Sunday, February 28, 2010


The best piece of wisdom I was given during my child-raising years was from a pre-school teacher who said not to become one of those hovering mothers who has to run interference for their kiddies all the time. She added "After all, they all try to kill themselves before they are five!"

Now this may be enough to set your teeth on edge, but through the years I more than once had to remind myself of this sage observation. I had four kids in the space of 4-1/2 years, and there were plenty of times that I saw it in action.

Today's story is about Kerry, the little 3-year-old tyke pictured above on Easter in April of 1964. This story happened sometime between then and August of the same year.

In 1964 we lived in a fairly new tract in Westminster, California. There were dozens of little children in the houses on our block. And because it was a different time in society, the kiddies would spend the day outside, running back and forth between the various houses. The moms all kept an eye on whoever was in their house or backyard, and most often, because none of us worked, a group of moms would be standing outside, having coffee and a cigarette and watching the kids play.

There was Calvin, Kathy and Mary Grace, Lisa and Mark, and the other Lisa and Tracy, Monica, Julie, Janet, Mark and Craig, Pilarine, Jimmy, Tommy, Bobby and Dotty, and of course all of mine, Sean, Erin, Bryn and Kerry. It was a good time to be a child.

One day, as the kids ran in and out of the house, I noticed that Kerry was not with them. I walked outside to see where she might be, and I didn't see her. I sat down on the lawn and kept my eyes open -- and finally I saw her rounding the corner of the block and heading for home. She was all by herself and funny enough, she had her hand over her heart.

I got up and walked to meet her, wondering why she was coming from that direction, as none of the kids lived down that far. She had a big smile on her face. "Kerry, where have you been?" I asked.

Without skipping a beat, she answered, "I patted the horsies."

Now on the back side of our block the road ended in a vacant lot where a couple of horses were tethered. There was a smallish fence between the end of the road and the vacant lot, and the kids and I had often walked around there to see the horses. I asked Kerry if the horses came over to the fence so she could pat them. "No, I climb over the fence and patted the horsies."

At that moment, my heart jumped up in my throat and I quickly had to remember that chidren try to kill themselves before they are five, and this was one of those times. But still, I wasn't sure I totally believed her.

I said "Why are you holding your hand that way?" She grinned again and said, "I buy it from the store." She pulled her hand down and there in her little fist was a tiny pack of Dentyne gum, the pack small enough to be covered by her hand and so I couldn't have seen it until she took her hand away.

On the other side of the horse pasture there was a supermarket that had not been opened very long. Apparently she had walked through the horse pasture, out the other side some way, walked into the market and helped herself to a pack of gum. She returned the same way.

I nearly died. What kind of a mother was I to let a child disappear out of my sight for so long that she could accomplish such a thing? To think of everything that could have happened to her - being bit or kicked or trampled by a horse, to be run over by a car in the parking lot, to have been kidnapped on the way, to have gotten lost and not found her way home, to be picked up for shoplifting? Oh gosh, all horrible things that I have to be eternally grateful for not happening.

She really was too young to understand about shoplifting, and at that time I was so thankful to have her back in one piece that I didn't bawl her out for doing such stupid things. We did go in the house and have a little talk about her foolishness in taking off on her own, and the danger of getting close to horses, and of taking things that don't belong to you. And the pre-school teacher the next week had a little talk with her too, at my request, in case she might pay more attention to a teacher than her mother. I do believe she did never shoplift again. And I did make it a point to check on the kids outdoors much more often.

I will say that during her teenage years she often made me wonder if that pre-school teacher's little wisdom should have been extended past the age of five -- to maybe 15 or so! However, in spite of a few minor little horsie-like experiments, she has grown up nicely and now is having fun with her own kids.

I know she's enjoying them as much as I enjoyed my own back in Westminster in 1964.

And I really do think she is a better mother than I was!

Thursday, February 25, 2010


First I have to make a disclaimer. I don't have a solution for the issue of airline travel safety - to scan or to pat or to ignore. No position at all to speak of. But I sure do have to shake my head in wonder, and sometimes even laugh, at the positions people take on Airport Body Scanners vs. The Patdown.

Recently the Fiqh Council of North America, a body of Islamic scholars, issued a fatwa that says going through the airport scanners would violate Islamic rules on modesty.

I suppose the Fiqh Council wouldn't like the thorough patdown any better.

So I say "Fine. Don't fly. Take a boat, swim, parasail, go horseback, walk, or if those don't sound do-able, stay home."

I read online some opinions of female responders to an article on bodyscanners and had to shake my head at the thought processes of some of the responders:

* to body scanning: Do we want TSA airport agents to see all of us? What about children, babies, grandmothers and pregant women? Do we want them exposed to radiation which accumulates in the body over a lifetime and could very well lead to cancer at some point?

* to body scanning: Any TSA inspector who may have a bent towards porn could really have a field day with this. They'd work for peanuts to get access to such a gold mine!

*to body searches: Looking up Grandma's dress and into her Depends, into our babies' diapers and into our genitals is just going too far.

I say "Fine. Don't fly. Take a boat, swim, parasail, go horseback, walk, or if those don't sound do-able, stay home."

And then the Pope speaks out against body scanners: "It is above all essential to protect and value the human person in their integrity." Say what?

He goes on: "Even in this situation [airplanes being in the forefront of the terrorist threat] one must never forget that respecting the primacy of the human person and attention to his or her needs does not make the service less efficient nor penalize economic management." Say what again?

The Pope has his own flymobile so he is speaking out of concern for his flock and probably for the wolves who are at the gate but to which his boss has commanded, "Love your enemies. Do good to them that hate you." Luke 6:27

So no disrepect intended but I have to say again, "Fine. Don't fly. Take a boat, swim, parasail, go horseback, walk, or if those don't sound do-able, stay home."

I do not have a good answer. In tough times, tough action is needed. And someimes we may have to do something we would prefer not doing. But in this case, the alternative is simple. You know what it is. You may not want to take this alternative, but that is your choice. It IS an alternative and will definitely protect your body from perceived violation.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I was going to have a little rumination on today's blog about the Pope's pronouncement on body scanners -- but in getting to my blogsite I ran across the above picture, which has actually trumped the Pope. Not many things can do that. So I'll save the Pope for tomorrow and deal with turtles today.

I have a few blogs that I follow, and probably the one I like the best, Tom McMahon's, is where I found the "turtles" pictured above but apparently the recipe has been around for a while. As I understand it, they originally were made for a Superbowl party. But it's a great idea and it makes a stunning visual presentation.

These are called Bacon Cheese Turtleburgers and are made with handmade ground beef patties, topped with sharp cheddar cheese and then wrapped in a bacon weave. At this point the Hebrew Nationals are inserted as the heads, legs and tails. Place them on a rack, cover loosely with foil and then put them into an oven heated to 400 degrees. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the bacon is done - cooked through and a little crispy, but not too crunchy. I didn't search the internet for the exact recipe but anyone thinking to try this for an occasion of some type might want to do a little more searching. For me, just sharing the funny/strange/clever turtle replications was enough.

But that does make me recall my one venture with eating turtles. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s there was a restaurant in Balboa called Dillons, as we recollect, that featured a wild game night. One night Jerry and I went there with our friends Bev and Ed to see what might be tempting enough to try. Jerry and Bev were both adventuresome eaters. I was less so and Ed was strictly a beef and baked potato man. I do not recall what our friends ate, but Jerry ordered a lion meat steak. I ordered turtle soup.

I recollect very little else about the evening, except that Jerry's meat was exceptionally tough, and we finally figured out that undoubtedly the old lion Frasier from Lion Country Safari had finally kicked the bucket and was having his aged body now served to those unsuspecting patrons at Dillons who ordered lion steaks.

And for me, to this day I can remember the taste of my soup, not because it tasted like turtle but that it tasted like tarragon. And my mind still says that turtle tastes exactly like tarragon does. I don't think the intention of the cook was to camouflage the taste of the turtle, but it did. There is, at the Souplantation restaurant, a nice salad of pasta, tuna fish and tarragon, and every time I eat it I always think that perhaps they've added a bit of turtle to their salad.

It is funny what things are capable of jogging the memory. Tastes and smells both lodge in my brain and bring up mostly good recollections. I smell White Shoulders perfume and my college years flash in front of me. I taste tarragon and I'm immediately back at Dillons eating turtles!

Monday, February 22, 2010


At one time in my life I did a lot of cooking. I enjoyed trying new recipes. I loved getting new pots or kitchen gadgets. I had more recipes than I knew what to do with, and still I cut more out of newspapers. I have even been known to surreptitiously tear a page out of a magazine at the doctor's office if a recipe looked good.

But time passes, and I have gotten to the point where I just take the easy way out of cooking. Several reasons have led to this. First is that the apartments we have lived in since I retired have had totally inadequate kitchens. The first apartment had no cupboard space in the kitchen and I had to tromp through the house to get my frying pan out of the balcony storage cabinet. This second apartment that we are in now has plenty of cabinet space but a miniscule refrigerator, even tinier stove and no counter space.

But secondly is that whatever happened to my sensory taste buds, which made almost all food taste awful, knocked out my desire to cook anything. I have resorted mostly to using pre-packaged, pre-made, frozen or very straightforward dinners for Jerry; I usually just take a few bites of whatever I think I can get down. I will fix Jerry a small steak, a baked potato, a vegetable and a dish of canned pears; I'll just have a couple of bites of the vegetable. I feel sorry for poor Jer, but that's just the way it goes, sadly to say.

However, lately I have been trying to force my taste buds to ease off the nastiness. I'm forcing myself to eat things that really don't taste good but that I can manage to swallow. I have a big problem with anything sweet, but today I'm going to tackle making blackberry cobbler. It is a good time of the year for a cobbler; the frozen berries do well in cooked dishes, so I'm going to use frozen blackberries and a package of buttermilk biscuit mix. In my younger days I was such a purist in my cooking that I would have gone out to pick the blackberries myself (well, I would have wanted to, but since we don't have blackberries around urban Southern California I would have purchased a box of them at the market) and bought some self-rising flour and some buttermilk (ugh, never even in my best days did I develop a taste for straight buttermilk) and made that cobbler the old fashioned way.

But today, since it will be a toss-up if I can eat it or not, I'm going to take the easy way out. Jerry is a great eater of anything sweet, so he'll like whatever I fix. And just maybe I can convince my taste buds that this is a perfectly acceptable taste. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Perhaps you have been reading, like I have, the details of the bitter tug-of-war that a little three year old girl is going through because of a divorce. Custody isn't the issue. Religion is, as it is so many times. Seems the mother is Jewish, the father Jewish by conversion but Roman Catholic by birth. The father made a commitment to raise their small daughter as a Jew, but since the divorce he has introduced her to the Catholic church and, as I understand it, even had her baptized (although one report said she merely had watched a baptism). The issue is in the courts right now.

As one whose life has been touch by the pain of a divorce and a subsequent religious issue of a different but equally distressing alteration in beliefs, I find myself wishing I could shake that father until his teeth rattle. Reneging on a commitment as a way to get back at an ex-spouse is, in my book, pretty low down, and involving a child in it puts it right in the gutter.

I remember reading a really good article that I think embraces the best of multi-religious families and how religions can work together when people put love of family, especially with their children, ahead of piety and ritual. The circumstances are different to begin with, but the illustration of religion in a mixed marriage is a glowing testament of what minds governed by love and not hate can do.

Take a read at this young man's essay:

Friday, February 19, 2010


The Corona Public Library is offering a free concert next Tuesday evening entitled "Sweets and Music." The "Sweets" part is advertised thusly: The Friends of the Corona Public Library will be providing a Chocolate Buffet. Who wouldn't want to go to a free Chocolate buffet, pray tell? The "Music" is a Riverside Lyric Opera presentation - complete with chorus, soloists and orchestra - of Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas.

This blog is not about the library's offering. I have not yet decided if I will or will not attend. I have some reservations: the Community room is not an auditorium with tiered seats, so there will be a lot of bobbing and ducking of heads to try to see what is going on up front; and then I have more than a little concern about the behavior of people who are drawn to such a presentation by the enticement of free chocolates. But I admit to being a little finicky about any event I attend. Knowing personally about the limitations of that community room and the behavior of audiences even in big auditoriums, I'm inclined to think I'm too much of a fuss-budget to go. However, the cost of the event fits my budget, and since I sang in Dido and Aeneas when I was in college, it might be a good trip down memory lane.

Actually, though, my post today is less about the upcoming event than about the one I participated in back in 1954 when I was a freshman at the old George Pepperdine College at 79th and Vermont in Los Angeles. Mind you, this was long before it became Pepperdine University of Malibu.

Our choir was small. Well, the school was small too. The music department was readying Dido and Aeneas for presentation and the choir was going to participate. We needed costumes, so Gaylord Browne, our fine choir director who was fondly called "Poppa Browne," announced we all needed to be measured for costumes. He set aside one class meeting for this chore and said the officers of the choir would handle the measuring.

I do not remember all the details, but I remember enough to still laugh about it. The officers of the choir, except for the secretary (of course), were males. On the assigned day, we went one by one up to where the president stood with his tape measure and he measured our height, the width of our shoulders, and our midsection, the measurements of which he duly reported to the secretary and she wrote down. It was done appropriately. There was no hanky panky, and NO horsing around.

Now you must remember in those days we were living in a different time and a different society. Attitudes toward and between men and women were very different than they are now. For the most part we acted prim and proper in our behavior, especially because it was a religious college. And we, the women of the choir, found it very embarrassing to be measured by "the men." There was much tittering and snickering as we tried to cover up our embarrassment. And the minute each girl escaped from the measuring tape, she joined her sisters over in a corner, and there was much nervous laughing eminating from that corner.

In a couple of weeks the costumes arrived. A big folded square of white cloth having a note with the student's name affixed to it with a safety pin was handed to that person. Poppa Brown said he would show us how the costumes were to be worn. He called up the choir secretary, took off the note pinned to her white square, and then he proceed to drape the square around her body and pin it at the shoulder, making it look somewhat like a Roman Toga. There were no arms. There were no side seams. It was less a costume that a big square of material. We chorus members were to make it into a costume by pinning it in strategic places. Poppa Browne passed out the pins and we started our dressing.

Needless to say, the whole idea of this "costume" made us girls hoot and holler. We had to be measured for this? we said. Well, the measuring mostly was to make sure it was long enough and wide enough to cover what it needed to cover. We came in all different heights and girths. By then, our choir members had built up a close relationship with one another so we girls really started giving the fellows a hard time about it all. Poppa Browne simply sat there and laughed at us. There never was any inappropriate behavior, but we sure got mileage out of the measuring!

As for Dido and Aeneas, it went off very well, and the costumes looked fine from a distance. I can remember little bits and pieces of what we sang, but I have a whole lot more of a recollections about the "costume" that I wore.

So, should I go or not?

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I've been reading a very interesting book called "The Checklist Manifesto - How to Get Things Right" by surgeon Atul Gawande. Already I can hear you say, "Then what is an airplane doing at the top of your blog?" Gawande has a most interesting illustration in his book of the emergence of the checklist in aviation, and I was so taken by it I thought I'd share it with you.

Gawande writes that on October 30, 1935 at Wright Air Field in Dayton, Ohio, the U.S. Army Air Corps held a flight competition for airplane manufacturers vying to build the military's next-generation long-range bombers. Boeing was thought to be the front runner in the contest. They had built a plane that could fly faster and held five times as many bombs than the army requested. It was called the Model 299 test plane and piloting it was the air corps' chief of flight testing.

"A small crowd of army brass and manufacturing executives watched as the Model 299 test plane taxied onto the runway. It was sleek and impresive, with a 103-foot wingspan and four engines jutting out from the wings, rather than the usual two. The plane roared down the tarmac, lifted off smoothly and climbed sharply to three hundred feet. Then it stalled, turned on one wing, and crashed in a fiery explosion. Two of the five crew members died, including the pilot, Major Ployer P. Hill."

An investigation into the crash revealed there was no mechanical error but the crash was due to "pilot error." The report indicated that because the plane was substantially more complex than previous aircraft, the new plane required the pilot to attend to so many new controls and mechanisms that it was just impossible to get them done. The newspapers opined that it was just too much airplane for one man to fly. Douglas's smaller design was declared the winner, and Boeing nearly went bankrupt.

But Boeing believed in their plane. The Army bought a few, got their test pilots together and figured out that more pilot training was not called for. After all, Hill had been the best. But what they decided was that a simple checklist for takeoff should be developed. There was too much to do to depend on someone's memory to accomplish it. Their checklist was simple, brief, short enough to fit on an index card, with step-by-step checks for takeoff, flight, landing and taxing. The pilots knew how to do all that stuff. The checklist simply made them make sure they hadn't forgotten anything.

The test pilots began using the checklist, and the pilots went on to fly the Model 299 a total of 1.8 million miles without one accident.

The Army ordered 13,000 of them, which it dubbed the B-17. And it was because of this plane, and the development of a checklist, that the army gained a decisive air advantage in the Second World War, enabling its devastating bombing campaign across Nazi Germany.

Less than 10 years after the crash of that first Boeing plane, my Uncle Bert Ryland stepped into the cockpit of his B-17 and joined those flights over Germany. I have written about his career in an earlier blog.

Why I post this today is that I learned something in this book by a surgeon about my uncle, an amazing thing to happen. Who would have thought? I also learned of some exceptionally interesting facts about surgeries, hospitals, the World Health Organization, and believe it or not, about building skyscrapers. The common denominator is the "Checklist." I'm not through with the book yet, and who knows what other surprises I'll find. But probaby none quite as amazing as about the B-17.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


No one can make green beans as tasty as the Chinese can, but this is a good duplication by an Anglo.

1 lb trimmed green beans.
Boil these until they are just crisp-tender.

In the meantime, in a skillet place a little soy sauce, a few drops of sesame oil and some fresh chopped garlic. Add a smidgeon of sugar. Heat, stirring, until the garlic is soft, at which time throw in the drained green beans.

Stir until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the beans well coated. This will be just a matter of minutes.

Place them on a plate and serve. MM-MM-good!

This will serve 4.

Go easy with the sesame oil, as it is very potent stuff. But oh, it is so flavorful.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Some of you will remember that I discovered at the Corona Library a wonderful book called Architectural Excellence - 500 Iconic Buildings, put together by Paul Cattermole. It's a huge book, some 500 pages, coffee-table sized with glossy pages full of wonderful photographs. Who knows, much less understands, why I should be drawn to this book to the extent that I HAD TO HAVE A COPY FOR MYSELF. The retail price is $49.95, but I bought a new copy of it for less than $10 (which included shipping) from

Anyway, in my spare time I've been fascinated by what I am seeing and reading. And actually, I am a little sorry that I discovered this book at the end of my life, when I'm finished with world travel, because I sure found some things I'd love to see.

And that is what puzzles me. How can I think things at the complete ends of the design spectrum are both equally gripping. For instance, when my eyes landed upon this church, I felt that I could die in peace if I could only walk into it and feast my eyes on the actual church. Take a look. Is it not about the fussiest, most bizarre church you've ever laid eyes on?

It is in Bavaria. Called the Die Wies Pilgrimage Church, it was completed in 1754. From the outside it appears as a simple, large church with no hint of its spectacular interior. But inside is a different matter. The book describes it thusly: "Light streams in through the windows, illuminating a riot of color and movement in the form of statuary, painted stuccowork and a frescoed ceiling with spectacular trompe l'oeil effects." Oh gosh, I'd give my eyeteeth to see inside this church.

The small picture doesn't do it justice. If you Google-image "Die Wies Pilgrimage Church" you'll find a picture big enough that you almost feel you are inside.

But then, later on I turned a page and saw this extraordinary Danish church in Copenhagen built in 1940, and its towering size and starkness hit me the same way the "fru-fru" did on the Bavarian church. If looking at its picture just about took my breath away, I simply can't imagine what would happen if I actually stood in front of it. The book says it is an example of "expressionist ecclesiastical architecture." OK, but for my money it is far more than that but I have no words for it.

So this is what always makes me wonder about myself: How can I be drawn to two such dissimilar things? And why buildings?

Do you suppose in a former life I was an architect?

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Things change. We can all agree on that. I can remember in the early 1980s when I could jump into my car at 9 a.m. in Orange and be in West LA at the big Family History Center there when it opened at 10 a.m. Things change. There are more cars on the road and freeways aren’t big enough. The 405 freeway is now being widened.

Things change. I can remember in 1981 pecking away on my little Tandy 1000 computer purchased at Radio Shack and being perfectly happy with it. The Tandy is long gone, and there is no being perfectly happy about what you have anymore. Microsoft brings out Vista and 7 and my new computer is outmoded before it gets broken in.

In mid-1960s the city of Long Beach built a beautiful bridge, called the Gerald Desmond Bridge, named after a well-known civil leader and former city attorney. Wikipedia says this: “It is an arch bridge that carries 4 lanes of Interstate 710 Freeway across the Cerritos Channel between Terminal Island and Long Beach. The bridge was designed by Moffatt & Nichol Engineers and was constructed by Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Ground breaking for the construction of the bridge occurred on October 19, 1965, and was completed in 1968. It has a 410-foot (120 m) long suspended main span, 155-foot (47 m) vertical clearance over the Cerritos Channel, and connects Terminal Island on its east side to downtown Long Beach”

Now I know time has a way of flying, but the 1960’s weren’t all that long ago. In 1965 I was already married, had kids, had voted in elections; we were living in a house we owned, had joined a church and I was busy in PTA. I remember clothes that I had, books that I read – I mean, it really just wasn’t all that long ago. But times change.

So when I read in the LA Times that Long Beach was going to tear down the Gerald Desmond bridge and build a bigger and better one, I thought what a waste of money. It seemed to me offhand that a bridge ought to last more than 50 years. I mean, in Istanbul we saw beautiful buildings that were hundreds of years old and still up and running. In England and France too. So why tear down a perfectly good bridge.

Then it occurred to me that maybe this was the way Long Beach had decided to put unemployed residents back to work – tear a bridge down and build another one. That ought to keep people busy for a while and take a few people off the unemployment rolls.

But in reading the article, I saw again that times change. Yes they do. This new bridge will be higher and wider. It will have 6 traffic lanes on it instead of five, with an additional emergency lane on each side so that if accidents occur, the cars can be moved off to the emergency lane and the traffic will still be able to flow; this will be much better than heading off oncoming traffic to the side streets in town, which causes horrendous traffic jams there. The bridge will be stronger, bigger and better suited to serve the ports of LA and LB, which the Times says is the nation’s biggest port complex.

And of course back then, who could have imagined how the size of container ships would increase. Right now, Long Beach says many of the newest container ships can’t even use that channel because the bridge is too low.

But worse, one of the major problems is that the bridge is disintegrating. It wasn’t built to carry as much traffic as it does, and this overuse has caused chunks of concrete to start falling off it. Engineers have now designed what they call “diapers” to fit around the bridge to keep the concrete from falling to the ground or the water. How embarrassing! And how unsafe!

The Times says the planned structure will cost an estimated $1.1 billion and generate an average of 4,000 jobs a year over a five-year construction period, according to the port officials. I think this will be good for California’s economy and is the kind of infrastructure work that our cities are so needful to have done. So I guess it truly is important to get this bridge down and a new one up post haste, for all of the reasons mentioned above.

It just seems to me, though, that 50 years isn’t a very long time for something that big to start falling apart.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


One of the blogs I follow daily is dedicated to all things gustatory. (For those of you who find 'gustatory' a new word, it simply means pertaining to the sense of taste.) The writer of the blog had this item to kick off her daily offering:

"...Denise Snow, the school cafeteria manager, said that children can be taught to eat better. 'When we went to whole-wheat pizza, the kids fussed for a while and we lost some of them,' Ms. Snow said. 'But now they don’t say a thing, and pretty much everyone is back to eating them.'"

And that reminded me of something that happened when my granddaughters Stacey and Carley were little kids, probably 10 and 8. In the summer I took a week's vacation from work and brought the little girls, along with their cousins April and Robyn, to my house to stay for that week. We had a swimming pool in the back yard and all the kids had learned to swim like fish. At seven every morning I had four sets of eyes peering in my bedroom door waiting for me to get up so they could hit the water. It was never hard to take care of four of them at one time, because for the most part they swam all morning, ate lunch, and then swam all afternoon. It was such fun for them -- and very honestly, fun for me.

Lunches were always grilled cheese sandwiches. Lunch never varied, at the kids' request. Grilled cheese sandwiches and a big glass of milk, followed by a cookie or two were ordered up each day, and the cook obliged.

The first year I did this, April and Robyn went home on Friday night. On Saturday Stacey and Carley's folks from San Diego arrived shortly before lunch to pick them up. The little girls asked me if I would make everyone grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch and I told them I would but they would help me make them. They excitedly agreed.

I gave each girl a kitchen knife, laid out all the slices of bread and grabbed the jar of mayonnaise so the girls could start spreading the mayo on each slice. Imagine my surprise when at the first sight of the mayonnaise the girls let out a loud collective "YEEEWWWWWW," followed by an equally collective "WE DON'T EAT MAYONNAISE!"

"Girls," I said, "You have been eating mayonnaise every day this week and you know you love these sandwiches. This is exactly how I made them every single day. So now you know that you DO eat mayonnaise and in fact, you even LIKE mayonnaise, so go ahead and spread it on the slices of bread. No more YEEEWWWWWING!"

Knowing children, I wasn't sure this was going to work, but I let the girls cook the sandwiches on the griddle by themselves. As we gathered at the table around the pool to have lunch, Stacey and Carley both announced to their folks that they now loved mayonnaise! (Come to find out, neither mom nor dad liked it either, but at least they forced themselves to gag it down in front of me!)

Through the years we learned that actually this was a family who didn't like a lot of things. Mom and dad didn't like mushrooms, didn't like olives, didn't like this, didn't like that, and it is no wonder the kids were really very picky eaters.

But like the woman says about the whole wheat pizza's, it's possible to change eating habits. When I was a little kid, I wanted each of the items on my dinner plate to stay separate - that is, I didn't want the meat to have mashed potatoes hanging on one side and I didn't want the peas to touch either the meat or the potatoes. I made a big production about keeping my food "neat." In growing up that no longer became much of an issue and I now I pretty much let my food mingle on the plate willy-nilly.

I haven't been around Carley as much since she's been a "grown-up" but I know that Stacey at this point in her life is truly an eager-eater. I was dumbfounded to learn that she has even eaten escargot, knowing full well that they were snails. I agree that there are certain tastes that each person may not like, but for the most part, I think much of kids's eating problems are really just in their minds.

And between you and me, I think adults who are picky about the foods they eat are not much better than big babies! And they are missing out on lots of really wonderful gustatory experiences.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I love my X-Acto knife. I’ve had it as long as I can remember and I can’t imagine life without it. I use it for all kinds of things, one of the most helpful being in cutting the thick plastic that surrounds an item you’ve just purchased and can’t figure out how to get it out of the packaging! Oh, this knife really, really helps. I’ve also used it in doing some scherenschnitte (paper-cutting) for Christmas gifts, until I realized that I really wasn’t very good at it and retired the knife from that job. But let me tell you the best use I’ve ever found for it.

In 2001 I had a very distressing bout with two doctors and an Urgent Care office over removing a tiny growth on the underside of my forearm. Actually, the removal of the growth wasn’t the problem; it was getting the stitches out. I don’t need to tell you that HMOs try to make everything as complicated as possible, and when the day came that my stitches were to be removed, I found absent doctors, nurses who lied about notifying me that the doctor would not be in that day, another doctor whose office was 15 miles from the first but could only do it the following day, and an urgent care to whom I was referred by my HMO which said they couldn’t do it because they didn’t do doctor’s work for them.

At that stage, after having spent two hours driving all over the Inland empire following my HMO’s instructions and still not having found anyone to remove my stitches, I was so frustrated I was close to tears. At the Urgent Care I stuck my head in the window where the receptionist sat and said to her, “I know you are only the messenger and I am not mad at you, but I have never, ever been given such a run around. It will be a long day in hell before I use your HMO again. I will remove these stitches myself with my X-Acto knife.” I huffed my way out of the office, leaving all the other patients, and the receptionist, with stunneds look on their faces.

It was at that point, when I got in my car to drive the 15 miles back to my house with the stitches still in my arm, that I almost cried. But I didn’t let myself. I was furious all the way home. When I get really mad, I get steely quiet. I walked into our apartment, grabbed a bottle of alcohol, a ball of cotton, a pair of tweezers, a magnifying mirror that I used for putting on my makeup and my X-Acto knife. Jerry kept saying, “What’s the matter? What are you doing?” I was too mad to talk. I washed the knife, the tweezers and my arm in alcohol and then sat down in good light at the kitchen table. I adjusted the mirror so it I could see the stitches. I laid the sharp blade of the knife flat against my skin and slipped its tip under the first stitch. With a little twist of the blade upward, the thread cut easily. I did the same for the second stitch and the third stitch. With the tweezers I pulled the threads out. I put antibiotic ointment on the tiny incision and affixed a Band-Aid. “TO HELL WITH THE DOCTORS,” I told Jerry. “I DID IT MYSELF!”

So you see, I think everyone needs an X-Acto knife. You never know when it will come in handy. For crafts or for doctoring, it works! Of course, over the years I had seen doctors take many stitches out of me and my kids for various and sundry little things, and I also had observed my cousin Shirlee remove stitches from animals, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know how to do it. But the X-Acto knife made it a piece of cake.

My mother always said there was more than one way to skin a cat. (Do not use your X-Acto knife for that, please). After the stitches came out, I called Kaiser Permanente Member Services department and asked them to send a rep out to sign me up, as I needed to change HMOs. Within a year, the old HMO was out of business!

Monday, February 8, 2010


I was standing close to the magnifying mirror this morning putting on my mascara when Jerry said something funny and I laughed. GOOD GRIEF, I thought, LOOK AT MY WRINKLES! The smile flew off my face and I was caught looking at a very glum face where those wrinkles had been. Sure enough, they were there, although to a lesser degree when not smiling. This was NOT a good way to start a new week.

I have always thought I was lucky to have relatively good skin. To be honest with you, I have beaten it up quite a bit in my life. I did not come from a family whose female role model creamed her face to take off make-up, creamed her face after a bath, and creamed her face before sleeping and after arising.

Now in a little aside I will tell a tale on my mother, may she rest in peace. She had a younger sister, my Aunt Marie, who was the beauty of the family. She and my mother were very close and they loved each other dearly. But my mother envied Aunt Marie’s looks, which she attributed to the fact that my aunt worked in the beauty industry and had access to amazing creams that she used diligently on her face to make it so beautiful. My Aunt Marie’s skin stayed beautiful until the day she died. She did, as a matter of fact, care for her skin, but she was truly blessed with the kind of looks that don’t depend on expensive creams. No amount of cream my mother might have used would have changed her own looks.

But neither my sister nor I were taught to care for our skin by putting cream on it. It was just our good luck that we were born with decent skin that managed to survive summers lying on the sand for hours each day at the beach. Neither of us ended up with the leathery look of some older ladies who appear to have lived on the golf course from puberty to hospice.

So to be honest with you what I saw in the mirror this morning was, in the scheme of things, not as bad as it could have been, but frankly, to me, seeing it up close and personal like that, I thought I had turned as wrinkled as a shar-pei. Now compare the wrinkles:

See? It’s close, don’t you think.

It’s been a couple of hours since I looked at my face, and I’ve been trying to decide whether I should try to stop smiling so much, which I think is what accentuates these lines, or whether I should just give in to it and let the wrinkles fall where they may. If I had any idea that one of the retinol creams would erase some of them, I might grab my wallet and hustle down to Rite-Aid. (I’m sure Aunt Marie’s creams didn’t come from a drug store, but I am just not the kind of person who can walk into the face-cream department at Bloomingdales and feel anything but out of place). Actually, I think there is little that I can do. The sun and the wind and the genes and the years have done what they have done, and I don’t think there is any going back.

So I suppose it is just a matter of letting nature take its course and making peace with that. I am not inclined to smile any less (except at that exact moment when I see the smile lines on my face in the magnifying mirror!).

And I do confess that my body is pretty much following what is happening to my face. In spite of Jerry’s urging that I let him take a picture of my backside to illustrate THIS blog, I will simply substitute the picture below – and tell you that if the face looks like a shar-pei, do you think the body would look like a greyhound?

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Many years ago we awoke one morning to water flooding our master bathroom. This house was built on a slab, so the plumber had to come out with a leak detector to find where the problem originated. And wouldn’t you know it, it was under the bathtub. Men came out with a jackhammer and got the tub out in pieces and set about repairing the leak. Doing a complete bathroom remodel at that time wasn’t in the budget so I told them to simply replace the tub with a similar kind. They did.

The men – big, burly men used to wrestling with heavy tubs, toilets and sinks – saved us a bunch of money, but their idea of what was “similar” and my idea weren’t even close. I ended up with a cheap bathtub in which I had to sit upright like a Quaker in a church pew, and with an overflow hole so near the bottom that I was lucky to be able to keep 3 inches of water in the tub before it all ran out through that hole.

I had no one to blame but myself. I had never given bathtubs a second thought. As far as I was concerned, a tub was a tub was a tub. So I wrote off the idea of “soaking” and repaired to the shower in the bathroom off our bedroom. When we finally, ten years or so down the road, were able to really redo the master bathroom, you can be sure I looked very, very carefully at what was available. I didn’t make any mistakes the second time.

I say all this because I wish our management company had asked for my advice when choosing to replace the toilets in all 1244 units of this apartment complex. However, all we got was a notice that new “green” toilets – high-efficiency, water saving toilets - were going to be installed shortly in an effort to decrease water usage on the property. (And of course you’ll remember that management’s first effort toward this end was to cap off all the outside water spigots so that we could not water any of our plants around the perimeter of our apartment, plants that previous management encouraged us to grow to make our barrack-like apartments attain a more pleasant image.)

Our old toilets were small and pretty close to the ground. This complex was built in 1965 and was built for families, not just seniors. So if the existing toilets were the original ones, they certainly would have accommodated short people and small children. They were only slightly higher than a potty chair. In the interim, as the complex became set aside for seniors 55 and older, bars were installed on the bathroom walls so that old people could grab onto them to help hoist themselves up off the toilet. Luckily we haven’t had to use them yet. (As you know, this complex isn’t the most wonderful in the world, but the rent is right so we just work around all the little irritations.)

Anyway, when the new toilet got installed, we were like kids who once inside a restaurant absolutely have to try out the toilets. So we did too, but we had two shocks: first, the toilet is so high we almost have to have a little stool in front of it to enable us to get onto the seat. And I will tell you that any woman (or man) under 5’6” tall is going to find her feet dangling as she sits. This toilet is more uncomfortable than my Quaker bathtub!

But the biggest problem is that it may call itself a high-efficiency water saving toilet, but it takes between three and seven flushes to clear out the bowl. And even at that, it requires using the toilet brush at least once a day. Aside from adding one more aggravation to our golden age years, it makes me wonder what draconian remedy to the increased toilet-water usage management is going to think up for us next.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I'm going to call my problem "Henry" -- because I can type "Henry" faster than I can type "MSVCR71.dll"

I'm sure all of you can immediately recognize that I have a computer problem. The dreaded ".dll." Nothing is ever good about seeing a ".dll"

Jerry was up before I was this morning, and as I walked from the bedroom he announced in that peculiar voice - the sound that tells me something is wrong with the computer - that SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THE COMPUTER! It is the voice that is just one notch below the voice that says there is something wrong with ME! After finishing opening my eyes, I quickly sat down at the computer and tried to open up AOL. And there, staring me in the face, was an ERROR message about Henry.

I rebooted the computer. He was still there.

I then used Internet Explorer to access AOL and get to LIVE HELP, which actually always is able to provide an answer. The disembodied JEI read my SOS and eventually told me that Henry was not an AOL problem but a Microsoft problem and I would have to go to the following website to get help: When I saw that "cant launch game" business I thought to myself that this website isn't going to do it for me. I then went to MS's website and learned that I would have to get down and dirty inside all the guts of my computer to get myself out of this. I clicked JEI away, clicked MS off my screen and agitatedly cogitated. What to do. What to do with Henry.

So my little brain told me wait for son Sean to come home from Albuquerque and have him help me. Everyone should have a Sean for their Henrys. It will probably be the weekend before my computer is free of Henry, but that is ok.

However, in trying to find AOL Live Help via IE, at one point I clicked on "MY ACCOUNT" and there I saw that I was delinquent in my payments and no longer could access AOL. I really didn't think that was why I got the Henry message, but after finishing with JEI I asked to be transferred to the billing department to check the delinquency message. I had the ominous feeling that in 1997 when we opened up our AOL account that we had paid with a MasterCard, not AMEX. Recently I'd had a senior moment where I thought I'd lost my Mastercard, so we cancelled the old one and got a new number. To my embarrassment, after receiving the new card I found my old one; I had simply misplaced it. Since we had not been notified by AOL that our old card wouldn't work any more, it was just a lucky accident that I saw the delinquency message and was able to rectify that problem before I ended up with two problems.

Now I'm paid up to date, AOL has the new number so I'm not likely to get a collections agency after me, but I'm still left holding hands with Henry.

Ah, me. I am waiting for the time that using my computer will be as simple and as sure as turning on the iron, or the radio, or the lamp. Click - it's on and working. Click - it's off. No problems, no Henrys. Do I think this will ever happen with computers? Maybe somewhere down the line, as I really do think this electronic age is in its infancy and things will improve, but it isn't going to happen in my lifetime.

So in the meantime, at least for the next few days, there will be lots of cussing from the computer room as poor Jerry and Henry tussle around while he tries to navigate IE to read his AOL e-mails. I may even add my voice to the din on occasion if my irk level is reached.

These are truly times that try men's souls.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Sometimes a person picks the perfect gift. It's hard to do under most any circumstances, but when you are faced with giving a gift to an older person who has everything, well, what's a poor kid to do?

My daughter was faced with just that scenario when she set out to find something that Jerry would like/use/enjoy for a Christmas present some years ago. She wandered around Brookstone - and came up with the above, a shower radio. Wrapped and delivered under the tree, it sat amid the usual socks, boxers, handkerchiefs and golf balls that undoubtedly were there too.

Without going into great detail, I will tell you that the gift was absolutely perfect. This man has turned it on at 5 a.m. as he steps into the shower every morning for the past 10 years. No gift has proved more suitable than this one.

Now, to him it was the perfect gift. But of course in his dotage he is getting a trifle hard of hearing so he has to up the volume a bit. Then when the water is turned on, with the noise of the water hitting the shower curtain he has to up the volume a little more. At this point I have to listen to the 5 a.m. news from my bed, through two closed doors and even with my head under the covers. I do not like to hear news at 5 a.m. but it is there for me to listen to.

We have a new neighbor whose bathroom backs up against ours. Although she hasn't complained (yet), I suspect she hears the 5 a.m. news too. When I see her, even though I am curious as to the acuity of her hearing, I maintain kind of a "don't ask, don't know" attitude. I'd like to say to her, "Beverly, do you hear Jerry's shower radio blaring in your bathroom at 5 a.m. every morning?" But I do not want to be the one to tell Jerry that he might want to turn down the volume on his radio at that ungodly hour of the morning, that his neighbor can hear every word that is spoken." I know he would say it is his bathroom and his shower and his radio and etc." So I don't ask.

Although I haven't done this yet, I have considered going outside in front of our apartment at 5 a.m. to see if I can hear the 5 a.m. news blaring from the bathroom vent on our roof. If I can hear birds sing when I am in the bathroom, I don't know why it wouldn't work the other way around. But crawling out of a warm bed and into the darkness outside is worse than hearing the news from my warm bed.

I don't begrudge Jerry his early morning satisfaction. I do not believe he actually hears the news, as the overhead fan and the shower noise really makes it well nigh impossible to hear anything in toto. But I do know that Jerry likes background noise - the noise of the tv on whether he is watching it or not, the car radio always going - and while it isn't my cup of tea (I prefer stony silence, actually) I truly am happy that he has enjoyed this Christmas gift so much over the last few years.

Should it break, I would be the first to run down to the store to buy a new one for him. I believe its presence insures that he is always neat and clean, good-smelling and happy. What wife would want to ditch an appliance that has such a powerful effect on her husband?

And if you don't see Jerry's picture below, you will know as proof-reader he has corrected a major problem!

Monday, February 1, 2010


As I have mentioned before in my various musings, I have set out to rid myself of some of the junk that I've accumulated over my adult life. Now don't get me wrong, I am not one of those people who is a compulsive collector - I have seen the rooms of someone like that. I'm not even close, but I do see that it could be easy to slip over to a really compulsive saver. I'm going to see that that doesn't happen to me as I get older.

The first job I tackled was my cup collection. I gave away a lot of my cups. I did save 4 Christmas cups, a few cups that my daughter Erin brought to me from places she's visited, and about 8 cups that will sit in our cupboard for everyday coffee-drinking. I must admit that I can never pass a good-looking cup in a store without lifting and feeling it, but so far I've managed to set each one back on the shelf and walk away. Where this is the hardest to do is at Starbucks, where I go each Friday morning to fortify myself for the grocery-shopping chore. If I have a breakdown, it will be at Starbucks. But so far, so good.

The next project I tackled, which just happened this past weekend, is my accumulated new and used file folders. They are of all sizes and colors. I can't exactly call this a "collection" because as every old secretary knows, there is nothing more aggravating than needing a file folder and not having one the right kind at your fingertips. Over the years in my pursuit of family history I have used three legal sized, four-drawer file cabinets and one letter-sized, two-drawer file cabinet. I am loathe to throw away a folder if it is in reasonably good condition -- but this weekend in checking the contents of boxes stored on my closet shelves, I discovered I had three huge boxes of file folders just waiting to be needed. To be honest with you, I was a little embarrassed at how many I had saved. Considering that I am now downsizing my genealogy files, I am going to be needing less, not more, of them. So what to do?

While Jerry was golfing yesterday and after Erin left from our regular Sunday morning coffee-time, I hauled down all three boxes and ruthlessly sorted them. I decided I would keep about 10 large and 10 small folders for myself and toss the rest in the dumpster. Without going into too much detail, I will just let you know that I did throw away into the dumpster the worst-looking of the folders, probably 75 or so. I put about 50 of the decent one into a box and will deliver them tonight to a friend who says she can use them. And the rest, I would estimate about 100, all colored and unused, went back into the box and then back up on the closet shelf. I didn't do quite as good on the folders as I did on the cups, but dropping from three to one box is a great improvement, I think. And I do feel happy at what I've kept for myself.

I'm going to start thinning out my books next. I try my best not to buy them anymore. I have turned into the library's best patron. But it is amazing how many books mysteriously creep back up on my shelves due to It's their fault for always having what I look for. But I've got to be ruthless there too. Not only is it reading books that I need to move out but it is also my collection of yearbooks. I have all mine from junior high school, high school and college. Jerry has his from high school and college. And we have them from his first wife's high school and college too. Amazingly, over the years we've also managed to find old yearbooks from our parents' years in high school. Oh, what to do with all of these! How can we part with them? What will be done with them by our kids when we die? Tossed, I fear. Dealing with books is a lot harder than dealing with cups and file folders. Much more painful. But I think there certainly must be archives somewhere that would love to receive what we choose to part with. So that's the next project: tackling the bookshelves.

Overall I feel good with the progress I'm making. Don't think for a minute that our apartment is going to start looking bare. We've a long way to go before that happens. I doubt if you would notice a difference at all, but I can sure tell! And that is definitely a good feeling!