Monday, December 31, 2012

'BYE, OLD 2012

I always feel that while one year is being bundled up to put in storage and the next year is being shaken open like a new set of bed linen, one ought to mark both events with a comment or two:  How did I do this past year?  Would I give myself a plus or a minus, and what were the key issues that I used to determine the answer to those questions. Did I hold my own against 2012?  Was it a good year, a bad year or simply mediocre.  Do I have hopes, dreams and plans for the next?  Or am I past the point for hopes and dreams?   All things considered, should I be content to simply be happy with the “here and now” and put the hopes and dreams, reflections and judgments in storage alongside the past year? 

Believe me, coming up with 10 or 12 resolutions for 2013 would be a whole lot easier than what I intend to mull over in the next few days.  The fact of the matter is that I feel 2012 was kind of a wash – a few good things and a few bad things, nothing of great import – which made for a pretty boring year.  I’m tempted to say “wasted” year, but I think maybe that’s too harsh.  So here’s my judgment of 2012 so far:

2012 – I say a PLUS for pushing the medical poo-bahs to give me tests to rule in or rule out Pulmonary Hypertension. The answer was:  It’s out, and I got my life back.

2012 – I say a MINUS for not having a major project to work on.  Oh, I gave a bunch of home-made knitted items to the homeless group here in Riverside, but this somehow didn’t have the feel of a “project,” merely a decent use of my spare time.  Though I hate to say it, I don’t consider that very notable.

So in anticipating 2013, here’s what I need to do:

2013 – The PH doctor asked me how much I exercised.  I said to him, “How much is a 77 year old supposed to exercise? My exercise is actually done by curling up on my couch and making my eyes go back and forth across the pages of a book.”  He laughed when I told him that, but he asked if I could walk?  Of course I could walk.  I wouldn’t like it, but physically I could do it now that I’m not sick.  So for the last 5 days I’ve been out the door between 6:30 and 7 a.m., bundled up like the abominable snowman in a SoCal cold snap, walking a mile while listening to “The Best of Chicago” on my iPod,   I’ve made myself an Excel chart – and type A personality that I am, I will make sure that it doesn’t end up an embarrassment.  Keep at it, kid, I tell myself!

2013 – I have found myself a book club to belong to.  I am determined to be an eager participant and not a critic.  It is a non-fiction book club, so I’m less apt to feel myself a total dumbbell when the literati begin talking about all the things in the book at a deeper level than I could even process. 

2013 – My children gave me a year’s subscription to Ancestry, which I’m activating on January 2.  My intention is to go after some of the hard stuff that I don’t have and would sure like to discover before I can no longer research!  I want their wonderful gift to COUNT!  The worst thing I can think of is that my kids consider me a redundant dunderklumpen.

2013 – Most importantly, I must find a big project – or a couple of them.  Until last year, each year I drew up a list of 5 projects I wanted to complete, scotch-taped that list on my printer and was reminded of them every time I sat down at my desk.  I was constantly motivated to complete the list and most every year did.  However, I didn’t do that last year.  But I can see that this is what I need to do.  I wonder if I still have any bright ideas lurking around in my heart and soul, not to mention my brain.  Do you suppose?

I wonder how much expectation an ordinary person of my age can reasonably have about structuring a rich, productive year?  And this then reminds me of an old Ann Landers column about the middle-aged woman who was consulting a counselor about going back to college to finish up her degree.  She said, “I’d love to go, but it would hardly pay to do so, because when I finish I’d be 55 years old.”  And the counselor she was talking to said, “Well, how old will you be if you don’t go back?”

So there’s where the year of 2012 ends and where 2013 begins.  Right now I’m standing between them, glad to be past one and a little anxious about the other. 
HI, 2013!

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Today's the day I purge some detritus off my hard drive.  In a file labeled "Bobby Personal" I found a Word document titled "Good Ideas."  I had no recollection of what it contained, not suprising since the date I put it there was 6/7/2007.  I find the best way to get rid of things is to delete them sight unseen;  if I look at each item, I will find a dozen reasons why I should keep it.

However, "Good Ideas" got looked at and just maybe if I pass it on to you, I can safely let delete it.  I would certainly give credit to the person who came up with these good ideas if I could, but unfortunately I didn't save that part.  Nevertheless, good ideas always should be passed on, don't you think?


Easy Deviled Eggs - Put cooked egg yolks in a zip lock bag. Seal, mash till they are all broken up. Add remainder of ingredients, reseal, keep mashing it up mixing thoroughly, and cut the tip of the baggy, squeeze mixture into egg. Just throw bag away when done.  It's an easy clean up.

Expanding Frosting - When you buy a container of cake frosting from the store, whip it with your mixer for a few minutes. You can double it in size. You get to frost more cake/cupcakes with the same amount. You also eat less sugar/calories per serving.

Newspaper Weeds-Away – When you start putting in your plants, work the nutrients in your soil.  Then wet newspapers, put layers around the plants overlapping as you go, cover with mulch and forget about weeds. Weeds will get
through some gardening plastic, but they will not get through wet newspapers.

Squirrel Away - To keep squirrels from eating your plants sprinkle your plants with cayenne pepper. The cayenne pepper doesn't hurt the plant and the squirrels won't come near it.

Flexible vacuum - To get something out of a heat register or under the fridge add an empty paper towel roll or empty gift wrap roll to your vacuum. It can be bent or flattened to get in narrow openings.

Measuring Cups - Before you pour sticky substances into a measuring cup, fill it with hot water. Dump out the hot water, but don't dry the cup. Next, add your ingredient, such as peanut butter, and watch how easily it comes right out.

Good-bye Fruit Flies - To get rid of pesky fruit flies, take a small
glass fill it 1/2" with Apple Cider Vinegar and 2 drops of dishwashing liquid, mix well. You will find those flies drawn to the cup and gone forever!

Get Rid of Ants -
If you use chalk lines where the ants are coming in, they won't cross it, so I think this is even BETTER - as we need ants to aerate the soil and clean up dead bugs as they are great scavengers!!  Put small piles of cornmeal where you see ants. They eat it and carry pieces home, but because they can't digest it, it kills them.  It may take a week or so to stop the ants, especially if it rains, but it works and you don't have the worry about pets or small children being harmed!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


A decade ago I found this list and have enjoyed using it so much that I'd like to share it with you again for 2013.

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.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Dearest Caitlin:
It was so nice to see you last weekend.  I can hardly believe you are in your THIRD year at USC.  Seems like just yesterday you were moving into the dorm as an excited and somewhat nervous freshman.  Time surely flies.

I was interested to learn that you have changed your major, moving out of the engineering field and into the science field.  Neuro-science, I think you called it.  Your poor old grandma, who always was much more interested in people than in things, is pretty much out in left field when it comes to understanding that kind of study.  Regardless, I know you will do well.  I asked you what you intended to do once your academic training was finished and you said, “Probably some kind of research.”  This letter is to give you a suggestion.

But first, I need to tell you a little bit about me that you don’t know.  I don’t tell everybody, because they will think I am weird.  But here’s the scoop.  I see faces.  I suppose finding faces started out with your great-grandma telling me to look at the lady in the moon.  Yup, I saw her!  If my sis and I were bored with nothing to do and if it was a lovely day with nice puffy white clouds, she would suggest that we go out and find faces configured in the clouds.  So from an early age I was predisposed to see faces.

Now let me get the record straight.  I am NOT one of the people who sees faces of saints, angels or deities in fried eggs.  Some people do, though.  One lady in the south saw a face in a bun, a woman’s face that looked kind of like a nun.  She put it on display for everyone to see; most called it a nun in a bun.  The owner eventually sold it at auction for $28,000.  Now that lady was one smart, not crazy, person.  She simply saw a face….and shared it.

 But – and here’s where I want you to not think me weird – I tend to mostly see faces in linoleum flooring used in bathrooms.  In our house on Greenwood we remodeled the master bathroom and I picked out a very pretty blue and white piece of flooring that when laid, looked like a tile floor.  However, the minute I sat down to use the commode, I found every fourth tile to have a  face looking at me.  I knew it was simply a random pattern repeated stamped ever so many inches or feet.  But those faces looked back at me. To say it was a bit disconcerting is an under-statement.  I tried to get your grandpa to take the time to look at the face when his turn in on the commode came, but he never even tried.  He had previously told me that when he started MIT he went in with the intention of becoming an architect, but shortly his professor told him to change to engineering because he had absolutely no imagination.  So frankly, I don’t think he’d ever have seen a face in a floor, even if he had tried.

In our little apartment here in Mira Loma we have a bathroom floor that really isn’t conducive to having faces, but it does have tiles. One time I DID see a face in it but I’ve never seen it a second time. Which is really too bad because it was the face of a handsome man. Nevertheless, looking for him does give me something to do while I….(harrumph) sit.

The other day I googled “seeing faces” and learned that such a thing has a name – “Pareidolia” and there are neuroscientists all over the world studying this unusual propensity.  I also learned that even Leonardo da Vinci knew of pareidolia and encouraged young artists to look for examples of it to stimulate their creative juices. 
I don’t know where you are going with your interest in neuroscience, but should you think to study faces – perhaps how it is that some people see them and others don’t -  I’ll be happy to offer myself as your first guinea pig.  I can come into LA to pick you up at SC and we can then go hit a few linoleum stores.  Surely there will be lots of little faces to find; if you can see them too, you then might understand what I’m talking about. 

We might even want to drop in on a bakery where we just might use our talent to find a source of financing your Ph.D. when the time comes.  Helping a bright granddaughter earn her Ph.D would be a real treat!
....................................... from your loving grandma.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I started blogging in mid-2008.  One of my favorite blogs was an early one, worth repeating now that I'm 77-1/2.   It was about white cotton "utility" underwear.


When I was a kid and lived at home, white cotton underpants were de rigueur. Now that was a long time ago and I have no idea whether decorated undies for children - like my little granddaughters' Dora the Explorer panties - were even on the horizon, but even if they were, my mother's fascination with all things white leads me to believe that regardless, I would have had white ones.

Mother always thought white signified total cleanliness - and if a choice had to be made in colors, such as when colored kitchen appliances came into being, Mother always opted for white and made sure we knew why she was choosing it. "White always makes your kitchen look so clean," she would say. Trendiness was not a consideration; cleanliness was.

So my underpanties were always white, and my first training bra (although we didn't call them that in those days) was also white. I was inadvertently brainwashed into thinking that I was making a choice of my own free will when I marched up to the cash registers to pay for my white cotton underwear. And I did it for years, always feeling very clean and very virtuous.

So I was thunderstruck when, back in the early 1970s, Jim Sanderson, who wrote very helpful newspaper columns about recovering from divorce and whom I read faithfully in my efforts to recover from my own unhappy split, made this trenchant pronouncement: "Ladies, the first thing you need to do it get rid of your utility underwear." He was talking about white cotton panties and encouraging us to go out and buy ourselves some lovely feminine underwear, silky and ranging in colors from the palest pink to the hottest red. He said it was a start to making us feel better about ourselves. Oh, I ran to the store and grabbed up pink, blue, lavendar, yellow, red and black silky underthings, and some in wonderfully sheer lace.

Did it make me feel better? You bet. And here I am at 73 still in fancypants.

Today, I still cannot look at a pair of white underpants without mentally pointing a finger at them and saying "Ugh, utility underwear!" It may look funny for a happily-married 73 year old to be standing at the counter buying lovely soft, silky and colorful underwear, but at least no one is ever rude enough to say to me, "Oh, are you buying these for YOURSELF?" Let them think what they want. I simply no longer wear utility underwear!
Now here's what this new blog is all about:  I feel honor-bound to advise you that yesterday I went to Target and bought 10 pairs of white cotton utility underpants!  I can hardly believe I did such a thing!  I am quite sure Jim Sanderson, wherever he is, is turning over in his grave, or if he's still with us and writing in some other newspaper, is horrified! 

But there is a good reason I did it.  I am not a shopper; actually I hate shopping for anything and for such a thing as mundane undergarments that goes double.  So of course I always wait until I am desperate, at which time I MUST buy what I need.  And yesterday's foray to Target was a must.  The awful laundromat here at the adult complex where we live had all but cremated my lovely little dainty wearables over time, and with the elastic not functioning any more and the nylon of the panties now stiff as medieval armor, I was desperate enough to go shopping.

But Jim, the racks of lovelies were all but decimated by Santa Claus, I suspect.  There were a few thongs left (don't even imagine a 77-year old in a thong!).  What WAS available were....yep, you guessed it, only white utility underwear.  I refuse to get my knickers in a twist over a shopping glitch, so I grabbed a pack of ten on sale for 50% off and against my druthers paid for them and went home.  There was no way I was going to go from store to store among the throngs of Christmas shoppers for exactly the right kind.

I probably will have these ugly white things for the rest of my life, since the laundromat will never damage them.  Yes, I will miss those little lovelies that Sanderson wrote so authoritatively about, but so be it!  I'm guess I'm really past the age of being too particular. 

77 will do that to you! 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Although technically I MIGHT still be able to read a book in 2012 that would bump one of these off the list, at the rate my life is moving that probably isn't going to happen.  So here they are - my 10 favorites.  Not all are fine pieces of writing, but they appear here because I liked them, sometimes for the subject matter, sometimes for the story and sometimes because the encompassed all three: good writing, good story and good subject matter.  And they are listed in no particular order.  My biggest surprise, however, is discovering Willa Cather so many years after I had to read "My Antonia" in 10th grade.  I remember nothing about that one, but her "Archbishop" book has certainly put her on my list of very readable authors!
Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather
Willa Cather loved the land and cultures of the American Southwest. Published in 1927 this book has claimed for itself a major place in twentieth-century literature. It’s a simple story that follows Bishop Jean Latour and Father Joseph Vaillant, friends since their childhood in France, as they organize the new Roman Catholic diocese of Santa Fe subsequent to the Mexican War. While seeking to revive the church and build a cathedral in the desert, the clerics, like their historical prototypes, Bishop Jean Laury and Father Joseph Machebeuf, face religious corruption, natural adversity, and the loneliness of living in a strange and unforgiving land.   It is a beautifully told story.

Wartime Lies – Louis Begley

The book is a novel.  The narrator is a Jewish man who tells the story of his early years in Poland during WWII and how he learned to stay alive by lies, deceit, cheating and creating fantasy backgrounds while he was just a tot.  The author says to the extent that he himself was a Polish Jew, lived through those times in Poland and survived, the book is autobiographic, but the story itself is fiction.  That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  The author simply means he told of the era and of the way people had to live in a made-up story form.  His fictitious family were “assimilated Jews” – the father a medical doctor trained in Vienna; the grandparents were landholders, well-off and well-to-do.  They were professional, educated people, people who couldn’t believe that they needed to flee their own country.

I have read a lot about the holocaust but not about the facts that this story is built on.  I needed to hear it.

Alice I Have Been - Melanie Benjamin
Have you ever wondered about the little girl who was the inspiration behind Alice in Wonderland? Her name is Alice Liddell and she grew up in Victorian England. The author of this book takes the facts and figures from Alice's life and intertwines them with fiction, creating a unique story. The narrative follows Alice throughout her life, including her childhood relationship with Charles Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll) and the mysterious end of their friendship.

 Six Exceptional Women - James Lord
Commenting upon the nature of friendship, loyalty, patronage, creativity, and moral courage the author explores the lives of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Arletty, Marie-Laure de Noailles, Errieta Perdididi, and Louise Bennett Lord.  Not all the stories carry equal weight, but all are interesting and one in particular almost unbelievable.  It’s definitely an interesting book.

Clara and Mr. Tiffany - Susan Vreeland
 The Washington Post Review says this:  Clara and Mr. Tiffany is about art and commerce, love and duty. Peopled with characters both imagined and historic, it is also a study of New York's ultra-rich and desperate poor, its entitled men and its disenfranchised women. And it is the story of one extraordinary woman's passion and determination…Vreeland's ability to make this complex historical novel as luminous as a Tiffany lamp is nothing less than remarkable.

Caleb’s Crossing - Geraldine Brooks
Brooks is just about my most favorite writer.  In this book, the  New York Times says, one will find a tale of passion and belief, magic and adventure.

The setting is Martha ’s Vineyard in the 1660s.  Bethia Mayfield, young daughter of pioneering English Puritans, meets and grows up with Caleb, a young son of an Indian chieftain.  Bethia's father is a Calvinist minister who seeks to convert the native Wampanoag, and Caleb becomes a prize in the contest between old ways and new, eventually becoming the first Native American graduate of Harvard College. Inspired by a true story and narrated by the irresistible Bethia, Caleb’s Crossing brilliantly captures the triumphs and turmoil of two brave, openhearted spirits who risk everything in a search for knowledge at a time of superstition and ignorance.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen - Paul Torday
This is a delicious book, with a wacky plot and vivid characters.  The author hits politics and bureaucracy directly on target, and you find yourself laughing and nodding your head in agreement on every page, even when that page is laying out a preposterous happening.  A first novel for Mr. Torday, this one is a pure delight, and much, much better than the movie.

The Life of Van Gogh – Naifeh & Smith
The authors of the recently published “Van Gogh: The Life” indicate in the book that their intent was to reach general readers as well as specialists. I can’t speak for those specialists but as a general reader I will say that they, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, have spectacularly succeeded.  There are 800 pages in this book, and I’d read it again in a flash!

The Chicken Chronicles - Alice Walker

As some of you know, I am pre-disposed to like chickens and often bemoan the fact that in my lifetime I've never had one to call my own. So I was set to like this book from the outset.  Now I have always known of the author Alice Walker -- I mean, how can one NOT remember that this is the writer of "The Color Purple," a Pulitzer-prize winner and an advocate for the world's dispossessed. That alone should make a person want to see what she has to say about chickens. That, and wondering what kind of person would name a chicken "Agnes of God?"

 Waiting with Gabriel - Amy Keubelbeck

When the author was told that the child she was carrying had a fatal heart condition, she and her husband were faced with an impossible decision: to give their baby a chance at life -- and with it, enormous pain and suffering -- or to let their baby die naturally, most likely just a few weeks after birth. The unforgettable journey that ensued would change not only their lives, but also the lives of everyone who came in contact with them, from family and friends to healthcare workers and complete strangers. This story is not simply one of personal tragedy -- it is a story of deep parental love, of the blessing of supportive family and friends, and of cherishing life. It is the story of one family, and one baby, but it will touch everyone.  I have read it twice and still am deeply touched by her words.

Monday, December 3, 2012


He was such a cute, smart and verbal tyke.  His use of the King's English, seemingly so advanced for his age, made everybody laugh.  One afternoon in 1959 when he was about three I walked into the front yard and found him standing near the sidewalk in his little red wagon with the end of the garden hose in his hand.  He was using the nozzle as a microphone to interview the neighbor kids as they came by.  Another time I got a phone call from a neighbor a few doors down, advising me that Sean had just knocked on her door, telling her that he was selling tickets to the Billy Graham Crusade and did she want to buy one so she could be saved.  She could hardly explain to me what had transpired because she was laughing so hard.

But his language wasn't always this precise.  He hit a period in his threes where he tested word-building and my patience. He was my first child; everything he did was a surprise to me, so imagine my shock when he turned to his friend Calvin one day and out of nowhere said, "You are a big poo-poo head!"  Because I like to think that we, his mom and dad, were fairly free of major epithets in our day-to-day living, I was sure he hadn't picked this kind of language up from us.  Nevertheless, when he said this - and soon other similar verbal descriptions - I just had to turn my back so he wouldn't see me laugh.  I was sure it was a stage and it too would pass, though I could see that he probably would need a little help from me.


Our nation's 2001-2003 poet laureate Billy Collins wrote about this very thing in

Child Development

As sure as prehistoric fish grew legs
and sauntered off the beaches into forests
working up some irregular verbs for their
first conversation, so three-year-old children
enter the phase of name-calling.

Every day a new one arrives and is added
to the repertoire. You Dumb Goopyhead,
You Big Sewerface, You Poop-on-the-Floor
(a kind of Navaho ring to that one)
they yell from knee level, their little mugs
flushed with challenge.
Nothing Samuel Johnson would bother tossing out
in a pub, but then the toddlers are not trying
to devastate some fatuous Enlightenment hack.

They are just tormenting their fellow squirts
or going after the attention of the giants
way up there with their cocktails and bad breath
talking baritone nonsense to other giants,
waiting to call them names after thanking
them for the lovely party and hearing the door close.

The mature save their hothead invective
for things: an errant hammer, tire chains,
or receding trains missed by seconds,
though they know in their adult hearts,
even as they threaten to banish Timmy to bed
for his appalling behavior,
that their bosses are Big Fatty Stupids,
their wives are Dopey Dopeheads
and that they themselves are Mr. Sillypants.


He also must have had a Sean in his family!

I personally think a book of Billy Collins' poetry would be a marvelous gift to give at Christmas.  And to be honest with you, his poems are about the only kind I understand.  And really, really enjoy.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


No, not Turkey or dressing or giblet gravy (although I don’t think Jer’s side of the family go for giblet anything….chopped chicken liver, yes, but Turkey giblets, no.)  Instead, I’ve got just a few leftovers I’ve been thinking about and that should have already appeared here except for my laxity in wielding the pen….er, the keyboard.
I took all the scarves and hats that I’ve been knitting all year down to the place in Riverside that provides services and things for the homeless.  It is a good feeling to walk in with a bag of pretty, usable goodies, hand them over, refuse a receipt and walk out empty handed.  Especially when it takes place on a cold, drizzly day in November and the place is being used at that moment for feeding a hot lunch to those same people. 
It is at that moment that my religious background kicks in and I am reminded that Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”   I believe we are not called on to judge whether or not one is deserving of our help but to provide it.

I don’t know how many of you were touched, as I was, by the TV report of a smallish 14-year old girl who gave birth to a baby in her bathroom at home and then strangled the baby.  She had hidden her pregnancy from her parents, and when asked why she killed the baby she said, “I was afraid I would get into trouble with my parents.”  Such a sad, sad story. 

On a lighter note, I have had a real hoot this last month making phone calls to members of Long Beach Poly High School’s Class of 1953 in preparation for our 60th reunion.  I was handed a list of about 300 grads with some addresses and some phone numbers, charged with updating the list, and notifying those I talked to about the scheduled October 2013 reunion.   More detailed information will be sent based on the accuracy of my handiwork.  Let me tell you that I have had to put all my genealogical researching skills to work; names change, people die, people move, land lines disappear, cell phones appear and then there seem to be big plots afoot somewhere to keep me from finding absolutely everybody!  But I’m sure giving it a good try. 

Mostly when I get a “hit,” the conversations turn into one big laugh fest:  How could we possibly be 77 years old?  It was just yesterday that we girls were wearing Joyce and stepladder shoes, cashmere or Lanamere sweaters, poodle skirts and the guys were wearing hand-knit argyle socks made with angora yarn in the patterns, if they were lucky enough to have a girlfriend who knit.  How is it that we now find grandchildren and doctor appointments as main subjects of conversation?  We shake our collective heads and wonder just how it happened that we are now so old in our bodies but still feel so young in our minds?

And just as I’ve eaten the last bite of Turkey, so I’m letting November go.  It was a good month: a little rain but which hopefully was a harbinger of more to come, a pretty heavy social schedule with lunches and birthday meals in abundance, and a paucity of doctor visits, which is always a nice thing to happen.  The cars have been running well (I say that with crossed fingers), projects were finished and decisions were made on Christmas gifts.  Old friends were contacted, new friends made, and everyone except the Turkey seems to be in a good place.  (Well, it is too, actually, but you know what I mean!)

It’ll be 2013 before we know it!