Saturday, January 28, 2012


    "A whiff of sexuality".

    We've finally gotten around to watching the Sopranos and finished the marathon 1st season last night. I now know Tony and Carmela better than my neighbors at this point. The dialogue is very good. Last night Carmela had a confrontation with the priest with whom she's been having a flirtation. She discovered she isn't the only lonely wife or widow with whom he shares emotional and spiritual intimacies. Actually she walks in on him and her best friend in the Italian religious version of flagrante delicto - he's eating a plate of ziti she's prepared for him.  In a following scene Carmela accuses him of creating sexual tension and chasing after "the whiff of sexuality". I thought this phrase played very well in the situation and described the action very well.

    I'm watching my cats suck up whiffs around the edges of the new lawn .  Although cats don't get as much information via the nose as dogs, my cats smell first with their little mouths open and ask questions later. Their mouths are open so they can expose air and aroma to their Jacobsen's Organ located behind the front teeth. Some people say cats are smiling when they have that odd look on their faces, but they aren't necessarily happy - just figuring things out.

    We humans suffer mightily in the smell detection arena by comparison. Cats have between 80,000,000 and 100,000,000 odor sensing cells; dogs have over 200,000,000; we have a measly 6,000,000. My favorite canine sniffer is the blood hound. That lovable droopy face with all the saggy wrinkles serves an olfactory purpose. Aroma molecules dissolve in the sticky moisture that leaks from their eyes and gets trapped in the wrinkles, retaining more available smelly material  for the nose than dry-faced dogs have. The floppy ears provide an evolutionary advantage.  As it sniffs the ground the dog swings it's head from side to side and the dancing ears roil up odor molecules and waft them up to the nose.  An aroma we perceive as a whiff must be sensorily like a ten-ton truck to this animal's  nose.

    In the end, the European Eel wins the smell detection contest, hands down. It has a sense of smell/perception so acute that it can detect the equivalent of a shot of vodka in Lake Erie. If you're looking for a bar on a rainy night you want an Eel wrapped around your GPS.
    The average human can recognize up to 2000 odors. A trained person such as a "nose" in the perfume industry can learn to recognize up to 10,000.  I used to keep a vial of a flavor unfamiliar to me on my desk and "learn" it for a week, then change to another. I've retired this activity and now get my olfactory thrills from the garden.

    We never stop smelling - we can rest our other senses; put in ear plugs, close our eyes, shut our mouths. But we can never stop breathing. We smell each other and the world around us, breathing in 20,000 times per day and in every breath from 200,000 to 2,000,000 microscopic bits - stuff that's constantly floating around in the air: clay, ash from forest fires and volcanoes,  soil, fungus viruses, bacteria, rusts, molds, algae, spores to name only a few. Fortunately we "adapt" to aromas and once the brain has gotten the necessary information, it switches off and gives us a break. When you walk into a freshly painted room the impact of the smell is overwhelming but it soon eases off and disappears unless you focus on it. In the food business when our noses adapt, we sniff the inside of our arm which re-calibrates the sensory mechanism and gets the nose going again. There's nothing particularly magical about the's just handy (arggghh). In the perfume business, they sniff coffee beans. In fact, a couple of minutes of fresh air will do it, but you often can't do that when you're busy evaluating products. 

    When we perceive aromas our limbic system is involved. Although it's a very complicated response, you could say that this area is the seat of memory and emotion. Aroma perception is very direct - we sniff and the limbic system gets the message directly - no complicated neural transfer like happen for instance with sight. This is why aroma is so evocative and can instantly arouse emotion....the aroma of something cooking, a perfume, the new car smell.  That wonderful whiff.

    Friday, January 27, 2012

    Lawn Day

    Goodbye dust and dirt. We got lawn today - red fescue with a mixture of 20 other seeds so the lawn stays green all year.  Instant gratification - from brown and dusty one minute to golf course green the next. The rolls were laid in a checkerboard arrangement so water doesn't run off in the seams. The minute the sod was down the cats came around to inspect. They sniff inspected all around the edges, working up the nerve to walk across it.

    Cat sniff inspection
    View from upper deck

    I told the workers a joke about having to mark the sod rolls in Canada "Green side up".  They gave me the long suffering look of someone who's heard the joke a million times. When I worked for the egg commission people would tell me egg jokes older than dirt and I had to do the polite laugh. I think I've earned the right to make someone else suffer in kind.


    Wednesday, January 25, 2012

    Shopping for Valentines

    Valentine's Day brings out the worst in me. Probably a hangover from elementary school when there was so much tension about who would give you a valentine. Do we ever get over this stuff? I don't think I have. I guess that's why The Encyclopedia of Immaturity appeals to me.
    To make sure the heart isn't broken due to rejection, I try to select a Valentine's gift with a sense of humor. Humor trumps romance every time. My husband is getting a pack of I love You gum and also the inflatable heart. You can pump it up or deflate it as the mood fits.

    I'm not sure he'll think the genital hand sanitizer is funny - if not I can always give it to Beth, who will find an appropriate home for it.

    The cats have been wanting a DJ rig, so they get this:
    Bust a move and get our DJ Cat Scratch Turntable so your alley cat can start scratching and grooving!  Your cat’s natural ability to spin and scratch will shine when you place this on the floor!  Check out the hook while your kitty revolves it!
    You can get all this and more at: 

    Dying for Chili

    Everyone and his dog has written a cook book; I see recipes from the most unlikely sources. This morning Richard declared that he was dying for chili - then he whipped out this Allen Brother's Mortuary Black Bean Chili recipe from today's paper.

    I wonder if they chose to use Black Beans because they're more funereal and sober than the more commonly used, riant kidney bean? Perhaps mentioning an organ, like "kidney" would be in bad taste for a mortician/chef?

    I guess we should be thankful they didn't mention topping it with sliced avocados or guacamole. Some publicity you can do without. 

    Tuesday, January 24, 2012

    Turning a deaf ear

    I went to a new ENT yesterday, Dr. Jacobs (760) 724-8749 in case anyone's looking for a congenial doc with a sense of humor and a good "bedside" manner . He laughed when he saw my medical history and quipped that I knew all the ENT's in North County. I think he's right. My HMO keeps me moving around.

    After my MRI was reviewed by a number of people, the consensus is that my tumor is stable. Whew. The differences in size observed were due to variances in measuring techniques used by radiologists/neurosurgeons.

    I had a final hearing test yesterday to confirm that the irradiated ear is totally deaf...stone deaf, as the saying goes. Here's how the results look.

    If you were designing such a form wouldn't you put the left ear results on the left side and the right ear results on the right side? CNT means can not test. They seem to avoid the use of the word "deaf" for some reason. My right ear, now doing double duty, is pretty damn good if I do say so myself.

    A non-hearing ear can be useful when you're trying to sleep in a noisy hotel room. That's about the only good thing about it.

    Sunday, January 22, 2012

    Rose Aid

    Perfume Delight

    Mr. Lincoln


    Chrysler Imperial

    Our rose garden desperately needs help. I stopped by Daylily hill this week and picked up five new plants selected mostly because of their beautiful aromas and less so because of the blossom characteristics. My favorite of the five is Perfume Delight. Granada is fabulous too because the blossoms last a long while after they're cut.

    You have to pick and choose with roses - some have high petal counts in their blossoms but I've found them to be too dense - the blossoms fall forward on the stems and in bouquets; some have magnificent aromas but just don't last once cut; some have long stems; some have too many thorns; some have unbelievable colors like Mr. Lincoln (almost black). You have to take the bitter with the sweet - just like with people.

    Two Bright Lights

    What is it about construction contractors? I don't care what trade it is or if times are good or bad. From my experience I can say that most of them lie routinely, do grievous things and ask for forgiveness later, cut every corner possible and rarely show up on time or even on the same day as promised. Over the past three years, I dare not estimate how much time I've spent sitting around waiting for no-shows.

    This past week almost made up for those "insults". I had a floor re-finisher show up on time, give me a reasonable bid, show up the next day to do the job and do a fine job.  I'd highly recommend Preferred Flooring for any floor work you need done.

    Likewise Manny Menendez who did all of our tile work. He too shows up on time and does a great job for a decent price.

    Two lights in a dark forest. 

    I'll fool you and then you fool me and then I'll....

    I'm reading "The Folly of Fools" by Robert Trivers.

    Self deception as a survival mechanism is the primary tenet of the book. The notion is that we all deceive ourselves into believing that we're smarter, better looking, more competent, luckier, more pious, more cunning than we actually are. This belief bolsters our egos. When our egos are bolstered, even if we do it to ourselves, we feel better. When we feel better we usually do better. Some believe that feeling better even boosts the immune system so we're less prone to infections and illness. Ergo, self deception may help to keep us healthy and alive.

    Because we have big brains and communication skills we are well equipped for deception. We learn to lie and deceive early on. Not only self deception but deception of others - babies learn to use crying and throw fits to achieve their goals. Because nature rewards success, we have to assume that lying gives us advantages in the drive to replicate our genes. If it didn't we'd have found out by now. What is romance if not self-deception? What else explains your magnificent friend who is married to a total loser? What, you ask yourself, did she see in him?

    From the Barnes and Noble book review
    The author calls deceit a "deep feature" of our lives. He goes so far as to assert that it's a necessity in order to survive and gives examples of deceit in nature. Anglerfish lure prey by dangling "bait"in front of their jaws. Women pay to have huge plastic breasts inserted in their chests. Viruses and bacteria use subterfuge to deceive the immune system. And the examples go on and on.

    Angler fish dangling his bait
    Why do we fool ourselves? There's a never ending circle of benefits involved with deceiving ourselves into living in a dream world. Most of the time hiding reality from our conscious minds is the only way to survive. How else do people survive wars, imprisonment, torture. The better we are at fooling ourselves, the better we get at fooling others. I love to find articles in the paper or online about how the economy is improving and how real estate prices are starting to turn around. I read these and ignore any facts that may point out that the opposite could be happening.

    There's a passage highlighted in the review where the author recalls walking down a city street with an attractive young woman trying to amuse her when he spots "an old man on the other side of her, with white hair, ugly, face falling apart, walking poorly indeed shambling". The author realizes he's seeing his own reflection in a store window "Real me is seen as ugly me by self-deceived me". I've had a similar experience catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thinking it's my mother, it can't be me.  I, as well as most women I know, have a certain way of looking at themselves in the angle of the head, a positioning of the feet - the way we look the best - the view in which we look thinner and younger. Not a realistic look at ourselves. Self-deception can be so much more pleasant than reality.

    In the Amazon reader reviews, I liked the following comments/thoughts by Graham Seibert. His  review was in part what spurred my interest in reading the book:

    I would advocate that Trivers investigate the hypothesis that self deceit is essential for propagating our species. My premise is that having children in any modern society is a fundamentally absurd proposition: they do not generally benefit parents. They are an immense sink for resources: food, clothes, education, entertainment and so on. They cannot be counted on to contribute economically when they grow up, and because they did not have much societal or cultural pressure to do so, they all too seldom even express gratitude.

    The self deceit of religion, that having children is God's will, may be required if we are going to perpetuate ourselves. No other species is as successful as ours at curbing its fertility. Even in classical times we had enlarged our perspective on sex from being primarily a process for procreation to being a recreation and a vehicle for displaying status. In modern times we have almost completed the transition. Playboy and Cosmo celebrate sex for its own sake, everybody insists that whether or not the aim is procreation, the sex has to be great, and increasing population has few supporters in secular society. Birth control and abortion have been almost perfected. Recoiling from such horrors as the USSR's "Mother Heroines" who bore ten children as cannon fodder, and the Nazis offered a "Mother's Cross of Honor," few governments in our times offer incentives great enough to put much more than a dent in the tremendous costs of raising children. If we are to survive, it will be on the strength of self-deception, chiefly of a religious nature.

    Saturday, January 21, 2012

    Lost in Amsterdam

    Notes from my travel log:

    When you start looking like your passport photo, its time to go home, said Erma Bombeck. I thought of this immediately upon seeing my new passport photo inching it’s way out of the auto-photo machine in the Amsterdam main station. As I stood looking at it in dismay, a small wiry man with a knit cap, blue jeans and a sweat shirt, pushed by me, ripped back the curtain and darted into the booth I’d just exited and using some sort of hand tool, relieved the machine of the 5 Euro I’d just deposited for my picture. As much as the horrible passport photo dismayed me, the sneaky thief was even more disturbing. The fact that we witnessed his robbery didn’t seem to bother him at all. He was more concerned about getting out the 5 euro before some other thief came and got it first!  We stood for a while agape watching him moving around the station, lurking and darting from machine to machine. 

    We were having our pictures taken because our passports were stolen…filched, we think, from my backpack the night before. A night of tossing and turning, worrying over replacing the stolen documents gave me the gift of giant bags under my eyes and a strangely guilty expression on the passport photo. Amsterdam is a great city to visit on foot and we had enjoyed many days of tramping around sight seeing. The night prior after a very satisfying roast duck dinner, we stopped in at a “brown” café to use the internet and retrieve email. Brown cafes are well known around the world because you can openly buy marijuana in them, along with your cup of coffee. 

    Somewhere between the café and the tram, my travel wallet with passports, money, cash card, credit cards had vanished. Stolen or lost, we’ll never know, but most assuredly gone. Following the advice of many, we filed a report at the police station mid-city.

    The officers on duty were most helpful. Because most everyone in Amsterdam speaks English, if you have to have such an experience, this is the city in Europe to do it in. Trying to explain the situation using my halting French or Richard’s German would have made it very challenging. Instead, the experience was pleasant. The station has bathrooms and free coffee. Officers, one female and one male, dressed in smart blue uniforms and starched shirts, took the time to take a very detailed report and explained that all such information is tracked on a central computer and lost/stolen/recovered items are all ultimately turned into a central lost and found. They weren’t particularly encouraging about possibly recovering the stuff, but they did run through a check-list of what should be done, such as putting stops on the credit cards. We were astonished when they presented us with the gift of two muslim neck wallets which they advised we should use in the future. While waiting for the paperwork to be completed we wandered around the station reading bulletins and tourist information posted on the walls including cautions against various and sundry scams. We were only moderately surprised to learn that some of the remarkably beautiful women we saw, “on display” in the red light district, may very well be men. Visitors to the area to sample the wares were clearly warned that transsexuals and transvestites also plied their trade in these establishments.

    The red light district amazes everyone and is a regular stop for city tours. We saw a Japanese family (2 adults, two kids) engaged in a game of face making with one prostitute in a sleazy alleyway where red lights are in the majority. These tourists were behaving exactly as they would at a zoo. The prostitutes lease rooms identified by a red neon light framing the main window. They're on display in these windows which they make into a tableau of sorts. Some of the windows are equipped like bathrooms and the prostitutes wear underwear and preen in front of their mirrors. Others are furnished with an easy chair and magazines or books. The prostitutes are as scantily clad as the bathroom gals but posed reading – perhaps appealing to a more intellectual type? One magnificent looking creature was dressed in a sequined red, white and blue bikini and filled her window from corner to corner and side to side. She must have been 6 foot 3 inches, muscular but curvy and very beautiful. After reading the posting in the police station, we thought she may have very well been a he.

    At the American consulate we were well treated and actually had new passports within the day. I was dismayed that no one mentioned how little the passport picture actually resembled me. With passports replaced and credit cards cancelled, we were all set to continue enjoying our remaining time in beautiful Amsterdam.

    Friday, January 13, 2012

    A few travel tips....

    You can find hundreds of useful travel tips on sites that sell travel gear. I've picked up many great tips from them and from fellow travelers over the years. Here are a few suggestions based on my personal experience that might be helpful:

    Use plastic packing bags you squeeze the air out of. They work. I can get twice as much in a suitcase when I use them, particularly when packing sweaters or bulky stuff.

    Keep everything valuable in your carry-on: cameras, Ipads, phones, medical stuff. Don't buy one of those carry-on's with a zillion pockets. Pain in the butt. Unless you use the thing for weeks you'll always be searching through nooks and crannies for something. Equally useless is a bag with one big cavity. Something with a few zipper compartments and an outer pocket or two is best. If you buy a new bag, try it out for a week or so before going. Some of these things just feel awkward..maybe they hit your body at the wrong spot or slip off your shoulder or something. Better to know ahead of time and buy another bag if you choose poorly the first time. I have a very light Donna Karan backpack I bought a dozen years's traveled the world with me and I can't find anything to replace it. It just feels right on my shoulder, carries just enough. For me it's perfect...might not be for you.

    Take old clothes you can throw away. We always look like crap when on the road anyway. Clothes get wrinkled and you have to wear them many times before the opportunity for laundry crops up - it's just inevitable that you won't look your best on the road...relax and go with it. In Asia we buy cheap clothes in the markets and wear them while we're there. Sometimes they get tossed - a few pieces have made it home.

    When we have some old underwear around we wear it and toss it. When we're packing underwear to wash, obviously we take the lightest possible stuff that can be washed in a sink, towel dried and finished off in the morning with the hair dryer if necessary.

    Get a fresh haircut. Hair is always easier to manage for the first two or three weeks after a cut.

    Divide toiletries among three or four small bags. I put the hair stuff in one, cosmetics/make up in one, the toothpaste and deodorant in a third. The kind of bag you hang on a door hook is the handiest because it doesn't take up the valuable and rare counter space in the bathroom.

    We sleep in light stretchy sweatshirts and sweat pants. Nothing that screams of sleepy time. Just plain or lightly patterned and then you can wear them out in public in a pinch. Stretchy and snug (not tight) is good for cold weather travel because you can use them as a layer if necessary.

    Scan your passport cover pages, driver's license, itinerary, credit card info (including the back side which has the lost card number and the out-of-country number) and email it to yourself. No matter where you are or what happens you can get always get these copies. Email is available everywhere.

    Do yourself and others a favor and wear slip-on shoes for the airports.

    Get some kind of sleeping potion so you can konk out on the plane. We take an ambien and it works just fine. Take the pill, whatever it is, before you eat and it will be most effective.

    Keep a small flashlight on the night stand to prevent possible trips or falls en route to the bathroom in the dark and to avoid turning on the room lights and waking up your room mate or spouse. Good for reading in the middle of the night if you don't have an ereader (buy one!) and do have insomnia.

    Do not bother with jewelry. Nobody is looking at you (sorry about that) and furthermore you don't want anybody to be looking at you. Often when you're traveling and in unfamiliar circumstances,  you can get a bracelet caught on something or a necklace as it swings down in front when you bend over to pick something up. If you must wear something decorative, take inexpensive unsentimental items you can lose or have stolen without regrets.

    Don't buy anything new "for the trip" at the last minute. Buy shoes at least a month ahead to break them in, wash new clothes at least once so any shrinkage will have already taken place and wear the items for a day or two to make sure nothing is binding, scratchy, pulling, stretching, sagging or needs a belt. Don't buy a new camera.....I see people so often trying to figure out the new camera just when the great shot is going by. If you're going to acquire a new one, do it well ahead of time.

    Don't plan on wearing anything white.

    Ever since my suitcase was lost en route to Jordan and Richard's wasn't, I think it's a good idea to cross pack at least one set of underwear. I had to wear his shorts for a couple of days until my suitcase was located and delivered to the hotel. The chance of both suitcases being lost is slim. If you're traveling alone, pack a change of undies in your carry-on.

    Take a GPS if you have a portable one you're used to.  Even if the car comes with one take yours anyway just in case (presumably you know how it works). They are invaluable. In Europe hotels and B&B's will give you map coordinates to input which further simplifies matters. A small compass is handy when you're walking around a strange town and now they have a small personal GPS which I think we may purchase for our next trip (buy it at least a month ahead to get familiar with it).

    When you're staying one night or two nights in a spot DON'T UNPACK. Just work out of the suitcase, then everything is contained in one might become one big messy heap but at least you know where things are. I've traveled with people who take everything out of the bag and put the stuff in bureau drawers, night stand drawers etc. And of course they forget something when they pack up to leave.

    Do a double check of the room when you leave. If there are two of you, one should become the bathroom expert, the other the sleeping room/closet expert. Do the first inspection in your area of expertise and then change off. Two sets of eyes are definitely better than one. We've left things in drawers, showers, on closet floors and dark shelves. We've left books which slipped under the bed or a sofa cushion or were left in the heap of messed up sheets - falling asleep reading. This will happen less frequently as we travel with e-readers and don't use regular books.

    Voltage converters or chargers. Put a blob of day glo paint on these things so they stand out when you scan the room and you'll see that you've left them in the plug.

    A couple of plastic bags are always handy for dirty laundry. You can distribute a few bags around in your suitcase (instead of having one big lump to work around). They're also good for the obvious - damp laundry or a bathing suit or dirty shoes. 

    Keep notes. I love my travel pictures but I don't think one picture is worth a thousand words...some, but not all. Reading back over the notes is at least as much fun as the pictures and the notes have the pithy details: hotel names, restaurant names, prices, names of people, anecdotes, personal impressions.  Things people ask about. Nobody wants to look at your pictures. Trust me.  Sometimes I take scotch tape and tape ticket stubs etc. into the note book although I'm getting lazier about this all the time. I must say they are fun to keep and look back on years later...the small memorabilia trigger memories and aid recall.  

    Drugs: We always carry as basics an anti-diarrhea medicine, pain killers, an antibiotic and sleeping pills - then there are various things each of us needs and keeps track of..Richard's arthritis stuff, my ibuprofen.

    Stop in at a local drugstore for the regional novelties/remedies which are sometimes available over the counter unlike in the U.S. or are just better products - we buy Panadol (pain) in Australia and Bali, 222's (aspirin with codeine) in Canada, cold sore medicine (anti-herpes virus at half the US price) in Singapore, roll-on insect repellent (smells good -very effective)  in Bangkok.

    A trip to the grocery store is equally as much fun. In Europe you could spend days in these (I have)...there's not much you can bring back to the U.S. , but it's fun to buy and try foods while you're there. When we can, we rent an apartment with a small kitchen facility (microwave, refrigerator, small stove) and this gives us an opportunity to try many things, plus the convenience of eating breakfast in our pyjamas, having a little more elbow room and the pleasure of the hints and tips other renters leave behind.  We've always rented spots through the internet and have never had a disappointment. We've rented apartments in Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Bali, Hawaii, Tuscany, Cannes (Australia), Spain, Portugal, Sorrento, Argentina, Chile and most recently Jerusalem. In most of the apartments we've rented the landlord has left at least a list of local restaurants of interest. There are often guide books either deliberately or accidentally left behind, with pages dog-eared (good sign), notes in the margins. In some apartments they've left names of cab drivers to ask for, metro routes for popular sites, phone information etc. If you're in a pinch of some kind, the landlords can point you in the right direction - we've never had to ask for this kind of help ourselves but they have all offered. Think Concierge+++.

    We carry our eye glass prescription just in case our glasses are lost, but also to have glasses made - often a bargain in Asia. We've had them made in Vietnam, Burma and Singapore. You could email this prescription information to yourself same as you do the passport info.

    To be continued.


    The pivotal moment - we all have them. A choice - seemingly a small decision but one which changes your life.

    My painter Winston and I had a talk today about his lead guy, Jose. About 8 years ago, while getting gas in his paint company truck, Jose and an older Mexican guy approached him and asked if he needed help. Win had too much work at the time and too few people. As it happened, he was on his way to strip wallpaper - the deadliest job in a painters repertoire. He hired them both and drove them to the job where, after a couple of hours of stripping, Win realized the job was going to require special equipment. He stopped the work, drove the two guys back to Bonsall and made the following proposition:

    "I'll pay you for the four hours you worked and hire you again OR I'll pay you for a day, double what you earned, but you'll never work for me again." The older guy said he'd take the day's pay.  Jose said, after thinking a bit, "I'll take the half pay." For eight years now, Jose has worked every day for Win.

    Jose ran when he could walk, he jumped instead of stepping over things - he threw himself into the job and it's paid off. Now he has a home, wife, truck, car is skilled at every aspect of the trade and he's an effective supervisor. Not only that, but he seems a happy man.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2012


    A bit of fiction....

    Dad was a Canadian, an RAF pilot; Mom, a 13 year old unwed American mother. I was her second child. Yes, her second child. 

    Tom and Teri adopted me almost at birth. Years of trying and failing to have a child of their own had frayed their marriage at the seams.  When I appeared on the scene, the stress of raising an actual child finally cracked the marriage in half. Dad left when I was about three. It was Mommy and me for the rest of it.

    When Dad left, he all but vanished and we saw little of him after that. Looking back, I can see that he had suffered some kind of mental collapse as he was unable to work again and his social skills rapidly deteriorated. We had nothing. It was 1949 and jobs for women had disappeared again. Rosie the Riveter was back at the stove and the returning veterans needed all the work that was. Any woman wanting to enter the workplace was "taking a job away from a veteran".  It was considered selfish, unpatriotic behavior. Women stayed home.

    With few choices, Mom became an entrepreneur. First, she taught tap dancing. That helped keep us afloat for two years,  "Tap Dancing for fun and profit" was our bible.  Saturday mornings early, we'd roll up the rug and just before the students arrived, Mom would learn the steps. Ten kids would straggle in, put on their tap shoes and watch my Mom "Hop, shuffle, step"- one way across our living room and then back the other way. I can still do that dance. No Beau Jangles came of it, but by lesson 21 at the end of the book, both Mom and the kids could do a fair little shuffle. Parents were pleased as the kids learned way more from my Mom than the steps. She adored children and seemed to have a special second sense about them. I used to think it was those eyes in the back of her head she would warn me about. Tap dance lessons paid for the phone and bus rides, both considered extras. To put food on the table, she cleaned the local dentists office, dusting all the shelves and equipment on Sundays after church. Three days a week she was sales clerk in the big department store, working in the sweater department.

    Mom listened to everybody, but was specially attentive to kids. She heard them in a special way. She sensed the hurts, insecurities, enthusiasm, fears that they couldn't articulate at that stage of life. She just somehow seemed to know.

    "I think Maria would do much better if we put her at the end of the line. She's too tall for the center and it makes her off-balance." " I know Stevie hates the idea of dancing lessons so we have to think of some way to make this all fun for him."

    Her every effort was thrown into giving the kids an opportunity to shine - each kid was taught as if he was having a private lesson. At her funeral, decades later, people came to me and remembered Mom as their dancing teacher, but so much more. While Mom was a roaring success at teaching kids about life and she worked hard at her jobs, we could barely live on the money she was earning.

    Then we hit the jack pot. She went to work at Singer Sewing Machine Company. They needed someone to teach sewing to high school kids in the summer - basic sewing: cutting out a pattern, threading the needle, setting the tension on the machine, making a simple skirt. Mom's total sewing experience was acquired in her own junior high school home ec class where she successfully constructed an apron. It was in the big trunk in the attic along with her other prized possessions. The apron was almost in tatters when she finished her project. The seams had been ripped out and resewn so many times that the fabric looked like cheese cloth. The top sewing was visibly crooked. The ties were of two different lengths. No Coco Chanel, my Mom, but a simple lack of skill was not going to stop her. She could sell anything and talked them into giving her the job.

    One day when she was taking care of the front of the store, a man came in with a blackened Singer. He was from the local race track where a fire had broken out in his trailer.  Mom chatted with him about his sewing machine and then about the track "Are you coming out this evening?", the man asked. Mom had never even thought of attending horse races. He said, "If you come, bet a wad on #5  Gilda's Dream in the seventh. Her times are great and I think she's ready to go on this race. I'm betting big and I can't afford to do that often".

    All afternoon, Mom thought about the tip. #5 in the seventh. She picked up the paper and looked at the handicapping for all the horses. It was gibberish to her although only a few experts thought Gilda's Dream could win. Finally she made a decision.  At 5:30 instead of getting the bus home, she boarded the free bus headed out to the race track. She looked at the options and saw she could make a 2 dollar bet to win, place or show. She decided to take $20, everything she had in her purse and bet to win on #5. Gilda's Dream burst out of the starting gate and led all the way; Mom came home with a purse full of money. 15 -1, her pay off was $300. At Singer she was making $10 a week. Our rent was $20 a month. We were RICH.

    Good bye High heels

    Goodbye high heels! Well, goodbye heels.  They're hardly high compared to the foot killers the young girls wear now. My final three pairs are on their way to the Angel Shop.

    Three pairs of shoes - each for one of life's great events. The purple shoes I wore to a wedding in Las Vegas. I attended this with low expectations and but it was a wonderful event.  A flower filled chapel, an entertaining JP, followed by a lovely dinner in a small flower-filled private dining room with a cellist providing the music.

    The black strapped shoes went to a few cocktail parties, mostly business but they stood by and ushered in a fun New Year's Eve or two.

    The nun-like shoes were mostly work shoes - I wore them at trade shows and for traveling. The last event I remember wearing them to was my sister's funeral, sitting in the family pew at the front of the church looking down at my feet, wishing it was all a bad dream.

    Looking at them now, they might as well be stilts for all that I could manage wearing them. I slipped one pair on and staggered down my hallway, bouncing from wall to wall, trying to keep from breaking my ankles in a foolish experiment. So much for that!

    Tag Team

    Like all cats, these two spend most of their time staring at holes, branches or under rocks waiting for a lizard to make an appearance. The bunnies usually stay clear but this one wandered a little too close. He got away because of intervention by the photographer. 

    The cats heard it first....

    The mail had accumulated for the month he was traveling. He sat down at the desk to sort through it and pay the bills. Piles of magazines and catalogs were stacked to one side, yellow sticky notes jutting out haphazardly, marking things to remember. He pushed his laptop out of the way to clear a spot to work.

    The radio was playing softly; dusk had fallen over the grove. He pried off his boots and set them aside glancing at the globe standing in the corner. The Asian continent was almost rubbed away from being examined while trips were planned or remembered. The world on his globe was the map of a lost world; borders had long since shifted and country names had been changed as regimes came and went. As on the globe, people and places in his own world were slowly being erased and fading away. He thought about his funeral suit shoved to the back of the closet after his wife's death, but hauled out again in January, the cruelest month, when his mother and brother both succumbed to illness.

    The ranch was purchased for the quiet respite it offered, nine miles out of town with the closest neighbors acres away.  Gated and enclosed with a 6 foot tall wire mesh fence and razor wire, maximum security was provided. He was frequently absent and needed the protection from crop theft. As he sat thinking, one cat came in and flopped at his feet; the other found a spot on the desk. Both began languorously licking themselves from top to bottom, purring heavily then more slowly, snorting a bit and falling into sleep.

    At this time of year, the avocado trees were heavy with fruit and ready for picking. He was waiting and watching the market hoping to get the very most out of the crop this year. Water costs were high and climbing. For once in a very long time, he needed the money.

    Penny Savers papers, credit card offers and pizza ads gradually filled the trash can, The once hopeless heap was reduced to a manageable stack. In the distance, rolling booms from Camp Pendleton training maneuvers rolled through, sounding like distant thunder storms.

    The cats heard it first, awakening instantly, ears pushed forward, whiskers twitching, bodies alert and ready to run. He turned to the door and listened. A thump, followed by heavy footsteps coming down the driveway, a squeak of the iron gate and the sound of something being dragged.

    His rifle was downstairs in the garage, locked in the gun case. 

    Sunday, January 08, 2012

    Craig's List

    I'm now a Craig's Lister. We had five outdoor lights left over from construction and my niece suggested we try selling them on Craig's List. I was skeptical but prepared the ad and placed it. Days passed with no response and then bingo! Someone from Oceanside made me a deal I couldn't refuse.
    We met in the Oceanside Home Despot parking lot. A young charming Vietnamese man and his wife and child were the buyers. I told them I'd meet them at the front entrance of the store and that I'd be wearing a red shirt. There's a uneasy blind-date sort of feeling to this kind of encounter. Will they show? Will they be scam artists? I'm sure they wondered the same about me. They were very nice people...we opened the unsealed boxes together at my suggestion and found one small piece missing for which I gave them a credit. The $175 is found money and I'll buy something silly with it.

    Inside HD I cruised the paint section to see what's new...old habits are hard to break. I love the inventive names paint sellers and clothing catalogues devise for colors. Glidden had a new Top 10 list of Empty Nest Colors. Why would Empty Nesters want specific colors? The line-up seemed unappealing to me: Pink Ballet Slipper, Sweet Baby Boy.  Are they thinking of names for rooms you keep for your grandchildren? The other color names were sort of nostalgic and overly subdued - like colors you'd use in a funeral parlor: Misty Summer Day, Frosted Pine, Frosted Mulberry, Soft Suede, Wood Smoke. I would think they could have done something more fun and more baby boomerish: Thank God They're Gone Green, At Last We're Alone Amethyst, Get out the Bong Blue, Sex in the afternoon Suede, Now I've got an office Navy,  There's food in the fridge Orange, New car in the garage Aqua, Tahitian Vacation Violet, No More Rap Red and so on.

    I've only painted a few ceilings and still remember how difficult it is. Should I decide to do this in the future, I'd buy Gliddens ceiling paint which goes on pink and dries white. Brilliant. You can see the missed spots easily and fix them right away. The cosmetics people could apply this technology to make-up....have it go on green or something visible, so that old people can see where they've smeared it and where they haven't.

    Saturday, January 07, 2012


    Maybe I should have stayed out of those religious sites in Israel. When I lit a candle for St. Anne I think I may not have been clear about my request for assurance that my brain tumor was "braised" . Instead it's been raised.  The MRI I had on Dec. 30th shows "enlargement" which is not supposed to happen because the darned thing is irradiated and presumably dead. My otolaryngologist hasn't seen the films yet - it could be simple swelling which happens, but not usually so late after radiology. I'm hoping that's all it is.

    Meanwhile a brain tumor can be used a great excuse for just about anything. Yesterday I heard a woman who was being tried for shoplifting used having a "brain tumor" as a defense.  I might head off to Cartier, Fred's or at least Nordstroms for a visit.

    Because my tumor is now sticking into hitherto virgin territory - fortunately I don't have much of this left - there's a new bunch of anatomy to learn. It's a good thing I've always been interested in the brain. The more I learn about it the more flabbergasted I am that it works so flawlessly for the most part, just humming along.  I'm hoping I find out the tumor is pressing the correct way on the "increase smartness" dial.

    There are many complicated structures in the internal auditory canal to learn about. One of them is called "Bill's Bridge"'s a vertical crest of bone and it's named after William House, the pioneer of most of the surgical techniques used on acoustic neuromas. How fabulous to have a part of the brain named for you! I wonder if famous proctologists have experienced the same honor.

    Bill's Bridge is easy to remember unlike most of the anatomical structures which have latin names:  lamina cribrosa, meatal foramen or my favorites, tractus spiralis foraminosus and macula crista inferior. When you say all four of these in sequence at high speed and add a Dominus Vobiscum, it sounds like the old Latin mass.

    Go in peace.

    Friday, January 06, 2012

    Maraschino Cherries

    We decided to get out of here for a while last night and drove to Ruby's Oceanside on the pier. Usually when we walk there we're bent over backwards by the wind, but last night it was calm and warm.  Fishermen were enjoying the balmy weather, kicked back in lawn chairs with two lines going and musical accompaniment. Two lines is the maximum - one of the many rules you have to obey. No gaffing mussels or overhead casting either.

    The beach end of the pier was busy. A yoga class was in progress, a couple of bonfires were burning, teenagers slouched around or whizzed by on their skateboards.  What fabulous weather - January 5th and the teenagers were all in shorts. As you walk out on the pier the scene changes to joggers, romantic couples strolling, families with toddlers and baby carriages. We saw a couple bent down speaking carefully to their toddler, who had a few tears on his cheeks, his fingers in his mouth and his little hand clutching his father's jeans. The father looked over at us and chuckled. He said, "We told him not to swallow. I guess we should have told him first what swallowing was."

    By the time you get to the end of the pier, it's all fishermen. Even the air starts to smell fishy.

    Ruby's hamburgers are usually serviceable - not great, but the location makes up for the weaknesses. They have new, improved beef patties. Our cute waitress started running down her suggested beverage list and when she hit Cherry Coke, Richard bit. He hasn't had one for maybe 40 years and decided it was time. He took a sip and asked me to taste it. Nudging the neon red cherry out of the way, I slurped up a bit and tasted mostly almonds. This was not a surprise as artificial cherry flavor contains benzaldehyde which component they share with almonds. The original lovely Italian maraschino liqueur was made by fermenting cherries with the pits which added the almond note to the flavor.

    Maraschino cherries originated in Italy of course and were a beautiful thing - cherries marinated in the Maraschino liqueur. I tasted one once in a gelato shop. They were loved world-wide and exported everywhere. Then came prohibition in the Unites States and out went liquor-soaked anything.

    What to do? Bartenders and soda jerks still needed their cherry garnish. Enter the mad food scientists in Oregon. They invented a non-alcoholic version. First they soaked the cherry in a salt brine to remove it's natural color and flavoring. Then they were pitted and soaked in a sweetener for a month. Finally they were dipped in artificial coloring to render a brilliant red color. As if the florid red ones aren't bad enough you see a green version floating in a drink from time to time. The FDA definition of the cherries sums it up: "The term "Maraschino Cherries" is regarded as the common or usual name of an article consisting of cherries which have been dyed red, impregnated with sugar and packed in a sugar syrup flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor." The only part they leave out is the mandatory eradication of any sort of cherry flavor.

    Despite my rambling on about these cherries Richard managed to suppress the natural eye-rolling instinct,  tune his husband-ears to the "yes, dear" setting and enjoy his drink. 


    Thursday, January 05, 2012

    No Explanations please


    In November while in Israel, in Old Jerusalem we visited St. Anne's Basilica where no explanations can be offered; these signs are posted everywhere in the church. We didn't hear any explanations but a man did run in and start yelling at the top of his voice. I couldn't tell what language he was yelling in or what he wanted. A woman came along and shouted at him to "Shut Up!" and he turned around and left.

    St. Anne's is on the site of the Bethesda pool (rain water reservoirs) whose waters were believed to be healing. The story goes that an angel flew over the pools once every 24 hours; whoever happened to be inside the water at that time would be miraculously healed. Christians believe that Jesus met and healed a paralytic there.

    According to several Christian histories, the Virgin Mary was born in a cave near here. The Crusaders came roaring into the area in the twelfth century, slaughtering most of the inhabitants in the name of God and "discovered" many specific sites like this one, apparently overlooked by Helena, mother of Constantine who discovered most of the rest of them. The Crusaders included the cave in a huge church named for Anne, Mary's mother and the grandmother of Jesus. If the Crusaders or Helena missed a spot, the Franciscans stepped into the breach and named sufficient locales to satisfy the growing needs of pilgrims who traveled long and hard to get to Jerusalem and found the area a bit deficient in tourist infrastructure.

    Nuns - Damascus Gate
    St. Anne's now belongs to the French Government and is run by the White Fathers, an order of the Catholic Church named for the color of their robes. We ran into this group of white-robed Africans in the church and they popped up everywhere we went for the rest of the day. Easy to happen in Old Jerusalem where everyone is slogging around from one religious site to another. Many in this group had purchased suitcases at one of the shops and they were pushing them along like battering rams through the crowd. You had to keep alert and stay out of their way.
    Tourists with suitcase battering rams

    St. Anne's church is beautiful, simple and has fantastic acoustics. The Gregorian Chant plays constantly and the music is wonderful in that environment, even with half an ear. After seeing hundreds of bleeding suffering Christs on a cross, the image of the peaceful Anne and the beautiful austerity of the church was a relief. The story goes that Mary was born to Anne in the normal human way but she was born free of original sin so that she could go on to conceive Jesus, hence the Immaculate Conception. 

    Lighting candles and asking St. Anne for favors

    Anne is the patron saint of, to list only a few : Detroit, Brittany, Quebec, the Mi'kmaq people of Canada and Santa Ana, California. She is also the patron saint of horseback riders, housewives, grandmothers, cabinet makers, unmarried women, women in labor and miners. She has an eclectic brood under her wing. What do cabinet makers and women in labor share in common?

    We walked from the tranquility of St. Annes and the Bethesda pools over to the Damascus gate - a wonderfully chaotic spot, filled with people from all over the world milling around, buying and selling things, discussing the issues, living their lives. 

    Damascus Gate
    Commerce Damascus Gate

    Tiny egg seller

    Wednesday, January 04, 2012

    Book Club Meeting January

    The book selection this month was the 2011 Man Booker prize winner,  "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes. Because there were so few of us, we decided to meet at La Caseta, dining out together for a change. The margaritas and food were good (grilled tacos, cilantro chicken) at La Caseta, but the noise level was so high that it was hard to hear each other across the large booth we'd reserved. If we meet there again, we'll opt for the patio where it's a little quieter. We were all surprised that they had almost a full house at La Caseta on a Wednesday night. Good for them!
    I loved this book. It's about memories and how they change when you look back.  I couldn't summarize better than this:

    “A page turner, and when you finish you will return immediately to the beginning . . . Who are you? How can you be sure? What if you’re not who you think you are? What if you never were? . . . At 163 pages, The Sense of an Ending is the longest book I have ever read, so prepare yourself for rereading. You won’t regret it.” —The San Francisco Chronicle 

    When you finish this book, you ask yourself "Did I miss something? What". Personally I've realized how much editing of my own memories I've done as I sift through family history and pictures. The brain corrects, deletes, embroiders relentlessly.

    Julian Barnes not only weaves an amazing tale but he writes so well that you never want to write another line yourself. All I want to do is curl up with the entire Barnes oeuvre. "Flaubert's Parrot" here I come.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2012


    January 2. Great grand nephews doing what boys do. But wait! Aren't those high heels on the little guy?

    My grand niece, their mother ,captioned this photo: "Nothing says MANLY like a gun and dress-up heels".

    They have a sister who usually wears the heels but two year old Brad likes the way they clack when he walks. He also wears her tap shoes for the same reason.


    Robert Carlsen with simulated cat ears
    BAHA - no, I'm not going to Mexico on vacation.

    My BAHA stands for "bone anchored hearing assistance". It's my third year with one deaf ear;  I fare poorly at social events and it's getting old. The holiday parties which I used to enjoy are now a matter of endurance. Straining to hear every word and hearing only half what's said is exhausting. The worst of it is being dismissed by conversationalists who quickly realize I'm oohing and ahing in all the wrong places. I can see the realization in people's eyes as they turn away and go for another drink. I don't blame them - so would I.
    A regular hearing aid would do nothing to improve my hearing as the nerves are dead, engulfed by my ever-changing tumor. The only option to me for hearing improvement is the BAHA. It consists of a  sound processor anchored in the skull. Sound comes into the receiver and it's transferred through the bone to the other hearing ear. The processor attaches to a titanium anchor or abutment implanted in the skull. The "saw bones", which is an appropriate epithet in this case, describe it as "easy surgery". Easy or not, you have to give the situation a lot of thought before letting anyone near your skull with a drill.

    Results reported by people who wear a BAHA are mixed. Some rave; others feel it's a marginal improvement and still others suffer with infections around the abutment and headaches. Ugh.

    I'm thinking about the lower-tech stuff. No infections, but I'll definitely have to get a bigger purse to carry the things around.