Thursday, September 30, 2010


Do you like grits? Lots of people don’t, but I think that if they’d given the food a fancier name people would be more predisposed to like it. “Grits” doesn’t sound very appetizing, but tastewise I think they are right up there next to manna from heaven.

I had never even heard of grits until I was about 15, when a girl whose family was from the south moved down the street from us. They had grits for breakfast, as we would eat cream of wheat, and then they had grits for dinner in place of potatoes. But the word sounded horrible and I was relieved that I was never asked to stay for dinner. I didn’t know exactly what they were, and I really wasn’t interested in finding out.

Time passed and I never came face to face with grits. But I’m telling you, you can’t go a-visiting people who live in the south and not get up close and personal with them. In the late 70s Jerry and I went to Baton Rouge to visit some of his distant relatives. By that time my taste had broadened somewhat and I was looking for new taste experiences. Beryl, our second cousin, served them at dinner in place of mashed potatoes. I didn’t even know how to eat them, so I watched what she and her husband did, and I did likewise. The grits were mounded on the plate, slathered with butter, and then salt and peppered within an inch of their lives. Oh Man! Talk about delicious!

Right then and there I became a grits fanatic. Upon returning home I scoured the stores for boxes of grits. They were not easy to find in Southern California but finally next to the corn meal I discovered Albers grits. Even though Jerry didn’t particularly like them, I became the grits queen of the house, humoring myself with them quite often.

The next time I had grits was when Jerry and I drove up to Inglewood to a soul food restaurant, Charlie’s M&M, which had opened to rave reviews by the LA Times. I can remember to this day what I ordered: eggs over easy, homemade hot sausage patties, strong hot coffee and grits. But these grits were runny, almost like Cream of Wheat. I was shocked to see them fixed like that – until I tasted them. They were as good thin and gruelly as they were thick and stiff. Nothing else was needed on the grits there – they were like ambrosia just the way they were served. For a long time I periodically got my grit fix at Charlie’s M&M. After we came back from Istanbul we learned that Charlie’s M&M had closed, much to our dismay.

When my cousin moved to North Carolina, she phoned me one day and said I had to come see her because she had found a restaurant that served shrimp and grits and that the taste was so wonderful it would justify that long plane flight. I thought she was exaggerating. But she wasn’t. I couldn’t imagine shrimp and grits. I have since learned there are a thousand ways to prepare this dish, but not one recipe seemed to include all the ingredients in that most luscious of offerings given to us in that little shoreline café not too far from Beaufort.

Like everything else that tastes wonderful, grits are not good for the waistline. So I don’t eat them the way I would like to (slathered with butter), or as often as I would like to (daily). However, if you want to make me happy, just offer me southern grits, any style, any time, and you’ll be my friend for life.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Both the cat and Jerry inherited me, not the other way around. Both were well-established in their habits before the acquisition came about: that is, I did not affect the way that they turned out. They did it themselves.

Which is probably just as well, as Jerry once said to me, “I don’t understand how you can make a large event go off without a hitch and have it run so well, and yet you can’t find your bra when you get dressed in the morning.”

“Well,” I replied, That’s just the way it is.” To which he answered, “No, it’s because you never put anything back where it belongs.”

And he was right. That is my secret failing, though obviously not so secret now.

I live loose. Not morally, of course, but in how I operate. If I am on an errand in my car, I will never drive back using the same road that I used getting there. I read the newspaper in the morning but it MUST lie on the couch the rest of the day because surely I’m going to want to read parts of it again before it goes out to the trash. My clothes end up in the closet eventually, but what do you think chair backs and door knobs are for, pray tell?

When Jerry and I were talking about marriage, he asked me how I handled bill paying. I showed him 12 big brown envelopes, each marked with a month. Into each appropriate month went the bills to be paid, and once paid, they went back into that envelope with the notation of the date I paid them. That was it. He inquired as to balancing the checkbook. I told him I did it occasionally.

He was aghast. “Well,” he huffed. “If we get married you’ll have to let me do the books.”

I was no fool. I knew his way was best, so the issue was resolved and eventually we both formally said, “We Do.”

But you are asking, what does that have to do with the cat?

Jer operates on routines and I operate on a “do what you feel like” theory. The cat also bases her life using the “routine” theory. As such, she has turned into the world’s most predictable cat. She mostly squeaks instead of meows, which accounts for her name. But on occasion she does meow and it means we have forgotten something. We then have to figure out what it is that we haven’t done for her.

Her morning has two phases: Jerry’s and mine. His job is to feed her a couple of “cat treats” to keep her occupied while he prepares her real breakfast of Fancy Feast. It has to be “just so” – 6 seconds in the microwave, stirred to cool any hotspots and then placed just so on her cat mat. After she has eaten, she grooms herself and waits for me to get up. She doesn’t meow at all during this time, because Jerry follows the plan!

Things are quiet then until I get out of bed. The minute I head for the kitchen she runs me a foot race. She meows until I pull out the breadboard for her to sit on. (I have created a plastic covering for it so it stays clean.) It is Petromalt time. I squeeze a strip of Petromalt on my right index finger. With my left hand I grab her fur at the back of her neck, like a mother kitten does, pull her head back and simultaneously use my thumb and middle finger to pry open her mouth. Quick as a flash I insert my gooey forefinger into her mouth and scrape the Petromalt off onto her tongue. As her mouth closes I stroke her neck under her chin. At the conclusion of this feeding she jumps down and leaves the kitchen. Obviously she likes the process.

Which reminds me of an old joke I read once about a farmer who two days in a row took his sow in a wheelbarrow to a neighboring farm where a nice fat boar lived, with the intent, of course, of facilitating a crop of piglets. The third day the farmer stepped out the door and found the sow already sitting in the wheelbarrow! Well, that’s how I know Squeaky likes the Petromalt ordeal.

If there is any more meowing, it is always about an hour later when it is time for her taste of butter. She has learned that I butter my toast so she wants hers too, but without the toast, thanks. She will not stop meowing until I provide her with a small glob of butter in her dish. That is the last meowing of the day. From here on out she reverts to squeaking.

She has totally adopted Jerry’s routine-oriented life. If I were more that way, I could remember to do these things for her before she gets herself in a snit about them. But that’s not my style, so I tolerate all the loud reminders.

And just so you won’t think I’m totally weird I must state the following: Yes, cat lovers do strange things and yes, any time we get tired of it we can stop.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Our inside thermometer at this moment tells us that it is 109.2 in the shade of our front porch. I am thinking maybe we are going to tax our electical grid to the point where it gives us, at a minimum, a brownout, and at a maximum, the dreaded BLACKOUT! So I changed what I intended to write in the blog and will just share some easy photos with you. Above is my granddog, Libby (may she rest in peace.) I had a nice photo of her and when I was taking the Photoshop course I practiced on her, causing her to have her own unique "portrait."

This cat wandered into our yard one day many years ago. Oh, he was such a beat up old male. He had nothing to recommend himself as a cat we'd ordinarily take in -- except for those amazing eyes. We named him Chauncey, thinking we could "up" his image of himself with such an elegant name. We kept him in our house for a week. When we let him go outside on day 8, he moved up to the roof for a few days, and then went off again, as unneutered male cats mostly do.

Baby Dolly actually came into our house in the arms of our daughter Bryn. She was, without a doubt, the cutest baby cat we had ever seen. She grew up to be beautiful, not cute. But we referred to her (out of her hearing, of course) as our dumb blonde. To let us know that she wanted to go outside, she's sit in front of the hinge side of the front door until someone noticed her. When Bryn married, she left Dolly for us.

Moses (Moe, for short) and Smokey are our Los Angeles grandcats. This is their birdwatching perch.

And above is the white tiger I cross-stitched during the time I lived in Istanbul. It was the first time I tried anything big and intricate. About half-way through I though I'd never be able to finish it. I've gone on to do three more - a lion, a spotted jaguar and a black panther.

The temp has dropped to 108.8, so maybe we've peaked early today. Usually our highest temps are at 3 p.m. I'm going to save other pictures for later and get this posted while I still have power.

Hope you enjoyed the pix.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


So it's been hot the last couple of days. The temperature peaks about 3 p.m. and both Friday and Saturday we hit close to 106-107. Our thermometers are in the shade on the porch, so one always has to take that into account, too. But any way you look at it, the temperature has been a whole lot hotter than what the sun graphic above would indicate.

I checked this morning when I got up and here's the forecast:

TODAY Blazing sunshine and hot with the temperature breaking the record of 105 set in 1978. High 108

MONDAY Sizzling sunshine and hot with the temperature breaking the record of 105 set in 1978. High 108

TUESDAY Hot with the temperature approaching the record of 107 set in 1963 with blazing sunshine. High 104

WEDNESDAY Mostly Sunny and Hot. High 96

THURSDAY Mostly Sunny and Hot. High 95

Nevertheless, there are some things I have to be thankful for.

First, that it is Jerry on the golf course this morning instead of me. Imagine! Golfing in this kind of heat. Only a crazy person does that, right?

Second, that we have an air conditioner that works well and is presently working;

Third, that we have a big tree outside our bedroom that shades our bedroom wall all afternoon, thus keeping the temp down in that room.

Fourth, that this is dry heat and not humid heat like my poor cousin in North Carolina gets.

Lastly, that so far there is no Santa Ana wind.

So what are my plans for the day?

Give the plants in pots outside a fresh drink of water this morning.

Make sure there is water in the fancy bowl I keep on the porch for stray cats and possums.

Make sure there is plenty of iced tea in the fridge - and a couple of cool O'Doul's Amber Lites for emergencies.

Remove my new little moon cactus from the window ledge; no use letting it bake in the direct heat.

Batten down the hatches; that is, close all the window shades.

To keep myself occupied I've got 2 videos to watch: "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff?" and Gustavo Dudamel's Inaugural Concert; two books to read: Ruth Rendell's "Road Rage" and a highly touted novel by Daniel Kehlmann "Fame"; 2 newspapers to read: the local Press Enterprise and my favorite LA Times; 2 projects to work on: counted cross-stitch and knitting; and of course the best of all time-eater-uppers (or time wasters, sometimes)- my computer.

I'm set for the duration. If I have to remain hunkered down for a few days, I'm ready for it. To be honest with you, I can remain very upbeat even about blistering heat as long as the dreaded Santa Ana winds don't come. And with any kind of luck, perhaps our fall fires will not materialize either.

Friday, September 24, 2010


We have such weird seasons here in Southern California. Even so, I like autumn a lot.

Actually, I didn’t even know what seasons felt like until I moved to Istanbul back in 1991. We arrived there in early June, and the summer weather was horribly hot and humid. In late August and early September we began seeing full truckloads of coal rumble into town. I was told that coal comes down from Russia, but who knows if that was true or not. One day we heard a racket in the back yard of the apartment next door and lo, there was a coal truck backing up to the building, ready to disgorge its load of coal. The truck dumped its entire load and drove off. The kapici (superintendent) of the building grabbed a wheelbarrow and a shovel and began moving the coal down into the basement of the apartment for use during the winter.

About the same time that this was starting, the weather changed ever so slightly. We couldn’t put our finger on exactly what was different, but even without ever having experienced a real autumn I knew that this was IT! There was a feeling we needed to make sure we had enough blankets on the bed and find enough warm clothes to last us until spring. We had to make sure we had “mud shoes” – a pair of shoes worn outside in the winter that we didn’t mind getting really dirty and muddy. (In Istanbul you leave your mud shoes on the porch and slip into little soft bedroom slipper type shoes for wearing in the house.) And we had to stock up on candles to use in the event of an electrical outage. Like hibernating animals, we had to prepare our nest for the winter. There was a definite feel of “hunkering down” in the air. Probably the most dramatic change we saw was the storks in the thousands flying down a pathway right across Istanbul heading south for the winter. They too knew it was time.

I would like to say that autumn is very subtle in Southern California – but that would be a big fabrication. We get horrific Santa Ana winds that always start in September and if we are lucky they’ll die down by Thanksgiving. Not only is the wind so strong you can hardly stand up against it but also it is hot and dirty. When I was a kid in Long Beach, there was almost no housing development from the canyon passes west and on into the L.A. basin, so the winds picked up lots of dirt from the farms in the area and dumped it on us. Often at school we’d tie a bandana around our face because the dirt would get in our nose and mouth. Now, because of all the housing development there isn’t so much dirt but oh dear, are there winds! And of course it is during those windy fall months that we have all the terrible fires in the hills.

Where we live now we have a few trees that sort of turn colors – but nothing like what the people back east get. We have three big unidentified trees out front with leaves that turn bright yellow before they drop in December. It happens all at once. We can go to bed with a green lawn and wake up with a yellow lawn. It’s quite amazing. But of course if we have a Santa Ana the next day, all the leaves end up in Long Beach!

I had a picture of Jerry with a really weird background (actually a wrought-iron “Cinderella Pumpkin Coach”) which was taken when we took the little girls for a ride at the Mission Inn during one of the Christmas seasons. After I took a course in using Photoshop, I decided he’d look a lot better with a nice fall tree in the background, so with my new skills I managed to move him from one place to another. It looks like we've got an autumn, but its hardly true.

Fall is not spectacular here, and we don’t have to hunker down for it. Actually, if we get a fall rife with Santa Ana winds we just may still be in summer sportswear at Thanksgiving.

But the main reason that I like autumn is that I no longer am crazy about summer. Cool clothes like shorts and tank tops are too silly for old ladies to be seen in, so we mostly stay indoors and run up big air conditioning bills. So I’m all for autumn’s arrival.

And by gosh, it's here now! But oh, that we had trees that look like this...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

WALKIN' "MY" (Borrowed) DOGS!

Oh, such fun I'm having.....unfortunately at a neighbor's expense, because if she hadn't been forced to stay relatively flat on her back for a few months to recover from some bone fractures, I wouldn't have had the pleasure of walking her darling little doggies each day.

These darling little pooches are Mariah and Tiffany -- mother and daughter maltepoo's, I think I remember their human mom saying. Tiffany was shaved of her heavy coat earlier this summer, so they don't look much alike right now, but when she's in full coat they always remind me of two dogs I knew a long time ago named "Pete" and "Repeat." Except for their size (they are both adults), they certainly have that cookie-cutter look.

Although I hate to admit it, my day centers around the half-hour I get to take them for their exercise. I also am loathe to admit that it is also exercise for me. I hate exercise. But I don't consider it as such. It is pure fun, and although I wish their mom a quick recovery, we may have a fist-fight when she is well enough to take them on her own.

These dogs have their own little quirks. They are unable to walk together without crossing back and forth so many times that if there were three leashes they would be able to create a braid in 30 seconds! There is no side-by-side walking; no, it's back and forth, back and forth. They also are quite capable in their starting and stopping, sniffing and peeing on every foot of grass they pass, to entangle me in their leashes. It is embarrassing to have someone in their yard caution me to be careful while I try my best to gracefully untangle myself. You know us oldsters don't have such good balance anymore, and believe me I am careful. But the pooches think it's fun to see me do what is required to extricate myself.

Tiffany hustles right along, letting nothing get in her way. Momma dog and I huff and puff to keep up. It is exercise, all right, and I know this walk is as good for me as it is for the dogs.

I just didn't realize how much I missed having a dog. For most of our married life Jerry and I did have a dog. First we had little Missy Maud, who had been a "lost" dog and no owner ever claimed. She was a tiny little thing but thought she was a great dane. We had her for 14 years before she died unexpectedly of a stroke.

Then we became foster parents to my cousin's pet dog, Bucky, who did not get along well with the other dogs that my cousin was breeding. I was there when Bucky was born, so we truly felt like he was "our" dog -- and for all intents and purposes he was. He was a purebread sheltie. His name originally was "Bucket of Fun" because of all those born in his litter, he was the most rambunctious. We fostered him for about six years; he died of bladder cancer. This photo does not do him justice; it is a polaroid photo and they don't scan well. But you can see how beautiful he was.

So having the pleasure of walking Mariah and Tiffany (Momma and Sissy I call them) is right up my alley. I do want my neighbor to heal fast, but I also hope she'll take me up on my offer to remain her personal "dog-walker."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


My friend Mack tells the story of one of his buddies who started out a conversation with “If I die, I have all my important papers in one place….” Mack let him finish and then said to him, in the clever way my friend Mack talks, “It’s never IF, John. It’s WHEN.” As Mack was relating this tale to us, he mentioned that he has created a “WHEN” file into which he puts all his instructions for that time when his kids will need to wrap up his affairs.

I don’t have a “WHEN” file but I have a bright red 3-ring eye-catching binder that has all my last instructions in it. And I borrowed “WHEN” from Mack to print in big black letters on the spine. There is no missing it.

But that isn’t really the point of this blog today.

A friend of ours is having surgery this coming Thursday. He’s got a lot of strikes against him. Although the surgery is to remove a cancerous kidney, it is a long arduous process. He’s nearly 81, has been treated during the last year for bladder cancer, which then spread to his lungs and his kidneys and was treated with more chemo. His children and his companion will be at the hospital with him during this surgery. He hasn’t said anything to us at any point about his chances. His decisions all along have been to fight aggressively; therefore, chances are nothing to be discussed.

Jerry’s daughter (and my precious stepdaughter) died six years ago from breast cancer. Her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother had all died young from this insidious disease, and in spite of Kathie’s and her doctor’s vigilance, when the first lump was discovered and biopsied it was already stage 4 of the most aggressive form of breast cancer. Kathie made the decision to fight tooth and nail for her life. She told us all from the beginning that she didn’t want anything negative said to her about “possibilities” or “eventualities” because it would be antithetical to the way she believed and what she needed from each of us. She truly wanted to move mountains and to believe they could be moved.

Consequently, when no miracle occurred and she ultimately lost the battle, we had not been able to say good bye to her in the way we wanted. In fact, although our family always said “I love you” when we parted, she told us that she didn’t want anything more from us than the standard “I love you” – which sometimes seemed to be just routinely tacked on at the end of the conversation, although of course we really meant it.

I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life, but one of them is that while Kathie and I were good buddies, to honor her wishes I could never say to her that she was the best stepdaughter a mom could have and how very much I truly loved her and would miss her in my life.

And now the possibility looms that we will lose an old friend …. And we have sat at lunches with him over the past few years when he’s been battling cancer and we’ve pretended that it’s no more serious than any other surgery or problem. Does he understand how much we have loved having him in our life? Being his friend? Sharing his kids' lives while they grew up? How much we will miss him when he goes, whenever that time is? We’ve never talked about it; we just assume he knows.

I guess the best that we can do to any of our friends, and our families too, is to keep very up-to-date with our hugs and our kisses and touches and our phone calls and our notes and our thanks and our “thinking of yous.” When my mother went into what would be her last surgery, she prepared a bag of goodies for each of us three kids. Into the bag went the clothes we wore when she brought us home from the hospital, our baby book and a note. Each note was the same. It said at the conclusion, “It’s been great fun being your mother.” So this business of being up-to-date can go both ways. If we the living have something to say and if we are smart, we will get it said one way or the other before it is too late.

As to how to say all that to one who is teetering at the brink but who would just as soon not think about it, I just don’t have an answer.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Some years ago Jerry and I were driving down the mountain from visiting Idyllwild. It was a lovely spring day and instead of using our air conditioner, we had the car windows down. At one point I smelled tobacco. It was such an odd place to be smelling tobacco, and since neither of us smoked -- and since obviously it wasn't tobacco growing county -- I mentioned it to Jerry. He knows I have good smelling powers but this time he laughed at me and made a smart remark about my sensitive smeller going haywire.

But a few miles on down the road we caught up with a motorcyclist who was heading downhill. He was smoking a pipe as he rode.

I still have a super-good sense of smell. Perhaps it is really just normal but maybe I think it's better than ordinary because Jerry can't smell anything. Not a rose, not perfume, not a steak cooking on a Bar-B-Que, and not dog poop on a shoe.

When I developed the taste problem back in 2006, the first thing the doctor asked me was if I had also lost my sense of smell. "Not a bit of it," I told him. "I can smell a cup of freshly brewed coffee and it is the best smell in the world. But when I taste it it tastes so bad I have to spit it out." The doc said to me that this was both bad and good. Bad that I certainly was missing out on one of life's good tastes, but good that my smelling wasn't affected, because if it were, the first thing he would look for was a brain tumor.

I've always had a good smeller. In 1959 I moved to a new housing tract in Orange county that had been built in a field previously zoned for light industry. About a quarter of a mile east of this new developement there was some kind of a factory that processed and canned hot peppers. When the wind was blowing the right direction, the smell of those hot peppers made my mouth water. I mean literally. I couldn't help salivating! It was an awful experience to go through. The smell was wonderful (as I really did like the hot peppers) but I certainly didn't like drooling 24/7. It only happened a couple of times a year, so during the five years we lived there it wasn't unbearable, but it wasn't any fun, either.

In the apartment where we are now living we are anywhere from 3 to 10 miles from a bunch of dairy farms. When there is moisture in the air -- usually in the winters when there is a gloomy foggy day -- I can smell the dairies. It is not a good smell, period. But one gets used to it. Jerry has never smelled them.

It's a shame that smelling good food smells doesn't give me the satisfaction that eating what makes that smell does. But at least I can smell my night-blooming jasmine when it blooms, I can smell the wonderful pikaki moisture lotion I slather on my body ....and best of all, if I stop running around long enough, I can still smell the roses.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


My mother did not like cats. It wasn’t that she was afraid of them, but she just didn’t have much use for them. So of course we always had dogs. Our first dog was a cocker spaniel she named Teddy. In those days pets were considered animals, not family members, and as such they didn’t get much preventative care from veterinarians. I don’t think Teddy ever even saw a vet, which was why when he got distemper he died.

Later Mother acquired another dog that she named Pal, a cute little terrier of some kind, a mutt who lived with us a long time. Although these were my mother’s dogs, my sister actually claimed ownership of them. She was an animal nut, and besides “her” dogs (which later included Susie, a stray who walked sideways) my sister always had lizards, roosters, caterpillars, parakeets and rats, and as often as not she brought home the classroom guinea pig. But I digress.

One day when I was about 13 or 14, I acquired a cat. I don't remember exactly where it came from; I’d guess it was a stray. Mother didn’t want it in the house but she did tell me I could keep it if I kept it outdoors. At last, I had a pet of my own and I was crazy about it. It followed me everywhere. I named it Disciple, thinking of the biblical disciples who followed Jesus, and I thought the name was very clever. My baby brother, who was just learning to talk, called it Cipo, which is the way he pronounced the word “Disciple.” And of course that is how the cat came to be called simply “Cipo.”

To my great surprise, a couple of months down the road Cipo had babies - two darling little kitties. Immediately I named them Apostle and Epistle, again proud of myself for thinking up even more clever names.

My mother, who was of the old school and had a list of verboten words a mile long, saw what was going to happen with the shortening of these names too. She told me to change their names, that she would not have any of us calling them “Poso” and “Piso.”

I am sorry to say that in my first real challenge of teen-aged independence, I refused to change their names. I told her not to have such a dirty mind. (Yikes!)

Mother shortly took Cipo, Poso and Piso to the dog pound and that was that. But that was after she washed my mouth out with soap. And put me on restriction for a while. So much for forbidden words at our house!

As an adult, I have never been without a cat. Luckily Jerry likes them as much as I do. And if he had not rescued me from the single life so many years ago, by this time I’m sure I would have found myself written up in the newspaper as one of those old people with bizillions of cats instead of just the little Squeaky that we have now.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I am very aware that our Jurupa Valley (the area of rural Riverside County where we live) is not downtown Los Angeles, but that still makes me laugh at certain comparisons. Our daily newspaper today announced the 10th Annual Jurupa Food Fest, where restaurants and local “chefs” will participate in a charity cooking event. Held in the classy venue of a mall parking lot, ticket purchasers get to sample the best creations of our local cookery. While LA is always having such things, featuring chefs of the caliber of Wolfgang Puck, little Jurupa Valley does it with cooks from such places as Jurupa Unified School District food services, Sizzler, Albertson’s supermarkets, Mother Clucker’s Chicken and Flabob Airport Café.


If you happened to read a headline in our paper this morning that said, “Belly Dancing to Help Shelter Animals” would you suppose that lessons in belly dancing are going to be given to the poor pound puppies?


Now it’s not always our local paper that has a line or event to be laughed at. I find funny things in the LA Times too.

Today there is a magnificent half-page article on making a curried Cauliflower salad that serves 8 to 10 people. Granted, an enticing photo takes up part of the space, but I have to tell you that this certainly must be the world’s longest and most involved recipe. But then it should, because it takes 1 hour and 20 minutes PLUS cooking time to make. There are cashews in this salad and the recipe starts off having you bake 2 cups of cashews, and you end up making them “curried” by what you do to them in the baking process. The kicker is that after you go through all this, you only use ½ cup of them in the salad. Somewhere there must be a reason for the apparent imbalance of using 3 heads of cauliflower and only ½ cup of cashews. That’s about 2 cashews per serving, it seems to me, and may be hardly worth the time it takes to curry them.


How’s this for a puzzler: The headline reads, “Man Is Found Dead in Restroom at L.A. Airport: Slumped in a stall, the victim’s head was covered in a bag and his hands bound.” The article in paragraph three says, “…but Los Angeles police said a preliminary investigation indicates the man possibly killed himself.” Say what????


If you recall, some time ago the 99 Cents Only stores needed to raise their prices. In an effort to be clever and to retain their signature “99 Cents,” the owners raised prices from 99 cents to 99.99 cents on all items. That’s a penny increase, folks. Well, they got sued for doing same. According to the Times’ article, the move apparently irked some customers who “felt they were being duped.”

We are such a litigious society!


And then a marvelous photo by LA Times photographer Don Bartletti of Turtles at the San Diego Zoo reminded me of the last argument I had with my first husband.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


In the course of life one hears and sees lots of screwball things.

An example: Recently a small neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland became the site for the first annual Toilet Race, probably designed after the race in England pictured above. Racers could design and ride on anything as long as it included a “human defecation device.” Although if I had seen it I probably would have laughed along with everyone else, to me its creation is about on par with the same junior high school mentality of young men who think farting is the height of hilarity.

Another example: The whole Pasadena DO-DAH parade which started out hysterically funny has degenerated now into an event that I wouldn’t take my grandkids to.

However, there are other things that I have found funny that weren’t associated with sex or bodily functions.

One is the use of Preparation H on the bags under your eyes. No one likes either of those physical conditions. I don’t know what is in Preparation H that supposedly causes the shrinkage, but to me the risk of possibly shrinking my eyeballs by accident is enough to make me reject it as a bag remover. Using it only where it belongs is my suggestion!

I’ve recently read that the best antidote for dry skin is to peel and mash an avocado and smear it over your entire body. Then one is to sit quietly until it dries and then shower it off. The skin is supposed to turn out moist and plump, although I’m not sure how happy women would be over the “plump” aspect. Now was this a tongue in cheek suggestion? Considering where I read it, no. But actually, for most of us it would require more than one avocado, and at the price of avocados and the difficulty in finding ripe ones when needed, I think it’s not a very smart beauty trick. I’m thinking that guacamole would be a much better use for any ripe avocados you can find.

Now these beauty secrets and silly events are not new. When I was young and we used to set our hair every night in big rollers, it was necessary to put something around our head to make sure that tossing and turning in our sleep didn’t cause the rollers to come unwrapped. Someone came up with the bright idea of placing a pair of nylon (or silk) underpants over the rollers. One pair was just about the right size to cover the entire head-full of rollers. And because of their silkiness one’s head turned much more easily on the pillows. There was, of course, some concern about how romantic we would appear to our husbands as we readied ourselves for bed with underpanties on our head, but for the most part we chose practicality over seductiveness – which may have been one reason why so many of us ended up divorced.

But that reminds me of another story about my first husband, who LOVED to put things on his head. One evening we had company and had been talking about the Don Quixote stage play we’d seen. Joe disappeared and shortly reappeared from the kitchen, marching into the living room holding a broom and with an orange Tupperware colander upside down on his head. This was Joe’s idea of funny. It was, but oh, so juvenile.
Often it didn’t take any reason for him to surprise me with his latest idea in headgear. The funniest was the time he twirled out into the living room with my Merry Widow affixed like a stovepipe on top of his head. The four garter straps were hanging down like seats on a rotating ride at a county fair. The padded bra cups were poised over his eyes like a lizard’s eyelids. In case you don’t know exactly what a “Merry Widow” was, it was a full-body corset, guaranteed to give you a great bosom and a wasp waist. Every young woman had one (this was in the 1950s and ‘60s) but I’m quite sure my husband was the only one who found this alternate use for it. Luckily that night we did NOT have company. It was a screwball thing to do, but things like this were part of his charm.

When it gets down to it, crazy things, whether we just read about them or participate in them, are part and parcel of balancing the “want to dos” and “must dos” of life. Still, there are things like a toilet parade (and a Merry Widow) that I just have to shake my head at!

Monday, September 13, 2010


I am thinking that having a simple surname like “Title” is one of the difficulties of life. There seem to be dozens of reasons for people to get it wrong.

It may be that too many people alive today remember the famous football quarterback, Y. A. Tittle, who played for the Baltimore Colts, San Francisco 49ers, and the New York Giants, and who is pictured above. But to my knowledge, Y.A. is the only Tittle who became famous, and no one hears his name any more. But nine out of every phone calls we get, obviously from direct mailing lists, asks for Mr. or Mrs. Tittle.

I understand that some people are dyslexic and have a difficult time with letters. However, I think probably that pronouncing “Tittle” for “Title” is just sloppy reading – or perhaps it is simple stupidity. Do these people, when reading about books, think in their mind that each book has a Tittle? I think not. Title is Title.

Another problem that happens with phone calls is that I often get bawled out over the phone because I am not a Title Insurance company. Although in the Yellow Pages there is no generic entry “Title Company” and although in the white pages we are listed as Title, Jerry and Bobby, we are still as often as not thought to be a Title Insurance company. One caller, irked because we “weren’t who you represented yourself to be,” said to me before she hung up the phone, “You ought to change your name.”

The final problem, and sometimes an embarrassing one, has to do with the writing of the name “Title.” Unfortunately, often times in the haste of writing our name we are not careful to cross only the “t.” It’s easy just to make a long swipe. So I can’t blame others when a letter comes to us addressed to Mr and Mrs. Titte.

Needless to say, we are not going to change our name at this stage of the game. The name “Title” started out in Germany many years ago as “Teitelbaum.” Wikipedia says that is a germanic/yiddish name meaning “Date Palm.” Wikipedia does not talk about palm trees growing in Germany, so we have to assume the palm tree explanation really has its roots in some other place in the past. However, Jerry’s grandfather, born in the old country, was born a Teitelbaum and died a Teitelbaum. Jerry’s father was born a Teitelbaum and died a Title. Jerry has always been a Title, and while it might have been interesting to go back to one’s roots with the name, who would give up writing a short name for a long one? And probably people would find Teitelbaum as confusing as “Title.”

There is a funny story about how the name happened to be changed to Title in the first place. Jerry’s father, Julius Teitelbaum, was a pharmacist in Los Angeles. He went into partnership with a friend, Lou Finklestein, and the store was named “Finklestein and Teitelbaum Pharmacy.” Some time in the late 1920s or early 1930s, Coca-Cola had an advertising campaign to promote their product by offering free a sign to go on the front of a business. This sign had the iconic image of a Coke bottle at one end and the name of the business would be written on the rest of the sign. These two young entrepreneurs saw it as a good way to get free advertising. The problem arose when it was discovered that their names were too long to fit on the sign.

It was at that point and for that reason that Finklestein and Teitelbaum Pharmacy became “Fink and Title Pharmacy.” And from that time on, Julius Teitelbaum became Julius Title, although he didn’t change it legally until sometime in the 1940s. (Lou became Lou Fink, too.)

Below is a picture of “Julie” Title in front of a subsequent pharmacy located on Wilshire Boulevard next to the old Fox Wilshire theater in Los Angeles. Interestingly, there was another Julius Title active in Los Angeles at the same time as Jerry’s father. The other Julius Title was a Judge. They knew of each other but never met. Many years later Jerry had occasion to come before Judge Title to testify in a business matter. Jerry asked to speak privately with him, and they had to clarify for the record that they were not related in any way.

I am not sure that Jerry had any problems with his name until he married me. But because I find so many useless things to be exceptionally interesting, I’ve made sure that everyone knows just what a confusing name I’ve acquired. My maiden name was Dobbins, and the only thing that happened with that name was to be called an old nag. So moving up to Title was a good thing, in more ways than one.

Now you know everything there is to know about my last name, and it’s hardly more than a jot and a tittle.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I’m not sure if this is going to be about why I didn’t toss my sins into the flowing water, or how aging caught up with me. Maybe half-and-half, so stay tuned.

The Jewish ritual of Tashlik, which I’ve blogged on before, was a real wash-out as far as I was concerned. In the execution of this ritual, Jews bring pieces of bread, representing their sins for the past year, to a gathering near running water. After a short ceremony, during which time Jews are to mull over their failings and vow to make amends, they toss the crumbs of bread into the water, signifying the casting off one’s “sins.” The bag of bread crumbs at the top is what I was going to use in this symbolic rite in the Pacific ocean near Santa Monica.

No, I am not Jewish, but since I had heard so much about this ritual in the last few years, I really wanted to see what it was about. Jerry, who is Jewish but rather unobservant of most of the rituals, intended to be simply a “looky-loo,” informing me that he wouldn’t take bread crumbs because he didn’t have any sins. Although I offered to share my sins with him, or better yet tell him what his were, he declined.

To conclude this last half of the first part of the story, I will just say that due to events not under my control, I ate the bread myself. The fish didn’t get a bite, nor did the ubiquitous gulls. The PA system that was used by the staff to coordinate this ritual was not working well so I did not hear why it was that we were not going to be able to toss our bread crumbs into the water. Perhaps the city didn’t allow it; if this was so, I had no idea if this was the first time the city objected, or if each year in the past the ritual also was simply improvised and/or altered to accommodate this rule. However, since it actually seemed to me like one big beach party, with wine and cheese being substituted for hot dogs and SomeMores, I probably was the only one who was disappointed. We were told to “pretend” we were casting our sins into the sea. That’s when I ate my bread crumbs! (Washed down with white wine, of course.) Such a disappointment!

The second half of the story is that unremembered by me from my many years of romping on the beaches in Southern California was the distance from the parked car to the surf line. The asphalt-topped parking lot is long and narrow along the highway. Once you step off the asphalt onto the sand, you have miles of dry sand to trudge across before you get to where you are going. Long Beach has lots of sand but Santa Monica has an ungodly amount that must be navigated to get to the water. We – Kerry, Brian, Olivia, Justine, Jerry and me – were carrying all the accoutrements for our participatory afternoon, which included blankets, towels, shoes, bags, boxes, ice chests, wooden trays for goodies, jackets in case it got cold, and who knows what else.

The walk was simply awful. The young ones skimmed across. Kerry and Brian, hitting middle-age, did admirably well, considering they were carrying the bulk of the stuff. Jerry, who once scampered like a mountain goat up a huge hillside full of upturned stone tombs in Termessos, Turkey, leaving me puffing and panting at the bottom, pulled off a similar stunt on this sand. He’s 80 years old, for crying out loud. How could he do that, I wondered. While I have always known I don’t have a great deal of endurance, this long walk across the sand nearly did me in. The only way I survived was to know that reversing directions on the same route is always much shorter than crossing it the first time. If I could just make it to the water, I knew I could get back to the car.

In spite of the awful trek across the Gobi-like sand and the disappointment of having to eat my sins, I had a glorious day. I’d tackle it again in a heart beat with the kids, at a different beach, of course. This was on Thursday, the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah.

The next morning I got out of bed and almost fell on the floor. Oh, the soles of my feet felt like they had been sandpapered until they were as shiny as silk. My ankles felt as if they might either lock up or fall apart, I could not tell which. The calf of each leg felt as if I’d done entirely too many reps of something, the same thing that my thighs rebelled at. I could not tell if the pain around my knees was on top of, under or around the kneecaps. To date I have not been aware of anything in my hips that might need replacing but I now know where the replacements will be -- exactly where the hip bones hurt. And then to add insult to injury, the loss of gluteus maximus muscle from the aging process was obvious when I sat down on two “bum” bones that were terribly tender from sitting on the hard sand. (I had forgotten how hard sand is.)

That was Friday morning. I walked around like an old lady on Friday, all day. Getting up off the couch was hard. Sitting down on a chair was hard. The only thing that really felt good was lying on the couch reading, or napping. Darn! Darn! Darn! Not fun getting old, guys!

Yesterday was much better and today I’m back to normal, thank goodness.

In reflecting on the whole episode I’ve decided that I should sit on a beach more. It was wonderful to do. I’ve always liked late afternoon beaches anyway. I think Jer and I will add some beach sitting (in chairs and at a better beach) to our “things to do that aren’t difficult to accomplish” list. I even know the beach where we’ll go; it’s one Jer and I frequented when we were young and dating. We might even have a frozen banana like we used to. I also think that we will try another Tashlik service next year, probably one locally that uses a stream rather than an ocean, and with a congregation that may be less inclined to see the ritual as a kickoff to an afternoon of wine and cheese. (Not that the wine and cheese wasn’t very welcome!)

So there you have it: a litany of complaints. And I think probably that attitude will have to be #1 in the list of sins next year to be represented by a breadcrumb. Get ready, fish!

Saturday, September 11, 2010


In the Kirkpatrick Cemetery in Bridgeport, Alabama, just across the line from Tennessee, is a stone with the following inscription:

Bruce Kirkpatrick
Born September 21, 1900 – MURDERED November 22, 1916
Son of W.L. and Nancy Kirkpatrick

When I first began researching my children’s father’s side of the family, the Tennessee Kirkpatricks, I heard about a stone in the Kirkpatrick cemetery that had MURDERED inscribed on it. But none of the present family had a clue as to what happened back in 1916.

A couple of years ago I was able to get a death certificate which listed as cause of death, “Falling beneath car wheels while attempting to board moving train.” As an interesting and somewhat sad notation about the death certificate, the doctor who prepared it was J. W. Kirkpatrick, Bruce’s older brother and my children’s great grandfather. The death certificate sure didn’t sound like Bruce was murdered.

So next I hunted up a newspaper article that might shed some light on it. Here’s what it said:

November 24, 1916, Bridgeport, Alabama

Bruce Kirkpatrick, son of Dick Kirkpatrick, a youth of 15, met a horrible death under the wheels of a freight train Wednesday p.m. at 7:30 near the father’s home at the State Line. If appears that Bruce and a chum were “hoping” the train and riding apiece just for fun. His companion caught the train ahead of him but had gotten off and was standing so near the train that Bruce struck him in the breast with his shoulder in passing, it being so dark the two could not see each other. The lick broke the hold of the unfortunate boy and he fell beneath the wheels, causing instant death. The crew of the train did not learn of the sad accident until they reached Bridgeport, but his companion made it known immediately. The face of the dead boy was crushed beyond recognition, his brains being scattered for some distance. Both his legs were cut practically in twain in two places, the rest of his body being unharmed. Interment was at the Kirkpatrick Graveyard Thursday

So who murdered him? As a genealogist I wanted to know. Something was missing. Why was it so inscribed on his tombstone.

In 1990, the Marion County, Tennessee Historical Society put out a County History book. In it was an article on Washington Lafayette Kirkpatrick, who went by the name of “Dick,” written by a Nancy J. Lawhorne, a sister of Bruce and only 6 years old when he was killed. She had the answer to the murder and luckily for us included it in the County History book. In January of 1917, Dick Kirkpatrick wrote a letter to the local newspaper, making some suggestions as to county laws that need to be put in place. One of his suggestions was as follows:

“Give all railroad employees police power to eject or arrest all trespassers on their trains or properties and appropriate penalties for failure to exercise this power. The foregoing is suggested to me from several standpoints. First on November 22 a boy was killed by train and proof shows that he was lured from his home at night by a section hand who was known by his foreman to ride trains unlawfully. Second, that on the night of the death of the boy, and in a few minutes, the railroad had a fence on ground and, in fact, before the boys body was cold. Third, though honest efforts have been made to determine the exact condition of the child’s death by questions to G. B. Cates, who was conductor, and others, no reply was forthcoming.

“The nearest answer to anything yet is indirect from J. M Doyle, a brakeman, who claims to have heard him and felt the wheels run over his foot, but thought it was a hog. Now you understand that I have no suit. It would not bring my boy back, but do you not really think that such a law would prevent in the future parents having to look from their humble home at the gate through which their son passed, never to return, and to view the place where his mangled body lay? While I have always contended that railroad should have fair play, yet I do not think they should have the right to murder indiscriminately….”

Aside from anything else, the story of why Bruce’s tombstone screams out “MURDERED” needs to be documented somewhere. Nancy Lawhorne has since died and I am afraid the story will be lost. I’m sending this blog to the South Pittsburg Historical Society, which is where the old Kirkpatrick family home is, hoping that it will go on their webpage and in their archives to keep the story alive.

Such interesting things we genealogists dig up!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


My mother put a positive spin on everything. No matter what I asked her, she fudged the truth. “Why did your mom and dad divorce?” I asked her. “Well,” she said, “I don’t really know. I never asked. I was a teenager kind of wrapped up in my own life; I guess they just didn’t get along.”

It wasn’t until I got a copy of the divorce papers and saw that Grandma alleged extreme cruelty and that her husband wasn’t fit to have custody of the kids that I realized how much my mom chose not to tell me.

My mother told me she once put daddy’s clothes in a suitcase and set them on the front porch, letting him know that if he didn’t stay home more, he could just move out. Knowing what I know now, he was working on a mine venture in Angel’s Camp when they were married and she was living in Southern California taking care of her young siblings while her mom worked. This was during the depression – 1932 or 1933 – and I can’t believe she didn’t understand when she married Dad that there would be separations until he got the mine issues resolved. I wonder if she really intended to end the marriage if he didn’t “shape up.”

I wish I knew the answers to these questions. It wasn’t that I didn’t ask; she just didn’t tell us kids anything, even when we did ask.


What we gather in our genealogical research, if we go after family history as well as the facts we gather for our Family Group Sheets, will sometimes give us ideas of what might have happened. This enables us to construct a possible scenario. But it would be so much better to really know what happened.

I began working on my “official” life story (which I call “My Life in Bits and Pieces) about fifteen years ago. Since my life has been mundane and uneventful, it seemed quite useless to try a chronological retelling. I mean, there really was nothing to tell. But I found that I had lots of little “stories” to share, and I started writing them down. None of them were important events, but they did illustrate a piece of my life.

In my elementary school years I went to three different schools, and I had a little boyfriend in each one. At Lafayette school there was a darling little boy named Bobby in my Kindergarten class I mooned over. At Willard school where I went first through fourth grades cute little Jerry and I were an item. We attended each others’ birthday parties and we gave each other a little Christmas gift.

Finally in fifth and six grades at Whittier elementary school, a cute shy red-head came into my life, and there were CC+BD’s carved on more than one tree in our neighborhood. I suspect we did some hand-holding too, but I can’t remember for sure. Each time, I really thought I was in love.

I wrote a tiny little “story” encompassing these childish love-affairs as one of my “bits.” I called it “Recollections of a Shy School-Girl”. Granted, it doesn’t tackle big issues like wanting to know about grandma and grandpa’s divorce, but hopefully it will do two things:

Firstly, it will give my children a word picture of a part of my childhood and how different and yet the same our childhoods were. And secondly, with any kind of luck it will cause every reader of this blog to take a trip down their own childish memory lane and see what they can save for their kids.

As for genealogy, I have loved knowing more about my ancestors. In most cases I am lucky if I have a single written record of something that described a life: in once case I have a really good obituary; in another I have a copy of a letter written to the US government about a widow’s pension. A third treasure I have is a letter written by crusty old Rev. Dobbins who in 1847 in a fit of pique quits the Presbyterian Church. And lastly, I own love letters written to my grandma from a suitor when she was 16. I treasure those “bits.” They make my ancestors much more real to me.

I don’t want to be remembered as just a statistic on a Family Group Sheet. My “Bits” – as well as the pieces (blogs, essays, letters to the editor, etc. that I’ve written over the years) is still in progress. No one is going to get a good solid literary book as a legacy from me, but certainly they are going to know more about who I am/was than I knew about my own mother or Grandmother. And I am pleased about that.

Anyone can write a “bit.” You certainly don’t have to be Shakespeare to do it!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


This is a followup to the previous blog wherein the Dessert Chef does his stuff!

It would be a shame not to show Jerry in his full cooking glory, so I dug through the old photos and found a couple more. The photo at the top shows him at the stove, using the little hand-beater in a make shift double-boiler. He has not yet raised the beater out of the melting chocolate but believe me, it was shortly to happen.

If you look carefully, you can see the Manhattan in his free hand. It was not his first of the day, as you can tell by the happy look on his face. Or perhaps he was just happy because he was still in the thrall of being creative.

The picture below shows him carefully packing the chocolate crumbs around the bottom and the side of the springform pan, which will ultimately house his creation.

While he did consider his first attempt at making dessert to be a success, he also considered it his last attempt. He opted to become a fish cook instead. He found recipes for fish dishes much less daunting and fussy. He found all kinds of fish recipes in the newspaper, and here is one of his two favorite entrees:


4 center-cut swordfish steaks, about 6 oz each, 1" thick
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 Tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon red-wine vinegar
4 springs rosemary or 1 t dried
1 Tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes.

Preliminaries: Pre-heat a charcoal grill or broiler.

PROCEDURE: Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper on both sides. Place oil in a flat dish, and add remaining ingredients. Blend well. Place fish steaks in marinade, coat well on both sides, cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 15 minutes.

Place fish on grill and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, or longer if desired. If it is to be cooked under a broiler, place fish on a rack and cook 3-4 minutes on each side.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


In 1980 Jerry decided he wanted to play more of a role in our food preparation. No, he certainly didn’t want to make dinner a few times a week, which would have delighted me no end; his idea was that he wanted to become the official Dessert Chef. Although I tried to steer him in a more “helpful” direction, he didn’t want to be a helper. He wanted to be the big “dessert” cheese, so I capitulated. Pick your recipe, I challenged him, and you can have a go at it.

He read the cooking section of the LA times for a few weeks until he found exactly what he wanted. It was called “Justice Lillie’s Chocolate Mousse Pie.” There was a good picture of how it was supposed to look to help him along – and the recipe itself was fairly straightforward. When the next Saturday came around he announced he was going to make the pie.

I suggested that he check to see if we had all the ingredients on hand. “Oh,” he said. He read the recipe, wrote down on a list what he needed, took his apron off and headed to the store. Upon his arrival back home he announced that since he’d put forth so much effort already, he would move the actual production of the pie back a week. The big event would take place the following Saturday.

My next suggestion was that he read over the recipe in the meantime to see if he understood what he was supposed to do and when he was supposed to do it. “Oh,” he said again. He was discovering that becoming a dessert chef might have a learning curve.

The next Saturday arrived. The apron went on, he set out all the ingredients, and then he advised me that he could do it himself and that I could go on about my business. The sound of ice cubes coming out of the refrigerator led me to believe that he was making himself a Saturday morning Manhattan to accompany his efforts. “Uh-Oh!” I thought to myself.

From that point, here’s what I heard:

“What does it mean “Grind wafers in the blender? Does that mean the blender or the food processor.”
“What does it mean, ‘double boiler?’”
“What does it mean, ‘pale yellow?’”
“What does it mean ‘Chocolate will congeal…?’”
“What does “fold” mean?”
“How gradually do I beat in the sugar?”

He was truly flying blind. He didn’t want me to come in and help him, so I simply passed on the answers in a loud enough voice that he could hear from the den, where I sat reading the newspaper.

When he finally put the Justice’s pie together in the spring form pan, (yes, there was a “What is a spring-form pan?” also) and tucked it into the refrigerator for an overnight stay, I came into the kitchen. There were chocolate streaks all over the white wall phone that he had answered a couple of times while he was whipping up his masterpiece. It hadn’t occurred to him to use a paper towel to grab the phone. And since he was using a hand-beater for his “beating,” it was obvious that he did not realize what would happen if he pulled the beaters out of the chocolate pudding without turning the beater off first. Our narrow galley kitchen was covered with streaks of chocolate pudding from top to bottom, on all the cabinets and on the floor. Not big blobs of it, just tiny little streaks that a still-whirring electric beater would fling over everything.

He denied making a mess, and I suspect that keeping his Manhattan glass full had caused him to see only perfection in his machinations. Together we got the kitchen back in order and we went out to dinner that night, as he didn’t want me to snoop in the fridge to see his wonderful dessert.

The next day he poured us each a Manhattan, donned his apron, removed the spring form pan and called me in to see the results of his labor. He was one happy man. It didn’t matter to him that it didn’t look quite like what the newspaper had shown as “Justice Lillie’s Chocolate Mousse Pie.” I asked him what all those white things were in the body of the pie and he said he didn’t know, but that it would taste good anyway.

It did. Shortly after that he decided he’d had enough of being a dessert chef and started looking at recipes for meats to throw on the grill. That was fine by me. Scrubbing chocolate off telephones and cabinets and walls was not my idea of good cooking.

Justice Mildred Lillie of the Court of Appeals in Los Angeles is the one this pie is named for and you can find her recipe by Googling it. Jerry had a much easier time with meats – and one of these days I’ll share one of his fabulous finds, which is easily produced without the Manhattan in hand.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Does the name “Charlie Tuna” ring a bell with any of you Southern California folks who listen to music on the radio? He’s been around for a long time, and in this blog I want to finally thank him for keeping me going during a very rough patch in my life.

Life changed on me in 1971 when my marriage broke up. Everything I assumed about my past and my future had no more truth to it than a mirage. At the time, part of me said “You can do it” and the other more immediate part said, “You are helpless, hopeless, worthless and useless.” These were the two parts of me battling each other as I took stock of where I was and where I might go. I had four teenagers ranging in age from 15 to 10. I had a job that paid $2.10 an hour with no benefits. I did have child support payments that kept my head above water but the rational part of me said that I’d better find a job with more future to it, that someday my kids would be out of the house, and I’d need to be able to support myself. I’d given up college for marriage; I had made my own bed, and now I had to lie in it.

This was, of course, depression in a big way, but I didn’t know it. I just knew that somehow I had to figure out how to live through it.

In 1972 I took a secretarial job in a nearby city. Advertised at $600 a month, I was hired at $475 with the stipulation that since I had never been a secretary and the company was “taking a chance” on me, I would be on probation for 6 months. At that time if I was deemed suitable, I would be raised to $600. I took it, of course, grateful that someone was giving me a chance.

To say that the job was easy is correct, because I was a smart person and a good typist. But was I smart enough and good enough to please the boss, a Vice President of Finance? I had absolutely no self-confidence left, and I just didn’t know. The first morning I got in my car, dreading the day, feeling totally terrorized, and flipped the radio on for the 20 minute drive to work.

My son had driven the car last and had set the radio to KIIS. Charlie Tuna, whom I had never heard of before, was the DJ. I had barely pulled out of my driveway when he made a comment that his bird read the newspaper every morning. I burst out laughing, because the image of the bird sitting on a perch with the newspaper that lined his cage ready for reading was simply too funny! I drove down the freeway, listening to Charlie spinning “Killing Me Softly” and “Horse With No Name” and listening to America and Bread and Chicago and Elton John and others.

For six months, Charlie Tuna and I met on the freeway between Ontario and Pomona. At the end of six months my evaluation at work came through as promised and my salary was increased. Charlie kept me in stitches every morning for the three years I worked in Pomona. Between him and the music of the early 70s I was able to slowly discover hope again. Charlie and his funny patter and this music became engraved on my soul.

Each morning I regaled a friend at work with what he had said that morning. When I got home my kids knew that they too would hear about Charlie’s latest! I am sure my kids thought I was crazy. During this period of time I’d tried my best to not let the kids know how very depressed I was; I was sure my craziness about Charlie Tuna would keep their focus off the darker side that I was battling. One day I came home and the girls were jumping up and down in excitement. It seems that Mr. Tuna himself had appeared at one of the local malls, and they had gone to get his autograph for me. Yes, it is that signature, written on the back side of an index card that is shown above. Needless to say, it became one of my treasures and has a permanent place in my “Bobby Personal” file.

I was only 37 when all this was going on. I am now 75. I’m pleased to tell you that Charlie Tuna is still around, making other people laugh, I’m sure. He is holding up as well as I am, and as well as the index card is. I’ll be forever grateful to him for his part in my life. Thanks, Charlie.

And of course if you want to know the end of the story, it was at that business in Pomona where I met Jerry. He turned out to be the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel and we married in 1975.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


A most interesting column in today's LA Times was entitled "Cairo's chaotic call to prayer." Written by Jeffrey Fleishman, it looks at the new decree issued by the nation's Ministry of Religious Endowments that will replace individual muezzins (those men whose voices call the faithful to prayer five times a day) with a single radio-broadcasted call that will standardize the sound and the timing of this ritual. The Ministry believes this will bring back spirituality to the call to worship that is lost in today's cacophonous and chaotic major city.

Actually, Mr. Fleishman does not so much analyze the reason and ramification of this decree as he gives a human perspective to it from a 60 year old man who will be replaced. He writes:
"Like many muezzins, Ahmed receives occasional donations but no salary. He grew up a farmer's son in southern Egypt and traveled to Cairo in his 20s, wandering from mosque to mosque and studying the timbre and rhythm of the city's revered callers.... 'I've wanted to serve God since I was a boy,' he said."
And reading this reminded me of living and traveling in Turkey, and how, in a sense, one adapted ones self in little ways to another country and another religion. Outside the door of our apartment we had a very devout bekci (guard) who responded to the Call to Prayer by placing his prayer rug and praying in the small lobby of the apartment. There was not a whole lot of room in the lobby, and I tried as best I could to arrange my comings and going not to disturb him in his prayers.

We lived in a more modern part of Istanbul, away from the frenetic old part of the city. Even so, during the day I was rarely even aware of the sounds emanating from the local mosques. The sounds of cars, street vendors, children at play, boom-boxes (yes, even in Istanbul) and ordinary neighborhood hubbub simply masked the sound for all who really didn't understand or participate. But Jer and I found ourselves almost unconsciously adapting ourselves to the timing of these prayers so as to let our bekci pray in peace.

Late at night was a different story. We had no city sounds to muffle the muezzin. We could sometimes hear the sound of the Marmara Sea to our left, but if we went out on our balcony that overlooked a city park at the time of the last call to prayer of the day, we could hear the most beautiful sounds over the sea sounds. To the western ear the call to prayer is tuneless and to the person who did not understand the words there was no particular significance, but we could hear the individual voices - some more high pitched, some lower, some louder and closer, some much more distant, some a little faster and some a little slower - but all saying the same words, meaningful words whether or not we could understand them. They came at our ears through the darkness from every direction, almost like hundreds of echos. And at night it was beautiful. No other word could describe it.

It was all so new to us and so very fascinating. Jer and I had made up our mind before we ever moved to Turkey that we would not judge her against our own home - that is, we wouldn't evaluate experiences as better than or worse than what we were used to. Instead, we would try our best to accept each and every thing as simply "different" and learn to enjoy that differentness. Our stay in Turkey was every bit as wonderful as we had hoped.

I would hate to see Turkey decide to standardize their Call to Prayers. The Cairo ministry may call it progress -- and it may be. It's not for me to judge. But I certainly did find Mr. Fleishman's article interesting, and I'll be keeping my eyes open for how "progress" is received.

As for the minaret pictures, I took the top photograph near Fevziye, a little town in the mountains near Trabzon on the Black Sea and the one at the bottom is from Konya in central Anatolia, both taken in 1992.