Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I don’t hoard. I hardly even “collect” any more. But recently I’ve developed a thing for boxes.

Our local Ralphs Market is now selling shoe-box sized plastic storage boxes, complete with lids, for 88 cents. They have a monumental pile of them for sale. My eyes lit up when I saw them. I bought two.

I sent Box #1 home with my little granddaughters last weekend to carry some knitting needles and yarn that they wanted to practice on. I used the Box #2 to store some sundries in – Band-aids, little bottles of hand lotion, - things that were scattered around on a shelf but really were better contained in a box.

Last Saturday at the grocery store I bought two more boxes. Into Box #3 went a bunch of hair supplies, and into box #4 went all my computer program CDs and the backups I make.

Yesterday Jer went back to Ralphs to pick up some fresh strawberries they put on sale and I asked him to get me two more boxes. I had to point out to him that yes, I needed two more because I had already filled up the others.

So into Box #5 I put all the stationary and cards that were sitting on a shelf in my office. They had been in a cardboard box that was splitting at the seams and now they are tucked neatly into that plastic box. Into Box #6 went all the little cables for computer mice, external floppy drive, hub, digital camera cables, a tiny old audio cassette microphone and some various printed directions for now unremembered equipment which I might still have. I’m finding most of the time that the lids aren’t needed, but the lid fit nicely on top this last box and it now is sitting neatly in a dresser drawer.

I think I’ll pick up a final two plastic containers when we grocery shop this coming weekend. They will be in reserve in case more condensing is needed.

I do have a few more little items that would fit well into a container but they really are not for packing away. I have a couple of little colorful tin containers into which I toss all my loose change. It makes such a nice noise hitting the bottom and the sides of these tin boxes. They sit on a window ledge looking for the world like little “gee-gaws” that old people use to signal the outside world that there is somebody alive and well in this apartment. I’m trusting that no one will know that I have loose pennies, nickels and dimes in them.

But periodically I sort the change (and here’s where it gets a bit peculiar) and store it in appropriately-sized old pill containers that I set aside for that purpose. These filled containers then rest in one of my dresser drawers. I’ve done this for a long time.

Now it isn’t like I keep these forever and ever. The pill containers with quarters in them have bailed us out many times when we ran short of quarters for the Laundromat machines. And the dimes and nickel containers are easily dropped into my purse if I go genealogical researching at a library where I need small change for the photocopy machines. So the money gets used and replaced. It beats going to the bank for a roll of quarters. And I like to know that I have money at hand, though in this day and age small change is so valueless that it’s almost not money anymore.

I know this is a peculiar habit. Even Jerry doesn’t understand it. But I don’t call this collecting, and I don’t think it is hoarding, either. It isn’t like one day I’ll disappear and Jerry will find me a few months later buried under a pile of tins and pill containers like the recent newspaper article told about the man who discovered his wife dead under piles of junk in their house. The most I will admit to is that keeping these things maybe is a bit odd. But “odd” is not a certifiable condition, so I’m safe.

I think everyone has a few little oddities in his or her life, don't you?

However, someday I’ll tell you a really odd story - about the OTHER thing I keep in my office: it’s a Starbuck’s Frappuccino glass bottle full of cat whiskers. But that’s another story for another time.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


He wasn’t really my uncle. If called upon to explain the relationship, my sister and I always said he was our “fake” uncle. He was my dad’s best friend. He and dad met sometime in the mid 1920s in Colorado, they came to California together in 1932, became partners in a business venture in 1945, lived with us for a period of time when my sis and I were in junior and senior high school, and he and Dad were still friends when Unc died in 1987 at the age of 79. There was never a time in my life that he wasn’t around. His nickname was “Son” and that is what he was called by the adults in my family. Because children in our family weren’t allowed to refer to people by their given name, we first knew him as “Uncle Son.” Later he became “Uncle Bill.”

Genealogically speaking, I haven’t even enough data beyond his Social Security “vitals” to put on a Family Group Sheet. His full name was Wilmer Augustus Funk and he was born in Nebraska, possibly in or near Beatrice. I think his father was Augustus Funk, though I’m not sure. According to what my dad told me, Unc was attending Colorado School of Mines but had to drop out and go to work when his father died. I never asked Dad how they met. They came to California in 1931 to investigate a gravel mine for a group of Colorado investors. It so happened that my mother had arrived in California about the same time and having known my dad in Colorado, a courtship ensued and they were married in 1932. Unc was Best Man at the wedding.

Until Unc moved in with us in 1945, when my folks purchased a large four-bedroom house in Long Beach, he was always around but I have no firm idea of what he was doing. We understood that he served in the Army during WWII and was on Peleliu in the Palau islands. He always said he had acquired “jungle rot” on his feet there, and it never occurred to me that this just might have been a story glamorizing athlete’s foot. I have never found any record of his military service, not a draft registration nor a service record. Having been born in 1907, he would have been fairly old to be in WWII, but he was healthy and single, with no reason not to serve. I can’t prove this.

At any rate, for a period of at least 10 years he played a big part in my growing up. Every morning during the school year he knocked on the bedroom door and said our name: “Barbara?” or “Ginnie Lou?” He waited until we answered. Once we did, he said, “Saddle Blankets!” That was our clue to get up. We moaned and groaned, hating to get out of the warm bed. But “Saddle Blankets” was forthcoming until we made it out of the bed. I have no idea where that saying came from, but from 1945 to when I left for college in 1953, it was enough to get me up and moving every morning.

He helped dad get breakfast every morning. Mother didn’t get up until she smelled the strong coffee percolating on the stove. Unc set the table and poured the coffee, while Dad fried the bacon. Mother took over from there, while Unc and Daddy got ready for work. Unc was not a boarder or a guest in the house. He was a family member. In fact, he had a very even temperament and was much better around teenage girls than my dad was. Neither my sister nor I would ever have passed Algebra if it hadn’t been for Unc’s constant tutoring at night after dinner. He brought both of us from “Cs” to “As” by his methodical help. Daddy had good business sense, managing to parlay small dollars into large dollars, but Unc was a teacher of fundamentals and just what we needed at that point in our lives. In thinking back at the images I retain from my early family life, Unc is always there.

He remained a bachelor until the mid 50’s, when he met and married a local woman who had two young children. Unfortunately the marriage didn’t last, but it did last long enough for those two stepchildren to adore him like we did, and to the end of his life they watched over him.

Again, genealogically speaking, I can’t find much to put on a Family Group Sheet about him. He had a younger brother Claude, who married a Lois and they had two sons, “Davie” and “Ronnie” who were considerably younger than I was. For a time this family lived next door to us in some duplexes my dad owned. I believe eventually the Nebraska Funk family – a mother and a sister - moved to California.

I hate loose ends in genealogy. And I don’t like people who I’ve known and loved to go without being named somewhere. So perhaps down the road somewhere a researching “Funk” will do a Google search and find our own Unc Funk – just one of the nicest fake uncles a kid could have.

Unc on the left, my dad on the right. I'm sitting in the middle. Rainbow Pier Lagoon in Long Beach, CA 1940

Saturday, August 28, 2010


A newspaper article in the LA Times recently said that the City of Los Angeles collects only 53% of the money owed on parking citations. That said, what it does collect amounts to $130 million. “During the first quarter of the most recent fiscal year, the audit found, unpaid parking tickets totaled $210 million. Of that total, about $91 million had been pending for more than two years.”

The day the auditor issued the results, the city laid off 200 employees.

What got me is that several weeks later the LA Times has a large article about parking meters being installed around town and how the city needs to do this because it needs more revenue. Well, DUH!

Do I believe LA is unique in this business of uncollected citations. Of course not, for a starter, our own IRS has a huge backlog of uncollected taxes that goes back years and years.

Once I worked for a smallish company who insured doctors against malpractice claims. The goal of this company was to attempt a fair financial settlement of cases where the doctor was clearly at fault and to fight to the bitter end if the lawsuit was “frivolous” – just someone wanting to get some quick cash. (And there were plenty of those). Although this was a noble undertaking, it soon became obvious that the bulk of the suits were settled because it cost too much to fight them. In other words, it was a business decision, not a moral decision.

It may cost the City of LA more than it is worth to pursue these overdue tickets. However, I am distressed because of this: the “little guy” who gets a parking ticket pays it because he doesn’t have a high-powered lawyer behind him to guide him through the ins and outs of beating the system. The scoff-laws know that if they play their cards right they can thumb their nose at rules and regulations. The little guy knows if he tries that he’ll end up with wages attached or bill collectors hounding him – or in the pokey.

As if this isn’t bad enough, the powers that be are always looking for more ways (in this case, newer, pricier parking meters, higher ticket costs, more onerous add-ons, etc.) to get money out of those who pay for their indiscretions: not the scoff-laws or the pompous asses but again, the little guy who tries to be a law-abiding citizen.

I think it is morally disgusting to not collect money owed while devising new ways to increase revenue. This goes not only for your city or mine, for any county, any state and for our US government. A self-righteous “business decision” punishes the good guy who is trying to do right – and in this economy may himself be teetering on the edge of financial insolvency.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Merriam Webster’s Word of the Day for today is “Milquetoast.” I am not sure my children, all now middle-aged adults, are even aware of this word. But I’d guess that those of us whose families experienced the depression years would certainly understand.

Milquetoast, better-known to many of us as “Milk Toast” is the sobriquet of a timid, meek or unassertive person. We’ve all known people like that. What I didn’t know was where the word came from.

According to MW,
“Caspar Milquetoast was a comic strip character created in 1924 by the American cartoonist Harold T. Webster. The strip, called “The Timid Soul,” ran every Sunday in the New York Herald Tribune for many years. Webster, who claimed that Milquetoast was a self-portrait, summed up the characters as “the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick.” (I am not sure any of my kids would understand this, either, but it made me laugh!) The earliest examples of “Milquetoast” being used as a generic synonym for “timid person” date from the mid-1930s.

So what is this picture of? A literal rendering of edible “milk toast,” a bland concoction of buttered toast served in a dish of warm milk. When we were kids did we eat it? You bet. Was it good? Well, sprinkled with enough cinnamon and sugar it certainly was. However, in my family’s repertoire of food it was not a breakfast dish; it was for Sunday night dinners. I don’t know that my folks ate it then, but us kids certainly did.

And all this reminds me of a few other things that we ate in our childhood.

One thing was a piece of bread torn into bite-sized pieces and slathered with gravy. Sausage gravy, chicken gravy or just plain milk gravy – it didn’t matter. I’m sure this evolved from the biscuits and milk gravy that my mother often prepared for dinner during the depression. According to the story she told me, often the neighbors living in the little court out on Dairy Avenue in Long Beach all brought whatever ingredients they had in their own apartment and together they managed to get a meager meal together for all. There may not have been meat on the table, but the biscuits and milk gravy were a staple. By the time my sis and I were big enough to sit at the table with the adults, the depression was on its way out, and the torn bread and a meat gravy became a delicacy for us.

Another thing my folks considered appropriate for a Sunday night dinner was a bowl of rice, topped with butter, sugar and hot milk. It was no different than a hot cereal, actually, but it was easily prepared and tasty. To be honest with you, it almost was rice pudding, and we all loved that. Getting to eat a “dessert” for Sunday dinner was a real treat!

If mother made a pie, she always took the left-over piecrust, rolled it out again, cut it into smallish pieces, dropped a spoonful of jelly in the center of each piece and baked along with the pie became “tarts” for my sister and me. There was always a tussle going on between us kids and our mom as to whether we could eat the raw dough or let her bake us the little tarts. We loved uncooked dough, and in spite of our mother telling us that too much dough would cause us to be constipated, we still tried to snatch as much of it as we could before it went under the rolling pin for the second time.

Another yummy treat was to put chocolate frosting between graham crackers. It was hard to let them sit long enough for the frosting to harden. If we happened to be caught without graham crackers in the house, my sis and I would implore mother to put the frosting between white soda crackers. She always reminded us that it wouldn’t taste very good, but we wanted them anyway. I do remember the taste, and it truly wasn’t very good. But that didn’t stop us from wanting more.

As nearly as I can recall, all I ever fixed of these things for my own kids was the graham crackers -- and probably the piecrust tarts. Certainly they never had milktoast. If I have forgotten about that, they surely will remind me. I'm afraid that they sometimes think my mind is getting a little addled, but at least my long-term memory is still darn good!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I can hardly believe that it has been almost 20 years since we lived in Turkey. What we did and what we saw during the time we lived there is as clear in my mind as if we had just been there a short time ago.

I had become friends with a small group of women who were connected in one way or the other to the American Consulate in Istanbul. I was often able to join them on some very interesting private tours. One such trip was up to the Black Sea, flying in and out of Trabzon. That part of the Black Sea coast is lush and green, humid as all get-out in the summer and an area that grows bumper crops of tobacco, cherries, hazelnuts and tea. It is unlike any other part of Turkey, but like every part of that amazing country, it is full of ancient history, surprising vistas and most of all, tiny rural villages with exceptionally engaging residents.

Once we got to Trabzon, we moved from place to place on a small chartered bus, which gave us an opportunity to stop whenever we saw something we wanted to see. Everywhere we went, we were totally charmed by the people, especially the peasants. Along one of the country roads we saw these young girls in identical headscarves, traditional to that area, carrying huge bundles of sticks and tree limbs on their back, causing them to bend over almost double. We asked our leader to stop so we could talk to the girls.

Now I couldn’t say much in Turkish, but most of the women with the Consulate were fluent in the language, so I left the “gabbing” to them. My self-appointed duty was to take Poloroid photos of the peasant girls to give to them. Some of these youngsters had never seen such a camera and they were delighted to have photos of themselves with their new friends. While I was doing that, the other women were using regular cameras to get regular photos and later provided me with copies, which sometimes, unfortunately, weren’t as good as I had hoped. This was, of course, the pre-digital camera era.

At that time Turkey had compulsory education for younger children. These girls may have gone to school when they were very young but by age 9 most had already joined the work force. We were fascinated by the scarves they were wearing, so they told us where in the nearby village we could buy them. The photo below is what the scarves looked like opened out to their full size. They were all block prints, hand-made, lovely and dramatic. The girls also taught us how to tie them on our head the way they wore theirs. I have a picture of me wearing one, but it is not a picture I show to anyone!

We headed out one morning to a town named Tonya, tucked away deep in a lush valley. We got lost on the way, but it turned out that this mistake made for certainly the most fascinating event of our tour. On a little road hardly big enough for our vehicle we came upon this family, living high on a hillside knoll. Their men were all working in town; the women did all the farming that went on around the dwelling. This was an extended family -- two old sisters, their daughters and grandchildren. The young man is about of an age where soon he would be going to join the men in town.

These people had no amenities that we think necessary to keep us entertained. Their life centered on family and friends in their immediate radius. They rarely had seen a television set and had no idea where the United States was or what was going on in the world beyond them. However, for the hour we spent with them, like women anywhere, there was a lot of chattering going on, although it was in the Turkish language! The tour guide, a youngish college student from Istanbul, translated for me as I spent a bit of time with the oldest of the ladies there. Getting lost has never been so much fun!

I remember so much about Turkey – but it is the people I met that were truly the highlight of my time there, wherever I went. And if I had a chance, you can bet I’d go back in a flash to spend some more time in that amazing, amazing country.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


My daughter Bryn, as some of you will recall, has fallen in love with Alaska living. And in the last two years I have watched her morph from a regular California girl into someone whose activities make me think that she really may be an adopted child, even though I was there at her birth.

Her e-mails to us now use the words "moose" and "fish" in about the same quantity as they used to contain "dog" and "boys." Neither her father nor I were outdoorsy people - at least at the time we were living together as man and wife, father and mother. Our idea of a vacation was a motel with a swimming pool and that is the way my kids were brought up. For the most part they have not strayed too far from the mold -- except for Bryn.

She has been very good about sending me newspaper articles that explain what is available for her to experience. The whole time I am reading them I am shaking my head in wonder: is this really my daughter?

Her latest adventure is dipnetting, illustrated above by the wonderful picture from her local newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News. It seems when the sockeye salmon start their run up the Kenai River, for a few weeks in midsummer all the locals can get a permit to dipnet fish. These nets are humongous -- five feet in diameter - and if you believe what is written, all a person does is dip that net in the river and pull it up filled with salmon. The newspaper article says that a fish count last year, accomplished by sonar, came up with a figure of almost 750,000 fish passing by in July. So if your big net serves you well, the permit entitles you to 25 salmon each day if you are the head of the household, with all other household members allowed 10 fish each per day. Needless to say, one needs a very large freezer in their home.

Bryn told me that she doesn't do the "net" part of it. I can see why. She's my shortest child (also a reason for thinking perhaps she's adopted because we tended to grow tall kids) so at 5 feet 4 inches she probably is not all that handy with a five foot wide net. But here's the kicker: Her job is to hit the fish on the head and put it out of its misery before it is cleaned and gutted.

Now the older I get, the more compassionate I find myself. I can barely bring myself to deliberately step on an ant. (Flies and spiders are exceptions.) When we lived in Istanbul and went out for a fish dinner, it was necessary to go to a large tank filled with swimming fish and show the waiter which one you want cooked for your meal. I was not able to do that. I could not have lived with myself if I had to choose which fish was to live and which to die. No, let that fish be on our driver Ahmet's conscience, I said to myself. So Ahmet always took care of that little chore. So for me to understand that Bryn is capable of clonking a living salmon over the head with a hammer (or whatever tool is used) and killing it is simply beyond my grasp. (I think behind my back the kids call me a wuss!)

I don't know yet if she's eaten moose-nose stew, a delicacy I read about many years ago in, of all places, a Wall Street Journal article, but if she has or intends to, I hope she keeps that little bit of information a secret. I have one daughter who can and does eat menudo; having another one eating moose nose stew would simply be too much for an old mother to handle!

At any rate, Bryn loves Alaska and has indicated that she and her husband will live there forever. So I guess I've got to "get over it" -- and start visualizing her in waders instead of go-go boots. I raised all the kids to be independent, so all my distaste notwithstanding, I got what I aimed for!

I must confess that I have, in my long lifetime, gone after fish. Those fish were grunion and they are caught with one's own hands. No equipment is allowed. They come upon the shore in the night to spawn at certain times of the year. In Long Beach our Girl Scout troop often went "grunion hunting" but only one time were we in the right place at the right time. There truly were thousands of grunion doing their thing. We grabbed a few, tossed them into our buckets and scurried home in our Scout leader's car. I remember my mother and father looking aghast at what I brought in the door, and as nearly as I can recall, the cats had a wonderful dinner the next day. However, that was long ago so I do not have the demise of those grunion on my conscience. But I'm older and wiser and more sentimental now, and even if my fastly-becoming-decrepit body would allow it, I wouldn't be comfortable catching a grunion. I might watch, but not touch.

Some people don't believe there are such fish as grunion because they never have been in that right place at the right time. However, they do exist, as the picture below indicates. But probably not in such quantity as the sockeye salmon in the Kenai river.

Monday, August 23, 2010


When did I stop eating banana splits? I know why I stopped, but exactly when that happened is a historical fact I can't remember. It was a long time ago at any rate.

You may guess (and be close) that the reason I stopped eating them was because they were entirely too fattening. That's a good reason, but also it may have been because I couldn't ever guarantee that the bananas wouldn't be over-ripe. If there is one smell I cannot stand, it is the smell of over-ripe bananas. I can tolerate the smell if I'm going to use them for making banana bread, but if my intent is to have them uncooked in any form, then they MUST be firm and not smelly. I never order banana cream pie for that same reason -- I can't guarantee that the bananas will be suitable and edible.

OK, so now you know about me and bananas, so let's go back to banana splits.

Anyone who lived in the Pomona/Ontario area in the 1960s frequented the Betsy Ross Ice Cream Parlor on Foothill Boulevard. Oh my gosh, how we loved that place. I was already having to worry about my girlish figure during those years, but every so often the clamoring of the kids for a trip to Betsy Ross got so loud that our family just had to make a trip there. Mostly I would just have a tiny little scoop of ice cream with an American Flag on a toothpick stuck in the top while my husband and kids dug into one of the patriotically themed offerings that took the better part of 30 minutes to devour. Once I recall asking the waitress if a banana split could be made for me using a very firm banana - and good old Betsy Ross accommodated me, but I think that one time was the only time and maybe the last time I ever had a banana split.

But there was a banana split in my past that even topped the ones that Betsy made. In the early 1950s I lived in Long Beach about two blocks south of the "Grass Shack" drive in restaurant on PCH near Cherry avenue. In the summers my group of friends and I would stroll up to the Grass Shack where we would order the most wonderful concoctions. At that period in my life I was a skinny, scrawny 90-lb. female weakling, so I never batted an eye when I ordered one of their special banana splits. I'm sure it had a name, but that too is history now. Here's the Grass Shack's take-off on the traditional banana split.

Instead of scoops of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream lying on the split banana, they used vanilla, english toffee and pistachio. For toppings they used carmel, pineapple and marshmallow. Lots of whipped cream was slathered across the scoops of ice cream and then topped with generous amounts of fresh toasted coconut. Maraschino cherries of course adorned the peaks, and instead of the flag of Betsy Ross, our concoction had a little hula girl on a toothpick. The bananas were always firm and the coconut fresh. How I was able to eat that much sweet at one sitting I'll never know, but I DO know that nothing has ever tasted as good as that banana split from the Grass Shack.

There did come a time when we moved on from the Grass Shack. When we all started getting our drivers' licenses we most often went down to Grisingers Drive-In where we had discovered fresh Strawberry Pies. We went there on dates because it seems much more lady-like to eat a piece of pie than to dig in to a huge banana split. And then college and adulthood came into our lives and we focused more on what we were going to have for dinner than on what big dessert we were going to have afterwards.

Some years later, long after I'd moved away from Long Beach, the Grass Shack disappeared and a strip mall appeared in its place. Like the disappearance of other old favorites, it made me a bit sad. As my kids were growing up, occasionally I would concoct a mini-version of the Grass Shack banana split to have for a special treat, but for them, their biggest and best memories are of Betsy Ross and her wonderful patriotic goodies.

Foods of our childhood and teenage years remain fresh in our minds as we age. But there is no use trying to duplicate those tastes now. I swear that the impact of calories at least doubles as we age. And if we can get past that, then likely our intestinal system can no longer tolerate all the milk content in ice cream. We just can't eat like we used to when we were teenagers. But I'll bet a few slices of banana in a dish, topped with a scoop of english toffee ice cream and a squirt of Redi-Whip would be do-able, tolerable and satisfying. Don't you think?

Sunday, August 22, 2010


This baby is not mine, although I loved him as if he were. It is a strange story.

In the early spring of 1959 I was pregnant with our third child and was a stay-at-home mom whose then-husband Joe was working part time and attending a local junior college. We had become friendly with another couple our age – I’ll call them Mitch and Donna. Joe and Mitch had become acquainted through some classes at school. Donna was a school teacher and pregnant with her first child. We had known them for about a year before little Teddy was born.

Shortly after his birth Donna became quite ill and was hospitalized. Mitch dropped out of school to take care of the baby, but shortly realized he needed a full-time job to help pay for the medical expenses. He was hired by a large industrial company and he asked if I would babysit Teddy during the day, to which I agreed. So each morning he dropped the baby off at our apartment and picked him up after work. Since I was already washing diapers for my own two little kids, having another baby around was simply no problem. In fact, I suppose the fact that I was pregnant and set to deliver in early June simply increased all my maternal feelings, and Teddy pretty much became “my baby.” I loved that little guy.

Donna was in the hospital for several weeks. Finally Mitch told us that a diagnosis was made and it wasn’t good. Donna had a severe case of lupus erythematosus, which in 1959 had about a 50% chance of ending in death. The doctors sent her home with a treatment plan, and once she was settled in Mitch returned Teddy to Donna’s care. He told us she was feeling ok and that he would let us know if we were needed again. Teddy had been with us for a couple of months.

For a two week period I didn’t hear from either of them. One morning I called Donna at home and asked how things were going. She indicated that she was not well. I told her I’d be right over.

To make a long story short, what I found when I got to her house raised many questions in my mind as to what was going on. She was so sick she barely could care for the baby. When I got home I decided to call Mitch at work to get some answers. I learned then that although he had been hired by the company, he had never shown up for work, nor had he ever made any contact with them at all. In fact, the personnel manager said she thought perhaps he’s been killed in an auto accident or some such thing. In light of the fact that every day Mitch had walked into our apartment with a badge on his shirt to drop off the baby, I wondered what else he was lying about. I called Donna’s doctor, told her what I found at their house and what I’d learned about Mitch’s job, and that I was calling to find out if Donna was really as sick as her husband told us. The doctor said she was, that in fact what I had told her would indicate that Donna was in perilous physical condition and that if I knew how to contact her family, I should do so.

I called Joe at work and told him what I was finding out. It was a surprise to him, but he said he had not seen Mitch in a while. However, he'd heard Mitch had a girlfriend and perhaps that was where Mitch was spending his time.

I had met Donna’s folks when they came out to see Teddy after he was born. That’s when the picture above was taken. Luckily I knew where they lived in Colorado. At that point I phoned them, detailed for them what I had learned and that her doctor felt they needed to come quickly for both Donna’s and Teddy’s sake. Her mother asked if I knew whether or not there was another woman involved, that Donna had mentioned her suspicions to them. I said I did not know for sure but I had heard that he did. They arrived in California the next day, got Donna into the hospital and made arrangements to take both Donna and Teddy back home with them. Donna died shortly after they returned to Colorado.

We kept in touch with Donna’s folks for several years and they were good about sending pictures of the little guy. The last contact we had was when he started in school. Life goes on and we lose track of people and families we once knew. We never found out what happened to Mitch.

I think of Teddy occasionally, wondering how he is, how his life turned out, and wondering if he ever knew how much a part of our family he was. His time with us was short, but I’ve always been thankful that we were there for him. I do think of Donna too, what a lovely, kind, smart person she was and what a rotten deal she got. She died in June of 1959, the same month my daughter Bryn was born.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I know. Staring at the midsection of a decently-dressed man is such a surprise. And why, you ask, would I even put such a thing up in front of you on such a nice day?

Well, the L.A. Times today had a funny article (although I think they meant it to be more interesting than funny) about how men in China handle hot humid days in the summertime. According to the story, the young people think this abdominal display is gauche, but the men who do it, even businessmen, say they have a good reason: to feel cooler. Regardless of the age of the men, they are called "bang ye" - exposing grandfathers.

Now I have a couple of things to say about this. First of all, here in Southern California we have seen this trend for years. It seems to be pretty much a favorite of Mexican men -- and we have seen such variations as the shirt pulled up over the back and head and held in place via the forehead. The other style is to remove the t-shirt completely and wrap it around one's head. I suppose every culture has a way to handle high humidity, some a little more dramatic than others.

If I were to see a man somewhat casually dressed walking along the street with a briefcase and having his midsection exposed in such a manner, I would assume he's really suffering from the heat and wouldn't give it another thought. If it was in the middle of winter, I would assume he has a screw loose.

Luckily, Southern California doesn't have high humidity like the east coast and the south does. I lived in Istanbul through two summers, and I learned real quickly that I do not do well in that kind of heat. I just felt awful. Our flat was not air conditioned and not only did I feel bad but I looked bad too. As our second year there ran up towards summer, Jerry and I investigated the possibility of moving out to one of the nearby Islands, where there is fresh and moving air all the time, making it livable. But instead we settled for having a big air conditioning unit put into our living room window. It worked wonderfully well and that is where I spent June, July and August of 1992. Did I get bored? No, because all my friends from the American Women of Istanbul group came to camp out with me during the day. It was a great summer.

Those two years taught me that it would be best if I stayed in Southern California when I retired. We do have the best of all weather here.

But getting back to men of any race or nationality with their bellies hanging out for a good reason: I will approve of those anytime before I would consider adopting a "live and let live" attitude for male teenagers and young men who choose to wear their pants hanging around their knees. Not long ago I was in a line at the bank behind an otherwise-well-dressed young man but whose pants were ready to take a plunge down to his ankles. I could see about half of his boxer shorts and as nearly as I could tell he had no behind at all for the pants to perch upon. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that shortly he would be "pantsed."

Now I understand that this is a fashion statement but in my thinking he did not have a good reason to be in such a state of half-undress. These guys wear baggy pants just for the heck of it; it doesn't matter whether the day is hot or cold, and their pants are merely hanging on by a promise. I am always sorry I can't be there when the pants take the final plunge. Yes, I'd probably be embarrassed and the pantsed man wouldn't. But I'd sure like to let out a large guffaw while he re-covered himself.

So let the poor hot Chinese men cool off any way they can. And let's pray that this fad with pants at half-mast moves from the fashion scene sooner, rather than later.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Probably I have mentioned in other blogs that my mother was not a good cook, which came about, I suppose, because she didn’t like to eat. She often noted that she was waiting for the day when it would be possible to take a pill in lieu of eating a meal. But in spite of her attitude, she did eat enough to keep herself healthy; she had a meal on the table every time it was called for, and we didn’t go out to dinner much.

In reflecting back on the food of my childhood, I have to laugh at the kind of food we considered standard dinner fare. Mother was terrified of trichinosis, so even though it was primarily associated with pork and rendered harmless by thorough cooking, mother believed all meat should be cooked until it assumed the consistency of shoe leather. There was no such thing as a rare steak in our house. Meat was dry, tough and tasteless, but according to her at least it was safe to eat. Fish was treated the same way. The only fish we ever had was sea bass, and if it hadn’t been slathered in tarter sauce, none of us would have been able to swallow it because it was so dry.

Mother knew how to make three kinds of salad. The first was a lettuce and tomato salad. Lettuce was chopped, tomatoes were chopped, both were thrown into a bowl and mixed with mayonnaise. The second was a wedge of lettuce with a dollop of mayo, ketchup and relish mix on the top of it. The last type of salad was red jello with a can of fruit cocktail suspended in it. I didn’t know there were any other kinds of salad until I went off to college.

We rarely had any kind of a casserole. What we did have probably came from the type of recipes printed in magazine advertisements for certain food products. Mother’s favorite was Franco-American Spaghetti. She browned a pound of ground round in a big frying pan and as soon as it was cooked thoroughly she dumped two cans of Franco-American Spaghetti into it and stirred it until it was heated throughout. Then she served it. She made it often because it was easy to do, and we ate it week after week throughout our childhood. My sis and I thought this WAS spaghetti and the way everybody made it. Learning it was not was a big surprise to both of us, and through our adult years we often laughed at what passed for spaghetti at our house.

The last “special” my mother made also must have come from a magazine recipe. We were brought up in the era of Velveeta Cheese. Eggplant was one of the few vegetables mother enjoyed. Dipped in egg and bread crumbs and then fried in butter (yes, we used butter, not margarine) was a staple, as well as a favorite of us kids. However, at some point Velveeta Cheese came into the picture. Mother read that by putting a large slab of Velveeta cheese between two cooked eggplant slices, she could cut down on all the breading time, so we never again had the lovely breaded eggplant. We now were served her favorite “eggplant sandwiches,” thick with gooey Velveeta cheese that all but stuck to our throats as we tried to swallow it.

So mother’s lack of interest in food and lack of talent in cooking led to three things. Firstly, celebrations of holidays in our house never centered around the dinner table, nor were there any Sunday dinners; food was a non-issue. Secondly, over the years my father assumed more and more control over the cooking, and he was a darn good cook. And finally, my sister, my brother and I all ended up becoming very interested in food – its preparation, its presentations, and its possibilities – and we all expanded our girths considerably from all the good eating we were able to produce. None of us stayed slim and trim like our parents did. Messing around with food and enjoying the process is not good on the waistline.

At least eventually we all got our weight under control, and for myself, as I’ve gotten older the idea of spending lots of time in the kitchen has waned considerably.

Luckily good memories don’t depend upon good food. We may not have had such delicacies as other families did, but we certainly do have good memories of growing up in the Dobbins family household, cooking skills notwithstanding.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Speaking of yesterday, as if the day itself wasn’t hot enough, with the temperature hovering around 102, Jerry and I found the evening almost the same as we experienced an evening of very hot jazz at La Sierra University, a tiny not-very-well-known private institution here in Riverside.

It was just an accident that last month I happened to notice a wee 8-pitch announcement buried in our local newspaper about a free “Pierce Street Jazz” series being put on by La Sierra University. Apparently it has been going on monthly for some time, and after attending last month’s program, we resolved to make this monthly event a priority.

Last night we listened to the Fuasi Abdul-Khaliq’s quartet, comprised of Gary Matsumoto on piano, Fritz Wise on drums, Henry “the Skipper” Franklin on upright bass and Fuasi himself on saxophone. Other than the wonderful music all these jazz musicians make, the best part is that the venue for their performance is the university’s Alumni House, a real honest house, renovated to accommodate smaller groups of maybe 50 people or so in a single room. The jazz musicians set up in a corner, enabling those of us who can’t get enough of jazz get to sit within spitting distance, so to speak, of the musicians.

Last month’s group was led by a fellow on the guitar, and the music was cool, cool, cool. This time when we walked in the door and heard Fuasi in a final short rehearsal with the group, we knew “hot” was going to be the operative word this month. Except for a short break, at which time cookies and punch were available (again free), we had almost two hours of my favorite stuff! If you laughed at the cookies and punch bit, you must understand that La Sierra University is a Seventh-Day Adventist establishment and the jazz milieu is not that of a smoky cocktail lounge, where most of us got our first introduction to jazz. But the cookies and punch are not the issue; the wonderful music and talented musicians are.

I sat close to the pianist and was able to watch his fingers fly over the keys. Afterwards I asked him several questions that had come to my mind. First, I wondered to what extent ahead of time he knows what his “improvisations” will be. He said that playing jazz is kind of like speaking. He knows what he is going to say, where he’s going to begin and where he is going to end, but he doesn’t always know for sure how he’s going to say it, what words he’s going to use. He said within the framework set by the composer, the improvisation is a living creation and not consciously controlled in detail by the brain. I asked him if he ever surprises the other group members by what he comes up with, or put a little differently, does he ever blow them away by what he plays. He said if that happened it probably would be more likely at a rehearsal than at an actual performance.

And then I asked him a question that came to mind as I studied his hands: do pianists ever have a problem with carpal tunnel syndrome. He laughed and said yes, it’s an occupational hazard! He says they do hand exercises to prepare their hands for playing, and take great care of them, of course, but as happens with any repetitive motion activities, it can always happen. He’s known 80 year old pianists who have never had a problem and some as young as 20 who have already had surgical repair.

I looked at a piece of his sheet music and what I saw was a simple one-page rendition of a tune. If there were hundreds of notes on it, then the number of notes he played had to be in the thousands. I was amazed at his talent and even more amazed at his brain – the brain of any jazz musician who can create such sublime music and so easily execute it in front of my eyes. This fellow is young, a graduate of UCI in 1999 and was “discovered” at Steamers Café in Fullerton, Orange County’s little hidden gem of a jazz venue.

How lucky we were to discover “Pierce Street Jazz.” It is hard to believe that this is being offered at no cost to us. The University arranges for financial “sponsors” of the evening, making the event a cooperative effort between the educational, commercial and artistic organizations in the city. I am not sure how many months Pierce Street Jazz will continue, but you can believe that Jerry and I will be sitting there up front and personal for as long as it does.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


We bought our house with a swimming pool in 1976. We had two grandbabies at that time: Stacey was born in 1974 and April in 1975. Before we sold the house in 1991 we added these kiddies to our list: Carley in 1976, Jimmy in 1978, Robyn in 1979, Christopher in 1982, Andrew in 1984, Jill in 1984, Brendan in 1987 and Katie in 1988. Three more babies eventually arrived but not until after we sold the house.

From the time we moved in, barely a weekend went by without us having grandchildren in the pool. Well, the picture above is of Jill. The swimming pool was not her "thing." So we accommodated her with a roasting pan, and you can see the delight on her face. But the rest of the kids made the natural progression from being held in the water by mom and dad, to wearing some kind of a flotation device with parents at their side, to little "floaties" on their arms, and finally when they were confident enough to feel impeded by the floaties, they became swimmers. During the summers I'd bring "the girls" for a week at the house. At 6 a.m. they'd appear at my bedside in their bathing suits, waiting for me to give the word. I would finally be able to pull them in about 8 in the evening. My, my those girls liked the pool. The boys had their time too. To this day they all remember those summers in the pool.

But the pool was only part of the house. We had a house with lots of rooms for kids and their toys, books, TVs -- and a garage converted into a den for them to play in. Winter weekends were spent in the den with their games and toys.

About a year ago I asked Christopher what he remembered about the house beside the swimming pool. He thought a minute and said, "Grandma, I remember the back door opened onto the room where you kept the cat potty box. That's all."

As adults, because we remember, we assume that kids remember. We had a good time, they had a good time, and we assume they know what we know. That just isn't true.

CNN today reminded us of what this year's college freshmen, the class of 2014, have for their recollection of the world: Clinton was president, computers were in common usage, Snoop Dog was known as Snoop Doggy-Dog. They know Beethoven as a dog, not a composer, Fergie as a pop singer, not a princess. The Iron Curtain is known only from history books, and during their lifetime a nation named Czechoslovakia has never existed. That's not all, but that shows you what time frame they were raised in.

So it's not surprising that while I remember that wonderful house we had and the great family gatherings around the pool and the fire pit, the kids have a vague recollection of a pool but really have no setting in which to place it. As I have sorted through my slides and digitized them, I've forwarded some to the grandkids so they can perhaps have some kind of a "flash" of an earlier time when they had no cares but did have wonderful times and Grandma and Grandpa's house. And that's what counts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


In the latest issue of the magazine Reform Judaism there is an essay written by Russ Levine, a student at San Francisco State University, which had me laughing all the way through. I wish I could reprint his whole article, but at the bottom of this blog I’ll give you the link to read it.

Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the New Jewish year, starts the High Holidays and they are culminated by Yom Kippur, ten days later. Yom Kippur literally means "Day of Atonement" in Hebrew and is characterized by fasting and prayer for the atonement of sins. Observant Jews regard it as the most important and solemn day on the religious calendar.

Tashlik (תשליך) is a ritual that many Jews observe during Rosh Hashanah. "Tashlik" (sometimes written Tashlich) means "casting off" in Hebrew and involves symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water. Just as the water carries away the bits of bread, so too are sins symbolically carried away. In this way the participant hopes to start the New Year with a clean slate.

The essay written by this young California man chronicles his determination to get rid of his bad habits. He decided to go to Ocean Beach and “purge his sins in the Pacific.” He set out, but needed to pick up some bread on the way. “With that in mind, I entered the Safeway across the street and bought a roll. Fifty-nine cents for a clean slate – what a religion!” Arriving at the beach, he perceives the ocean waves as “looking like a front of horse-drawn chariots” and he envisions himself “holding my roll like David held his rock” in the face of Goliath. But he didn’t count on the sea gulls….

Levine does such a good job with his subject, and ends up after all the laughter with a message that speaks of the value of ritual, seeing it not as a contrived solution but as a challenge to do better.

I have always been interested in ritual. In fact, I have kind of a love-hate relationship with it. I left Job’s daughters about six months after I joined because I couldn’t stand the ritual. As an adult I joined the Alamitos Friends Church because they did not use any religious rituals (communion, foot washing, baptism, etc.) in their services. This church believed that if you lived your life in constant communion with God, you had no need for the ritual of Communion. The emphasis was on reality, not ritual. It was felt that too many people accepted the ritual as the reality and never went any further in their Christian walk. It made such sense to me at the time. And never having belonged to a “liturgical” church, I didn’t miss the feeling of familiarity that ritual gives its adherents.

But for some reason this ritual of Tashlik has fascinated me, perhaps because it is for me a new idea. Because Jerry and I are not active in any religious organization, I was unaware of this ritual until a few years ago, when a group of San Bernardino Jews used the little bridge built over a stream that flows around the VA Hospital in Loma Linda to stand on while they contemplated their sins and threw their bread crumbs into the stream. The newspaper picked up the event, which is where I learned about it.

I asked Jerry this year if we could find a Tashlik ritual at one of the local synagogues and attend. According to the ritual, the water must be “flowing” water, not standing water, and I don’t know where any Synagogue around here would find flowing water. I think I’d like to hold out for a more “dramatic” expression of Tashlik than, say, turning on a water faucet and tossing the crumbs down the garbage disposal. (I say that because at my first seder many years ago, held at Jerry’s temple, I was horrified to hear the Rabbi say to the participants “We’ll skip that part because it takes too much time” and later, ‘We’ll just pretend that…”) So I want a gushing stream, maybe some koi and a few sea-gulls if any should come this far inland. I’ll bring one of my favorite Costco Petit-Rolls and take care of a few of my many failings, remembering all the time that I want the long-term reality, not just the short-term ritual.

Anyway, the High Holidays are coming and we best get prepared. Russ Levine’s “Into the Deep” was a great way of setting off on the right foot!

You can read it for yourself at http://reformjudaismmag.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=1627

Monday, August 16, 2010


I can barely look at this picture, much less think about what it shows.

In case you are curious, it is called – in English – cooked worms on a stick. It’s a fairly common dish available in Belen, according to the text that accompanied the picture.

Under what circumstances would you eat a worm on a stick? I’m telling you I would only do it in a fit of self-preservation, and then I would probably have to weigh which would be the worst, dying or eating worms.

Why do I even think about this?

I understand there are plenty of people in the world who aren’t as squeamish as I am and who would eat them because they were brought up eating them. The same way some people here eat scrambled calves brains and eggs, have menudo for breakfast, or eat raw oysters, none of which I believe are actually intended to be eaten. But that’s just my opinion.

Some time ago I read an article in the newspaper about how Mexico’s centuries-old tradition of eating bugs is becoming more lucrative. Maguey worms and ant eggs are showing up as exotic fare at expensive restaurants, and researchers are trying to convince poor villagers to cash in on these pests as a means of income.

The article says that with a protein content as much as twice that of beef, bugs could also become a welcome diet supplement among the estimated 20 million extremely poor people who live on incomes of $1 per day or less.

But some people are already eating them simply because they are “Muy delicioso.” (Yuk!) The article tells about a fellow who always looks forward to harvest time in August because that’s when he can pick greenish caterpillers off the trees and boil them with a little lime. He said they taste a little like grasshoppers!

And the story ends with a note that some farmers are now planting a cheap kind of corn, which serves as a trap to catch grasshoppers, because they can get more money selling the edible grasshoppers than selling the corn.

If you were to see my face right now, you would see that I have a look showing somewhere between disgust and revulsion. I think it is probably the same look I have when I am forced to shell shrimp that I’m going to use for dinner. Our supermarkets kindly have already chopped their heads off, probably because they know that most women wouldn’t buy them if they had to deal with the head and contingent parts. But I can’t help but make a face when I have to put my fingers around those cold dead shrimp and unwrap the shells from their bodies. It’s the legs that get to me. I feel the same way about preparing calves liver -- I can eat it, but I sure don’t like handling it when it is raw.

Thank goodness no one is asking me to eat bugs or worms. With any kind of luck at all this won’t happen out of necessity in my lifetime, either. And I am trusting that my Jerry, a brave and bold eater, doesn’t ever give bugs or worms a try just for the heck of it. Lips that touch a bug will never touch mine, and I would hate to go through the rest of my life without kissing him ever again!

Sunday, August 15, 2010


One of the draws of moving into this apartment complex back in April of 2005 was the wide expanse of lawn, the abundance of trees, and the rural feel of the location. We had come from living in a three-story building in a senior development, where the building itself was the draw. The limitations of this was that when our littlest grandchildren came to visit we had to go to a park to let them run and have fun, because there were no grounds around our apartments for them to play in. So this second senior complex seemed to be much better for us.

Sometime around November of that first year, we awoke one morning to find a contingent of cattle egrets, probably 12 in number, wandering across our lawn, looking for grubs and other egret delicacies. It was a real shock to see them. They are large birds! We had no cattle, of course, but our apartments are not too many miles away from some dairies and we figured that's probably where these egrets belonged. We loved to watch them. They marched around the entire complex for the next few months -- we'd see them at the south end sometimes, other times up near the management office. They were not unduly skittish, but also I think most of the residents so enjoyed watching them that they didn't bother the birds by getting too close.

I asked my next door neighbor if this was a yearly happening. He replied that he'd lived there eight years and had never, ever seen an egret before. And they have never come back either.

But what has arrived this year is a multitude of toadstools.

They were not there when we went to bed one night. The next morning we had a large fairy ring, I think these are called. The toadstools practically grew in size as we watched them. They were huge. In our five years of living here we never have seen a toadstool in our grass. I have no idea whether or not their appearance has anything to do with the fact that because of California's water shortage our management has almost stopped watering the lawn, as well as stopped fertilizing it, since they really didn't want it to grow. But we certainly were surprised at our new decorations.

And finally this year we've been blessed (or cursed) with our first gopher. We knew they were around, but they had kept themselves pretty much confined to the golf course. Just two weeks ago I saw the pest control service out on the 4th hole probing a gopher hole with a long metal tube, undoubtedly spraying down the hole hoping to kill that gopher.

I'm not crazy about gophers per se because one year in Loma Linda they ate all the roots of my 6 tomato plants, leaving the plants standing upright inside the cage but deader than a doornail!

Our gopher is traveling from east to west. Each morning we get up and there is a new pile of dirt a few feet west of where it was the day before. We can see where he's been and where he is going. His latest dig last night was through a tree root. His little sharp teeth shredded that root, and there are lots of root trimmings on top the pile of dirt from last night's work. Our lawn, such as it is now, gets mowed on Wednesdays. The piles get squashed but on Thursday mornings we can see that he's back at it.

I am such a softy for little animals that as far as I am concerned, he can munch away with impunity. I will not call management and tattle on him; I can't guarantee that my neighbors won't. He's pretty far from where our flowers are, so until he starts going after them, I'll not bother him.

And anyway, with a face like this who would want to kill him?

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I don’t know that there is an actual argument going on over who has the head of John the Baptist, but in a very interesting article from CNN there are four countries in which religious groups claim to be the possessor of John’s head:

Italy: A church in Italy has had it on display dating from the 13th century.
France: A church in France says they brought it back from Istanbul in 1200 after crusaders sacked the city.
Syria: A mosque in Syria which was built over the site of a church whose purpose served as a shrine for John’s head contained therein.
Germany: a museum claims to have John’s head, which is one of a number of relics collected in the 16th century.

Not coming from a religious background where Saints, or relics of Saints, was of any concern, I find it difficult not to laugh at what I consider fairly preposterous. I don’t mean any disrespect, but an argument about the bones of St. John is another matter.

All my cogitating about John’s head has come about because of a religious and political flap in Bulgaria over a small alabaster box containing a few bone fragments, which was uncovered in an archeological dig. This box was discovered under the altar of a 5th century basilica. According to CNN, a later monastery in the same location was dedicated to John the Baptist, and the excavation leader said that this was indirect evidence that the relics (which included fragments of skull and face bones, as well as a tooth) were St. John’s. So now there are religous, political and scientific personages with a vested interest in these relics.

Reading about the Bulgarian brou-ha-ha made me laugh. It involves lots of entities and expletives. But what does one expect? Religion has never gone easily, and certainly one group may have a dickens of a time lending another group a bit of charity regarding their cherished beliefs. I read, and laugh and try to avoid scorn, even when I hit something that is borderline preposterous. Don’t judge, I say to myself.

But for interesting reading, try http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/08/12/bulgaria.john.baptist.relics/index.html

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I don't respond much to advertising. At least I don't think I do....for the obvious reason that I'm not much of a shopper either. I'll look at ads if I intend to purchase something, but I don't feel that they lure me into being a customer.
But after last evening's "Gotcha'" moment while doing some genealogical research, I just may have to change my whole attitude.

This is about little Frank Whitters, whom I lost after age 14 on the 1900 Census. I admit that he is such a peripheral relative that I didn't really try all that hard, but from time to time I'd think about him again and make a cursory survey of what new had come online. This is NOT the way to do genealogy and I know it, but I'm getting old and tired and I admit, obviously somewhat sloppy in the way I handle things.

Frank's dad, Edward, was the first son of my great-great grandmother Ellen Madden (widow Whitters) Stevens. Ellen was from an Irish family who emigrated to the US in 1832 and settled in Taunton, Mass. just before Ellen was born. Ellen married Robert Whitters when she was of marriageable age and within a year after Edward was born she was widowed. Her folks and siblings had resettled to Mendota, Illinois, so Ellen took the baby and went there to be with them. It was there she met Chester Stevens, who would become her second husband. Because my own line came from a daughter of Chester and Ellen, I had not given much research time to Edward himself. I had learned that he had married and had two children, Jennie and Frank. I'd managed to track Jennie but Frank had remained an enigma.

Last night I was diddling around on the computer, more or less killing time until bedtime, and it occurred to me to do a general 'Find-a-Grave" search to see if someone had located a grave for "little" Frank Whitters, still figuring he must have died young.

I entered his name, pushed the magic button and got an immediate notification that there was no Frank Whitters in the Find-a-Grave database. What I saw directly under that, and what I've seen every single time I use Find-a-Grave,
To make a long story short, that one click made a believer of me. I found a WWI Draft Registration for Frank, as well as a passport application dated 1919 and a renewal application dated 1924. He was working for Empire Refining Company out of Ponca City, Oklahoma and was applying for a passport to enable him to represent the company at oil explorations in Tampico, Mexico. Along with the passports are all manners of descriptions of him, ranging from the photograph to a written description of his physical being, including distinguishing marks (he had none.)

It was hard for me to head off to the bedroom last night after such an exhilarating find. One should pick a much earlier hour to do such things! While flat on my back waiting for the sandman I mentally laid out the strategy for my pursuit of the now very-much-alive Frank, a cousin of my Grandma Jessie.

But overriding all those thoughts was the one that stood out in my mind about ignoring ads. Just as in department stores, ads feature new and exciting information. Ancestry, as well as the other major genealogy websites, add new material daily, and they advertise to get us to take a peek. I have to admit that although I'm still not much of a shopper, I'm sold on reading the adverts now.

But I think "Paying attention" is probably what it is all about!

Monday, August 9, 2010


My cousin Shirlee and I commiserate a lot about what has happened to our medical system in the United States. There are times we think it is simply going to hell in a hand basket. We bemoan the fact that our primary care doctor doesn’t know us any more, that we are lucky if we get 10 minutes of the doctor’s time per visit, and probably most of all, we are totally flummoxed to think that our past history is going to be magically at the doctor’s fingertips via the computer.

HAH! We say. When the computer becomes as reliable as our Frigidaire refrigerator we’ll believe it. For now, I have no confidence whatsoever that the computer will tell them what they need to know, either because the computer is down again or that as far as the computer is concerned, my past medical history only started in 2007.

Another source of concern is that the patient is now expected to tell the doctor what they want him to do, and/or the patient is expected to know what he or she needs to do at every step of the way. My cousin and I are not stupid when it comes to knowing about medical things. She was a veterinarian for many years, while I did medical transcription. This doesn’t make us medical doctors, but we aren’t dummies, either. This knowledge has been to our advantage. But what about all those other people who don’t know the kind of stuff we know. They are truly at the mercy of Lady Luck.

My first experience with needing to stay on top of what the pre-HMO doctor and his office is doing came from the time that I developed some pain in my belly during the night. About 6 a.m. I put in a call to his doctor’s exchange to have him call me back, which he did. He advised me be at his office at 9 a.m. and he’d check me out first. I did, he did, and he sent me to the hospital for blood work. He said he expected appendicitis. I was told to go home and he’d call me when the results came in. At 4 that afternoon, after writhing on my bed in pain all day, I called his office and asked if he knew anything yet. “Oh,” said Roseann, his office girl, surprise in her voice. “We’ve never heard back from the hospital. I’ll call and get right back with you.” Within 10 minutes the doctor called and told me to go to the hospital immediately and to notify my husband, because I’d probably be in surgery by the time he got there.”

This all happened long before there were such things as HMOs, and my doc was a kindly fellow who had taken good care of me for 10 years. But it was then that I learned that I could not assume that doctors would do what they intended to do. Well, I’m sure my doc had my best interest at heart, but obviously his system broke down. What I learned prepared me for how the HMO world would operate. I have never again trusted doctors and their offices to do what they say they are going to do. From that time on, I make follow-up calls to make sure things are proceeding. I won’t ever let that happen again.

The other thing illustrative of what we as patients need to know about our own care is when I began experiencing what later was diagnosed as a frozen shoulder. I talked to two different primary care physicians about it (I was in the middle of retiring and had to shift HMOs) and both doctors diagnosed bursitis. I told the second doctor that it was worse than when the previous doctor saw it some months back. The new doc told me to get some chondroitin/glucosamine pills and see if that helped.

Three months down the road, when I could no longer stretch my arm out more than a few inches from my body, I made another appointment with my PCP; the soonest was a four-week wait. When I walked in to that appointment, I stuck my arm out into his field of vision, and said, “Doc, I would like a cortisone shot in my shoulder for the pain and I’d like to get started on some physical therapy. This shoulder is killing me.” He said to me, ‘Let’s do it.” I got the shot and a prescription for the therapy. At the conclusion of 6 therapy sessions I asked my therapist if she thought I was as good as I was going to get. Based on her response, we ordered 6 more sessions, and today I am normal again.

When would this have happened if I hadn’t specifically asked for it? I don’t know. It sure wasn’t heading in that direction. Any more I have no idea what to expect with regard to my health care. What I do know is that I have to speak up!

I also have to be pragmatic and believe that on the financial books of the HMO I show as a Medicare Advantage member and thus no longer an “income-generating unit” for either society or medicine. But on a person to person basis, my hurt feels like anyone else’s hurt, and I’d like my doctor to care without me pushing and insisting that I receive it.

But I’m still awfully bothered by what happens to the poor people who don’t know enough to ask questions or understand answers.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


The love affair between me and my photography equipment is over and it is time to move on. That's just the way life - and technology - is.

I think I was about 10 when my mother bought me my first camera. It was an Argus C3 and it lasted a long time. Of course it was a simple "point and shoot" and I was happy being a "point and shoot" kind of a girl. My first photos, still in my scrapbook, are various shots taken on the old Catalina Island steamer that took our Girl Scout troop between Long Beach and Catalina in the mid-1940s.

That camera lasted until I married in 1955 and along with a husband came his camera, a step up from mine. By the time that marriage was over in 1971 I had moved up to a simple Canon. I didn't know about a single lens reflex yet. After Jer and I married in 1975 I took a short photography course that brought the Canon AE1 into my life and caused me to switch from film to slides. That AE1 went to the middle east with us in 1980 and to England in 1985. It was a wonderful work horse and eventually served as my back-up camera, in which I kept very high-speed film for certain shots I wanted. Jerry acquired a Canon Autofocus for himself.

My last camera, the Canon T90 shown above was specifically purchased for use in our Turkey jaunt in the early 1990s. Technologically it didn't do much more than the AE1 did, but ergonomically it was a stunner. It felt like it was a natural part of my hand - not that comfort is all that important in photography but since I pretty much had it in my right hand for two years, it was good that it felt at home there.

Once we retired in 2000 and stopped traveling, the camera hasn't been used much. I know I used it once in this apartment where we live now, but that film is still in the camera.

My cousin Shirlee purchased a new digital camera for herself after she moved to North Carolina and asked me if I'd like her old one. Of course I jumped at the chance -- and that effectively assured the end of all my wonderful old camera equipment.

I am sad to see it go. Many years of my life are invested in those things, but they are useless now and its time to move them on. Where? I don't know. They are simply of no value or use now. Old cameras like mine don't move on e-Bay and probably yard-sale cameras don't either. The idea of taking my T90 down to the recycling place in Corona is abhorrent, but that may be where they have to go. If they aren't wanted there, then it's the dumpster for sure!

There are three more big decisions to be made once the camera equipment is in the past. The first is getting rid of the slide projector, screen, and some peripheral equipment used with slides. The second is ditching the old hardback Sampsonite luggage pieces that we will never, ever use again. And third is letting loose of several hundred audio cassette tapes that we accumulated over the years and that Jerry is quite attached to, even though they never get listened to anymore.

But just think...as soon as all this is gone, I'll be able to put my shoes on the closet floor again. I haven't seen that floor in a long, long time.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


This is one of those days; I can tell it already. Nothing has gone smoothly, culminating in this website not allowing me to upload a photograph. I thought maybe the one I picked was too big or to dense or too something else, so I tried to upload one I had used previously. Nope, it wouldn't upload either. As my sister used to say, "Well, Hecky-Darn!"

So for no reason other than it is what comes to mind, I'm simply going to share a few sayings, or writings, with you that I like.

The first is a short little bit from the King James version of the Bible. It's from Revelations -- which I think always has had a few strange things in it, but this one is my favorite: Chapter 14, verse 2: "And I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps." King James couched so many other thoughts and views in eloquent language that I am amazed that this one is so...well, so very straightforward. Again, my sister said, "I suppose King James, upon hearing a horn being blown also said, "I heard a tooter tooting on his toot." My sister had the same sense of humor as I did. We often talked about this funny verse.

Another portion in the Bible that I have always liked was the one in the book of Daniel that says " MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." Back in the mid-1990s our local newspaper asked readers to submit "True Life Essays" for the op-ed page. At the time, I was in the midst of trying to juggle a hectic full time job with the demands made of me as a wife, a mother and a grandmother. In the essay I sent to the newspaper I used this verse to tell how I felt about how I was doing: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. Thou are weighed in the balances and art found wanting. They printed the article.

My mother raised us on old saying and adages. They are not so prevalent anymore, I think. At least I didn't use them much on my kids. But tears were countered with "Don't cry over spilt milk." Doing dishes when we'd rather be out playing elicited "Many hands make light work." Doing a chore the right way brought on "A stitch in time makes nine." Making do with what you have instead of what you want was accompanied by "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." And on, and on, and on. Mother also quite often tried to keep us from escalating an argument by saying, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Of course all these things were true, but the sheer quantity of them heaped upon us to get us through childhood was often a point of discussion later between my sister and me, as well as acknowledgment by others of a certain age that their parents did the same thing when they were kids.

And finally my current favorite of all writings is from Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River anthology.

Rev. Abner Peet:

I had no objection at all
To selling my household effects at auction
On the village square.
It gave my beloved flock the chance
To get something which had belonged to me
For a memorial.
But that trunk which was struck off
To Burchard, the grog-keeper!
Did you know it contained the manuscripts
Of a lifetime of sermons?
And he burned them as waste paper.

Words I do understand.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


I don’t know if I could talk my husband into a 2-1/2 hour drive to Santa Barbara and a 2-1/2 hour drive back to have a one hour look at an exhibition of photos from 40 Korean photographers at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. He isn’t crazy about art exhibits in the first place, photographs in the second place, and such photographs as the one above in the third place. And furthermore, I’m sure he can’t understand why I am drawn to them in the last place. I am fascinated by it.

If I told him that these remarkable photographs are in an exhibit entitled “Chaotic Harmony: Contemporary Korean Photography,” and which presents “photographs by 40 artists born between 1965 and 1984 and who represent two distinct generations,” I think he’d probably say that all he needs to do is to walk upstairs at the Katz household (where our two little granddaughters Olivia and Justine live) and look on their bedroom floor.

I understand what he is talking about, but of course I would tell him it isn’t the same, although there IS an amazing resemblance!

I also fully understand that it really isn’t built into Jerry’s genes to stand and look at anything for more than probably 3 minutes max. He would no more stand and study a photograph than I would study how to make a golf club hit a tiny ball sitting on a tee. I’d swing, whiff the ball, bag the club and head to the club house. I’m just not interested! Jerry would do the same thing at a photograph entitled “Seo Woo and her Pink Things.” Glance at it, and move on. If there were 40 photos in the exhibit, he probably would allot himself 40 glances and then he’d sit down on a bench to wait for me to finish looking. He is not one that you want to take with you when you go to an art exhibit. He may be lots of fun on an outing, but in an art museum he is likely to cramp one's style.

Please understand, he NEVER, EVER complains, but he doesn’t have to, because watching him sit and do nothing while I stare at a photo is terribly guilt-producing.

I don’t know why I am so fascinated with this photo and the blue one at the bottom of this blog, called "Tour Bus." It may be for the same reason that when I was in Turkey I was very “taken” with the patterns the Turks created in their displays of all kinds of items. I certainly don’t put my photos in a class with the professionals, but you can see what I mean. The Turks didn’t arrange their goods for photographs, but the results are certainly similar.

Luckily, I discovered that Yale Press has put out a book with lavish illustrations with the same name as the exhibit. AbeBooks.com is selling them for a little over twenty dollars, far less that a round trip to Santa Barbara would cost us. Here’s a description of the contents:

Recently contemporary Korean art has garnered significant international recognition, in part for the work of photographers Atta Kim and Bae Bien-U. Now, this richly illustrated book brings their work together with that of forty other up-and-coming Korean artists, each working to stretch the bounds of the photographic medium. One of the first books on the subject, Chaotic Harmony features essays by Anne Wilkes Tucker and Karen Sinsheimer exploring the notions of urbanization, politics, identity, community, globalization, tradition, and fantasy in today’s Korean photography. A chronology of recent developments, prepared by noted photographer Bohnchang Koo, also accompanies brief biographies of the artists, as well as a complete checklist of the exhibition. This catalogue sheds a new light on Korean photographers’ little-known contributions to the world arena of contemporary art.
Granted, looking at a book isn’t as good as standing in an exhibit hall, but it also means that I can look as long as I want, and Jerry can busy himself watching golf on TV and we will both be happy.

And just in case I need justification for buying another book, when I've been on such a drive to get rid of things, let’s see...my birthday is past for 2010, our anniversary is past for 2010. I think the next event to celebrate will be the Christmas Holiday. The Santa Barbara Museum’s exhibit will be long gone by that time, but if I’m lucky Abebooks will still have copies of the books I’ve mentioned and I can give myself a Christmas present. Yep. That’s what I’ll do. In the meantime, I’ll suggest you nose around the Santa Barbara Museum of Art website and see for yourself what’s being featured.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


First of all, a word or two about Zwieback, swiped from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary “Word of the Day.”

In ages past, keeping food fresh for any length of time required a lot of ingenuity, especially when one needed to carry comestibles on a long journey. One of the solutions people came up with for keeping bread edible for traveling was to bake it twice, thereby drying it and slowing the spoiling process. The etymology of "zwieback" reflects this baker's trick; it was borrowed from a German word that literally means "twice baked." Nowadays, zwieback is not just used as a foodstuff — the texture of the dried bread makes zwieback a suitable teething device for infants.
I don’t know about parents of today, but Zwieback was a staple at my house during those four years in the late 1950s when I had one or the other of my four kiddies teething. Zwieback was sucked and slobbered on and it made an awful mess on the kid’s face, arms, hair, high chair tray, floor and any other place that came in touch with it. But it kept them quiet and certainly must have made their poor little gums feel better.

This dictionary entry also corrects my family’s long-standing mispronunciation of the German word. It calls it “ZWEE-back.” No Germans in my heritage, I guess.

Aside from this, Zwieback brings to mind a picture (above) I came across during my recent slide digitizing project. This is my granddaughter Carley, taken poolside when she was just a little twerp. Her folks lived in San Diego and along with older daughter Stacey spent lots of weekends with us when we lived in Orange County. I'm sure the pool was the lure. Carley here is eating something – not Zwieback, obviously. But I’ll be darned if I can figure out what she’s holding. Here’s a blow-up of it...

and then of the rest of what-ever-it-is on her little lap.

I don’t know what her folks gave her to eat (I know it didn't come from MY cupboard) – but it surely looks gross. Actually, it looks far worse than a piece of Zwieback, that’s for sure. But it appears that Carley really liked it (????) a lot!

Regardless, a few questions come to mind. Do mothers of today still use Zwieback for their teething babies? If not, what do they use? Or if not, why not? Is Zwieback still being sold in the markets? Have you ever used it? Have you ever used it for anything else other than teething babies? Are there recipes besides pie-crusts that use Zwieback as an ingredient?

And most importantly, am I the only person in the world who has always pronounced it ZWY-BACK?

Thanks, Carley, for being so darn photogenic!