Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bah, humbug!

Christmas used to be one of my favorite times of the year.  I still remember Christmases at home when I was small.  We  had a tree loaded with time-honored ornaments, many of them home-made.   When I was about six, my sister, Thelma, brought a small blue and white owl to hang on the tree.  I still have it with a note added by my mother after  Thelma's death,  noting the date and place.  It hung on our family Christmas tree for almost seventy-five years until  I moved to Lakeport and and quit putting up Christmas trees. We always had the same candy and nuts, which mother divided into separate bags, so we each had our own stash for the holidays.  There were mint pillows and hard candies and nougat cremes and Brazil nuts, filberts and walnuts.  I don't remember baking frenzies or big dinners, although I think Mother made Scotch shortbread for my father and we always had big batches of homemade fudge.  I was also about  six when I learned the truth about Santa Claus. He arrived with a doll that I had my heart set on that cried "Mama!" when you tipped her over and in the excitement I forgot everything else.  Later, I went into the kitchen to get a drink of water and saw Thelma and realized that she had missed seeing Santa Claus!  I was so overcome by remorse that I had forgotten to call her that they had to tell me the real truth.....Thelma was Santa Claus.

When my own kids were small, Christmas was a BIG DEAL.  I loved the warmth and coziness of it.  Lights everywhere, candles and glitters and sparkles.  Fires in the fireplaces, huge trees loaded with ornaments and lights, the smell of cookies baking and roasts browning and glögg warming on the stove.  The avalanche of Christmas cards from old friends and family members not often in contact.  The beautiful Christmas wrapping papers and exciting packages piled under the tree.  The runs to Mac's drugstore for last-minute items. The sumptuous holiday meals.  When we were a young family just starting out and money was scarce, I used to collect grocery-store coupons. (Still do!) This money I saved all year in a special envelope and at Christmas-time we had Maine lobsters for dinner.

Now-a-days the sparkle of Christmas has faded for me.  I am not a religious person, so that aspect was never a factor in this holiday.  Rather it was the feeling of fellowship and peace and goodwill that  surrounded the season.  Joy.  The beautiful music.  The ancient traditions and customs and superstitions that gave it such a special aura.  Today it seems to have resolved into one giant shopping spree where people spend money they don't have on merchandise nobody really needs.  Our newspapers have  morphed into Macy ads with snippets of news tucked along the borders.  I think if Macy suddenly pulled all its ads, the front section of the SF Chronicle would be reduced to three pages. The stock market rises and falls on the forecasts of how much the public is going to blow on Christmas this year.  Catalogs for Christmas cards begin arriving in August.  Christmas decorations are now in place  before the Halloween merchandise hits the shelves.  Buy! Buy! Consume! Consume!  Where is the humble Christmas story in all this?

Whatever the cause, the magic has gone out of Christmas for me.  Maybe it's because the children are gone, grown into men and women no longer wide-eyed with wonder and excitement at the holiday preparations. Maybe it's the endless, soulless commercialism, maybe it's the cynicism  that pervades so much of our society.  Maybe it's because I am growing old and grouchy.  Annie Rooney rides again!  Please don't let this sour diatribe put a pall on your celebrations.  As I have so often said, this blog is how I let off steam and I write it strictly for me.  No one else need read it.

May your Christmas be merry and bright and may the bills that arrive in January be within your budget!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cutting for Stone

I really liked this book.  I resisted reading it for quite awhile after I read the reviews.....didn't sound like my kind of book.  But once I started it I never looked back.  I often complain about the length of novels where the story just plods on  as though the author can't figure out how to end it, but although this book is well over 600 pages long it held my interest to the very end. 

The author is a doctor in real life and there is a lot of emphasis on  hospitals and medical matters, but it is not (very) technical and the physicians and surgeons in the story come across as real people with compassion and concern for the human beings who are their patients.

The plot revolves around twin sons born to a beautiful Indian nun and a British surgeon.  It is a tale of love, betrayal and forgiveness, set in the exotic background of Ethiopia during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie.  There are many colorful characters brought together by life's vagaries and I was mindful of that"endless river of Chance and Change" on which we all float and which carries us to destinations which we could not have  imagined when we set sail. 

I have heard several reactions to this book from different liked it a lot, one could not get into at all, one put it aside while reading something else but intends to go back to it, and so on.  So you will have to sample it  yourself to see what you think.  But for me, it was one of those books that makes reading so much fun.  I would give it 4 1/2 stars. maybe 5.

Cutting for Stone       Abraham Verghese         Vintage Books   

Friday, November 11, 2011

Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant

I have just read a book about eating alone.  It is a collection of essays from food writers and well-known people about what they eat when they are home alone or dining solo in restaurants.  As might be expected, their choices are sometimes weird in the extreme.  They indulge in secret food fetishes and gorge on childhood favorites, they invent fantastic stews and experiment with exotic spices.  Or, they open a can of refried beans and eat them cold out of the can.  Just the sort of thing you (oh, come on, admit it!) or I do when we are alone.

I have lived alone for almost ten years.  Although I share meals several times a week with my family, most of my meals are just me, myself and I.  To make things clear, eating alone (or being alone) is not my problem.  What I hate is cooking alone.

I still love to cook, and spend a lot of time poring over recipes on the wonderful cooking blogs on the Web, or in magazines and Sunday supplements.  I  keep up with the latest trends and techniques (sous vide, foams),  exotic ingredients (hoja santa, malanga), adventurous and daring combinations of foods ( guacamole with Dungeness crab, apples and coconut vinegar ) and various foreign cuisines which catch on with the public for a while and are then replaced by the next hot trend.  I like to try new recipes, but I do not go far afield, sticking mostly to tried and true ingredients and techniques.  Can't get most of  that new, trendy stuff here in Lakeport, anyway.

But when I do cook, it is for my family.  I have little interest in sweating over a hot stove to produce something just for me.  In the first place, after I finish eating, I do not want a lot of pots and pans and dishes sitting around my kitchen.  As I wrote in an earlier blog, I do not do dishes at night, and when I finish eating, I want to rinse off a plate and a glass and be done.

So I often do what some of the essayists in the book do:   I open a can of something and eat it, as is. I love corn, and while it is in season I have an ear of corn-on-the-cob almost every day.  But the rest of the year, I will sometimes open a can of Green Giant kernels and eat them cold (but not out of the can) with a slice of buttered bread.  I like baked beans the same way.  Hot or cold.  Tomato soup is good with saltines and butter,  and there is just one pot to wash.  Cream-of- Anything Campbell's soup heated up with a can of chopped clams.  I love canned red salmon, plain,  with maybe some left-over  salad or a sliced cucumber.  Once in awhile, I will get ambitious and cook a full recipe of Swedish meatballs, say, and store them in the freezer.  Pull out two or three, heat up some McCormick's brown gravy and boil a potato and I'm good to go.  You understand that this is a confessional, nothing held back.  I was comforted by some of the stories in the book:  I am not the only one!

I have some standards.  I do not eat things straight out of cans.  I do not eat standing up by the kitchen sink.  I do not eat TV dinners (except when I had the shingles),  and I always use a place setting.   Etiquette gets bent a little, of course.  I usually cut everything up into bite-size bits before I begin, because I read or do acrostics or watch the News Hour while I am eating, and I do not want to be distracted.  This is the antithesis of what food means in the social sense...the gathering around a communal board to share and enjoy the loving preparation of nature's bounty and so on.  This is just to stuff in some nutrients to keep the engine running.

Confession:  I have not been entirely candid about eating out of  containers.  I eat Ben and Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk right out of the tub.  Nobody around to see and it saves washing a bowl.

The book is "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant", edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler,  and published by Riverhead Books.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Buddha in the Attic

An unusual little book, only 129 pages long, but covering a period in American history not given much attention by many Americans.  If begins with the journey of the "Picture Brides" from Japan to the West Coast of the U.S. and ends with the round-up of all Japanese at the onset of WWII.  It is written in an incantatory style which I found very compelling and very close to poetry.  In it, one traces the history of these women with their expectations, hopes and fears as they make their way to America to begin life with men whom they know only from pictures (many of which are misleading or false), through their first anxious days,  years of backbreaking toil for most of them, childbirth ,and the repudiation of their heritage by many of those children, and the final days of their disappearance from the cities and towns and farms of the West.

The author does not follow the story of any particular woman, so this is not a novel in the usual sense. She writes of the women as a collective body, giving the narrative a universal, interlocking, unity.  One feels the commonality of their stories woven into the individual experiences of each one.

The final section (of eight) is written from the point of view of their American neighbors after the internment of the Japanese.  Where did they go?  Will they return?   Were they really traitors, are the rumors and whispers really true?   

I liked this book a great deal.  I think any woman reading it can relate in some way to the stories of these women, even though her life experiences may be much different. A mother is a mother, a wife is a wife, a woman is a woman, whatever her origins.  

The Buddha in the Attic        Julie Otsuka        Alfred A.  Knopf

Friday, October 14, 2011

Prairie Nocturne

I used to think Ivan Doig was one of my favorite authors, based on his "Dancing at the Rascal Fair", which I loved,  and "English Creek" which I also liked a lot.  "Ride With Me,  Mariah Montana" did not do much for me, but I figured two out of three wasn't bad and not everybody can hit the bullseye every time. But I have just read his novel  "Prairie Nocturne" and I am re-evaluating my views of Ivan Doig.  I  did not like this book at all.

It is a rambling story, alternating between the 1890's and the mid-1920's.  It is set partly in the Two Medicine country of Montana which is the background for his earlier novels, and partly in Harlem with episodes in Scotland and other places.   It involves cattle barons, a WWI hero, the Ku Klux Klan,  an illicit love affair, a bi-racial love affair, a dust storm, an earthquake, rustlers, black cavalrymen, and on and on.  Reading back over that list, it sounds pretty exciting, but I just found it tiresome and skimmed through quite a bit of the book.  Just when you think the story is winding up, the author manages  to throw in another crisis and keep it going.  None of it rang true in my mind.

Of course, this is all very subjective and you may love this book.  It is called "Prairie Nocturne" by Ivan Doig.  Published by Scribner.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Where Rivers Change Direction

I love horses.  That is, I love the idea of horses.  I would never get anywhere near an actual horse.  I am terrified of them.

To me, they are the most beautiful of all the creatures.  The lovely, graceful sweep of neck and back, the muscular hindquarters, the delicate legs.   What could be more thrilling than a herd of wild horses thundering over the desert, manes flying, nostrils flaring?  You feel the raw energy generated by these free spirits could move mountains.  No wonder they call it horsepower!

In the big derbies, I want every one to win!  I love the post parade, watching the lathered beauties dancing by,  each a bottled-up unit of power and speed, ready to explode at the signal.  I love the gentle, mild-mannered outrider's horses, sensible no-nonsense mentors to these high-spirited youngsters.  I love the massive Percherons and Belgians, with their feathered feet,  the elegant trotters and steeple-chasers and the patient workhorses, uncomplaining and steady.  I am an admirer of all horseflesh.

I suppose this rubbed off on me from my mother, who adored horses.  She rode them as a girl and painted and sketched lovely images of them later in life.  Since my family were ranchers, horses were an important part of their lives and livelihood, as much a part of daily life as the automobile is to us today. 

The only horse I ever had anything to do with was a sway-backed pinto pony we called Ole Paint.  As little kids, we rode him bareback, sometimes two or three at a time.   My father used him to haul the stone-boat with which he cleared land, and they harrowed the garden together in spring.  We sometimes hitched him to an old buggy  for jaunts around the neighborhood.  When approached with a harness or bridle, he emitted huge  audible sighs, but he had the patience of Job and he was gentle and understanding.  There is a family story of a small cousin who wandered off and was discovered standing beneath him, patting his tummy.  As far from the fiery mustangs of the plains as Mrs. Claus from Lady Gaga.

Believe it or not, this is leading, in a way, to the review of a book I recently read.  It is not really about horses, although they figure prominently in the narrative,  and the author's father owned a hundred of them as the proprietor of a Wyoming dude ranch.

The book is a collection of essays and stories of the writer's rugged boyhood growing up in the 1960's on the State's oldest dude ranch, just outside the east entrance to Yellowstone Park, in the Shoshone National Forest. He went to work for his father at the age of 11, with a salary of $30.00 a month, room and board.  Some of the events he describes would surely have today's Child Protective Services in a dither, but he seems to have relished the life, at least as a boy.  His writing is sometimes quite lyrical, even poetic,  and very intense. I think of his style as  masculine.  As the essays progress and he grows into manhood,  they take on a very dark tone and the last one was so depressing that I would recommend skipping it entirely.

I liked this book on many levels, but I don't think everyone would.  The descriptions and flavor of the Wyoming wilderness are powerful and the author is passionate in his love for the land where he grew up.  (And for the horses he shared it with.)  But a quaint memoir of boyhood on the old homestead, it is not.  I think he wrestles with many demons.  But if you like this rugged kind of man-book and admire good writing,  I think it is worth your time.

Where Rivers Change Direction         Mark Spragg      Riverhead Books

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Oh, Give Me a Home....

I was born in North Dakota, on the OX ranch, one of the oldest ranches in the area, just a hop, skip and a jump over the Montana border.  Ranches carried the names of their brands and this was the O.X. (not the "ox".)  My parents bought it after WWI and did not run cattle, but instead attempted to start a dairy business, which soon went broke, either as a result of the economy after the war, or more likely because I don't think either of them had a lick of business sense.  Whatever the reason, they sold out and we moved to the West Coast when I was three years old.

As a high  school graduation gift, they financed a trip back to Montana with my aunt and uncle to visit family and see where I began. I was 17 and had never been out of Clark County, Washington, so it was a big event for me.  We drove up the Columbia Gorge, past Multnomah Falls and the Indian fishing grounds of The Dalles  and into Eastern Washington.  I was enchanted by the golden hills,  quiet and tawny in the still air,  like the flanks of lions sleeping in the sun.  I was raised in the drippy conifer groves and small narrow valleys of southern Washington State and I had never seen expanses like this.

We crossed the Idaho panhandle and the mountain passes and suddenly....the prairies!  My heart opened up.  Something clicked.  It was as though  I recognized something I did not know I knew.  I have loved the prairies ever since, the openness, the space, the soft wind ruffling through the grasses and wildflowers.

The mountains and the redwood groves and majestic forests of the West are awe-inspiring and beautiful, but I am not really comfortable there.  I do not like the closed-in feeling of the towering trees and the dark and secret passages through the forest.  I love the desert, the sweep of sky and space. And the ocean, where, from California's beaches one can see all the way to Japan!

Of course, I love the Western woods, where I grew up, as well......dogwoods, vine maple, Solomon's Seal and Oregon grape.  Trilliums in the spring, wild iris in the summer, small, shy lady's slippers and tiger lilies.  And, on the horizon, the magnificent mountains of the Cascades.

I have lived in many beautiful places and each holds precious memories.  But, of them all, only the prairies give me that special feeling of freedom and exhilaration. I have no romantic illusions about life there. I know that folks there are just starting their spring gardens while we here on the West Coast are harvesting the first produce from ours.    I know that the wind that runs through the grasses and tickles the leaves on the cottonwood trees along the creeks can be a relentless enemy, that pioneer women committed suicide to escape its ceaseless moaning, that it can pile the snow that blankets the area in winter to drifts as high as your head and make driving impossible.  I know that the winters are endless and merciless.  I could not live there.  I am too soft.

But driving down a Montana highway with the endless vista stretching out ahead, the purple shadows of the distant mountains on the horizon and the red-winged blackbirds lining the fences, I  feel the lightness and joy of the meadowlark as he whistles his flute-like call and scatters the notes like flakes of gold into the clear prairie air.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Annie Rooney

I have always thought of myself as quite open-minded, tolerant of other people's opinions and sympathetic to the other guy's point of view.  My father taught me that there are two sides to every question,  that disagreeing with a person does not mean being disagreeable.  Live and let live and so on. 

Ha!  As I grow older, I find that I am not as open-minded as I thought, or as tolerant of other people's views, and that people who disagree are indeed disagreeable.  In fact, I am becoming quite crochety.  A female Andy Rooney!

The recent lack of dialogue in Congress certainly illustrates my point.  I remember  a day when opposing sides could sit down and, with some measure of compromise and common sense, work out knotty problems of policy and principle, each side giving a little, but both sides aiming for the  common goal of the good of the country.  What has happened to that great institution that its members act like a bunch of spoiled children fighting over who gets to be "it"?

Small things like TV and magazine ads still set me off.   Have you seen the ads for "Senior Retirement Communities"?  Most of the people look young enough to be my grandchildren.  How happy they are!  Off to the tennis courts, the swimming pools, the golf courses!  Laughing over an afternoon cocktail with the other tanned and sexy members of this exclusive country-club society!  The gleaming teeth, the shining silvery hair, the smooth sun-browned skin (no naturally brown skin here).  Ah, the Golden Years!  Just one thing missing...where are the walkers, the wheelchairs, the canes?  Where is the often-present emergency vehicle, called to help someone in trouble?  What have they done with the wrinkled ones, the bent ones, the bald or gray-headed ones?  If  you believe the ads, these communities are inhabited solely by the fit and healthy, but I have lived in a couple of "senior" developments and I know that such  is not the case.  I know that a greater proportion of the inhabitants are more likely to be gathered around the bridge table than the tennis court and are much more apt to be riding around the premises in their electric carts than rollicking  around the golf course.  Not to say, of course, that everyone is disabled or too feeble to wield a tennis racket.  Just that there is a mix of people and a majority of them are not candidates for the Health Club Poster of the Year.

If anyone reads my blogs they are familiar with these rants.  I am well aware of the larger issues of the day and that there  more important things to get one's panties in a twist about than misleading advertisements, but sometimes these problems are so overwhelming that at this stage  in my life I just prefer to peck away at the petty annoyances.  I am beginning to understand Andy Rooney better than I used to, when I sometimes considered him just a tiresome complainer.   It is a satisfying way to deal with some of the frustrations of modern life without harming anyone!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pictures of You

I found this book very touching.  It concerns two women running away from failed marriages.  On a foggy country road an unavoidable collision leaves one of them dead and the other trying to cope with her grief and guilt.  I had a hard time putting it down, especially in the first few chapters.

It is an emotional story,  as the survivor deals with her own devastation as well as that of the husband and young son of the dead woman.  It raises the questions of what do we do with the fate that life hands us, how do we move beyond tragedy to redemption, hope and healing.

It does not have a story-book ending, but one that I think rings true.  As you can tell, I liked this book quite a lot and I will be looking for other books by this writer.

Pictures of You              Caroline Leavitt    Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pull Over!!

I have an opinion  that I think many of my fellow retirees probably do not share,  on a sensitive subject among us old folks:

I think that all older people ( as well as most younger ones), should have to take a driving test in order to get a driver's license.  There!  So shoot me.

It is not that I am anxious to get behind the wheel with an examiner who is no doubt crabby, bored,  under-paid and over-worked.  That is a level of stress that everyone would like to avoid, but who said driving was not stressful?  It is the ability to deal with it and all the other hazards on the road that make a good driver.  Most of us feel that we are experienced, careful, capable and responsible drivers.  So why be afraid to prove it?

Of course, the sad truth is, that while we are for sure experienced, and no doubt careful and responsible, not all of us are capable.  Our reflexes, our eyesight and hearing, our perceptions, are all diminished with age and often we do not recognize the loss of these functions.  That is not to say that many older people are not perfectly able and good drivers with many years on the road still ahead.  It is just that some are not.  I don't believe there should be an age limit on driving, just that there should be adequate testing for capability.

The written test which is administered in California can be passed by anyone with the ability to read and understand the manual which lays out the laws and traffic rules.  But knowing, for instance,  how far ahead of a turn you should turn on your blinkers does not a safe driver make.  Of course, it it helpful to recognize the different traffic signs, but we all know that stuff already from years of driving.
What counts is if you are able to stop in time to avoid a collision, or if you are aware of what is happening several cars ahead, or if you have noticed that car in the intersection before you make your left turn.

I renewed my drivers' license in 2009 on my 89th birthday.  I went in,  took the written test, (which I aced, as I always do, because, for heaven's sake, I can read that manual, can't I?), took a cursory vision test, and walzed out with permission from the State of California to drive an automobile until I am 94 years old.  I read of a man last week whose license had been renewed  until he was 100. 

I live in a small town with hardly any traffic and my driving these days is confined to familiar routes:  the supermarket (two blocks away),  my hairdresser (the other end of town, maybe a mile), my doctor (four blocks) and on occasion, the local hospital where most of the specialists are located, 6 miles out of town on a little-traveled freeway or my favorite back roads along the lake.  I do not drive after dark or on stormy days. I do not drive if I am feeling below par.  My family helps me keep my car gassed up and in good condition.  I do not like driving.  I never have, but as for so many of us seniors it is the key to the independence which is so vital to our lives.  I feel as comfortable as I always have while driving, but the minute I begin to doubt my abilities, I will turn over my keys.

Of course, seniors are not the only hazards on the road.  Teenage drivers have inordinately high death statistics.  Many ordinary citizens are terrible drivers and a menace behind the wheel.  My position:  Test 'em all!  No money, we hear.  But the cost of unnecessary accidents  and the toll in lives lost or ruined caused by bad driving is incalculably greater. As for people who text, or gab away on their cell phones while driving, the penalties should be the same as for drunk driving.

 OK.  So I've got that off my chest.  Lord,  this blog is wonderful!!   Everybody should have one to blow off the steam!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Good Eats

Now that my appetite is returning, I have begun to think about Great Food that I have had over my lifetime.  There has been a lot of it, of course.  I have known some wonderful cooks in my life.  My sister was a good cook, all my kids are good cooks and I, myself, (forget modesty here), have turned out some pretty good food.  But a few stand out.

 In Wolf Point, Montana, we were invited to one of my mother's cousin's for a catfish fry.  I don't remember anything that was served except the catfish, giant platters of crispy, golden fish, freshly caught from the Missouri that day. I can still taste it.  When we left Vermont to return to California, we took a detour up to Maine to visit friends and had a real, honest-to-goodness clam bake.  The kind you read about but never get to try.  Fresh lobster from our friend's boat, clams, potatoes, corn on the cob.  It was fabulous!  Once in Frankfurt, Germany, Erik and I dined at an ancient cellar restaurant on fresh oysters followed by salmon so succulent and perfect that I have never forgotten it.  Erik did not care for turkey, so we usually had something else for Thanksgiving dinner, and one year I made a crown roast of pork that was a triumph. Lisa and I met for lunch  in San Francisco one day  and each ordered a hot turkey sandwich which has been the gold standard for hot turkey sandwiches ever since. In Sweden, where it seems every woman is a gourmet cook, I ate so many wonderful meals that I lost count.  Our friend, Ulla Svensson, used to stuff strömming (a small, herring-like fish, harvested from the Baltic Sea by her husband and sons) with fresh dill, and then bread and fry them to golden perfection.  Ulla was a wonderful cook and her pittipanna, a kind of Swedish hash, was outstanding.  Erik's Uncle Lasse made heavenly plättar, (Swedish pancakes) with cloudberry preserves and whipped cream.  Yum, yum.

But my all-time, never-to-be-forgotten meal, the one that sticks in my mind as the most delicious food I have ever consumed was a KFC take-out meal.  We were on a trip to Montana and the plan was to link up with Lisa, Scott and Jack (then about 18 months old) and tour the old Anderson haunts and my birthplace in North Dakota and other points of interest.  It was one of those made-in-hell travel days, where the flights were late, the connections were bad, Erik's blood sugars were low, and the accommodations were not really what you would call plush. This was Billings, Montana.   Our motel was a row of nondescript, identical rooms, no restaurant, no shopping center nearby. No car, since we had flown in.  We were famished, crabby, ready to chuck the whole thing and head home.  But we had to eat, especially Erik.  So I picked  up the telephone and called KFC.  In no time, an angel from heaven arrived at our motel door. He had with him a large packet, warm to the touch and steamy when opened.  In it was crispy, golden chicken, mashed potatoes, flaky biscuits, creamy gravy.  I have never tasted anything so delicious before or after.

I have never eaten KFC since that night.  I do not want to spoil the remembrance of that wonderful meal, since I suspect that in the light of everyday dining, Colonel Sander's food is quite ordinary.   But, oh boy,  on that occasion, no 5-star German restaurant could have produced anything so life-savingly scrumptious as that take-out packet of production-line fast food.

Makes you kind of stop and wonder how much of what we enjoy in food  is based on conditions, atmosphere,  hunger, company,  and other factors, and how much is actually based on taste.  A hot dog roasted over an open campfire on a chilly evening does not taste a thing like that same hot dog heated up in  your broiler at home.  A toasted cheese sandwich shared with good company at the end of a long hard day does not resemble that same sandwich thrown together for a hasty lunch on your way out the door.  A gourmet meal in a fancy restaurant will be tasteless and dry if you are sharing it with people you despise.  Maybe it doesn't matter so much what we eat as when and with whom we eat it.

All I can say, if you are starving and distressed and at the end of your rope, ole Colonel Sanders sure knows how to deliver!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Greater Journey

I have just finished David McCullough's new book, "The Greater Journey, Americans in  Paris".  I am a big David McCullough fan, having read his books on Truman and John Adams, both of which I loved.   I did not care quite as much for this one, although it is an excellent book.  It deals with the influence that living and working in France, (mainly Paris) had on several generations of Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is a time when our country was quite new and finding it's way toward a national identity and character.  Since we had no history or background to draw on, many artists and writers looked to the Old World for guidance and inspiration and the superior instruction available in the ateliers and workshops there, as well as the advanced medical practices and facilities.

The list is quite amazing:  James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel F.B. Morse,  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Mary Cassatt, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Singer Sargent, Charles Sumner, and on and on.  I was struck by the common feeling they all seemed to share of the magic of Paris.  It had a profound influence on all of them and despite the hardships of ocean travel in the early days, homesickness, money problems and other obstacles, many of them made several trips to visit and study.

One gets a feel for the turbulent political climate of France in those days....the Franco-Prussian War, the  Siege of Paris and the awful days of the Commune. I learned of our heroic American ambassador, Elihu Washburne, who refused to abandon his post throughout this trying period despite the  terrible conditions and his own ill health. There are accounts of the exciting Universal Expositions, where all the wonders of modern technology, art and science were on display.  This book was a kind of eye-opener for me.  I knew that many Americans had traveled and studied in France, but I had never before realized the extent to which their experiences had shaped and influenced them.

I can recommend this book.  It is well researched and full of interesting anecdotes as David McCullough's books always are.  Four-and-a-half stars, I think.

The Greater Journey          David McCullough    Simon & Schuster

Monday, August 8, 2011

TV Dinners

This bout with shingles has me doing something I swore I would never, never, ever do.  I have been reduced to eating TV dinners!  (Picture head hanging in shame.)  I have no appetite and less energy and the thought of cooking even the simplest of meals it just too daunting.  My there such a thing as an edible TV dinner?  I am not expecting much.  Just something that resembles what is pictured on the box and does not look and taste like cat food on the plate.

There seems to be a tremendous demand for this stuff, judging from the freezer sections at the supermarkets, so you would think that some of it must be more palatable than the samples I have tried.

The illustrations look quite appetizing.  For instance:

Salisbury steak..... a nice juicy little hamburger patty with mashed potatoes and  a small serving of corn.  Reality.....a chunk of some sort of spongy mystery meat.  The potatoes are usually OK and corn is corn.  So I had mashed potatoes and corn for dinner.
Chicken pot pie....golden and yummy-looking, with a little sauce oozing out of the crispy pastry topping.  Reality.....a puddle of white sauce with a few coins of under-done carrots and a pea or two, and here and there cubes of some sort of white (and spongy) substance that I guess is the advertised chicken.  True, the pastry is nice and crispy but does not make for a satisfying meal.
Swedish meatballs......I should know better.
Sweet and sour chicken.....cubes of white-meat chicken, peppers, rice, some pineapple, just the ticket for a light meal.    Reality....what do they do to that chicken to turn it into inedible chunks of sponge?  I know I keep using that word, but it is the only one I can think of that describes the texture and taste of this stuff.  It does not resemble chicken in the slightest way, just as the slab of "Salisbury steak" had  no relation of any hamburger patty I have ever eaten.

The shelves are full of packaged dinners, just waiting to be reconstituted with a little water in your microwave, and the freezers are jammed with frozen dinners of all sorts.  Surely, among them there must be some choices that are acceptable?  Not as a steady diet, but just as a stop-gap to get one over the rough spots. Any suggestions, dear friends? 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

A charming first novel about  a small English village trying to cope with the influx of foreign-born and, to the insular inhabitants of this village, sometimes outlandish, people.  The protagonist of this narrative is Major Ernest Pettigrew, a retired Army Major.  He is a very likeable hero from the start.....courtly, wry, dignified,  intelligent....the very epitome of the  best in the British character.  The village is populated with a mix of people who are somewhat reminiscent of the folks in the Lucia books, transplanted to today's world.  The story revolves around the friendship of Major Pettigrew with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani proprietor of a village shop. Small-town- type crises arise, petty rivalries abound, snobbery as only the British can do snobbery,  all leading to a happy ending for the Major and Mrs. Ali.  A gentle book, humorous without being comic,  principled without being preachy, a very pleasant summer read.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand     Helen Simonson     Random House

Monday, July 18, 2011

Odds and Ends

I feel like rambling.  Things pop into my head and I just like to put them down for fun.  So the usual product warning:  Quit reading  now if you don't want to be bored.  I am doing this for my own amusement.

There is a question that PAs, nurses, and other medical professionals often ask that I never know how to answer.  If you go in with a pain somewhere, they will ask, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how much would you say it hurts?"   Well, now.   There are some factors involved here, right?   How much is 10?  Is it  agonizing, excruciating pain, or is it "It hurts like hell"?  If 10  is excruciating pain, I would say my knee is maybe a 4 or 5, or on some days, 6.   If  10 is "It hurts like hell", then it is right up there at the top.  I knew a woman who moaned about how painful her mammograms were. Obviously, she had never had a baby.   I knew a man who died in agony from cancer of the sinuses.  When I consider this last,  it puts my knee down to a 1 or 2.  So it is a relative thing and what good does my answer serve?

Another silly TV ad.  Cereal, this time.  A young woman sits in front of a box of nutritious, heart-healthy Choc-O-Puffies.    Flashing a toothy smile, she reaches toward the box and selects a Choc-O-Puffie  from the very top of the box.   Reality check!   Have you ever bought a box of cereal where the contents reached the top of the box?   No, you have not.  You much reach into the box to extract a tasty Choc-O-Puffie.

While I am knocking the TV commercials for the idiotic baloney (old-fashioned term)  that they are,  I will give a nod to some of the dementia treatment ads, which are quite sensitive and realistic.  I am not against advertising.  I am against phoniness.  Show us real people doing real things and maybe we (I) will be more receptive to  your pitches.

A small boy and girl cousin were put into the bath together at their grandmother's summer cottage.  The little girl had never seen a naked boy before and she got quite upset.  "How come", she demanded, "that he's  so fancy and I'm so plain?"

When I was young and for a good time after,  choices  at the markets and drugstores were limited to one or two of each product.  For instance,  I have always used Crest toothpaste.  In the past, if you went into the store to buy a tube of Crest, you picked it up, paid,  and took it home.  There may have been some choices as to tube size, etc. but the product was  the same in all.  Today, Crest toothpaste occupies three shelves at my local market.  Gel or paste?  Toothwhitener?  Plaque control?  Sensitive gums?   Once upon a time, Bayer aspirin was Bayer aspirin.  It eased all kinds of pain.  Nowadays, you can get Bayer aspirin specific for arthritis, heart problems, menstrual distress, "minor aches and pains" and lots of other special situations.  I always wonder.... if I have a headache, will the arthritis pain pill work?  Or if I have both arthritis pain and a headache, must I take a pill for each condition?  How does the pill know which pain it is targeting?   In those days, if aspirin was not your choice, you could get Anacin. That was about it.  We had Minute Maid frozen orange juice.  We had Kellog's Corn Flakes, and Rice Krispies.  We had white rice, and apple cider vinegar.  These days the cereal aisle is 50 feet long and the choices among exotic rice varieties, vinegars, grains of various sorts, and frozen products is staggering.  Of course, it is nice to have all these wonderful (although often unnecessary and redundant) choices, but shopping in the old days sure was a lot simpler.

Mondegreens!!!   Young scholars have expressed their rapture for the "Bronze Lullaby",  Beethoven's "Erotica Symphony", Gershwin's "Rap City in Blue", and my favorite, "Taco Bell's Canon".

Monday, July 11, 2011

Two Good Books

A couple of books I can recommend:

The first one is called "The Forgotten Garden"  by Kate Morton. This is a big, romantic novel and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  It concerns a 4-year-old girl, found abandoned on a dock in Australia, adopted by the port master and his wife, and her subsequent efforts to trace her  background and origins.  It spans three generations and two continents and ends with her granddaughter's unraveling the secret of her family and her grandmother's past. Lots of mysterious leads and side stories and a little mild love interest. 

The author jumps from one character and one time period  to another throughout the book, which can be a little disorienting at first.   But once I got acquainted with the people involved and the mysteries surrounding their stories, it did not present a problem for me.  A nice pleasant read, I thought.

And just the sort of escapist literature that I have been indulging in lately.   I find that the older I get, the less inclined I am to tackle books that require much involvement, either mental or emotional.  I have become very cynical about government and the people who "run" it,  and I have witnessed so much violence, hatred and evilness during my lifetime, that I sometimes feel I cannot take in any more.  From a young idealist, believing fervently in the eventual triumph of civilization,   I have evolved into a skeptical old lady who wonders if mankind is going to make it.  Except for the technological marvels, it seems we have not advanced much beyond the Middle Ages.  We still torture and murder and engage in brutal wars and sacrifice our young as though their lives hold no meaning at all.

Which brings me, sort of,  to this next book, which I am going to recommend without having read it.

It is called "Unbroken", by Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote "Seabiscuit".  It is about  Louis Zamperini, an Army Air Forces bombardier and champion Olympic runner, and and his experiences in WWll.  I did, in fact, get quite far into the book and then reached a stage where I could not continue.  Louis' plane was shot down and he became a wartime prisoner and I simply could not read another account of the atrocities and sufferings of young men at the hand of brutal prison guards and the ordeals they underwent during those terrible years.

Louis survived and lived to a ripe old age.  The book is well-researched with many pages of notes and a large index, and quite a few photos.  My impression from the portion  that I read was that it was a very informative, interesting, scholarly book and well worth the time of anyone who is interested in this period  in history.  In fact, a very good book. Wish I could have read it all.

The Forgotten Garden    Kate Morton    Washington Square Press
 Unbroken      Laura Hillenbrand        Random House

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Who you callin' grumpy?

I am getting to be a grouchy, testy, crabby, grumpy old lady and you kids had better stay off my lawn if you know what's good for you!

Lots of things set me off:  TV ads are high on the list.   Here's the middle-aged gentleman consulting his doctor about whatever middle-aged gentlemen consult their doctors about.  The doctor nods gently and reassuringly and the middle-aged gentleman smiles in relief. They shake hands and then the doctor and the patient stroll down the hall together, chatting amiably!  Oh, sure.  When is the last time your doctor walked you to the elevator?  If your experience is the same as mine, the answer is "never."  You clutch the prescription for your $200 bottle of pills and you hightail it out of there while the nurse is already calling the next patient.

Here's the latest wonder drug,  Formaldehyedroxin.  Cures just about everything.  The ad is full of happy, healthy-looking people whose symptoms have been cleared up after years of suffering.  However........Do not take Formaldehyedroxin if your skin should turn green, if you suddenly gain 100 pounds,  or if your fingernails start to drop off.  Call your doctor if you notice that you have blood pouring out of your ears or if you become blind or have out-of-body experiences.  Ask your doctor if Formaldehyedroxin is right for you!!

 Erectile dysfunction (or ED, as the drug companies like to call it) ads can be a hoot.  What do  you do when that "right moment" strikes?  Well, instead of heading upstairs and tumbling into bed like most people, the folks in the ads get dolled up, go out to dinner and a show, or maybe stroll out in the woods and build a campfire.  It occurs to me that the 4-hour erections  that the ads warn against might come in handy in these situations.

Then there are the food ads.  Usually, when you put  something in your mouth it takes a moment or two for the taste buds to register the sensation and the brain to process what is going on.  But not on TV!  As soon as the spoon touches the lips, a beatific expression of bliss and delight hits the face of the recipient.  Same with digestive aids and pain pills.  Pop that antacid pill and before  you can swallow it....blessed relief from  that acid reflux that's been keeping you awake at night!  My experience is that a pain pill takes a little while to do its work, but in the TV ads, not so.  Before it has had a chance to dissolve,  the subject is dancing, picking up the toddler, trotting up the stairs, biking around the block.

Drives me crazy.

It doesn't have to be that way.  There is a lovely ad  on TV with a man walking his Spaniel on the beach, meeting some neighbors out with their dogs, chatting for awhile and walking on, just as any of us might do.  Natural and believable, and the pitch for the drug advertised is just as forceful as any of those other ads.

I am a person of very limited imagination.  I do not like magic shows, fantasy or science fiction.  As a child, I hated Alice in Wonderland,  Peter Pan, the Arabian Nights, and Aesop's Fables.   I like things to be realistic, every-day,  plausible.  I cannot suspend belief and pretend that fabulous, unlikely things can happen.  My loss, I know.  But we are what we are.

 I could go on, as I have a tendency to do, but I will shut up before I get started on the movies.  Or  telemarketers.  Or politicians. Or computers.

 Didn't I tell you kids to stay off my lawn?

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Trailer Park

When it became apparent that a four bedroom, three-bath house on one-half acre of landscaped grounds was getting a little beyond our ability to cope, Erik and I decided to look for a smaller place.  We wanted to be close to where we were, since our life had been centered there for so many years. It was at the start of the real estate boom, so our property was increasing in value, but so was every one else's.  Our realtor, a friend and former neighbor, showed us (or rather, me, since Erik was not really able to handle the climbing in and out of cars, etc.)  a succession of unsuitable and unpromising prospects.  We put down a deposit on a very nice unit in Rossmoor, the local retirement community, but then Erik got into a dispute with the management over some modifications we wanted to make, so we kept looking.

One day, while poring over the Real Estate For Sale columns, I ran across an ad for a mobile home.  I had never actually been inside a mobile home, but it sounded perfect!  3 bedrooms,  a fireplace, spacious kitchen, in a nice development where someone else did all the landscape work.

Some obstacles presented themselves: (1) It was quite far from our center and(2) my husband was NOT GOING TO LIVE IN A TRAILER!

After some persuasion, he agreed to call the agent and at least have a look.  As it turned out, she had another listing closer to home we might like to see.  Well, OK,  (sigh) if I have to, I'll go see it, but I am not going to like it.........Mmmmm, not bad.  Not what I expected.  Quite nice, in fact.  How much is the listing, again?

And thus we ended up in beautiful Brookview Park where we spent 15 happy years in our comfortable, roomy, and I think, very attractive mobile home.

Mobile home owners are very sensitive to the terms "trailer" and "trailer park".  We were constantly reminding people that although our home had been pre-assembled elsewhere and trucked in, it was sitting on its own permanent foundation and was not a "trailer" or a "unit" or a "coach", but a real house.  Hard habit to break, though.  And a wonderful source of bad jokes.  (Erika moaned:  How am I ever going to tell my friends that my folks have sold their beautiful Alamo home and moved into a trailer park?  Haha.)

But, oh, the luxury of having someone else trim the bushes, tend to the pool, plant the flowers!  All we had to do was enjoy.  Our last few years in Alamo were a constant battle with so-called "gardeners".  Once I left a big tall weed near the patio just as a test.  It was there for weeks.  Once, when I was resting on my bed, I heard voices outside on the patio and when I checked, there were two of my "mow- blow- and -go" gang stretched out on the lawn chairs having a nice chat.  They were quite surprised when I appeared.

I now live in another mobile home in Lakeport on a lagoon that stretches in from Clear Lake.  This house has had kind of a hard life, I think, doors a little crooked, floors a little slanted. A cake baked in the oven will be a bit higher on one side than the other.  We bought it on the spur of the moment just months before Erik died.  I think if he had been himself and in good health it would have driven him crazy to live here because nothing is "plumb".  My kids will tell you that, to their Dad, being  "plumb" was next to godliness as a virtue.  But I am very happy here, it is airy, bright and comfortable and I am willing to overlook my little house's eccentricities to be near my family (some of 'em, anyway!) and to enjoy the abundant bird life on the lake and the wonderful clear air and beauty of Lake County.

And I am definitely not living in a trailer.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Decoration Day

When I was a  young girl, we went every Memorial Day (Decoration Day, back then) to put flowers on the graves of our departed ones.  The flowers came from our gardens, no one ever bought hothouse flowers from the florist shops.  It was too late for the snowballs and lilacs, and too early for the dahlias, but my grandmother's peonies were at their peak and my aunt always had armloads of Madonna lilies and there were roses and irises and other early summer bloomers.  We would fill buckets and jars and pile them into the car and then Auntie Dimp, the World's Worst Driver, would get behind the wheel and we would take off in a series of neck-cracking lurches and jerks as she released the clutch.  Quite often she would kill the engine and have to start all over.  But eventually we made it to the local cemetery.

We did not have many graves to decorate in those days.  My sister, Thelma, who died at the age of 22 of pneumonia, and my Uncle Lee.  He was struck by a car late one night while crossing the street in Vancouver.  I always figured he was drunk, but whether I surmised this or picked it up from the whispers of the older members of the family, I don't remember.  He was a World War I veteran of the campaigns in France and returned home as so many young men did then, as now, damaged and anchorless. (As a side note, many years later, after my father's death,  my mother married Tom Crable, Lee's wartime buddy.)  In addition to those two, there were a few neighbors and friends.

It was not long before the graves in our family began to add up.  My grandfather, my grandmother and  my father.  Followed by the aunts and uncles and then the cousins, one by one.  My brother and sister.   My nephews.  A baby grand-nephew.  Today, except for four elderly cousins, I am the only remaining member of my generation on either side of my family.  Having good genes and living a long life has its pluses, but the minuses are many.

For many years, after I moved far away,  I sent money to my sister to buy some of  those hothouse flowers to put on the graves.  Today, it would take a truckload of blossoms to honor the resting places of my family.  Not only in the little local cemetery, which has grown into many acres, but scattered in graveyards all over Clark county, where most of them lived and died.

As  a child, I don't remember the patriotic and military aspects of this holiday.  We had not been in so many wars then.   I suppose there were parades and celebrations in the towns but we lived far out in the country and I think the height of our holidaying was the usual huge family pot-luck at the home of one of the relatives. 

Memorial Day has a whole new meaning to me now than it did in those far-off days. Members of my family have been to war and I have lost a friend in battle.  Our country is much more belligerent than it was then and we are engaged in conflicts of  doubtful merit.  But my heart is with the young men and women who  fight these battles and I am filled with admiration for their services.   While I remember my loved ones as I always have on this day,  I add the thousands of brave warriors who have died in combat in far-off lands  and I hope and wish that their sacrifices will be worthy of the courage they displayed.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Riverboat Gambler

Several years ago I spent Thanksgiving with Dave's family in a spacious guest house up in Truckee.  During the weekend, we drove over to Reno so Erin could shop.  I am not into shopping, so the boys and Dave and I spent the afternoon "gambling".  We dropped the boys in the arcade and Dave and I headed into the casino.  Now, I had never been in one of these modern casinos. I spent some time in Nevada years ago and did a little gambling, but my game was Blackjack.  I never played the slots.  What greeted me here was a dark, vaguely sinister cavern, filled with flashing lights, stale cigarette smoke and lots of noise and movement.  Dave and I bought a few rolls of quarters and then he took off. 

Now, I have never claimed to be the brightest bulb in the chandelier and I am completely flummoxed by machines and  mechanical devices, so I was at a loss.   I wandered around a little and then went looking for him and hauled him over to show me what to do.  He pointed out some slots and levers and the bucket that is designed to hold all the coins that you are sure to win and took off again.  Ok.  So I pulled the lever and watched the lemons and cherries and things roll up (always all different, aren't they supposed to match up?)   Well, I  fed the beast a couple of rolls of my quarters and it didn't even belch.  Just blinked it's colored lights and waited for more.  This is fun?

Back in my Rhythmette days, we played endless games of 3-handed pinochle and lots of poker.  The good ole honest-to- goodness games like Draw Poker and 7-card Stud and maybe a little Spit-in-the- Ocean.  After I was married  and became a mother I did not play much poker except for occasional socials with friends.  I never enjoyed these much.  They played party games where it seemed like every third card was wild and there were so many variations that you forgot what you were supposed to be playing.  Forget the strategy and bluff and that delicious little feeling of excitement and danger when you are playing real poker.  It might as well have been Rummy.

Erik did not care for cards much and so I got out of the habit and many, many, many years have passed since I have stood at a Blackjack table and instructed the dealer to "Hit me!"  I have even forgotten the rules.  But I know one thing, I am never going to take up the slots.

Some of my favorite people love slot machines and even win some money now and then.  They have favorite casinos and even machines and spend many happy hours pulling that lever.  None of these people are addicts and they don't blow money they can't afford, so why not?  Just not my thing.

Friday, May 20, 2011

All About Lulu

Somehow or other, I ended up with two books by the same author in my stack.  Even though I didn't care much for the first one I read ("West of Here" which I reviewed awhile back),  I decided to read this one and I did like it a little better.  This author will never make my list of favorites, though.

The novel concerns a hopeless love affair between two young people.   Not exactly ground-breaking material, but there is a twist at the end which anybody but me could have spotted two miles away.  I think I missed it because I was not really engaged with the story to start with, but it explained (sort of) the anguish and mystery and heartbreak, etc., etc.

This would be a good summer poolside book.  Easy to read, easy to lay down.  And a little  more substance than many summer-time novels.  About 3 1/2 stars.

All About Lulu      Jonathan  Evison      Soft Skull Press

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Bathing Suit and the Bacon Fork

All families have silly family insider jokes and  allusions that are incomprehensible and meaningless to outsiders.  A word, a glance, a nudge,  will instantly transport every family member into a special place shared and understood only by them.  As surely as genetics, or love, or family loyalties, these special intimate references bind a family together in subtle ways. 

We have a bunch of these in our family.   I am about to divulge  two of them that over the years have mystified our friends and confused even some of the immediate family members.

No. 1 is the bacon fork.  Or as it has become over the years, in hushed tones, the Bacon Fork.  The object in question is a small, two-tined fork with a bone handle.  How this humble object got it's name or the mystique surrounding it is unclear. It was never used to turn any bacon as far as I know.  Where it came from or what it's original purpose was are lost in the mists of time. It was owned by my mother, who used to wrap a piece of clean cloth around the tines, tied with a bit of twine.  This she dipped into a can of ham or bacon fat which was kept by the kitchen stove, to grease the pancake
griddle. (In those far-off farm days, we had pancakes most mornings.)  Somehow or other,  it got to be an object of some veneration among the siblings, who pull it out of the utensil drawer when visiting and ooh and aah over it's qualities.  They have suggested keeping it in the safe deposit box in the bank. They are considering a velvet-lined jewelery display case.  They do a good bit of squabbling about who is going to inherit.  (Answer:  Nobody.  I am taking it with me.)   Now I ask you, does this make a bit of sense to anybody outside our family?  Or even inside our family?

No.2  is the Bathing Suit.  One day a good many years ago, as I was vacuuming,  I found a small bathing suit on the floor of my bedroom,  of the kind worn by Barbie dolls.  I immediately assumed (wouldn't you?) that the suit belonged to of my girls' old Barbie dolls and since Erika was the only one living at home at the time, I handed it over to her.  She denied ownership.  Well, it sure wasn't mine, so I insisted.  Before long, I found the thing under my pillow.  I retaliated by sticking it into her makeup box.  Not long after,  there is was, tucked into the top of the cereal box.  So I stuffed it into one of her shoes.  War!!   Over the years, things got more sophisticated. (As, sadly, the little suit became more faded and stretched and forlorn.) Once I sent it to a friend who lived in Kenya and she mailed it to Erika in Southern California.  I didn't see the letter but  have always hoped there were a lot of exotic African stamps and foreign signs plastered on the envelope.  One Christmas which we all spent in Cabo San Lucas during Erika's stained glass period, I received the bathing suit nicely framed under glass.  Sometimes a long period of time would pass and the bathing suit would be forgotten, only to turn up out of the blue in some unexpected place.  And then it disappeared!  Erika denied knowledge of it's whereabouts and I had no idea what had happened to it.


I have stopped traveling and it has been several years since I have used any of my luggage, but one day not long ago I got the idea that I should empty out my travel kit, which I always kept packed and ready to go with essential items such as toiletries, cosmetics, a small flashlight, a bottle opener, (most essential thing of all) and so forth.  While fishing around in one of the side pockets, what should I find but a greeting card with the Barbie bathing suit neatly glued to it's inside cover!

Now, I am not a suspicious Mom type, but since my last trip using this luggage was to Seattle and since Erika was in Southern California at the time, I feel justified in thinking there must have been some collusion here.  Of course, sisters support each other and often bond together and all that,  so I am just assuming........Pretty strong evidence, though.  Eh, Watson?

While I was composing this blog, Erika posted a picture of the bathing suit on her Facebook site so you can see what all the fuss it about.  Since it is all now out in the open, I think we have agreed on a truce.  Not that I really trust her.  I would not be surprised to have the Barbie bathing suit turn up under my pillow one of these days.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bad Things Happen

I love murder-mystery novels, especially the beginnings where the plot is developing and all the murders occur,  and you sit up late at night reading because you can't wait to find out who-dun-it.

Later, when the author is trying to untangle the mess he or she had so much fun getting into, things sometimes get a little heavy.  I often wonder, do writers have the solution worked out before they start the novel, or do they just wait to see what happens and hope for the best?  So many loose ends to tie up and things to explain!  I have read books where I am sure the author was hoping the reader wouldn't notice all the disparities and unraveled clues lying about. You sometimes get the feeling that he (or she)  got so entangled that they just said, "Oh, to hell with it! Let's finish it up."

In the case of this book, the  writer has tied up the twists in the plot quite nicely.  There is a plethora of bodies (I think I counted seven) but most of the violence takes place off-stage and none of it is graphic. Ditto for the sex.  In fact, it is quite an old-fashioned book in this sense and being an old-fashioned kind of gal I found that refreshing.  It isn't stodgy, though, and the dialogue is believable and and crisp. The main character is an interesting and very different kind of "hero" and part of the fun is trying to figure out who, or what, he really is.  The detectives are smart and likable, as are some of the villains.

If you like intelligent crime thrillers, I can recommend this book.  Maybe four stars.

Bad Things Happen       Harry Dolan         Berkeley Books

Friday, April 29, 2011

Lion Taming for Dummies

I do not consider the  computer my friend.  We have a very edgy relationship, my computer and I,  maybe something akin to that between a lion tamer and a lion.  You may think yourself in control but you never know when the beast will turn on you. I am not fond of people or objects that are so capricious.   Last night, for instance, I was working innocently away when the screen suddenly turned shadowy  and everything froze.  No amount of clicking, cussing, or pleading could get it to react.  Finally, I just gave up and shut off the power.  Later in the evening when I went back to it, it booted up with it's cheery major six-chord as though nothing had happened. We've all had "friends" like this but we've  never really trusted them, have we?

Understand that I am to a savvy computer-user as "Chopsticks" is to Chopin's "Revolutionary Etude". I can do the simple things.  Email has been a pleasure . Textediting has kept me in touch with old acquaintances who still use snail mail.  (If I wrote in longhand, they would think a chicken had walked through an inkwell and across the page.  I can't even read my own grocery lists.)  I have become somewhat of a Facebook addict, checking a couple of times a day to see who is doing what.   I can access a link and I have finally learned about Copy and Paste.  But I have no idea how to change my profile picture on Facebook, or how to add clever  photos to my blogs, like Erika, or to forward most stuff.  How do you put those cute little hearts in your statuses?  My hairdresser does all her bills, taxes, banking, and all other business on her computer and is always prattling away about storing and back-upping and other foreign terms.  People earn their livings using the computer! My mind boggles.

It is not as though I am dying to do any of these things.  I would just like to be sure this computer knows who is boss.  The idea that a machine is smarter than I am makes me mad. And uneasy.  I can feel that lion watching me and although I ought to be the controlling factor, I am keeping that whip and chair handy, just in case.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Gladly, the Cross-eyed Bear

I love mondegreens.  True mondegreens are extremely rare and I treasure every one I find.  

For those of you who do not know what a mondegreen is, the term was coined by an author named Sylvia Wright, who as a child often heard an old Scottish ballad called "The Bonny Earl of Murray" which contained this stanza: " Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands/ Oh, where hae ye been?/ They hae slain the Earl of Murray/  And Lady Mondegreen."

Little Sylvia grieved for Lady Mondegreen,  Such a sad end.

Only later in life did Ms. Wright discover that the verse really went like this:   "Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands/ Oh, where hae ye been?/ They hae slain the Earl of Murray/ And laid him on the green."

This is what I mean by a true mondegreen.......innocent, natural mishearings or misunderstandings. Many of the ones you hear have  a contrived feel, as though someone had thought them up in an attempt to be clever.  But you never know...people hear things in different ways.  I bet everyone at some time has coined a mondegreen without knowing it.  Children do it all the time.

Some examples:  A woman returned home to find a note from her husband which read: "Your doctor's office called.  Your Pabst beer is normal."
On a program at a residence for the elderly: "The artists will be singing the timeless sounds of classic Broadway and the marvelous melodies of Tim Panally."
"Our Father who art in Heaven, How did you know my name?"
 "Is there a saying that goes, 'Hope springs a turtle?' "

This one is problematic and may well have been made up by somebody, but it is cute and funny and is one of my favorites:
The small son of a minister was conducting a graveside service for his pet robin or goldfish or whatever and his little friends were gathered around while he intoned the words he had so often heard from his father:  "...... in the name of the Fatherrrrr, the Sonnnn....and into the hole he goes!"

Hope you will all be watching out for mondegreens.  They are worth a smile on the darkest day.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Would you repeat that, please?

I am quite hard-of-hearing.  I am not deaf. With the help of today's improved hearing aids, I function perfectly well in everyday situations, although I admit there are a large amounts of "Excuse me's"?, "What did you say's"? and "Huh's"?  involved.  In many cases, although I can hear what  you are saying,  I  can't understand it.  This is especially true on the telephone.  Voice-mail messages are often just gibberish which I have to ask someone to  interpret for me. ("Hello?  This is Mr. Szchiwrovjg's office calling.  Would you please return this call as soon as possible?  Our telephone number is txe-kwp-vrzn") Any one with an accent or one of those high-pitched little-girl voices might as well be speaking Swahili.

Needless to say, all this is very frustrating, but there are worse handicaps and I deal with it as best I can.

Social situations are another thing.  Where groups of people meet and converse, the hard-of-hearing are often lost.  Conversations become a blur of murmurs and whispers and mumbles.  It is like sitting in front of a plate glass window watching the action and hearing only a distant hum.  This can mostly be avoided if the person speaking faces you and speaks distinctly, but in an animated discourse this can be difficult and restricting.  You focus intently, you smile and nod when it seems appropriate,  you sometimes offer a comment if you have managed to pick up some thread of the conversation, but essentially you are just a spectator watching other people talk.  It can be very lonely.

Helen Keller once observed that if she could have just one of her senses restored, she would choose her sense of hearing.  It is the thing that connects us most of all, that ability to communicate and exchange opinions, ideas, news, gossip, joy, grief.  The loss of it is profound.

But, there is a bright side!  The decibel level of most modern pop music has receded somewhat. Background music, which I have always detested, has mostly disappeared from my consciousness.  The Saturday night car races here in Lakeport are a distant buzz.  The bullfrogs in the lagoon, which keep my neighbor awake at night, pose no problem for me.

I have to say that, given a choice, I would put up with the elevator music and lie awake listening to the bullfrogs.  But I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I can move about in daily life without problems, that I can mostly hear the voices of the people I love, and that my hearing loss in more of an inconvenience than a handicap.

What was that you said?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

West of Here

This is a novel set in the fictional town of Port Bonita on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.  The  plot involves the damming of the river on which Port Bonita is located and follows the stories of a variety of characters, switching back and forward in time between the 1800's, when the dam was built, to 2006, when it is going to be demolished.

There are a lot of characters and I found some of their stories distracting.   There are lots of loose ends. There is a strange paranormal relationship between the lives of two boys, one in 1890, the other in 2006.  The significance escaped me.  The author does a good job of invoking the feel of a frontier town in this part of the world, and if you have ever lived in the Northwest you will recognize the drippy firs, the mossy forest floors, the ugly clearcut hillsides, the mighty rivers roaring through their narrow canyons. 

I am undecided about this book.  It was a pretty good read, but not something I would go back to.  I think if you like this type of novel, it would probably be worth your time.  I'd give it about three stars, if I was grading.

West of Here          Jonathan Evison        Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Healthy First!

My refrigerator does not have an ice maker or even the little compartment in the freezer section for stowing ice trays and since my freezer is always stuffed full, it is hard to find a place to make ice cubes.  A few years ago while leafing through a catalog of gewgaws and kitchen gadgets, I found just the ticket!  It was a sort of bottle with half-circle bulges along one side.  You poured in water to fill the bulges, laid the bottle in the freezer and before you knew it you had these cute little half-circle ice cubes.  Perfect!  Of course, it didn't work and after several tries, I threw it out.  But I saved the little brochure that came with the product and the other day while going through some old papers I ran across it.  Here it is, verbatim:

"The latest style of Instant ice-maker
 Healthy Non-taste Ice-maker

ice of shape Half-circled & flat so that ice dropout from ice-maker directly that while ice-making & taking out ice without applying hand to touch ice.  Healthy First!

knock lightly and it comes soon the ice.

keep together with other food. without contaminating with other taste of fishy or foul-smell. TO be a complete non-taste and delicious healthy ICE.

put into the alcohol or drinks so much corn for table & marvellous taste.

keep in ice-box while outing all suitable for recreation fishing picnicking & baking (Bar-B-Q) applying.

while inputting water into the Bottle pls up till the indicated level

while putting/refrigerator Be sure keep it Balance

press un-flat part ice drop down one after another

the finished ice non-taste cooling & Healthy so much wonderful!  most suitable for cooking picnicking & recreation applying.

while ice-making finished put whole case in a recreation applying ice-box while outing for fishing or picnicking it can always keep long-terms freshing!

if that ice melt to water the water either leaking out of ice-maker so that the food conserved in the refrigerator can apply as watering can the melt water cooling and thirsty refreshing.  There's non-exist color-elements problems that actually proceed with environmental protections."

I never figured out what the non-exist color-elements problems were.  And I don't know about that corn in the drinks, but I bet if the thing had worked it would have been most suitable for cooking picnicking & recreation applying and that the melt water would have been thirsty refreshing, too!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ooh! Look what I found!

After Erik died I worked for a number of  years as a volunteer at our local Hospice Thrift Shop.  Now I have to confess that before going to work at this shop, I had never in my life set foot in a thrift store.  I knew they existed and had made contributions from time to time, but I had not considered them as a real alternative to the commercial retail establishments where I shopped.

And I still don't. Not for me.  Because I am a destination shopper.  I do not window-shop, I cannot spend a couple of hours browsing just for the fun of it.  I am not a shop-'til-you-drop shopper.  I need a purse, I go into one of the big department stores and pick out a purse among the many offerings.   I need a pair of shoes, I do the same. Then I go home.  Shopping bores me.  Sorry, girls, but that's just how it is.

But thrift-store shopping is another thing.  You cannot go in with a preconceived notion of what you want to buy, because you probably won't find it.  Someone will ask."Do you have a....?"  And the answer will be, "I think we had one a week or so ago.  Keep trying."  If you have your mind set on something specific try another source. But for the  the shopper with an open mind and a good eye, the thrift store is a treasure house!    People will bring a beautiful suit, or a brand new pair of name-brand shoes or maybe a lovely ceramic from our "boutique" to the checkout. Things I had walked right by without seeing. (A "good eye" is the key.)

Our local store is a pleasant place to shop.  It is clean, well-organized and well-managed.  There is a paid staff of several people,  and a large corps of volunteers.  It is a cheerful place.  My short-sighted vision of an under-privileged clientele rummaging through life's left-overs was soon thrown in the dust-heap where it belonged.  Our customers were of all ages and classes, just as in a regular retail store.  Craftspeople looking for materials for their projects,  collectors hoping to score a rare find, readers checking out the bookshelves, families stocking up on back-to-school clothing.  There is a large jewelry selection, always popular.  Racks of Halloween costumes, a fraction of the price anywhere else.  Need a few jigsaw puzzles for the summer cabin?  A second TV for the kid's room?  Bedding, dishes, furniture, toys, electronics, and lots of clean, up-to-date, attractive clothing for all members of the family.

Of course, as a dedicated people-watcher, the customers were my favorite part of the job.  I was a "bag lady"...that is, I worked at the checkout counter, bagging the purchases in donated bags.  (Your second-hand coffee-pot could go home in a Saks Fifth Avenue bag, or a Dollar Store bag.)  Many of the people who came in were regulars.   One couple always came when there was a clothing sale and would buy $100 dollars worth, or more, of $3.00-4.00 dollar items, enough to fill several large garbage bags.  These things they boxed up and sent to relatives in the Philippines.  Another gentleman came periodically and bought many house decoration items, such as lamps, floral arrangements, book sets.  We figured he was furnishing rental units or something of the sort.  Another couple, who could only be described as aging flower children, came often.  She had long gray hair caught into a pony tail and he had a braided beard which reached to his waist.  They bought jewelry which they resold at flea markets.  A pleasant pair and we always enjoyed having them drop in.  There were the others:  One young man tried on several wedding gowns before departing, leaving the gowns in a heap on the dressing room floor.  Once a customer who did not agree with the shop's "no returns" policy, threw a telephone in a rage.   A lady who had not bathed in many moons was asked to leave.  Another time, a woman whose kids were running wild took exception to the manager's request that she rein them in.  We had a shop-lifter or two and some bad checks.  One lady offered to cover her bad check with another check!  I guess anybody who has ever worked with the public has experienced all this and more but it was all new to little ole me.

I often mused on all this merchandise and where it had come from.  It had once been chosen and paid for  by someone and then discarded or abandoned or maybe donated after a death.  We got many half-finished knitting projects,  partially sewn garments, abandoned art projects.  I thought to myself, someone once started these projects with a happy heart.  I wonder what happened to stop them midway, half-finished, sometimes with the needle still threaded and stuck in the fabric. The most poignant to me were the inscriptions.  In a book, "To Billy from Grandpa and Grandma."  Scratched into a copper pot, "April 10, 1935."  On the back of an old photo, "To May, with love." What happened to Billy?  What was the significance of April 10, 1935?   Who was May?    So many stories untold and now lost forever on the shelves of a thrift store in Lakeport, California.

But!  A new life for these items!!  Another Billy reading the book.  Someone else arranging flowers in the old copper pot.  A collector's album enriched by a pioneer woman's picture. We are a throw-away society.  Think of the bounty that goes into the landfills of our country every day.  Isn't it great that these shops exist to recycle and reuse all this valuable resource.......

Well, here I am prattling on and on again.  But, as I said when I started this blog, this is mostly for my own entertainment and no one has to read it.  So if you  have come this far, you have no one to blame but yourself.  But next time you are feeling a little adventurous, drop by your local thrift store and see what you might find that you absolutely cannot live without.  And at a price that you cannot believe!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


She was not beautiful, but she acted as though she were.  She was proud, shrewd, courageous,  supremely intelligent.  She was a murderess.  She was a seductress....or was she?

This biography of Cleopatra by Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff is a fascinating book about one of the most fascinating women in history.   I knew very little of Cleopatra before I started it except for the popular legends made famous by Shakespeare and Liz Taylor.  I came away very impressed by her.

This book is not a beach read.  It is a scholarly work and sometimes hard going.  Since I had no background in the history of that period, I found my self going back often to try to figure out all the family and political connections.  It was a grim time, murders and assassinations were commonplace, treachery seemed to be expected of one's "friends" and allies, family loyalties were paper-thin.  People murdered their sons, mothers, siblings.  Among the Ptolemies, incestuous relationships were so common that I gave up trying to figure out who was somebody's cousin or uncle or grandfather.  In fact, I gave up on the Ptolemies early on, there was no end to them!  Cleopatra's brother, and husband until she had him murdered, was Ptolemy XIV.  Cleopatra was Cleopatra VII. 

There are interesting views of the life of Alexandria and Rome as lived by the powerful.  The Ptolemies were almost unfathomably wealthy and did not hesitate to display it.  No expense was spared for the pageants, feasts, festivals and other activities with which they amused themselves.  The royal barges, the sumptuous palaces, the rich tapestries, gold table settings, the strings of pearls which Cleopatra liked to wear in her wonder Hollywood loved this stuff!   Not to mention her relationship with the two most powerful men of the period.

Her life was short. She was only 40 when she committed suicide  (almost certainly not by an asp bite) after the collapse of her world.  But she  left enough myth and mystery to engage the world for over 2000 years.  She may have been the "wickedest woman in history" but she was also one of the most interesting and intriguing. 

A very good book, but not light reading. 

Cleopatra          Stace Schiff        Little, Brown and Company

Friday, April 1, 2011

"He who laughs, lasts."

Nothing is quite as individual as one's sense of humor.  What you find hilarious may go right over my head.  What knocks me out may leave you scratching your head.  In my case, this happens quite often,  as my sense of humor tends to be on the quirky side.  My family shares my idea of what is funny in the main, although there are some differences of opinion even there.  For instance, I cracked up over David Sedaris' book, "I Speak Pretty One Day."  I thought the first chapter, especially, was one of the funniest things I had ever read.  By contrast, another book of his called "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim" did not appeal to me, but Erika found it hysterically funny.

My mother, a conservative, right-thinking Christian woman, often got the giggles.  I remember one instance when we were Christmas- shopping at a local store and she caught the eye of the establishment's Rent-a-Santa.  She absolutely collapsed.  Don't ask me why.   Something about the sheepish expression peering out from behind his scraggly Santa Claus beard,  I think.  She sometimes got the giggles in church.  My sister, Iris, was similarly afflicted.  I used to hear stories of how she would be sent away from the dinner table to compose herself.  Of course, the minute she got back she would break up again.  I do not understand gigglers, but,  man, what they do sure is contagious!  It takes only one giggler in a room to set everyone in the place staggering around hanging onto one another for support.

Erik and I did not share the same sense of humor, although we had many good laughs together.  He thought Jerry Lewis was fall-down funny.  I thought Jerry Lewis was a buffoon.  He loved Bob Hope.  I thought Bob Hope was a bore.  My opinion was not held by many people, as both Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope were run-away stars in the comedy field.  It was just that I could not relate to their brand of humor.  Each to his own, as they say!

Our family contains many truly witty folks.  The O'Rourke branch has a quick quip for almost every occasion. My Coughlin son-in-law often makes me laugh with his cogent comments.  My grandmother and aunts were triple-quick on the  up-take.  My kids have kept me laughing all their lives with their off-the-wall remarks and goofy antics.

In his book "Anatomy of an Illness", Norman Cousins describes how watching Marx Brothers movies helped him recover from a life-threatening illness.  Dr. Cousins says, "Laughter may or may not activate the endorphins and enhance respiration, as some medical researchers contend. What seems clear, however, is that laughter is an antidote to apprehension and panic."  Indeed.  Everybody knows that a heart-felt laugh is life-affirming and can make your view of the world do a complete flip.

Much of today's humor does not amuse me.  There is an edginess to it that takes away the pure joy of a good laugh.  I miss the old comedy shows of the 50's, 60's and  70's. ( Lucy, Jackie Gleason, Imogene Coca, Jonathan Winters, come to mind.  Dick Cavett,  the Smothers Brothers, Jose Jimenez, Dick VanDyke, Flip Wilson, Bill Cosby, Ernie Kovacs, gosh, I could go on and on.)  Some others, not so much.  But they were all funny without being hurtful or ugly.  You were left with a good feeling after these shows, a tendency to chuckle.

I love a good dirty joke.  I enjoy non-PC jokes, blond jokes.  But they have to be funny and they have to be amiable and not hurtful or vicious.  Humor should not be used as a weapon but as a healing, happy, wonderful gift.

Hey, did you hear the one about......?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What's in a name?

Not long ago Erika wrote in her blog about the tendency people have to misspell or garble other people's names, even quite simple ones.

Jeannie and Erik, for example.

In addition to Jeanne, Jeanie, Jeanette, consider Teannie, Leannie, Geannie, Genia, Seannig and Jene.  And how about  Emik and Drik?  Sound like a colony of cavemen, or what?

I started collecting some of these examples years ago when it became apparent that the name Hagberg was just too much for some people to handle.  So far I have logged Hagsburg, Hagbert, Hatberg, Hugberg, Hogberg, Hadberg, Hagaer, Agbag, Hagberry, Hayberry, Hagberty, Hagberd, Hoaberg, Habgerg,  and Hayberg.   Plus Mrs. Earl Hagberg,  Mr. Orvin Hazberg, Mr. Ginney Hagber.

Some of these may be attributed to people misreading my poor penmanship, of course, but Agbag?

If a fairly straightforward name like Jeannie Hagberg can get so mutilated, what must it be like for those folks with long, complicated, or "foreign" names?  My eye doctor, for example,  is named Mark Buehnerkemper.  The mind boggles.  He has solved the problem to some extent by having everyone call him "Dr. Mark", but that can only extend so far.  As for the Zwetsloots, the Urquharts, the Azavedos, the Juntunens, the Stankiewiczes, the Giovacchinis, the Zwangs,  I can only imagine the carnage that careless humans and mindless computers inflict on their family names.

As Erika pointed out,  one's name is a very personal and intimate part of one's identity and personality. There are the old stories about people saying, "I don't care what you print about me, just spell my name right!"   This applies, I think particularly,  to first names.  I don't so much mind being called Mrs. Hayberry, but for gosh sake's remember the two "n's" in Jeannie!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

John Anderson, my jo

My father was the gentlest, sweetest man I ever knew.  He was famously taciturn, hardly ever speaking unless he had something important to say, and then in a voice that was always quiet and calm.  I don't remember him ever getting excited or losing his cool. The most severe remonstrance we ever got as kids was if my brother and I were quarreling and he would say mildly, "Quit yer janglin'!" Once when he had nearly severed his thumb in an accident, he came into the house to ask my mother, "Mither, hae ye got a rag?" 

He was born September 25,1875, in a small town in Southern Scotland near the English border.  I have his birth certificate neatly inscribed in ink by the presiding official. He was about 20 when his family emigrated to the United States, the next- to- youngest in a family of  seven siblings, with their parents.  They settled in Southeastern Montana, about as far from bonnie Scotland as can be imagined, but good sheep country and the destination of many Scots, including some of  their relatives.  One of his older brothers had come ahead to scope out the place and prepare things,  and they came as a group, including my grandmother who, according to family lore,  carried her Blue Willow china in a basket the whole way.  One brother stayed behind for several  years to work out the lease on the farm which they had rented from an absentee laird.  None of these farmers owned the land on which they lived.  My father once told me that a family could live on the same farm for 100 years and never own it.  No wonder people emigrated to a land where you could become owner of a 160-acre piece of property just by living on it for a specified time and putting up a building or two!

Except for Uncle "Kemish" (James), who remained a bachelor his entire life, and Tom, who died shortly after their arrival in America, all the brothers and their one sister married and established families.  But not Jack.  He had set his eyes on a vivacious young woman who worked for his sister, Grace, as a "hired girl".  However, he was not ready to pop the question until he had what he considered enough means to support a wife in a proper style.  Whether she got tired of waiting (and I know she was interested because of some letters which I have) or for some other reason, she married someone else and became the mother of two daughters, Thelma, who died at age 22, and my beloved sister, Iris.  In due time, she again became available and my parents were married on July 14, 1918, in Ekalaka, Montana.

I remember my father as always being old.  He was 45 when I was born, and hard work, ill fortune and  bad health took their toll.  He was completely bald at an early age and the rim of hair surrounding his bald pate was snowy white.  He sported a full mustache which he  trimmed with a straight razor,  kept sharp with a strop which hung beside the sink.   I have the razor  as well as the soap-dish and brush with which he lathered his face before shaving.  He had bright blue eyes, the twinkly kind.

He was a Victorian  gentleman in an age when Victorian gentlemen had become mainly extinct.  Even in his later years, we had to stop him from rising from his seat on a bus to offer it to some young girl.  We felt his sense of hospitality bordered on the ridiculous.  He could never, for instance, turn away the itinerant salesmen and  Jehovah's Witnesses who turned up regularly at our door.  He would invite them in as guests and listen patiently to their pitches.  He once told me that in the Scotland of his youth even your worst enemy was safe as a guest under your roof.  (I believe some of the bellicose Highland clans did not extend their hospitality that far, but that is another story.)

He adored my mother.  Whenever they had been out somewhere together, he never failed to say, "Mither, you're the best-lookin' woman I've seen the day."  In return, my mother's friends adored him for his gentlemanly ways, sometimes at odds with the rough local farmers who inhabited our neighborhood.

Despite having grown up in such a different environment, he loved the Montana of those days.  The great open spaces,  "where you knew everybody within a hundred miles by their first names", the freedom of spirit and big-heartedness of it's people.  Even after the many years on the West Coast, he still remembered Montana as his version of God's Country.  He never talked much about Scotland although he remained a staunch Scotsman for his entire life.  I used to play the old Scotch songs for him on the piano, among them a beautiful old Scottish  love ballad called "John Anderson, my jo", which is among my favorites to this day. He would tap his foot and whistle along tunelessly under his breath.

He was christened plain John Anderson, but quite late in life he added the middle name of Beattie  (the maiden name of one of his grandmothers) to distinguish himself from the hundred other John Andersons in the phone book and on the mailing lists of advertisers. But he was known throughout his life as "Jack".

The Scotch are not a very demonstrative people.  They don't much go in for hugging and kissing and big displays of affection.  But I knew I was loved.  My father would often stroke my hair or pat my shoulder, murmuring "Lassie" in his gentle voice.  Who needs hugs and kisses?

He died nearly 70 years ago, but his warmth and quiet strength remain in my memory.  I am lucky to have known him even for the short time of my life that he lived.  Some people leave indelible impressions on your thinking, your character, your view of life.  John Beattie ("Jack")Anderson was such a person.