Friday, December 30, 2011


A decade ago I found this list and have enjoyed using it so much that I'd like to share it with you for 2012.

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I just saw an interesting story on TV a few minutes ago about today being "Good Riddance Day" -- and while the reason for my interest took place a few days ago (December 23, to be exact) I'm celebrating it today!

I crawled off my bed of healing and managed to get here for a short notification that I have said good riddance to my crappy gall bladder in an emergency surgery on December 23, and then a second procedure on December 24 where the doc went down through my mouth to search and destroy a gallstone that was stuck in the bile duct. As if that weren't enough, while still in the recovery room I suffered a bout of atrial fib and because it was a holiday no doctor could be found to tend to me.

Finally a kind-hearted young female doctor arrived and I was shepherded through the return to a normal beat and finally arrived in my room. I came home on Monday evening, and all I can say is that one doesn't bounce back as quickly at 76 as one does at 36 (hysterectomy) or at 46 (appendectomy.) But here I am, sore and shakey but on the road to recovery. Some Christmas, huh? Thank god for husband and children and doctors and nurses and morphine.

I'm not crazy about the pix of the Gall bladder above, but it is to show you what I said "Good Riddance" to for 2011.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Imagine walking into your favorite supermarket on December 22, shortly before Christmas, rounding a corner and coming face to face with a wall of candy such as the one above. Believe me, it is a jaw-dropping experience.

I knew where the candy canes were last week, but they sure weren't there this week. I had noticed as we walked in the door this morning that there was a huge display of ingredients for making Christmas edibles - Karo syrup, sugar, boxed cookie mixes, spanish peanuts and mixed nuts, along with every kind of pot, pan, bowl, and storage container one could possibly use for making these goodies, and I figured right at the front door was a marketing ploy to make sure that Christmas stuff would sell.

I figured there were a lot more Christmas items left in the usual spot. But was I wrong. It was February 14 in that aisle, for sure!

As if that wasn't startling enough, I turned around and found behind me a forerunner of this year's Easter items.

Jer and I were puzzling over this whole thing when a lady in a red Ralph's jacket walked up to us and explained:

Our Ralphs store is the guinea pig (her word, not ours) for all the items Ralphs wants to track for customer use and approval. Yes, people do buy Valentine's day candy before Christmas. If it is eye-catching, they figure they'll see just how good it tastes. Items that sit on those shelves week after week without moving are not ordered for the other Ralphs stores. It's all about Marketing, she said. We are the guinea pig store.

And now it makes sense that so many things appear and disappear in that store during the year. I hate to seem like I'm being paranoid (or worse yet, weird) but it seems that everything I find and like will ultimately disappear, because I am the only person who buys and likes it. Jer and I have laughed at how many things we have started using on a weekly basis disappear -- sometimes with a notice (close-out sale) or just never restocked after I buy the last one on the shelf. I do believe that when we check out, ringing up our items is like putting the kiss of death on them.

It was reassuring in a funny way to know just why we have always laughed at how far ahead the seasonal items are put on display -- Valentine's day and Easter before Christmas, Halloween items before Fourth of July, and Christmas items before Thanksgiving. Now we know. Not all Ralphs do this; just ours and for a good reason, whether we like it or not!

After the Ralphs lady left, I happened to notice down at the far end of the aisle, in the same location as the Christmas cooking items at the other set of doors, were the remnants of this year's Christmas goodies that should have been where the Valentine's candy now sat. They were there, catching the eye of people who came in through that set of doors, reminding them that Christmas is still ahead of us.

So all is well at our Ralphs. They are not crazy, as we were beginning to believe.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


For some reason I have always been fascinated by tedious things.... although I'm not sure it is the thing itself that interests me or the fact that someone can actually choose to do something tedious. I tend to think it is the latter.

My first foray into tedious things was a try at needlepoint. Granted, I didn't know what I was doing when I started out, but it didn't take long for me to decide that doing needlepoint was like doing penance for all the sins I had committed in my life and doing it in advance for all the ones that I might commit in the future. I hated it. I did one small 5x9 picture, hated every stitch of it, and threw it away when I finished. For many years I avoided any such similar endeavor, until in 1977 or thereabouts the counted cross-stitch craze from North Caroline made it out to California. I took one look at it, said to myself, "I can do that" and started working a 22-to-the-inch counted cross stitch picture. I loved it, and in fact over the years I've done more than I can count.

I don't understand why I liked the one and not the other, but what it showed me is that there is something in me that says tedious things are pleasant and good for my soul!

A second time when I got interested in doing something tedious - and I surely don't understand this one - is that sometime in the 1969-70 period I decided to copy the New Testament by handwriting it into a notebook. With my whole family active in Christian circles it seemed like an unusual, devotional-type thing to do and I found great satisfaction in doing this. The product wasn't what was important, the discipline was. However, that ended when my marriage ended; it seemed that everything I had understood had fallen away and any semblance of discipline was no longer operative. The notebook went into the trash along with my marriage.

Now what does all this have to do with a blog today?

I have had it in my mind to re-read Moby Dick. The first time I saw those words was in my 10th grade English class when Miss Weiherman passed out copies of the book for us to read. I didn't understand one word of it. Through the years I've seen them mostly in cross-word puzzles, and each time they do I think I should re-read the book in my old age; perhaps I would understand it now!

This morning while investigating the entries I've placed on Google-Reader I came up with this:

This looked a whole lot more interesting to me that re-reading the book itself. Whatever it is in me that responds to this kind of discipline really took over, and I went to the book publisher's website to see what it was all about. I was fascinated by what I read.
Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page

Inspired by one of the world’s greatest novels, Ohio artist Matt Kish set out on an epic voyage of his own one day in August 2009. More than one hundred and fifty years following the original publication of Moby-Dick, Kish began illustrating Herman Melville’s classic, creating images based on text selected from every page of the 552-page Signet Classics paperback edition. Completely self-taught, Kish refused to set any boundaries for the artwork and employed a deliberately low-tech approach in response to the increasing popularity of born-digital art and literature. He used found pages torn from old, discarded books, as well as a variety of mediums, including ballpoint pen, marker, paint, crayon, ink, and watercolor. By layering images on top of existing words and images, Kish has crafted a visual masterpiece that echoes the layers of meaning in Melville’s narrative. In retrospect, Kish says he feels as foolhardy as Ishmael, the novel’s narrator, and as obsessed as Captain Ahab in his quest for the great white whale. “I see now that the project was an attempt to fully understand this magnificent novel, to walk through every sun-drenched word, to lift up all the hatches and open all the barrels, to smell, taste, hear, and see every seabird, every shark, every sailor, every harpooner, and every whale,” he says. “It was a hard thing, a very painful thing, but the novel now lives inside me in a away it never could have before.” Kish spent nearly every day for eighteen months toiling away in a small closet he converted into an art studio. In order to share the work with family and friends, he started the blog “One Drawing for Every page of Moby-Dick,” where he posted art and brief description about his process on a daily basis.

So now the issue becomes: shall I trust that I can find this book in my local library? or by interlibrary loan? or WorldCat? Or shall I trust Santa to put it in my stocking? Or should I just go back to my original idea and check a well-worn Moby Dick out of my library?

I'm not even sure what I want to do. At this point in my life I'm not only trying to stay with short term projects but am trying not to start new ones, so any of these selections may be off the table, period. However, I did want to share this wonderful "find" with any of you who like literature, art, discipline, and odd things!

And below is the art work for just one of the 500+ pages.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


It is a given: if the cashier at the supermarket is not close to retirement age when I unload my groceries for him or her to ring up, I will be asked, "What are these?" when my choice of parsnips come down the little conveyor belt. Only us old folk know what a parsnip is.

I had a young female cashier say to me one time, "I thought parsnips were something just made up for a fairy-tale." Another one said, "Oh, they must be something only old people know about." That one made me laugh, because to be truthful, I don't think I ever cooked them while my children were at home. But my mom used them a lot, always in stew but also she braised them, which was my favorite way of eating them.

She'd use the vegetable peeler on them to get the outer skin off. She'd halve them once crosswise and then again lengthwise. She would melt some butter, lots of it actually, in a skillet, put the pieces of the parsnip cut side down in it, add a little water, and then cook them very slowly until they were tender. Parsnips are sweet. It's rare to find a sweet vegetable, but parsnips are one of them. Braised, they are so succulent they just melted in one's mouth.

In the picture above there are some turnips next to the parsnips. My mother always used turnips in her stews too, and potatoes as well. But when the stew is done I can hardly tell the difference in taste between the turnip and potato pieces (actually the difference is more in texture) so I think potatoes and parsnips complement each other better in a stew. Oh, the parsnips are so flavorable!

I read in this week's LA Times an article on latkes for Hanukkah, and the lady writer, a cook, said she always grates some parships to add to her latkes. For her recipe she always uses 1 parsnip for every 2 potatoes. Now this lady wasn't using the already-prepared dry latke mix from Manischevitz or one of the other prepared potato-pancake mixes. She did it the old fashioned way, hand-grating the potatoes and parsnips. I haven't done them that way for a long, long time. Jerry is quite happy with me using the Manischevitz mix, so why do it the hard way? But I think I'm going to give it a try this year. I can just imagine how good those newly-designed home-made latkes will taste with a slight tinch of parsnips.

But then to top off my incursion into all things parsnip, I read this receipe below and thought I needed to try it too. MMmmmmmmm! Does it sound good -- a wonderful thick soup for the winter.


Total time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Servings: 6 to 8
Note: Adapted from the Organic Panificio Cafe.

2 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 cup diced onion
1 stalk celery, chopped
5 cloves garlic, smashed
3 sprigs parsley, plus chopped parsley for garnish, divided
4 sprigs thyme
1/2 bay leaf

3 cups (1 pound) fresh, sweet yellow corn kernels (from 5 to 6 ears)
1/3 pound peeled and trimmed parsnips, coarsely chopped

2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon cracked white pepper, plus more to taste
6 to 7 cups milk, more as desired

Raw sugar, to taste if desired
Mascarpone, for garnish

1. In a 4-quart, heavy-bottom soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the onions, celery and garlic along with the parsley sprigs, thyme and bay leaf until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

2. Stir in the corn, parsnips, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and continue to saute until the parsnips are tender, 20 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Stir in the milk and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes.

4. Purée the soup using an immersion blender, or in stages using a standing blender, then strain.

5. Adjust the seasoning to taste and sweeten if desired with raw sugar. This makes about 7 cups soup.

6. Serve warm, with a small dollop of mascarpone and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.

Each of 8 servings: 226 calories; 9 grams protein; 26 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 11 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 29 mg. cholesterol; 822 mg. sodium.

Three cheers for good vegetables and good recipes. And for parsnips.

Friday, December 16, 2011


If you watched the news last week you probably saw that poor old Pasadena, north and a bit east of Los Angeles, was hit by hurricane-strength winds that took down more that 100 huge trees, took roofs off houses, and made spaghetti out of electrical lines. Although a wind had been expected - our usual fall/winter "Santa Ana" winds - no weatherperson predicted the strength of the winds that we got. It took a week to get the streets drivable again and to get everyone back with power.

We had a surprise rainstorm on Tuesday of this week and it was so cold we actually had snow down to the 3,500 foot level on Wednesday of this week. Here's what our mountains looked like from Mimi's Cafe in Rancho Cucamonga. Usually we don't get this kind of snow until January.

Then Wednesday we had a tanker truck catch on fire and stop directly under a bridge on one of our freeways. The fire was so hot it cracked the cement on the overpass and the freeway is now in its third day of being completely shut down while the overpass is demolished.

The freeway, of course, is a major east-west road for people working in the LA area, and what has normally been a 45-minute commute has turned into a 2 hour drive.

The weathermen predicted another Santa Ana for today, so we prepared for the ordinary winds but after what happened earlier we all held our breath while we watched the wind get stronger and stronger.

Here's what our TV is showing:

And now our TV is reporting that a gunman has taken over a commercial building in the San Gabriel Valley and so far three people are reported dead.

Each of these events is bad enough on its own; when they hit one after another you just have to wonder when the next shoe is going to fall.

And we just have to keep pushing the "e" word out of our mind, because we are overdue. A little scary, I say.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


If everyone else gets to pick their 10 best something, then I'll do it too. Except since it is 2011, I'm picking 11.

However, my book list is a bit different, as I'm picking the 11 best books I read this year, not my favorites of those published this year. If you've followed my blog, you'll have read about many but not all of these. And just so you'll know, I've put an asterisk behind all the non-fiction books.

Anyway, for what it's worth, here are my 11.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – by Aimee Bender
The Forgotten Founding Father – Noah Webster* by Joshua Kendall
Chang and Eng by Darin Straus
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons
Twilight at the World of Tomorrow*by James Mauro
The Pig Did It by Joseph Caldwell
In the Garden of Beasts* by Erik Larsen
The Elephant's Journey by Jose Saramago
Just My Type: A Book about Fonts* by Simon Garfield
Lost in Shangri-La* by Mitchell Zuckoff
The Greater Journey – Americans in Paris* by David McCullough

Sunday, December 11, 2011


The picture above makes me laugh. Oh, not at the Laker players; what's to laugh at there? It's their pants that make me laugh!

These are the kind of pants - baggies, I call them - that I see on teenagers who appear to be taking a great chance on having their drawers part company with their bodies right out in public. My grandsons, who are all now fine men, were born too early to dress like this, but I have a very handsome great-grandson who at 16 walks around with the crotch of his pants knocking against his knees and the top of his pants barely hanging onto his behind. It is not at all attractive, although he thinks so.

The other day Jer had a college basketball game on TV and all the fellows were wearing uniforms similar to what appears above on the Lakers -- specifically the baggies. Now that's the sorriest look for a team uniform I've seen in a long time. I started to ask Jerry if those guys who wore those baggies didn't find it hard to run and jump in them...but before I got that stupid sentence out I realized that of course they didn't find it hard to wear. They had grown up with them feeling that way, and anyway they wouldn't have worn them if they weren't comfortable!

So I stopped my comment mid-word and told Jer to erase what I said, which is my way of acknowledging that I'm wrong. I then said to him, "Well, the guys at college when I went sure wore uniforms that looked a whole lot better than that."

Later I dug out my old 1953-54 George Pepperdine College yearbook to look at that year's basketball team. These guys were my friends. I had dated a couple of them but mostly was friends with the bunch, as Pepperdine was then a very small school near downtown LA and we all knew each other.

I thumbed through the pages as I walked back to show Jerry how spiffy all my friends looked in their basketball uniforms -- and before I could show Jerry I burst out laughing: those guys wore shorts so small that they barely exceeded speedos!

I was shocked and surprised. I had not seen that picture in a long time and I guess I'd gotten more used to baggies than I thought! Man, I'm gettin' old, starting to think the old way is best!

And I told Jerry to erase that too.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Rats are more like people than you thought! At least that is what the Chicago Tribune article on some helpful rats would lead a person to believe.

Seems an experiment was designed to see if rats could show empathy for each other. We tend to think that kindness and caring are human traits, and we have no problem thinking of kindness and caring when it comes to the actions of dogs, and for cat people we'll even allow that cats can show a bit of those human emotions. But rats?

Well, the experiment showed something of the sort. Sets of same-sex rats were socialized with each other in pairs until it appeared they were "friends." In a common cage, two smaller cages were placed. In one of the smaller cages, left open, the experimenters placed 5 chocolate chips. In the other cage, the rat's friend was placed, with the door shut. It wasn't possible to open the door from the inside, but that cage COULD be opened from the outside by friend rat if that rat cared enough for its friend to figure out how to do it. Complicating the problem was that chocolate is a rat's favorite food, and the question to be answered was: did the rat care more for its friend or for the chocolate chips.

This experiment was repeated over and over so that the answer was a statistical certainty. And here's what the results showed:

All rats appeared concerned enough about its friend to eventually get the door opened and let its compadre out. None of the rats ate all 5 of the chocolate chips first, but some did eat as many as three and a half of them, apparently saving the rest for their buddy.

This told the researchers that rats have at least evolved to the extent that what they did "looked" like compassion. However, there was another interesting result: the female rats appeared more "compassionate" than the males. Each worked harder and faster to get its friend out of the predicament, and they saved, on average, more of the chocolate chips than the male rats did!

So much for rats. I found this an interesting study, and I admit to finding the weirdest things interesting. But I do think there is a lesson for us female humans in this.

If we want the male in our family to do a chore for us, we need to make sure there are no chocolate chips in the house!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


How can I NOT choose this picture for my favorite? These are my kiddies in December of 1961. Little Kerry is 11 months old. Bryn is 2-1/2, Erin is 4-1/2 and Sean is 5-1/2.

We lived on Shirley Street in Westminster, California. It was our first house, bought right after Bryn was born, when we just outgrew our rented apartment. We were able to get a GI loan to purchase it; requirements for the loan were that the wager-earner's income had to be at least $345 a month. We barely qualified. The house had three bedrooms and was 1140 square feet in size. After living in an apartment that seemed HUGE! The floors were all asphalt tile, and in the five years we lived there we never were able to save enough money to put a rug down. We lived frugally, but at Christmas we always made sure that the kids were abundantly provided with toys galore.

My kids will be able to remind me of what they got that Christmas -- if I say Erin's big doll was a Chatty Cathy, she'll probably suggest it was the Patty Play Pal. And Bryn will know for sure if she was holding a cash register or a toy accordian. My memory for their toys fail me, but I know they all remember! Sean, of course, got his Marine Uniform; he knew from pictures that his dad had been a Marine in Korea and he wanted to look like his dad! And Kerry as yet really didn't care what it was that she unwrapped. She wasn't quite old enough to know what Christmas was all about. But you can tell by their faces that everyone was happy.

I look at that picture and remember all those good times. I loved these little tykes, and raising them was a joy. (Well, sometimes through the teenage years I wasn't sure if it was or not, but we came out at the other end ok!) Now they are all grown up, raising their own kids with some of those kids now producing grandchildren! And the joy goes on.

How lucky I am to have had such a wonderful houseful of kids!

Saturday, December 3, 2011


It certainly wasn’t my mother’s fault that I ended up playing the ukulele and the radio, rather than a real musical instrument (apologies to all ukulele players.) She tried her best, and I simply was a recalcitrant child.

Between the ages of 5 and 8, when I guess I was more pliable and more amenable to doing what my mother suggested, I was given violin lessons. Mother always told us kids (myself and my younger sister who also got the violin lessons a couple years after I did and who persevered a whole lot longer than I did) that violin music was the music of angels. So of course wanting to appear as close to angelic as possible, we both did what mother wanted us to do.

I do not recall practicing, so apparently it was not a big issue at our house. I have one old recording (now made into a mp3 file) of me playing Hungarian Airs – and for an 8 year old, at least I can say although I was not a prodigy at least I acquitted myself well. I hit my notes right-on! But alas, by age 8 my violin playing was over. Although I don’t remember why I quit, it probably was my idea, not my mother's.

I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that in seventh grade we were given the option of taking music lessons through school. I guess I was among the last to sign up, because by the time I got to the head of the line there were only bassoons left. I could barely lift a bassoon off the floor, and I could barely get a single puff of air through the reed. In just looking at me, a smallish definitely skinny wimp, whoever was in charge of assigning instruments should have known right away that we were not a good match. I have no recollection of ever learning to make more than a toot or two, but many years later a childhood friend told me that we used to practice together at my house, she on her saxophone and me on the bassoon. “You looked so earnest,” she shared, “and I remember the pitiful sounds that you produced.” So apparently I gave it a good try, but I would guess my bassoon playing lasted more on the order of weeks than months, before it too became history just as the violin had.

Next was a go on the piano. All I wanted was to be able to accompany people while they sang. I wanted immediate results without practice. My piano teacher, a Mrs. Stretz, was determined that along with my fingers tinkling through some simple etudes I was going to learn music theory. I know I got past “Swans on the Lake” in the first book – I definitely remember a rondo among the pieces I learned. But I wanted only chords to accompany a song. I envisioned myself sitting at the piano with a group of friends around me singing away. I didn’t want etudes, rondos, or especially triads and the like. Mrs. Stretz wouldn’t budge in her teaching methods and I convinced mother that I was grossly unhappy with my piano lessons, so they went by the wayside too.

My last foray into music lessons was in high school when I thought if only I could learn the guitar I could be happy and need nothing more out of life. Again, I thought in terms of accompanying people on the guitar; I now suspect it was recognition I was after, not music. My guitar teacher held up classical guitarist Andres Segovia as a model in the same way that my piano teacher held up pianist Jose Iturbi. This is what they both saw ahead for me, and I can’t fault them for that. However, I didn’t want it and in spite of my mother’s pleadings, I quit music lessons for good!

To this day, I still can only play the radio (although now it is more like CDs on my computer) and the ukulele, although I don’t have one anymore. But what was left after these four bouts of music lessons was a love of music, a good ear, and an ability to sight-read music. These found expression in my adult life by singing in choirs and leading children’s choirs. Some things just satisfy a person’s soul and these did it for me. I have a happy and a satisfied feeling when I think back on those times.

But oh, I can’t forget playing the uke. That was as near as I ever got to making music on instruments. Playing and teaching the uke was another one of the few things I ever did that was just pure and simple fun! So I suspect all those music lessons weren’t for naught. I have my mother to thank for them!

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Before I go one line further I will let Publishers Weekly tell you about the story.
Mitchell Zuckoff skillfully narrates the story of a plane crash and rescue mission in an uncharted region of New Guinea near the end of WWII. Of the 24 American soldiers who flew from their base on a sightseeing tour to a remote valley, only three survived the disaster, including one WAC. As the three waited for help, they faced death from untreated injuries and warlike local tribesmen who had never seen white people before and believed them to be dangerous spirits. Even after a company of paratroopers arrived, the survivors still faced a dangerous escape from the valley via "glider snatch."

Jerry was sitting beside me doing crossword puzzles while I read this book, and he doesn't have to bother to read it now because it was SO good I just had to keep reading parts of it to him, interrupting his train of thought. To say this is a fascinating story is a real understatement. I could not put the book down. And women will like it as much as men will.

It is not a book of war stories, but rather the setting is in wartime (WWII, that is) and the people in this story are in the military service -- well, except for the tribesmen in "Shangri-La" who are native warriors and thought to be cannibals and head-hunters! In spite of the terrible disaster that befell these Americans, the author has the reader laughing over and over, sometimes about native customs and costumes, sometimes about miscommunications and once about requesting an air-drop of Kotex sanitary napkins for use in padding the backpack straps on the final long trek out of the jungle to freedom.

The story also leaves the reader proud of the men and women in our military service, especially the Philippino-American Paratroopers, who offered themselves up for this rescue operation.

Zuckoff has a short video of footage from the rescue itself on his website at Watch it, but don't stop there. The book is well worth your time to read.

I had it on reserve at the library for a long time, due to its popularity. But it certainly was worth the wait. It also will make a good holiday gift for any reader in your family.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Back in the late 1990s I read one of Joan Beck's annual Thanksgiving columns and was stunned by its beauty and simplicity. I wanted every one of my friends to read it, so I wrote her at the Chicago Tribune asking her permission to put it in my Christmas letter to family and friends. The season wasn't the issue; its meaning for anytime of the year was what I was looking for. She wrote me back a lovely letter giving me that permission. She died a year later.

I think she would be pleased to extend that permission to me now, as I pass on this slightly dated but still as stunning as ever column that was a bountiful gift from her to all of us.

Thursday, November 27, 1997
For these things, we are thankful ...
By Joan Beck

As we gather together to count the Lord's blessings, 376 years after the first Thanksgiving Day, we are grateful, Dear God, for Mir if it's safe and the Mars Pathfinder when it worked and the bull market while it lasts, for browsers and brownies and brothers, for cells and cell phones and cedars, for planes and plumbing and e pluribus unum, for tea and T-shirts and a T-rex named Sue.

God of grace and God of glory, we thank you this November day for stock prices that go up and a budget deficit that went down, for the fragile peace in Bosnia and for Wei Jingsheng who is now free, for dividends and diversity and one nation indivisible, for e-mail and eagles and Edison and Easter, for salsa and cilantro and cinnamon.

For new drugs that fight cancer and new techniques for heart surgery and new progress on a vaccine for AIDS, we are grateful, O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, and for newspapers and newborns and new jobs and new years, for cats and catalogs and catfish and CT scans, for caterpillars and calculus and cathedrals and catsup.

O Lord, our God, when we in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made, we offer praise today for modems and mothers and grandmothers and Mother Teresa, for the infinitesimal mysteries of the genome and infinite stretch of the heavens, for bonding and books and brooks and bootstraps, for carryouts and carryons and carryovers.

For teachers and preachers and all creatures great and small, we thank you, Lord God who made them all, and for vacations and cash stations and gustations and dalmatians, for faxes and fairies and fathers and farms, for fireworks and fireflies and frequent-flyer miles, for health and hearths and hearing and healing.

O God who is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, we are grateful this day for the World Wide Web and weddings and weekends for galaxies and galas and gardens, for hymns and hugs and heffalumps, for cars and caramel and carnivals, for carols and carillons and cancan, for and and hhtp://

Septuplets when they are all healthy and normal we count as blessings this Thanksgiving Day, our Father who art in heaven. We thank you, too, for nests and nest eggs and neonatal intensive care, for mentors and Mendel and Mendelssohn and positive mental attitude, for Disney and Dilbert and dill, for caregivers and carpools and "I now pronounce you husband and wife."

Lord of all to thee we raise our grateful praise for 911 and 1-800, for 98.6 and 20/20, for 401Ks and 403Bs, for I Corinthians 13 and John 3:16, for Beethoven's 6th and Brahms' 4th, for 12-step programs and three-ring circuses and second-day mail, for Title IX and a half point over prime and 8 gigabytes of hard drive space.

Daughters and daisies and daydreams we count among thy blessings this day, O God, who moves in mysterious ways thy wonders to perform. So, too, sons and soul and soup and soap, comforters and comfort food and common stock, flextime and flu shots and flags and flamingos and "Yea, through I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."

Our Father who art in heaven, we thank you for general assemblies and general practitioners and generics and Genesis, for Gen X and geniuses and the Geneva convention, for solitude and solitaire and serendipity, for sequels and soccer and Sesame Street, for "It's benign" and "You're covered" and "I lift my lamp beside the golden door" and "When in the course of human events" and "They all lived happily ever after."

For sisters and salads and salmon and saints, for Seuss and Sousa and Santa and Strauss, we give thee thanks this special day, O God from whom all blessings flow. And for docks and doctors and doctoral dissertations, for Meals on Wheels and blood banks and food banks and shelters, for psalms and samaritans and salt and salvation and that "surely the presence of the Lord is in this place."

Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices for angels and auctions and anesthesia, for potatoes and poems and Poe and Paine, and for Lincoln and liberty and libraries, for licorice and luminaria and light at the end of the tunnel, for overtures and overalls and outlets and ova and "I have a dream" and "We shall overcome."

The mysteries of egg and electricity and eternity, of prenatal development and prairies and prayer fill our minds with wonder this Thanksgiving Day, immortal, invisible, God only wise. Our thanks abound, as well, for preludes and pralines and paramedics and pacifiers, for physicists and pharmacists and pianists and pragmatists, for gadgets and goslings and gorillas and godparents and "until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand."

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, we thank you once again for dawn after dark, for rest after work, for healing after hurt and for life after life, for a bridge over trouble and a shelter from the storm, for love that will not let us go and an eternal home and always, that "neither death nor life nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God."

Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Last year about this time I was not feeling well at all. It turned out to be nothing more than bad side effects of new blood pressure medicines I had been prescribed. A trip to the ER identified no reason for my problems. A second trip a few days later to Urgent Care merely caused a second medicine to be added that promptly made me sleep all day for three days in a row.

Finally I woke up and had the presence of mind to Google the medicines I’d been prescribed and discovered I had classic signs of known side effects of both of these medications. I took myself off them, then took myself back to the doctor and told him I’d cured myself but I still needed to try another blood pressure medicine. I do like my doctor, but I’m afraid he just doesn’t have time for me. He does well by Jerry, because Jerry has a case that needs monitoring (diabetes). But until I can show him some real breathing issues, his parting answer to me is “prn.” (As necessary). I guess I should be thankful, not irked.


I read in the business section of last Sunday’s LA Times that the CD is on its way to the same graveyard where old floppy disks are and that shortly we will be ordering all our music in the mp3 format via our electronic devices.

I’ll be seeing my son Sean this Thanksgiving weekend and I’m going to ask him to translate that for me. I mean, I know what it means but I don’t know how I will make it happen. I do not have any kind of equipment having an “ i” in front of it and in or on which I am to download it. The only mp3 files I have (that I know about) are ones my son made for me of some old music – me on the violin and some Raunch Hands Against the World songs. If I could remember how it was that I listened to them using my computer a year ago, I might be able to do it again. But for sure I don’t know things like how I’ll be able acquire a CD’s worth of, say, Brahm’s Requiem by way of mp3. So I’ll wait for my guru to tell me how to do it, like he does all the other technical things I don’t know. I KNOW I’m lucky to have him, and if he’s not available he has produced a son who is equally knowledgeable and who would help me if Sean wasn’t available, but I do hate to let Brendan know just how backward his old grandma is. Pitiful, I say.

And as a matter of fact, today I went to Barnes and Noble to purchase a CD for a little Christmas gift for a good friend and oops, they don’t carry CD’s anymore.


I have never been a person who particularly enjoyed athletic activities for the “athletic” or “exercise” part of them. There was a time in my life when I really enjoyed bowling, and that included a fair bunch of what I would call exercise. And then later I took up square dancing, and believe me, that was a whole lot more strenuous than bowling. I never jogged, or swam, or played tennis, or even golfed. It wasn’t my thing. (I always said my idea of the perfect exercise is making my eyes go back and forth across the pages of a good book, and that has never changed.)

But I was active to this extent: I could spend an eight-hour day at work, which often entailed a whole lot of running from one end of a warehouse to another, come home and put a dinner on the table, and then head out to a library where I would work on my genealogical research until the library closed at 9 or 9:30. I’d be up at 5 the next morning, getting ready to repeat the process. This was not work at all! This was fun, and I continued doing it right up until 2000, when I retired.

As I get close to entering my 12th year of retirement, I have to be very thankful that I seem to be aging gracefully, although when I look in the mirror “gracefully” is too kind a word to describe the wrinkles on my face. But I know I am slowing down. I recently made a 5-hour drive from home to Fresno, and the next day turned around and drove back home. Not everyone my age can do that, I know. But it’s really not all that much fun anymore, fun like when we were young and would drive up and back from Long Beach to San Francisco just for a “fun” weekend. That’s not fun anymore. And I have to confess, at this stage in my life I wouldn’t want to work all day, cook a meal and go research for three hours all in one day either. I suppose I could do it if I had to, but you know, I don’t even want to do that anymore.

And just in case you have missed it, this is making the rounds online right now:


If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food everyday and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without alcohol,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
...Then you are probably...
The Family Dog!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I am always happiest when I am learning about new things. Well, I am now tempted to backtrack and say I'm really happiest when I'm reading, but in today's particular case both statements are true and really about the same thing.

Back in mid-October I posted on the blog about my delight in reading Jose Saramago's book "The Elephant's Journey." Today I discovered a book discussion group on that has set aside November for discussing this book, and of course I immediately joined the group.

Here's a disclaimer: I am always just a reader and a watcher in any book discussion groups. I am a real "dodo" when it comes to understanding all the ins and outs of novels. I am always shocked and surprised that there is so much more to the book than what I read, and rather than humiliate myself by being outed as such a shallow reader, I simply read or listen to others as they discuss the book. I learn a whole lot that way.

Anyway, already the discussion in this online group has been SO eye-opening for me that I can hardly contain myself. So I want to share some of it with you, in case you decide to read this book too.

First as to "white elephant." The elephant in this book is not white. But have you ever wondered where the term "white elephant" came from?

Wikipedia said this about white elephants: A white elephant is an idiom for a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth. The term derives from the story that the kings of Siam (now Thailand) were accustomed to make a present of one of these animals to courtiers who had rendered themselves obnoxious, in order to ruin the recipient by the cost of its maintenance

One of the participants in this discussion had this to say:
"Elephants disappeared from Europe after the Roman Empire. As exotic and expensive animals, they were exchanged as presents between European rulers, who exhibited them as luxury pets, beginning with Harun ar-Rashid's gift of an elephant to Charlemagne."
She noted this came from The History of Elephants in Europe.

In The Elephant's Journey, King Joao is giving this elephant to his relative Archduke Maximilian of Austria - and I learned that this giving of an elephant, white or otherwise, was not unusual.

But I learned more than that. The King's wife is not happy about giving the elephant away, although the writer lets us know that she had not been very concerned previously about the elephant. In fact, she tries to convince the King that he might consider giving a monstrance as a gift.

I read this and never batted my eye at this word that I didn't know the meaning of. Did I stop and look it up? No, like a dodo I read right over and past it. What did I miss? This, according to one of the participants.

...monstrance comes from the latin - "monstrare" - meaning "to show." Monstrances were often used to carry the host in processions.

While we were in Toledo, Spain, we saw a real monster of a monstrance! Toledo was the capital city of Spain until the 16th century, when the capitol was moved to Madrid, but Toledo remains the seat of the Catholic church in Spain - what is called the archdiocese.

Here we saw so much of the "treasure" from the 13th to the 16th century, by the time we saw the monstrance we had reached that state where we were no longer overwhelmed or over-impressed with what we were looking at. Like looking at the treasures of the Louvre for too many hours.

But the Great Monstrance of Arfe! This thing is 9 feet tall! Enrique Arfe sculpted it in the early 16th c. - originally in silver and then plated in gold! I have to believe that Saramago was aware of this Spanish would have been a splendid gift to any monarch, don't you think?

The author probably was not imagining this very gift, but it was obvious that he intended his queenly character to be thinking of something more than a little bit ordinary.

So today, in addition to being reminded once again of my terrible inadequacity in understanding what I read, I've already learned enough to have my tongue hanging out and panting for more, more, more.

Unfortunately I do not still have the book in my hands, so I can't follow along in the reading. But that's not going to stop me from learning.

And the funniest thing is that since reading all this today, I've wandered about my house looking for white elephants. Mine, probably like yours, are the kinds of things shown in the picture at the top of the blog. No hay, no special food and no cleanup necessary.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Don, the husband of my late sister, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday. Anyone who knew him will understand when I say it is a huge and a very sad loss. There is nothing good to say about this except it was quick and he was kept from much of the physical suffering.

He had not so long ago met and married a warm and kind woman who matched him in grace and they shared a time together, but with his terrible illness, growing old together was not to be. The family's only consolation is their faith in a better world.

He loved children, he loved animals and he had a unmeasurable amount of kindness and goodness in his heart. Don made being around him fun. In the 53 years I knew him I saw a man who truly loved his family, including all the animals that also inhabited his life - dogs, cats, birds, iguanas, snakes and frogs. (Surely I have missed some that his kids - or just as likely, my sister - brought home through the years). And then there were his grandkids... shown below before darling Makayla made her appearance; he was truly a proud and adoring grandpa.

Jerry and I, along with Sean, Erin, Bryn and Kerry - his nieces and nephew - will miss him a lot. Rest in peace, Don.

Friday, November 11, 2011


I'd like to say that getting excited over a bird is a good thing, but actually I think it more accurately indicates that Jerry and I are old codgers who birdwatch and that it doesn't take much to excite us any more. Nevertheless, today I report on a new "happening." Jer actually missed out on it because he has an uncanny ability to fall asleep while his head is moving toward his pillow, and he didn't take the second look out the window that I did, right after lights out.

Every year about this time a lone black-crowned night heron shows up on our front lawn. We do not live anywhere near water. There is a river bed about 6 miles to the south of us but certainly nothing like a lake or a pond or a stream that one would ordinarily think of as a place where water birds might hang out. We have tried to figure out just what it is that draws "our" night heron back to the lawn year after year and we really don't know. Worms? Slugs? Dog poop? (the later being in abundance from all the jerks who walk their dogs across the lawn and don't clean up after them.

This heron shows up any time between 8 and 9 p.m. There are still people out walking their dogs at that time and the heron will fly off as they come near, but he (or she) returns once the danger is past and continues feeding. Before we turn the lights out at bedtime we always check at the window to make sure he is there. He almost always is.

I've tried to take his picture before with my little digital camera but lacking a long lens and infra-red shooting capabilities, all I've ever managed to capture is two glinty eyes in the distance. That makes for a funny picture but it sure doesn't show him off.

Although the night heron is what I think of as a "harumph" bird, sitting all hunched over with no visible neck and looking really bored with it all, this bird actually has quite a decent neck which sometimes we can see if a car's headlights happen to catch him in the process of snagging a morsel a few feet from where he is standing. He also has a huge wing span for his size and certainly looks much bigger in the air than he does on the ground. The bird book says (yes, we have one of those too) he roosts in trees during the day.

But here is why last night was so exciting: there were TWO of them on the lawn! And they either were having an argument or were twitterpating (or trying to twitterpate.) In the five winters we've lived here, there has never been more than one on our lawn. Whether it is the same bird night after night I can't say, because one dark blob on the lawn looks like another. But for sure now we know that there are at least two that hang around.

After seeing the TWO last night it was hard for me to drop off to sleep. It was exciting, but I had no one to share it with. Jer's snoring indicated that he was beyond getting excited over anything. So you lucky readers are the ones who get to hear my exciting news.

WE HAVE TWO HERONS! (and maybe will have more if they were, in fact, twitterpating!)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


As most of you know, I am a very inquisitive sort of person…not “nosy” inquisitive, but just interested in knowing lots of little obscure things. That probably accounts for my abiding interest in genealogy, where there are just -- oh, so many things to be discovered.

I do not need to know a fact about every leaf on my family tree, but I admit I try. The strange thing is that I even enjoy knowing things about other people’s leaves, and when I find out something interesting, I want to make sure that distant family members have a shot at knowing it too.

Here’s an example:

When I was in Istanbul I learned about an old Protestant cemetery where burials had started in the late 1850s. Seven protestant powers, as determined by Sultan Abdul Medjid (Prussia, Great Britain, the US, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Hanseatic Cities), each had their own section in that cemetery. As a good genealogist, I did a tombstone transcription of all the existing tombstones in the American section, with the goal of eventually putting them into some kind of a record and dispersing that record to major genealogical repositories. It was hard work, but was a chore of love.

One day I was walking through the Grand Bazaar and in glancing into one of the shops I saw a tombstone embedded into a side wall. I can’t remember for sure but it probably was a carpet shop. I braved the salesman’s pitch and stood at the tombstone, simply copying the information for my records. It said:

George Cushing Knapp
Born Lyndon, VT USA Oct 30, 1823
Died Bitlis,Turkey, March 12, 1875
For 40 years a missionary in Turkey

My first thought was that I needed to get this information into my book, but because I was so interested in everything, to keep from producing a huge tome I’d had to set pretty rigid parameters for inclusion in this book. My criteria was to be limited to 1) Americans 2) buried 3) Protestant Cemetery. The man whose tombstone I saw did not fit that criteria. Oh dear, what to do?

Five years after I returned from Turkey, I readied the book for publication and mulled over poor George Knapp. Was he to be in? or out? I finally decided that if I had to err, I would prefer to err on the side of inclusiveness. And besides, it was MY book and I was paying to have it printed and I could break any rule I chose. So in 1998 the book was printed and George Knapp was there for posterity.

Within a year I found a place on the web to post the basic “vital stat” information from these burials, leaving my e-mail address so I could personally deliver information I had beyond what I had posted.

In March of 2001 I received an e-mail from a woman in New York. It said:
I recently happened across the website you posted with information about cemeteries in Istanbul and saw that my great-great grandfather, George Knapp, was one of the people in it. I was fascinated to find him on your site. I had known he was a missionary in Turkey, but very little else and had no idea that he lived out his life there.

I would be grateful for any additional information you might have regarding him or the cemetery where he is buried....
I had the fun of telling her that he was not buried in “my” cemetery; he had been buried in Bitlis, which is so far east in Turkey that it is actually closer to Iran than it is to Istanbul. And that his tombstone managed to escape resting in that cemetery to mark his grave but instead made it to a final resting place embedded in a shop wall in the Istanbul Grand Bazaar. I told her that this embedding often happened to smallish pieces of stones in Turkey. As we traveled around the country we would see very old pieces of stones used as part of a much newer building, such as this one below.

Now, these kinds of wonderful discoveries are what keep me posting information on the internet – on this blog and elsewhere. I try to match something I know for sure with a similarly shaped blank in someone else’s knowledge. I’ve got so many stories begging to be told, and oh, how I love telling them. I’m sharing the story of the Protestant cemetery with a local genealogy society this weekend; it's my favorite subject to talk about.

But am I nosy? Nope. I just think this is darn interesting, don’t you?

Monday, November 7, 2011


This is a book about fonts, not about personalities. I hope there MAY be one of my readers who thinks this is an interesting subject just like I do, but probably not. Nevertheless, fonts are what I am serving up today.

It seems like I have always been aware of fonts – or type styles – but I suspect it was really because in school I started typing early and focused my extracurricular efforts in working on school newspapers, where it was important to match size and style of letters to the needs of attractive and readable newspapers.

I think the average computer user, if they use a word-processing application at all, understands what fonts are. But there are lots of stories to tell about them – and Simon Garfield in this most interesting book has a knack in telling them, stories about

• Losing your job because of using the wrong font
• When to use a font with a sexual stereotype
• Dotting your “i” with a square
• The Third Reich outlawing Gothic script
• What your choice of font can say about you

And it goes on.

Some of his stories are instructional. I’ll quote one of them here:
“Upper and lower case?” The term comes from the position of the loose metal or wooden letters laid in front of the traditional compositor’s hands before they were used to form a word – the commonly used ones on an accessible lower level, the capitals above them, waiting their turn. (Did you have any idea that is why we call letters either upper case or lower case?) Even with this distinction, the compositor would still have to ‘mind their ps and qs’, so alike were they when each letter was dismantled from a block of type and then tossed back into the compartments of a tray. (And who even suspected this?)

Some of his stories are just plain funny:

He tells of Lexmark, the printing manufacturer, having some fun with a promotional exercise designed to get the company name in the paper. It was more or less an analysis of emotional connotations of those who used fonts in writing gleaned by the recipients of those writings. As an example, those who used the Courier font might be thought to be nerdy, and be a librarian or work in data entry. Those using the soft and curvy Shelley font might see themselves as a sex kitten and project that image via type style. Those using San Serif fonts seemed to like safety and anonymity, while the Comic Sans users tend to be self-confessed attention seekers.

Garfield reports that this was not scientific research but simply a PR tool to get some newpaper space! That made me feel good, because I LOVE the Comic Sans font!

This book is interesting, readable, instructive, funny, surprising, and worth reading at least twice, which I will do. The chapters are short and sweet. The book is one that can be picked up and put down, which is good for busy people.

All in all, this book is just my type! Let me know if it’s yours, too.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


When I turned 15-1/2 in 1951 I was eligible for a work permit and I knew just where I wanted to work: Horgan’s Pharmacy on Cherry Avenue in Long Beach. Horgan’s was a corner drug store, small by today’s standards but fairly large by 1950 standards. There were three separate parts of the store: across the back was the pharmacy itself, along the north wall was the soda fountain and the rest of the store was where the sundries were. I wanted to work the soda fountain for a start.

Pat Horgan, the owner, hired me. We had lived in the area for 6 years and my folks were his regular customers, so the minute I approached him about a job he put me on the payroll. My hourly pay was fifty cents, which at that time was minimum wage.

I had to be trained to make malts, milkshakes, cokes, phosphates, root beer floats and ice cream sundaes, in addition to making coffee, heating up cans of soup, slicing up pies and cakes, and serving donuts and Danish, most of which needed to be heated before being served. The fountain seated about 10 people, and it became my domain once I was finished with my training. My other duty was to be waiting at the door when the boss opened up on Sunday morning so I could lug inside the morning newspapers that had been dropped off by the distributor at the locked door by the soda fountain. Those papers sold like hotcakes as the “regulars” came for their Sunday morning coffee and donuts.

I was a quick learner and loved what I was doing!

My dad had his own small business – a sales and repair shop of both big and little appliances like stoves, refrigerators, washers, dryers, TVs – and radios, waffle irons and coffee pots. He built it into a good business and because he was good to his employees, there was very little employee turnover. I’d grown up hearing what he expected from his employees: a full day’s work, in place and ready to go when the doors opened, clean and neat, and a smile on their face. Those were the values I took with me when I started behind the soda fountain that first day.

Before long, Mr. Horgan asked me if I would like to work in the sundries. I didn’t think it would be nearly as much fun as working the soda fountain, but I wanted to have as many sellable skills as I could acquire and I accepted his offer. My pay didn’t increase but my knowledge of what retail selling involved did. My first chores were learning to restock the shelves, and if I was able to finish the restocking, then I spent the rest of the time making sure the merchandise on each aisle was neat and in the right place. I never just stood and talked to other employees; we were expected to stay busy, and to ask what we could do if we couldn’t figure out for ourselves.

About the same time, Mr. Horgan hired a young kid to work in the stockroom, a fellow a year behind me in school but whom I knew quite well. I was glad to have Miles working there with me; up until that time I was the only teenaged employee. I might not have remembered this job as clearly as I do because of one of the very embarrassing things the job required. In those days, boxes of women’s sanitary napkins were not just set out on shelves like they are now. There were two brands: Kotex and Modess, and there were also different sizes – small, medium and large. Every week Miles and I had to schedule a time in the back room where we wrapped the boxes of sanitary napkins in plain paper – dark green for Kotex and dark blue for Modess. And on the end we had to use a black marker to place letters to indicate the brand and the size: K-S, K-M and K-L; and M-S, M-M and M-L. Only then would we take them out onto the shelves where they could be purchased.

The subject of sex and bodily functions were not commonly discussed among youngish teenagers of the opposite sex during those days. Of course both Miles and I knew exactly what these were used for, but in the year I worked at Horgan’s and wrapped these boxes each week, Miles and I never said anything more about them than, “It’s time to wrap the boxes.” Oh gosh, we were such a naïve bunch of kids – or maybe we were just polite, and probably a bit prudish. The only other embarrassing thing I ever had to handle was to be shown where the men’s Trojans were kept (in a drawer behind the counter). No one ever asked me for one; I’m sure any man who came in went to one of the “old” ladies who normally worked the sundry side for his purchase. He had to ask someone, because they weren’t in public view.

I worked at the drug store – sometimes filling in on the soda fountain but mostly on the sundries side for the two summers on either side of my junior year of High School – and then on weekends and holidays during that school year. I really didn’t want to work during my senior year; I had been elected Editor of the weekly newspaper that year, and with that and the extracurricular activities that seniors were involved with, I knew it would certainly be easier for me if I didn’t have to make a choice between obligations I felt to Mr. Horgan at work and what I wanted to experience at school.

I went to my dad to ask him how I should let Mr. Horgan know that I would be quitting the job. I wanted a good reference from him for future work, so I knew my dad would know the right way to handle it. I’d guess, since my mom and dad were good friends with Pat and his wife, that dad clued him that I’d be leaving. However, I followed the guidelines my dad gave me and I referred a younger friend to replace me who I knew would be a good match with the store. Pat and I separated on good terms, and he did, in fact, provide a good reference for me later on.

Although Horgan’s Pharmacy was a larger store than usual for a corner drug store in a residential area, we just don’t have drug stores like that anymore, at least in the big cities, stores where the owners are there and willing to train young kids.. I was lucky to have a father who set a model for me to follow as I put my teenage toe in the water of retail sales. I was lucky to have a boss who set standards for his employees and expected them to perform up to them. And between you and me, I was lucky to live in a time when life was a bit slower, a bit more simple, and when society was a bit more polite.

When did that all end?

Monday, October 31, 2011


A long time ago – close to 60 years, I’d guess – someone at the ConocoPhillips oil refinery in Wilmington, California, (a small neighbor of my home town of Long Beach) looked at its squat 3-million gallon storage tank and saw the possibility of turning it into the world’s biggest Jack-O-Lantern. The idea was embraced by management and after being touched by more than 100 gallons of paint the change was completed. From a nondescript tank to a giant pumpkin --- voila!

There is no online record of who deserves the honor of having had this wonderful vision- but from that time on, every Halloween the storage tank has been turned into this wonderful display. Especially nice is the happy face, which means that every little kid in the area can be driven by this refinery and not scared half out of their wits by a fierce face! My own kids, all born in Long Beach, couldn’t wait for each Halloween to come, not only because of Trick-or-Treating (which was totally safe in those days) but also because they knew there was a giant pumpkin just waiting to smile on them when their dad and I made our annual trek over to Wilmington.

The Jack-O-Lantern is still there, smiling, all these many years later. I don’t know if ConocoPhillips still owns the refinery, but it sure pleases me that this tradition is still being carried on and that new generations of kiddies can have the kind of pleasure that my own did.

Have fun, my friends, and make it a safe day.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Those of you who grew up in the LA area should recognize the statues above as old residents of the La Brea tar pits – old in that the statues have resided at the La Brea tar pits for many years, and old as they represent REALLY old animals that roamed around the area eons ago. The lion statues were sculpted by Herman Beck in 1935 and have been at the tar pits since then.

However, they didn’t always sit in such a lovely setting.
I think I was probably 10 when I saw them for the first time. My folks took my sister Ginnie Lou and I up to Los Angeles for the day and the La Brea tar pits were on our agenda. This would have been about 1945.

There was no fancy museum there then. It was like a big park, with fences around the actual tar pits themselves and statues placed strategically around them, representing various types of prehistoric animals, not all of which were found in the tar pits. I took lots of pictures, but only one ended up in my scrapbook – one of my mother and sister at one of the statues

Then in 1948 when I was in 7th grade our Girl Scout leader took us on the first of many trips we made into Los Angeles from our home town of Long Beach. We girls were fascinated by the tar pits; it was a teeny bit scary to us, wondering if we were going to be consumed by tar like the prehistoric animals were, even though they were fenced off. The tar was still bubbling and warm, and it smelled just like the tar we had seen in Long Beach wherever a new roof was being put on a house. And again, I was the one who was running around taking pictures of all my friends as we clambered up and down on the statues.

This first picture below is my friend Dokey nestled in the arms of a huge bear. And the picture below that is taken with the whole troop, excluding me of course, and our scout leader, Frances Allen, on those very same Herman Beck lions that today still are an integral part of the tar pits…the same lions that are shown at the beginning of this blog.

I’d guess the last time our scout troop went to the tar pits was around 1950. Junior and Senior High School, college or work, marriages, babies and adult life probably kept most of us from even giving a passing thought to those tar pits. In my adult years I went to Los Angeles a lot, but never returned to them. Actually, I was even unaware that a museum had been built on the premises until about 1995 when I had occasion to be in the area and decided to take a quick peek at my old stomping ground.

Imagine my surprise to find the tar pits of my memory gone! In its place (after some 50 years) was a spiffy new museum, a tiny display of actual tar pits, and most of the statues that I remembered not even visible from where I stood. I did not make a tour of the area, so I am sure there was more than I saw at that quick peek, but as with many other remembered things, how things change!

The LA Times this morning had a nice article and photo about the La Brea tar pits. I found it interesting but there was no emotional attachment to it….until I saw the picture of the lions, which drove me back to my old scrapbook and from that came a desire to show you the “then” and “now.” And like all old people would say, “Well, it was better then!”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Although I don’t specifically remember, I am sure it was my mother who taught me to tie my shoelaces. And furthermore, I can’t say for sure that the way I ended up doing it is exactly the way she taught me, but so be it. However, I recently learned I was doing it wrong!

You ladies know that in our childhood once we got to the point where we stopped wearing sturdy shoes, except maybe for tennies and later for Nikes, we didn’t wear shoes that tied. At least that was my experience, so all these many years I have been tying them wrong. It just never occurred to me that there could be a right and a wrong way to tie shoes. The fact that the bow on my shoelaces never laid neatly across my instep was not even in my awareness, until recently.

I saw a video online where a man was demonstrating the right way to tie shoe laces. First he showed the wrong way: the loop was made with the right lace, the left lace was brought over on top and around the loop, tucked under and pulled through to the left and tightened. That was the way my mother taught me (I supposed) and the way I had always done it. This man in no uncertain terms said that was wrong, that the left lace was to be brought UNDER the loop, tucked under and pulled through and tightened. He tied them both ways on the video and in that moment I saw what I had been doing wrong. I tried it on my own shoes – and sure enuf! The man's was right. His way produced bows that went across the instep; my way produced "up and down" bows. WRONG!!!!

Since then, I’ve been tying my shoes correctly except when I forget – which is what happened this morning and which is why I took a picture of my own shoes to show the difference. I put my right shoe on first and forgot to tie it the right way. The second shoe was tied the correct way – and there you are. The difference is clear and is proof positive.

I tell you this so you will at least know as much as I know. I HATE being wrong.

Having said that, I must add that just this week I told Jerry that these shoes, which are relatively new, are not at all comfortable. When I bought them the price was SO right that I couldn’t pass them up. But that was the last time I was pleased with them. They really never felt good on my feet. He thought I meant they were too small, but although they carried a "9" on them, my normal size, it felt like I was wearing two sizes too big. My mother would have called them “gunboats” – her word for oversized shoes. Looking at this picture, I can see for sure they don’t fit right. Not only have I been tying my shoes wrong but I’m also wearing the wrong size.

So that calls for immediate action. As I said, I HATE to be wrong. I must rectify that wrong and go shoe-shopping ASAP.

Now as for the dramatically colored shoe laces, I say, why not? They bring a smile to my face!


Although I don’t specifically remember, I am sure it was my mother who taught me to tie my shoelaces. And furthermore, I can’t say for sure that the way I ended up doing it is exactly the way she taught me, but so be it. However, I recently learned I was doing it wrong!

You ladies know that in our childhood once we got to the point where we stopped wearing sturdy shoes, except maybe for tennies and later for Nikes, we didn’t wear shoes that tied. At least that was my experience, so all these many years I have been tying them wrong. It just never occurred to me that there could be a right and a wrong way to tie shoes. The fact that the bow on my shoelaces never laid neatly across my instep was not even in my awareness, until recently.

I saw a video online where a man was demonstrating the right way to tie shoe laces. First he showed the wrong way: the loop was made with the right lace, the left lace was brought over on top and around the loop, tucked under and pulled through to the left and tightened. That was the way my mother taught me (I supposed) and the way I had always done it. This man in no uncertain terms said that was wrong, that the left lace was to be brought UNDER the loop, tucked under and pulled through and tightened. He tied them both ways on the video and in that moment I saw what I had been doing wrong. I tried it on my own shoes – and sure enuf! The man's was right. His way produced bows that went across the instep; my way produced "up and down" bows. WRONG!!!!

Since then, I’ve been tying my shoes correctly except when I forget – which is what happened this morning and which is why I took a picture of my own shoes to show the difference. I put my right shoe on first and forgot to tie it the right way. The second shoe was tied the correct way – and there you are. The difference is clear and is proof positive.

I tell you this so you will at least know as much as I know. I HATE being wrong.

Having said that, I must add that just this week I told Jerry that these shoes, which are relatively new, are not at all comfortable. When I bought them the price was SO right that I couldn’t pass them up. But that was the last time I was pleased with them. They really ever felt good on my feet. He thought I meant they were too small, but although they carried a "9" on them, my normal size, it felt like I was wearing two sizes too big. My mother would have called them “gunboats” – her word for oversized shoes. Looking at this picture, I can see for sure they don’t fit right. Not only have I been tying my shoes wrong but I’m also wearing the wrong size.

So that calls for immediate action. As I said, I HATE to be wrong. I must rectify that wrong and go shoe-shopping ASAP.

Now as for the dramatically colored shoe laces, I say, why not? They bring a smile to my face!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Those of you who are regular readers will remember that back in July the city of LA decided the art work on this fence was a mural and had to disappear post haste. The lady who commissioned this piece of art for her own fence from some local young high school artists was fined for utting up a mural and had the possibility of a more hefty fine being levied if it wasn't removed immediately. In Los Angeles, an ordinance says that murals on the vast majority of private properties is illegal. And in this case, there were people who saw this art not as a mural but as "graffiti" - and furthermore, it was on an outside wall where the public would have to see it day and night. It had to come down, LA said.

Many people weighed in on both sides of the issue, aside from the legal ramifications -- you know, it was kind of an "art is in the eye of the beholder" issue. And there are almost as many issues as there are artists -- and who decides when graffiti leaves the category of "tagging" and moves over into "art?" Can street art or street murals avoid the association with "graffiti? Is just any flat place suitable for someone's mural? Who decides? What if the property owner approves of a mural being painted on his building? And just what is the difference between the art on billboards and the art on building walls? There are lots of issues to be thought about.

Los Angeles has take its mural ban under review. But what if a building owner ok's a mural on his wall? Los Angeles has always had murals, some really beautiful, some darn interesting, and most illicit. Can we now allow them, even if people don't see eye to eye on their beauty (or lack thereof?)

I think we are blessed with art like Shepard Fairey's, and I wish I didn't have to drive all the way in to LA to see it. Just feast your eyes on his "Peace Goddess" artwork:

But there also is some that I just think is awful and amateurish.

So the City of LA is now going to re-think this art form. In this morning's LA Times City Councilman Bill Rosendahl is quoted as saying:
"We want to define murals as something other than signs and create a process for permitting murals. There is a difference between a sign and a mural. One is marketing and one is art."

It is unspecified if they are going to tackle finding the dividing line between graffiti and murals. One has to wonder where this is all going to end.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


A duck walked up to the bar and said, "I'll have a beer!" The bartender replied "Do you want it on your bill?"


A termite walked up to the bar and said, "Where's the bartender?"


Would'ja believe that the good fairy kept a tooth belonging to John Lennon and is auctioning it off in England this coming November? It's expected to bring about $16,000. This is according to online Rolling Stone.


The new date for movement is this: from Quarry to staging area at Granite Hill and Pyrite - Monday, Oct 24; on the road - Tuesday, Oct. 25.

Do you believe it? I'm not holding my breath.