Saturday, November 1, 2014

It's Just What Happened--and it IS a great story

I don't know how long Ned and Greg, his best friend, have been collaborating together to turn Greg's house into a haunted house for Halloween.   Greg is a tech guy.  He has traveled with big name stars to light their big arena concerts and now he works big corporate shows in places like Las Vegas.  So he knows electronics and gadgetry inside out.  He and Ned have been doing ever-increasingly complex projects ever since they became friends in junior high school.

For the haunted house, they block off the back half of Greg's house and put scary displays in the windows of the front of the house.

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Some are animated, some windows have a real person, in costume sitting, looking like the mannequins in the other windows.

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But when you get to the window of the real person and he/she leaps at you, you scream (well, if you aren't expecting it, you do).  One year Marta was a mad woman in one of the windows.  You watch all the show while walking around the path that leads to the back of the house.  There are strobe lights and things that hang and bump and blasts of air when you least expect them, and at the end, a ghoul to guide you back out onto the sidewalk.

We went over to check out this year's display and as we got out of the car, we could hear the screams of the kids who were going through the path.  A mother and her costumed kids were standing on the sidewalk trying to decide if they were going to go in.  She asked me if I knew the people that lived in the house and I assured them that I did and that it would be fine to go through the path.

When they started this project, Greg's kids were little.  Now they are in high school and have learned enough about everything that they can run the show themselves, leaving Greg and the older folk to sit inside, have some hors d'oeuvres and soup and talk with each other.  So we joined the "old folks" (who are our kids' friends) and settled in to visit.

Ned told me about the once in a lifetime experience he had on the night of the 7th game of the World Series.  He and his friend Jessica had tickets for a Phish concert in San Francisco.  Ned and Jessica are huge Phish fans and get to as many of their shows as they can.  The concert was to be held at the Bill Graham auditorium, which just so happens to be underneath the San Francisco Civic Center plaza, across from City Hall, where the city had set up a Jumbotron and a million or so Giants fans were watching the game.
Ned, not being a sports fan, watched the game with their friend K.C., who also had tickets for the concert, but left at the 7th inning so he could get to the concert on time, leaving K.C. behind to finish watching the game with his family and then meet them at the concert afterwards.  (I don't know how anybody could have left that game!)

Anyway, Ned and Jessica got to the concert and it started.   Phish played one upbeat song and then started a kind of mellow tune.  Ned said that what happened next could never have happened 10 years ago, in the years before smart phones.  In the middle of the song, suddenly the entire auditorium erupted in a huge cheer--all those people who had been monitoring the game on their phones and jumping up and down, waving their arms in the air in the manner of a last act finale.  Phish stopped the song they were playing and started playing "We are  the champions," which everyone sang along to, swaying together, and when it finished, the band picked up the original song right where they left off, to louder audience cheers.

Listening to Ned tell it, it was obviously one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you just hadda been there to appreciate.  He said that yes, K.C. had the thrill of watching the game with his family, but he missed the camaraderie of an auditorium filled with Giants fans and Phish fans and the moment when those two were in perfect harmony.


Friday, October 31, 2014

No Vampires Here

This may be Halloween, but rest assured there is no chance of any vampire invading our home.  Apparently dating all the way back to Egyptian times, garlic was the preferred repellent for vampires, who, the ancient Egyptians believed, killed children by sucking their breath.  Interesting that this is now what is thought of cats and think of how important cats were in Egyptian history!   Maybe the vampires got a bad rap.

But anyway a dictionary in the mid 1800s says that not only is garlic used to flavor foods but that it was also used as a charm to ward off evil spirits.

Romania, no stranger to vampires, people eat garlic every day for their personal protection.

ASIDE:  I once worked with a woman who ate copious amounts of garlic and that is when I discovered that if you eat a lot of garlic on a daily basis, you excrete it with your sweat.  And that the smell of excreted garlic is nothing like the smell of cooked garlic.  I had to move my desk to where there was an open window and some days she smelled so bad I had to leave the office to get some fresh air. 

But I digress.

Anyway, it is long established that garlic wards off vampires and other spirits.

Well, my friend Evelyn gave us copious quantities of home grown garlic.  A whole bag full.  And tonight I took advantage of the approaching potential vampire attacks and made "40 clove of garlic chicken."   I first made this dish years and years ago after Gilbert died and I got his clay pot.  I don't make it all that often because it's a pain to peel all those garlic cloves, even with the use of my handy-dandy garlic peeler that Paul bought for me a long time ago.

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(you roll the garlic in this tube and voilĂ , you have peeled garlic.   But it only does 1-3 cloves at a time.)

Facebook is a good source of information, other than cute cat videos and who David Gerrold is unfriending today.  The other day I saw a marvelous video where you put your garlic in a metal bowl, top it with another metal bowl (top to top) and then shake the bowls together rigorously.  When you stop shaking, you have a bowl of peels and peeled garlic.   It's like magic.  Try it.  It works!  For just a couple of cloves, I'll continue to use my little rubber thing, but for large quantities, the bowl method is ideal.

But in no time flat, I had my garlic all peeled and my chicken and other ingredients in the clay pot ready for the oven.

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It was indeed yummy when all cooked, the garlic having softened so it mixed nicely with the potatoes and carrots...and chicken itself (if you don't know, garlic when baked for a long time gets soft and can be spread like butter--and loses its sharp taste).

So I am expecting no vampires at our house tomorrow night.  Safe for another year.


Yes, I am going to Iowa.  Peach and I have been talking about what is about to happen to her and what I can do to help.  I am flying out on the 9th of November (which means I have a review to write the night before, after I see the show!) and the flying home on the 3rd of December.  I will be having Thanksgiving with Peach and Bob and their family.  I would love to be here to have it with my mother, but (a) Thanksgiving is the busiest time to travel, and (b) I saved a significant amount of money by flying after the Thanksgiving rush is over.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Three for Three

I had another entry entirely started but then we watched the final game of the World Series and saw the Giants win their third in three tries (2010, 2012, 2014).  It may take awhile before all of the Giants fans come down after this one!

I have been aware of other World Series games featuring teams I was not interested in, so I understand that it is entirely possible that some readers here never saw a game of the 2014 World Series between the Giants and the Kansas City Royals.  It is also entirely possible that people reading this don't care a whit about baseball, or any sports, but I tell ya, I have been glued to this series.

As I have said before, I am a fair weather fan.  I don't much pay attention to the games at all until my team gets into the playoffs, so I started paying attention with the playoff games and gradually watched them win and lose and win again until they were actually in the series.

If you like tension and suspense, you could not have asked for a better series than this one.  I would have said that even if the Royals had ultimately won.  The games were that good.  "Each one was delicious torture,"  said someone else on Facebook.  There were two of the seven games where the ultimate result was no in question--Giants dominated in one, Royals in the other, but all of the games had jaw-dropping work in the field, amazing pitching (I even kinda sorta got to where I could call a "ball" some of the time).

But it all came down to tonight's winner take all game and it was a nail biter from start to finish.  As one friend of mine shouted on Facebook "WHOEVER SAID BASEBALL WAS A DULL GAME?"  While the Giants led by one point through most of the game (except when the Royals tied it up), and you'd think you could relax and contemplate celebrating a win, in the 9th inning pitcher Baumgartner struck out two batters and then the third hit a ball that was bobbled by the outfield and now there was a runner on third base, who could tie up the game.
 
It couldn't possibly have been more tense when the count got to 3-2 and you knew that the next pitch would decide whether the Giants won the game or if it would go into overtime, essentially making it a whole new ballgame (and remembering back to the 18 inning playoff game!)

But then the batter hit a pop fly that Sandoval, bless his heart, caught for the out, leaving the runner stranded on 3rd base and Giants fans all across the country celebrating the win.

Before the game started, Marcus Crowder, theater critic for the Sacramento Bee had posted to Facebook
It's the last game of the season and my boys are playing. They're not supposed to be here considering injuries they had to front line players. History says they won't win tonight. Odds makers say they won't win tonight. The other team has the home field advantage and the more talented players. We've got heart and soul, not that the opposition doesn't but it's what we run on. So we'll see.
Marcus doesn't have a clue who I am, though I spoke to him once.   He's the Big Critic in the area (literally and figuratively -- he's about 6'5"), but I commented on his post and said "It ain't over till the fat lady sings.  I'm a fat lady and I am not singing."

Then along comes that heart-stopping 9th inning when he wrote, "Bottom of the ninth.  I can't breathe" and seconds later the game was over and I wrote THE FAT LADY IS SINGING. 

I wonder if he will remember the next time we are reviewing shows together.

But it's all over and I can finally take off and wash my Giants t-shirt.  Good going, Giants.  Walk proud, Giants fans.  I'm proud that this is my team, even if I ignore you all during regular season play.  (And it's always so nice when the city dresses in Orange and Black on Halloween!)


There is also good news on the Atria front and I am impressed with their attention to complaints.  I had a note from the Corporate Communication Specialist who had handled the response to my sad tale of woe about my mother's birthday party.  She told me she had forwarded my e-mail to the Executive Director for the Atria communities.   Within an hour, I had a phone call from the head of Housekeeping, who promised the apartment would get a "deep cleaning" today and that he would continue to spot check to make sure that it was being cleaned properly.  Now how much of that will happen, I don't know, but it made me feel good.
What made me feel even better was that I reminded my mother to watch the Giants game and called her when it was over and she was just as excited as I was and said she had been sitting alone in her apartment cheering and was happy I had called so we could cheer together.  Again, a brief "almost like the old days" moment that made me feel very good.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Bitch Speaks

I released my inner bitch today and sent the following note to the manager (veteran, USAF) of Atria.

Mr. XXX,

I want to assure you that ordinarily I am not the kind of person to knit pick and complain a lot.  In the year and a half my mother has been at Atria, the FIRST time I complained was when her birthday went so badly.  (Mr. Ensley offered to do another meal for us, which was not possible, but Atria did not forget to charge us >$60 for the meal where they screwed everything up).

The second time I complained was last week when I mentioned that a chest of drawers in her living room had not been dusted and that the dust was so thick it could be seen from across the room.  Someone apparently came and dusted the FRONT of that chest, leaving the dust that has been gathering for weeks at the back of the chest untouched.

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I went into her bedroom to check on her laundry and was met with this sight as I entered.

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Obviously the bedroom has not been dusted properly either.

Now,  I freely admit I am not a good housekeeper.  My house looks like this everywhere, but my mother has been a very good housekeeper all of her life.  She pays >$4,100 a month for Atria, which is supposed to include housekeeping.  When I grew up "housekeeping" included "dusting."  I would very much appreciate it if you would make sure that the woman who cleans her apartment does the dusting and not just half of a piece of furniture.  She is a very nice lady and very friendly, and I really don't want to make trouble for her, but I really think that since my mother has chosen to participate in none of the activities offered at Atria, the very least she should get for her >$4,100 is a clean apartment.

Thank you.

Beverly Sykes

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Home for Thanksgiving

Well, last week I was poking around the internet looking for information on pancreatic cancer.  It appears I am spending this week on the internet looking for information on breast cancer staging, treatment, symptoms, etc.
Peach called this afternoon.  I'm not sure who they saw today, but tomorrow they are doing a CT scan and she will meet with another doctor for a second opinion.  She is confused because the surgeon said he "got it all" and the oncologist says it is aggressive and she must start chemo immediately.

But my friend, one of the gynecologists I worked for for about 12 years says, "The surgeon is telling her they got all the visible cancer. However to treat microscopic disease and prevent recurrence..aggressive chemo is recommended..maybe radiation too. It all comes down to playing the odds and increasing her chances of survival by blasting any sneaky cells after sugery with a one-two punch."   Which is kind of what I suspected.

She is going to call me tomorrow and we will discuss when I am going to fly to be with her.  She wants her daughters with her for the first round, but would like me to come after that, which means (I hope) that I can get a regular priced plane ticket and not have to pay the kinds of fees that Char's kids did trying to get a flight out immediately.

(Walt looks at me skeptically and asks if I plan to take Polly with me...)

It is her intent that I "be home in time for Thanksgiving," but knowing that holiday is the busiest time in the year for travel, I somehow think that if I get to Iowa the 2nd week in November, I probably won't go home again until after Thanksgiving...unless I am very, very lucky with plane tickets.   Holidays are not important right now, what's important is helping her get through this and from all I have read today, removing the cancerous breast is the easy part of becoming a cancer survivor.

My heart aches for her as she starts this journey.

Here at home people are so wonderful.  My friend Evelyn showed up at our front door today (she left so quickly she was gone before I knew she had even been here) with a huge bag of garlic (before this all happened, she had let folks know that she had lots of garlic to share, so this wasn't some oddball cancer cure she was sharing!) and a beautiful vase of flowers.

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Evelyn is a wonderfully thoughtful woman who often shows up with surprises when I have been in the doldrums about something.  If I ever get my butt in gear, she will probably be the next "coffee" that I have.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Next Chapter

I said yesterday that there was more bad news.  This I got a couple of days ago.  I heard from Peach after her visit with the oncologist.   She had a mastectomy a week or so ago and on Monday she had the stitches removed, but she didn't get the full report on her condition until Friday.

It's "aggressive Stage III cancer" and they want her to start chemotherapy this week.

Her mother was the first of my mother's siblings that I was close to who died.  Two of the older ones had died, but I didn't really know them well.  But Marge was like a second mother to me.  She was also a chain smoker and, like most of her siblings, she developed lung cancer.  But she was the first one to die of it (eventually they all did...my mother, in her days of wondering why she's still alive while her siblings are all gone jokes that she sort of regrets never having smoked ... but not really)

Marge was 61 when she died in about 1982.  She had been under treatment for quite some time and Peach remembers the hell her mother went through with chemotherapy.  I know that treatment now is not quite as primitive as it was then, and there are more palliative therapies available than there were in 1982, but still she is terrified, and I can't blame her.

I have offered to fly to Iowa to be with her as she starts her course of treatment.  She says she may want me to come, but is waiting until the family meets with whoever is going to set up the whole program and then decide.  But I may be flying off to Iowa, a state I've never visited before.

With all the chaos of tragedy and sadness that has swirled around us this week, none of it touches me personally, but I still feel like I'm walking through mud, with difficulty thinking straight.

Char and her kids are back in the U.S. now and, as my mother is fond of saying "life goes on," as they set about taking care of Mike's affairs, and Flo's affairs.

I went to Atria yesterday, because I wanted to give the latest news about Peach to my mother personally, not over the phone.  I've said this before and will probably say it again, but one of the most difficult things for me about her dementia is the disconnect with her emotions.  It is so hard for me to deliver sad (or happy, for that matter) news to her and have her have almost no reaction.

Our dialog yesterday went something like:

ME:  "Peach heard that she has stage 3 cancer and will have to start chemotherapy."

HER:  "Oh dear.  Well life goes on, whether you want it to or not." Then she looked over a a cabinet where there was a bouquet of roses that had been given to her this week, and totally dismissing the news about Peach she said, "Look at those flowers.  They are dying.  They were beautiful, but now they're dying."

I'm not sure whether my tears were for Peach or for the fact that my mother and I could not discuss Peach's upcoming chemotherapy treatment and her fears about it.  Once she had digested the news, she was no longer interested.   We sat there for awhile longer, talking about how old she is, how all of her siblings are gone, and how it can't be cold outside (it was) because the leaves on the trees were not moving, so it must be hot and how she didn't watch the World Series because she somehow forgot it was on in between the time I called her and the time she walked back to her chair after hanging up (so I didn't bother to call her yesterday).

It was one of those days where I needed to have my mother to talk to, and couldn't bear to be with this person who looked and sounded like my mother, but who wasn't the mother I needed.  I know it's not her fault and I will be fine when I see her next time, but I cut my visit short, went out to the parking lot, and sat in the car to have a little cry.  (I seem to be having these "little cry" moments this week.)

I'm also upset with Atria.  The housekeeper has been doing a worse and worse job of dusting.  You can write your name on the top of a chest she has--and even my mother notices it from across the room.  ("Do I have a housecleaner?" she asks, not remembering).  I reported it to the front desk and someone came in and dusted the front of the chest, but the dust that has been gathering at the back is so thick it is actually white.  She pays >$4100 month for this place and she deserves better, but then I am loathe to make a fuss because my mother doesn't seem to care and I want to save my ire for things that are more serious so they don't start targeting her for some sort of retribution.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Stealing

I got more bad news yesterday -- this time having nothing to do with Char's family -- but I don't feel like writing about it yet, so I'm glad that this is the night for.....

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Nerd Alert Meme

1. Favorite childhood book?

I'm not sure.  I loved "Bambi," loved "Little Women," devoured any book I could get my hands on about horses or dogs.  Maybe "Dark Sunshine" was my favorite horse book.  (No longer in print) "The Further Adventures of Lad" my favorite dog book (because it had both Lad as a puppy, and his death)

2. What are you reading right now?

"Gone Girl," on my Kindle and a Ruth Rendell mystery as a hold-in-your-hands book.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

We live 3 blocks from the library and I can't remember the last time I was in it.   It's been years.

4. Bad book habit?

Starting too many books at once and then never finishing them.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

See #3.  I do not make use of our local library.  Too many books at home that I haven't read.

6. Do you have an e-reader?

Yes.  I love my Kindle.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

I always have at least two, and frequently more, books going at once.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

No.  I have been a huge reader since I learned to read.

9. Least favourite book you read this year (so far)?

"Gidget."  It was a book that I read for the book club I was in.   I thought it was a stupid book and definitely not for the age group of the 50 women in the book club!

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?

"Written in My Own Heart's Blood," Book 8 of Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series.  It was a long wait, but worth it.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

Sometimes.  I read lots of things I would not otherwise read for the book club.   I often pick "out of my comfort zone" books to read at Logos Books (where I work)

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

Most of what I read are crime dramas.  Lots of authors like Michael Connelly, David Baldacci, Harlan Coben, Tess Gerritsen, Ruth Rendell, etc.  But my "comfort zone" is pretty large.

13. Can you read on the bus?

Definitely.  I don't ride the bus often, but when I do, I'm glad to have my Kindle with me.

14. Favorite place to read?

In my recliner.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

Since probably most of what I read is on my Kindle, it's not possible to lend, but if I've already read a book, I am happy to lend (and rarely expect to get the book back)

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

Almost never.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

Never

18. Not even with text books?

It's been more than 50 years since I had a text book, so...no.

19. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?

"Tom Jones."  I read it because I read about it in "Marjorie Morningstar," where someone told her nobody read that book for pleasure.  I knew nothing about it, but took it as a challenge ad decided I had to read it...and then I really liked it.  This was back in the 1960s, so I don't remember anything about it now, except what I remember from the movie!

20. What makes you love a book?

Either a good story or a book that has interesting facts (like "Backstage at the White House," which I loved)