Friday, February 28, 2014


What's a poor girl to do if her book club picks the world's most boring book to read? 

The one I belong to is very small; we are lucky to have two people show up.  We did have three regulars but one moved to Texas.  Neither of the remaining members (one being me) intend to move, though we both are so old we may just disappear one these days.  The book club is run by a nearby library and the leader picks the books.  We read non-fiction, and this is probably why we are so small.  Nevertheless, we mostly really like the books that are selected and with the small attendance here's little chance of anyone monopolizing the conversation.  So we basically have no problems.  Except....

This month's book was "In Defense of Food: an Eater's Manifesto" by Michael Pollan.  The first 100 pages of the book held about as much interest for me as a book of quantum physics.  When the first "reminder" e-mail was sent out by our leader I e-mailed her back telling her very honestly that I found the book waaaaayyyyy too boring, and since I wasn't going to read any more of it I would attend but simply keep quiet in the meeting.  Quickly she advsied that it got better after the first 100 pages, but alas, I found it not so. 

Nevertheless, our discussion meeting turned into an hour of great interest, and fun.  Aside from all the nitrates and nitrites and chemicals and processed food and nutritionisms that the author flings around through the book, we had a nice discussion on the global economy (why we grow strawberries in California but find only "grown in Mexico" strawberries in the supermarkets), what the possibilities are of getting all the ethnic and cultural palates to forgo the "fast food" and eat "right" (it will have to be done with education on a one-to-one basis, we decided).  Somehow the discussion of Pollan's book moved out of center stage and we began talking about animals.  So thinking about both animals and food, I shared the following:

I am in the process of doing some genealogy transcription to be put onto certain websites and most recently came across a story of Indians in Minnesota teaching early 1850's settlers how to cook (and eat) muskrats.  It seems there were two ways the Indians did it: one was to prepare them like today's corndogs and stick one end of the wooden stick in the ground near the fire.  (The other end of the stick, of course, was where the edibles were).  Since muskrats were plentiful, the entire fire was ringed in this manner.  Dinner was served.  I shared this with the book club members and we all made very appropriate sounds.

The other way muskrat was cooked was decribed thusly: 

 Many a white settler was asked to partake of what was evidently a feast to the Indians, and it is certain that they all graciously declined the invitation when their eyes beheld the contents of the kettle.  On a day when the Indian hunters were considered most fortunate boiled muskrat was on the bill of fare.  Just what procedure was gone through in preparing the muskrat for the kettle cannot be said, but it must have been an added delicacy to leave the claws and tail on, for there they were, dangling over the side of the kettle.  Potatoes were added to the stew to make it more savory.

We then had to have a thorough discussion of muskrats, because none of the three of us had ever seen one.  We threw in opossums and beavers for differentiation and relationship.

But the best part of our discussion came about because we were discussing the eating of goats.  (Jerry has eaten goat stew in Nigeria, but he wasn't crazy about it.) 
I shared my knowledge of "Fainting Goats."

And our leader shared her knowledge of Moroccan tree goats.  I love learning new things, and learning about the tree goats made up for what I found so boring in the month's read.

This three-person book club may not be the most exemplary of what a book club is supposed to be, but I have to tell you that I don't dare miss a meeting; I never know what new thing I'm going to learn!

Sunday, February 23, 2014


I always thought that it was a given: people who grew up eating Spam simply hated it when they grew into adulthood, kind of the same idea as WWII GI's coming home from the war and not being able to look at, much less eat, creamed chipped beef on toast.

Since Spam was invented in 1937, it means that there never was a time in my life when Spam wasn't around.  I remember eating it, probably during the war time when meat was rationed, but I never thought it was bad.  We didn't have it much, because as I remember my dad usually was able to put plenty of food on the table during even those years.  But we did have it on occasion.  Mother didn't like to cook and sliced Spam made for an easy dinner.  I don't remember anyone in the family throwing a fit about it, but somehow as an adult I ended up in the "EUWWWWWW!  SPAM!" column.  Over the years I have rarely given Span a second thought.

But today I was at the grocery store looking for a can of corned beef hash (which Jerry loves, especially with three over-easy eggs,) and my eyes in their sweep of the shelves locked onto the most unusual display of Spam that I've ever seen.  Things have changed!  Spam apparently is out of the shadows and into the spotlight.  Spam Jalapeno, Black Pepper Spam , Hickory Smoked Spam, Oven Roasted Turkey Spam (?) – not to forget Spam lite and Lo-Sodium Spam among the rest.

I don't know how long these varieties have been available, but to say I was surprised at what I saw was an understatement.  The patrons in the aisles of the market couldn't figure out why I was standing with my camera aimed at the row of assorted Spams.

But I just had to get a picture of them to send to my cousin Shirlee, who six years ago moved from SoCal to rural North Carolina and probably can't find her favorite Spam in the markets.  She has become used to seeing whole hogs flayed and roasting on the barbecue, ears, tail and all, not an easy accommodation when one is a retired veterinarian!  The first visit her sister Nancy made was a real eye-opener.  Shirlee took her to a tiny restaurant in the hinterland where some special sort of meat was the raison d'etre of that eatery's existence.  People flocked there for a meal.  Nancy took one look at the offering on her plate and pronounced it as "indeterminate meat" and thus not edible.  After I made a similar trip back and also sized up that same restaurant, I agreed with Nan.  It made Spam look like filet mignon! 

I'm sure by now Shirlee has come to terms with the cuisine of her area, but I do think that after 6 or 7 years of living with a more rustic regional cuisine, my cousin will probably want to place an order for Spam du jour with me.  It'll be a trip down memory lane for her!  The order probably will be "one of each" – except for the Jalapeno Spam.  That will probably be a little too California trendy for her.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


It's true.  I always have my eyes open for an unusual word.  But not all unusual words.  I like a word that I've not heard before but that won't make me sound like a pompous you-know-what if I lock it in my brain and use it on just the right occasion.  It has to be a word that pleases me when I say it and hopefully won't be too off-putting to the listener.  I don't like to hear pomposity spoken from a podium nor do I like to read a book that seems an attempt to show the reader what a brilliant person the author is.  I am sure you all know what I'm talking about.  I don't ever want to be that!

Over the years I've picked up a couple of good words to add to my meager vocabulary, and I've even written about them in earlier blogs.  The first two that come to mind I think came from one of William Manchester's books:  "pusillanimous" which among its meanings is "cowardly" and "Myrmidon" which is best illustrated as people who blindly follow a leader.  I don't have many occasions to use either of them, but I have, on a few occasions, been able to decide that they are the most appropriate word for what I want to transmit, and gone ahead to spit them out!

A later word I picked up was "crapulous" which sound exactly like what it means:  Given to or characterized by overindulging in food or drink.  The word "hangover" comes to mind.  When I posted that word on my blog some time back one of my grandsons commented that he personally knew exactly what crapulous was and sadly, how it felt.  I told him in  my younger days...... and he laughed his head off!

Anyway, here's the word for today.  It comes from Sheri Fink's amazing book "Five Days at Memorial Hospital: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital."  This is a stunning 500 page book by a writer who is not only a journalist but has a medical degree too.  In those 500 pages there is hardly one word that a reader would stumble over, even among the medical stuff.  To her credit, Fink is a writer for everyone and for anyone who remembers Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans so hard, this is a book you'll be at ease with, at least in the reading department.

But out of this book, toward the end, I hit a paragraph which absolutely threw me for a loop.  The author is reporting on a talk given by one of the hospital's doctors:  " 'I should note that, something I didn't know: Helicopters cannot fly at night,' [The doctor] told the audience, years after a colleague at her Houston fund-raiser had gently tried to relieve her of this mumpsimus." (The italics are mine.)

Say what?  MUMPSIMUS???

I ran for the dictionary.  Well, actually I went to Google and entered "define: mumpsimus" in the search engine and came up with this definition:  1.  a view stubbornly held in spite of clear evidence that it's wrong, or 2. A person who holds such a view.  Oh, I thought this was such a distinctive word!  And of course we all know stubborn people who fit that word exactly, though one really needs to count the possible cost if one uses it in an accusatory manner.  ( Example:  It is hard to get used to pronouncing a word the proper way, which is a very elementary explanation of events that might bring the word mumpsimus to mind.)

Anyway, I'm working hard on locking that word in the the same brain cell where reside pusillanimous, Myrmidon and crapulous. Whether I ever use it or not, at least it will be there with good company!

And while I'm at it, I might suggest that you treat yourself to a copy of this most interesting and informative book.  Aside from anything else, it will get you to thinking about disaster preparedness, and just as importantly end of life issues and ethics.  It's a hum-dinger of a book.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


As we age, Jerry and I find ourselves afflicted with softening hearts....not that either of us have ever been particularly hard hearted (except when it comes to flies and ants), but just that we tend to make things easy for whatever little critters come our way.  In our part of the apartment complex where we live, there are two cats who appear to be strays (not particularly feral, but cats who don't seem to belong to anyone, adult cats without "necklaces" that might identify where they live, and more telling, with somewhat dirty fur.  Thus far we haven't been able to befriend them, but at night we put out some of our own pampered cat's Science Diet dry food and a bowl of water, in case they (or even a possum, who also live around here) need a snack in the middle of the night.  Some mornings the "pebbles" are gone; other mornings they remain.

Why we share this story with you is that the sparrows and the house finches have now discovered the cat food, and they arrive every morning on our porch, ready for breakfast.  As we watch them grab a "pebble" in their beaks, haul it out onto the porch and use their beaks to take a bite out of the food, we are amazed first of all that they even find Science Diet for Cats appealing, but that their beaks are strong enough to eat big chunks out of it.  Who would'a thought?

All I can say is that feeding them this way certainly leaves less of a mess than giving them birdseed.  Cat food doesn't have leftover hulls.  However, since we are unlikely to stop feeding them, due to the softened heart syndrome, I'm going to replace the Science Diet with a less expensive dry cat food.  I trust the birds won't know the difference.

This next picture is a corner of our property.  The window with the bottles peeks into my office (the second bedroom) and the adjacent wall is the east wall of our living room.  The greenery is a combination of pink camellia and a baby bougainvillea.  The hanging pots hold geraniums, and the beautiful flowers on the right which look like poinsettias are, in fact, the results of a Christmas gift to me several years ago of a small poinsettia of a new variety.  We have never kept our poinsettias, because they grow tall and leggy and are really not very satisfactory.  However, Jer popped this one in an empty space at the end of our little garden, and we are amazed at what has happened to that plant.  It has never stopped blooming in the two years we've had it, and we are SO pleased.  He says he's going to prune it shortly; I hope he knows what he is doing.  So far, so good!

A number of years ago I was invited to lunch at my daughter's mother-in-law's house.  She is a superb cook, a professional one at that, and she had a salad that day that had the most delicious dressing on it.  She said it was balsamic vinegar boiled down to where it was thick and sweet.  It was really, really good.  I always intended to try making some, but just never got around to it.  Before Christmas this year we went to dinner at a fine restaurant with my daughter and her hubby - and for an entree I ordered a simple salad of tomato and mozzarella cheese.  On the plate were 3 slices of heirloom tomato, four slices of the cheese, a puddle of  basil pesto at the bottom of the plate and a puddle of brown "stuff" at the top.  That was it.  Bites of tomato and cheese dipped in these puddles were simply to die for.  I mentioned that I didn't know what the brown stuff was, and Brian said it was what his mother had used for that salad I liked, and that it was available at Trader Joe's market and called "Balsamic Glaze."  Needless to say I shortly made a trip to the nearest TJs and there it was!
The instructions on the label say it can be used for all kinds of things, including drizzled over desserts.  I've almost gone through my initial bottle of glaze; I'm eating tomato and cheese salads whenever I can find a big ripe tomato and this glaze is now a a staple in my kitchen.

Try it!  You'll like it!  (Who said that?  Some advertisement in the early days of TV?)

And just in case you all missed the saga of the rock, here's a picture I've kept on my camera since I visited the rock at its permanent home at LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Arts on Wilshire Blvd. in LA.  This rock was harvested from a quarry a couple of miles from our house here in the boonies, taken on a  long two-day ride from here to there back in January of 2011, and placed so that people can walk under it.  The rock had its fans and its detractors.  Is it art?  Some say yes and some, no.  The whole thing was funded by private donations so no one could say that the city was spending big money foolishly on something that came out of a quarry.  But still people picked at it.  Myself?  I walked under it, around it, touched it, and discussed the meaning of it with my cousin Nancy.  Because Jer and I quite often drove out to see it as it sat in the quarry waiting to make the trip (it had to wait long enough for the installation setting to be built.) we felt a proprietary interest in it.  The rock was moved 6 days after I had emergency gall bladder surgery, and on a bitterly cold night in January the rock, on its long carrier, drove on the first leg of its journey into LA.  I tried my best to last until it came by where we were sitting near a freeway overpass that it was going to have to traverse, but I was too recently out of surgery to last that long.  We went on home and tucked ourselves in bed.  But when the rock finally made the turn onto the overpass, we heard the roar and the horns honking and the cheering that accompanied it.  I had to settle for second best, but when I walked under that rock in LA, I looked up at it and said, "I know you!"  And when I saw this picture on my camera today, I had that same feeling of ---- well, of a tiny bit of ownership of it.  We knew it when....!

Thursday, February 13, 2014


If there has been one consistent thing in my life it is that I usually have a book in my hand, or in my tote bag or on the car seat, or on the coffee table.  I have carried them into my doctor's office, into the dentist's waiting room, and to the laundromat.  I don't want to be caught somewhere without a book; having 10 minutes to kill without having a book handy is torture.  I have always been this way.

My mother considered herself extremely lucky to have given birth to two back-to-back bookworms.  My younger sis and I both were readers from an early age -- we learned how to read in first grade (which in those bygone days it was thought that first grade was plenty early to be taught how to read) -- and she set the pattern for our own reading by always having a book in her hand and by taking us to the library to check out books when we were just little tots.  We couldn't read yet, but she read all those books to us.

There were a couple periods in my life when I didn't read: when I was at college, and when I was working full time and researching my family history in my spare hours.  Of course I was reading at those times, but just not novels and currently published books.  I read plenty when I was in college, but from textbooks, and in my years of research they were all genealogy-oriented books.

Being retired these past few years (fourteen years, as a matter of fact) has provided me with a generous amount of time to read, and I can't express to you how pleasurable it has been.  My only complaint is that in the interest of not using up my retirement income to buy books I want to read, I must depend on the local library to supply what I crave - books, books and more books.

Why life is tough for me, the bookworm, is that the little Riverside County Library System, upon which I am dependent for my books, and my needs are just not in sync.  There are 37 small libraries that provide for the reading needs of county customers.  Each individual library has a fairly limited amount of shelf-space for books, and an even more limited budget for new books.  The person who is not particular doesn't have much trouble finding something to read, but my gosh, for us bookworms it presents an awful problem.  We must put our wants on a reserve list, wait for the book to be found at a distant library, and then hope it makes its way to us timely.

Reality is that one of two conditions usually exist:  To insure that we have SOMETHING we want to read in our hands, we must put several on reserve.  But there is no way to know if they will all come at once, or not come at all, both fates worth than death.  The optimum condition would be to have them dribble out at a nice, steady pace, but that just doesn't happen.  When none come in, I am relegated to reading the backs of the Wheaties and Cheerios boxes.  When a bunch come in at once, like now, I must put aside my life and expect Jerry to run the household while I devour book after book.

Right now three are sitting on my desk: the 500 page "Five Days at Memorial" by Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink (about the Hospital disaster in New Orleans due to Katrina),  "The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics behind Nazi lines" by Cate Lineberry, and "The Fiddler on Pantico Run; An African warrior, His White Descendants, a Search for Family" by L.A. Times reporter Joe Mozingo.  All are new books, none renewable beyond the two week check-out period, and I absolutely refuse to turn even one back into the library before I have read it, since I've waiting so long for my name to come to the top of the "Reserve" list.

So Fink's book is presently lodged like a permanent appendage in my hand.  My doctor has seen it, the dentist saw it yesterday, my kids have seen it, the neighbors have seen it, and I have turned into a reading fool.  I'm on the homestretch now, but life is tough for me, the bookworm, because I have to sleep and eat and make dinner and do the laundry, all of which take away from my reading time. That is a pain in the neck, because I DO understand life must go on!

Nevertheless, I bring this on myself because reading is my choice.  It always has been and always will.  Who do I expect to understand this?  All other readers, including my son Sean, and at last count four grandchildren that I know of.  And Jerry knows too, not because he is such a reader but because he just knows me so well and makes allowances for me.  For that, I am exceedingly grateful.

Monday, February 10, 2014


Kotter came back. 
The prodigal son came back. 
Sheba came back.  (Did she?  Can't remember that one.) 

What I do remember, though, is that I left, but now I'm joining the returners. 

I feel like I want to apologize for my absence, but I think a quick word of explanation will suffice. 

The underlying issue is that I was getting sick and just didn't know it.  It would take until mid-December to figure out I didn't have the flu and that something more than old age was messing with my body. 

You know the phrase "when the stars are aligned…?"  That is just about what happened in mid-December when I presented myself to the local hospital's ER room and said I needed help.  Those "stars" were  as simple as finding nary a sole waiting in the ER room on a Sunday morning, holding the right papers (from the last lab report) in my hand, and having an answer to a question I had asked my primary care physician a few days earlier, right before he left on vacation.  I thrust these papers into the hand of the nurse who helped me onto the gurney and asked her to give them to whoever was going to help me.  And I told her what my PCP said. 

At that time, although I didn't understand what was going on in my body, I thought I was either a) going to need dialysis, b) have a kidney transplant, or c) meet my maker. 

The stars were aligned that morning, and I walked out of the ER room.  It took me a while to get my strength back, and I'm not totally problem-free yet, but this I know:  through it all, (and continuing up to the present) I missed having my blog at my fingertips.  

It is true that I was having some technical problems with the blog that added to my frustration, but I think even the frustration was all part of the health issue.  I just gave up on asking for help because I didn't want to deal with any more problems.  Getting rid of the blog solved that! 

Now that I'm feeling ever-so-much better, I enlisted my talented son in Sonoma to help me with a computer glitch that I experienced today, and I took his advice to use CHROME as my browser.  The glitch disappeared.  I decided maybe CHROME would take care of my blog problems – and LO………………….!

Now, do I have anything to say??? 

Nothing more or nothing less than I have had before.  As you may recall, I made it clear in the beginning that I write for myself, not for an audience.  But I do love sharing with you and I love the contact with each of you.  Many of you have told me that you missed the contact via HOT COFFEE AND COOL JAZZ.  So my return is for both of us.  Or all of us.  For you, Kenny; for you, Bryn and the readers at the office, for Patsy, and the other Patsy and Anita and Marlene and Olga and Mary Anne and Sean, and especially for Jer and my very smart BF in San Francisco…as well as those anonymous readers who have enticed me over the years with the comments at the bottom of the blog.  Thanks for sticking with me. 

So, for better or worse, "I'm Baaaa-aaaak!"