Monday, May 28, 2012

Take THAT!

It has been a while since I saw a word that tickled my fancy.  As you know, I love words, sometimes big ones and sometimes small ones.  It just depends on the sound of them in the saying as well as the meaning of them.
One of my favorites has always been “pusillanimous” which in the context I read it was applied to Hubert Humphrey and meant “lacking courage” or in a more pejorative sense, “cowardly.”  Do I use it very much?  No, but every once in a while it is just the right word, if you are talking to the right person who won’t think you are putting on airs if you do.  In the small word category, I like it that if you ask someone to spell the word for a little kitty cat or an infected sore, both answers are the same – “pussy.” 

Today’s word, was sent to me by, and it brought back a funny memory.  The word is “defenestrate” which I have occasionally seen but never bothered to specifically look up  because the context provided the broad definition of it.  But today the definition was laid out.  Defenestrate means “to throw out the window.” 
Here is the way it is used in the dictionary examples:

  • The save-your-bank formula is now familiar. Start with a taxpayer-financed bailout, take an axe to costs, raise capital and unload assets to reduce leverage, defenestrate a couple of senior executives, perhaps apologize. Lately a new element has been added: Unwind the bank-insurance hybrids, as ING Groep of the Netherlands, Europe's poster boy for the model, is doing.

Now unless this word becomes a lot more “fixed” in my mind and my vocabulary, I probably will not be using it too much.  Mostly the examples pertain to throwing people out a window, and I can’t imagine a time when I might use it in that context.
But it did remind me of October of 1981 when I was working for a temp agency and was sent out as a temporary replacement for a tiny office of Burroughs corporation in Santa Ana, California.  In this office there was the office girl (me) and 5 district managers.  There were Burroughs products involved – a fax machine and an early word processor.  The latter was called a “Redactron” (now this was before PCs) and it was a very large rectangular box with a built-in screen and keyboard.  It was used exactly like a PC is used today, except that compared to today’s desk top computers, it was gigantic.  It was a stand-alone unit and really, really expensive.

At that time the major purchasers were mainly legal offices, and the Redactron was popular because so much of legal documents were what we’d call “boiler plates.” This early word-processor made it possible to “cut and paste” instead of retype paragraphs over and over in each new document. However, the catch was that the technology for the machines was new and there were lots of bugs to be worked out.  They kept breaking; all the phone calls for repair of machines in California came into our office.  And of course being the only clerical help in that office, I was the one who handled those calls, routing the information I collected to the department head who then sent out a repairman.
One day I answered the phone – and was immediately blown backwards about two feet by a shouting attorney, irate at another breakdown of his machine.  He was calling from San Francisco and I could have heard his diatribe even without the phone transmission.  He went on and on.  There was nothing I could do to break in – he had really “lost it” – and when he finally stopped to take a breath, I was totally nonplussed as to how to handle it.  The Redactron manager was not in and all I could do was take a message.  Of course the attorney didn’t like that one bit and in a voice that was controlled and icy he said, “Young lady, when you see him tell him to get his repairman here immediately before I throw all of your machines out the window – and I’m on the 12th floor of the building in downtown San Francisco.”

I did. The machines were repaired and I also later received a phone-call of apology from San Francisco. 
End of story.

But today when I saw the dictionary explanation of “defenestrate” I recalled this event, which I’d long forgotten.  It was, and still is, about the most blistering phone call I ever received.  And certainly it is one take on just how "defenestrate" comes into play. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012


The subheading of a most interesting story in today’s newspaper reads, “Members of Congress have simplified their speech to the level of high school sophomores, a study finds.” 

As nearly as I can tell, the study results are based on a data accumulated from all the speeches given before Congress between 1996 and 2011.
"Overall, the complexity of speech in the Congressional Record has declined steadily since 2005, with the drop among Republicans slightly outpacing that for Democrats (see Figure 1). Through April 25, 2012, this year's Congressional Record clocks in at a 10.6 grade level, down from 11.5 in 2005.

Between 1996 and 2005, Republicans overall spoke at consistently 2/10ths of a grade level higher than Democrats, except for 2001, when a rare moment of national unity also seems to have extended to speaking at the same grade level. But following 2005, something happened, and Congressional speech has been on the decline since. For Republicans as a whole, the decline was from an 11.6 grade level to a 10.3 grade level in 2011 (up slightly to 10.4 in 2012 so far). For Democrats, it was a decline from 11.4 to 10.6 in 2011 (also up slightly to 10.8 in 2012 so far.)"

A senior fellow at the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which compiled the study, comments that members seem to be gearing their speeches as sound bites or YouTube clips. 

This study has all manners of interesting interpretations, some pitting old guard against newcomers, Republications against Democrats, conservative and liberal branches of each party and then, and also very interesting, member against member. 

The newspaper article really just gives a tasty introduction to some of these interpretations; going to the Sunlight Foundation’s website provides much more comprehensive details to chew on.

In reading both the newspaper article and the original information published online, I have to say I was not surprised at all, especially not with the idea that the rating for the younger members is significantly less than for the older members.  I see and hear that idea every day when I listen to the news broadcasts on TV and radio.  But one of the congressional members whose personal rating is quite low explains that it may just be that they are trying to be clear and concise, rather than appear pompous and abstruse.  Which I also understand.

Anyway, the Times article is a good recap of the study and I think is worth reading.,0,7407923.story 

Thursday, May 24, 2012


David received a parrot for his birthday. The parrot was fully-grown with a bad attitude and worse vocabulary. Every other word was an expletive.  Those that weren't expletives were, to say the least, rude.

David tried hard to change the bird's attitude and was constantly saying polite words, playing soft music, anything he could think of to try to set a good example... nothing worked. He yelled at the bird and the bird yelled back. He shook the bird and the bird just got madder and more rude.

Finally, in a moment of desperation, David put the parrot in the freezer. For a few moments he heard the bird squawk and kick and scream-- then suddenly there was quiet.

David was afraid that he might have hurt the bird and quickly opened the freezer door. The parrot calmly stepped out onto David's extended arm and said, "I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I will endeavor at once to correct my behavior. I really am truly sorry and beg your forgiveness."

David was astonished at the bird's change in attitude and was about to ask what had made such a dramatic change when the parrot continued, "May I ask what the chicken did?"

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Just an oddity this morning.

Yesterday at the market I came upon these raspberries.  Quite fittingly they were a variety called "Golden Raspberries," which I found very strange.  Not strange that they were called that, but strange that they weren't raspberry raspberries.

Women (and maybe some men) know that the term "raspberry" has become a very definite color, in addition to being a very definite taste and fruit.  I must admit a golden raspberry doesn't have quite the cache that a raspberry raspberry has, but since I bought a box of them (same price as raspberry raspberries) I'm here to say that they taste every bit as good.

Although there certainly was a possibility of all things not being equal in the market presentation of both varieties, if I had to make a distinction between them other than the color, I would say the golden raspberries seemed a little more firm and maybe less delicate that the raspberry raspberries.  And surprisingly they looked much hairy-er, although I think that is because the little hairs are seen better against yellow than against raspberry.

Half my brain (the stupid half) wonders what on earth the world is coming to when you can't even depend on the color of a raspberry.  The smart half of my brain says if the taste doesn't lose anything in the transposition, then go for the one that will hold up longer and better, which seems to me would be the golden raspberry.  At the cost of raspberrys (the same in this case at this market), I'll opt for the box that will last the longest.  That way I can eke out more breakfasts.

My impared taste, which I've told about in several blogs, does well with vanilla yogurt and any kind of berries.  I gussy it up a little, usually with a sprinkling of cinnamon, some granola and always some toasted sliced almonds.  Of course the raspberry raspberries present better against the white yogurt, but who's presenting at breakfast anyway?  I'm lucky to be able to scarf anything down, so for me, this is a great find. 

But it does make you wonder what they can do to a blueberry -- breed it into an orange color?

Friday, May 18, 2012


Luckily Jerry and I have escaped being carted off in an ambulance.  Living in an apartment complex for 55s and older, we see this happening on a regular basis.  From our front porch, we can see the entry to approximately 12 different units of 12 apartments each – and by “see” I mean any ambulance going to any one of those buildings would be parked within our view.
Interestingly, not everybody goes willingly into the ambulance.  Those in dire straits do, and those who have some type of injury – fall, burn, etc. – do.  But it is amazing how many go kicking, screaming and yelling. 

We’ve lived among seniors since we retired 12 years ago, so we feel like we’ve seen just about all there is to see.  And the one thing that still surprises us is that when the paramedics come, they may leave their offices in a hurry and race down the road with sirens at full toot, but once they enter our complex they obey the posted speed limit of 15 mph and simply mosey down the street with only the flashing lights to indicate they are on a mission.  No sirens!
Not only do they not hurry down the street but they don’t hurry getting out of the vehicles either.  The doors slowly open and the firemen amble their way toward the equipment storage.  If a gurney is known to be needed, it is slowly assembled, gloves are carefully affixed by the EMTs or paramedics, and then they saunter off to the correct apartment.  By this time the onlookers are almost chanting “GO!  GO!  GO! GO!” like NASCAR spectators at a race.  All of the looky-loos (and there are always plenty) can’t believe how nonchalant the medical responders are.

We all hope that if we ever have to initiate a 911 call in an emergency, the “A” team will be sent, which of course has the team members who hop out of the vehicle while it is still rolling, don their gloves while they sprint to the apartment and report for duty before we get off the phone with the dispatcher!  We hope that an “A” team actually exists.
I have told the story before about my sister, who at one time when she was alone in the house felt she might be having a heart attack.  She laid down on the couch, phoned 911 and immediately said to the dispatcher, “I will not tell you my problem unless you will assure me that the ambulance will NOT pull up in front of my house with its siren on.” 

My sister and I grew up with our mother always insisting that we NOT make a scene anyplace, anywhere for any reason.  We both took her admonishment to heart and we would have preferred an early death to having our neighbors look at us as we were carted off to an ambulance.  I’m sorry, but she really did a number on us, and when my sister told me this I totally understood her request. 
The dispatcher agreed and set the wheels in motion.  And of course my sister heard them coming, siren and all!  The paramedics thought she should be taken to the hospital and checked out.  As they loaded her onto the gurney she grabbed the old granny-square afghan that she kept on the couch and threw it over her entire body.  Through all the holes in the granny squares she could see her busybody neighbors lining the curbs and sidewalks up and down her street, just as she knew they would be.  For the most part the afghan did the trick.  She did not consider her actions as “making a scene” and I didn’t either.

I came close to my own call for an ambulance when I was in the midst of the gall-bladder pain that ultimately led to my surgery last December.  I had had several of these attacks earlier in the month but had no clue as to what was causing it.  Most lasted about a half-hour and then eased up.  But this one had started at the grocery store early on a Friday morning before Christmas, gotten worse and worse and by noon I knew I needed help. Unable to do anything but pace, I told Jerry I wanted to go to the emergency room.

I don’t recall what he was doing when I announced this, but with the way I was feeling I didn’t think he moved fast enough.  It may have only been 30 seconds after I told him, but to me he didn’t appear to be taking me very seriously; that is, I didn’t see him throwing his clothes on and racing out the door to get the car quickly enough so I said to him, “If you don’t want to take me, I’ll call 911.” 
He looked at me like I was an idiot.  (He does not suffer fools gladly.)  “Well,” he said, “I don’t think they come out for this type of thing.”  That statement made me mad and I told him I’d go wait in the car while he got ready.”  I figured if I was going end up with some big drama that made it necessary to call the paramedics, I didn’t want to be in a place where all my neighbors could watch.

He shortly appeared fully dressed, and carefully drove me to the ER, where I gratefully left my gall bladder and all its attendant stones and sludge.
So with any kind of luck I will not have to be one of those people who get carted off in front of everybody.  Like my sis, I don’t want to make a spectacle of myself.  However I do see now that in certain situations I may not feel that strongly about it.  But you can be sure that like my sister, if it happens at home, the afghan on the back of MY couch will be over my body just like my sister’s was.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I have a cell phone.  It is not a Smart Phone.  It is a dumb phone; but more accurately I should specify that it is “dumb” because its owner is dumb.  My cell phone rings and I answer it.  I punch in the numbers to make a call and I talk.  That’s it.  I don’t use it much and I always have about 800 minutes unused on it.  And I’m perfectly fine with that.
I know from watching my kids and grandkids that new applications are being devised for phone use all the time.  (I also know we are raising a generation of children who will have never heard of the whole words “facsimile” and “application,” but that’s another story).  Buying the newest or most compicated cell phone model is not something that one’s disposable income is used for, anymore; amazingly it has become as necessary as buying toilet paper.  I know I am out of step with the times; I probably am going to die dumb but doing so sure doesn’t cause me any loss of sleep. 

So I’m not one to get excited because a new “app” is coming, but Jerry forwarded to me an article from his MIT magazine that I found quite interesting, and it has to do with a Smart Phone and food. In development at this time is a miniature spectrometer that will instantly analyze whether a piece of fruit is ripe or whether a piece of meat contains too much water.  Right now it is smaller than a sugar cube, and while developers are not saying that it will someday integrate its capabilities into a Smart phone, one does tend to think that handwriting on the wall points that direction.  What will happen is this, according to the article:  “Simply shine broad bandwidth light on a piece of food, which will reflect different near-infrared wavelengths of varying intensities.  A device measuring the spectrum reflected back can then infer the properties of the item being scanned.” 

If this device should come to market looking like a sugar cube or a die, totally separate from the current hand-held electronics, I doubt that the masses would rush out to purchase one.  But up the capability of one's phone to be able to find the perfect peach - sweet and juicy right now - would be a winner!
I can visualize it now: dozens of shoppers waving their smartphones over each and every plum, each and every tomato, each and every peach, watermelon and cantaloupe in the produce sections of the market.   Of course this would mean that the dumb phone users like me couldn’t get past the elbows of all the shoppers checking fruit piece by piece, and we would have to be satisfied with all the same unripe fruit that we are getting now. 

The article makes it clear that this device, in whatever shape or form it eventually appears, is three to five years in the future.  I have to think positively, however, about that future.  At the rate my teeth are disintegrating (the dentist tells me there are cavities under the fillings from the first cavities, which can only be rectified by crowns, root canals, or implants) I’ll soon be on a diet of baby food in jars anyway. 

No, there still is no Smart phone in my future.  Long live the dumb phone.

Monday, May 14, 2012


While I was being feted yesterday for Mother’s day by e-cards, phone calls and brunches (not to mention some cute little bead bracelets, necklaces and earrings by the youngest grandchildren), I had to think back on the mother in my life. Like most women, as I age I begin seeing similarities in our beliefs, mores, and values. And even in our physical characteristics. Some things I’ve inherited (my baggy eyelids), some I’ve absorbed (the pattern of reading and writing) and some things I’ve adopted (not throwing out a bottle of anything until every last drop of whatever was in it has been used.)

I’ve also had two good mothers-in-law who also contributed to who I am. It would have made life tough if either of them had said to me, “Don’t you think it’s a little soon to get married?” Maybe it was, but both Ida May in 1955 and Bertha in 1975 made sure I knew they were happy that I was joining the family. I was a second wife in both cases, and it might have made more sense to wait a little longer. But all the mothers were warm, kind and loving toward me and I’ve always looked at my own kid’s spouses and tried to exhibit the same acceptance. Luckily they have chosen well, and I’m thankful for the pattern set by the mothers in my life.


At brunch yesterday newly-11 year old Olivia was giving us a synopsis of the latest books/movies all the kids are reading/seeing….you know the one about the kids fighting to the death. When she finished (and that was primarily because her mother kept reminding her that she was to tell us the “short version” ) I tossed out that it concerned me that perhaps this was not a good message to be putting out to today’s children. Olivia sweetly countered with something like, “Grandma, kids understand that this is a just a story and reading it doesn’t make us want to go out and do it. We are smart enough to know what is right and what is wrong. Lots of books and movies have that kind of stuff in it.”

It was surely exciting to see that irrespective of whether I thought she was right or wrong, she is growing up in her reasoning and in the way she couches an answer to an adult’s statement that she disagrees with. I have to assume that someone, parents, teachers or other role models are helping these young readers sort through the blood and gore and gratuitous mayhem and find a kernel of grace in it. (I don’t let her see me inwardly throw up my hands and shout “What is the world coming to?” like all the rest of my old geezer friends.)


In 1994 I signed up to participate in the Women’s Health Initiative, which was a long-term study of women’s health issues. For the first 10 years it was an active participation, with yearly blood draws, participation in various studies pertaining to diets, hormones, and calcium intake, along with tests like EKGs and physical measurements. After those 10 years the involvement was simply recording answers to a medical survey sent to me each June. This year in addition to the medical side, they also have included a psychological survey. Therein lies my tale.

After I read through the psychological questions, I felt like sending the booklet, unanswered, back to them. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how to answer the questions. Jerry says I am overthinking them! He may be right, but I think if I answer honestly it will be the same as asking a man, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” and giving him a choice (filled in with #2 pencil) of “Yes” or “No.”

I particularly balked at the question, “I enjoy making plans for the future and working to make them a reality.” Basically I have a choice of “Yes” or “No.” How can I answer that? With the post-biological clock ticks getting fainter and the damnable inflation burning up my pocketbook as fast as the car burns up gasoline, I don’t see either answer as satisfactory. As my mother always said, “There is nothing sure but death, taxes and dishes!” Asking this question now about making plans for the future is 10 years too late. Either way I answer will be wrong.

However, in grumbling about this to Jerry and my cousin Shirlee, both of whom kindly withhold the eye-rolling bit when I fuss so much, I came up with a clarifying thought. I wish they had asked the question this way: “Do you have enough to do that you’re afraid you’re not going to live long enough to do it all?” I could have answered that question with a certainty that wouldn’t have looked like depression. “Yes, I have endless genealogy to discover, blogs to write, granddaughters to watch grow up, hats and gloves to knit, music to listen to, iPods to master, health to maintain, books to read, and time to work like heck to make sure my money doesn’t run out before my life does!”

Hooray for grumbling, or overthinking. I can see that finally understanding the question, the answer is, of course, YES!

I just heard some voices in the kitchen. If I had a hearing aid, I would turn it down so I wouldn't have to listen to them, but since the appointment with the audiologist isn't until next Thursday, I guess I'd better pay attention.

Ah, they are calling "DISHES!  DISHES!"

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Due to a medical condition labeled "dysgeusia" or impaired taste, for the last five years I've been unable to enjoy the taste of food like the rest of the world does.  It all tastes wrong, and most of it tastes bad!  Why this problem was inflicted on me I'll never know.  And after the medical world's attention for a while via my PCP and a specialist or two, I was given the word that the most I could hope for was to wake up some day and taste food normally again.  I get tired of talking and thinking about it.  Some tastes I can bear and some I can't.  Eating and cooking is no longer fun but has become a real ordeal.  The sad part is that I can remember what things should taste like.  So today's column is written from this perspective.

There was an interesting article today in the LA Times' "Food and Dining" section written by Jonathan Gold, the paper's restaurant critic.  Since I'm too far away from LA to test his take on new places and new things I do pass on some of his suggestions to my Los Angeles daughter.  But for me and my taste, I can only enjoy reading of the weird things that he, and chefs, too, consider edible.

Take one of today's suggestions:  Try french fries moistened with pickled Italian peppers, pureed ham, and "an unlovely concoction of aioli and whipped pig's brains the house has dubbed "Brainaise." 

Gold reports on other local samplings:  for drinkers, bacon-infused bourbon garnished with fried slivers of pig's ear; eaters can try pig's blood cake with challah, fish-heads and turkey lungs (yum!), a submarine sandwich with long-braised trotters and tongue, and the descriptive "paper-thin slices of raw pork from the famous Iberico de Bellota pigs from Spain, who fatten themselves with acorns in the forests in whch they are allowed to roam."  Gold lets us know that their meat is rich, dense and sharp, with a distinct aftertaste of chestnuts!

And I might add he talks quite convincingly about the "foie gras doughnut" (convincingly for me, anyway, because I have been known at one time to eat foie gras and found it to my liking until I thought about the poor goose).  Seems the doughnut is "round, hot and crisp, dusted with ground peanuts.  One end leaks jam...and the other a loose mild foie gras mousse."  He adds that where jam meets foie gras in the middle is an "extraordinarily good bite."   Still....

Dysgeusia notwithstanding, I admit I am a pantywaist when it comes to thinking about eating strange things.    In New Orleans I ate two raw oysters.  (I'm going to forego the graphics here.)  At Tommy's Sushi in Tustin I ate a shrimp head.  At Benihana's I ate a soft shell crab, which was ok until I accidentally looked at the underside and saw its little legs all folded up neat and tidy, at which point I didn't know whether to throw up or cry (both of which I was close to doing.)  In a fox-hunting area of England (Melton-Mowbray if I remember correctly) I ate pork pie and Stilton cheese - gagged it down is more like it.  And later on down the road from Melton-Mowbray I tried steak and kidney pie, made (I believe) with undiluted urine, which caused me to give up my quest for eating England's regional specialties. 

In the past I have drawn the line at any kind of brains, any kind of snails, and any kind of "fries" - having once been made to sit watching a relative eat "turkey fries" in Caldwell, Kansas (I didn't even know turkeys had fries, city girl that I was) and bull balls in Lawrence, Kansas.  (I don't think that is what they were called, perhaps it was something more genteel but you get the picture.)

With my dysgeusia I needn't bother now of trying to figure out "should I or shouldn't I."  Almost no meat tastes good with my impaired palate.  I happen to like carpaccio and have discovered that because the thin beef has a strong olive oil and intensely flavored capers over it, it goes down very well, and I order it every chance I can get.  I would certainly make it my protein of choice if I could afford it.

At any rate, I truly enjoy reading Jonathan Gold's Saturday food columns.  He's a darn good writer and I feast on every word.  It's a nice way to start a weekend!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


When I opened the LA Times last July 10 and saw an obituary for Bob Sklar, my heart simply sank.  I know people my age die unexpectedly, but I thought to myself, “Not Bob!”
But it was Bob.

I had not seen him since I graduated from high school in 1953.  But because my focus at Long Beach Poly was journalism, I had the pleasure of knowing and working with both Bob and his older brother Marty.  Marty was a year ahead of me, a good editor of the newspaper and a good role model for me.  And it was mostly his mentoring and a tiny bit of critiquing that gave me courage to put myself in the line for becoming editor of the Poly weekly newspaper during the first semester of my senior year.  When I was elected editor, I appointed Bob as my Sports page editor, and he went on after I graduated to become the editor in chief. 
To be honest, I simply loved Bob.  He was SO smart, so conscientious, so dependable – traits that his brother had too, but frankly the value of MY editorship was far more dependent of Bob’s work, and he was always there to be counted ready to go.  Whatever he wrote was printed “as is.”  It was there on time, and he himself was a good role model to those coming behind him.

But having said all this, it really doesn’t tell the whole story.  Bob was one of the happiest and funniest kids I’ve ever known.  The room lit up when he came in.  It was the smile, always the smile!  He said funny things, he regaled us with funny ideas about stories.  If he ever had “his moments” we certainly never saw them.  I cannot to this day think of Bob without thinking of his big grin. 
Some people who are funny drive you nuts.  But that wasn’t Bob’s style.  He had an outlook and an approach to things that made being around him such fun.  My managing editor, Jerry Russom, and I used to talk about how lucky we were to have Bob Sklar taking over for us after we left Poly.  We knew the school would have a treat!

Because I lived my adult life near Disneyland, I knew what Marty was doing through the years and the success he brought to everything he touched.  But I had no clue as to where Bob went, so it was bittersweet for me, after all this time, to need an obituary to bring me up to date.  Obviously in his life he also had the success he deserved.  I think back to those two smart Sklar kids I knew at Poly and still feel a real connectedness to them. 
I’ve dug out a couple of pictures of Bob from that time and share them here with you.  It’s just my way of saying “good bye” to Bob and telling the world that I knew him “when.” 

And I’d hope Bob is laughing that I’d keep old copies of his Sports Editor column in my personal “Archives” for what….almost 60 years? 
 -30-, my friend.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


It is Thursday, the day of my doctor’s appointment.  I get 15 minutes of the doctor’s time.  While I wait to be called into his inner sanctum, I shuffle the 7 items on my “to talk about” list, trying to figure out if I should spend my15 minutes on one major item or on 3 less-major items.  None are “unimportant” but I know that some will take longer to deal with than others. 
Quickly before I am called, I place a number before each item in the order I choose.  At the head of the list is something the nurse can do: put that little thingy on my finger to measure my oxygen level.  I figure if the oxygen percentage is no less than it was at the last visit, then obviously my lung problem can move down to the bottom of the list.

Nurse says “98%.”  Hooray, I think.  Now only 6 items left.
Doc comes in and sets himself at the computer.  He has a laptop, He sits in front of the table and pecks away as I talk.  I sit beside the table.  I can either watch his fingers or his eyes.  Since he’s one handsome dude, I watch his eyes.  Nice. 

He says to me, “I see you’ve had gall bladder surgery.”  I fight back the urge to say, “Yes, and you’ve seen me twice since then.”  (If he sees 4 patients an hour, 8 hours a day, 20 working days a month, that is 640 patients a month; I do not expect him to remember when he saw me last and what that visit was for.  He is neither a mind reader nor a savant).  Instead, his question is my opening to fire the first salvo. 
“Doc, I’m still having some pain problems in the area where the gall bladder used to be” and I quickly describe what the pain is like (I call it a spasm), how often I have it, and how long it lasts.  I glance at my watch: 5 minutes gone.  He palpates my belly and says it is soft.  I counter with “Not when the spasm is there.”  I hand him a copy of the surgery report, which he has never seen because the hospital does not automatically send the patient’s medical stuff to the doc.  “I brought this to you so you could see if there are any red flags in it.”  He pecks away on the computer while I watch his blue eyes and long eyelashes. “ I’ve ordered an Upper GI series.  When I get the results we’ll decide what to do.”

Good.  One down.  “Next?” he says.  (I check my watch and I’m closing in on 10 minutes).
I tell him, succinctly, that the systolic range of my blood pressure is staying higher than it should be, ranging from 145 to 160.  The lung doctor wants it lower than that, but the lung doctor doesn’t have control of the dispensing of the medicine.  Doc looks at the part of the computer where my meds are noted and says, “I’ll add in hydrocholorothiazide, see how that works.”  I remind him that in February he put me on 25 mg per day of that drug and I developed all kind of scary side effects.  “Remind me,” he says.  I told him major heart palpitations, immediate weight loss of 7 pounds in 5 days, dizziness, etc.”  He says we’ll go to 12.5 mg and see how that works.  (I fight back the urge to remind him that in an e-mail when I reported these bad side effects to him I asked him if I should cut the dosage in half and he said no but did order something else for me to take that wasn’t a diuretic.) 

“Next?” he says, while he pecks away on the computer.
He’s not too bad on the computer.  He is a relatively young doctor and while I don’t think he was ever in a typing class, he’s not too shabby as far as touch typers go.  He’s grown up with keyboards.  But the surgeon who removed my gall bladder has to be the winner of any typing contest he enters.  Man, is he fast!  He says it’s because he wants to keep up with his schedule so he has to type fast!  (The docs aren’t crazy about this 15 minute bit either!)

I see I’m down to 4 minutes.  Bluntly I say, “This one’s minor, Doc.  I’m going deaf!” 
I’m grinning.  I tell him that I just want to make sure that it isn’t because there is wax in my ears.  He peers in the left ear.  “No wax there.”  He peers in the right ear.  “No wax there.”  I knew it was not a wax problem.  No doctor has ever said to me, “My goodness, ma’am, you have a wax problem in your ears.”  I knew I was going deaf because first of all, I could tell that I had a good ear and a bad ear, and that's relative because neither are close to 100%.  The bad ear is always the one that is aimed at the passenger in the car, insuring that I have to say “What?” a minimum of 10 ten times while I drive a friend to a local Denny’s for lunch.  Half the time I cannot understand what the waitress asks me.  I can hear that she is talking, but danged if I can understand what she says.  Jerry has begun answering for me, which I really appreciate.  This business of saying “Huh?” to everything is downright embarrassing. 

It is especially bad when my littlest granddaughters and great-granddaughters ask me questions.  Their little voices are in a range that I just cannot hear.  I am working very hard to keep myself healthy and relevant to these young ones, since I doubt if I will be around long enough to see them grow up into beautiful young women.  Should this happen, I want them to remember me as the grandma who knit beautiful hats for us, or the grandma who always sent us packages of goodies; I do not want them to remember me as the deaf grandma.
The last words of the doctor as he shepherded me out the door at the end of my 15 minutes was, “I’ve ordered an appointment with our audiologist.  We can fix this!  And come back in two months.”

Bring on the audiologist!  Thank goodness I am not one of these people who know they need a hearing aid but vanity keeps them from admitting it.  Frankly, I can’t wait!  Furthermore, thank goodness we are developmentally past the old hearing aids that squealed and shrieked and drove the people sitting beside the wearer absolutely crazy.   Between you and me, I think the fact that people nowadays have Bluetooths and earbuds and other such paraphernalia hanging from and sticking in their ears has blunted the “differentness” of a hearing aid.  I hope I can afford a decent hearing aid instead of an old ear-horn; the dentist and the grocer are already trying their best to get all my discretionary cash. 
I consider Thursday’s 15 minute appointment a success.  As I walked out the door, I said “Thanks, Doc.  I’ll save the remaining problems until next time.”  I took one last peep at his blue eyes as we shook hands before we went off in different directions, him to his next patient and me to Starbucks for my after-appointment reward.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


I know very few people who don't like flan.  Unless we come from a Hispanic family, our first taste of it probably comes from a restaurant, and once we've taken a bite we're hooked.

I've come to love it.  I've recently been buying some each week at our grocery shop outing, but as it's a bit pricey, I thought I'd see about making my own.  How difficult could a custard be?  I figured the caramel topping might take a little work, but again, how hard could it be?

So all it took was a look at one "simple" recipe online and I changed my mind.  It required 6 ramekins to hold the finished product, lots of sugar, lots of eggs, all kinds of canned milk --- and then I hit words like "In a mixer" and "blend smooth after each ingredient."  "Constantly stir sugar," "reheat if it hardens," "water bath  in a ceramic baking dish" -- and total time was said to be "one hour 20 minutes."  Well, I'm finished with that kind of cooking, so I decided I'd just continue to buy flan in little individual containers at the grocery store.

I had bought 6 little containers last Thursday, making sure that they had a good, and not expired, date on it.

Last night I was ready for container #3, having used the first two earlier in the week.  I had my mouth set on that tasty dessert, but when I opened it, I had the shock of my life.  Of the four left, three were inedible!

Talk about gross!  If they looked like this on 05-02-12, imagine what they would have looked like on 08-29-12!  Needless to say, they will go back to the grocery store tomorrow when we make our next food foray, and you can bet the manager will be more than willing to return my money. 

And of course, I will certainly never buy Margarita Authentic Baked Flan again.  After pulling the lid off the first one without paying particular attention to it, I looked at the rest of them.  There did not appear to be any area where the lid had become unsealed, nor did there appear to be a pinhole or something of the sort in the lid.  Of course it is not up to me to figure out how this happened; if Ralph's were my store, I certainly wouldn't carry this brand anymore.

Be that as it may, I now will have to figure out something else that I can substitute in for the flan.  Gosh, it was good while it lasted. 

What a revoltin' development!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


This picture, dated about 1939, shows me on the right, enjoying a tea party with two little neighbor boys.  We are sitting on the vacant lot edge of the walkway that ran alongside our apartment building on Henderson Avenue in Long Beach, California.  It was in this very vacant lot that I began my exploration of, and later my love of, vacant lots. 

In those days children made their own fun.  We might have owned a tricycle and a doll, but for the most part we didn't depend on our inside toys to keep us occupied.  We explored our neighborhoods, and in those days before the idea of tracts of homes became the norm our neighborhoods included apartments, houses, alleys, gutters, roads - sometimes paved and sometimes not - and vacant lots.  If a house was being built, we waited until the workmen went home for the day and then we raced over to the framing and looked for what we called "money" - the little round slugs that were punched out of the electrical boxes.

When the ice man pulled up in front of our apartment and hefted a big block of ice on his shoulder to take to a neighbor, we ran to the back of his truck to see if we could reach any of the ice slivers that had splintered off the ice when he used his ice pick to get the right size block.

Because there was always a vacant lot somewhere handy, my sis and I learned quickly what we could eat and what we couldn't.  In this vacant lot on Henderson, we learned about dill weed, that it was good to eat.  Not a handful, but just enough to chew on and carry around in a pocket for a bite later on.  And of course we knew about sourgrass, and sometimes didn't even have to go to a vacant lot for it.  It would grow up against the house and could get very big. 

Mother was always cautioning us about eating so many things, and she strongly urged us not to eat sourgrass, saying that dogs and cats urinated on it.  So we didn't eat it in her presence, but we sure enough did when she wasn't around, cats and dogs notwithstanding.

Later when we moved to Stanley Avenue we lost a vacant lot but gained an alley that had treasures of its own.  Acutally, our block had two alleys on it, making a "T".  The cross of the T went by the side of our house, and backing up to that short alley was a fence of Eugenia bushes.  And they were full of berries.  All the kids in the neighborhood knew that those berries were deliciously sweet/sour.  We also were told that the berry seeds were poisonous, so we always spit those out.  But we never passed up a good Eugenia bush.

There was no fooling mother about not eating these, although she tried to keep us from those too.  We often went home with a bright redish-purple stain on our tongue. 

Our favorite, though, was the huge honeysuckle bush that was at the far end of the long alley that made the body of the "T".  We would stand for hours in front of the honeysuckle bush and pick the flowers, one by one pulling the little stamen down through the base so we could put the drop of "honey" on our tongue and savor its sweetness.  We always took a handful of those to mother, because she had told us the story of how, when her grandma died, her own mother had sat on the front porch crying and my mother and her sisters picked honeysuckle blossoms and tucked them in their own mom's hair, thinking in their childish way this would make her feel better.  For us, our mother and honeysuckles were eternally partnered, and we always saw to it that mother got every bit as many as we did from our jaunts down the alley.

When I turned 10 and my sister 8, we moved to Gardenia Avenue in Long Beach and for a long time, until my father built a triplex on it, we had a vacant lot next door to our house.  My sis and I were pretty much beyond the plant-eating stage then, although we did have a Eugenia bush beside our house in case on occasion we wanted a taste for old times' sake. 

We mostly used the vacant lot for building forts.  Why two girls would want to build forts is beyond me, but that's what we did.  This usually happened around Christmas time when the ground would be wet from the rains and the dirt could be dug into very easily.  We used the old discarded Christmas trees to place around the fort, and mostly then we'd have dirt-clod fights with the Cardenas boys, Eddie and Louie, who lived across the street.  We would pull up big handfuls of grass, with the damp dirt clods hanging on them, and lob them at the boys.  They likewise pulled and lobbed from their unprotected position out near the street.  We wouldn't let them build a fort of their own, because we knew they would win if they did. 

But before we knew it, we were looking at boys differently, and I suspect it was finally when my father brought the workmen in to build the triplex that my sister and I gave up the grass-eating, clod-flinging period of our life and moved on to our teenage years.

Were we unusual kids?  No, because we were only doing what all the other kids of that day did.  We made our own fun.  We were outside a lot of the time.  Life was safer then, and we came home when we heard our mother on the front porch calling our names....."BARBARA,  GINNIE LOU, DINNER TIME!"  

The family sit-coms had it right.  Life was very much like it was portrayed when TV was in its infancy.  In reality, life probably wasn't so saccharin sweet, but the depiction is accurate enough that we "of an age" can certainly identify with it.