Sunday, July 29, 2012


We acquired Tigger in Turkey - literally right off the street - when he was about six weeks old.  He adapted to our apartment living relatively quickly, but from the beginning he was a "different" cat.  He scared easily and his reaction to being scared was to yeowl with a huge voice (which happened every time we put him in the cat carrier to go to the vet) and to bite or scratch if he could.  As long as he was small and in his own safe place (our apartment) it presented no problem.  Upon our return to the U.S. the vet came to our house to provide his medical care (because she was my cousin).  The teeth, we just tried to avoid. 

When Tigger was about two years old we rented a flat in Amsterdam for a couple of months in preparation for returning to the US.  We wanted to use it as a base for seeing a little more of Europe and also to get a little better acclimated to being in the West again.  The flat was quite large and nice, and we had a great time there.  Tigger did not. 

The first thing I noticed was that one of the inside ties on my chenille bathrobe disappeared.  Gone.  Nothing left but a tiny fringe of cloth in the seam.  It was very strange.  I could hardly accuse Jerry of removing my bathrobe tie, so it had to be Tigger.  I searched high and low for the tie but never found it.  With the week, the remaining tie disappeared too.

A few weeks later I saw what appeared to be a very large white flat worm in Tigger's "poop."  I couldn't believe my eyes.  I had never seen a tapeworm before but I thought perhaps that was what it was.  Using a couple of wooden toothpicks, I began investigating the "thing" to try to get a better idea of what my cat might have had in his intestines.  I isolated about three inches of the flat white "thing" before discovering the end - which then indicated that this was a shoelace from my new Reeboks.  I went to the closet to investigate - and sure enough, one shoelace had been chewed off and swallowed, which of course I thought was much better - but more peculiar - than finding a real tapeworm!  Jerry and I put all our shoes with laces on a shelf at that point.  What else could Tigger find to eat!

Our time in Amsterdam fell right in the middle of winter, and there were some days where we just found it too cold to go outside to explore.  On those days I either read or did cross-stitch.  I was working on a Christmas panel which was done completely in red thread on a white background.  One cold morning I was stitching away and decided it was time for a cup of coffee.  I stuck the threaded needle in the Aida cloth, set the project on the floor beside my chair and left for the kitchen to make the coffee.  Upon my return, I picked up the material -- and the needle, with about 15" of red embroidery thread in it, was gone.  Figuring I may have not hooked it securely, I searched around the floor, then the chair, and found it nowhere in sight.  Jerry asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was puzzled, because I couldn't find my needle and thread anywhere. 

He then told me that he had seen Tigger walk by with a little red "something" hanging from his mouth.

Of course he had not gotten up to investigate what it might have been.  This is, I'm sorry to say, a fairly typical man-thing at our house.  I was horrified.  The cat had eaten a needle.  I put in an emergency phone call from Amsterdam to my cousin in Southern California and asked her what I should do?  She said to watch his poop carefully to see if it passed through, and if not, then get the cat to a local vet for surgery.

We were due to leave Amsterdam for the US in a week, and there was no way if that needle got stuck that we were going to be able to go through a cat surgery; he would have to be put down.  With fingers crossed and toothpicks at the ready, I began my frantic wait for each poop.  I fed the cat a great deal of food, trusting that this would facilitate the movement of the needle safely through the twisty intestines.  Day one passed with no needle.  Day two passed with no needle. Day three dawned and I saw very definite red thread in Tigger's stool.  Toothpicks flying, I tore apart the poop and there was the needle, with the 15 inches of embroidery thread still threaded through the eye.  Tigs was safe! 

Tigger's life ended in 2009 of old age.  He had never again eaten any foreign object.  There was something about those two months in Amsterdam that caused him to react in such a manner.  I'm not a cat psychologist, but I'd guess it was just stress.  He arrived in America with eight lives left - and he had those same eight stored up "just in case" when he died.    He was still a somewhat fearful cat, and any trip to the vet necessitated two pre-visit tranquilizers.  Yes, he mellowed some in his old age, but we always made allowances for him.  We always reminded him that he was a very lucky cat to have been chosen by us.  And we consider ourselves lucky that we had him for so long. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


FINALLY summer has arrived here in southern California and this fellow clearly expresses just how hot it is.  I shall never again be able to eat a soft ice cream cone or a soft yogurt without causing it to wear such a face, or as near to a face as I can make.  Takes an artist to do it up right!

And speaking of art, the trip to LACMA last week not only provided a good view of the rock, but also I noted a neat bit of PR.  Can you see on the tickets what I'm talking about?

The top ticket was mine.  I was the adult.  The lower ticket belonged to my granddaughter.  Instead of listing her as a child, she is called "The Next Generation!"  I was wowed by that little switch in reference.  She didn't care, but I sure thought it was a neat idea, and one I might use sometime!


Over the years I've been introduced to a lot of "stuff" by my granddaughters.  This year it was the Disney program "Good Luck, Charlie."  In case you haven't seen it, its a sitcom whereby the teenagers of this family decide to make a videotape for their littlest sibling, Charlie, so she'll have some understanding later of the family shes getting into.  (That is the explanation given me by my girls; who knows if it is exactly true or not?)  Anyway, each episode features the teens and family doing something funny or odd or clever -- and the show closes with shutting off the video with the words, "Good Luck, Charlie."  The girls have videotaped all the "best" of the series and wanted me to watch with them.  I admit it was pretty darn cute.

Through the years I've been introduced to Baby Einstein, the teletubbies, that blue dog and the red animal, whatever it is, Sponge Bob Square Pants (did I get it right?), last year iCarly and now this year "Good Luck, Charlie."   All have been fun in small doses, and I do marvel mostly at the talent of all the teens in these programs.  And believe me, it does my heart good to see that my granddaughters  are video-taping good stuff.  The bad stuff comes around way too early and too quickly!


My old tee shirt that read, "So Many Books, So Little Time" - in both English and Latin, finally wore out and I couldn't find another that I liked as well.  So when I came upon this shirt - a wonderful sketch by illustrator Edward Gorey, I knew I couldn't live without it.  It had "ME" written all over it.  I ordered it online; it's a little pricey, and being a white tee-shirt I have to take really good care of it and not wear it everywhere every day (which I would really like to do), but it sure does make me happy.


And thinking of cats reminds me that I came close to having a minor breakdown and taking in another kitty.  Erin's Oreo had 6 babies, all adorable and all eminently cuddley.  I had told myself I never would start with a kitten again, that if I were to replace Tigger or Cipsi it would be with a grown cat.  But when I saw this little one (7 days old at the time) I waivered.  I mean, how often can you find a cat with an exclamation point on him.  A black tail, with a dot at the bottom (ignoring the body space, of course.)  I had already named him -- SELAH!  I learned that word from old J. Vernon McGee, a pastor who had a wonderful program on the radio many years ago and who said the word "SELAH," found in the Psalms, really had no definite meaning but it was kind of like the use of an exclamation point, or after a statement of "Think of that!"

So for about a week I tossed around the idea of bringing Selah into the house as a companion for Squeaky.  But before I found it necessary to determine Selah's gender (I wanted only a male cat) I decided I really didn't want a kitten after all.  But it was a tough decision to make.  I think Jerry might even have approved.


I haven't shown anything Turkish in a while, so today's final series of photos are interesting and funny.  In a part of Turkey distant from Istanbul, a group of us on tour came upon a group of young woman with very interesting headscarves.  The scarves were regional and quite lovely.  

Several of us went into town and bought one for ourselves.  It was a block print on soft, silky material.  Before we left the town we had a lady show us how to wear it the Turkish way, which also necessitated using a solid black scarf put on underneath.  At home in Istanbul in our flat, I used it as a decorator tablecloth.

The picture below is of me, complete with scarves -- worn in the traditional manner.  You'd be able to tell, of course, that I do not look at all like a Turk.  What you see is a very Anglo face (a fat face, then) in a Turkish setting.  I got lots of mileage with this picture.   It was good for a laugh everytime I showed it to people.  I wasn't crazy about the picture either, but I liked that it really showed so much better the way the scarf was worn.

Slowly but surely I have been letting go of my Turkish artifacts, which is a sad thing to do but as they say, you can't take it with you, and I can't inflict all my Turkish memories on people who haven't been there. So this scarf is gone now. But at least I have the pictures so I won't forget that special time and place.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


In summer, there isn’t a tastier food than cold soup on a hot day.   
Many years ago, when the LA Times had pages and pages of simple, good-tasting and fairly easy-to-prepare recipes, I struggled  to try them all. 

Today’s recipes in the same paper have evolved into imaginative, intensive creations for those who would like to WOW their dinner guests (and spend a week ahead of time working in the kitchen to make sure every flake of pepper sits in its rightful place before it is served.)  Just this week a cold corn soup recipe appeared, and after about 5 readings to make sure I understood just what to do with those simple ingredients (such as de-kernelled corn cobs), I decided I may try it and see if it too will become a “keeper.”
But my favorite  cold soup of all times is “Vichyssoise” – or often referred to as a rich man’s potato soup!  I have no recollection where I picked up this recipe, but I’m thinking it was not in the Times.  However, it is simply delicious, restorative and hard to stop eating.  (More about that later.)  Here’s the recipe – simple and doable:

Serves 6 to 8

4 leeks, white part only, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced

2 ounces sweet butter
5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thin

1 quart chicken broth
1 T salt

3 C milk
2 C heavy cream

Finely chopped chives

Brown the leeks and onions in the sweet butter, being careful not to scorch the butter.  Then add the potatoes, chicken broth and salt.  Boil for 35 to 40 minutes.  Crush and run through a fine strainer or puree in a blender.  Chill well; add the milk and the heavy cream.  Season to taste.  Sprinkle with chopped chives.  Serve chilled.

Easy, no?

What the recipe doesn’t say but I have learned from experience is to wash the inside and outsides of the leeks thoroughly.  A little grit sometimes gets tucked down inside the leaves and it really doesn’t belong in this recipe.

There was a time in our lives when Jerry and I were doing a lot of dinner parties and I loved starting my summer tables off with this.  When you have it in a restaurant you get a little bit, though you always wish you could have seconds!  When you make it yourself you can, and the first time I made it I became an absolute glutton.  I learned that it tastes wonderful for breakfast, an additional cup at lunch goes well with the hot afternoon, and by dinner time I wasn’t yet sated, so I had another cup.

It was so good and refreshing that I took a nip before bed.  Sometime in the night my intestines got me out of bed, and I actually thought I might have picked up a bug somewhere.  I still wasn’t myself the next morning, running occasionally to and from the bathroom, but still well enough to take a slug of the left-over vichyssoise as I passed by.  I was borderline sick when I went off to work on Monday with some soup in a thermos for lunch.  I told my boss I wasn’t feeling up to par but would stick it out as long as I could.

He saw me pour my cup of chilled vichyssoise for lunch and asked what I was having.  I told him about the delicious soup I’d made and how I was really pigging out on it.  Hands on his hips, he looked me in the face and called me an idiot.  (We were on good terms).  “Don’t you know that all this milk and cream you are drinking is playing havoc with your intestines? “ and he proceeded to lecture me that I my own gluttony was causing my illness.  He reiterated that I was an idiot.

Because I don’t like plain milk and never drink it, I guess that little fact simply escaped my awareness.  I was grateful to learn that little tidbit, and although I have used this same recipe through the years, my quota is just about a demitasse cup-sized serving.  Better safe than sorry, I now say!

Anyway, keep that in mind, treat yourself with a yummy summer soup, and enjoy!

Friday, July 13, 2012


It’s unlikely that any of you can recall my previous blogs on “the rock” that was mined in a Glen Avon quarry not too far from where I live in Riverside County.   In spite of the fact that the Los Angeles newspaper often ran updates on the snail-like pace in getting this rock to its permanent home at the Los Angeles County Art Museum, people in this area don’t usually read the LA newspapers and many were even unaware of its existence.  For months and months it sat on a specially-built “transporter” waiting for the last “i” to be dotted by various governmental department bureaucrats so Michael Heizer, the artist who conceived this environmental sculpture in the first place, could set this particular hunk of rock in its final home. 
Named by him “Levitated Mass,” the grand presentation finally occurred in late June.  Off came the wraps and the 340 ton boulder was there for everyone to “experience.”  I was lucky enough to be in LA this past week and I took the two young granddaughters to see it.  I took the picture above.  Because I am basically a total dodo about art in general and sculpture in particular, I had done a lot of reading over the months on why this was considered art and what environmental art was all about.  And once the exhibit opened, I was interested in what the “professional” critics and the “letters to the editors” armchair critics had to say about it.

It’s probably a good thing I did all that reading because it kept me from being one of those strange people who were totally disappointed because they expected the boulder to actually levitate, which of course it never was going to do in anyone’s lifetime.  I liked what I saw. (I would NOT have liked to see it levitate since that might occur during the predicted “Big One” that is on the way, although Heizer’s judicious use of steel shelves and thick bolts to anchor the rock down would hopefully prevent that from happening.)  Anyway, I thought about the exhibit on many levels, all of which had been voiced by the critics in their roles of interpreter.  I’m pleased to say that for a change I DID understand what they were saying, especially Christopher Knight, the LA Times Art Critic, who helped me a lot!. 

My little granddaughters, ages 11 and 9, were patient while my cousin Nancy and I stood directly under the rock (which  initially I said I was never going to do!) as we speculated on “meaning” and “form” and “metaphor.”  I would go again to experience it but I think not insist that Jerry go along with me to see it, since with his engineering background he and I would not be seeing the same thing at all.  If it is one thing Jerry isn’t keen about it is something whose value is “esoteric.”  He would love the steel shelves and big bolts but he would not see any meaning anywhere, other than those of a practical nature.
At any rate, even after reading all the reviews and seeing it in person, discussing it with my cousin and announcing my own views, I am left with one stupendous thought:  Did some people REALLY think the stone was going to levitate like the magician’s helper lying flat on a tabletop?  I really suspect that some did.  And that makes me laugh.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


1.     I know that too much exposure to sun can cause skin cancer.  People didn’t know that fact when I was a teenager, and I spent a WHOLE lot of time lying in the sun at the beach during summer vacations.  As a fair-skinned person who never tanned easily, I had to really work at getting a tan.  Using Johnson’s Baby Oil slathered on my body is how we did it then.  I am lucky that so far I have not had any skin cancers crop up.  If I had known about skin cancer possibilities back then, would I do things differently?  I am sorry to say I probably would not have.

2.     I have finally come to understand this:  I should have gone to a junior college before I set off to a 4-year live-away-from home college.  I now know I was too socially and emotionally immature to understand the purpose of this higher education.   I treated it as a lark, like a wonderful summer camp held during the school year. 

3.     I know that I am very pleased with my children in every sense of the word.  They make me feel I am still relevant in their lives, not because I am doing anything for them but hopefully because they think I am not passé!  (They do laugh at my electronic struggles, though.)

4.     As much as I hate to admit it, I know that I am constitutionally unable to keep my desk neat.  No matter what kind of system I set up for keeping papers neatly but quickly findable, working that system never lasts very long.  I long for an extra day in the week dedicated to “clean-up,” but knowing myself the way that I do, the first paper I picked up would pique my interest and I’d be off on another internet hunt for answers – or worse, yet, digging through files because I remember a relevant something!  Jerry caught on to this “fault” early on, neat and tidy engineer that he is, and he just accepts it by saying, “Just keep the door shut!”  Good man, I say.

5.     Knowing that I was always considered the “sickly” child and was carefully monitored by doctors and parents throughout my whole life, I have to laugh that I have even entered old age at all!  Such a surprise!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


My friend Nancy, who lives in San Francisco, sent me a unique card that her mother embellished many years ago with amazingly small flowers made by tatting:  Here’s what I saw.

Nancy had no idea that I was absolutely fascinated by tatting and I asked her if she would be a guest blogger on Hot Coffee and Cool Jazz to show some of these cards and share a little bit about her mother’s tatting.  She agreed, and her story is below.  To see the delicate work she did, clicking on each card will enlarge it.  Oh, if I just had this kind of talent!


The art of tatting has been practiced in our family for several generations.  My mother told me how her grandmother, the earliest known of the family “tatters”, made sure all her daughters knew how to tat.  In that early generation, like other girls my great-grandmother Mary Emma Burwick tatted.  So when her daughter (my grandmother May Athaline Morris) became old enough to learn how to use a tatting shuttle, she also carried on the family tradition of making this kind of lace.  And as you could imagine would happen, she passed the craft on down to her own daughter, my mother May Morris Elsner.   The family came west, leaving Michigan for Southern California, where my mother was born in 1898 and where she became the third generation to pick up a shuttle to make lace.   

 My mother, May, a native Californian, was born in Ballona Township, renamed Inglewood somewhat later, and she graduated in Los Angeles from Manual Arts High School and Teachers Normal School (later UCLA).  In 1921 she married Max Elsner, whose parents had immigrated to the US from Prussia and Bavaria in the 1870s and settled in Los Angeles.  

May and Max had three children, two daughters, Nancy and Jacquelyn, and a son, James (Jim).  May devoted herself to making a home for her family in our English-style house built in 1927 on Stearns Drive in West Los Angeles.  Mother was always interested in art and took art history courses at UCLA and night drawing classes at the public schools when we were growing up.    She had an artistic bent and learned Japanese flower arranging and  was in demand for arrangements at our grammar school for special events.   She also assisted a professional designer of flower arrangements in the days of glamorous premieres of Hollywood movies with stars arriving in limousines, Kleig lights in the sky, and bleachers for fans, held at theaters like Carthay Center near where we lived.  I remember vividly the opening of “Song of Bernadette”.      

Mother was an accomplished seamstress and made all of my sister’s and my clothes when we were young.  A familiar memory of her is sitting in her chair in the bedroom with sewing on her lap.  This was in the 1930’s Great Depression. 

She liked to cook because as she said “it is creative” and she was well ahead of her time in the dishes she served, like Japanese noodle soup and Mexican enchiladas she learned to make from a neighborhood Mexican maid.   She loved to garden and was knowledgeable about plants, which she learned from her father who early in his career was a nurseryman in San Bernardino. 

In her later years, mother made several new quilts which family members have enjoyed.  She also finished others begun by her own mother years earlier after visiting a quilt exhibition in Pasadena.   She sometimes used swatches of material in her quilts from dresses we wore in our youth, sometimes even using material from grownups’ apparel.  We still have those quilts in our possession and they have been a particular joy.

Although neither my sister nor I learned to tat, my mother did teach tatting to her granddaughters and passed on to them the shuttles she used throughout her life.


When my mother was in her 80’s she recalled what fun it had been to tat.  She got out her shuttles, bought a variety of colored threads and decided she would decorate note cards with tatting.  Some of these are displayed here.   Mother died in Ventura at the age of 94.  At that time my sister Jacquelyn and I inherited her cache of tatted note cards.  Although we don’t tat, we do have an appreciation for arts and crafts as an inheritance from our mother, May Morris Elsner.