Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I am not crazy about recommending a book with a subject that is going to be emotionally tough to read. Also I hesitate to recommend a book that I feel almost turns into a soap opera toward the end. But the book was recommended to me as a “must read,” and although it is fiction I learned much about a specific time and place about which my knowledge was sadly deficient and yours might be too. So I need to tell each of you that it will be worth your while to read it. The book is Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rostenay.

There is no dearth of stories, both fact and fiction, about the Jews during World War II. I have never read one that focuses on the Jews in France in 1942 and what they went through with the Vichy government. I have read about the Jews in Italy, in Poland and Eastern Europe. This was my first exposure to the Jews of Paris and its environs. It is not easy reading, but I would say you will find it doable and be glad you took the time to absorb what happened there.

The first part of the book switches back and forth in time, between a 1942 Parisian Jewish family and a present day American Journalist living in Paris. A key that a little Jewish girl named Sarah has is a theme through both parts. It is that first part of this story that makes this book so worthwhile.

As many of you know, I’ve been doing some indexing of the 1930 census for The other day I was working on the New York census for the Borough of Brooklyn, where I found pages and pages of Jews listed. As I entered the data on these people, I was overcome by a feeling of gratefulness and relief that all of these Jewish people listed on this and other pages that I had indexed had escaped from Hitler and his machinations. That, of course, lead me to the opposite feeling of sorrow and horror for the millions who did not escape. While I was indexing, I found myself saying to these Jewish immigrants that they were among the luckiest people in the world to be out of Europe and into our country by then!

The other thing reading "Sarah’s Key” reminded me of was a picture that came into Jerry’s possession at the time of his mother’s death. Jerry’s family all arrived in the US before 1910, so as far as we know there were no close relatives lost in the holocaust. His mom had been the youngest of three daughters – Betty, Belle and Bertha. “Bert” was the only one whose children lived to adulthood. Thus when Betty died, Belle inherited the family box of photos. Likewise, upon Belle’s passing, the photographs came to Bert. Jerry inherited those photos when his mother died, and we had the job of sorting through huge boxes of unmarked and unidentified people – maybe family and some maybe not.

There were few of the photos that we could identify, other than those of his aunts and their husbands, and reluctantly we tossed them out. But we found one snapshot that just took our breath away. It is of two unidentified people in a park, a man and a woman. The handwriting on back of the photo does not match any handwriting samples we have in our photo albums. The clothes could probably set the time period more precisely than we could guess; we’ve assumed the 1930s. These may be relatives of Bert’s or her husband's family or simply friends. There is no one left to ask. But take a look at the picture and see what it tells you.

On the back of the picture it says, “Here we are in a nice park near here. Do you know what the sign says? It reads, “Jews not wanted.” Isn’t that silly! We got a kick out of it so had our picture taken by it. Aren’t you glad you’re in America?”

Innocence and Evil in one click of the camera; the time and the place only guessed at.

The ultimate outcome is what Sarah’s Key is about.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


A decade ago I found this list and have enjoyed using it so much that I'd like to share it with you for 2011.

1. I will reread a book that I loved as a child.

2. I will finally read that classic from high school that I’ve been avoiding.

3. I will find a book of poetry and read some aloud.

4. I will spend an hour in aimless browsing at a library.

5. I will read a book written in the year I was born

6. I will create a journal and keep notes about the books and magazines read.

7. I will assemble a list of my favorite people and send them my ideas about
books (favorites, recent reads, and the like)

8. I will read a book to a child.

9. I will gather a few friends and read a play out loud

10. I will read a book on the history of my town.

11. I will read a book written from a political point of view totally opposite my own.

12. I will read a book about a place I’ve never been.

13. I will reread a book that I just didn’t “get” when I was eighteen.

14. I will read a book written by a non-American.

Adapted from a list created by Camille DelVecchio, Penfield (NY) Public Library

Friday, December 24, 2010


The Kirkpatrick family - Sean, Nancy, Brendan and Caitlin - are today representing the families of our six children. The top photo shows four stockings hung on their fireplace. Sean's stocking, on the left, was made back in 1956 by the grandmother of our friend Homer Heath. She made one for Sean's sister Erin the next year. When my kids began having their babies, I decided to knit each of them a stocking. So in the above photo, there are three hand-knit and one store-bought stocking. I always had in the back of my mind to knit one for the spouses, but alas, there was always another grandchild to knit for and I just never got around to doing that.

Here is little Brendan in 1987 showing off his own personal stocking. He was not quite 6 months old in this picture and he appears to be a sober little tyke. But in reality we now know that he was thinking deep thoughts, probably trying to figure out how the camera worked. He was a charming little kid, very smart and very likeable. And he grew up with all those attributes, too. Now I know you aren't going to believe me, but do you know that all of my 13 grandchildren fit this description exactly? I am certainly not bragging, but they, like Brendan, have grown up well.

So now here is Brendan going into adulthood. He graduated last May from CSULB carrying a double major and is presently employed in a great position with Edison. Brendan also is an accomplished musician who has played the French Horn with his father in many, many orchestras and smaller groups in the Northern California area. His sister Caitlin is a freshman at USC, also an engineering major and like her mom is accomplished on the flute.

Remember that I asked you to let this Kirkpatrick family represent all our families for this Christmas Blog? We also have families of Titles, Pramls, Davises, Lambriches, Lopezes, Broughtons and Katzes. We have them scattered about from Alaska to Florida. We have some we see a lot of and some we don't see often enough. But they all are charming, bright, likeable and loving. We send to each of them our love and best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous new year.

For us, they are what make the Christmas holidays (but actually not limited to those holidays) so bright and cheery, so warm and comforting and so full of love. As far as we are concerned, Jerry and I have Christmas every day of the year! Lucky us.

*Blog originally from 12/08 and updated for 12/10.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Christmas Blessings are better than wrapped gifts. At least they are so after we get out of the diaper stage.

One of the special blessings we have here in Southern California is the LA Times newspaper, which is still up and running, chock-full of good writing, good columnists, and good photographers.

Today Wally Skalij gave Southern Californa a special blessing with this photograph. Such babies. Such stockings. Such dedicated nurses. Such health care for newborns. We are lucky to have them all.

And for these darling little Christmas stocking bundles, who are coming into a fairly scary world, we send a really, truly heartfelt wish for the ultimate blessing of all - PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN.

And to Wally and the LA Times.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Am I the only person in the world who didn't know about this "famous" recipe? At a family Christmas dinner in San Diego last Saturday one of the younger family members (a married woman with three children!) brought this pie as her contribution to the dinner. She said she had never made it before and hoped it was good.

She needn't have worried. It was a superb dish! With my taste disorder, I know that what I tasted wasn't really the same as what everyone else tasted, but let me tell you, if I say it was delicious, it was truly good! And I thought my friends should know about this too. Aside from anything else, it is too easy NOT to make.

From Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking

2 cups chopped fresh cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
2 eggs
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon almond extract

Spread the cranberries, walnuts and 1/2 cup sugar in the bottom of a 9" or 10" cake pan (or skillet or anything else you might have lying around). Mix the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl to form a batter. Pour the batter over the cranberry mixture and bake in an oven preheated to 350 for around 40 minutes. Cool a bit in the pan, and enjoy.
It's called a "rustic" dessert; don't expect the slice to come out looking like a piece of pie. Discount the look and simply eat away.

I got the recipe from this young woman, but I also have found it on the internet in many places, so I'm not the only one who thinks it's a keeper. I have a recipe in my file for a cherry clafouti, and this seems much like that. But quite honestly, the cranberries are better.

If this recipe is indicative of what you find in Corwin's cookbook, I'd suggest asking Santa to get it for you this year. It's not too late.

Merry Christmas, one and all.

Monday, December 20, 2010


In our apartment complex (which sits on lots of acreage with lawns, bushes and trees), we luckily don’t have many outside critters to deal with. We get a few possums, a few feral cats, the ubiquitous attic/tree rats, but no squirrels or rabbits. In the summer we often get ants trying to find a place to cool off and who make their way inside our apartment – through an electrical outlet, an AC/Heating vent, around a window sill or up the bathroom drain. They are creative critters, totally unwelcome and extremely hard to stifle. We get them in the winter too but usually only when it rains.

It is raining.

This morning I came out of the bedroom and saw Squeaky looking up at the living room AC vent. That was at 5:30 a.m. She is still sitting there and it’s now 9 o’clock. She is not a stupid cat, but I would be a stupid person to think she doesn’t know what she is doing. She knows we are going to have, sooner or later, an influx of wet ants. I DO NOT WANT ANTS DURING THE CHRISTMAS SEASON. However, the rain prediction is “rain through Sunday.” So when they come I hope they use the vent and not via our dish and glass cupboard like they did last year. That was NOT a good Christmas present!


When I was staying at Kerry’s house in LA while she was having surgery, her girls were in the process of celebrating Hanukkah. When I arrived in LA the family was at their other grandma’s house eating brisket and latkes and other traditional Hanukkah foods. When the family arrived back home where I awaited, the little girls were laden with Hanukkah gifts.

In school Justine’s class has been working on origami for their art sessions, and Grams had given her several kits containing really lovely papers for making origami figures – along with instructions. Justine just turned 8 in November. She has a very analytical mind, and before the girls could get their gifts put away, Justine had created the most wonderful array of tiny dimensional stars. She didn’t bother to read the instructions; she simply looked at the diagrams and whipped them out like a production line. I looked at those instructions and crossed my fingers that she wouldn’t ask me to make one! One kit makes 100 stars – and she got two kits! She’s well on her way to doing the “thousand crane” bit, I’m sure. (I think she’ll probably be good at higher math, too!).

That reminded me of some stars that I was given by a boyfriend’s mother back in 1952. Dick Fifield was my first real boyfriend and we went steady my whole senior year in high school. He had two older married sisters and their families living nearby. His mom and dad were like second parents to me, as mine were to Dick. But his family had traditions and mine didn’t, so for the most part that is where my memories of just about the best Christmas I ever experienced came from. I was welcomed into their family to bake cookies, make fudge, wrap presents, decorate trees, go caroling – all the things my family did not do. Don’t think my own family did not celebrate Christmas; we did, and it was always abundant – but really no traditions ran up to it, and once the wrapping papers were torn off the gifts in a mad frenzy of delight, it was finished. Over. Done With. Nothing to do but put the presents away and vacuum the floor. Not even a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinner. The adults did get egg nog, we kids got nog-less egg nog and that was it. So it isn’t unusual that I would remember the Christmas of 1952 with such fondness.

But there was a little more than that to it. As a present, Dick’s mother gave me 10 folded colored paper stars that she had made in secret. They were probably 2 inches in circumference and were three dimensional. They were dipped in wax and quickly sprinkled with glitter. A gold thread was attached for hanging them on the tree. I loved them. I think probably she was hoping that they would hang on the first tree that Dick and I would have if/when we married. He had gotten quite serious quickly but since I was going away to college after graduation I was fairly reserved about committing to anything. I did “love” Dick, but as it happened our relationship did end after I went to college as I feared.

I didn’t think of the possible significance of those stars back in 1952. But over the years and after becoming a mother-in-law many times, I understand how easy it is to love the boyfriends and girlfriends that your own children will consider as they grow into adulthood and be sad when they disappear out of your life.

All that was 60 years ago. Some of the stars have broken down, others disappeared. But here I am all these years later and I still have 5 of them. Of everything I have on my tree, those are my most priceless ornaments. All of you who are “of an age” will understand when I say that it is hard to accept that little things like these stars, things that are so imbued with warm and fuzzy memories of your own growing up, will not likely hang on your children’s (or grandchildren’s) tree after you’re gone. Margaret Fifield’s stars were not art pieces, nor exactly origami as I understand it; They were just a paper craft and are of no value to anyone other than me. But they hold a year’s worth of teen-age love in their folds and at least a ream worth of warm memories of that very special Fifield family of Long Beach who I will never forget.


And on a gross note, but because it is Christmas and even the grossest creatures get their due, for some strange reason whenever it rains every earthworm in Mira Loma crawls onto my front porch to escape being drowned. It’s a fruitless crawl because they die quite quickly. Something makes them stick very tightly to the cement so at any time during the rain and after, there are dead earthworms affixed to my porch. They are really difficult to get off. Because we are now in about day four of rain with at least five more to go, my porch is now LOADED and likely to get worse. I told Jer last night that when the rain is finished, I am going to call our Maintenance Department and implore them to bring over a big cement sanding machine and clear my porch of desiccated earthworms. They had better do it, too, because this morning I looked down on the carpet and there lay a dried worm that had traveled into the house on Jerry’s shoe this morning when he retrieved the newspaper.

I am going to spare you a picture of our porch. You all know what a worm looks like. Probably not a Christmas worm but I’ll guess you’ll even pass on that.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


So to continue the list from yesterday, here are more ideas:

~ Tie a bow on your pet's collar.

~ Give your place in the checkout line to someone who looks like they have had a hard day.

~ Wrap your child's bedroom door like a present.

~ Make it a holiday practice to do something without telling them you did it.

~ Make your family feel just as important as your holiday company.

~ Add a new Christmas cassette or CD to your collection each year.

~ Dress the kids for bed, then get in the car to see Christmas lights.

~ Keep plenty of Apple Cider and microwave popcorn on hand for unexpected guests.

~ Let someone else have the parking space you've just found. Think of it as a gift to a stranger.

~ This Christmas, write letters to several people who have had a positive influence on your life. Thank them for the gift they have given you.

~ Buy something from students holding a Christmas bake sale and tell them to keep the change.

~ Cut others - as well as yourself - more slack than usual.

~ Take a walk with someone you love on Christmas afternoon.

~ Turn off the lights and put on "White Christmas." Ask your spouse to dance.

~ Pay the toll for the car behind you during the week of Chrismas.

~ Don't try to do everything yourself. Ask for help.

~ Decorate the backs of dining chairs with bows or stockings.

~ Don't forget to hang the mistletoe.

~ After opening all the presents, hug all your family members and tell them they are the best gift of all.

Make it a good holiday!

Friday, December 17, 2010


Several years ago I found a Christmas book that offered some ideas to consider when thinking of how to make Christmas as cheery as possible. The book was called "The Little Book of Christmas Joys," by H. Jackson Brown Jr., Rosemary Brown and Kathy Peel. I shared this list with you last year at this time but I think a reminder is called for. Today and tomorrow I'll be giving you a rerun of their ideas, which are terrific. You only have a week left to incorporate what "clicks" with you, but you can spread a lot of goodwill in a single week! It's never too late.

~ Be the first to wish everyone you meet a Merry Christmas.

~ Mend a broken relationship with someone during the holidays.

~ Take a basket of goodies to a notoriously grumpy neighbor.

~ Let go of a problem you can't solve.

~ Hang a favorite Christmas ornament from your car's rear-view mirror.

~ Take a basket of goodies to your local fire and police station.

~ Try at least one new Christmas recipe and one new decorating idea.

~ Tie jingle-bells on your kids' shoelaces, or on yours, if you are brave.

~ Buy yourself another set of lights for your Christmas Tree.

~ Enjoy a couple of meals illuminated only with the Christmas Tree.

~ Go to a Christmas Parade.

~ Deliver a coffee cake to a neighbor.

~ Call a nursing home and get the names of five people who don't often receive mail. Send each one a Christmas card and sign it "from Santa."

~ Wear outrageous Christmas socks.

~ Record a cheerful Christmas greeting on your answering machine or voicemail.

~ Make French Toast with eggnog.

~ Give an anonymous gift of money to someone who has been laid off.

~ Put something Christmasy in every room in your home.

~ Throughout the season, give family and others the gift of a good disposition.


Thursday, December 16, 2010


Seldom am I totally, wonderfully charmed by a toy bear. But this one, called "Ms Bear" has gone right to my heart. Have you ever seen such a bear? It belongs to Pat and Dennis (now late) of Texas.

Pat and I share a common ancestor (Thomas Bradley of Schuyler Co, Missouri - 1792-1853). Through our many years of internet communication and research we have become the best of cousins as well as the best of friends. She has followed my blog since its inception in 2008. When she saw the blog on Jingle Bear, she sent me Ms Bear's picture along with the following e-mail, which I've asked her permission to reproduce.

I have my husband's Ms Bear, and I should have made her a new outfit for Christmas or should at least changed her and put one of the ones I have already made for her. I don't think I have changed her since Dennis died. I noticed her glasses were dirty the other day but haven't cleaned them yet....

I think we got Ms. Bear around 1995 or earlier. All the grandkids knew that they could play with any of the stuffed animals here except Ms Bear. When there were a lot here at one time, or dogs we didn't trust, she was put in the bedroom on the bed with her chair. She has a bentwood rocker he paid $10.00 for and a red pedal car that cost him $10.00.

Dennis saw her in a garage sale and wanted her, but figured he couldn't afford her, so he went on to work. By noon he had talked himself into paying up to $25 for her. I think he probably would have paid double that for her by then! He went back to the garage sale and finally asked the woman about her and how much she wanted for her. The woman told him part of the story about her: she was made from a blanket or coat and some of the bears were made as gifts and some were sold, but she didn't say how she got her originally. Then the lady told him that she hadn't put a price tag on her because she didn't want a little kid to get her and then not take care of her. She told Dennis the price - $2.50!

Dennis was SO proud of her and even took her to the lake when he went fishing. He always left her at the Marina so everyone knew when he was there. I had to make her a new outfit for all holidays. Once he took her to Massachusetts, where Dennis was born and raised and where some family still lived. He showed her to his little niece there. This niece is now grown up and will get her when I am ready to let her go....

I had heard that she was made by a woman here in Cleveland, Texas sometime around 1930 and/or 1940. I haven't been able to find out exactly, but her maker was written up in Texas Monthly Magazine sometime during the 1950's or early 60's. I would love to read the article but have only heard about it. If anyone has access to the Texas Monthly Magazines index or archives they might be able to find the article. It said this woman made bears from coats or blankets. I once saw a coat at an antique shop in Arkansas that looked like the fabic Ms Bear was made from, so I think she was made from a coat. One woman told me she had one of these bears that was made from a mink coat, but I am not sure if that was true or not. Not many fur coats in this part of Texas at that time, too hot and two humid here and nowhere to wear one.

I keep looking at this adorable and most interesting Ms Bear. She certainly has a charm that Jingle Bear does not have. I'm so pleased that Pat was able to share her picture and story with me. If any of you can come up with any clues as to her genesis, please e-mail me at and I'll forward these ideas on to my cousin Pat. Maybe together we can give Ms Bear a beginning and Pat a Christmas Present!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I have been reading Book #5 in the "Brother Cadfael" series written some time ago by a woman in England. These are little mystery books, set in 12th Century England and in an area between Shrewsbury and Wales. It seems like everyone I know has read these books, but somehow I missed out on them, even after they were turned into a TV series. The one I'm presently dealing with is called "The Leper of St. Giles" and Shrewsbury keeps popping up in the story...and that lead to me opening my scrapbook and perusing the pictures I took of that charming town when we were there in 1985.

I am sure there are such lovely places in the U.S., but as a native Californian and one who has not traveled a great deal in her own country, I have failed to ever see such beauty as I saw in the English countryside. What I so distinctly remember about Shrewsbury is that their gardens were colorful beyond description. I do have to comment, though, that you get such beauty only when you live in a place where rain falls!

Another interesting thing I recall about Shrewsbury is that it was here, affixed the bottom of one of those tall church spires, that we read of the demise of a young man who had high hopes for flying, but instead came to a sad end.

And then - one thing leading to another as I mentioned above - I took a further glance through my album and came upon a couple of photos from the place I thought the most gorgeous and, well, romantic in all of the England that we saw.

Fountains Abbey is probably the finest monastic ruin in Europe, and of course this little corner is just a minute part of it. The abbey was started in 1132 because 13 Benedictine monks at York were dissatisfied with the laxity there and acquired property to begin building Fountains Abbey. (This was about the time that the ficticious Brother Cadfael was doing his stuff in Ellis Peters' books!) And the adjacent Studley Royal Estate is one of the few great 18th century "green gardens" to survive substantially in its original form. The inclusion of Fountains Abbey into the Studley Royal property happened in 1768. Ownership was transferred to the The National Trust in 1983.

History itself can't take your breath away but setting foot on that propery can do it. When we drove onto the property (which incidentally has over 27 individual buildings, rivers, lakes, ponds, gardens, and other creations to swoon over), we entered through the deer park area, which alone encompasses over 400 acres of land. And when I laid my eyes on "the Moon Pond," I remember thinking that if I never saw any more beauty in my life, I would have seen enough this day to last me forever!

I probably will never get back to England, even though we have second cousins who live in Southgate, a town on the north fringe of London. Jerry and I both have ancestors who lived in England. Jerry's grandparents were married in the Great Synagogue in Manchester, England in 1898, and I have a many-times-great grandfather who was a vicar in a little church in Goosnargh, a village north of Preston, as I recall.

So all this is why I am so enjoying these clever little Brother Cadfael mystery books. I have a sense of the location they are set in, and have a tiny feeling that in the past my relatives may have been nearby.

So one thing surely does lead to another, doesn't it?

Monday, December 13, 2010


Some Christmas preparations go more quickly and smoothly than others. I think “available time” is probably the determiner. And this year, since I was in Los Angeles last week helping my daughter’s family after her scheduled surgery, I could tell that decorating was going to take a back seat. I hate stress and had enough of it with the worry of Kerry’s surgery. So I had made my peace that I would do what I could at my little apartment and be satisfied with that! More important, of course, was Kerry’s healing.

Kerry finally came home yesterday, and with her husband off work to care for her I was able to come back home. To be honest with you, I didn’t have much energy left; the worry one has over one’s children, regardless of their ages, takes much out of a body. But I figured I had enough left to do a little Christmas decorating.

As our apartment is quite small, we have foregone a big tree and now have a tiny little pre-fab lighted tree, complete with tiny decorations, from Michael’s Crafts. Oh, it is so easy to get that tree up. We simply set it on a small end table and plug in! We do add a few small decorations that we’ve accumulated over the years. It wouldn’t win any beauty prizes but it’s ours and we’ve found it to be quite pleasing.

Next to come out of the closet is the old Jingle Bear that we have had for at least 30 years. This fuzzy white bear was a promotional item at the old Broadway Department Store. As I recall it came free to people who bought $25 dollars worth of merchandise. Our family has always been partial to that bear! During the year our old friend resides in a big trash bag in the corner of our closet. Nevertheless, he is next in importance in our Christmas decoration scheme.

Out he came yesterday, and I temporarily set him in front of the curio cabinet while I took a phone call. As I was talking I glanced at Jingle Bear – and he looked far more worn out than I was. In fact, he looked so woebegone I had to laugh – and then explain my laughing to the person I was talking to. Poor Jingle Bear. But poor me, too. I’m sure that is how I looked to him, too.

The bear wasn’t too crazy about getting his picture taken in that position, but I felt it was one I wanted for posterity – and for today’s blog. After the phone call ended I took him into the kitchen, washed his button eyes until they got some sparkle back in them, situated his hat a little better, and propped him up in front of the tree table, where the table leg, hidden behind the tree skirt, would correct his posture. I took his picture again, a much better one, this time. Then I re-combed my own hair and touched up my own makeup. Both of us felt considerably energized once we knew we looked better.

For the most part, Jingle Bear and the little tree are the extent of this year’s Christmas decorating. It cheers up the house a bit and gives a boost to my spirit. Kerry’s recovery has been the best gift one could receive this season. The tiny tree reminds me of the large trees and abundant gifts surrounding them that we had in the past. Jingle Bear reminds me of all the things he has seen as the Christmases have gone by with the kids growing up, grandbabies coming, and then the downsizing that went on after we retired – all part of the life cycle that happens to all people.

The Christmas Season is full of special memories and special moments. It doesn’t take a whole lot of tinsel and icicles around the house to bring back those memories. A tiny tree, a few well-loved and treasured items, along with a couple of poinsettia plants on the walkway leading to our apartment (which I shall purchase today) and the knowledge that my kids are all well, the grandkids are happy, and my dear Jerry, as well as Jingle Bear, are still celebrating with me -- these are as much as I need to consider myself thoroughly blessed!

Sunday, December 12, 2010


The year was 1945. The town was Long Beach, California. The occasion was the John Greenleaf Whittier Elementary School Glee Club having its picture taken just before the school children came out to sit on the asphalt while we gave our annual Christmas Program. I was 10 years old.

Little Chuckie Newmyer, one of the smart kids, stood solemn and official in his role as Narrator of this little Christmas concert. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for “Chuckie” because his mother and my mother were friends and pregnant with us at the same time in 1935. Sometime after we were born one or both families moved away, but our mothers discovered each other again when we moved into the Whittier school district in 1945. I don’t think Chuckie ever knew that in my baby book there is a notation that his mother gave me a baby dress when I was born.

But moving back to this early Christmas program we needed a Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus. A doll was used as a stand-in for baby Jesus. Joseph was played by Joseph Fayant, a tall fellow with dark hair who probably looked more mature than most of the kids and truly made a good Joseph. Mary was portrayed by Loretta Carlson, who had a sweet face and a widow’s peak, which gave her a heart-shaped visage just perfect for the role.

I can still identify close to half of these kids in the choir. This is amazing, I think, because some days I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast! But about twelve of the girls in this picture were in a newly-formed Girl Scout Troop 28 and we stayed active until we graduated High School in 1953 and then have had regular reunions and personal contact through the years. But other than that, most of the kids from Whittier Elementary went on to Alexander Hamilton Junior High School and then graduated from Long Beach Poly, and having them as classmates for nine years surely has helped their names being imprinted in my mind.

I suspect that the narrative was read from the Gospels and that Chuckie did himself proud in his delivery. I do not specifically remember what songs we sang, but it shouldn’t be too hard to surmise what they were. I also doubt that they were sung with any parts, as we didn’t have a formal choir at the school; I’m sure we all knew the traditional Christmas songs and one of the teachers probably offered to wave her arms at us to try to keep us on the beat. I’m also sure she used a tiny pitch pipe to give us our beginning note, because rolling a piano or even a little portable pump organ onto the asphalt was beyond the call of duty. It was a capella for us.

It was a good program. The weather cooperated and our parents all came and stood behind the students seated on the ground. My only sadness was that my new boyfriend, Charles Clifner, was not in the choir. I asked him a couple of years ago why he wasn’t in the picture and he said he was many things but a singer he was not!

In those days it was perfectly ok to mix religion and education. No one fussed. It was just not thought to be a big deal, and hearing Chuckie read the gospel did not raise any church/state conflicts.

When I look at this picture I can’t help but think about how different Christmases were back then. However, maybe Christmas just wasn’t so different but Society was. Kinder. Safer. More polite. More considerate. Slower, for sure. We still were quarantined if we got measles. We entertained ourselves on the playground with jacks, hopscotch and monkey bars, merry-go-rounds and rings. We walked to and from school with little fear of being kidnapped. Girls wore dresses to school. Children looked like children, not like mini-teenagers. We secreted “Sen-Sen” in folded-up sheets of Kleenex and couldn’t wait for recess to share those powerful tiny little black licorice squares. In spite of the depression and the second world war that affected us, we mostly had a wonderful childhood.

Christmas is a time for remembering “the reason for the season” and it is also time for looking backwards at Christmases past. I was blessed with good family, good friends, a good school, good teachers and teaching, and a good town in which to grow up. I have Christmas pictures taken at an earlier stage of my life, but looking at those doesn't really bring any specific recollections. But the Whittier Elementary School Glee Club photo is full of remembrances and recollections – and makes an awfully good trip down memory lane in December of 2010 – sixty-five years later.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


What do I like best about the Christmas season? Of course I like having family around, sharing, gift wrapping, house decorating, and the definite uptick in general cheeriness among people of good will -- all these are part and parcel of the secular part of the seasonal celebration, and I enjoy them.

But what I like most of all is the music of the season, be it sacred, secular, high-bow, low-brow, done professionally or simply by a few carolers who wander through neighborhoods. I love it all.

When I was younger I always sang in the community offering of the Hallelujah Chorus. In the churches our family attended we always sang in a Christmas Cantata. As my own little family got old enough to participate we always went to a nearby nursing home early on Christmas Eve and with me playing the guitar, we strode up and down the halls singing for those old people who always seemed to be so woefully forgotten on this most special eve.

When my four children got to be elementary school age I began working with children's choirs, both at school, at my house and at various churches in town. I scoured the literature for some unusual songs that I thought Children would respond to. These kids were not yet old enough to do much in the way of singing parts, but I was able to fashion some simple harmonies for them and they did surprisingly well for being mostly a rag-tag bunch of neighborhood kids. Now we're not talking professional singing here, but just maybe one notch above what one usually hears. The simple guitar accompaniment pushed their voices to the forefront. The kids loved the songs because they were different, and relevant, as I made sure they understood the images that the songs portrayed. That short period in my life was very special, and my own children remember it well.

Of all the songs I taught the children, the one called "The Friendly Beast" was certainly the favorite. Its simplicity and sensitivity will always keep it at the top of my list. The words are as follows:

Jesus our brother kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around him stood
Jesus our brother kind and good

"I" said the donkey shaggy and brown
I carried his mother up hill and down
I carried him safely to Bethlehem town
"I" said the donkey shaggy and brown

And "I" said the cow all white and red
I gave him my manger for a bed
I gave him my hay for to pillow his head
"I" said the cow all white and red

"I" said the sheep with a curly horn
I have him my wool for his blanket warm
And he wore my coat on that Christmas morn
"I" said the sheep with a curly horn

"I" said the dove from the rafters high
Cooed him to sleep that he should not cry
We cooed him to sleep my love and I
"I" said the dove from the rafters high

And "I" said the camel all yellow and black
Over the desert upon my back
I brought him a gift in the wise men's pack
"I" said the camel all yellow and black

Thus every beast remembering it well
In the stable dark was so proud to tell
Of the gifts that they gave Emmanuel
The gifts that they gave Emmanuel

And there are several renditions of it on YouTube, but my favorite is an old Tennessee Ernie Ford offering and the graphics that accompany this particular song. I think you'll like it as much as I do.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Last night we went to a Christmas Concert put on by a local smallish Christian College, which has a very dynamic music department. And not just for traditional stuff, either. Included in their program were both familiar and non-familiar Christmas offerings, done by saxophone quartets and sextets, brass quintets, brass ensembles, chamber singers, a group called “Bella Voce,” the University chorale and the University orchestra, and various soloists.

But most interesting of all, almost half of the musical presentations were unrecognizable as having a Christmas theme. If you are singing in a choir and have the sheet music in front of you that says “A Christmas Song” you feel it will come across to the audience as a Christmasy piece. But I’m sad to say that at least half the pieces presented last night did not seem to relate to the season we were there to celebrate. Others presented the music in an idiom that was interesting but in an arrangement that mostly just teased the listeners to find the familiar tune.

So rather than say I wasn’t impressed with the music (which I actually was) I decided that I would try to isolate some of what I learned from my first try at this event, which according to what the pastor said was an annual tradition. It's probably applicable to any non-commercial concert nowadays.
  • If you are going to a free concert at a college be there at least an hour early so you will find a seat out from under the balcony, where the music fills the air and is not swallowed up. Being there a half-hour early is not early enough

  • Church members are family oriented and will bring children ranging from the age of 10 to newborn and hope that those in the audience are not bothered by fussing, crying and running in and out of the chapel.

  • Be prepared to see nothing if you are under the balcony. For the most part traditional churches do not have stadium seating. Spikey hairdos and children standing on the pew seats ahead of you are unfortunately not transparent.

  • If the program has a big notice on it that says “There will be no flash photography during the performance” don’t believe it. I’d guess that students enrolled in art classes dealing with photography were given an exemption, which turned out to be very distracting. In a similar vein, if the program says in big bold letters “Please remain seated until the end of the Postlude” don’t believe that either. I’d guess most people don’t want to get stuck in the parking lot and have to wait their turn to get in line.

  • Remember, this is the University’s party and they can do what they want. This is a different generation than we grew up in, and they do it differently. Manners and expectations are very different from what we think is customary…and perhaps we need to “get a life.”

Now musically, did I enjoy it? Yes. Did I understand it? Not a whole lot of it. Would I have liked a few notes – either verbal before the piece or written on the program itself – about what I was going to be hearing. The title and composer just isn’t quite enough when one is listening to music that must be about Christmas but doesn’t appear that way.

I did love all the modern sounds, but dissonance isn’t always conducive to satisfaction in having a warm Christmasy feeling. If the idea is explained to me ahead of time I can be much more receptive. If I can understand and like composer John Adams’ LA Noir, I’d like to think I could understand some of this modern Christmas music too. But I need a little help.

Jer and I came home glad we went but not exactly full of the Christmas Spirit. I don’t expect Jerry to be full of it, but he’s always so non-judgmental and I really appreciate that; I think it balances me a bit! If the concert itself hadn’t lasted almost two and a half hours, I would have walked in my front door, put one of Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas CDs on my player and sent the real Christmas Spirit soaring through my house. But the hour was late and I just went to bed without benefit of those glorious sounds. And I did sleep well. But in the night when I woke up I decided I just had to do an honest blog today.

The kids did wonderfully well in their presentation last night. I was glad I went. I was glad I heard new stuff. I was glad there was a tiny newborn baby in the arms of its mother in the pew in front of me that I could feast my eyes on when I couldn’t see the stage. I was glad that Jerry, whose tradition is definitely not Christmas music, sat like a trooper through it all without registering one complaint. Will we go next year?

Yes, God willing and the creek don’t rise!

Friday, December 3, 2010


Periodically I go through times of waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to fall back asleep. My first four hours of sleep are good, but when I’m in that cycle it’s downhill from then on.

Last night was one of those nights. I think I woke up around 3:30 a.m. and what I heard was the noise level on the freeway one mile south of us. We live on the fringe of an industrial area, and the big delivery trucks generally get going on the freeway about then. I could hear them back away from their loading docks – bells dinging as the trucks back up – and then the engines straining to get the loaded trucks up and on the roads. An hour earlier, there is no such noise. I don’t think it is the noise that wakes me up, but once awake, the stillness of the night amplifies every sound and I can tell exactly what they are doing.

You’d think I would hear a cricket or a frog, but no, mostly only trucks and freeways. I also heard a siren start up from a fire-engine that pulled out of the station directly across the freeway from our complex. I knew that if the siren was of short duration, that meant it came across the freeway overpass and turned into our complex. Since we live in a 55+ development, unfortunately we have a lot of such emergencies in the night. I heard a dog give a few barks, probably while his owner was taking him outside for a potty break. And I heard the early-morning Fedex or UPS plane take off from Ontario Airport, loaded with packages to be delivered elsewhere.

Along our Van Buren avenue, probably the biggest non-freeway road in western Riverside County, there is a Union Pacific train track that brings freight trains from the yards in Los Angeles out to Riverside and then heads them north. Our area is so rural that we have mostly grade-level train crossings, with long arms and bells that keep the vehicular traffic away from the moving trains. Sometimes in the night I can hear those bells too as the arms come down. Since the trains are required to blow their whistles at every grade crossing, I can hear them as they move through our intersections – first Bellegrave, next Rutile, then Jurupa, finally Limonite. There was a period of time when I think one of the engineers, or whoever makes the train toot, had a wife or a girlfriend that he wanted to say “Hi” to as he passed through the area – and his simple toot “hello” took on the rhythm of “Shave and a haircut – six bits.” It always made me laugh when I heard it. I think the people who lived closer to the tracks didn’t see the humor in it, but since I was already awake, I did.

Last night I heard the trains, three or four of them, but alas, no extra messages were sent!

While I was lying there in my bed, trying to relax and enjoy the sounds – none of which were really obnoxious but just happened at a bad hour – a vestige of a song flitted through my mind. I could hear a few lines but couldn’t dredge up anything more than that. What I remembered was this little snippit:

Now the rains a-fallin’
Hear the train a-callin’,
Hear that lonesome whistle
Blowin’ cross the trestle,
Clickety-clack, echoing back,
……………………..and the next line was missing from my memory.

While I was trying to find the missing line I drifted away from the night noises and fell back asleep.

This morning the missing line – and the song title – appeared as if by magic. “The Blues in the Night.” The lyrics were written by Johnny Mercer in 1941. Harold Arlen supplied the tune. I knew it because of the 1950’s version popularized by Rosemary Clooney. It really didn’t have anything much to do with “night” but more with the blues over love, or lack thereof..

Do you remember it too?

My mama done told me,
When I was in pigtails,
My mama done told me, Hon,
A man’s gonna sweet talk
And give you the big eye
But when the sweet talk is done.
A man is a two-face,
A worrisome thing who’ll leave you to sing,
The blues in the night

Now the rains a-fallin’
Hear the train a-callin’,
Hear that lonesome whistle
Blowin’ cross the trestle,
Clickety-clack, echoing back,
The blues in the night.

I can’t say my night’s sleep was a total lost cause. None of my listening and musing was because of a worry; it just turned into an hour or so of listening, thinking and remembering – always a pleasant state to be in. The only thing that could have made it better would be the song of a Nightingale, except here in California we only have Mockingbirds to sing in the night, and mostly they can drive you crazy if you let them.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Before I retired I always used a huge purse. If trendy messenger bags had been available, I probably would have used one of those, and it might have been big enough. As it was, mostly I stuck with the big Liz Claiborne totes, nice looking enough to carry to work and big enough to contain anything I might need while I was away from home. Not that I had far to travel, mind you, but certainly more distant than just walking into the kitchen to get a couple of aspirins.

I always envied women who could be satisfied with a tiny purse. And so it was that when I retired back in 2000 I started downsizing my purses. I shouldn't need big purses any more. Going "small" was not easy to do, but I forced myself to get rid of the totes. The picture above represents the size of the purse I have been using this last year. (I have already tossed the old purse so I simply used this little kit to give you an idea of its size. I photographed my wallet next to it so you could see that I certainly didn't have much room for anything else!

I made it work, but honestly I felt about half of me was still somewhere in the house; it certainly wasn't close to my person.

Now although I'm not really a "collector" of things, there are certain things that I really should have close at hand all the time. Spread out for you in the picture below are what I consider the "necessary" contents of my purse. (And no, the cat isn't one of them. She just happens to be a VERY nosy cat!)

Let me explain a little: Aside from the glass case (which Squeaky decided to lie on), you can see the little glass cleaner satchel next to it, my date book, check book and notepad, my wallet and my makeup bag all on the top row. Across the center I have some Breezers for my raspy throat, Wet Wipes for my hands, pills for emergencies (never had to use them yet), an Epi-Pen for use if I am attacked again by soft-tissue hives in my throat!, and Band-Aids, "just in case." Then there are some ordinary items: extra batteries for my camera, gum, my cellular phone, the Bluetooth (carefully secreted in a pill bottle), matches and hand lotion. All are absolutely necessary to have on hand, I think. You can understand why I felt like my existing purse was not entirely adequate and why I set out yesterday to buy myself a new one.

And of course, I ended up with a wonderfully big satchel, not a Liz Claiborne this time, but one that could almost pass for a messenger bag if it had a long strap with it. It has nooks and crannies for everything. It came close to being the perfect bag for me. (The perfect bag would have been one exactly like my daughter Kerry's but which I learned was no longer available.) Her bag, from Lord and Taylors, had real class, but what is important is that I am exceedingly happy with what I bought. Happier yet because it was on sale for $29.99!

So I've simply called it my Christmas present to myself and didn't beat myself up over buying things for myself when in the midst of the season of giving to others.

Now, there is one thing I need to tell you about what else will be going into the purse. It is such a peculiar thing to want, yea need, that it needs its own explanation.

I have a quirk, and that quirk is that I want to be sure a pen is always available in case I have something I must write. A single pen won't do. It might be out of ink, or worse, has disappeared. So I must have more than one pen. In fact, I like to have lots of pens to choose from when I need to write something. I might want to write it in green ink, or with a fine point, or .... or....or. So my solution has been carry a bunch of pens, one for any occasion or for all occasions. And rather than let them languish on the bottom of my purse, many years ago I came by this old cigarette holder and quickly conscripted it for my pens. I love my pens. They are El Cheapos, none of any real value at all, but valuable in quantity to me. You can understand that all these pens never would fit in any of the tiny post-retirement purses, so the cigarett bag of pens has been waiting on my desk for ten years now. Finally I am back in business with my new BIG bag, and having my pens back with me again full-time is like discovering and enjoying old friends. I really should check them to see if they are all still in working condition. But that doesn't matter right now. It's enough that they are back where they belong.

I am ready for anything, me and my new bag. Need a match? I've got one. Need a cough drop? I can give you a Breezer. A little scratch? I've got a Band-Aid. I've got an aspirin for your headache. Held a banister while you walked down stairs? Get the germs off your hands with a Wet-Wipe! So I'm perfectly outfitted for the holiday season and the rest of my life! I'm finished with tiny purses!

I love my Christmas Present. It is just what I wanted.