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!