwritten note by the heirs, you will see that Levi D. Bradley didn’t have very good handwriting. However, the person copying these names did not put a comma after Thomas’ name, and furthermore translated Levi D. as Loeni O. This person wasn’t sure he got it right, indicated by the question mark he put after the O. So for all the world it looks like Thomas is really named Thomas Loeni O. He isn’t. He never was.

But all these years, anyone requesting a copy of LKB’s pension papers will get one showing Thomas as “Thomas Loeni” Bradley. (And of course on this form poor old Levi D. didn’t even show up.)

Since Thomas Bradley is my great-great-grandfather, I have accumulated a whole bunch of material on him, both primary and secondary source information, and NONE ever show him with a middle name. That name “Loeni” was nothing more than a guess made by a government employee of what the name below Thomas was, and although that person carefully put commas between the other children’s names he or she failed to do so between Thomas and Levi D., consigning forever the middle name of Loeni to Thomas.

There is no way to undue such a mistake in the pension records, and I am sure if one were to do a google search on the name “Thomas Loeni Bradley” it would be clearly obvious that as I stated before, it has taken on a life of its own.

I am hopeful that by putting this in my blog, at least those who are diligent researchers will find this information and delete the “Loeni” after Thomas and restore poor Levi D.s name to him.

Incidentally, Leonard Keeling Bradley’s wife, Mary “Polly” Day Boone, was a daughter of Samuel Boone (Daniel’s older brother) and his wife Sarah Day Boone. Sarah’s father was Levi Day.

Monday, April 20, 2009


There's not much that makes me smile more than a darling dog like this Wheaten Terrier that belongs to my daughter. She's Peanut, now eight months old.

This is Peanut's companion, a long-haired shepherd named Oso, Spanish for "Bear." Whenever I house sit for Kerry and her family, the care and feeding of these two dogs are part of my routine. It is not always easy, but it is always fun. Oso is the one who wanted to sleep on the couch with me the first time I house-sat after he arrived at the Katz household. I contemplated turning in my house-sitting badge after that episode, but reconsidered after he had made a few months of progress with a trainer. He is still far from being a well-trained dog, but his personality simply overrides his manners.

This is half of the cat population at Kerry's house. On the left is a huge Maine coon cat named Moses. On his right is Smokey. The two who are missing are Cessna and Rusty. They don't like cameras.

I just spent three aggravating days with a downed computer internet connection. In trying to see if the techs had fixed it, I told them I would believe it was finished when I could do my blog. This was the happiest blog I could think of. So yes, it apparently is fixed and I am truly happy again.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


It is turning hot here in Southern California, and summer heat makes me think of just how wonderful Lebanese Potato Salad is. I'll share it with you because it is very easy to make

8 med. red potatoes
½ cup snipped parsley
3 green onions, finely chopped
¼ c olive oil
¼ c lemon juice
dash garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste

Cut potatoes into large chunks and boil until done but still slightly firm. Peel and cut into ½” cubes.

In a bowl, combine all ingredients except potato; mix well. Add potatoes, tossing to coat. Cover and chill several hours or overnight. Can also be served at room temperature. Makes 6-8 servings.

Friday, April 17, 2009


It is amazing in an old brain how many memories can be dug up when you look at something as insignificant as a “ticket.”

When you see the words “Pepperdine College,” the first thing you have to do it to wipe out of your mind what Pepperdine University in Malibu is today and then listen when I tell you that the Pepperdine I went to was at 79th and Vermont in Los Angeles. It was a tiny private Christian college, founded by George Pepperdine who was still living when I attended this college, and most of the kids who went there were active in the Church of Christ denomination. There were 900 students.

Presented and promoted entirely by students, Varsity Varieties had been developed a few years earlier in an effort to combine all the charity collections into one annual event. Money raised went to five charities – American Heart Association, Community Chest, Red Cross, Save-the-Children Foundation and World Student Service Fund. The ticket, which you will notice costs $1.00, is how the money to be donated was raised. Imagine!

What kind of memory does this ticket bring back to me? I was on the PR committee and I arranged for a former boyfriend who worked for a print shop to print the tickets as a donation to the college. I had jilted him within two months of starting college in September of 1953, and I don’t know how I had the chutzpah to go back to him and ask for this favor. I did, because I knew how good he was in what became his profession, and I wanted my job on the committee to be perfect. It was.

The picture below shows the committee. The director, Dick Shoulders, was a bit older than the rest of us, because he had started college after serving in WWII. In this picture, I am the one he is consulting with. What memory does this picture bring back to me? Under the caption it states “All photos by Lawrence Schiller.” It was obvious even at that early date that Larry Schiller was going to be famous. His work was already professional then and he was only a freshman in college. If you run a Google/Images search on him you will see that he took photos of Marilyn Monroe that have become icons. His work appeared on the cover of Life Magazine. He has co-authored books with famous writers, as well as written books himself. Oh, he has done so much more. But back then, he and I were kind of “buddies” in the journalism classes we took together. I’ve always felt kind of proprietary about Larry, because “I knew him when.”

The last picture is of my active part in the production. In addition to working on PR and then working backstage during the production itself, I sang in a trio with two of my good friends. The girl on the right was Cathy Ottun. She had a marvelous voice, a real stage presence and was really funny to boot! On the left is Gloria Houston, who was a very talented musician, and she arranged all our songs. She worked out the most amazing arrangements, all because she knew what she was doing, rather than just letting the three of us “harmonize.” And I am in the middle. I had no real talent other than having a good ear for pitch and a good ability to blend well in a group. For Varsity Varieties of 1955, we had three songs: “Hoop Dee Doo,” “Dream,” and “You Call Everybody Darlin’.” What does this picture remind me of? More than anything else, it reminds me that this was a very special year, and I had some very special friends.

And these are very special memories!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I thought that pecans only grew in the south. Right there that shows you how much I know about pecans and how much I know about the south. I guess it could be called "the Pecan Pie Syndrome." Pecan pie is southern, therefore pecans are southern. That, and when I visited a distant relative in Opelousas, Louisiana, she set out bowls of "parched pecans" for us. Ergo, pecans and southerns are inextricably linked in my mind.

So it was with real surprise this last fall I read in the newspaper that down on the north side of the Santa Ana River bed in the area just west of Rubidoux there is a pecan grove, and the annual Pecan Festival and picking was going to be held on the upcoming Saturday. The article said to participate, bring your own bags and $3 per person. That entitled you to as many pecans as you wanted AND a day of fun with displays of all types, as well as some horse-drawn wagon rides, dancing exhibitions and food, food, food.

I suggested to daughter Kerry that she and Brian might want to bring the little girls out for the day. She did, and all of us were amazed at how much fun $3 each bought! This annual event is put on by the Riverside Parks and Recreation Department. The only other event we had gone to sponsored by this group was a night walk to see bats and owls along the river. For our money, it was a total bust. One of the problems with old people (us) is that we don't have much of a tolerance for noisy, obnoxious and pushy little children, and that is exactly what the night walk turned out to be. First, there was a PowerPoint presentation on bats in a small conference room, and the children were so noisy we couldn't hear a thing that was said. Once we started on our walk (which was led by a substitute leader because the regular leader was ill), the noise made by these unsupervised kids (while their parents proudly beamed at their little brats) insured that no bat and no owl would come anywhere near our walk area. And since there were no fowl, the leader talked about constellations in the sky, of all things. From that one experience we were rather leery of what we would face at the Pecan Picking.

We were very pleasantly surprised. As daughter Kerry said afterward, "There is nothing in the whole of Los Angeles that for $3.00 can be as much fun as we've had today." One of the ladies there gave us instructions of what kinds of shells to pick out, how to dry them, and how to roast them. A lady who runs a Possum Rescue facility had some darling little guys to show us. There were llamas contentedly chewing, chewing, chewing while we all snapped photos. There were baby goats, bird exhibits, a wonderful group of terrariums on display loaded with all kinds of little critters, and then, of course, the chili dogs and cokes.

After we had our fill of the exhibits, we headed out to the grove to find our pecans. Jerry and I, being old with fairly creaky joints, opted to merely find pecans and point them out to our little Olivia and Justine. At first we were concentrating on the areas fairly close to the exhibits, but finally a lady told us that if we went "over there," pointing to a distant outcropping of trees about half a city block from us, that we would find more pecans than we could ever use. We headed out. And she was right. There were far more than we needed.

The little girls had lots of fun, but what surprised me is how intensely their parents hunted for those pecans too. I took pictures of the little girls, but only the one above, of Brian and Kerry, really made me laugh. It is obvious that they were enjoying themselves immensely.

I am sorry to report that they had little success in drying their pecans. It may have been that the climate in LA - the air much more moist than in Riverside - just wasn't dry enough to suit the pecans. Or it may be that the family were not as dilligent as they could have been in processing the operation. However, I suspect that the adults will not want to go to the Pecan Festival next year, since now they know it is a lot easier to buy a bag of pecans from the grocery store than to harvest and process them. So I'll have to keep my eye open for something coming up that will catch their fancy and still give them $3.00 worth of fun!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


It is interesting what can fall into the “art” category. Now to be perfectly clear, I am definitely not the one who should be defining what is and what isn’t art. What I know about art can be contained in something as small as a thimble. I definitely am artistically challenged.

However, even when I don’t understand what I’m looking at it, I am always in awe of the gift of conceptualizing that the artist has – how on earth the artistic mind can come up with such a work. I am definitely an appreciator, and I think the artist needs us too.

So having staked out my position, I’d like you to take a look at a bit of art from the Bay area. The images above are actually seat cushions from old chairs, each with an image of a posterior imprinted on them. And how did they get there? The artist, Beth Grossman, had the owner of each posterior bend over and hold a clear Plexiglass sheet tightly against his or her rear end to create the image of being seated. Then the artist photographed the posteriors, transferred those images to fabric and finally upholstered the chair seats with that fabric. There are ten seats.

And who belongs to those rear ends? None other than the men and woman who hold Seats of Power in the bay area town of Brisbane, California – the Mayor, the Chief of Police, the City Council members, the Fire Chief, and others.

The artist, Beth Grossman, said she created these seats in the hope of humanizing city officials and encouraging public involvement in city affairs. The seats are hung on the wall in the City Hall Conference Room; at least for now the showing is open to the public.

According to the article I read in the Los Angeles Times, the jokes and smart remarks are flying, and everyone is laughing. “You have to start at the bottom and work your way up.” “He’s trying not to be cheeky.” “Should we change the city name from Brisbane to Brisbun?” And from the Mayor, “I appreciate the exposure. I had thought about what my legacy would be, but I had never thought it would be my butt.”

I really enjoyed reading about this artistic venture in the Bay area. If I lived up there I’d go take a quick peek at it. I can’t say if this is good art or bad art; but for me it is very interesting art. A couple of years ago I went to an art exhibit in Santa Monica where the artists used books or strings to create their pieces. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t imagine how it was that an artist thought to do what they did with that material. I didn’t understand it at all. However, I have never stopped thinking about it, and have had some interesting talks in the intervening months about it with the people I went with. So I suppose if a piece of art causes that, then it has taken on a life of its own and is no longer just a flat, static object. I suspect artist Grossman’s work is like that too, and those city officials who made it all possible can be assured of leaving their mark on the city for a good long while.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Our time in Turkey, while it was probably the best time in our lives, was also one of the most confusing. We, of course, mostly were the cause of the confusion because we were the guests and we couldn't speak the language. When we did meet up with a Turkish person who seemed to understand English, more often than not we made an assumption that we were understood, when in fact, the person we were talking too probably was too embarrassed to say they really didn't understand us at all.

When we arrived, we had the task of furnishing our flat, right down to the washcloths and bedclothes. One day in my hunt for something to dress up the living room a bit, I found a 12” high clear glass oval-shaped vase that I figured would look nice with a dried-flower arrangement it in. Near Jerry's office there was a small shop with home decorations in it, including such flower arrangments. When I took my vase to them, I asked if they could make an arrangement for it. The clerk I spoke to answered me in English and I told her what colors I would like to use. She said she could do it and I could pick it up in a week. One week later I was told it would take an additional week.

On that day, I asked Ahmet Bey, our driver, if he could pick up the arrangment for me, as I had to go over into the old part of Istanbul to a luncheon for new American arrivals in the city. He said he could do that, and later that day when he brought my husband home from work, he handed me the vase and arrangement. I waited until he left before I burst into laughter. Almost the entire arrangement was inside the vase. A few long dried leaves and stems peeked over the top, but for all intents and purposes it could almost have been a terrarium. I had been sure that since both the woman in the shop and I spoke English we understood each other, but obviously we didn’t. I saw no other "terrarium" type arrangements in her shop, so I'm inclined to believe that this is what she thought I wanted. Throughout the 22 months we were in Turkey, I kept it on display just as it came to me. It was a perfect example of how difficult not speaking the native's language can be.

In getting our house furnished we kept running into very difficult problems. As an example, with our bedspread came two 57cm square pillow cases. I hunted in every shop in town to find 57 cm pillows to go inside them, but to no avail. At the time, there just weren't pre-made, pre-sized pillows. So when it was time to have living room curtains made a man who owned a curtain shop arrived to take measurements so his wife could make them. The fellow and I spoke in English. I showed him my empty pillow cases and asked if his wife could make pillows for them. He said she could. I thought we understood each other. When the curtains were delivered, I got two more pillow cases, this time out of the same material as the drapes. So then I had to find four pillows. I never did find a Turkish pillow. I brought some back with me on the plane after a trip to England for our cousin's son's Bar Mitzvah.

One time we had a screen door put on the back balcony of our 6th floor flat. When the workmen finished it, the handle of the balcony door projected so far out that when you closed that door, it pushed the screen door open. That made the screen door flap and rattle whenever the wind blew (which at 6 stories high a block off the Marmara Sea is all the time.) We had a new water faucet put in the kitchen; the only problem is that the plumber crossed the pipes so that the hot water came out of the cold-water side. Considering it took us over two months to even find a plumber, we decided not to try to have it corrected. We just adapted. We had a new ball put in the toilet tank and then had to have a new tank cover made in order for the new "guts" to stop the water from running.

Another day we went out with Ahmet on errands and finally, after almost a year of looking, I found a plastic squeeze-bottle which I intended to fill with liquid soap and use when I had just a few dishes to wash. We found it in a shop about as far away from where we live as could be possible and still be in Istanbul. After getting home I filled it, only to find that it was not sealed properly on the bottom and leaked like a sieve.

Lest you think we were complaining, we were not. Well, sometimes we grumbled a bit, but if everything had worked just as efficiently as it does in the United States, we would not have had anywhere near so much fun! We laughed all the time, sometimes at Turkish ways, sometimes at circumstances but mostly at ourselves! Here, almost 18 years after being in Turkey, we still remember with fondness and glee our time there.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


My earliest recollections of Long Beach, where I was born, really start about the time I turned four or thereabouts. We were living downstairs in an apartment building in the 1800 block on Henderson Avenue, on the west side of town. We were right next to a large vacant lot. My earliest play times were in that vacant lot, which provided great opportunities for exploration and invention. I had my introduction to sour grass, dirt clods, licorice weeds, foxtails and burrs, along with lizards and salamanders, butterflies and earthworms. My sister and I made our own fun. There were no TVs, electronic games or computers to entertain us.

A favorite pastime was grabbing slivers of ice off the back of the ice truck when the iceman came around the neighborhood delivering ice. We didn’t have electric refrigerators then, just ice-boxes, into which blocks of ice were placed to provide refrigeration. When the iceman stopped his truck in front of our apartment, all of us kids would run towards the back of the truck. He would jump up into the back of it and then we’d watch him use a sharp pick to break a big block of ice into a smaller size. He would then grab it with a huge set of tongs and sling it over his shoulder, letting it come to rest on a rubber pad hanging over his shoulder and back that he wore to keep the ice from getting his clothes wet. As soon as he headed out for someone’s icebox we all would run up close to the truck and scoop up the ice chips as far as we could reach. Usually I was the smallest kid and someone would have to give me a boost so I could get a leftover piece of ice, and then we’d run out of sight, so as not to be caught with our contraband delight. We all felt we were getting something really wonderful – a simple sliver of ice.

The Good Humor man often came down our street in the summertime, with the tune “Mary Had A Little Lamb” playing loudly over a loudspeaker. Hearing that tune was our signal to hit our folks up for money. In those days a Good Humor Bar cost a dime. If our parents had the money, we would buy a delicious ice cream bar. We could get it with a plain chocolate coating or chocolate with nuts. Certain of the wooden stick handles had writing on the part buried deep inside the ice cream bar. If we found that writing on our stick, it was good for a free ice cream bar the next time the Good Humor man came around.

In September of 1940 I started kindergarten at Lafayette Elementary School and fell in love for the first time. A darling little boy in my class named Bobby Fletcher set my tiny heart all aflutter. Each day at rest time our class members would each roll out a little floor mat. Our teacher would put a record on the old wind-up Victrola and we would rest on the mats while we listened to a recording of “Le Cygne” – “The Swan.” To this day I connect Bobby Fletcher’s name with that tune. The two are inseparable in my memory. Athough I did not continue long at Lafayette Elementary School (my family made a short three-month move to Whitter when I was in first grade and upon our return, relocated to a different part of town) I did spend almost my entire school life in the Long Beach system. I ended up graduating with Bobby Fletcher, who was president of our Senior Class at Long Beach Poly. I never asked him if he remembered me. That love affair was surely just my own, not his.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


This is a picture of Miss Maud McConnell and her sister Lillie’s children posing on donkeys. The oldest, Hazel, is in the middle, and her brothers Floyd and John are on either side of her. It is true, the boy in front looks like a girl, but in those days boys stayed in dresses until they were out of diapers. I’ll make an educated guess that this photo is dated about 1894. Every photo tells a story. Today I’m going to tell you about this one.

Maud always went by her middle name. According to her family bible, she didn’t like her first name, Susan! Her parents, John B. McConnell and Frances Narcissa Wright McConnell, lived in Barren County, Kentucky and eight of their nine children were born there. The last child, Harrie Uberto was born in Texas. As often happened in those days, only three of their children survived to adulthood, Lillie, Maud and Harrie Uberto. About 1880, the McConnell family moved from Kentucky to Kossee, Texas, where they bought some farmland. Lillie shortly met and married a railroad engineer, Benjamin Franklin McCammon, and the McCammons moved to Colorado City, (now west Colorado Springs) where he worked for the Midland Railroad.

In 1893, Ben was killed in a railroad crash, leaving Lillie with the three little kids. Lillie’s parents, her 17 year old sister Maud and little brother “Bert” came up from Texas to help her out. Maud chose to stay in Colorado to help her sister with the children. Her folks and Bert went back home.

Maud lived with Lillie and the kids until the little ones were in school. At that point, Maud, now 20, went to work at a bookstore in old Colorado City. In those days, almost every Sunday there was a band concert at the local parks. It was a social event, and once the concert ended the band members mingled with the audience.

It was at one of these band concerts at Stratton Park in Colorado Springs that Maud McConnell met a cornet player by the name of Scott Dobbins, who in the summers played in the Midland Railroad Band. During the rest of the year, he lived on the Dobbins ranch in Las Animas, Colorado and played in the Las Animas band. Maud herself was an accomplished pianist and apparently she and Scott discovered they made sweet music together. On December 28, 1898, Maud and Scott married in Colorado Springs at the home of her sister. Maud and Scott then moved to the ranch. In 1904 she and Scott had their first child, a daughter Dorothy, and in 1908 they added Scott Jr. to their family. Shortly before Scott’s birth, they sold the ranch and moved into town.

For those of you who know our family, you will know that my father was Scott Jr. When he was in his mid 20s my dad came to California, partly to do some investigation for a Colorado mining group but mostly to stay in touch with my mother, who had come west with her family from Colorado Springs a few months earlier than Scott did. They married in October of 1932.

A few years before he died Dad and I were talking about what life was like in Las Animas. He said that his folks always had a piano in their house, and during the freezing winters all the neighbors would bring their musical instruments to the Dobbins house and spend the afternoon making music for their own enjoyment, my grandma Maud on the piano and grandpa Scott on the cornet. A neighbor taught my dad to play the banjo, and other neighbors and relatives filled in with guitars, trombones, and clarinets. Those who didn’t play an instrument became the “choir.”

I was born in California in 1935. Grandma Maud began making yearly trips to visit our family. Because I was so young when she came, I really didn’t know who she was and I referred to her as “that lady.” Eventually “Lady” became my name for this grandma. Unfortunately she died in 1940, and I don’t have any real recollection of her. But I do have this picture of me, my mom and Lady taken in 1938, and when I think of her, it is this picture that always comes to mind.

For those of you who are my Dobbins cousins, my grandma Maud is also your grandma. To our children, she is their great-grandma, and to our grandchildren she is their great-great grandma. So when your grandkids hit fourth grade and are required to produce a genealogy of their family, you can at least show them this picture, tell them this story and then, if I am still living, I can fill you in on all the rest. This is, of course, the whole purpose of genealogy – passing the family history on down through the generations.

Friday, April 10, 2009


A recent newspaper had an article in it entitled, "Women Enjoy Jokes More Than Men." Right off the bat the headline was a little confusing because did they mean "....More than Men Do" or did they mean women didn't like men as much as they like jokes. (I've known women in both camps.)

Anyway, having written more than a few headlines in my day, I know it isn't always possible to get real accurate with the space one is given.

But that really isn't the point. This article said that a study led researchers to conclude that women are a bit more analytical than men are when it comes to digesting a joke. They kind of hold a response back until they "process" or analyze whether or not they think it is funny, and when they finally decide it is funny, their response is greater than that of men, who simply assume it is going to be funny in the first place.

The article went on and on, talking about "executive" functions of the brain (the article didn't explain that). It also said the test was conducted by showing 70 black and white cartoons to 10 women and 10 men, all of whom had MRI's of the brain being taken as they were looking at these cartoons.

When I read this my first thought was that if I had to look at 70 cartoons in a row, my MRI would be as flat as an EKG on a dead person! I do not normally look at cartoons and I never read the Comics section of the newspaper. However, on occasion I will see a single cartoon that I can laugh at. I do wonder how the MRI would show my boredom. But I digress.

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Seems to me they could be spending their money a little more wisely. Those are my tax dollars being played with. Who cares if I laugh at a joke more heartily than Jerry laughs at it? I laugh at jokes more easily if there is someone else with me laughing at it too, or I laugh a little harder if it is really funny and I've just had a glass of wine. The National Institute of Health is lucky that I wasn't one of the 10 women participants; I probably would have skewed their findings all to pieces.

Nevertheless I enjoyed reading the article that morning because I laughed at how silly it all was!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Some days there is not a whole lot running through my mind when I sit down to do my blog. That is what’s happening today, so I’ll make a few observations about this and that, past and present, then and now.


I actually felt sorry for former Prez Bush this morning. NBC ran a short story showing President Obama talking to the Iraqi powers that be. He was being his charming and disarming self and looking very conciliatory and Presidential. The film clip quickly changed to show the puzzled look on Prez Bush’s face as the infamous Iraqi shoe came at him from out of nowhere – and I actually had a twinge of compassion for poor Bush. However, after the last eight years, a twinge is about as much as I could work up.


My daughter invited me to, and paid for, a one-afternoon beading class this past week. As I have stated elsewhere, I am not an artist but am a passable craftsperson, so I figured if I could do counted cross-stitch at 28 stitches to the inch (well, not anymore, but I used to be able to see that well!) then I probably could do some beading. I have a couple of bead bracelets that I like a lot, so I figured why not? The class was held at the home of a mother of one of my daughter’s co-workers. When I walked in with my daughter and was introduced to the mother, I should have known right off that this was not the place I should be. The mother was not much older than my oldest granddaughter. I could see that at least socially, I was going to be way out of my element. Then the beads were passed out for a ring we were going to make – and what I saw was a collection of beads the size of poppy seeds, the kind of poppy seeds that are on top of rolls. The long beading needle was half the diameter of a straight pin. I won’t even tell you what the holes in the beads looked like, because I couldn’t see them. I won’t go into detail, but I will tell you that the big light/magnifying glass the instructor hauled out of her car and set in front of me didn’t much help. I chased poppy seeds around on the felt laid in front of me to keep the beads from rolling everywhere, hoping the needle would find an available hole. I was a total failure. But all was not lost. My sweet daughter Erin came to see me on Sunday morning and made the ring for me. It does not look like poppy seeds on my finger, but I swear that is what I was handed in the beginning.


I’m going to buy a book online. This made me think that maybe some of you don’t know about It is a great place to buy books. The company acts like a brokerage for all the used bookstores around. There is a search engine that will find all the sources of the book you are looking for and will give detailed information on the condition of the book and the location of the seller. I have asked it to show me the vendors by cost – that is, the vendors who list their book with the cheapest prices will appear at the top of the list. The order is placed with Abebooks but shipped from the vendor. I’ve ordered a number of books from this place, ranging from old out of print books to some that were brand new and were from overstock. I’ve had no disappointments in the books or the service. The book I am after now has just come into the local Borders near us, but I can buy a new copy for about $15 less (which includes the shipping cost) that Borders sells it for. Anyway, it’s a really good place to know about.


Finally, a story on myself that is very embarrassing, although it was just one of those things that was true but sounded awful. Many years ago I was working for The Salvation Army in Ontario as a social worker. My office was a tiny hole in the wall, big enough for a desk and chair, and two more chairs for clients. The only light in it was a small ceiling fixture with a 60 watt bulb in it, which was turned on and off by a cord that hung down into the center of the room. There was a tiny window that looked out on the railroad tracks. This Salvation Army really worked hard to serve the people who lived in the less desirable part of town.

We didn’t have frills, and donors’ money was carefully spent. It was a Friday afternoon and the line of clients seemed to be endless. I was working hard to get them all seen before closing time and I really hadn’t paid much attention to the passing time. Finally I reached the end of the line and as I escorted the last person into my office, I realized how late in the afternoon it was and I figured I’d better turn the light on in my office. As I reached up to pull the light cord, I remarked “Gosh, it got dark in here all of a sudden.” The client was a large black man.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


In the business section of our local newspaper yesterday, I read this most interesting and confusing opening paragraph:

“Figuratively speaking 40 is the percentage of people who were less likely to develop memory loss if they participated in social activities and read magazines during middle age than those who did not, according to a study to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in Seattle.”

Now between you and me, that is just about the most convoluted sentence I’ve ever read and I had to scratch my head several times while trying to figure out what it meant. Regardless of whether the neurologists devised it or the newspaper writers did, whoever did isn’t firing on all neurons, I thought.

To understand it, I finally reconfigured the sentence to read: People who participated in social activities and read magazines during middle age were 40% less likely to develop memory loss than those who did not participate in such activities. Ahh! Now I understand.

I tracked the whole story down on the Internet, and there I found a PR release that had been prepared and issued by a publicist. And while I’m sure she was just reporting from the facts she had been given, the study itself gave me a good laugh.

“The study involved 197 people between the ages of 70 and 89 with mild cognitive impairment, or diagnosed memory loss, and 1,124 people that age with no memory problems. Both groups answered questions about their daily activities within the past year and in middle age, when they were between 50 to 65 years old.”

What struck me about this is that if the data included answers to past events given by people who already had diagnosed memory loss, how in heck can you believe the answer that they gave were even anywhere close to reality!

“Furthermore, the study found that during later years, reading books, playing games, participating in computer activities and doing craft activities such as pottery or quilting led to a 30 to 50 percent decrease in the risk of developing memory loss compared to people who did not do those activities.”

Now I could be wrong, but it seems to me that craft activities “such as pottery or quilting” is hardly stimulating to the mind. I have sat for hours doing counted cross-stitch at 28 crosses to the inch and find it to be enjoyable but certainly not stimulating to the mind. Mind-numbing is a more accurate description. How cross-stitching could help me to not develop memory loss is a really odd thing to consider.

The article also said that “people who watched television for less than seven hours a day in later years were 50 percent less likely to develop memory loss than people who watched for more than seven hours a day.” I also am of the opinion that it is not so many the hours of TV but the type of program watched that would make a difference. In my humble opinion, five hours of soaps is more likely to skew the results than 8 hours of PBS, the History Channel, BookTV or some other such educational TV.

Finally, the article arrived at the coup d’grace:

“This study is exciting because it demonstrates that aging does not need to be a passive process. By simply engaging in cognitive exercise, you can protect against future memory loss,” said study author Yonas Geda, MD, MSc, a neuropsychiatrist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology."

I don’t understand this conclusion. Aging itself happens, whether we are active or passive. I can be as active mentally as the next guy but I don’t think in the long run that is going to make much of a difference on what I can remember of the past.

For myself, I think I have two things going in my favor: first, I have always kept pen in hand and written down bits of my life, and I’ve always kept scrapbooks of photographs that document things important to me. The fact that I have them and constantly refer to them for one reason or the other (either in doing genealogy or correcting my kids’ perceptions of what happened when they were young) keeps them in front of me and makes it less likely that I will forget. And secondly, I think I have awfully good genes to draw from, from both my mom and my dad. Mom was still writing poetry with her Chaparral poetry group when she died at 71 and dad still had all his marbles when he died at 93 (although sometimes they rolled around a bit!)

I can’t help but think those two things in my life will be a whole lot more meaningful indicators if I’m in the 40% who are less likely to develop memory loss than how many hours I watched TV or read magazines.

The publicist put at the end of her article a final statement by Dr. Geda, the neuropsychiatrist, “Of course, the challenge with this type of research is that we are relying on past memories of the participants, therefore, we need to confirm these findings with additional research.” Seems to me that relying on past memories of people with memory loss is a very misleading research tool. But good luck anyway to the fine group of doctors. I just hope the financial support for this study didn’t come from one of those pork-barrel perks that are funded with our tax dollars.

Monday, April 6, 2009


If there was one constant in my life other than my parents, of course, it was Girl Scout Troop 28 of Long Beach, California. It began under the leadership of Frances Allen in 1945 and she guided us into adulthood. When we left high school and headed for college or work, we were loathe to give up our friendship, so Mrs. Allen was always there to organize another "reunion" and to see that photos were taken of us.

The photo above is not one that she took, nor did she have knowledge that we were going to have it taken. I do believe that she would have told us that we really should find another background or another "set" to show off our scout activities. This pix was taken the year we were in 9th grade; most of us had not started dating yet, we didn't know a whole lot about the sex thing yet, and it never, ever, occurred to us that this was not actually an appropriate place for us to appear.

Mrs. Allen was far and away the best scout leader that ever lived! All we had to say was "can we...." and she was ready to take us. She had a big old car (I can't even begin to figure out what kind of car it was, but it was a 4 door sedan, old and roomy) and however many of us wanted to go, she picked us up at our house and dropped us back off when the event was over. It was not unusual for 7 or 8 of us, besides her, to be in the car. When a really important occasion arose, she could usually draft one of the other parents - often my father - to help ferry the girls around. But usually it was just us and Mrs. Allen. She was divorced and a housewife, so she was free to take us wherever we chose.

On the particular occasion that this photo was taken, the 5 of us had decided to go to Knotts Berry farm for an outing. Mrs. Allen parked the car, told us what time to be back, and turned us loose. For those of you who are younger and have been to Knotts Berry Farm, you will probably not know that once it was not an entertainment park. There were no rides, no rollercoasters, no parachutes, nothing like it is today. It was set up like an old western town. There was a bench with some replicas of cowboys sitting at either end and you could have your picture taken sitting next to them. For the men, there was a bench with beautiful can-can girls (statues, of course) sitting on it. There was a jail where, when you brought a visiting relative to the Farm, one of the family would stand with the relative at the front of the jail, looking in at a jailkeeper statue, and another of the family would sneak behind the jail and feed information about your relative to a man with a microphone. He would call your relative by name and talk about what he might have done to get himself put in Jail. Of course your relative was shocked to find a statue talking to him. It got awfully funny sometimes, but this was about as big an event as you could have in that park then. Except for the staged shootouts, which were always a hoot.

There were lots of little trinket shops, little museum displays of western memorabilia, and an old church house and an old school house to look at. And I think there was a little train we could ride on. We never tired of going out to Knotts Berry Farm. There was no Disneyland, no theme parks, no "Orange County" as we know it now -- mostly just farm and dairies out in the boonies. Going to Knotts Berry Farm was a real treat.

One thing in the photo is of note: look how we dressed for going out to this farm! If we went to a camp or the beach, we wore appropriate casual clothing. But for anything else, we dressed in our school clothes. We were always "presentable." We never even thought of wearing Levis or cutoffs or shorts; dresses, or skirts and blouses were the acceptable dress.

We were pretty young and innocent at that time, and when we saw this setting where a picture would accommodate all of us, we thought it would be a great idea to have a picture taken. Dorothy, the scout leader's daughter, and I are upstairs. Kay is leaning out the window, and Barbara is welcoming Carol at the door. It never occurred to us that this house represented a bordello. Maybe an inn or a hotel, but certainly nothing more than that. I'm not sure we even knew about such things as a bordello then. We picked up the developed photos an hour later and couldn't wait to show them to Mrs. Allen.

To this day I can remember her reaction when we met at the car to go home. I don't think she had it in her system to faint, but she took such a sharp intake of breath when she saw the photo that we thought she was going to. It was then that we all learned what a bordello was. I will have to say with all honesty that it was Mrs. Allen herself who provided the sex education that we got, since most of our parents were too embarrassed to say anything and the schools hadn't yet begun incorporating it into their health or science classes. I am sure that this was not the only time we embarrassed Mrs. Allen, but she always was upfront about telling us what we needed to know when we asked, and this was one of those times. I think she might have phoned our mothers after we got home and explained that we had the photo taken without her knowledge. The reason I think this is that based on Mrs. Allen's reaction, I wasn't going to tell my mother about the picture. But after I got home that day, she said, "Say, I'd like to see that picture that you girls had taken today. " How else would she have known?

I treasure this picture. It is now 60 years old. Kay died of breast cancer and Barbara of a stroke. The other three of us stay in touch, see each other occasionally, and share our old photo when we get together. We were lucky to have had Mrs. Allen in our lives and lucky to have had each other. And I consider myself lucky to have such a wonderful token of my growing up... Bobby and friends in the Bordello!

Sunday, April 5, 2009


I was researching a tiny genealogical item that needed clarification: the statement “In her childhood Mama had seen the chemical match introduced.” I was curious as to just when the match as we knew it was developed, making sure that it had actually happened in the time that the writer of the manuscript thought it did. The answer was Yes, she was correct.

But in doing this research I came across one of the hazards of the early chemical match development. It was a medical condition called “Phossy Jaw.” Here is what I learned about it.

In the 19th century, workers using white phosphorus in the manufacture of matches suffered a condition known as phossy jaw - one of the most frightful occupational diseases known. It began with tooth ache and painful swelling of the gums and jaw. Abscesses formed, accompanied by a fetid discharge which made its victims almost unendurable. The victims' jawbones would literally rot and glow greenish-white in the dark. The only treatment was for the jawbone to be removed surgically, an agonizing and disfiguring operation. White phosphorus was eventually outlawed in matches, being replaced by red phosphorus which is harmless.

Those most quickly affected were the workers who dipped the sticks into the phosphorus paste. Direct contact with the phosphorus paste may have contributed but the dipping rooms of these factories often were poorly ventilated and filled with dense vapor. But the workers, often children, who dried the matches, ejected them from the drying racks and those who packed the finished product eventually also developed the disease. The condition might develop slowly over years but in its final phase would run a course of 6-18 months and end with general debility, then "inflammation of the brain", convulsions and hemorrhage from the lungs.

The saddest part of the whole story is that it all need not have happened! It was long known that the other form of phosphorus, red phosphorus, worked just as well in matches as white phosphorus. However, plentiful cheap labor, the absence of industrial health regulations and a profit-seeking mentality did not encourage the manufacturers to change to red phosphorus. The same problem existed in many other countries including the USA. It took compulsion by laws brought in around 1912 in all affected countries that eliminated the problem in one stroke.

A picture widespread on the internet shows a man, probably a worker, whose jaw had been removed, leaving him disfigured.

I had never heard of “phossy jaw” before, and since it really had nothing to do with the old family member I was researching I didn’t think about it again.

Yesterday I was talking by phone to my cousins and as usual we were commiserating about the variety of problems that can rain down on us as we age. One of the problems she talked about was osteoporosis. She then mentioned that a friend of hers, now 74, has developed this latter condition but was being treated for it with one of the pills that are often advertised on TV. In a phone call that morning to my cousin, her friend said she’s had recent strange development and didn’t know what to make of it. She said her mouth was full of what seemed to be abscesses but one in particular was way in the back near the gumline where her jaw is. She wondered if it had anything to do with the medicine she had been taking. She told her doctor about hit and he advised her to see a dentist. While she was talking about this, my cousin went online to look up the osteoporosis medicine websites and she was horrified at what she found, straight from the website:

Jaw avascular bone necrosis associated with long-term use of biphosphonates

Bisphosphonates are currently used to prevent bone complications and to treat malignant hypercalcemia in patients with multiple myeloma, or bone metastases from breast and prostate cancers [1 ].

Within the last year we observed 10 patients who developed jaw bone necrosis while on treatment with zoledronic acid (Zometa®; Novartis) or pamidronate. All the patients had breast cancer with skeletal disease and received long-term treatment with bisphosphonates (range 14–48 months, median 30 months). Four patients developed this complication after tooth extraction or other odontostomatological procedures, and six had a spontaneous event. All patients but one had inferior mandibular necrosis.

Like all side effects, not all people have them; in fact, perhaps a very small percentage do. But if my cousin’s friend was told about it, she maybe figured that if her doctor recommended it and if it was regularly touted on TV, it can’t be all bad.

Needless to say, in a kind way my cousin told her friend to get to the dentist immediately. She read that these pills are biphosphonates and the condition that doctors are seeing now is nothing more than a replay of “Phossy Jaw.”

Forensic evidence directly points to conversion of the yellow phosphorus in patients with "phossy jaw" to potent amino bisphosphonates by natural chemical reactions in the human body. Thus, the cause of phossy jaw in the late 1800s was actually bisphosphonate-induced osteonecrosis of the jaws, long before clever modern pharmaceutical chemists synthesized bisphosphonates. Today's bisphosphonate-induced osteonecrosis represents the second epidemic of "phossy jaw."

Taking a little genealogical foray into the past has certainly opened my eyes to more than just the development of the chemical match. I am not a hysterical person and I do know that there are many side effects of drugs that sometimes must be balanced against the condition that is being treated. But believe me, the possibility of having my jawbone removed and my face disfigured is one side effect that I would have to do some very serious thinking about before I would ever start taking any of today’s biphosphonates.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


I had a dream last night about playing croquet. Where that dream came from (other than from my subconscious, I expect) I don't have a clue. I hadn't been thinking about the game, the equipment, the rules, or .....well, I had been thinking about my little brother's birthday which comes up this month, so maybe I had my inner tuner tuned to family things and my brain just incorporated something into my dream that was from my childhood years.

We owned a house in Long Beach that had a big back yard. The lot itself was quite good sized for being in a city, and the house sat near a front corner, leaving lots of room on one side and in the back. There also was a vacant lot next to the big side that my dad also owned. We moved into the house in 1945. In those days, croquet, badminton and horseshoes were things that families did on the weekends to have fun.

Mother and Dad bought a croquet set for the family to use and for the most part it stayed up all summer long, ready for playing whenever the mood hit. I have a warm fuzzy feeling when I think back on those times when my mom and dad would invite my sis and me to play a game with them. My sister did not have such warm fuzzy feelings. She said later she hated it. However, the reason she hated it was that she was a poor loser. She was born with a gene that went into overdrive the minute anything didn't go her way. She personalized every misplaced shot - the grass was too tall for her ball to roll correctly, the croquet mallet was too long or too short, someone moved in her field of vision and caused her to flinch, thus making the ball go cockamamie. From her view, it wasn't possible that she made a poor shot, and as often as not after the second or third "mistake," she threw the mallet on the ground and stormed off in a snit. Most of the time that was when my Uncle Bill, who lived with us, would step in and take her place. I watched the "big people" play and learned a lot from them. I will have to give my sister credit, she kept coming back for more, tantrums and all, but many years after the fact she admitted she hated the game.

The side of the house was set up for badminton. That was my mother's favorite game. She said in high school (back in the 1920s) all the girls played badminton. In the '40s and '50s she and her sisters and sisters-in-law often gathered at our house on a Saturday afternoon for a game with the shuttlecock, which was called a "bird," and the "racket." As I think back on it, the games consisted mostly of missed birds and hysterical laughter. It is strange to remember that our parents were in their late 20's and early 30's then. They were young and strong like "kids" today of that age are. They were not the aging people that now remain in our minds about how our parents looked.

Mother tried to teach my sister and me how to play, but as Ginnie Lou was younger than I was, it really wasn't ever a fair match up. Mother encouraged me to "let Ginnie Lou win" sometimes -- and I did, but it always rankled. There was much competition between the two of us and it was hard for me to deliberately lose. Finally mother told us not to play a game, just bat the bird back and forth, which solved the problem, but eventually our interest in badminton waned. The sisters, our moms and aunts, played on for a long time.

On the side of the house where the badminton court was set up, my father built a horseshoe court about 10 feet into the vacant lot and paralleling the long side of the property. He and the uncles cleared out all the weeds and set up a standard horseshoe court, with some wooden benches at either end. If anyone has ever been around the game of horseshoes being played, it is impossible even years later to forget the sound made when one horseshoe landed on top another one, or in the best case scenario, one got a "ringer." Once that happened, all the men hooted and hollered and carried on, with much backthumping. There were lots of uncles, so there were lots of games played in an afternoon.

Horseshoes was accompanied by beer, badminton by ice tea and croquet by soda pop. At least that was the Dobbins standard. As often as not, after the games the family sat around and shot the bull for a while and then the men lit the barbecue and did up hamburgers while the women got everything else ready.

In those early years there were not all that many kids. I was the oldest cousin, then my cousin Shirlee and then my sister Ginnie Lou, all born within a 2-1/2 year span. The next batch of cousins were a few years down the road, so the three of us girls spent lots of time together.

Also during those years there was no television, so whatever fun we had, it was fun of our own making. Emulating what our parents did often provided ideas for our own fun, and that included devising a game of cards we called "Rekop" patterned after our parents' Saturday evening poker games. (You'll note that our game is "poker" spelled backwards.) None of our folks had much money at the time, and at first they played for match-sticks. Later on they played for pennies, but my sis and I thought "playing with matches" was exciting so we kept using those. Somehow it always seemed ilicit to be using the word "playing with matches" but of course being good kids, we never thought of lighting those matches.

I really can't say our growing up was stunted because we didn't have things like Baby Einstein videos to watch. Between the three of us cousins, two ended up with college degrees and one ended up with a professional career as a Veterinarian. The three of us by and large have fond memories of growing up in the 1940s and 1950. It's a different world that we live in now, harder for kids nowadays, we think, than the life we had then.

It's fun to be reminded, even in a dream, of something from the past that could conjure up such good old-fashioned recollections and pass them on to this generation.