Sunday, October 31, 2010


I have mentioned this before, but I had my fun picking out names for my own babies, so I try not to be dismayed or surprised or discombobulated when I see the names other people pick out for their own babies. Nevertheless, I have to admit that when I read in the news that Celine Dion and her husband, parents of newborn twins, had chosen the names Nelson and Eddy (although it was reported as Eddy and Nelson), I was shocked. Quickly I realized that although to me “Nelson Eddy” (pictured above)was as familiar a name as the Dione Quintuplets (pictured below), probably 90% of internet users have never heard of any of these people.

(For those of you who have a blank look on your face, I’ll explain: Nelson Eddy was the male half of “American’s Singing Sweethearts” of the 1930s, and paired with Jeannette MacDonald they sang their way around the world during those years. While I was too young to really appreciate them, their names were certainly in my store of knowledge. Similarly, the Dione Quintuplets, 5 cookie-cutter babies, born in Canada in 1934 without any in vitro tinkering, were also so notable that during those early years you could hardly open a newspaper or a magazine without seeing their sweet little faces peeking out at you. As regards names, they got highly individualized, non-rhyming, cutesy names: Annette,Cecile,Marie Emelie,Yvonne. This is your history lesson for today.)

Now of course Celine and her husband did NOT name their kids after Nelson Eddy. Newspapers said that Eddy is honoring Eddy Marnay, Celine’s first record producer, and Nelson is honoring Nelson Mandela. None of us old timers will ever forget the names of these new little twins. We may forget Apple and Orange and Moon and Tuesday, but not Nelson and Eddy, or rather, Eddy and Nelson. I wonder if anyone has ever named twins Roy and Dale? Or Dean and Jerry? (Frick and Frack? – again something the oldsters will recognize.)

People are free to name their kids what they want. More power to them. As I say, I made the right choices for me with my own kids: Sean, Erin, Bryn and Kerry. And through the years I’ve exercised my interest in names by bestowing them on our pets: Spot, Dolly, Annie, Missy, Sammy Davis III, Tigger, Cipsi, Bucky, Gloria Darling, and Squeaky.

In my work of indexing census records I do often come across the most amazing choice of names. Stranger than strange, sometimes. Just this week I was indexing a 1930 West Virginia census and found a family who had six boys. Those boys were named Chester, Lester, Vester, Wester, Nester and Kester. Really! I haven’t gotten over that yet!

There have been times when my kids were little and I’d start to call one of them and the wrong name would start to come out; I’d quickly verbally reorganize and pull out the right name. To the uninitiated it might seem like I was sputtering, but my kids were so close together in ages that sometimes in all the racket I’d just get mixed up in who I was calling. Well, I wonder about the poor old mother of the family above. Think of trying to call Vester and having to make a couple of tries before the right “ester” came out.

I remember when I was a kid we had a family living down the block from us that had a cluster of small children, one of which was Mickey and another Dickey. They had a dog that kept getting out of the fenced yard and into our yard, which aggravated my father no end. He’d always ask one of us kids to go down to the house and ask them to come get their dog – and he’d always refer to “Flicky, Dicky, Chicky’s house.” We’d try to tell him it was Mickey and Dickey, but it didn’t matter. Next time it was back to Flicky, Dicky, Chicky.

I wonder what my dad would have done with Chester, Lester, Vester, Wester, Nester and Kester.

Torn his hair out, probably!

Friday, October 29, 2010


...continued from yesterday...

Where was my father during all this? I imagine that my mother, in the understanding way of mothers, probably told him I was having a growing pain or something because he certainly made himself scarce that summer, as did my sister. I don’t think any of it made sense to anyone except me. But I had finally come to the point where at long last I had a self to express, and that self was validated by an icon in American literature whose legacy of words would have a life-changing effect on me. It felt really good!

Luckily, by the time September rolled around I suspect Emerson and I both were tired. I put him on the shelf and headed back to college, the same me but different. Though he was never far from my heart, my passion had expended itself and I was moving on in my life...growing up, it's called. Mother and I settled down to a comfortable relationship again and never spoke about that awful time. It is to her credit that she didn't disown me.

I could not tell my grandson about all this when he asked me about my idol in the “old days,” I felt I needed to give him a simple “Frank Sinatra” that he could understand. I could have also just as easily said Elizabeth Taylor whom I had yearned to look like, Roy Rogers whom I had wanted to marry, or Turhan Bey, whose eyes always set my heart a-fluttering. If Chris had asked me who my "today’s" idols were, I would tell him his old Grandma would accept any of the Three Tenors, whichever one would stand beneath her balcony and sing love songs to her any time she wanted. Oh gosh, all of these people are more in the nature of ordinary idols -- but none could ever have affected my life the way Ralph Waldo Emerson did.

Today, my outer self still reflects a rather ordinary, average person living an ordinary, average life, but inside is a comfort zone that embraces Samuel Gompers, Ayn Rand, Betty Friedan, the hippies, the march at Selma, Hilary Clinton and still, after all this time, old Ralph Waldo himself.

I did not tell the people at work who my idol was and no one asked. Though we all worked together well, I always felt a bit out of place with them. Generally speaking I would have to say my co-workers read romance novels or comic books, watched hours of TV each night, played lots of bingo and wouldn’t be caught dead at a symphony. And that’s ok with me. I kept quiet because I didn’t like to seem “different,” but I was, and am.

After ruminating a few days on this business of idols, I told my husband about Chris’ project and about my story of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I admitted to him that I guessed I was pretty odd. Jerry laughed; he knows the inner me but never knew the story of how it got to be that way. Then he told me that when he was young he wanted to be just like Igor Sikorsky, the man who developed the first helicopter. Jer said his choice to attend MIT in Cambridge was becaise he felt to have the vision of Sikorsky he needed to have the very best training he could get.

Chris is too young to understand about the real idols both his Grandma and Grandpa had. So Frank Sinatra was a better choice for me to give him. And perhaps “idol” is the wrong word to call Emerson and Sikorsky, but the minds of these men gave force and direction to both of Jerry and me, which to a large extent shaped our adult lives.

As for the statistical bell-shaped curve, you will understand that all my co-workers and most of the ordinary, hardworking, salt-of-the earth people are gathered around its top. A few of us odd ones make up the extremes, which is where Jerry and I, along with Emerson and Sikorsky, willingly place ourselves, sitting happily on the edges of the bell-shaped curve.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


“Grandma,” Chris said, “I’ve got to ask you some questions for a survey we’re doing in my social studies class.”

“Fire away,” I told him, setting down a couple of cookies and a glass of milk for him and a cup of coffee for myself. I figured I couldn’t help him with his math, but I might have a chance with Social Studies!

The questions were mostly about “the old days,” - my old days, to be more specific: what did I do without television to watch, what kind of games did I play during recess, did we have any games like Nintendo. I answered the questions easily and gave him a picture of life before electronics. But I was actually stymied at his last question: “Grandma, who was your idol when you were growing up?”
Now this conversation happened long before “American Idol” hit the airways, so I wasn’t then inclined to think of an idol necessarily as a performer the way we do now. Nevertheless, I thought it would be easier for him to understand if I chose someone he’d at least heard of, rather than try to explain who someone in the ancient past was. And since I supposed he really wanted an immediate answer, I just picked a nice safe name out of the air and offered, “Frank Sinatra.” Chris seemed satisfied with my reply, and with his hunger temporarily at bay and his survey completed, he gave me a kiss and headed out the door toward home.

However, as I cleaned up the crumbs and put the milk away, one name kept coming into my mind. Ralph Waldo Emerson. I couldn’t help but think that my real choice would have to be Ralph Waldo Emerson, but what a strange choice for an idol! I thought it made me seem odd, but after all, who would judge? Why couldn’t I have strange idol?

At work the next day I polled my co-workers as to their idols, hoping one of them would have someone as far out as my choice was. No one did. Sylvia picked Elvis, not a big surprise since she carries around an Elvis tote bag and key chain. Lucy pretty much lives in the 1940’s and her choice of Betty Grable was really predictable. Ron, our aging baby boomer-accountant said Jim Belushi was his idol. And Debbie, our young receptionist, looked as if she might swoon when she squealed, “Ricky Martin.” The rest of the folks gave equally predictable answers; every one of them thought of idols in terms of entertainers. It did appear just as I thought: I was the odd man out. I could see that I was sitting on the edge of the bell-shaped curve on this one.

I have always wanted to blend in, not stand out. In school I did not want to be called on to answer a question or to write something on the blackboard. I didn’t want other kids to know I got straight As. I was painfully shy, and few beyond my intimate group of friends even knew who I was. I was, in fact, a nobody. I grew up thinking of myself not as “different” but just as a rather solitary person who would rather not be in the spotlight.

The fact of the matter was that somewhere way down inside me was a little streak of contrariness that took issue with a whole lot of things. But I was the good girl my folks expected me to be, through elementary school, then junior high and finally through high school, the counterbalance in our family to a major-tantrum-throwing sister. After graduation I accepted a scholarship to college out of town and moved into a dorm. Now I could call the shots in my own life and I felt so free. But what happened, of course, is that I just followed the same pattern of being the nice kid, quiet, unassuming and one that few people knew.

In the second semester of my freshman year, we were required to take an American Lit class. We studied many great American writers and finally were assigned Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essay on Self-Reliance. This essay spoke to me at the deepest level. I had no way of knowing that his essay was going to be my epiphany. It seemed to reach into the undercurrent of discontent that had been simmering in me throughout my childhood. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words seared through my soul, separated me from the beliefs of my parents and showed me that I was something more than a cookie-cutter image of them. I was stunned with the impact of his words. I took them for my own and felt I would never again be the same.

When summer came, I still hadn’t gotten Emerson out of my system and during that summer I ran around the house acting for the world like a Baptist preacher in front of a church full of sinners. I had discovered “IT!” No, it wasn’t a religious conversion but it surely was a new birth. And I preached “it” – self-reliance - as dramatically as I could. I wanted my parents to have no doubt about my changed life. I shouted to my mom, “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” My mother blanched and bit her tongue. I waved the American Lit book and declaimed, “The only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it.” My mother with her orthodox set of beliefs was sure I had lost my reason. I followed her from room to room reading, “Henceforward I am the truth’s. Be it known that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law.” And then I laid on the final indignity, “I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you!” I was only 18 years old and I thought I understood the world.

.....conclusion tomorrow......

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Jerry and I arrived in Istanbul at the beginning of summer. Until the flat that was to be our home for the next year or so was ready for us, we lived in the Hilton Hotel overlooking the Bosphorus for six weeks. Jerry immediately was picked up for work every day by a young man assigned to be our driver, and it pretty much left me with nothing to do except to sight-see. We knew no one in Istanbul and didn't know a word of the language. Apprehensive about being alone in such a huge city, I mainly did my sightseeing on foot and in the area close to the Hotel.

When we arrived, there were only two MacDonald's restaurants in town, and one was within walking distance. Often I used that as the base I operated out of. When I got frustrated, or tired, or confused -- and initially there were lots of those times -- the familiarity of a Big Mac, fries and a coke did wonders for my spirit.

In my wanderings, what I mostly found of great interest were all the little handwork items on sale in the tourist shops. I knew these were merely representations of the "real" stuff, but until I got a better feel for proper pricing, I figured I couldn't go wrong with what the tourists were offered. I found some pretty gauzy cotton "block-printed" scarves with some interesting floral trimming on them and I bought myself a couple. The pink one, shown above, became my favorite, and when winter came I nearly wore that scarf out wrapped around my neck and tucked down into my warm jacket while I roamed the city, now much more confident on my own.

It was not long before I learned what these scarves really signified. It was not the scarf that was important, it was the edging, called "Oya." In a 1992 article in Skylife, written by Mine Erbek, she says "Oya is the secret language of Anatolian women, in which they express their feelings to friends and family. Whether she is in love or unhappily married can be read in the oya lace around a woman's headscarf."

Oya can be done by needle, crochet hook, shuttle, and hairpin, to name a few ways it is created. Although I have never seen it, the most beautiful examples of oya were usually made with a sewing needle and silk thread. Each design has a message with it. In the rural villages girls as young as six learn to make oya and are taught the significance of each flower, each color and each motif. As they age, what edging they put on their scarves sends a message. As an example, when a newly married woman visits her mother and father after her marriage, she will wear a pepper motif if she is unhappy, a pansy or meadowgrass motif if she is happy.

The message of the oya varies from area to area too, depending on the climate, local traditions an factors. An orange motif is common in the Mediterranean regions; in central Anatolia it is replaced by the tomato or apple motif.

At one point I found a long string of finely crocheted red peppers wrapped on a piece of cardboard functioning as a spool. They were really lovely and I bought them; I had no idea what I was going to do with them, but even if they weren't on a scarf, I liked them enough to include them in the little treasure chest of Turkish handcrafts that I was collecting. Many years after we came home I gave most of my little collectibles to a high school librarian who was trying to figure out what kind of a display to put in her school's display case. I figured that in seeing these thing, maybe young people would become more interested in learning about the area (Asia Minor) through which all of Western Civilization passed in its development.

The pictures I've used in this blog are also from that same issue of Skylife and are credited to Artcamera. If you want to see other very different forms of oya, you can find lots of them on Flickr and by doing a Google search on "Turkish Oya."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Daughter Kerry took Olivia and Justine to see the new owl movie (Sorry I can't tell you what the whole name of it is) and each member of the audience received an owl mask. The family has a very laid-back cat named Moses, so of course he got the honor of wearing the mask. And I got the pleasure of seeing my grandcat in his Halloween costume.

I'm not crazy about the new trend of putting animals in little clothes, except maybe for sweaters or coats to keep the little ones warm on a cold day's walk. My cousin had shelties and when she tied a bandana around the neck of her male shelties, she said they strutted around like typical male show-offs. I wasn't so sure this was true, but after we began fostering one of her dogs, I had to agree with her -- Bucky puffed up, threw his chest out and was one big show-off on his walks. But a bandana isn't a dress or rompers, so I can't really call it "animal clothing."

But if there is an exception to be made, it is at Halloween. I do enjoy watching the animals in their little costumes. The pictures below were taken many years ago at a local vet's annual pet Halloween party. I've always enjoyed looking at these funny animals, and while I've used them in previous Halloween blogs, they are cute enough to take another look.

Little Red Riding Hood, of course.

Who would have thought of a dog habit!

The Rag Doll cat really didn't care what was done with her. She's easy.

He really wanted to be Superman!

She's not really the ballet-dancer type.

I think of all the holidays, Halloween has always been my favorite of the minor holidays. Kids enjoy it SO much. Animals I'm not sure about.

Monday, October 25, 2010


The nearby town of Ontario, California is developing a nice little museum, and each year around Halloween they have an exhibit of artists' representations of the holiday "El Dia de los Muertos" - the "Day of the Dead." According to literature at the museum, the Day of the Dead festivals in Mexico, Guatemala and the American Southwest have their roots in ancient Aztec traditions, and these two days - the first two days of November - is meant to be a time to remember the dead as well as to honor the continuity of life.
"Consisting of visits to the graves of loved ones, telling stories about the ancestors, preparing favorite foods, dancing, poetry, and the creation of elaborately decorated altars, these celebrations look humorously upon death and warmly welcome visits from the spirits of the departed."
The museum invites artists to show their work at the museum during this period. I go every year because I am fascinated by the way artists express things (I have absolutely no creativity bone in my body and no similar thoughts in my head!) and because each year the exhibit is all fresh and new and different.

Some of the altars on display are definitely the kind I would expect to see in a home. The display above is lovely, low key and definitely understandable. One senses the love of the artist for the subject of the display.

Entirely different, this display above features skeletons and skulls, along with the vibrant colors and it obviously honors people who knew how to enjoy life, even down to the ice chest! This holiday makes great use of skeletons and unless a person knows this, it can be quite a shock or surprise to walk into the exhibit hall and find skulls and skeletons in abundance amid all the colorful displays.

This picture above was paired with a similarly clad male, and they made such a different kind of statement. Beautifully rendered, they had nothing of the color and vibrancy of the traditional displays, but their dramatic black and white figures were every bit as celebratory as the more traditional expressions.

The decorated ladder, with the "angel" on the top, certainly seems to me to have an obvious message. I loved this one because it was simple enough to understand what was being said, although I'm sure much of the symbolism was lost to me because of my lack of "artistic vision!"

"El Dia de Los Muertos" celebrations are definitely not a cultural counterpart to our Halloween celebrations, although Halloween too started out with a religious significance.

As far as I know, the biggest celebration of this holiday locally is held in Los Angeles at the "Hollywood Forever" cemetery. It is a full day celebration, with a fee being charged to enter the cemetery grounds. I'm quite sure burials are never scheduled for that day. Although I haven't been to it, I did quite by accident discover it two years ago when I drove into LA with two cousins to see and photograph an ancestor's crypt that we had just learned was there. When we saw literally hundreds of costumed people lined up to get inside as well as all the bands and vendors that were setting up inside, we realized a very big "something" was going on. At that point we read the signs posted out in front of the cemetery and decided we would see our William J Hurlbut tomb some other day. Hollywood Forever has a website especially set up for El Dia de los Muertos, and I imagine you can find more displays there.

At any rate, I am impressed by what these artists have done, and I thank them for giving me such a visual treat. Also, I am pleased that the little Ontario museum makes it possible for me, as an outside appreciator looking in, celebrate this holiday with those for whom it is a special event.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


It was in 1963, when my then-husband and I joined a church, that I began discovering good food. As noted in some earlier blogs, my mom wasn't a very good cook nor a very adventuresome one so I just had no vision for what could be done with food. This particular church had lots of pot lucks and it was there that I started tasting really good food and collecting recipes, which the older ladies of the church were more than happy to share with me.

This recipe dates from that period. As far as I know it could have been a popular cake recipe making the rounds in magazines at that time, but for me, it was really the start of a love affair with sweet and gooey things. Since fall is apple time, and nut time too, I'm passing this old recipe on to you. It's easy to make and oh, so delicious to eat.

2 eggs
¾ C oil
2 C sugar
2 C flour
1 t soda
2 t cinnamon
¼ t salt
2 5 vanilla
4 medium apples, chopped in small chunks with skin on.
1 cup of chopped walnuts

Beat eggs until foamy. Add oil and sugar. Mix flour and dry ingredients. Add flour, apples & nuts. Stir until mixed. Dough will be stiff.

Bake in a 9x13 pan 1 hour at 350.


3 oz cream cheese, room temp
3 T butter or margarine, room temp
1 t vanilla
1-1/2 C powdered sugar

Mix and smooth on top of cake.

The rest is up to you. Eat and enjoy!

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Doesn't this look like someone has been wrestling in this bed?

Well, it's was me. Last night was one of those nights, although unlike Jacob in the Bible I was not wrestling with an angel. I was wrestling with insomnia.

One of the last e-mails I sent last night was to a friend who often sends me e-mails in the middle of the night when she wakes up and can't go back to sleep. In that e-mail I told her that I really wasn't sleepy yet so I was going to get off the computer and read a bit until I felt I had a shot at sleep.

About 11:30 I crawled into bed. At 12:30 I was still waiting for the sandman when the bathroom called to me. (Three times it called during the night.) Once back in bed, I closed my eyes but thought of a wonderful illustration I might want to develop and use in the talk I'm giving at a seminar on October 30. I tried to put it out of my mind, but no, my mind wasn't taking orders from anyone; it just churned away. In fact, I thought about this idea for so long that I knew there wouldn't be any chance of forgetting it in the morning.

I tossed and I turned. Squeaky, who sleeps on the end of my bed, kept readjusting herself once I got settled. But I have all these aches and pains in my shoulders and neck at night, so the two of us moved from side to side. It may have been that I drifted off towards sleep at some point, but I was awake enough to hear the cat began "harking" -- which is her preliminary noise before she upchucks a fur-ball. Before I could untangle myself from the sheets, she had disgorged the fur ball on the carpet in three places between our beds. Of course I couldn't see where to step in the darkness but Jerry woke up too, turned the light on for me and I got up to do the necessary clean up. The cat went out into the living room to sulk. I crawled back in bed.

At this point I began thinking about what I would write for the blog in the morning, and mulled over a few things that I'd had in mind. I do not want to mull things over in the middle of the night, but I can't figure out how to make myself not think. And all this time I'm doing a left side, then flat on back, then right-side turning. It's a good thing I can't sleep on my stomach or my nights would find me rotisseried.

At 3:00 a.m. the cat jumped back on my bed and began playing with a ribbon that is on the front of my nightgown. We really don't like to sleep with the bedroom door shut; it's a small room and the only ventilation we get is if the door is open, but sometimes the cat needs to be blocked out of the bedroom so I got up again, tossed her in the living room.

This time when I got back in bed I began making a list of everything I wanted to accomplish this moring. I thought of getting up and e-mailing Nancy and just forgetting about sleep, but frankly I knew if I got on the computer I'd probably start indexing a page or two for FamilySearch. So I stayed in bed.

I suppose I fell asleep not too long before Jerry got up at his usual 5 a.m. I did manage to stay in bed until 6, but I have this thing about always having a dream just before I wake up wherein I am terribly frustrated by something -- either I can't find my way out, or in, of the classroom or something that is of such a nature that I have to wake up out of sheer frustration. This happens almost every morning, and I'm sure is my mind's trick for getting me out of bed. This morning was no different. Obviously, from the looks of my bed the dream must have been that I was tangled up in the bedsheets and couldn't get untangled.

I read in this morning's paper a funny and interesting column by LA Times writer Sandy Banks about her going to a sleep clinic for testing. Although she said she only slept 45 minutes the whole night, the test results showed that actually she slept a whole lot more than she was awake. I don't need to be tested, because unlike Sandy, MY test results would truly show that I didn't sleep but a wink last night. She doesn't know how lucky she is!

Thursday, October 21, 2010


When I signed up for a short Photoshop class at the local adult education center I did so for perfectly rational reasons: I needed to be able to manipulate photos a little better -- not moving people or bodies in and out of pictures but getting better color, removing telephone poles appearing to stick out of people's head, and such simple things. Electronic dummy that I am, it took me two tries to move from rank beginner to slow nerd. However, the latter designation has sufficed for what I need; I'm still a dummy but at least I can pretty much accomplish what I want to do.

However, never did I think I would have such fun with one little aspect of Photoshop: Liquify. So what you will see below, in the spirit of Halloween, is an introduction to my family, Photoshopped using "Liquify."

My first try was on a photo of myself. I have to tell you I am quite pleased with my Halloween face. Beats my real face by a mile!

Below you'll find Jerry. He is kind and tenderhearted. He never says a bad thing about anyone, and most importantly, he never snarls.

My son Sean is smart, clever, funny, and, if he is not in a stage where he has USC carved into his hair (youngest child is a freshman at USC this year), a handsome fellow, good to his wife, his kids, his mother and his pets. What more could you ask for in a son?

My oldest daughter Erin is the one I have coffee with every Sunday morning. I can't tell you how nice this is. She watches over me like a hawk, constantly brings me little goodies, and is the one who always is up for a family picnic.

Middle daughter Bryn, who has always been the smiler in the family, a really happy and upbeat person, now works in Alaska, which means I don't get to see her smiling face much anymore. She's learning how to be a hunter and a fisher, a role that I cannot believe any of my children would ever take on. But Bryn is adaptable, if nothing else!

And the last daughter is Kerry, who survived being the baby of the family and has grown into a lovely woman. She has surrounded herself with family, pets, friends, work and such a busy life that I don't know when she comes up for air!

I am lucky to have such beautiful children - and a handsome husband. I also am lucky that it takes so little to entertain me. Just give me a computer and Photoshop and turn me loose. I'm certainly having fun in my retirement! And Halloween is a good time to share my "spooks" with you.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


In researching at the Protestant cemetery in Istanbul, I found everything way too interesting, so I had to set definite parameters for the future book: AMERICANS BURIED in the Protestant Cemetery. While their families who weren't buried with them were important because I wanted that information to help link them up to a place in America, in the Pratt case I barely knew that there was such a child as Albert Pratt. I was really researching the details of his father and mother, Dr. Andrew and Sarah Goodyear Pratt, and the names of their dead children on Dr. Pratt’s tombstone were my focus. So more than 10 years later coming upon the name of one of their children who lived in Redlands, California after leaving Istanbul was, well, just a shock and too good not to continue researching! If you are a genealogist, you know that the more you need to research, the happier you get!

So in 2002 I went over to the Redlands library - Redlands being a small town next door to San Bernardino - and looked in the old Citrograph newspapers of June, 1889. Sure enough, there was a BIG article on the wedding. This wedding was the social event of the year.

Madeleine was from a well-to-do family originally from Kewanee and Chicago, Illinois. A big chunk of the Sloan family had moved to Redlands. Madeleine had lots of aunts, uncles and cousins there. Madeline’s grandfather, Seymour Sloan, had not moved here but he visited often. The newspaper, which actually has been indexed, announced that on one of those visits he died and his body was shipped back to Illinois for burial.

One of Seymour’s sons was Dr. George Sloan of Chicago who financed the building of the Sloan House in Redlands, a three-story brick hotel, which opened in 1888 with Horace, Madeleine’s father as proprietor. Another of Seymour’s sons was Junius Sloan, a well-known Midwest “prairie painter,” who also lived for a while in Redlands. He was married to Sara Spencer, daughter of the man who developed the Spencer writing style. In August of 1900 Seymour was in Oak Glen, near Redlands and known locally as apple-growing country, and while he was climbing a tree searching for a scene to paint he fell out of the tree and was killed.

But lest you think Albert married “up” – that he was just a poor missionary’s kid from Turkey – as a wedding gift he gave his bride six lots in the city of Redlands. Albert’s father had a pretty impressive background too. His bio, taken from the book Genealogy of the Goodyear Family by Grace Goodyear Kirkman (Albert’s mother was a Goodyear) says:

Andrew Tully PRATT, eldest child of William T. and Eliza H. (Steele) Pratt, b. Feb. 22, 1826, at Black Rock, near Buffalo, N. Y.; graduated at Yale College, 1847. Dr. Pratt taught for a few months after graduation in Southport, Conn., and spent the next year in the Union Theological Seminary, New York City.

He then began the study of medicine in New Haven; was also connected with the Yale Theological Seminary for two years, and graduated as a M. D. at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, N. Y., in 1852.

In pursuance of the plan which had been in his mind from the time when he began to study, he was ordained as a missionary and physician of the American Board, at New Haven, Aug. 8, 1852; and, having been married on the same day to Miss Sarah Frances Goodyear, of New Haven, sailed with his wife Dec. 22d, for his mission field in Syria. His first station was at Aintab, but he removed to Aleppo in 1856, and to Marash in 1859. In 1868 he was transferred to the Western Turkey Mission and stationed at Constantinople, where he was engaged on the revision of the Armeno-Turkish Bible until his death in that city, Dec. 5, 1872.

After their honeymoon Albert and Madeleine returned to Redlands, where he became manager of the Windsor Hotel and Madeleine’s mother the proprietor. In 1892 he leased the Seven Oaks resort in the mountains north of Redlands and began a 6-year venture of managing and upgrading this resort. Ultimately the resort was sold and Albert and Madeleine, now the parents of a daughter, Rosamond, moved to San Francisco, where he became an insurance agent.

Unfortunately, Madeleine Pratt’s life was cut short by tuberculosis, dying on Monday, September 22, 1902. In June of 1903, a Citrograph article said her body was reinterred at Hillside Cemetery in Redlands.

I finally had to tell myself to stop researching. I did NOT need to know everything in the whole world about this family. But before I quit, I did learn, however, that his mother and at least his sister Fanny ultimately moved to California. Albert died in 1933 and his daughter Rosamond (I think) died in 1957.

The Goodyear Genealogy book, which I found on Google, has other details on the birth and death dates of the Pratt children for the researcher. I grew very fond of this family, and it’s hard to let go of friends. You can see that here in almost 2011 I’ve still got them on my mind.

I was never able to find a photo of either Albert or Madeleine, nor of Albert’s parents. But here for the record a picture of “Uncle Junius Sloan."

So ends the tale of my venture “Chasing a Turk.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


As many of you may recall, when I lived in Istanbul I discovered a Protestant Cemetery with lots of Americans buried in it. Burials began around 1856. Many of the people were missionaries. Some were connected to the American Consulate and other were educators, servicemen, Near East Relief workers, some who had married Turks and a few tourists. I spent my nearly two years in Istanbul documenting these burials and ultimately in 1995 published a book of my findings.

I am not related to any of these people, except that once you have them touch your life in a way these did, it is hard to let go of them. Here’s an example:

1992 – Researching in Istanbul:

In the cemetery there is a large tombstone upon which is written the name of

Rev. Andrew T. Pratt, M.D.
Died 5 Dec 1872
Afer 20 years of labor in Turkey
Aged 46 years

This stone also had on it “In Memory of his children” and then showed the following:

An infant son
Died Aintab April 2, 1852
3 days old

Ellen Maria
Died Aintab 23 July 1856
11 years 8 months

Robert W.
D Killis 3 August 1858
1 year

Clara Eliza
Died Aintab 27 Oct 1867
8 years 9 months

Helen Jeanette
Died Constantinople 20 October 1868
1 year 11 months

Andrew Goss
Died Constatinople 22 Nov 1871
3 years 6 months

My goal in this research was to find 1) who these people were, 2) where in the United States were they from, and 3) what were they doing in Turkey. My intent was to get this information into a book first. Later I put them on the internet.

While I was in Istanbul I was lucky enough to meet and become friends with the Secretaries of the American Board of Missions and from old files they held in their headquarters I learned that after Rev. Pratt’s death, his wife Sara left Istanbul with her three children and returned home to America.

1995 – Researching in Maryland, still trying to identify some of the people buried in Istanbul:

In the College Park, Maryland Branch of the National Archives, in Record Group 59, Microfilm #T194 Roll 10 in the Consular Dispatches there is a “List of Citizens of the US Residing in Constantinople on July 1, 1871” showing the family composition to be Andrew and wife Sarah, children Albert-9, Fanny-7, Andrew-3, and Eliza-2. From the tombstone I knew that Andrew died. But in that same Consular Dispatch collection there was also a form indicated William Tully Pratt’s birth in June of 1871, six months after the census was taken.

So then I knew that one of these four children died before Sarah Pratt took them back to the US. But I didn’t know which one it was.

Getting into the Consular Dispatches was an exceptionally fruitful time. I was there for 5 days and I could have used more time, but I had to be back to work on Monday!

All during this period of time after returning from Istanbul I had focused on adding to my knowledge of the people in the cemetery. It was amazing how much information I had found in the Los Angeles Public Library! But after coming home from Maryland, I decided it was time to publish what I had and then get back to researching my own family.

I did, but Istanbul wasn’t ready to let go of me.

2002 – Researching in San Bernardino, California

I the early 2000s I became the editor of the San Bernardino Valley Genealogical Quarterly, and for inclusion in some issues I transcribed some of the San Bernardino County marriage records. One day I came across this entry:
Albert H. Pratt, age 26, born in Turkey, resident of Utsalady, Washington Territory, and E. Madeline Sloan, age 24, born in Illinois, resident of Redlands [California] were married in Redlands on 13 June 1889.

I was shocked. Surely this had to be the same Albert Pratt that I knew of in Istanbul. How many Albert Pratts born in Turkey could there have been? Of course the first thing I did was to look on the 1880 census for a Pratt family. Sara could have remarried but surely some of her children were still single. And sure enough, there she was in Amhurst, Massachusetts, still a Pratt and with children Albert aged 17, Fanny aged 15 and Eliza aged 10. So then I knew that it was little William Tully Pratt who was the last Pratt to die in Istanbul.

And now what I found was that nine years later, this same Albert appeared in San Bernardino County, California and married a local girl, Madeline Sloan of Redlands.

To Be Continued

Monday, October 18, 2010


Last week in the pre-dawn darkness, long before I got out of bed, Jerry saw the season’s first night heron on our lawn when he stepped out on the porch to get the morning newspaper. Opening the door usually startles them into flight, but this one apparently was engrossed in finding its breakfast and Jer got a pretty good look at it. They are big, long-legged birds and it’s always exciting to see them.

When Jerry told me about it, he added “Remember Istanbul?” I knew just what he was talking about. He wasn’t talking about night herons in Istanbul but about white storks.

Istanbul lies half in Europe and half in Asia, with the Bosphorus straits running though it, linking the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. And this stretch of water acts as a migration route for hundreds of thousands of birds as they migrate yearly south toward Africa. We had been told that if we “paid attention” we would see two specific migrations, one of storks and the other of eagles.

Turkey itself has resident storks aside from migrating storks and once we got out of the city itself we often saw lots of the white storks. They build their nests on village houses, on mosques and electric poles. We learned that in many countries storks are hunted for food. But in Turkey by and large this doesn’t happen. They are known as “pilgrim birds” and thus are regarded as guests. However, I have read that their number are dwindling.

According to Professor Mehmet Serez the number of storks in Turkey is decreasing every year.
Speaking to the Anatolia news agency, Serez said while there were 900,000 stork couples in Turkey in the 1960s, the number has decreased to 200,000 couples recently. Noting that there are various causes for this decline, Serez said the leading reason is a decrease in houses with tile roofing and chimneys. “In the past, there used to be a stork nest on the roof of every house in Turkey. However, the number of these birds has decreased day by day. Houses used to be built with tiled roofs, and they used to have chimneys in the past. There were not electric wires either, and storks were able to make a safe landing. From the 1960s onwards, these houses started to decrease in number. More electric wires surrounded houses, which made it harder for storks to nest,” he said.

In Istanbul our apartment was on the Asian side and overlooked a park and the Sea of Marmara. We had a fantastic view, unlike many apartments which merely faced the backside of other apartments. So we were in a wonderful position to “pay attention” when the stork migration started. It would have been impossible to miss it. They came flying by, oh how they came! A few, then a few more, gradually building in size until there was an unbelievable amount of them flying high over our heads. Jer and I stood on our balcony, almost gasping as we watched the spectacular sight that was happening before our eyes.

I ran for the camera. It was new to me and I wasn’t sure what the proper settings should be to get a snapshot of this amazing event – it was late in the afternoon and lighting was difficult. While this picture is certainly not what I would have wished, at least it gives an idea of what we mean when we say “lots of birds.” We truly could not believe our eyes. Night fell, the birds disappeared and it was over. There were a few scragglers the next day but for the most part it was over.

We never did see the eagles, as we were told that they passed over a different section of the city than where we lived. Considering that in California the most migrating birds that we’d ever seen was an occasional “V” of geese heading south, we considered ourselves exceptionally lucky to be able to witness such an event.

And in case you were wondering, no, the storks were NOT carrying little bundles

Sunday, October 17, 2010


One of the things about the Internet that has turned out to be most fun for me – and exceedingly helpful for genealogists – it to be able to go back in time and see the houses that have some significance in the stories of our family life. That, of course, is if the house still exists and if Google happened to photograph it!

Here is the house that I lived in between the ages of 2 and 6. It is in the 1900 block of Henderson Avenue in Long Beach. Actually, it wasn’t a house; it was an apartment and we lived in the downstairs corner unit next to the vacant lot. You can see the door clearly. I found the address of the building on a Long Beach Voter’s Registration list online. I used Google Earth to take a look at that address and it certainly seemed to be what I remembered. Just to be sure, I looked at a picture in my baby book taken there – and sure enough, her I am on those very same steps, along with my grandma, my aunt Margie, my little sister Ginnie Lou and some of my friends. Mother noted it was taken at my 5th birthday party.

And next is a picture of me taken in 1938 sitting at the side of the house next to the vacant lot, having a tea party with some little neighbor children. And Google Earth shows that the vacant lot is still there, still vacant. That's 72 years, guys! Imagine! Do you think something was built there and then torn down in the ensuing years, turning it back into a vacant lot?

There are a couple of things about this place that I remember very clearly. First, it is the place we lived when my sister was born on August 1, 1937. It only had one bedroom, and since the baby slept in the room with mother and dad, I got to sleep on a little pallet in a corner of the living room. In the daytime the blankets would be put in the coat closet and at night they would come out to be made into my bed again. I also remember that every night my folks would listen to the radio and I would fall asleep to the sounds of the song “Moonlight and Roses” that ended the program they listened to.

In the back yard out between the garages there was an incinerator where the apartment residents burned their trash. The clotheslines were nearby, so all the women made sure the clothes were taken in the house before the trash was burned. No one wanted ash on their clean clothing.

The milkman came each day, usually very early, to deliver our milk. The ice man stopped in front of each apartment to carry in the big blocks of ice which were put into the iceboxes that were still being used during that time. He would jump into the back of the truck, use an ice pick to separate the blocks, grab a block with a huge set of tongs and sling the whole thing over his shoulder to carry in the house. He had a rubber pad that went over his shoulder for the block of ice to rest on. Each family had a sign to put in the window if they needed ice. After all, it was ice, not electricity, that kept our food cold. We also saw the garbage truck come by and empty our garbage pails into the back of the truck. To this day I can still remember that horrible smell. And the mailman came twice a day – once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

It was during the time we lived on Henderson that mother began taking us to Sunday School at the Baptist Church on Hill and Olive in Long Beach. That is where both my sister and I were “dedicated” (Baptists didn’t baptize children but did have a little “Dedication” ritual). There is an entry in my Baby Book that says Ginnie Lou and I sang “Brahm’s Lullaby” at that church when I was 5 and my sister 3. My folks were not church-goers at any point in their life, but they always made sure we went to Sunday School at whatever church was the nearest to where we lived. I have to laugh that when our family moved to our next house we were sent to the First Foursquare Church around the corner. Believe me, this was quite a change from a Baptist church.

Looking at that picture from Google Earth of the Henderson Street building brings back so many memories, of course fortified from what my mother posted in the amazing book she kept for me. I'm sure the book itself has far more pictures in it than my own children will ever feel necessary to look at. But it gives me great pleasure to think on these things -- how time flies, the way we were then, how much our culture and our clothing has changed, and probably most importantly, how our families are all linked from generation to generation.

Have you used Google Earth to find your old houses?

Saturday, October 16, 2010


There are just some mornings when reading the newspaper turns into a real lark! This was one of those mornings, and the newspapers involved ranged from the LA Times to our local weekly rag, better left unnamed.

As one who fully understands how words can sneak past the eagle eyes of the best proof-readers (although I’m equally sure that there are no proof-readers anymore) my first laugh came because our little local paper let something slip through that should have been caught. A local gentleman died and because he had lived in our area for many years there was much to say about him…his profession, his military service, his volunteerism and his kith and kin. It was just a bit too much to read every single word of the almost full column-length obituary – but if you read the last short line, you saw the following: “He had been a burglar for over 40 years.”

WHAT??? After a moment of puzzlement, I glanced back over the article to confirm what I suspected – and sure enough, he had been in military bands in his early days in the service. A bugler he was, not a burglar. Proofing is always hard, especially when you are proofing your own writing. You see what you expect to see. That was laugh number one.

Laugh number two was a picture and a story. Seems that a rock and mineral museum in Oregon had discovered a possible break-in and deputies and a search-dog had been called out. Soon the dog got a scent and tracked it to a nearby wooded area, where the large dog pounced on and bit into a big pile of moss. When a loud “OUCH” emanated from the moss, the deputies discovered a man in a “ghillie suit” – which is a camouflage suit worn by military snipers and others.

What made me laugh was not only the article but seeing a sheriff’s photo of the poor miscreant standing in his disguise. He did not look tough and commanding like the picture I used here. He looked sad and silly, probably still smarting from the bite. But it made me think that if Jer and I had a Halloween costume party to attend, we’d go in ghillie suits too. Wouldn’t we be cute?

And then to top off today’s laugh, there was a wonderful article (not laughable) on my favorite conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, leading last night’s concert at the Disney Hall in LA. Listen to the reviewer’s description of the 80 minute piece “Turangalila-Symphonie” by Messiaen.

An 18-wheeler of a symphony on a joy ride, the “Turangalila” –- with French plates, Sanskrit graphics, the eerie whine of a UFO, horsepower and torque you wouldn’t believe, a voluptuous sleeper in the cabin for euphoric sex -- barreled into Walt Disney Concert Hall Thursday night. Olivier Messiaen’s incomparable behemoth has 10 movements, lasts 80 minutes. Performances of it are an occasion.

The symphony required the Los Angeles Philharmonic ranks to swell to over a hundred. Jean-Yves Thibaudet played the monster piano solos. Cynthia Millar was the soloist on the ondes martinot, a space-age (ca. 1928), theremin-like electronic instrument. Gustavo Dudamel, standing in the middle of it all and practically dwarfed by his orchestral multitudes, conducted.

I am unfamiliar with this work, but it sure sounds something I’d like to get to know. But what made me laugh was the photograph of Dudamel taken by Times Photographer Lawrence K Ho. Those of you who know this young conductor know that a whole lot of his persona involves his curly hair, which when he really gets into his element goes flying every which way. Well, what made me laugh this morning was that in Ho’s photograph below, not only does his hair appear to be flying but it looks like he now has bug-like antennae. You can figure out what they are by a closer look, and I thought probably it would have been a better pix if the antennae had been Photoshopped out. Then I thought that all kinds of ridiculous letters to the editor would have rained on the newspaper, so I decided to just let Dudamel have his antennae and be done with it.

Anyway, I did read some real news this morning, but nothing caught my eye like these little minor items.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Some time back I was showing my 1953 high school yearbook to one of my daughters and she pointed to one of the pages where the teachers were named. “Mother,” she gasped, “look at the silly first names these people have!”

I looked down and saw nothing silly. I saw pictures of my teachers: Madge, Myrtle, Gertrude, Emily, Florence, Ada, Clara, Helene, Dorothy, Wilma, Lucille, Elva…. Nothing funny about them, I though. Of course we didn’t call them by their first names but we knew what they were and to us they were just common and ordinary names. The men had similar names – Claude, Leon, Reginald, Norman, Cyril, Kermit, Wilbur, Norlyn and I didn’t find those odd either. But my daughter giggled to think that people actually had such names.

Later I looked in my mother’s yearbook from the 1920s and I found an entirely different set of names for that generation: Marinda, Woodruff, Nettie, Elmore, Walfred, Edith, Evangeline, Niels, Willard, Mabel, Ingeborg, DeEtte, Nellie, Ferne and Thornton. Now I have to admit I found those somewhat odd and old fashioned, though less so probably because I am used to dealing with old names in genealogy.

So now, at a time when my 1953 classmates all in their mid-70s, I looked in my yearbook again but this time at the names of my old chums, names that my grandkids are likely to think outmoded and very out-of-date. First up was my own “real” name: Barbara. Do you know that when I was in school there were always at least three Barbaras in every class. Maybe next to Shirley it was far and away the most popular name. My sister was named Virginia, which is as passé now as Agnes. When is the last time you heard of a child being named any of those names? Other names that were common among my classmates, names that my grandkids will probably laugh over are Howard, Donna, Phyllis, Evelyn, Dixie, Neil, Phyllis, Pete, Alfred, Lester, Lewis, Gay, Wayne, Billie, Patricia, and Gladys. These are names of my contemporaries. They are not odd names….. are they?

But let’s face it. When is a name not a name? Maybe when it is Moon Unit or Sunday or Tuesday or Flicka or Diesel or the famous Apple. Obviously the parents of these people thought they were perfect names, but honestly, they make Phyllis and Nellie and Thornton sound perfectly ordinary, don’t they?

In my indexing I’ve come across some funny names. I couldn’t help but laugh every time someone in Ohio named a son “Ralf.” And you would probably think I’m fibbing when I tell you that there were at least 29 Pearl Smiths in Ohio – Pearl being the name of men who were registering for a second draft during WWII. And the other day I came across a new baby who, when he was born back in the late 1890s, was given the name Henderson Molesworth Townsend. He was on the same page as Cinderella Jones and Clover Clementine Harris.

So who’s to say what is a good name and what is a weird name. Not me. I try to keep my own opinions of child-naming to myself. I had my fun naming my kids, and whenever the urge hits to name something else I try to find an animal around that doesn’t yet have a name. And if that isn’t possible, I can name a person in a portrait (like Agatha Klingbottom). Or a bird that comes to our feeder, like Archie Grosbeak and his wife Edith. Good names, huh?

Some time back I was showing my 1953 high school yearbook to one of my daughters, pointing out something or other, and she pointed to one of the pages where the teachers were named. “Mother,” she gasped, “look at the silly first names these people have!”

I looked down and saw nothing silly. I saw pictures of my teachers: Madge, Myrtle, Gertrude, Emily, Florence, Ada, Clara, Helene, Dorothy, Wilma, Lucille, Elva….. Nothing funny about them. Of course we didn’t call them by their first names but we knew what they were and to us they were just common and ordinary names. The men had similar names – Claude, Leon, Reginald, Norman, Cyril, Kermit, Wilbur, Norlyn and I didn’t find those odd either. But my daughter giggled to think that people actually had such names.

Later I looked in my mother’s yearbook from 1920 and I found an entirely different set of names for that generation: Marinda, Woodruff, Nettie, Elmore, Walfred, Edith, Evangeline, Niels, Willard, Mabel, Ingeborg, DeEtte, Nellie, Ferne and Thornton. Now I have to admit I found those somewhat odd and old fashioned, too, though less so probably because I am used to dealing with old names in genealogy.

So now, at a time where my 1953 classmates all in their mid-70s, I looked in my yearbook again but this time at the names of my old chums, names that my grandkids are likely to think outmoded and very out-of-date. First up was my own “real” name: Barbara. Do you know that when I was in school there were always at least three Barbaras in every class. Maybe next to Shirley it was far and away the most popular name. My sister was named Virginia, which is as passé now as Agnes. When is the last time you heard of a child being named any of those names? Other names that were common among my classmates, names that my grandkids will probably laugh over are Howard, Donna, Phyllis, Evelyn, Dixie, Neil, Phyllis, Pete, Alfred, Lester, Lewis, Gay, Wayne, Billie, Patricia, and Gladys. These are names of my contemporaries. They are not odd names….. are they?

But let’s face it. When is a name not a name? Maybe when it is Moon Unit or Sunday or Tuesday or Flicka or Diesel or the famous Apple. Obviously the parents of these people thought they were perfect names, but honestly, they make Phyllis and Nellie and Thornton sound perfectly ordinary, don’t they?

In my indexing I’ve come across some funny names. I couldn’t help but laugh every time someone in Ohio named a son “Ralf.” And you would probably think I’m fibbing when I tell you that there were at least 29 Pearl Smiths in Ohio – Pearl being the name of men who were registering for a second draft during WWII. And the other day I came across a new baby who, when he was born back in the late 1890s, was given the name Henderson Molesworth Townsend. He was on the same page as Cinderella Jones and Clover Clementine Harris.

So who’s to say what is a good name and what is a weird name. Not me. I try to keep my own opinions of child-naming to myself. I had my fun naming my kids, and whenever the urge hits to name something else I try to find an animal around that doesn’t yet have a name. And if that isn’t possible, I can name a person in a portrait (like Agatha Klingbottom). Or even birds that comes to our feeder, like Archie Grosbeak and his wife Edith. Good names, huh?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I have heard of some dumb things, but nothing nearly as dumb as the Philadelphia area school district which offered laptop computers complete with webcam to 2,300 high school students – ostensibly to “enhance opportunities for ongoing collaboration, and ensure that all students have 24/7 access to school based resources," but without telling those students that the school administrators could access each webcam remotely and even take pictures through it.

Now how stupid is that! Was there not one person in the whole school system who saw a problem with doing such a thing? Not one teacher? Not one administrator? Not one lawyer? Not one board member? Did some see it and just not think it important enough to stop it in its tracks?

In today’s litigious society even ordinary people have to think about legal ramifications of everything we do. Just yesterday I was looking at my apartment complex’s rental lease to see what it said about keeping dogs on leashes. I’ve recently been walking my neighbor’s dogs while she is recovering from a serious medical condition and to date I’ve been faced twice with unleashed dogs running at us, barking and snarling, as we rounded a corner. Luckily both times the dogs were smallish and stopped short of actually attacking us, but nevertheless, the nose-to-nose confrontation is what made me decide I’d better see what a resident’s obligation is. Sure enough: our lease says three things about dogs. First, they must be kept on a leash when they are outdoors. Second, the apartment complex management has no liability for injuries sustained if an off-leash dog attacks and injures a person or another animal. And last, dog owners had better be sure they have liability coverage in the event of a lawsuit being filed over injuries inflicted by their own dogs. More than ever before, we must be aware of our legal obligations, if for no other reason than our society is truly becoming meaner and nastier than every before.

Getting back to using computers to spy on students (although that isn’t what the school administrators said they were doing), I can’t believe that anyone would buy into the school district’s rationale to only use the webcam in cases where the computer was lost, stolen or missing. Did anyone run this idea by the insurance company for their opinion? Or their legal counsel? Didn't they think that sooner or later the sky was going to fall in on them?

Lawsuits are being settled now, but things like this just make me shake my head in wonder. I do not understand why one school can get irrationally upset by a kindergartener who brings to school a single tiny unpopped cap left over from 4th of July festivities and why a different school appears totally bewildered that anyone would think they did something wrong by giving out computers capable of spying on children.

Stupid, is the only word I can think of that comes close to being accurate. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I am just waiting for the time when cars can drive themselves. I am sure it’s coming down the pipe; Google says it already has driverless cars being tested on the roads now and have been, for some time, driving up and down the length of California on their own. To read Google’s own explanation, you immediately are disabused of the idea that these cars are totally empty. No, there is a person sitting in the driver’s seat ready to take control instantly should something go wrong, and there is a second person in the passenger’s seat, an engineer, who monitors the software operations on a computer. But as far as pedal pushers, neither are doing it.

Now these cars aren’t designed to be set loose on the road without people in them. They will be transportation vehicles for “we, the people” should we live long enough to need/want one. Again, listen to what Google says about its driverless car:

“The vehicle’s instant reaction time and 360-degree awareness would allow them to drive closer together on the highway than humans can, reducing traffic congestion. They could be more careful when operating the gas, reducing fuel consumptions. But the biggest benefit for Google would be the hour or so of daily commute time the car owner would save. Instead of driving, he or she could either be productive or entertained in the vehicle, doing work on a wireless internet connection or watching television.”

Right away I can see what kind of a change it would make in life. It would put Jerry back in the driver’s seat again. For some reason, Jerry seems able to relax when I am driving and he is navigating. But if we trade places, I become a nervous wreck. I will not go into detail as to why his driving causes me to thrash, fling my arms, stomp my right foot on a non-existent brake, duck, cringe and yell “mind the truck,” sounding like Hyacinth Bucket. With Jer in the driver’s seat, he would get his image back – that image being as man of the house.

Also it would be a wonderful idea for Jerry’s sister to have one of these driverless cars. She is a very small person, and no pillow in the driver’s seat seems to get her up high enough to see over the dashboard when she drives. From the back, her car looks for the world like it is driving itself. Judy doesn’t feel she is sitting too low, but both Judy and the world will be safer when she can sit wherever she chooses and leaves the driving to the car itself.

And for me, having one would mean first that I can read while I am “driving” in to Los Angeles. Think how many more books I could read! Furthermore, if it also can be programmed for night time driving, then I won’t have to stop driving at night because of my worsening night vision. I could tell the car to take me to Corona for my evening genealogy meeting and off we’d go.

I’ve been following another set of cars - vans, actually –on the internet that are making a long driverless run from Italy to China. It’s not quite for the same reason as Google is doing it. I’m not entirely sure what their reason for doing this is, but in reading about their exploits and adventures during this run one of the continuing problems they are battling is having the right paper documents to get them into and out of the various countries. Sometimes the vans have to stop and kill a day while a single van goes back for a missing government document that somehow didn’t get given to them at the right time. Struggling with paperwork in any country is truly one of the necessary evils of international travel, and you can’t really call this a drawback to driverless car driving in the wilds of eastern Europe and outer Mongolia.

Anyway, to be very honest with you I think that probably I will not live long enough to own a driverless car. They are talking a minimum of eight years away from market. And then there will be a lag time until the novelty wears off and the prices come down to what a person like me can afford. By that time Jer and I just may have to kiss off the idea of a driverless car and make our peace with lumbering around our Country Village senior complex in a golf cart like the other residents already do.


Monday, October 11, 2010


Can you in any way imagine what those poor men trapped in the Chilean mine have gone through? I suppose in order to be a miner in the first place one has to be fairly inured to claustrophobia, but still…

And it makes me wonder, when these men get pulled one by one up the rescue capsule, is the fact that the walls of rock really will be in their face during the ascent going to make a difference? Or will claustrophobia be outweighed by the thought of freedom? At a rational level I would think it would, but fear, even latent fear, is not always rational.

Jerry and I were discussing this, and of course he is so pragmatic about everything. He deals with “ramifications” and “possibilities” and “probabilities” in the manner of an engineer – that is to say, if his slide rule won’t give him an answer, then obviously there is no question. Me, I want to gather all the ramifications, possibilities and probabilities, along with a few other “speculative -ties” that I can come up with, and handle them one by one like the Turks handle worry beads. I want to run them through my fingers, mull over them, debate them, try them out for size, postulate and then come to a conclusion. Jerry and I usually end up in the same place, or find an acceptable spot that we can agree on. And of course most often we are talking about things of no effect whatsoever, but at least it keeps us talking.

I told Jerry that if I were in the mine and getting ready to be hauled to the surface in a cage after 66 days underground, I’d want a blindfold on to thwart any claustrophobia and most importantly a MP3 player and buds in my ears while I listened to the William Tell Overture at top volume. The blindfold and the MP3 player could be sent down to the next miner. Tell me that’s not a good idea!!!! It’s hope and expectation and confidence personified!

I think of these men all the time. And by extension all the men (and women, if there are any) everywhere who make their living in this awful way. I wish each one a safe return, a healthy life, and to know that the whole world, as much as possible, are with them in spirit as this part of their journey is coming to a close.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Several years ago on the way home from work after an exceptionally busy day, I drove through a Taco Bell and placed an order. The lady at the window took my order and repeated it back to me. Her English was very difficult to understand and I had to repeat my entire order to make sure we were saying the same words. I got home and discovered my order was wrong. This happened several times because neither of us could understand the other.

After one particularly bad mistake, I phoned the manager and politely suggested that she place people in the drive-through positions that had the best command of English so as to minimize the kind of mistake I was continuing to experience in my order. The manager, herself a Hispanic but much more fluent in English, told me in so many words to stop being such a racist!

To be politically correct in today’s climate, I should not complain at all. I should take my order home and eat it without complaint whether or not it was what I ordered. To do otherwise brands me as prejudiced, or worse, bigoted.

I have always thought I was not prejudiced, but what I have started to hear in myself is an “attitude.” I hear myself saying I will live next door to anyone of any color as long as they are peaceable and keep their yard in the manner the neighborhood has established for itself. I have to remind myself that it is not only “foreigners” who don’t conform to the social standards I think are proper. For some reason it is easier to think that foreigners are the culprits – and that is bigotry.

During the High Holy Days in the Jewish religion there is a special day called Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On Erev Yom Kippur, there is a congregational confession of sin, in which the entire congregation stands and we each lightly tap our chest as we recite an alphabet of sins common to mankind: arrogance, bigotry, cynicism, deceit and egotism, flattery and greed….and near the last is the sin of xenophobia, the fear of strangers. After the confession comes the apology to God and the asking of forgiveness for these very human sins. I always take this confession to heart, believing that recognizing my shortcomings and owning up to them in my life is a good step toward growth. More and more, though, I wrestle with two of these sins--bigotry and xenophobia. I don’t like to see them in myself, but they are there. It is not enough just to ask for divine forgiveness and then keep holding these sins tightly. I need to work on my attitude. When I see those of other races or religions or cultures I need to see the people - individual mothers, fathers, children, grandparents - as people like me, with the same hopes and dreams for themselves as I have. The bigot sees them as interlopers who want to have all this by taking away from “us,” and this is exactly the attitude I want to get rid of in myself.

Twenty years ago I wasn’t sure I understood what globalization was all about. I see now that it isn’t only in financial and economic matters; it is also living side by side with others who are different. There is no magic wand to make the change easier or welcome. But it is here to stay, and I have a choice of either fighting against it or adapting to it. The sooner I allow myself to see beyond the external trappings of any person, be it skin color or clothing or rituals, the more I see how much that person is like me. And not doing this is what I have to guard myself against. It’s bigotry, pure and simple, and I don’t like bigotry.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Walking my neighbor's dogs while she is recovering from some broken bones has reminded me once again about how inconsiderate, nay, boorish, some people are about cleaning up after their dogs. When people move in this apartment complex they sign a lease that requires them to -- well, to be graphic about it, pick up their dog's poo after the dog does its duty. We all know that we aren't going to get tossed out if we don't; we all know there are no dog poo police on patrol. But out of common decency, most of us understand that it is something we should do.

I am appalled by how much poo I see lying around on the grass in other people's yards. It is almost a given that if you see a person walking his or her dog after dark, that person is not picking up after their dog. (Reminds me of the old bible verse about men loving darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil, although I do understand that this is more or less overkill when it's applied to dog poo). Nevertheless, I'm sure you get the point.

Dog poo we'll have with us always. So it was with a hearty laugh that I read on about the Park Spark Project in Cambridge, Massachusetts. According to this website:

People put dog poop into an air-tight container and it begins to produce methane, an ordorless, colorless gas that is a major part of the natural gas many of us use in our homes. The methane is then piped into a street lamp that continues to burn as long as park visitors and dog walkers dump the poop into the digester and turn the hand crank to stir the mixture....The goal of this interactive project is to not only show how dog waste can be recycled into something practical but to also spark ideas about other ways to use the heat and light created by the poop that had been filling up nearby trash cans.
Now I understand that in our complex if certain people are not going to pick up after their dog and deposit the baggy in a nearby trash container, they certainly aren't going to walk down to a central location and put it in a special container and give the wheel a turn. But I do think that this is a very clever and useful idea and having it in a dog park in a big city is probably the best place for it.

Well, I don't know that anything can be done about the miscreants in our neighborhood short of starting a drive to make them wear a Scarlet sandwich board with a big POO written on it when they walk their dog. There are lots of things written into our leases that are not enforced, so it just behooves those of us who do obey the rules to walk lightly and carefully when we walk on the grass.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Rain is predicted for today. A rainy day makes me think of comfort food, so I'll share with you today a super-good recipe for mashed potatoes.

This is another recipe out of the LA Times circa 1975, and I have made and served it so many times that I've actually taken "ownership" of it, hence the name. At my house plain old mashed potatoes were out and this "Mashed Potato Casserole" recipe was in. Luckily, it's very easy to make, but I beg of you: take the time to cook and mash real potatoes. It makes all the difference in the world.


4-1/2 cups hot mashed potatoes
2 cups small-curd cottage cheese
½ cup sour cream
1 egg, beaten
2 T grated onion
1-1/2 t salt
¼ t white pepper
2 T butter
1/3 cup toasted sliced almonds

Combine potatoes, cottage cheese, sour cream, egg, onion, salt and pepper. Spoon into a 13x9 inch baking dish. Level surface with a spatula and brush with melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes. Lightly brown under broiler, if wanted. Sprinkle with toasted almonds. Makes 10 to 12 servings.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Everything in genealogical research starts out as a theory. You may know a fact for sure but it really it is just a part of your “theory” until you can find definitive proof.

That is, of course, if you are a really good genealogist. Some people don’t want to work that hard. And believe me, proving things can be hard work!

Here’s my theory: Chester D. Stevens (1822-1902), my great-great grandfather, was thought to be in the civil war. On what do I build that theory?

1. His son Frank wrote in a Kansas County History Book “He was a stanch (sic) Republican and served during the Civil war as an officer in the commissary department.” Now these county history books are notoriously suspect; after all, the people wrote their own bios for them and they weren’t always truthful. But I can use that quote as part of my theory.

2. Next, handed down in our family are bits of two letters that Chester wrote to his daughter “Ellen” at the time she was born in 15 September of 1862. The letters went to his wife in Mendota, Illinois, which is in northern Illinois just a bit south of Belvidere, where his mother, father and all the siblings lived. One of those letters is shown above.
NOTE: Chester reported from Bolivar, Tennessee, specifically notes “Commissary” on the letter and says he is in the army.

So why doesn’t the National Archives have record of his Military Service? Three times I tried to get them to fork over whatever they had. Three times they said their records did not show a CD Stevens, a CD Stephens or any other variation or version of the name. Zilch. Zero. No military record. No pension record. No nothing. Period.

I looked for him in the Illinois militia. Zilch there, too.

Mind you, I’ve been trying to prove my Chester theory since 1984. Folks, that’s 26 years.

Last year I had an idea. Chester’s sister, Sophronia Stevens, married Steven A. Hurlbut, who at that time was an attorney in Belvidere, Illinois. The whole family knew Abraham Lincoln. When the Civil War broke out, Lincoln put General Ulysses Grant (also a friend of the family) in place, and guess what? Steven Hurlbut was appointed a Brigadier General, and guess where he was in September of 1862 at the time Chester wrote his letter to hs newborn daughter? If you said Bolivar, Tennessee, you would be very correct. The 53rd Infantry Illinois Volunteers, headed by Gen. Hurlbut, arrived in Bolivar on September 13 and moved from Bolivar on October 4. Did Hurlbut get his brother-in-law Chester D. Stevens into the mix somehow?

Last night at our genealogy society meeting we had a superb presentation by Kerry Bartels, an Archives Specialist at the Pacific Region National Archives recently relocated from Laguna Niguel to Riverside. After listening to Bartels, I am convinced that the National Archives holds the secret of my Chester D. Stevens’ participation in the Civil War. He may not have been an officer of the commissary department but I do believe he had something very important to do about getting supplies to the Union Army in Bolivar Tennessee.

Now even with the newly-found confidence that I’m heading the right direction with my theory, I can’t help but be discouraged. As Bartels says, the National Archives has a huge amount of material and what is online is only a miniscule part of it. And as he showed us, it is possible to find where things are kept. I add: if you are living right, if you are smart enough, if you have many years of life left in you, and if you either can travel around the country to comb through millions of documents or have found the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow to pay for hiring a researcher to do it for you.

I wish I knew in 1984 what I learned last night. If I had, and if the stars were all in alignment, I might have had my theory proved by now, even understanding that sometimes what you find is that you are left holding a theory blown to h—l by facts you didn’t expect.

It was a wonderful meeting last night. I’m old enough, after researching for so many years, to appreciate what he said and not so old that I can’t dream of possibilities. But I’m also realistic enough to know that it isn’t likely going to happen in my lifetime. Maybe at some point down the line one of my descendants will become interested enough to take on the challenge of hunting for and locating the very box at the National Archives Branch that contains the Commissary Records pertaining to Bolivar, Tennessee in September of 1862 that will prove the role of Chester D. Stevens in the Civil War. Perhaps that person will even be able to access those records from the computer at his or her home. No, I'm not discouraged, just a little sad that it won't be me.

I hear you asking why we put ourselves through all this? Hey, I do it for no other reason than because it is great, great fun. The side benefit is that it is the kind of mental exercise that is supposed to ward off senility in old age! What a hopeful outcome for simply having fun!