Saturday, October 31, 2009


Last year about this time Jerry and I visited the Ontario (CA) museum to see their exhibit of some artists' interpretations of "Dia de los Muertos" - Day of the Dead, which is a Mexican celebration that occurs on November 1 and 2. First of all, I am always amazed at the creativity of artists, and it always reminds me that I am totally devoid of any artistic leaning or talent.

Coming so near to our own Halloween, one notices right off the bat that black and orange are NOT the colors used heavily in the artists renderings. And except for the startling use of skulls and bones, which I think is a little disconcerting at first glance, there is the riot of bright colors that one expects to see in Mexican art. But more than that, I felt the festive air, the joy, the love of family and friends -- which is such a nice antidote to the gloominess we most often associate with death.

But again, to me the most stunning thing was that even with the large number of artists participating, no two displays were even close in their interpretation. I walked through the galleries with my mouth hanging open, unable to believe what I was seeing. I loved every minute of being there and am hoping that I can find another such exhibit this year.

Halloween was such a great holiday for kids, and even as an adult I enjoyed the costume parties and the companies who let us dress up in costume (appropriate costumes, of course) that day. But one is hard-pressed to see its origins (All-Hallows Eve) represented in our present way of celebration. I suppose it is one more example of taking a "sacred" observance and making a perfectly good "secular" holiday out of it.

As for skulls, just this weekend I learned something new. As most of you know, California has a County up in gold country named Calaveras. I just learned that Calaveras is Spanish for "Skull" (a neat little piece of trivia, I think, not covered in my two years of Spanish in High School). And here's how it got that name.

This County takes its name from the Calaveras River which was reportedly so designated by Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga when he found, on the banks of the stream, many skulls of Native Americans who had either died of famine or had been killed in tribal conflicts over hunting and fishing grounds.

So now you may have learned a couple of things: a Dia de Los Muertos art exhibit is a good thing to see, Halloween can still be fun, and you've added another word to your vocabulary. Not bad for a day's work, huh?

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of R. Crumb's "The Book of Genesis Illustrated" at the Ontario City Library where hopefully I am first on the "Reserve" list. (I never am that lucky, but maybe I'll be close). The newspapers have been full of reports on this "book" - which actually is like a hard-back comic book that encompasses the entire story written in the Bible's first book.

I have deliberately stayed away from religious denominational reviews, because they will probably just make me mad. For a person who doesn't read any newspaper comics and one who hasn't looked at a comic book since she was probably ten years old and furthermore one who absolutely HATES the new novels that integrate "comics" into their format, I am more than a little surprised at my enthusiasm for reading this book.

An article in today's LA Times says, "In richly detailed black and white imagery and clearly lettered text blocks, Crumb opens his book with a superbly drafted image of God holding a giant cosmic void in his hands, spinning like a ball of black cotton candy, and ends it with a sober but lavishly detailed picture of Joseph's funeral procession."

From what I've read, he's right on in his capturing the essence of what people are feeling. A tear falling from a woman's eye is enough to make all of us females identify with what is going on in another woman's life. I've read that he shows the destruction of "Sodom and Gomorrah" in three panels -- and just one sentence. Can you just imagine what creativity he has to have in his soul and his mind to be able to do this successfully?

Earlier this year I read David Plotz' book "Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible," as well as A. J. Jacobs' "The Year of Living Biblically," both of which dealt in great measure with the first five books of the bible, so I really have been reminded and refreshed as to what is in Genesis. In these other two books, I've seen the words. I'm looking forward with interest and, yes, maybe with "excitement" to Crumb's book where I am going to see the visuals.

I told you I liked books with a religious theme in them. Bet you'll believe me now!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I think if there is one kind of picture that I am sentimental about it is of a child sitting on a grandpa's, or grandma's, lap. It may be the significance of old and young, or beginning and ending, but I think the real significance is simply "Love."

I was not lucky enough to have grandfathers still living when I was a kid. My paternal grandfather died in 1919 when he was 44 years old, and my maternal grandfather died in 1934 when he was 54. I was not yet born.

The picture above is my Uncle Hughie - Hugh Sterling Ryland - when he was about two years old, sitting on his grandpa's knee back on the Ryland farm in Caldwell, Kansas. I have lots of pictures of my great grandpa James A. Ryland in his old age. Isn't he absolutely wonderful-looking? Like a character in a painting or a movie. But the reason this particular picture is so special is because the child on his knee was also a very special man in my life.

Uncle Hughie was my mom's youngest brother. He was 14 when I was born, and again, I am lucky to have a picture of him and his older brother Bert holding me when I was just a little tot. Not many young men got to be Uncles when they were that age, and my mother said my arrival made them proud as punch.

Uncle Hughie joined the service after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941 and he fought in Italy and Sicily. My first recollections of Uncle Hughie were of a smiling man in a military uniform coming to our house, a doll under each arm. One was for me and one was for my sister. Our eyes lit up. If one ever wanted to get the right kind of present for a little girl, a doll was it. And Uncle Hughie knew it. He was, throughout his life, the kindest, most loving Uncle that any kids could have had. After the war he lived next door to us, first in a duplex that my father built and then as his own family increased, across the street in a larger house that my dad owned. At the time he drove a milk truck on a delivery route, so he was up long before dawn and would be home early in the afternoon. He often stopped by the house to have a cup of coffee with my mom, so my sis and I had probably more interaction with him than with any of my other relatives in town. If my sis and I needed help while my father was at work, we always knew our Uncle Hughie would happily give us a hand.

Of course as we grew up our contact with him was pretty much limited to vacations, as he had rejoined the military and was stationed at various locations. But on trips out to California, and on a few I made back to Colorado, the contact with Uncle Hughie was always eagerly anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed.

One of my joys was being able to be an adult and still have my aunts and uncles in my life. Uncle Hughie never stopped being the warm, kind, loving Uncle I knew as a kid. I was very proud of what he accomplished in his life, being a good father, a good husband and a good uncle; not everyone can fulfill all those jobs well.

He died in August of 2007. I miss him, of course. But being involved in genealogy and now in writing my family history to pass on to my kids and grandkids, each day I am involved in "handling" my relatives through words and pictures. Whenever Uncle Hughie's life or image passes through my hands, I remember all over again how I felt as a child at having such an Uncle in my life. I was a very lucky girl.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


If it is true what this morning’s newspaper says about Maria Shriver – that she parked her car in a red zone for an hour while she was at her doctor’s office – what is wrong with that girl?

She was nailed recently by one of the skulking photographers who caught her talking on her cell phone while driving, for which she apologized and “took responsibility” for her actions, and apparently she has turned right around and done something equally as stupid and got caught again. Did she think “taking responsibility” again, which she did, mitigated her lawbreaking?

I think she is a smart lady, smart enough to know both decisions she made were against the California law, and that even the California governor’s wife is expected to obey the law. Smart enough to know that the eagle-eyed photographers were certainly watching and she was not going to be able to get away with lawbreaking again. What was her thought process when she parked there? “Oh well”? “So what”? “Not me”? “Just a few minutes”? “I can afford the fine?”

I have to laugh when I think that she is a classic example of a “Scofflaw,” a person who flouts rules, conventions, or accepted practices. I once knew a man quite well who was considered by one and all to be teetering between a scofflaw and a sociopath. His behavior was more of lacking a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience than just flouting laws. I don’t want to compare his attitude with Maria’s in any way. Nevertheless, reading about this latest misstep of hers, if it is actually true, makes one think of what next? The other possibility, of course, is simply an overabundance of hubris, which probably is simply just an occupational hazard for those in the limelight.

What is the word that pols use to restore people to their former glory? Ah yes, “rehabilitate.” Before Maria gets anymore unflattering publicity, perhaps the rehabilitators can work their magic on her and her image. We have watched her on TV for a long time. We thought she was a sharp reporter. We like the causes she supports and, well, we think of Kennedy, not Swartzennegger, every time we see her. We wonder why, for such trivial little things, she is doing this to herself? Just saying “I take responsibility” doesn’t get her off the hook. Change does.

Monday, October 26, 2009


What you are looking at is the world's most wonderful bread. It has a name - Demi- Baguettes and the label says "La Brea Bakery." I buy them at Costco. The LaBrea Bakery is actually in the San Fernando Valley but they distribute to fine outlets everywhere. I buy two packs of 6 at a time. I wrap each one in a plastic sandwich bag, put 3 "bagged rolls" in a Zip-Lock bag and toss it in the freezer. They come out one roll at a time.

Why do I write about the rolls I eat? About 4 years ago I developed a condition called "dysgeusia," which I think I've mentioned before. It means "impaired taste" and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to cure it. My case is not from medicine I am taking. It is "ideopathic" which means they don't know the cause. Through the whole first year I took my doctor's pronouncement to heart - "You won't have this your whole life. It will go away." Well, Dr. Lim, it is now in the fourth year and it shows no sign of abating.

I can't describe it except this way: If you took a cup of coffee, stirred in 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of salt, and then tried to drink it, that is what my morning cup of coffee tastes like. I can tell it is coffee by the smell, but by the taste it is just awful. Take that same taste and overlay it on every single thing you put in your mouth -- you'll know what I experience trying to eat. Some things I can eat but don't taste at all the way they should; other things I may try and have to spit out. I definitely cannot eat anything sweet. (Is that strange or what?) No fruits. No meats unless they are highly marinated with something like a creole rub, and then I can only get down a couple of bites.

Now you'd think that I'd be skin and bones. However, just about the only things I CAN eat are full of carbs. I ask my doctor periodically to do blood tests on me to make sure my lab results are not way out of whack. Needless to say this is a very depressing condition, but I'm here to tell you that each morning when I head to the kitchen for breakfast, I still look forward to the day. The reason is what I call my "bunny bread."

Each day I pull a demi-baguette out of the freezer, slice it and turn four slices into toast. These baguettes make the most wonderful toast I've ever had. I do not even need to put butter on it. (I used to, but finally I realized since I couldn't taste the butter why add the fat to my diet).

You will see by the picture above that the slices look like little "bunnies." (I know, I know!) The end slice is called the "bunny butt" and Jerry is particularly fond of those. But he likes "buttered bunny butts" so I always slather butter on his. I first learned of these rolls from my cousin Shirlee, when she came to the house laden with a bag of 6 rolls and a round of brie. The three of us sat at the dining room table and absolutely gorged ourselves on this decadent combination. That was when I still could taste. It's not so decadent anymore, but those rolls are really important to me in maintaining my sanity!

It's no fun to be dysgeusic, fer shure! You can read about LaBrea Bakery at WWW.LABREABAKERY.COM

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Now, I can't remember what I had for breakfast this morning but I CAN remember this poem that Miss Weiherman, the most wonderful English teacher a 10th grader could ever have, taught to us in 1950!

The General came in a new tin hat
To the shell-torn front where the war was at;
With a faithful Aide at his good right hand
He made his way toward No Man’s Land,
And a tough Top Sergeant there they found,
And a Captain, too, to show them round.

Threading the ditch, their heads bent low,
Toward the lines of the watchful foe
They came through the murk and the powder stench
Till the Sergeant whispered, “Third-line trench!”
And the Captain whispered, “Third-line trench!”
And the Aide repeated, “Third-line trench!”
And Pershing answered- not in French-
“Yes, I see it. Third-line trench.”

Again they marched with wary tread,
Following on where the Sergeant led
Through the wet and the muck as well,
Till they came to another parallel.
They halted there in the mud and drench,
And the Sergeant whispered, “Second-line trench!”
And the Captain whispered, “Second-line trench!”
And the Aide repeated, “Second-line trench!”
And Pershing nodded: “Second-line trench!”

Yet on they went through mire like pitch
Till they came to a fine and spacious ditch
Well camouflaged from planes and Zeps
Where soldiers stood on firing steps
And a Major sat on a wooden bench;
And the Sergeant whispered, “First-line trench!”
And the Captain whispered, “First-line trench!”
And the Aide repeated, “First-line trench!”
And Pershing whispered, “Yes, I see.
How far off is the enemy?”
And the faithful Aide he asked, asked he,
“How far off is the enemy?”
And the Captain breathed in a softer key,
“How far off is the enemy?”

The silence lay in heaps and piles
And the Sergeant whispered, “Just three miles.”
And the Captain whispered, “Just three miles.”
And the Aide repeated, “Just three miles.”
“Just three miles!” the General swore,
“What in the heck are we whispering for?”
And the faithful Aide the message bore,
“What in the heck are we whispering for?”
And the Captain said in a gentle roar,
“What in the heck are we whispering for?”
“Whispering for?” the echo rolled;
And the Sergeant whispered, “I have a cold.”

by Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943)

Saturday, October 24, 2009


People who don’t read the LA Times miss out on a lot of hilarity. In such a big city there is always something to laugh at, and now we readers are getting a dose of “cow splat.”

The Police got a beautiful new, sorely needed headquarters building, and local sculptor Peter Shelton got a commission to provide some artistic ambiance. An LA Times article this morning described the building this way: “As a presence in the skyline, alas, the headquarters – 10 stories tall and covering 500,000 square feet – remains cautious and largely unimaginative, a well-appointed office building wrapped in limestone panels and broad expanses of glass....”
So while the building isn’t much to talk about stylistically, apparently the sculptures, which are interspersed among trees that form a promenade along one side of the building, are making up for that. Especially since the outgoing Police Chief Bill Bratton said, after viewing the installed sculptures, they looked like some kind of “cow splat.”

Today’s Times column “Art Review” by art critic Christopher Knight was not only a good piece of writing and helpful to me in understanding the artist's intentions in these most unusual pieces but also it made me burst out laughing when he said, “Bratton’s crack [does not] demonstrate that he knows zilch about contemporary sculpture, as one might suspect; it demonstrates instead that he doesn’t know much about cow splat. Born and raised in Boston, the chief has lived and worked on police forces there and in New York City and Los Angeles, where encounters with cows are rare. Perhaps he can be forgiven for not knowing what bovine poo actually looks like.”

Also making me chuckle was that the whole column was written in a way that I could understand what the author was saying, a real accomplishment not only for me but for the writer; I’m no dummy but usually these reviews are written for the elite, not the bourgeois.

What the sculptor has done is create six ballooning forms that are held up by two elongated, vaguely quadrupedal creatures on either end. In another recent article Shelton described his idea for this project was to “develop a contrast in the physicality of the forms from the corporeal and ponderous to the attenuated and light” and in explaining these forms, he stated, “In some cases they might represent power and authority or are guardians,” he says. “In other cases, they could be our animal alter egos, our most basic selves.”

So of course now my next trip into LA will be specifically to take a look at the newest art. I’m sure I won’t understand it any more that Chief Bratton, but at least I am not likely to be quoted on my uttered thoughts. There is a lot about art I don’t understand, but I realize that is my fault, not the fault of the artist!

Friday, October 23, 2009


If you have a dog or a cat, have you ever given any thought as to whether, if necessary, you could, or would, give it nose to mouth resuscitation?

The question “Would you do it?” was asked to a large group of pet owners. Sixty three percent of dog owners and fifty three percent of cat owners said they would be at least SOMEWHAT likely to perform CPR on their pet in the event of a medical emergency.

When I read that, I had one immediate thought …. And three visions.

My first thought was to disbelieve that such a low percentage of owners would consider doing it. I’d do it in a heartbeat to my little Squeaky if her life depended on it. I don’t even consider myself one of those loopy owners who treats their animals like a child. But that little kitty is mine and looks to me for help; of course I’d give it a try.

Now the three visisons were the following:

Would I do nose to mouth resuscitation on a drooling dog? I’m actually glad I don’t have to answer that, because I would never, ever have a breed that drools in the first place. I don’t even like to be within 10 feet of a drooling dog! I’ll get close enough to snap a picture, but close enough to be struck by flying spit? Never.

So I’d guess the other 37% of dog owners in the poll had drooling breeds and that was what was holding them back from total commitment. As for a cat’s tiny sweet nose and mouth, what’s the matter with those 47% wimps?!

In spite of all this, I do think it will do us all good to read how to handle a dog or cat resuscitation. So here it is, straight from a vet's (nondrooling) mouth:

Remove any foreign material from the airways (nose and mouth) such as vomit.

The tongue needs to be pulled forward so the tip is just beyond the front teeth. The mouth is then held closed with the lips positioned over the teeth. This should make an airtight seal. Extend the head and neck gently so that roughly nose to tail is a straight line.

Blow firmly into the nose using your lips to seal around the nose.

Look at the chest to see it rise. Feel for the resistance of the animal’s lungs as you breath into it. Once resistance is felt allow the air to escape. Over-inflating the animal’s lungs will damage them.

If there is leakage of air from the animal’s mouth reposition the lips and tongue.

If there is resistance without the chest rising then look for a foreign object in the airway. Small pets can be lifted by their hind legs to try and dislodge the object. Once the object has been removed recommence resuscitation.

Give 5 full quick breaths and then quickly assess cardiac function.

If the heart is beating continue mouth to nose resuscitation.

As our pets vary in size from a cat or a small dog to a large dog like a St Bernard the rate and volume of air for each size does differ. For a cat or a small dog give a breath once every 3 seconds (20 breaths/min). For a medium dog give a breath once every 4 seconds (15breaths/min). A large dog requires 12 breaths/min (1 every 5 seconds) and usually every bit of air in your lungs.

After one minute stop and reassess your pet. Watch for signs of breathing and check the heart.

If not breathing continue mouth to nose resuscitation. Continue the resuscitation in transport to the nearest veterinarian, reassessing approximately every minute.

Now go take care of your pet with assurance! Forewarned is forearmed.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


A few weeks ago the Los Angeles music scene was blessed by the opening concert of the Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of the amazing young conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Those of us who of necessity must take second best were similarly blessed by a PBS presentation of that event on TV last night.

What a treat it was!

And it reminded me of the time I applied for a job as a secretary to a local philharmonic society.

When Jerry and I returned from Istanbul I had exactly 7 years of working life left before retirement. Fifty-eight is not an optimum age for finding a job; all I knew is that I had very good secretarial skills to offer and I had many letters of recommendation from past "bosses." I knew there would be "something" for me; I just wanted to make sure that whatever it was was a perfect fit, because I needed to stay put in that spot until I turned 65.

In the same one-week period I found three jobs advertised that I felt would be a good fit. One was with The Salvation Army, one was with a local hospital and the third was with the Philharmonic society of a good-sized town. This was in the days before on-line job applications, so my letters went out to these three organizations.

The first to call was the music organization. I was so excited that they were interested. Music has always been one of my first loves, and the idea of working in and around an orchestra was exhilarating! So with great hope in my heart I went down to the interview.

The second response to my application was with The Salvation Army. I had worked for them in the past as a social worker for the "church" wing of the organization; the job I had applied for was with the "drug and alcohol rehab" wing. Because of my previous employment I felt I stood a good chance of being accepted in this job.

I did not initially hear from the hospital, but since I really had my heart set on the Philharmonic job, I didn't worry about it.

The day of the interview with the Phil arrived. What I learned first was that the staff operated out of an ancient city building, that the building was not air conditioned, that the secretary's office was on the west side of the building and that the secretary would have a fan in the summer and a floor heater in the winter. On the day of my interview the temperature outside was about 85 degrees and in the secretary's office with fan at full bore it was about 95 and rising. I knew right off that I could not do this, but unwilling to say "no" without checking the whole thing out, I sat for a first interview with the director and then with the secretary.

It all sounded so good, and the chemistry between the three of us seemed a good indicator of successful employment. But as the interview with the secretary came to a close, I asked her what she found the most difficult part of her job. She thought a minute, and then said, "Well, confidentially it is all the hand-holding I have to do with the old-lady patrons. I get calls every day from someone whose nose is out of joint because of someone else doing or saying something. It's my job to keep them happy, since they are our benefactors. But other than that, the job is wonderful. I get to attend every concert free, that being just one of the perks."

I knew right then that I would never, ever, accept that job. I did get a letter offering the job to me and I sent back a letter of regret that I could not accept it. I got another letter from the director asking me to reconsider and sweetening the pot. The two things that bothered me - the ghastly hot office and the fussing of old women - couldn't be rectified in any way, shape or form that would entice me to the job. I, regretfully, again turned it down.

I accepted The Salvation Army job on the spot at interview time, and later when a phone call came from the Hospital asking my forgiveness for the delay in contacting me but they were very interested in someone with my medical background, I was already on the job at the Adult Rehab where I did, in fact, happily stay until I retired. It was a tough job, more tough that I could ever imagine, but I never gave thought to leaving because the "work" of rehab was so important.

Periodically through the years, and especially last night as I sat and watched that young conductor take the Orchestra through Mahler's 1st symphony without a score in front of him, a fleeting thought of regret at my missed opportunity to be that close to a working orchestra passed through my mind, but I knew I'd made the right decision so many years ago.

Last night's concert on TV may have been second best for me, but it certainly reminded me again of my love of music and to be a little more diligent in hunting out opportunities to see and hear what I have available both on tape, CD and in the local community.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The baby doesn't have a name.

He was born on September 13 and should be ready to go to his new parents, whoever they are going to be, in about three weeks.

I forget how adorable tiny puppies are. (I do not forget how much work they are and how I never again want a tiny puppy or kitten should the occasion arise, which it will not - and hasn't). This little guy belongs to my next door neighbor. The lady has two dogs besides this puppy, both with some Maltese in them. I am not sure of the relationship of these two dogs to each other, but I think the bigger one is the mother of the smaller one. The bigger one several months ago (before she moved into our complex) gave birth to a litter of puppies from an "accident" with a chihuahua. The smaller one, which looks exactly like the larger one, also had an accident with a chihuahua and just gave birth to the one pictured above. The neighbor is going to sell this little guy when he gets weaned. So now you know what I know.

Well, I know a couple more things. I know that all the dogs are really sweet and cute. I know that I don't need a dog, and that if I were to get a dog I would get one from a shelter. I also know that I can't go into shelters without bursting into tears. All those dogs with no homes. All those cats with no homes. It just breaks my heart.

I have no quarrel with breeders. I do have a quarrel with accidents. I find it hard to understand unspayed and unneutered dogs and cats. I don't know whether or not my neighbor supplements her pension with money from selling her dogs. It is none of my business.

It's not the dogs' fault, so I can hold the little baby and play with the mama and grandma with a clear conscience. I hope, however, that this is the end of the puppy "accidents" that are going on around me.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Jerry was telling me the other day how one of the female volunteers with his Sheriff's Department "Citizens On Patrol" units had driven away with her purse atop her car. She had been preoccupied while she was gathering stuff to put in the car and set her purse on the rooftop to get it out of the way for a moment. It wasn't until she got where she was going that she realized she'd never taken her purse down -- and who knew where it had fallen off? She retraced her drive, but there was, of course, no purse lying in the street anywhere.

Jerry remarked that his first wife had done the same thing and that a week later she found her purse tossed on their driveway, minus the money she had in her wallet.

My mother had a beautiful red T-bird like the one in the picture above. When my kids were little she often drove from Long Beach to our house in Westminster to see the kiddies, and she always brought goodies for them, and sometimes a couple of grocery items for me. (She was a very practical mother!)

One day she arrived with a bag of donuts. She laughed as she told me she'd stopped at a donut shop near her house, purchased 6 donuts, which they put in a paper bag for her. She put the donut bag on top the car when she used her keys to unlock the car door and forgot to take it down when she got in. About the time she got the car back into the middle of the street she saw, in her rear view mirror, the bag of donuts fall off the roof and land in the street. She told me she wasn't going to deprive HER GRANDCHILDREN of their goodies, so she pulled to the side of the road, ran into the street and retrieved the bag. Luckily it had not opened and was none the worse for wear. I asked if she was embarassed, and she said yes, not because she retrieved them but because she left them there in the first place.

Another time she decided to bring me a carton of eggs. She did the same thing with those but it wasn't until she heard some bumping on the trunk that she realized the whole carton of eggs had been lost down the back of the car. She did not stop to retrieve them that time, knowing for sure they would all be broken. When she arrived at my house she went around to check for any mess the broken eggs might have created. There was no mess, but there WAS one lone egg that somehow had been caught behind the license plate and had survived the 20 miles ride to my house.

The most I have ever done is to leave a cup of coffee on the roof of my car. It didn't stay there long because the first person who passed me honked and pointed at the roof, and I was able to stop and remove it before anyone else saw it. I felt very foolish -- but I do think that this is a fairly common happening and I've seen plenty of people driving with cups of something on their car roof.

I try very hard to avoid setting anything on my car roof or on the trunk. If it's not up there I can't forget it. I hate to make scenes, and driving out on the road with some forgotten item perched on my car roof is, in my mind, a scene! However, I do need to tell you that I carry so much stuff in my purse that I am not sure my car would be able to move with my purse holding it down!

Jerry's friend finally borrowed a phone and called her own cell number, since her cell phone had also been in the purse. A lady answered and said she found the purse in the street and at that exact moment was heading toward the address she found in the wallet to find the owner! It was a great ending, I thought.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


You may recall my words, "If I hadn't been interested in so many things, I might have become rich and famous." It is true, and today's blog is going to be a good illustration of what I mean.

I read in the business section of the newspaper today the answer to a question: "What are the requirements for a legal bedroom?" Don't ask me why I am interested in that, but I was.

"A legal bedroom must be at least 70 square feet in area and at least 7 feet wide. (Hm, that means the little room on the back of our Gardenia street house while I was growing up was not legal.)

The minimum ceiling height is 7 feet 6 inches....Bedrooms must have a window for light, ventilation and emergency escape. (Whew, at least our illegal bedroom met this requirement.)

The minimum size for bedroom windows that provide natural light is at least 8% of the room's floor area, and the minimum size for openable windows is at least 4%. For emergency escape, the openable window's sill must be no more than 44 inches above the floor. (Hm, I just went and measured ours in this apartment and it is 46: ILLEGAL).

The opening should be at least 5.7 square feet, at least 24 inches tall and 20 inches wide. (I think I could get through one that size.)

Windows should be openable without the use of a key or a tool. Screens and bars also must be openable or removable from inside the dwelling without the use of a key or a tool. (I don't think it would be easy to pop our screen out; I've tested it to see if a cat running across the room and jumping onto the window sill and banging into the screen would make it - and the cat - fall to the outside, but the screen didn't budge. On the one hand that is good; on the other hand it may be illegal.)

That was the end of the little column. Can you tell me why I found that fascinating enough to make a blog out of it? If you don't know the answer to that question, I'll admit I don't either. I supposed the question was really designed for people whose houses have basements in them and wanted to turn the basement into a mother-in-law bedroom or something like that. You can't put your mother-in-law in an unventilated, dark and gloomy basement guys!
Well, I'm not rich and I'm not famous and it's taken an hour of my time to think of what to blog about this morning and then to do it. And in spite of what you think, I find the whole question and answer quite interesting and revealing. And now I'm going to go measure my bedroom window to see if I really have a legal amount of space to haul my body through if necessary. I think we're in conformance with the law here, but I gotta' tell you, if this becomes necessary the trouble isn't going to be getting out the window; it's going to be in crawling over the night-blooming jasmine plant that I placed directly under that very window when we moved here and which has now grown to be a thick, wide bush -- but always kept trimmed to the bottom of the window to please management and fire officials!

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Everybody likes easy recipes. Here is one that just can’t be beat, either for ease of preparation or joy of eating/drinking. Give it a try. You’ll like it.


4 cups vanilla low-fat yogurt
12 peach halves (fresh or canned)
16 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Per Serving: 295 Calories, 13 g protein, 3 g fat, 400 mg. calcium

Makes 4 servings.


Friday, October 16, 2009


A Wells Fargo ATM refused to give Jerry any cash this week, so a trip inside the bank elicited the explanation that some software changes were in process, temporarily shutting down the ATM. But he could have his cash “the old fashioned way” – from the hand of the teller, they said.

When he told me this I was reminded of a very funny situation that happened to us in Istanbul shortly after we moved there. The bank we used was across the street from Jerry’s office and just a few short blocks from our house. It was very convenient; the only problem was that the instructions on the ATM screen were in Turkish, of course. Ahmet Bey, our young driver, always stayed close by in case we forgot the sequence of which button should be pushed when. We just had to remember “top left button, key in pin number, bottom left button, key in withdrawal amount, and push right middle button.” If we remembered correctly, out came our money.

One day I couldn’t get that sequence to work, so I walked over to Jerry’s office to ask for his help. He was sure I hadn’t pushed the right buttons, so he watched me do it again. Nope. No money. “LET ME TRY” he said authoritatively. It didn’t work for him either.

Ahmet went into the bank and learned they had reprogrammed the ATM so that now we had to punch in a different sequence of buttons and keys. In other words, we had to mentally erase what we had just learned and remember the new sequence. We knew that if we had been able to read Turkish this wouldn’t have happened, so in a sense we had created our own problem. But obviously it would be a while, if ever, before we could read such instructions. That is why Ahmet was such a help to us.

The next weekend we were planning to head out of town on a tour arranged by the American Research in Turkey organization and we needed a little more cash than usual. Ahmet had been off on an errand so Jerry went to the ATM by himself and pushed the new sequence of buttons, keying in that he wanted 1 million Turkish Lira. (At the time that was about $200 US.) When he finished pushing the last button, the machine whirred…. and out came a piece of paper. No money. Just a paper with Turkish printing on it.

Stunned, Jerry took the paper into the bank, found the only English-speaking person on staff and asked what this paper said. The Turkish lady smiled and said to Jerry, “Oh thank you. This is your receipt for making a donation of 1 million TL to the Old Soldiers & Sailors Relief Fund in Ankara. Thank you very much.”

Jerry informed her that he had intended on withdrawing his own money for the weekend, not making a deposit. He asked her to cancel the donation and give him the money as he intended. “Oh no, we can’t ask the government for the money back,” she stated, looking a little disturbed.

A Turkish “fire drill” looks the same as a Chinese “fire drill.” There was much confusion, many people running around, lots of telephone calls, and a great deal of handwringing. Finally Jerry went across the street to his office and brought not only Ahmet but his accountant. They learned that the previous day the ATM, for the second time in a week, had been reprogrammed so the combination that gave money last week donated it this week. Finally it was decided to fax a request to the government in Ankara to cancel the donation. Quaking, the bank manager dialed the fax number, but that day the fax did not work. The fire drill crew all moved over to Jerry’s office where the faxes WERE working, and finally permission was given the bank to reimburse Jerry.

For about the next week we waited for the Turkish police to knock on our door and hand us tickets back to the U.S. Luckily it didn’t happen and at least for the time we remained there in Istanbul, the ATM worked as expected. Again, we had to acknowledge that the problem was partially of our own making, and of course it wouldn’t be the last time our lack of knowing the language exacerbated a situation.

In the privacy of our house we laughed our heads off at the commotion we caused. We felt sorry for the Old Soldiers and Sailors, and even sorrier for the Bank Manager. But you know, when you want money from your ATM , you want your money, right?

Thursday, October 15, 2009


All I want is an old fashioned tiny postage scale that will weigh my letter and tell me if it weighs one, two or three ounces. That shouldn’t be hard to find, should it? I am so paranoid about having a letter returned to me for not enough postage that I tend to over-stamp to make sure it won't be rejected! I use to have a little tin postage scale but I suppose when we went to Istanbul I tossed it out, since I didn't see any sense in having it in storage for a few years. I must have figured I'd buy one when I got back, but obviously I didn't.

Well, you can’t find them anymore. First of all, there are no longer any real stationery stores! There are big box stores that stock items in quantity -- you know, the kind where when you want an 8-1/2 x 11 tablet you have to buy a shrink-wrapped package of 10. I checked there, though, and their low end scale costs $20.99 and will weigh packages up to 8 pounds. I asked the young sales clerk if he had any small postage scales and he didn’t know what I was talking about.

So I looked online. I had no luck there either. I Googled until I was blue in the face and all I could come up with that was even close was a vintage German scale for $5.99 on e-bay, but I didn’t want a contraption like that. The price was right, but I know the cat would never leave it alone. It would be knocked off the desk three times a day.

Finally using Google again I did turn up a make-it-yourself scale with instructions that said it was simple to construct and could be done in less than 5 minutes with equipment you were sure to have at home. It sounded interesting so I took a peek at it. It started like this:

Attach a rubber band to the end of a ruler. Tie a knot near one end of the rubber band (leaving loops on either side of the knot) and attach it to the end of the ruler.

Put a piece of tape over the rubber band to help ensure that it does not slip or change position on the ruler. The rubber band must be flat on the surface of the ruler opposite the knot.

Clip the paper clip onto the rubber band so that it will be able to hold onto a letter while hanging from the rubber band. A large paper clip is recommended.

Move the ruler so the rubber band is just hanging off the edge of a table. The table should have a sharp edge.

Make a calibration weight. (Gather 5 quarters and make a stack. This will be one ounce.)

WHOA!!! The further I read the sillier it got, except they were serious. And at this stage I decided that I didn’t want to weigh my letter that badly.

So I’m right back where I started from. I suspect that when “digital” came in, those scales went out. But I just cannot believe that I can’t find a tiny postal scale anywhere. I wonder if maybe Williams-Sonoma has a scale that is used in cooking? Or if Weight Watchers has one that you can buy to make sure you are measuring correctly the amount of food you eat? Or maybe a Salvation Army or Goodwill Thrift store? Well, there are a few more places to look. Keep your fingers crossed, guys. I’m not asking for the moon, just a simple little scale that will count the ounces for me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Where have I been? I saw these pictures of square watermelons and got all excited about them. The first thing I thought of was what lovely Christmas presents they would make. They’ve already got the pattern on them, so just throw a red ribbon around them like a box and a Xmas tag and you’ve done your shopping. Of course the fact that they really aren’t winter plants is another matter, but the thought was there. Then I found out they’ve been grown in Japan for more than 20 years. I guess I’m just now waking up and coming to the party!

Then I learned that they cost about twice as much as a regular watermelon. I happen to like the Dulcinea “personal” watermelons that are very pricey – costing about $1.00 per bite. Well, they cost $4.00 each, so maybe they are only 50 cents a bite. But the flavor and texture is worth every penny of that. I’d give a square watermelon one chance to taste perfect at that inflated price and if it wasn’t perfect, then its squareness would have no draw for me.

I saw on the internet that the British food market “Tesco” had, in 2006, developed its own version of the square watermelon that was expected to be sold at a much more reasonable price. And apparently in the U.S. it’s being grown experimentally now. In England and Japan, these melons are grown in tempered glass boxes, but I also noted that some horticulture magazines here in the U.S. has suggested growing them using cinderblocks as molds.

I’m past the point of wanting to grow my vegetables. When we first retired and moved to Loma Linda, we signed up for a free plot at the Community Garden. That first year we did very well with a crop of all kinds of tomatoes, Japanese eggplant, green peppers, yellow squash and a few herbs. But because it is so hot out that way, every evening after dinner we had to jump in the car, drive to the community garden, water our plants, and then drive home. We did that from about April until the last tomato came off the vine. Now it was awfully good eating fruit of one’s labor, but it was a lot of work. And the worst part of all was there were flocks of gnats that hovered around the garden, and about the only way you could keep the gnats from getting in your nose, mouth and ears was to tie a scarf around your face like a bandido. It was funny to see all of us Loma Linda gardeners looking like a bunch of cowpokes on a cattle drive.

The second year started out well but within two weeks of planting, the Loma Linda gophers had found our community garden. The first time they hit our little plot they got all but one of the tomato plants. The next night they got the last one. That was the end of our gardening.

There is a community garden where we live now, but even with the excitement of possibly growing square watermelons, I just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for starting in again. It may be the lack of tools, it may be the bad gopher experience, or it just may be my age – but whatever the cause, I’d just as soon get my watermelons at the market. It’s too late to expect square ones this year, but maybe next year, since we now have a new Fresh and Easy British market in our area.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Sometimes I find a little gem of a story tucked away in the newspaper, usually at the bottom and usually at the fold. Sometimes they might be about an endangered toad (which in this morning’s paper actually made it in the column next to the fold). Other times I can find a gem of a story, and maybe one I don’t completely understand, in the Legal notices at the back of the paper.

Actually, Jerry found the story for today’s blog tucked bottom, fold, sports section. It was announcing the death of a female sports car driver, a national champion, in fact. She was 82.

Why I considered this a little “gem” was that the lady, Donna Mae Mims was the first woman to win a Sports Car Club of America national championship in 1963. In planning ahead for her funeral, she asked that for the viewing her body would be seated behind the wheel of a 1979 pink Corvette. The funeral home accommodated her wishes.

The little article didn’t say much beyond this, which of course gave Jerry and me a good belly-laugh. But I did look around on the internet to find a little more about this lady whose exploits were outside my realm of trivia knowledge.
Ms. Mims was well known in national and local auto racing circles. She volunteered at the annual Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix and often worked the starting grid so she could be close to the cars.

"She was a colorful person," one of her friends said. "She was just a joy to know, a real character." When she was asked why “pink” she stated "On the back of most of my cars I had 'THINK PINK.’ I liked pink ever since I was a little girl."

Ms. Mims raced for 14 years and in 1972 took part in Brock Yates' original Cannonball Run Race, the cross-country outlaw road race that was made famous by the 1981 movie "The Cannonball Run," starring Burt Reynolds and Farrah Fawcett.

As for the viewing and the burial, most of us think very traditionally when it comes to making our final arrangements. I am always surprised when I am in a cemetery and find something out of the ordinary, “my” ordinary. Having become used to seeing all the ugly flat Southern California cemeteries, whose ambience has totally disappeared in the interest of quick mowing, I was surprised in a cemetery in Kansas to find built into a huge headstone over the site of a young man a photo of his dog, his motorcycle and a chain of some type that had significance to him.

Now I’ve told Jerry that when we die I’d split Tigger’s ashes with him and we each could have a part of him with us forever. He’ll be in one town and I in another, so we’d each need a part of him. I hear that legally, at least in California, animal ashes cannot be buried in a human cemetery so we are probably going to have to be very sneaky to get that little thing done. (Needless to say, we really loved that cat.)

The other peculiar burial I have seen is one in the very interesting Beaufort, North Carolina cemetery where my cousin Shirlee took me when I went a’visiting. This cemetery is worth making a trip to Beaufort, as far as I am concerned. The sign beside this particular burial tells the story. It may or may not be true, but there is no accounting for what people want done after their demise – cars, cats or position, so I’ll just assume that the fellow is still saluting and is not lying down on the job.

Anyway, Godspeed, Donna Mae.

Monday, October 12, 2009


A hip young man goes out and buys the best car available: a 1997 Ferrari GTO. It is also the most expensive car in the world and it costs him $500,000.

He takes it out for a spin and stops for a red light. An old man on a moped (both looking about 90 years old) pulls up next to him. The old man looks over at the sleek, shiny car and asks, “What kind of car ‘ya got there, sonny?” The young man replies, “A 1997 Ferrari GTO. It cost half a million dollars!” “That’s a lot of money,” says the old man. “Why does it cost so much?”

“Because this car can do up to 320 miles an hour!” states the young dude proudly. The moped driver asks, “Mind if I take a peek inside?” “No problem,” replies the owner. So the old man pokes his head in the window and looks around. Then, sitting back on his moped, the old man says, “That’s a pretty nice car, all right!”

Just then the light changes so the young dud decides to show the old man just what his car can do. He floors it and within 30 seconds the speedometer reads 320 mph. Suddenly he notices a dot in his rearview mirror. It seems to be getting closer! He slows down to see what it could be and suddenly, whoooooshh! Something whips by him, going much faster.

“What on earth could be going faster than my Ferrari?!” the young man asks himself. Then, ahead of him, he sees a dot coming toward him. Whoooosh!….it goes by again, heading the opposite direction! And it looked like the old man on the moped! “Couldn’t be,” thinks the guy. “How could a moped outrun a Ferrari?!” But again, he sees a dot in his rear view mirror!

Whoooosh! KaBbblaMMMM! It plows into the back of his car, demolishing the rear end. The young man jumps out, and it IS the old man!!

He runs up to the mangled old man and says, “Oh my God!! Is there anything I can do for you?” The old man whispers with his dying breath, “Unhook… suspenders….from your side-view mirror….”

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I don’t know what I expected of aging. My poor sister had physical problems all her life and as she got older it seemed to be a “given” that she was going to have continuing problems. And likewise I assumed that since I more or less breezed through my life without any weird things happening I’d probably …. well, I don’t know what I thought.

It’s easier to tell you what has surprised me, the latest being that I have discovered I don’t swallow as easily as I used to. Good grief, is that a part of aging? Every time I go to my primary care physician, a very young doctor, he always says in relation to any little complaints, ‘Well, Mrs. Title, you aren’t young anymore.” (Does he think I don’t know that?)

Now I might have become a little alarmed about the swallowing if it hadn’t been for my cousin Shirlee, who one day on the phone mentioned that she was having a difficult time swallowing her pills. She said she now has to put them on the back of her tongue, take a drink of water, and then toss her head back in order to get them down her esophagus when she swallows. She said, “I used to see my mother do that little head-flicking thing, and now I have to do it.” I yelled at her that my mother used to do the same thing, and how I always thought it was strange that my mother needed to go through a silly head-flicking routine to get hers down when I could swallow eight pills at a time with only one little sip of water .

Well, you know every time you have a mean thought it will come back to haunt you? And so I confessed to my cousin that I too no longer can swallow pills like I used to. If I don’t get enough water in my mouth, or swallow it the right way, or have the wrong combination of pills in my mouth (some have edges on them, and those are murder to swallow), I will end up with pills either stuck on my uvula, the roof of my mouth, the back of my tongue or in my esophagus. Or worse yet, still sitting on my tongue waiting to go down long after the water has made its unaccompanied descent. And yes, I’ve incorporated the “head-flicking” thing, because it truly does help getting them down.

Each morning I take 3 small pills – one for blood pressure, one for gastric reflux and the last one a baby aspirin. Those make up the first swallow. Then I stand and stare for a while at the remaining two horse-pills, which is what my family always called large pills. One is my morning Calcium pill, which I take faithfully to ward off the widow’s hump. It has edges. The second is my vitamin pill. It too has edges. It takes a big swig of water to get each of them down. They are too big to take at the same time but I can’t cut them in half because that adds even sharper edges to the equation.

What sometimes happens is that I just can’t face swallowing those huge things so early in the morning so I put them back in their bottle. Other times I make myself take them first – get the hard stuff done first, my mom always said. But either way, taking my pills has become a nasty way to start the day. It didn’t used to be so, but I didn’t use to be 74, either.

So now in addition to my taste problem, my arthritic vocal cords, my glaucoma (for which I put drops in my eyes each morning) and my receding hairline (yes, I’m one of those women whose genes calls for hair loss), now I have to add swallowing to the litany of gripes. I didn’t expect all this of aging, but I am, mind you, very grateful that my overall health is still fair to middlin’. I just didn’t expect all these stupid little nagging things to be a part of growing old.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I am not totally sure that this is the way to introduce you to my husband, but with the spooky holiday right around the corner I think he'll understand.

Those of you who are "in the know" will recognize by the pix of Jerry that I am learning a little something about Photoshop, and while mostly what I've learned thus far has been applied to photos that need a tinch of editing or restoration, the capability of distorting things has given me a whole lot of ideas to play around with. So far I've distorted myself, my daughter Erin and Jerry. I must admit Jerry's face has far exceeded in drama the faces Erin and I ended up with.

I have always enjoyed Halloween. When we were kids mother used to pick our costumes for "trick-or-treating." In those days neighborhoods were safe, neighbors were kind, and we could count on getting enough candy to eat for the next year.

The picture is from my "baby book" and mother noted that I was four years old, which would make my little sister Ginnie Lou two. I can remember putting on the witch's mask that went along with my costume and hearing Ginnie Lou shriek with fear. I always thought that I didn't get to wear the mask in the picture because of that, but in thinking about it now, I suppose mother wanted a picture that included our darling little faces; posterity would not be served if they were hidden behind masks! And I'm sure our trick-or-treating at such a young age was just a token tour of our apartment building.

Later as we got old enough to go by ourselves, my sis and I tended to want to dress in attractive costumes and not look like witches, devils or ghosts. The picture below was taken when I was 11; I wanted to be a gypsy and my mother was able to sew up a costume for me that was satisfactory. I thought I was quite stunning in this outfit. As I recall, my sister was a pirate, also in a costume made by my mother.

It was long after my own children were of a trick-or-treating age that it became dangerous to go door to door on one's own. And dangerous to eat any treats that were given. It is such a shame that our society has gone down this path of meanness. Not all of society, of course, but enough that little kids today don't get to experience the wild runs from house to house lugging a pillowcase full of penny candy, excitedly beating on door after door and yelling "TRICK OR TREAT." Our parents did not have to go with us; they told us how far from home we could go. They expected us to obey and we did. We are always disgruntled at people who gave us apples instead of candy, and thought people who dropped a few pennies, or maybe a nickle, in our pillowcase were real skinflints. We wanted CANDY!

Since we've been retired and living in senior apartments, we never even see kids in Halloween costumes any more. However, I still remember with great fondness my many years of trick-or-treating and later on as teenagers, the parties we went to where haunted houses full of gross things to feel had been prepared by the parents.

This year, the nearest I can get to the real Halloween feeling is by turning my family into Photoshopped monsters. I must be honest and tell you I am having a great deal of fun doing this! I probably won't even miss the trick-or-treating this year.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I have such a tough time turning my back on books. I have always loved to read. Even as a small kid I always had a stack of books waiting for me. But as an adult with 4 kids and a full-time job, there were just some periods in my life when I couldn’t read as much as I wanted to.

I always assumed I’d have more time to read when I retired. And I must honestly say I do, but there also seem to be a lot more books I want to read. I subscribe to the NY Times weekly book review online, and many of the books they review are of interest to me. I also subscribe to the Riverside Library’s Newsletters for Fiction and for Non-Fiction.

Here’s how I keep things straight. I have a “TO READ” list on the computer. Book titles and authors get put on that list. I put books on hold at the library from this list. Then as I read them I transfer the title to my “BOOKS READ” spreadsheet, which I consult fairly often, since I have been known to forget that I’ve read a book and check it out again. So these two lists help me keep straight whether I am coming or going on a book!

At this exact moment, I have 56 books on my “TO READ” list. Can you believe that? Here’s a few of them:

Some are by familiar writers:

Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates
That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Some by authors I haven’t read yet:

Making an Elephant: Writing from Within by Graham Swift
A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit
This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
The Amateurs by Marcus Sakey
American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods by Bonnie Tsui
There are some biographies or autobiographies:

Moon River and Me: A Memoir by Andy Williams
The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli
Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son by Michael Chabon

Some just plain non-fiction:

Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, And Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money, and Sex
The State of Jones: The Small Southern County That Seceded from the Confederacy by Sally Jenkins

What I read and the order in which I read them depends entirely upon how fast the library can get them to me. I am truly a reading fool. I usually have two books going at once; occasionally I can do three, but it evens out to about one book a week. But even at that you can tell that I am getting behinder and behinder.

The only way I can make any headway is if I stop doing genealogy, stay up later and/or get up earlier, never knit or do cross-stitch again, or cut out my social life. Since I’m not about to do any of these things, I suppose I will have to settle for just continuing to slog along as usual and hope I live many more years!

A long time ago I had a t-shirt given to me by my son and his wife who are probably more avid readers than I am. On the front it said, in both Latin and English, “So many books, so little time.” I wore that T-shirt so much it finally looked like it should be a dust rag, and when it used up that second life it was tossed in the dumpster. Today I have ordered myself a new T-shirt, which is what precipitated this blog. The saying will be in English only. I’m anxious for it to arrive. Wearing those words on my chest will keep me from having to verbally complain to one and all about all the books I don’t have time to read. That will be very satisfying!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Sunday’s LA Times had an eye-opening article on a young woman who, after eating a hamburger her mother grilled for her, became very sick and after being in a coma for nine months ended up paralyzed. The doctors think she will never be able to walk again. The hamburgers that her mom bought were frozen and from a large, well-known company. They were labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.”

Let me tell you that reading this article made me shudder. Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder, like we suppose. Instead, records and interviews show that a single portion of hamburger meat often contains various grades of meat from different parts of cows and maybe from different slaughterhouses. The Times reports that grinding logs and other company records showed that hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.

These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination, food experts and officials say. Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen.

The article goes on, allowing what happened to this beautiful young woman illustrate at every step just what these dangers can mean, in part because our government lets each company to decide for themselves what precautions they want to take. And as jaded as it sounds, I’m sure the “decider” in this case is M-O-N-E-Y.

Nothing against Uruguay, but frankly I want to eat beef from that hasn’t been shipped from another continent. The other day at our local supermarket I found a packet labeled “the meat might be from Australia, New Zealand or Canada.” To be perfectly honest with you, I never was a big meat eater, and I’ve now decided I will no longer knowingly eat ground beef. The thought of it simply turns my stomach.

I know e-coli gets in other things, like packaged salads. I also know you don’t have to literally eat something to get e-coli. I have read the reports of what goes into wieners. When Consumer Reports told me about the percentage of maggots allowed in canned mushroom, I never again have used canned mushrooms. Instead, I buy fresh mushrooms and inspect them as carefully as I can before I use them. At least I can eat them with a clear conscience. I bought plastic boards to use when I cut up chickens, instead of my nice but unsafe wooded cutting. I know I can’t stop eating because of all the things I don’t know about. But all along I have little by little decided to eliminate certain things from my diet just because I feel better about doing it. And ground beef is next.

I am sending along the URL to the NY Times article, because you should do yourself a favor and read it. Might be the best thing you ever did for yourself.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Pasadena Standard 12 January 1889

Died, at the residence of his brother-in-law, Henry Thompson, in this city, on January 8, 1889, Owen Brown, aged 64 years, 2 months and 4 days.

Owen Brown was born at Hudson, Ohio, November 4, 1824, and was the third son of John Brown's first family, there being twenty children in all. Owen was with his father all through the struggle between the free state men and border ruffians in Kansas in 1836 and following years, and took part in the first pitched battle at Black jack on the Missouri and Kansas border, and also at Ossawatomie where his younger brother, an unarmed lad, was deliberately shot down in the street. Jason [another of Brown's sons] was also in these battles.

Owen was with his father at Harpers Ferry, a participant in that memorable raid which struck the death knell of slavery, not only in the United States but throughout the civilized world. He was one of seven who escaped from there through mountain fastnesses and swamps and forests and sassafras leaves, and such things as they could possibly devour without making a fire to cook.

About five years ago Jason and Owen Brown took a homestead on a bench of mountain land five or six miles north of Pasadena, at the settlement now called Las Casitas. This they subsequently sold and took land higher up the mountain side, built a cabin, cleared and worked a few acres, and lied there-two feeble old men, alone. (Jason was with his father in the Kansas struggle, but was not at Harpers Ferry.) They were much visited by tourists and citizens, some from mere curiosity and others from a warm sympathy with the historic career of the family.

The Funeral.-The last rites were paid to his mortal remains on Thursday, January 10. It was a historic day in Pasadena. The tabernacle was well filled-about 2000 people in attendance. The exercises were conducted by Rev. R. H. Hartley, pastor of the Friends church. The great choristry was filled with singers who sang appropriate hymns with fervor and pathos as if the very spirit of the Browns had woven itself into heavenly music.

Owen Brown was buried on top the hill pictured above. The recent Station Fire swept over this hill and if you do a google image search on Owen Brown, you will be able to see how it looks now. The grave marker no longer exists.

I got to know Owen from his ficticious voice in Russell Banks' amazing book, "Cloudsplitter." The full copy of his obituary is also worth reading. I have excerpted it here from Tom Chester's posting here:

Monday, October 5, 2009


Just about everyone will recognize this picture as being a portrait of John Brown, the old abolitionist. And if you don't recognize that one, perhaps this one is tucked somewhere in your memory.

I think without knowing the full story of John Brown, if you based your opinion of him on either of the above pictures, you'd describe a crazy man. And there are plenty of historians who would probably say you are close to being right. Not his looks but his actions might also lead one to suspect he was afflicted with a major mental disorder of one type or another.

I'm sure somewhere in my schooling I had seen these pictures and just assumed that "John Brown" and "crazy as a hoot owl" were synonymous. But I have no recollection of being taught much about abolition in school other than its connection to the Underground Railroad. I was not interested in history and really didn't pay too much attention to it.

But in 1998 I read a review of Russell Banks' newly published book "Cloudsplitter" and knew that I needed to read this book. By that time I was a genealogist who had discovered that her family lived in Douglas County, Kansas, at exactly the same time that Brown and his band of antislavery terrorists were getting ready to commit their brutal guerrilla warfare on that county -- so of course I had to read the book. It is a historical novel but solidly built on facts. Banks has given the job of narrating the book to John Brown's youngest son, Owen. And Owen takes over 700 pages to tell the story. It is so fascinating I have already read it twice and intend to read it again.

In 2002 I found, at the UC Berkeley library a small manuscript in the Bancroft Collection written up after an 1888 interview with my great-grandfather Jim Dobbins when he was living in Colorado. In 1856 he had come with his family to Kansas from Illinois as an 18 year old and they had settled in Prairie city, fairly close to Osawatamie, where Brown and his group had their headquarters. Here's what the manuscript says:

He first came westward in 1856 and settled at Lawrence, Kansas, when he arrived just in time to witness the famous career of John Brown. Being of Republican parents, and adhering closely to their political beliefs, he soon became an earnest sympathizer with that party and afterwards a zealous and important factor in the support of their cause. As a follower of the Browns he was engaged in a number of skirmishes of a thrilling and interesting nature.

Unfortunately none of those skirmishes were reported, and until I turned up that document no one in the Dobbins family even knew that he was connected to John Brown in any way.

It was finding and reading this tiny little document that made me turn to "Cloudsplitter" for a second time. And it certainly has kept me interested in not only John Brown but also his family, especially Owen.

Now as to Brown's appearance, he did not always look like he is portrayed in those paintings. To do him justice, I think it is necessary to show how he really looked, without adding on all the accoutrements that suggest "demon," "possessed," "crazy" and those types of descriptors. I like to think that my great-grandpa, after living his entire life in the shadow of his Dobbins Grandfather, a well-educated Presbyperian Circuit-riding minister and staunch abolitionist active in the underground railway (and who had his tombstone engraved "Against Freemasonry and Slavery,") would naturally be drawn to an abolitionist cause, especially if headed by a normal-looking man.

Because my great-grandpa Jim Dobbins is not named in any of the records as one of Brown's guerrillas, I am convinced that those "skirmishes of a thrilling and interesting nature" were not conducted with swords and sabres!

To Be Continued.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


The year was 1955. I was a sophomore at George Pepperdine College at 79th and Vermont in Los Angeles, having the time of my life. Thanks to my dad for picking up the tab for both my college education and my "social life," I didn't have to work. In looking back, that was probably to my detriment, because I think my grades would have been a lot better if I hadn't had so much "playing" time on my hands. However, it was what it was, and life was good.

Between the yearbooks that I still have and the photo albums I made during my time at school, I can take a pretty good trip down memory lane. And I figure that I'd better do it from time to time while I still have a working and fairly decent memory. (Sometimes I can't remember what I had for breakfast...but at least I remember having eaten!)

There were two restaurants near Pepperdine that we frequented a lot in those days. The first one was Chalon's, which as I recall was west of the college on Manchester. We spent a lot of evenings there over cups of coffee. It was a good place to hold discussions and of course the subject matter ranged from chapel services to course subjects to college romances. We covered it all.

The second place we frequented, though not as often because it was a little further away, was Mac's Restaurant at 84th and South Fig. In my scrapbook is a wonderful full menu from Macs, a part of which is shown here. There is a date at the bottom of the menu - Sunday, April 24, 1955. In looking at the prices I just have to laugh. It was a coffee-shop type restaurant, a place college kids could go for a good meal that we could afford. But again, at least the many times I went there it wasn't to eat but to drink coffee and talk. Oh, sometimes we paid an extra 15 cents and got a piece of pie to go along with the coffee, but mostly we talked. Often that was where we went on a first date, after we went to a movie. It was a good way to get acquainted.

Jerry and I had dinner this week with one of my high-school friends and we were regaling each other with stories of what we earned on our first job. We all remembered when payments on our first house we bought were between $65 and $80 dollars a month. We remembered when minimum wage went from 75 cents to $1.00 an hour. And of course I remember when tuition at Pepperdine was $18 a unit. It was all this talk that made me dig into my old scrapbook and pull out that Mac's menu to share with you.

Our young ones will hardly believe their eyes, but the rest of us remember, don't we!

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I’ve been busy watching what is being said about the “Nones” – that group of people who, like me, when queried about what their religion is check the box that says “None.” According to the poll takers, this group presently includes about 19% of U.S. men and 12% of women. It also seems to draw the highest percentage of “nones” from the 18 to 29 age group. As one would expect, older people choose “none” less often that the younger ones.

There also is some talk about this trend which, the sources I read speculate, might possibly be the prelude to another “Great Awakening” – a massive Protestant revival, or immigration bringing in more Catholic believers.

Neither of these happenings seem to be likely, as far as my thinking goes, but I doubt that immigration would do number-wise what the “Great Awakening” did the last time around. Can you imagine having a massive Protestant revival where all the “awakened” align themselves with the religious right? If I’d have to pick one or the other, I’d choose the immigration!

There also is a lot of talk about exactly what the founding fathers meant when they talked about religion. Steven Waldman's book, Founding Faith: Providence, Politics and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America is a good place to get an earful (or an eyeful, actually.) He reminds us that Thomas Paine wrote The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology and didn’t take too kindly to either the bible or religion. And as for Thomas Jefferson, he edited the bible, removed anything “divine” and left in what he agreed with.

So the next time you think to use the Founding Fathers' religion to bolster your argument, you'd better think twice. I don't think it is a very valid argument.

I’m not a “for-er” or an “against-er” I am all for everyone to his own religion. But I do think it is an exceptionally interesting thing to read and ruminate about!