Sunday, February 27, 2011
There are many people in the world who don't worry about whether or not one of these days they are going to be annihilated by an asteroid. Or scooped up into the mother ship and have their body deconstructed by aliens who want to know how we work. Luckily I fall into that group -- of non-worriers -- but for some reason I like to read about all the dire predictions of scientists and others who do, in fact, think that any day now....
What brought this to mind is that the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine has a fascinating, very detailed but not 100% scientific-oriented article by Tad Friend entitled "Vermin of the Sky" and subtitled "Who will keep the planet safe from asteroids?" I say "not 100% scientific" meaning that it is not too complicated for a non-scientifically oriented female to understand. Me.
To start off with, Friend reports that NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden noted "that deflecting a NEO (near-earth object) will be 'what keeps the dinosaurs from becoming extinct a second time.' Then he admitted that the agency couldn't afford to do that." "That" being develop a way to deflect the asteroid. In fact, everybody's talking about a collision but nobody really wants to figure out how to prevent it.
The article goes on to say that Rusty Schweickart, a former astronaut, believes that one of these days a big rock is going to hit the earth at 25,000 mph. Rusty keeps pushing our government to get busy figuring out how to deflect it. He'd like to see a method ready to be tested by 2015.
If you don't mind reading about things that maybe are going to keep you awake at night thinking about them, I suggest you put a copy of this magazine in your hands and see what the latest thinking is. It makes fascinating reading. And just as a way of explanation, in case you were wondering where the dinosaurs are who will be wiped out "the second time," Charlie Boulden is talking about US.
As if that isn't interesting enough, USA Today reports that The Nation of Islam has a core belief that is not widely known: "The idea of seeking the divine in the skies is deeply rooted in the Chicago-based Nation of Islam, whose late leader Elijah Muhammad detailed in speeches and writings a massive hovering object loaded with weapons he called "The Mother Plane" -- although religion experts, Nation of Islam leaders and believers offer very different interpretations of what exactly happens aboard the plane, its role or how it fits into religious teachings."
This weekend's annual Saviours' Day convention in Chicago, held by the Nation of Islam, will include "a panel of scientists discussing worldwide UFO sightings, which they claim are on the rise." Just to go on the record, I tend to think there are such things as UFOs but have no firm conviction as to what is going on. I have always felt that there is some truth to the story about little aliens' bodies being stored at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base after a UFO crash in Roswell in 1947. But also, I think that a whole bunch of beliefs besides the Nation of Islam have stuff in them that I would have trouble believing, so I'm not trying to pick on anyone.
I plan not to lose any sleep over the NEOs or the UFOs -- so will most likely, like the ostrich, just keep sticking my head in the sand and not try to figure out what may or may not happen. What I AM saying, however, is that I find all this mighty interesting to read about.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
My kids are talking to each other, fast and furiously by e-mail, and that makes me laugh.
These “kids” range in age from 50 to 54, and it isn’t that they all have been mad at each other and NOT talking, but they live scattered from Alaska to Rialto, all are busily employed and busy with their families. They communicate occasionally with each other, but recently one of my daughters drove by the house where they lived during their school years and snapped a photo of the house, now up for sale. She sent the picture by e-mail to her sibs, along with a short commentary, and that started off a flurry of reminiscences. They have copied me on all, or at least some, of the e-mails.
If I am to believe what they are writing, the oldest two spent a lot of time during the 7 years we lived there climbing out a window, walking across the roof and climbing down a tree on the left hand side of the house to avoid their dad and me from seeing that they were not tucked away in their beds. Their bedrooms were upstairs and the master bedroom was downstairs, so that was possible. However, the subject tree was right outside our bedroom window.
We moved to that house when my son, the oldest, was 8 and moved away when he was 15. So you can guess about when all this nighttime activity occurred. Those dormer windows in front opened into my son’s bedroom, so the neighbors truly might have seen him scurrying around on the roof, along with the tree rats and other critters that always seemed to be running around in the attic. On the back side of the house was a similar set of windows, which opened from the landing, and apparently those are the ones my oldest daughter used. To think that I had children running around on the roof and shinnying down trees all night long and not one neighbor ever alerted me. We all tried to be on the lookout for each others kids, making sure they were safe outside, but I suppose no one ever thought to watch my roof.
Do I believe their stories? Do I believe that I snuck out of the house when I was a teenager and my parents didn’t know it?
I did. They didn’t. And I never got caught. I never left the property, either. My bedroom had an outside doorway and it was a simple matter to open the door, step out onto the little side porch and sit on the steps with my boyfriend. It seemed to me it was worth the risk of being “caught” to have another half-hour or so with him before he headed home to beat his curfew, which was a tinch later than my own. My folks trusted me to behave, and I did. It wasn’t until a couple years later when I was in college that my one infamous escapade happened -- of not coming home after work and instead defying my parents by going to a beach party with friends. I came home at midnight to find two policemen sitting in the living room with my worried parents. I don’t remember what the upshot of that event was. I was mad at my parents to begin with because they objected to a fellow I wanted to date, and I just wanted to “show them” that I’d pick my own friends. I probably got put on restriction, but that was a long time ago and I’ve just forgotten the details.
Just as I may have forgotten the details of what I knew about my own kids’ escapades. I do remember that when my youngest started into junior high school I got a call from the mother of one of her friends, stating that she had caught them smoking and what was I going to do for punishment. I told her that I’d gone through things like this with my three other children and that I would talk to my daughter, but that all kids tried smoking at this age, even me, and I didn’t think it was anything to worry about. So I at least was not totally in the dark about my little darlings.
There have been times when my kids have remembered something that happened and been way off base, either on what happened or on their interpretation of it. But I tend to think they probably are sharing close to the truth with each other and seeing it as a funny experience. All but my youngest have children who have passed through this stage and survived; her children are not yet teenagers so she’s got that wonderful time to look forward to.
As I watched those e-mails fly back and forth, overall I sensed that the kids thought they had a good childhood and were left with lots of good memories. From my perspective, I couldn’t have asked for more loving, caring kids – who all have become loving, caring parents. And that’s my reward!
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
A very interesting e-conversation between my husband and my son transpired this weekend, all brought about because my husband had some concerns about Watson, the computer who beat out the contestants on Jeopardy a few days ago.
With Sean and Jerry's permission I'm transmitting those e-mails to you folks, who may have wondered the same things. My son Sean is, among other things, by profession a computer programmer, but you need to remember that here he is explaining things to an 81 year old man and his father-in-law to boot! Here goes
On 2/18/2011 12:54, Jerry wrote to Sean:
All right, so how does Watson work? Is it programmed with all of the day's categories, questions, and answers before hand?
Does it "react" by voice recognition? If so does Trebek have to give it a voice signal of some kind? Otherwise, how does it know the question is over and it's time to buzz. It's probably a given that it can usually buzz faster than any human, so the key is how does it know when to do it?
Incidentally, if you're not aware of it, Watson is the last name of the founder of IBM.
On 2/21, after returning from out of town, Sean explains:
Watson is nothing more or less than a very high powered computer. There are some 2800 processors adn 16 Terra Bytes of memory - your computer probably has 2 Giga BytesSince Jerry forwarded these posts to me, I got into the act:
giga = 10 to the 9th power
terra = 10 to the 12th power
So the first thing to know is that it was an extremely powerful computer with one hell-of-a-lot of memory.
The second thing to know is that aside from some *very* clever programming, it basically used very basic computer science techniques from a class of problems called "searching" (there are textbooks written on searches alone, and of course, google is nothing more or less than a search company). Not to take away from the clever programming involved, Watson's programming was intended to allow it to focus on "key words" in a question and to try to relate those key words to other pieces of data in it's huge databanks. It built a number of "probable answers" and ranked them based on a "confidence" value, and if that value was of a certain strength, Watson would ring in.
Third, Watson was given neither the questions nor the answers ahead of time - it had a huge memory-bank of thousands and thousands of facts, trivia, and such. Nor did it "listen" to Alex - it couldn't hear. The questions were typed at a keyboard as Alex was reading them. So it was essentially competing on an even footing with its human competitors.
Fourth, while we never see it, there is a light somewhere on stage that turns on when the players are allowed to "ring in". Until that time, it makes no difference how many times you push your button, it's ignored. Ken Jennings, one of the two competitors was widely regarded as tremendously fast on the button, which explains why he won so many games (well, and he knew the answers too.) The fact that Watson dominated the games the way that he did raises the one flaw in the process that I believe doomed the human players - there is that fraction of a second between "knowing" that it's OK to buzz and when the thumb actually is depressed. While Jennings may be fast, he is not speed-of-light fast, which is how fast the signal that Watson receives travels - that gave it a HUGE advantage.
At the end of the day, the Jeopardy match was a publicity stunt, just like the chess game with Gary Kasparov and Deep Blue many years ago.
The real value of Watson will make itself known in other venues such as medicine. One of the blogs I follow was talking about that the other day. There is SO much that a physician must know these days, that to have access to something with the vast resources of a tool like Watson that can take input from a patient and correlate that to the HUGE number of possible causes will give your average GP a far better chance of coming up with a better diagnosis.
Ken Jennings wrote a piece about his experience: http://www.slate.com/id/2284721/
On 2/22/2011 07:17, I wrote to Sean:
Morning, sweets! Jerry forwarded this exchange on to me. He and I had discussed Watson and Ken Jennings earlier and he was sure the whole thing was rigged like the old TV game shows were. I see by his e-mail to you that I hadn't convinced him and so he went to you for the definitive answer.
So, I think the e-mail exchange would be a delightful post for a future blog. Do you mind me using your explanation -- and/or would you like to revise it in any way before I do? I understand that ways you explain computers to aging parents might not be the image you would like to leave for the world (although the world is NOT reading my blog -- mostly just old people like me.) But I did find the whole thing interesting and if there is a way to use it, I'd like to.
Give me some feedback, ok? xoxoxox Mom
And finally, the reply from Sean. It will end the blog, and I give him a tip of the hat for being such a help to his old mom and pop!
Of course you can use it. I would add that much of my reply to Jer was discussed during the games themselves in some of the clips in which Alex and the IBM staff discussed what was actually going on, so it's not as if I have a great insight. Perhaps the best that could be said of my post was that it distilled things down to the essence.
I should also point out that the "clever programming" which I allude to was in fact *very* clever. One of the hardest problems that remains to be solved (and I don't think that Watson truly solves it yet) is that of natural language processing. There is *so* much that goes into carrying on a conversation; the syntax and semantics of language is trivial when considering the art of the pun and double entendre, for example. That Watson was able to do as well as it did in some of those categories, well, to simply call that "search" (which it certainly was) is to say that space flight is similar to paper airplanes - while true at some level, it doesn't capture the vast differences.
Watson is a HUGE improvement over the machines that came before it. That said, it still occupied an air conditioned room and would not have fit on the stage on which the event was taped. Had that air conditioning failed, Watson would have died a very HOT death. Compare that to the couple of pounds of gray matter inside the heads of the two human contestants and I think you'll see that it was advanced, yes, but it still has a ways to go to truly "beat" a human being. S
Sunday, February 20, 2011
There's no doubt about it. These Ryland kids - Bobbie and Florence standing on the ground and Virginia (my mother) sitting on the horse - were farm kids.
Ultimately there were seven kids in the Ryland family. Two were born in Colorado Springs, where my grandfather often went for short periods of times for his health. The rest were born in Caldwell, Kansas, where "home" really was. Caldwell was a real "cow town" -- a place where in the 1870s and 1880s the cattle drives up from Texas heading toward the railroad in Wichita brought those longhorns right through the area on the old Chisolm Trail. But by the time my mom was born, the cattle were gone and farm life was pretty much what was going on day after day.
The picture above comes from an old family album that finally came into my possession. So many of the formal portraits are unidentified, but my grandma took lots of snapshops, stuck them in every available space, and labeled and dated each one. Lucky me. The Haystack picture says "Grandpa 75, Byrd 43, Bobbie 16. Mulvane farm August 14, 1926. 112 degrees." The grandpa noted above was James A. Ryland, my great-grandfather and "gentleman farmer." Byrd was my grandfather, who died before I was born. Bobbie was my mother's oldest brother.
In 1929 my grandmother Jessie divorced my grandpa Byrd. The family was living in Colorado Springs at that time. In the settlement Jessie was given the Mulvane farm in lieu of alimony. As often happens, some families do not talk about unpleasant affairs, and the Ryland family was certainly this way. In spite of all us cousins asking our parents about the "whys" of the divorce, our parents said they didn't know. Of course they knew, but they weren't talking. The most my mother ever said was, "Oh, well, I was a teenager and I was busy with my friends and I know my dad wasn't easy to live with, but I don't know any details." I have copies of the divorce papers that say he was abusive to his wife, and the judge ruled he wasn't fit to have custody of the children.
After the divorce, Jessie packed up the kids and headed for the farm at Mulvane, and it is here that the picture below was taken. Shown are my aunt Marie and my uncles Bert and Hughie. This was also the place where my grandma had chickens that she always told us grandkids about when my sister and I were little girls. Oh, how she loved her chickens.
Shortly after this picture was taken, the farm burned down.
On July 17, 1930 the Mulvane News reported the following:
THE JESSIE RYLAND HOUSE IS BURNED THIS MORNING.
Fire destroys farm house of Mrs. Jessie Ryland and family who lived four miles east of Mulvane. It was first noticed about 9 o’clock this morning. The fire had progressed so far when discovered that it was impossible for Mrs. Ryland to put it out with just the aid of her children, and when neighbors came in response to her phone call all that could be saved was the furniture and other articles from the two front rooms where the flames had not made entry impossible.
Mrs. Ryland’s home was a nice, seven-room house and was one of the well-kept, better-appearing homes of the country east of Mulvane. Mrs. Ryland was out caring for her chickens and after having been away from the house for some time she noticed black smoke coming from the kitchen. She ran to the house and attempted to spread the alarm by giving a line call on the rural telephone line. However, the flames and smoke prevented her from staying at the telephone only long enough to say, “My house is afire” after ringing. Neighbors who heard that brief statement had to find out for themselves whose house it was that was burning. W. H. Ferguson who lives a half mile east of the Ryland home first discovered the location of the fire and telephoned to other neighbors to help.
A brisk southwest breeze carried burning embers to the other buildings on the place but these were saved. The many dense cedar trees near the house were thought to be an aid to holding the fire from spreading to the other buildings.
Contents of the living room and a front bedroom were all that were saved of the family’s household goods and all clothing except that worn by the family at the time of the fire were destroyed. The loss was estimated at $3,000. This was of course partially covered by insurance.
The three oldest children (Bob, Florence and Virginia) were out on their own prior to the family moving back to Kansas. My mother, after graduating from high school in 1928, had taken a job with a local portrait studio and was learning how to retouch and color photographs. The picture below was taken of her by the studio so she could practice her skills. It is retouched, and mother always kept it because she was the only one who ever knew what the original looked like! All she told us kids was that she loved her work and did a good job!
After the fire, my grandma decided to come to California, where her son Bob had already moved. This was in 1930 during the depression and he told her jobs were plentiful in Los Angeles. My mother was needed to help grandma with the move, so mother left Colorado for California. There is a possibility that if the family had stayed in Kansas I might have been a farm girl too.
While I am actually pleased that we became California kids instead of farm kids, I have always had it in my heart to have and raise a fat hen. It's obviously not going to happen in my lifetime, Jerry says, but I suspect that desire comes from my grandma and her chicken stories.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
It isn't that I sit around thinking and dreaming of music all the time. But it is that in my advancing age I have decided to bring music back into my life in a more active way. So today I'm tying up a few loose ends of this effort.
First off, remembering how much I loved Faure's Requiem and how I couldn't find my relaxation tape that used to help me get to sleep at night, in this blog sometime back I mentioned the possibility of purchasing a CD player to use at night with earbuds to hear this particular piece of music. Faure wrote such a soothing Requiem (compared to Berlioz', which would blast a person into heaven) that I knew it would soothe me into a good night's sleep. I made the purchase and began listening to this piece of music as I snuggled down into my most comfortable bed. I listened to it for four nights running. Two funny things happened. First, I stayed awake through the whole 37 minutes of playing time (I expected it to lull to to sleep long before then) and then on Night #5 I started mentally humming it long before I got into bed and discovered that I hardly needed to play the CD. And that made me laugh.
You will remember as part of my drive to move unused things out of our little apartment I was trying to convince Jerry to let go of all the audio tapes we had acquired over the years. I discovered he was much more emotionally connected to "things" than I was, and his response to my idea was 1) keep them because we "might" play them, 2) sell them, 3) give them to our kids, and 4) as a last resort donate them to a charity. Wrong! I reminded him the last time we listened to them was when we lived in Istanbul in 1991-92, no one was buying audio tapes any more, our kids used CDs now, and charities have more audiotapes in their thrift stores than they know what to do with.
But I did have an idea. I created the poster above and made a few copies to stick on bulletin boards around our apartment complex, offering them free to the first taker. Within two days a little old lady in a golf cart appeared at my front door asking if the tapes were still available. She said she didn't have a TV so her form of entertainment was listening to all types of music, except for country western. I told her she wouldn't find any of that genre in my collection, and after I carried the tapes out to her cart, she drove off with a grin. And I went back into the house knowing that there still are people, albeit mostly old people, who still use audiotapes. (Ultimately I had three calls.)
A third item of interest is reading in the LA times a few days ago that jazz celloist Freddie Katz is still alive and well, not doing many concerts any more at 91 but busy composing. The Times article says, "Growing up a classical cello and piano prodigy before falling in love with jazz in the Manhattan clubs, Katz went on to help define the sound of West Coast jazz with the Chico Hamilton Quintet, where he was the first to introduce a bowed cello into the jazz vernacular."
I met him in 1955 at the Strollers Club in Long Beach, California. "Met" is a misleading word. I, an under-age 20, simply sat with my Coca-Cola at a front table at this little jazz club, as close to the Quintet as I could get. I loved progressive jazz, and finding such a wonderful spot in my home town, especially one that would let me in the door in the first place and then let me listen and not drink (although my date, being older, did) was very special. The others of his generation are mostly gone now, but it made me happy to see Freddie, almost at his 92nd birthday, featured in the Times. Happy Birthday, Freddie, and thanks for all the good music!
And finally, recently I posted on the most unusual circa 1963-66songs of the Raunch Hands - Dr. Freud, The Old HUAC, Yas, Yas, Yas - and wondered where my old record "Raunch Hands Against the World" ever went to. I may have intimated that my son Sean in Sonoma had it, but after he read my post he let me know he didn't have it either. But Sean, a musician himself, recalled the record and before I knew it, he had purchased a copy on E-Bay and voila' -- I now have those fascinating old songs rolling around in my head again. Bravo, son, you did another good thing for your old ma! (He also keeps my computer running, another of his many talents)
The photo of the Raunch Hand's album cover above came courtesy of Greg's Grooves Classic Vinyl, http://www.gregsgrooves.com. A tip of the hat to Greg.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Can you tell hummingbirds apart? Which is a male and which is a female? Which is an Allen's and which is a Rufous? No?
Well, you'd better start sharpening your bird-observation skills, because there is a change a'coming and you need to be aware.
According to a delightful story in the morning's business section of the LA Times, a company in nearby Monrovia has developed a new drone for the Pentagon, and since it looks like a hummingbird, flaps its wings like a hummingbird, "hovers and flies sideways, backwards and forward, clockwise and counterclockwise" you might, if your observation is a bit on the rusty side, see it and not recognize it for what it is....a spy drone with a hidden camera.
It doesn't seem likely that you'll find it at your hummingbird feeder but as it continues to be refined in the development process, it WILL be able to fly through open windows and maybe take a peek at what you are doing on the computer. Still, that's on down the road and maybe it won't even be interested in watching you play the next version of Pac Man. But who knows what spies are after, even in your computer room.
The article says "With a wingspan of 6.5 inches, the mini-drone weighs 19 grams, or less than an AA battery. The Hummingbird's guts are made up of motors, communications systems and a video camera. It is slightly larger than the average hummingbird."Aha! It is the fat hummingbirds we need to be on the look for. And the article goes on to make a statement that made me laugh: "Critics have noted that privacy issues may emerge depending on how the drones are used." DUHHHHH!
One little problem is being considered: New York City doesn't have many hummingbirds, so the company's manager says it may have to develop a sparrow for use there. (Can't you just see a hovering sparrow with the talents of a hummer?)
Well, just as drones in my lifetime started as big ones coming over England during the Second World War (no, I wasn't there but I read about them) and now today's drones have changed in configuration, size and purpose, so too do they expect these little miniaturized guys to evolve in as yet unknown directions.
I'm certainly not a techie so I am not all that interested in a spy-bird, but I did have to laugh to myself when I read the article. And you can be sure I'll never again just give a cursory glance at any hummingbirds at my feeder. No, I'll be looking for one on the fat side and who might have little flashes of silver in its wingpits.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
It is awful to have a closet full of half-finished handwork projects and then come across a photo like this in a book being advertised online. I HAVE to have it, and I have to have it NOW!
So the optimistic part of me says that I'd better buy the book right away, which I do, and the pessimistic part of me reminds me that a) it is probably too hard for your level of knitting expertise, and b) you are too old to learn how to do it. The rational part of me says to go for it and simply put it at the end of the line to do when everything else I've started is finished.
Now this might take a few years, and probably at the age of 90 I won't even be able to hold knitting needles, but optimism wins out and I now have the book in my living room where I can periodically feast my eyes on some unbelieveably beautiful projects.
However, I am almost undone when I look at the instructions for making the flower and read "Cast on 222 stitches." And then I have to work with short rows and a direction that says "wrap" - which I've never met before. Luckily YouTube has videos that help people like me get through these tricky things.
With as simple a thing as "short rows" and "wraps" I can hear you knitters thinking that I am pretty much a rube passing myself off as a knitter. Well, that's not exactly true. I was taught to knit by a babysitter before I was 10 years old (that would be in the dark ages, of course). The first project was baby soakers, forerunners to plastic pants that helped keep little baby "tinkle" from seeping through the cloth diapers. This was before the time of synthetic materials in yarn, so you can just imagine what urine-soaked wool baby soakers smelled like. But if you kept a close eye on the little guy, wet diapers weren't allowed to stay on him or her for very long.
I digress. I made little soakers and doll blankets during the early years. In high school hand-knit argyle socks were the rage, and I made lots of them for my boyfriend. The more garish the better. I could knit a complicated plaid design at the top of the sock using colored angora yarn, turn a neat heel, put in nice gussets and close up a toe so you wouldn't know that is where the sock ended. All that was necessary was to sew up the back seam.
In that period of my life I also knit lots of stocking caps for our frequent forays "up the hill" to various snow camps we always went to. Later, my knitting projects were pretty much limited to little sweaters and hats for my own babies.
Over the years I've made afghans for all my adult children, and of course knit Christmas Stockings for all the kids and grandkids. Lately I've pretty much limited my knitting to hats for children in foster homes, shelters and for my two smallest granddaughters, now 10 and 8 and who are now looking for something a little classier that a simple stocking hat.
My thinking, when I saw the hat above and the hat below, was that if I could master the steps to producing a hat like these, Olivia and Justine might just find them wearable (though you never know with girls!)
In reviewing the patterns, though, I can see that I'm probably going to need some help. The nearest yarn shop is about 25 miles from my house, so I've got to scout around to see where I might find some "real" knitters who won't mind sharing their knowledge with me. Actually, nosing around in this book makes me realize how far out of touch I really am with what's been going on with knitters.
Old dogs, new tricks. I can do this, I say. The Power of Positive Thinking! All little adages to help me convince myself that I will eventually be able to produce such lovely hats. (After I've finished my other languishing projects, of course.)
The book I bought is shown below: Knitting in the Details: Charming Designs to Knit and Embellish by Louisa Harding. The photography is as stunning as the projects. It's full of hats, sweaters, scarves, handbags and mittens. If the book were larger it would certainly qualify as a Coffee Table tome, kept out in full view so one could feast their eyes on it at any moment of the day.
And luckily it is so appealing that even if I never figure out how to construct a single item, I will remain totally delighted to have it in my possession.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
It is true that older people find lots of enjoyment in reminiscing about the past. Bits and pieces of our childhood rattle around in our brain, and there is a great deal of fun in finding someone who can talk about it with you. Just before my sister died, as she was fighting hard to get her health stabilized but seemed to be losing the battle, she sent me an e-mail where she said she needed to stay alive because we were the only two left in our family who remember the early times. She was right, because aunts and uncles were all gone, we were the oldest of all our cousins, and our brother wasn’t born until I was 14 and she was 10. There were a lot of years that only she and I remembered.
Who would have ever thought that Facebook would be the medium for me to find a person from our past who not only had memories of a part of our childhood but also a whole bunch of snapshots that I had never seen before? Lots of people wonder why I spend any time at all on Facebook, because it really does seem to be a young person’s domain. However, even if I never experienced even one more moment of fun with Facebook, reconnecting with the Maynard family of Bakersfield was enough. And the contact came through finding Norman, who was only a second-grader when the family moved in down the street from us about 1950.
It was a large family, and during the one year they lived near us until they went back “home” I became a good friend of daughter Ruth and my sister was friends with Audrey. As it happens, Audrey had recently set up a Facebook account and Norman connected us. Audrey, with her wonderful reminiscences and photos, was able to bring my sister into the equation again with some marvelous pictures that show the silliness of young teens in 1950. I’d like to share a few of those photos with you today.
Good pals Ginnie Lou and Audrey in 1950. Pal, the family mutt, is at their feet. It was fashionable in Long Beach at that time to wear levis, hawaiian shirts and blue-and-white saddle oxfords.
I howled with laughter as I looked at this photo. Can you imagine kids today having fun this way? My mother was taking the photo, so apparently she saw nothing to be nervous about!
A "vintage" pin-up pose. Sultry Ginnie Lou was twelve and thinking ahead!
Pal was actually my mother's dog, but Ginnie Lou was a real animal lover and might as well be considered the "owner." Below is a unfortunately poor reproduction from the local newspaper of Pal and Ginnie Lou's rooster, who won a pet contest. The animals sat in a red wagon that my sister pulled across the stage. Ginnie Lou could make animals do anything!
I’ll be forwarding all of the pictures to my nieces and nephews, who I’m sure will enjoy seeing their mother in Junior High School. I think my own kids will also enjoy seeing this side of their Aunt Nunu. And Lord knows I’ve enjoyed seeing them.
I don’t use Facebook as my “social network” in the way that the kids do. In fact, often I don’t know what on earth my grandkids are talking about, for which I am sure they are often grateful! And for “seeing” and meeting for the first time genealogists that I’ve known for years only by letter is almost like having a real-time meeting.
But truly, best of all is discovering an old friend like Audrey.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
The page above is what each month of our retired life looks like. Don't bother to enlarge the picture to read what exciting stuff we are doing....because you won't find it. Our retirement days pass one by one with the "same ol' same ol'" kind of stuff - doing wash, grocery shopping, doctor and dental appointments, an occasional lunch or dinner with friends, visits to the car mechanic (again!), golf tee-times, etc. Believe me, we are not the rich retired who motor-home around the US or who cruise the Seven Seas. Nor do we lop around on recliners watching sit-coms or ball games. The crazy thing is that our modicum of activities actually keeps us running all the time; It is such an enigma. Staying alert and happy in our golden years seems to make us tired and ready to hit the sack at 9 p.m.
We are always looking at ways to balance the "have to's" with the "want tos" -- and often we end up more or less "multi-tasking" and ending up tired. It was especially obvious to us after Christmas this year where our choice in the run-up to Christmas itself was to visit our families who live around the southern California area. We did, and found ourselves way too tired at the end of the season. We used to be able to do it, but we decided in 2011 we would have to make some changes.
In the dentist's office late in January I picked up an old Christmas issue of Women's Day magazine and found a short little article that really spoke to me, not only about my own life but also about my kids' exceptionally busy lives. The article was written by Ann Daly, Ph.D., a psychologist and Life Coach who was discussing how to accomplish what matters most. I excerpted a few ideas from her article because I felt each were things that would help me, in the course of each day as well as in those times when life pinched me, to minimize the tiredness that sometimes becomes almost debilitating. Here's what she said:
1. When you say to yourself, "This is too much. I'll never get it all done" you counter with, "I can do this. I'm good at this!" She says that stress comes from negative messages our mind churns out. Affirming your ability to handle what is ahead of you strengthens your resolve and gives you confidence that you can, indeed, finish the task at hand.
2. Stop every so often - on the hour or each time you are alone - and go inside yourself to connect with your spirit, whether by a quick meditation, a prayer or just thinking about what is good in your life. I know my mother's mantra, so to speak, was "This too shall pass" and it was how she managed her tough times. If I had to pick a balancing thought for myself it would be the bible verse "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." It has always made me laugh - because to me it says there's trouble enough today without looking for tomorrow's trouble. Narrowed down, I then can focus all my attention on getting today's problem resolved.
3. She reminds us that our energy level is like a bank account. We need to be sure when we draw on our energy that it is available and being used for the purpose it is needed for. Moreover we must always make provision to keep enough in the bank and not overdraw our account. This goes for psychic energy as well as physical energy. Figuring out how to be good to ourselves throughout the day, sometimes with little tricks and sometimes with little treats (in a desk drawer) is a good restorer of that energy bank account.
4. Finally, Dr. Daly offers that the busy person usually operates from a "to do" list -- and it would be to our advantage to also create a "not to do" list. I find that I am very hard on myself when I don't move fast enough to get things off my "to do" list. It was after this last Christmas, when not only was I tired from doing what I wanted to do but I also was not feeling well at all because of what later was discovered to be an allergic reaction to a drug the doctor had given me. I'm sure that is why Ann's article spoke to me personally. I took a look at all the things I felt were pressuring me and discovered three things: They were all stressors in my life, I really wanted to do them all, but my life would not fall apart if I didn't do them.
As she suggested I made myself a "Not to Do" list. The first thing I did was to give myself permission not to write a blog every day. I can if I want, but I deliberately took away all the pressure by moving it from one list to another. I reassessed the things I had on my plate, threw a few down the garbage disposal, so to speak, and have temporarily set aside others.
You'd think at age 75 one would have already learned these things and put them into practice long ago. Perhaps most people have and I'm just a slow learner. I truly have tried to smell the roses as I've gone through life, but sometimes even Type A people need to have a reminder it's ok to slow down a bit.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
This is an old story, so old - in fact - that the cat in question lived to be over 17 years old and went across the Rainbow bridge some years ago. But it was a funny story when it happened and by gosh it is still a funny story.
Our driver in Istanbul, a young, very helpful fellow, was somewhat fluent in English, having lived in England for a few years in the 1980s. For the most part we could understand him and he could understand us, and although I took a few lessons in speaking Turkish, his English was, and remained, far better than my Turkish. This story is about one of his goofs.
We had not been in Turkey for 3 months before he called asking us if we would like to adopt a little "kedi" that had been born in the vehicle garage of the company Jerry worked for. Seems the little kittens were of an age to run around and he was afraid they would be hit by a car, so he was trying to find homes for them. I asked him to find me a little girl kedi and bring it to the apartment. Sure enough, he arrived with the cutest little cat - a tiny tabby cat with big eyes, a ginger cat, the Brits would have called it. Once it hit my front door and I laid my eyes on it, that kedi had a home.
Ahmet helped us find a vet and the cat was given a "baby book" in which all the veterinary care would be noted, along with the date and shot record. From the vet I learned that the kedi was not a little girl kedi. Apparently Ahmet didn't know how to tell the difference, and to be honest with you I didn't even look; I took Ahmet at his word. But at any rate, nothing would have made me send "Tigger" back to exchange for a female kedi.
The baby book was kept at the vet's office, and when we found a vet who spoke English (the first vet did not and I learned it was very difficult to explain to Ahmet what I wanted him to say to the vet about neutering, about a bad spell of diarrhea the kedi had, etc.) Ahmet was somewhat prudish and he embarrassed easily, so finding Dr. Lale, who trained in the US and spoke good English, was a real blessing. Eventually we added another kedi to our family and Dr. Lale took care of Cipsi too.
When our time in Istanbul neared to a conclusion, Ahmet drove me and the two cats to Dr. Lale, so she could give them whatever shots would be necessary for us to take them back to California. The cats were made ready and I was given the "baby books."
On the way home, I was sitting in the back seat of the car (a requirement, Ahmet said, so it would appear that he was a "shofer" of Americans, not just a friend) and I began inspecting the baby books, which were actually mostly written in French and German. But of course all the blanks had been filled out in Turkish. I noted in Tigger's book that in the blank next to "Race/Breed" the vet had written "Tekir." Since this word sounded to me like the English word "Tiger" and since our Tigger was a reddish-orangish cat, I asked Ahmet if the word "Tekir" meant "Tiger."
"No, Mrs. Title," he replied. "Tekir means... like the color of your cat, GREEN!"
I was caught so off guard with his response that I could hardly keep myself from bursting out laughing. I did, however, quickly reach down onto the floor of the back seat where my purse was and begin pawing around in it, trying to stall for time so I could get the grin off my face before appearing again in the backseat via his rear view mirror. (Ahmet was always checking me out in that mirror to make sure I was satisfied, I guess).
Ahmet's time in England had been so many years earlier, and he had only lived there for a year or two, so it was understandable that from time to time he might use the wrong word. Once he told us that 24,000 cows had drowned in the Bosphorus, but we learned the next day that it was 24,000 sheep. On occasion he would tell us he intended to come over in the morning but he really meant afternoon. None of these were particularly funny, but the way he described our red cat as green was just too funny. He was so sensitive that I didn't want to have his feelings hurt by laughing. But from time to time through the years since our return home, Jer and I would make reference to our green cat -- and always remember what a wonderful time we had in Istanbul, how much fun it was, and how lucky we were to draw Ahmet Bey to drive for us, English notwithstanding.
Just to balance the scales a bit, when I was struggling to speak Turkish, I once told the guard who was posted in front of our apartment building that Jerry and I were going for a walk when we left the apartment building after dinner. About half-way through the walk, it suddenly dawned on me that I had used the wrong word. I had told our bekci that we were going cooking. I was a bit embarrassed, but upon our return I said to him, "No cooking, yes walking." He laughed. At least I think that's what I said to him.
Monday, February 7, 2011
Many years ago, although to me it seems like yesterday, my then-husband Joe and I stumbled upon a radio station out of Los Angeles that seemed to be a bit different than the usual stations we listened to. Its call letters were KPFK. Although we weren’t very politically aware at that time, we seemed to be fairly tuned in to some of the issues this station focused on, one big one being the machinations of the House Committee of Un-American Activities.
As I said, that was a long time ago. And mostly what remains in my mind today about that radio station is that it was there that Joe and I heard, and ultimately bought, a record album called “Raunch Hands Against the World.” This group of musicians sang folk-style songs that were hysterically funny, witty and clever. One was about Sigmund Freud. Another was called “Yas, Yas, Yas.” I remember, and can still sing, one stanza of the latter: "Way down south in New Orleans, a black cat sat on a sewing machine. Well that sewing machine, it sewed so fast it sewed 99 stitches in its Yas, Yas,Yas.”
Probably the reason I have trouble remembering things today is that I have all this kind of trivia swirling around in my brain! But it was an awfully funny song.
I don’t know where our old record went. I don’t know if Joe took it when we divorced, or if he left it with me. What I do know is that it wasn’t in his possession when he died some years back, and I certainly don’t have it now, so it’s probably gone for good. There is a remote possibility -- possible but not likely -- that my son Sean now has that old record. He’s the only one of my kids who would have had the same screwy reaction to those songs as his father and I did. As a musician he would have enjoyed it immensely, not because it was the best music in the whole world but because of the content and creativity displayed by those fellows.
Periodically I’ve surfed the internet to see if I can find out anything about either the Raunch Hands or their music, but alas….
Yesterday I was inspecting the portable sewing machine that I’ve had stored in the closet, unused since I retired 11 years ago, and the Black Cat song popped out of my memory. This, of course, drove me to Google once again – and lo, here is what I turned up today. It wasn’t the Sigmund Freud song, nor the Black Cat song, but another one that I’d completely forgotten about – The Old HUAC. This is from a CalTech newspaper of 1961. (If you double-click on the image below it will enlarge)
Isn’t the internet amazing? And I have to add another rhetorical question: don’t we have amazing brains? I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I do remember strange songs from an old record album that passed through my life in the 1960s and then disappeared
Saturday, February 5, 2011
I have just finished reading The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, written by Walter Mosley, and I don't know how, considering the number of books I've read during my adult life, I could have never read anything of his before!
It was my lucky day when I found the New York Times Book review of this exquisite book, which drew me in....
The character study at the heart of THE LAST DAYS OF PTOLEMY GREY (Riverhead, $25.95) is a tour de force. Narrated in an intimate whisper, the story draws us deep into the mind of an old man wandering through the remnants of his memories, searching for the key to an old mystery. Physically fragile and mentally lost, 91-year-old Ptolemy Grey lives alone in shocking squalor, dependent on his great-grandnephew Reggie for the basic necessities of life. Ptolemy is still capable of holding a conversation — but mostly with people from long ago, like Coy McCann, the charismatic friend and mentor who entrusted the young Ptolemy with a stolen fortune and the mission to “take that treasure and make a difference for poor black folks.”
The appearance of a goodhearted and sweet natured young teenaged girl changes his life -- and this story, set in today's downtown area of Los Angeles, becomes a novel described on the fly leaf "that explores the generosity of love, the influence of memory, and our human desire for connection."
It's not a sad book; in fact, I found myself laughing when I read this description of Ptolemy investigating a noise in his little apartment in the middle of the night:
"He peeked through the crack and saw that it was Robyn's moaning. She was naked, on her back, and the boy was above her, his arms at the side of her head, his middle going up an down like the oil-well derricks in Baldwin Hills pumping the oil out of the ground."
What made me laugh was not the sex or the description of the act but the image of those old oil derricks in Baldwin Hills. In the course of visiting my daughter in Los Angeles, I've had occasion to drive between her house on Olympic and the LA Airport via South La Cienega and I know those oil derricks well; in fact, when I was in college back in 1953 those same derricks were there then; I think they are just about the only part of Los Angeles that has not changed over the last 60 years. To find that word picture in Mosely's book meant I really understood what Ptolemy was seeing, and I laugh to think I'll never again be able to visualize the sex act without that image of pumping oil derricks in the midst of it!
Trust me, this is not a racy book. It mostly deals with human emotions, and again, as the cover fly leaf says,"charts new territory in the exploration of the complex tensions at the heart of race in America."
The problem I have with really good books is that I read them too fast and don't take time to savor everything that I should. So this book is definitely on my list to read again...and although I think probably I should not buy it, seeing as I'm trying to stop collecting things in my old age, I'm thinking I just might do this anyway. It's truly a keeper!
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Venerable John McLaughlin of TV’s “The McLaughlin Group” has a unique phrase he uses when he wants his guests to assign a numeral rating to the possibility of something happening – like “on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most likely…” Except instead of using the simple words “Most Likely” he always calls it a “metaphysical certitude.”
I think that’s a great description, and if I ever have to ask anybody to rate something, I hope I’ll be quick enough on the draw to get it out of my own mouth instead of some more common mundane label.
But that’s not exactly what I intend to talk about today. In the course of a day I see lots of things I think might have blog potential, and I have to put them down on paper (actual or electronic) so I won’t forget them. These ideas tend to gang up on me, so today I’m going to unload a few little odds and ends that need to be moved out to make room for others.
I have problems with many of the cartoons in The New Yorker. Most, I think, require a MENSA-type brain, which mine definitely isn’t. But recently there was one simple enough for even my brain to process. Two nice fat cows, obviously ready for milking, were standing in a field. Nearby was a scrawny cow with a very droopy udder. One fat cow nods at the skinny cow and says to her friend (under her breath, I’m sure), “She’s 2%.” I got that one real quick and it made me laugh.
This cartoon, then, made me think of an article I had saved about how giving names to cows somehow make them produce more milk. Scientists at England's Newcastle University reported the following:
Researchers Peter Rowlinson and Catherine Douglas studied the practices at 500 dairy farms and found that cows with names produced one to two pints of milk more a day than cows that weren't given names.I wondered how one would go about remembering each cow’s name. And it occurred to me that actually, most happy cows live in California, not England, if you believe the California dairy association’s ads. And in case you don’t remember the cute commercial , “All us cows do our best for Jerseymaid,” (Jerseymaid pertained to the use of Jersey cows, not the state of New Jersey.) it makes me wonder if Jerseymaid named their cows.
"Even if a herdsman gave a cow a number instead of a name, that cow just seemed to be more agitated around milking time," said Rowlinson. "It seems that cows with names are happier cows."
Another little odd and end I’ve been saving is a script of a 2008 PBS program where several reporters discuss talking to themselves. One of the reporters said, “…I started looking into it and research shows that 96 percent, as many as 96 percent of people talk to themselves aloud, and deaf people have been observed signing to themselves while answering tough test questions…” Do you think that could be true?
Now, I know for sure that Jerry talks to himself – or rather to the computer, which might as well be himself. I don’t think I talk to myself much, except maybe when I’m alone in the car and am a bit peeved at something I’ve done, like get in the wrong lane to make a turn onto a freeway on- ramp. I usually say, “OK, Dobbins, you did it again!” Using my maiden name is the equivalent of Jerry calling me “Barbara” – it signifies irritation, mostly!
One of those reporters said he knew of an airline captain who, when he was faced with rough weather, always consulted with an imaginary Indian chief who rode in the cabin’s jump seat. Now you have to admit you’d probably rather be on some other flight if you knew your captain was doing that.
And another talker is a renowned oriental “scientist” who believes talking nice to water creates happy water crystals – and this fellow has a coterie of believers in his camp, so I make no overt sounds of dismissal when I read of him. I do try to keep an open mind, although sometimes it is difficult.
And the last is, of course, a fellow who finally was proven right about talking to plants. He was none other than Charles, the Prince of Wales who more that 20 years ago announced to scientists and scoffers alike that talking to plants caused them to grow better. These scientists and scoffers ridiculed him. Apparently at some point the Royal Horticultural Society took on a month-long study of this professed phenomena and assigned various readers to make tape recordings of certain passages: Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Darwin’s Origin of the Species, and Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids. The plants were in the same Greenhouse and treated identically. There were 10 plants that were going to get to listen to human voices and 10, the control plants, would not.
Each of the test plants received their human voice through the headphone of an MP3 player attached to its pot at root level. At the end of the month, the plant who listened to Darwin’s Origin of the Species, read by a great-great granddaughter of Darwin himself, grew 2/3 of an inch higher than any of the other plants. The experiment also found that female voices had the edge over male voices in helping plants grow. So the Prince of Wales was right, if you believe that this test was for real and not just a tongue-in-cheek report.
I think one could extrapolate lots of things from these experiments. I find all these tidbits awfully interesting, but of no practical use except maybe for filling up a page.
So I suppose the moral to all this is ….. well, maybe that blog writers need to get a life.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Shortly after going "online" in 1997 I discovered "Jigzone.com," to which I immediately subscribed. I'm not much of a game player, but I certainly don't consider jigsaw puzzles as games. Well, I guess they really are, but for me I have such a short attention span that I need to be able to complete one of their puzzles in about 5 minutes. I tackle it first thing in the morning and then go on to the less mundane stuff. But I have to admit I really need my Jigzone "fix" every morning.
That website makes it possible to upload your own pictures, too, so whenever I feel a need for a little play time instead of working so hard on whatever it is I'm doing online, I can pull up my little granddaughters into a 51 piece puzzle and see them come alive right on my screen.
However, as much as I like Jigzone, today is the first day in all those years of playing that I have not liked, even one bit, the puzzle that they sent. There was a time in my early life - somewhere between 6 and 10 years old - where watching a neighbor wring chickens necks didn't faze me in the least. This neighbor, who lived in an apartment near our house, used to raise chickens in a coop on the periphery of the lot, and periodically he'd "fix" some for dinner. I don't know how the kids in the neighborhood knew when this was going to happen, but we'd all run down to the apartment, hop up on the enclosed meter-box at the back of the apartment building and watch him dispatch the chickens one by one. The poor headless chickens would run around for a short while and then fall dead. It was bloody mayhem, and we kids hooted and hollered as it was going on.
In my old age I don't even want to think about chickens being killed, and for that reason I do believe I could easily become a vegetarian. I don't like to see animals in a truck being carted off to the slaughterhouse. When I see the trucks on the freeway I always wish I could close my eyes and not see them, but of course one doesn't do that when driving on the freeway. But I'm sure you understand what I am saying.
So when I saw this puzzle this morning, I was greatly distressed (but not distressed enough to not work it!) Can you imagine having a job where you stood 8 hours a day and cut the toenails off a dead chicken? Oh, gross! Once I saw that awful picture, it was too late to "unsee" it, so I worked it, but not without a lot of anxiety!
But it also reminded me of a story in Jerry's family. He grew up in a culture where the children and grandchildren went to grandma's house every single Sunday for dinner. His Bubbe (Yiddish for Grandma) always cooked a big pot of chicken soup, and the chicken feet were put in the pot where they simmered away and rid themselves of all the succulent gelatinous material contained in that particular part of the chicken. Since my own mother was strictly a Campbell's Chicken Soup kind of a person, I had no idea that such parts would go into a simmering pot. So I was surprised when Jerry told me that, but I was even more surprised, and quite honestly revolted, when he told me that he and his sister Judy were always given the cooked feet to eat. It was, I guess, like giving kids the drumsticks of a turkey at Thanksgiving.
Once having heard this story, I had to thank my lucky stars that he never asked me to learn how to cook his grandma's delicious chicken soup with feet.
Anyway, the picture above can be worked from this blog (if I have done everything right, and if I haven't, you can simply go to www.Jigzone.com) The starter is down in the bottom left hand corner. Have a go at it. I think you'll want to become a "regular" at Jigzone too. And I'll guarantee you that most of the pictures are not quite so icky.