Friday, February 29, 2008

Specialite du Jour

I'm a pretty good cook. I'm not the intuitive gourmet cook that Tom is, but I'm not afraid of following any recipe. Sometimes I'll look at a recipe and decide against it because it's just too much work, but I usually feel pretty confident that if I decide to follow the recipe, even the complicated ones, it will turn out all right.

I know people who are afraid to cook, afraid to try anything new. If they are having guests to dinner, they try out what they're going to cook first to make sure it tastes OK.

Not me. I just barrel on ahead. In fact, I almost always cook something I've never cooked before on those rare occasions when we have guests for dinner. (The reason we don't entertain more often has nothing to do with cooking and everything to do with housecleaning!)

My mother is an excellent cook, but she usually cooked pretty basic fare. Pot roast, meat loaf, a great fried chicken, lasagna, etc. I have yet to be able to match the quality or taste of her pot roast, but she did pass along the secret(s) of her famous enchiladas (which she learned at the knee of a Mexican woman who lived in the flat over ours). Her stuffed eggs are in great demand for any social gathering.

I learned to cook by immersion. I don't really remember cooking when I lived at home, but when I got into college, I started helping the guys who lived in an old house run by the Newman Center, where Walt lived. They all took turns and one of the guys couldn't cook at all, so I cooked dinner on his night to cook. It evolved into my cooking the dinners every night except one (for the guy who insisted on doing his own cooking).

In those days you could find breast of lamb on sale for 10 cents a pound and, given that I was operating on a real shoestring budget, we ate a lot of breast of lamb and I learned all sorts of ways to cook it.

I discovered I really enjoyed cooking and started experimenting. I collected cookbooks and until I started "clearing out" a few years ago, I had a very large collection of them (a tall, wide bookcase full). In fact, my wedding gift from Walt was a set of Gourmet Magazine cookbooks, embossed with my new name.

I took cooking lessons from Martin Yan, learned cake decorating, can cook Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Greek, Brasilian (they tell me I cook many Brasilian dishes like a native) and Chilean.

However, being a good cook doesn't mean that I always cook something fancy. Usually it's "something with chicken in it" or "pasta with something poured on top of it." But I like knowing that if I want to cook something fancy, I'm not afraid to.

That said, I've had my share of spectacular culinary disasters. When I was working for the UC Berkeley Physics Department, my boss was famous for not caring about food, but he did once admit that he liked hamburgers. I felt I made the "perfect" hamburger and invited him and Walt to dinner (Walt and I were engaged at the time). It was in December and I planned a whole evening of Christmas music (forgetting that the boss was Jewish!). Then I burned the hamburgers. We could just barely choke them down. I'll never forget how mortified I was that night.

Then there was the night David's godfather came to dinner and I found this intriguing recipe that called for avocado. Just as a word of warning, don't ever try to cook anything with an un-ripe avocado!!!!!

There was the time I cooked curry for Gilbert, knowing he detested curry, but thinking that if I mixed the spices myself and didn't use curry powder, it would be OK. It wasn't.

Then there was the night Steve came to town and I threw a big dinner party in his honor so he could meet some local folks in theatre and music.

And the night I decided to show off for a Brasilian woman who was visiting Davis and taking classes at the University. We had agreed to be kind of a "host family" for her, a contact person in town that she could relate to. After our dinner we never heard from her again!

And I know Peggy is just dying to add the story of my roasting the broccoli when she told me that she liked roast vegetables (I didn't realize she meant root vegetables, and that she expected I would be steaming the broccoli!).

(However, I still maintain that the risotto I served the first night she was here was delicious, dammit! In spite of how sick she got at the sight of it.)

At least my cooking disasters haven't dampened my confidence because I can usually figure out where I screwed up. I still like cooking, and still enjoy being adventurous, even if the thing I cook most often is still "something with chicken in it."

I am feeling better about Comcast, though. I called them today and discovered that it was, after all, just a glitch. She had me unplug the box and then she did something to reset it again and voila! I'm back in the DVD-making business again. Too bad I deleted all the Celine Dion stuff!

NOTE that I've finally uploaded a selection of photos from my weekend-plus in Santa Barbara to Flickr.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Failure of Technology

I hope you really like the "Big Round Thing" video 'cause it's the last new one you're likely to see for two more weeks.

I got a call from my computer guru who is working on the desktop for free. I don't understand it exactly, but the computer will download, but not install "critical updates." He went on at great length explaining why it's necessary to install critical updates, the upshot of which is essentially that I would be emboldening the terrorists (or some such thing) if I left my computer open to attack.

Right now he's all involved with trying to get the Food Bank up and running and I couldn't really insist that he give me priority over the food bank, especially since he's doing my work at no charge.

In a few days, my friend Mary is coming from Wisconsin for a 4-day visit and the day after she leaves, Walt and I go back to Santa Barbara for a couples' shower, so I told the guru that he could keep my computer until the 12th.

Fortunately, this laptop is more or less set up to match the desktop, but not entirely--and where it's not quite the same is with respect to video. I don't have the right programs to work with video, so it will take two weeks before I can start processing video. (By then I will have even more video to process, probably).

I had hoped to attach the desktop keyboard and monitor to the laptop, but the keyboard is not a USB connection and there is no way to attach it, so I'll just muddle along with the laptop. The main problem is that there is no place to put it that is convenient. It's now on my auxiliary desk, which means I sit in front of a bunch of drawers.

But it's a small inconvenience. At least I can still use it, and still have internet access.

And, with any luck, I'm not emboldening terrorists.

I decided that if you lose access to your computer often enough, you eventually get it down to a science. Faced with two weeks without my desktop, I finally attached the external hard drive to the laptop. On the external hard drive are the back up copies of all of my journal entries, so I am now writing this entry the way I normally do, in wysiwyg format rather than writing code. It's a little thing, but it makes a big difference for me.

I had another rude awakening today. Ever since we have had a DVR, I have periodically copied things off onto DVDs, to save for myself. It's mostly nature stuff and episodes of "Inside the Actors' Studio" which I particularly like.

I also, from time to time, will burn DVDs for Peggy, since we generally like the same thing and it's nice to share things with her that I know she can't get in Australia.

Recently there were two programs on Celine Dion, whom Peggy likes. Biography did a program on her, and they showed one of her concerts. I saved both and was surprised when I went to copy them that I got a message saying that they could not be copied. I figured that it was something special the Dion had insisted on, and was disappointed, but figured that Peggy hadn't known about the shows anyway, so no problem.

But today, I decided, on the heels of reading James Lipton's book, that I would copy off the 3 "Actors Studio" shows that I hadn't watched yet to save for myself.

What's this? I can't copy those either?

Then I tried a Nature special. I copy Nature specials all the time, but I now can't copy that. And I have previously recorded "The L Word" for Shelly and Ellen, who don't have cable, so they could watch it. I've taped all of the shows this season up to the two that are currently on the DVR and -- guess what -- I can't copy those either.

So I guess the golden age of being able to save TV shows, at least by Comcast subscribers, has come to an end. Yeah, I know that probably technically it was always verboten, but people have been copying TV programs ever since VCRs were invented and I'm very disappointed that I can no longer do it. (What's the point of having a DVD burner if you can't burn shows from TV?)

So this has been a rather disappointing day, technologically, for me. The only bright side is that over the years I have learned how to make do without my primary computer so though my gerry-rigged set-up is not ideal, it's at least do-able.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Birthdays and Plans

It was nice to sleep under a warm puppy again last night. I had forgotten, however, that dogs don't understand the term "sleeping in," and so they woke me up around 6 a.m. I fed them, made coffee, checked e-mail, but eventually had to try to go back to sleep again, which I did. I didn't hear Walt leave the house when he went to work. He's doing a week (or so) long project, so is gone every day, for awhile.

I was glad to have him gone because today is his birthday and it would give me the opportunity to get a birthday gift (Tom Brokaw's "Boom") and get groceries for dinner (leg of lamb). I would also have the chance to make a lemon meringue pie.

I got a late start, though, because I wanted to finish listening to the recording of "Water for Elephants" I had listened to while on the train yesterday. Really a gripping story, with an ending I didn't see coming. There was still 2 hrs on the book on tape, so I got some stuff down around here while I was listening to the book. It did not disappoint.

While listening to the book, an exciting e-mail arrived from my friend Char:

Ok, ladies, as social director for this group I have a proposal. The French teacher at Tavie's [Char's daughter, who is a teacher] school regularly takes groups to Europe, sometimes kids, sometimes adults. She is planning an adult - women only - trip to France and Italy as soon as school gets out next year - 2009. Tavie, who has never been to Europe is anxious to go. I said I was in...We need a group of 20 to make it fly.

My first reaction was "no." Not because I didn't want to go but because I know that I'm in no shape for doing travel right now -- not only the "fitting in the airplane seat" business, but also the rigors of sightseeing when you get winded walking to the end of the driveway.

Then I realized I was being handed a golden opportunity. This isn't happenng this year, but a year and a half from now. This would give me a good 12+ months to get in shape. When I lost weight and got in shape last time it was for my trip to Australia. I had followed Peggy around California for six weeks and, while she was extremely kind and didn't get impatient with my inability to keep up with her, I wanted to do as much as I could so that I would be sort of in good physical shape to explore Australia.

It worked. My finest hour was climbing down into an underground cave, exploring it, and climbing back up again. One hundred steps involved in that tour and I did it.

A trip with this group would be a great incentive that somehow picking up and going on a trip with Walt doesn't seem to be.

So I've talked with Walt and he's agreed that it sounds like a great opportunity for me and I've told Char that I'd like to join the group.

Then, having made the decision to get in shape so I can go to Europe in 2009, I made a lemon meringue pie, which turned out to be one of the best lemon meringue pies I've ever made.

Oh well...I don't need to start losing weight today do I?

I had hoped that my computer guru would return my desktop today. There was nothing seriously wrong, but it wouldn't install "critical updates" and he said he'd run some diagnostics on it and said that it would be easier if he could do it at his house.

I told him the timing would be perfect, since I'd be away and wouldn't need the computer. He picked it up the day before I left for Santa Barbara and was going to return it as soon as I called him. But apparently the Food Bank computer had problems and he spent the day there. Harumph. Food bank? What about my needs???

But there was nothing I could do about it, so he now says he'll be by tomorrow with the computer. The main problem is that while I can use the laptop to do just about everything, it's just not as comfortable for doing things like creating video, so all the video I took from the trip has to wait until I get back on the big machine again. I'm also waiting to upload photos until I get on the big computer as well.

It was a weird day. I guess I was more sleepy than I thought because I fell asleep shortly after the Democratic debate and didn't wake up until 1 a.m. I dragged myself in here to the computer to finish this entry and now I'm going back to sleep again.

Tomorrow is a new day and a renewed dedication to getting in shape for a 2009 trip to France and Italy!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Well, the Big Trip is over. It is 1 a.m. (so I'm actually writing an entry on the date of the entry. Amazing!) so this is not going to be long because I'm already ready for sleep.

I spent the morning getting organized to leave, gathering up all the food I'd bought for the trip, finding all my cords, rechargers, etc., checking e-mail, and then reading my book. This James Lipton book is an interesting thing. I found it a little difficult to get into because he's so pedantic, but once I caught the rhythm of it, I just relished his use of language, enjoyed having my brain stretched to follow along when he got esoteric, enjoyed learning about him, and about the things he had done. That comprised about 2/3 of the book, interwoven with stories of the founding of the Actors Studio and the early days of "Inside the Actors Studio."

Ironically, when he finished that and started actually talking about the program and the stars who had graced the stage and made an impact on him, I found it bogs down. It becomes repetitious and fawning over the actors, treating them as you would royalty. It is all just a bit too over the top for my taste, which is too bad because until that point I was relishing the book. I am still enjoying it, but when I came down to the last 100 pages or so, and faced with having to carry it onto the train or pack it, I chose to pack it and finish reading it at home.

Alice came home at around 11:30 to get me and take me to the train station, where she dropped me so she could go back to work. I was met with a sign that said there were signal problems between Santa Barbara and Oxnard (just south of Santa Barbara) which were causing delays. About 40 minutes, as it turned out. So I sat in the station and took pictures.

I finally got on the train, got myself a window seat to watch the view, and settled in to read the book I'd borrowed from Tom and Laurel, which, I discovered, was a book I had already read. But I had fully charged my iPod and had also downloaded a book from before I left home, "Water for Elephants" and started to listen to that. I was so totally engrossed in the book that I didn't get up for the 11+ hours it took to get to Davis, not to go to the bathroom, or get water, or anything. I have two hours left to go and will finish it tomorrow. Great book!

The food I'd bought at Trader Joe's was perfect and I didn't need anything from the snack bar, but just munched on salad, carrots with dip, trail mix, garlic naan bread with pesto torta spread, and apples. Much healthier than the snack bar too!

The scenery was spectacular. Because of heavy winds over the weekend, they had to close the pier at Santa Barbara because of the high waves and though the pier had reopened this morning, they said there would be high waves along the coast. It certainly made for wonderful sightseeing!

But I really didn't spend much time "noticing" the scenery because I was so engrossed in the book. The time literally flew by--and I was happy that the charge on my iPod lasted the full 11 hours.

We were about an hour late getting into Davis and the dogs were thrilled to see me when I got here. Now I'm going to go crawl under a warm puppy and get the nap I didn't get on the train.

It was great to be in Santa Barbara and it's wonderful to be home!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Beige Lady

She was perhaps in her middle to late 50s, perhaps early 60s, and dressed in light beige. It was a beige dress designed for a much younger woman, something that evoked perhaps life in prairie days, with a low cut neck designed to reveal the decolletage of a young woman, but instead revealed the light beige long-sleeved sweater this woman had put under the dress. Above the turtle neck, her makeup was pale and her unkempt hair was the kind of bleach blonde that looks like it's had one too many treatments. On her feet were white Mary Janes with little bows on them and white stockings that disappeared under the ankle-length skirt. The total effect was just...beige, except for a splash of pink across her mouth, the dark outline of her eyebrows, and the pink pot of baby roses she was carrying.

For a moment, I wished I had artistic talent. I wanted to paint her and call it "Beige Lady with Roses."

Beige Lady was just one of the unique "looks" that I noticed at Trader Joe's today. I went back, this time with Joe and Alice Nan to the "big" TJ's, where they were doing a "big shopping." When you live in the suburbs, like Davis, the people you meet in supermarkets all seem to be of a handful of generic types--your fat generics, your thin generics, your healthy generics, your ethnic generics, your student generics. They all seem to have a singlemindedness of purpose, know what they want and how to get it quickly.

At Trader Joe's diversity is paramount and you might pass a couple of aging hippies with stringy hair, weathered complexion and formless Salvation Army type clothes, followed by a young gay man, impeccably dressed, head held erect, and meeting your gaze with a smile, followed by a retired grey-haired couple carefully checking the labels of each thing they buy to make sure it has all the proper nutrients, to a mother with children hanging off of her, trying to rush through the store and get home again. Most are wandering leisurely through the store checking out what's new, tasting the food samples, and just enjoying the whole Trader Joe experience. They don't even seem to mind waiting in long lines to be checked out.

I do love Trader Joe's for its "feel," and for the diversity not only of the clientele, but of the foods it offers, where you can buy chicken tiki masala next to gorgonzola gnocci or cheese empanadas. There are so many new and delicious-sounding ready-made foods available but guilt keeps me from buying them. I always figure that ready-made foods are for people who work and who aren't home all day long. I know how to cook, I can pretty much follow any recipe, and it would be cheating if I just pulled a pre-made meal out of the refrigerator or freezer section (though I admit that I do do it sometimes!) I should make my own chicken tiki masala, gorgonzola gnocci or cheese empanadas--it would be cheaper (and possibly even taste better).

I picked up a pear and gorgonzola cheese salad to add to my collection of foods for the train and think I'm pretty much set now. Undoubtedly over-set. I could make it all the way to Seattle without having to hit the snack bar, I believe! But it's nice to have several choices.

We started the day today with a big, noisy, relaxed family breakfast. Joe poached eggs and fried bacon, Alice toasted English muffins, I had brought lemon bread and lemon curd from my last trip to Trader Joe's. Norm made coffee. We all sat around the table eating and laughing for a very long time. Eventually, Norm and Olivia left to have one last visit with his mother. Joe set me up with a free USB port and I was able to look at some of the photos I've been taking and post a couple on Flickr, though I want to do some work on some of them before posting them all (and even with the direct connection, it seems slower on this computer, so I'd prefer to wait till I get home).

At 2, we went to see the work that Tom and Laurel have been doing to their house. Oh my. The reports were not exaggerated. It looks totally overwhelming. The living room has a single-file path through it, with most of the room piled high with stuff covered with a tarp. The office is pretty much inaccessible for the stuff piled in there. The nursery is a bit more open, though at the moment is storing the cabinets for the kitchen. Laurel is working today on the painting design for that room while Tom is working in the kitchen. They have removed everything--yes, including the kitchen sink--and Tom is hanging new cabinets and putting in new counters.

Floor guys are coming tomorrow, I think. I've lost the sequence of things. When it's all finished it is going to be absolutely gorgeous and, based on the work I've seen them do in the past, I know that it's just going to be incredible. But there are only 40 days left to Laurel's due date, Tom doesn't know if he's going to have to travel for his job in the coming weeks or not, and they are pushing it pretty close. Whatever doesn't get done pre-baby will get done eventually, but I know that things will be a lot less chaotic if they don't have to worry about adjusting to a new baby and continuing to do major remodeling at the same time.

That's the nice thing about being young--you can do stuff like this. For me (and I suspect all the rest of us old farts who stopped by to check it), it makes you want to sit down and drink a nice cold beverage of your choice, perhaps cry a bit, and then call in a contractor to finish the job!

My time here is coming to an end. It's been just long enough. The train ride wasn't too long, I've had a chance to laugh, to visit, to see my mother-in-law, to check on Tom and Laurel, to get a taste of what's in store for our granddaughter, and now I'm ready to go home. The 11+ hr ride home will make a nice transition period and then I'll be home and ready to call my guru to bring my computer back so I can get back to transcribing the few remaining Morning Stories. Already I'm thinking about the things to do when I get home, so it must be time to leave here!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Don't Rain on My Shower

The huge room was filled with women laughing, talking, eating, and just wandering around. I was standing by Laurel and I asked, " many of these people are related to you?"

She looked at the group. I don't know how many there were, but 30-40 had been invited and we guesstimated that at least 30 had come. "Oh..." she paused. "All of them?"

She then amended it to all of them but two, her best friends from high school. And us, of course. Myself, Walt's sister, and his sister-in-law. We were the outsiders at this baby shower. All the rest were in some way connected to the Hanley family.

The plan had been for the shower to be held at a local park, and it was going to be a picnic. I was somewhat dubious about a picnic scheduled for February, but apparently it is not uncommon for the weather to be beautiful in Santa Inez in February.

However, not this year. It has been raining steadily and it looked like the term "shower" was going to be even more appropriate, so alternate arrangements had to be made to accommodate a group this large in some indoor location. Enter Uncle Chip and his wife, Susan.

Susan had hosted Laurel's bridal shower in 2003 (which I missed because I was in Australia) and Alice Nan told me they had a house which could easily handle a large group. Olivia, Walt's sister-in-law, had Googled the address to get driving directions and was surprised to discover the house was on the market. For only $4.7 million you could own this gorgeous piece of real estate!

What does a $4.7 million house look like?

For one thing, Santa Inez is an incredibly gorgeous area. It's vineyards and it's horses and once you climb up into the hills outside Santa Barbara and come down into the valley where Santa Inez is located, it takes your breath away. The hills. The clouds. The green fields. And, as you begin to get into the populated areas again, it seems to be one huge horse farm after another. White fences cutting a swath through the green fields and horses standing around looking bored.

We found the house without difficulty, but were early and there didn't seem to be any cars around, so Alice Nan called Norm and Olivia and found that they were in nearby Los Olivos, at the Fess Parker Inn, where they thought they'd kill time and get coffee. We decided to join them, but by the time we actually found them and had a quick look at the Inn, it was after the scheduled start time of the shower, so we just turned around and headed back to the mansion.

I suppose I shouldn't call it a mansion exactly, but when the guest house is larger than my real house, and the master bathroom is twice the size (and then some) of my office, I know that this is really not my league! (I do not, for example, fly the flag of visiting guests on the grounds next to my pool!) I did take photos and, again, they will eventually be posted, after I get home.

It was a lovely shower. With a mountain of gifts, everything from booties to a jogging stroller with a place for an MP3 player so baby can have music wherever she goes. She even got her own first piece of bling from Walt's cousin's wife (who couldn't attend, but who sent a package).

By the time we left, the winds which were blowing a bit when we arrived had turned into gale force winds and the "shower" was starting to look like serious rain. The mountain tops which had displayed a generous dusting of snow on our drive over were now completely shrouded in black clouds. We drove back to Santa Barbara and arrived at the Assisted Living facility before the cloudburst began.

Norm had spent most of the afternoon visiting with his mother, and we joined the nice visit they were having, went to the dining room and had dinner with her. We lingered until the place had nearly cleared out, and then back to the room for more visiting before my mother-in-law was clearly exhausted and it was time for her care giver to get her ready for bed. She obviously gets more confused the more tired she was. She asked me what, exactly, was my relation to Tom, as she had forgotten he was my son.

Now we're all back at the house, having a slumber party. Or we were before the others wimped out and went to sleep. I'm sitting up, the only awake person in the house, waiting for Alice Nan's husband to return from work. He is a tax accountant and I'm sure that my friend Mary can sympathize with how his days are going at the moment!

It's been such a fun day, a chance to see my daughter-in-law in the full bloom of pregnancy, a chance to hear the possible baby name whispered by my brother-in-law, who thinks that Tom spilled the beans back at Christmas (lovely name, if it's the final decision), and a chance to laugh and visit with Walt's mother as well.

It's been, and continues to be, a great trip. And best of all, I got a text message from Ashley saying that Bissell did not find a forever home again this week and so will be with us for at least one more week.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

How I Spent My Day

Well, I've had a lovely day out and about on my own in Santa Barbara. Joe was off even before I woke up to a racquetball game. Alice Nan and I puttered around in our separate ends of the house till she finally went to work, leaving me with the monumental task of waiting for the refrigerator repair guy to show up. The appointment was "any time between 8 a.m. and noon." We all know what THAT means, right?

Bzzt. Wrong! The guy showed up at 8:15 and was gone by 8:30, having fixed the refrigerator door, which wouldn't close unless you lifted up on it. This is particularly funny because this is a brand new refrigerator which they bought because the old refrigerator had a door that wouldn't close unless you kicked it. But now it closes and you don't have to lift it or kick it. They are happy people.

The guy was so quick and so efficient the stores in town weren't even open yet, so I futzed around here until after 10, reading and doing I don't know what all. Then I headed over to the mall to buy wrapping paper so I can wrap the stuff I'm taking to the shower (I figured I didn't need to do that before I left home, so it wouldn't get crushed in transit). I also stopped at Borders, hoping to get a copy of "Schuyler's Monster" to bring to my friend Gerry, who was fixing my dinner, but their copies (they will have two, I was informed) hadn't arrived yet.

Next, I decided to treat myself to lunch on the beach, so I drove down into Santa Barbara, drove past Tom & Laurel's house (but didn't stop because I knew they would be at work), and then wended my way around and found a little fish place right on the beach itself, overlooking the busy touristy part. I sat there in a semi-open air dining area (it was tented, but birds still flew through--and you could feel the cold air from the ocean) and watched the pelicans glide along the water, so close you could imagine their bellies getting hit by a stray wave, while I waited for my fish & chips.

After I finished lunch, I walked down along the beach for a bit and watched some seagulls having a bath in a little inlet of water and a guy struggling to get what I guess is a parasail to hold wind so he could wind surf. I watched him for quite a long time and he never did get out into the water.

On my way back to the car, I ran into four people from Kent (England), who were taking each other's pictures. I offered to take a group shot for them, which pleased them greatly. Somehow in the process, I lost the little camera case for my own camera (it was just a black cloth case, but it was padded and it had a strap on it, which I thought I had looped over my arm, but apparently had not). I was sorry to lose it because it was just the perfect size, but I knew that the wind was blowing so hard that if it had fallen off my arm, it was long gone by the time I realized I couldn't find it!

Next I drove into downtown, hoping to check for "Schuyler's Monster" in Borders there, but forget parking (or driving) in downtown Santa Barbara. It's definitely not worth the hassle. Besides, Gerry had told me she never reads anything that isn't "relevant" and I feared she wouldn't feel that Rob's story of his daughter would be relevant enough for her, at least not relevant enough to warrant the hassle of finding a place to stash the car so I could roam the streets of downtown Santa Barbara.

So next I drove to a mall near where Walt's mother lives and went to Rite Aid, where I hoped they had camera bags. The woman in the camera department did not speak fluent English and had never heard the term "camera bag."

I also stopped at Michael's (craft store) and bought more wrapping stuff--probably more than I will need, but we will be back for another shower next month. There is always a temptation to go wild and crazy in Michael's, which would be ridiculous since I almost never do anything "crafty," but I always think that if I had the materials I would. Fortunately, I restrained myself.

Finally, it was 2 p.m. and Alice Nan had said that her mother was generally at her brightest around 2 p.m., so I drove to the Assisted Living facility and spent about 2 hours there. The first hour went well. She looked better than I'd seen her in a long time and we chatted quite a bit, but she obviously tired during the second hour because she started getting confused asking me, for example, what I'd thought of Kansas when I came through it on the train and then surprised when I told her I hadn't been in Kansas. She also said that she didn't like Obama or Clinton and would probably vote Republican and when I asked, incredulously, if she would vote for McCain, she asked who that was and then said she didn't know anything about him. This is a savy woman who follows politics closely, so that's when I knew that she was really getting tired and decided it was time for me to leave.

Trader Joe's is near the facility, so I decided to stop in and see about picking up food for my return trip. I love that place. People in Santa Barbara don't know how lucky they are. There are three Trader Joe's in this town and we have to drive 20-25 miles to find one near us! I did manage to get food to bring with me, plus wine and flowers to bring to Dick and Gerry, and some wine for Alice and Joe (which I bought solely because of the label, which you'll see when I get home and can get to my photos).

And finally, I ended up at Dick & Gerry's in time for their scheduled 5 p.m. coffee which preceded the 6 p.m. martini hour, which was followed by watching the news on TV and then a delicious dinner. We had a wonderful visit, aided by a little in vino veritas and it was about 10 p.m. when I left.

Alice and I sat up reliving our days and planning for the shower tomorrow, then she went off to bed, I came in here and have now finished writing this journal entry. This is my day in toto and you were there to share every bloomin' moment of it with me, whether you wanted to or not!!!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mobile post sent by basykes using Utterz Replies.  mp3

Santa Barbara Choo Choo

It had been my intention to regale you with beautiful photos from my trip down here to Santa Barbara, but to do that, I have to practically dismantle my brother-in-law's desk to get to the USB port in the back of his computer, so you'll have to wait till I get home for photos.

Anyway, I am here. The train was even a little bit early arriving in Santa Barbara, which my friend Gerry (who met me at the station) told me almost never happens.

After feeling totally frazzled about the leave-taking, I did, in fact, leave. Walt took me to the train station at 6 or so, we checked my huge suitcase (the attendant seemed surprised that I was actually going to check a bag to Santa Barbara...I could see was the only bag checked and they had to DRIVE it to the train!), and we waited outside, where it was cooler, for the train to arrive.

I settled myself in a seat by the window that would face the ocean when we finally hit the coast and I took out my iPod, prepared to listen to the podcasts I had stored, or watch one of the videos I had saved, or listen to the book on tape that I had downloaded from But when I got everything arranged, I was greeted with the black screen of death. This has happened before and I knew there was a way to fix it (forgetting that the last time this happened, I had efficiently put a sign on the back of the iPod with instructions for how to do it). I texted Jeri, who found a friend of hers, who sent instructions...but from the response I got, I finally determined that it wasn't really the black screen of death, but rather a dead battery.


Eleven hours on the train and my electonic gadget was dead.

As it turned out, this was probably the very best thing that could have happened. I had brought James Lipton's "Inside Inside" to read and there was scenery to watch. By the end of the first hour, I was in a real zen-like state and thinking that it's a shame that we are in such a hurry in our lives and that we should all just take the time, now and then, to stop and smell the roses. (Feel free to borrow that; it's rather profound, don't you think?)

I went up to the observation car and sat watching the scene passing by.

At that point I was glad that I was too fat to fly Express Jet. I could have gotten here in an hour on the plane, but I would have missed the marsh. We arrived at the marsh at "rush hour," when all the grebe families were waking up and parents leading their teenagers (no longer babies) out of the rushes where the nests were and floating in a single line to the break in the vegetation, where they met another line of grebes coming from the other direction and then each line quietly merged together as they all floated out onto the bigger pond at the end. It was just lovely.

It has been raining and as this is the start of the growing season, all the hills are covered in a brilliant kelly green carpet of vegetation that looks as soft as downy languo on a growing fetus' skin. In a few weeks it will stand so tall that it will start bending over and then turning brown. This is the time of year--one brief shining moment--when the hills sparkle and shimmer and I love it.

I had packed some food for myself. My plan had been to pack enough to get me through the 11 hrs, or two meals, but the flu cut into that plan. But I did inaugurate my cute little Bento box and brought half a banana, two pieces of plain bread, a container of applesauce, and a handful of grapes. That worked fine to get me through to about 1 p.m. But I did go downstairs to get an outrageously priced cup of truly abominable coffee.

I listened to the mournful sound of the train whistle as it passed through intersections. It's not quite as romantic as the sound of a steam train...but it's cleaner!

I love the sights that you see from the train. You see the insides of factories, see the various styles of all the taggers who desecrate walls, check out shopping centers, and you get to borrow pieces of people's lives as you peer into their back yards, some of them nicely manicured and decorated, others ours. Here and there a dog wandered by. There was what appeared to be a very old trailer park, with mobile homes that obviously had not been mobile in a very long time.

As we left the more populated areas, we passed into the agricultural part of the trip, through Castroville, for example--the artichoke capitol of the world, with its field after field of artichoke plants, eventually giving way to vineyards broken up by lines of tall trees, planted as windbreaks.

At one point on a hillside I saw a couple of raptors on the ground circling a mound of carion, of undetermined species, but the train passed too quickly to do more than take notice of them.

We finally left the agricultural areas and into oil fields, with the oil derricks, all looking like perpetual bobbing birds drinking water out of a glass.

At some point, I went back to the snack bar and got myself a sandwich, which lived up to the promise of the earlier coffee, but since it cost me $10 for a sandwich, chips and water, I ate it anyway.

Through it all I continued to read James Lipton, who can't be read rapidly, but whose words -- even in this autobiograpy -- make you stop and think. Sometimes you need to call upon the old French genes to translate the French which is liberally sprinkled throughout, or the bits of Latin put in here and there, or recall bits of ancient history or mythology or just savor the wealth of information about the craft of acting. I'm not rushing this book. I'm enjoying it too much.

We finally got to the ocean just as a ray of sun broke through the grey clouds and hit the water. It was spectacular. There was also a harsh wind blowing and all the waves were giving off misty sprays as they broke onto the shore. At this point I put the book away and just enjoyed the scenery on into Santa Barbara.

But now I'm ensconced here at my sister-in-law's house. They are at a ball game and I'm taking over the computer. It was, as I said, an absolutely delightful, civilized, genteel way to travel and, given that I will probably come to Santa Barbara a lot more often now, I'm glad to discover that I enjoy this method of travel.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

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Moon Madness


I had forgotten about the eclipse until Walt's sister called and mentioned that she could see it starting. I was able to set up the tripod and catch a kinda sorta vesion of it.

It's been a strange day, mostly because I've been sick for the last few days and so haven't really even thought about this trip to Santa Barbara...but I have to catch the train around 6:30 in the morning (assuming it is on time). There was so much to get done...or so it seemed. Mostly there was packing and trying to decide which baby things to take and which to leave for the couples shower that is taking place next month.

Even with that, I had to pack the largest suitcase. Whaddya think? Too much?

One reason this is packed so full (and I took this photo before I had added any of my clothes!) is that I spent some time rummaging around in closets today. I was looking for two things that I remember saving for our grandchildren. There was an adorable "rose dress" that Jeri wore when she was about a year old and there was a coat which my mother made for her when she was taking a tailoring class.

I knew exactly where they were and I wanted to give them to Laurel and Tom. Only they weren't there. What was there was a collection of boxes of baby clothes. Oh my god. What was I thinking 40 years ago when Jeri outgrew all those adorable dresses? I saved them. I had such fun going through the boxes and then washing them all and adding them to the suitcase. I mean...I couldn't throw them away now, could I?

So I have a suitcase packed with nothing but baby stuff, with a few things for me. It's a huge suitcase and will come home almost empty.

When Walt got home, I showed him the clothes and we smiled as we remembered Jeri wearing all those cute little dresses (I had packed the boy clothes back up by then). I asked if he knew remembered seeing another box.

"Did you check the boxes in the big bedroom?" he asked.


He disappeared and came back with a huge box labeled "birth to 6 mos" and told me that there were other boxes up to age 4 or something. Good grief. No wonder we have no room around here.

I checked the box, which had the tiny, tiny stuff in it. I know Laurel already has more than she will ever use now, but I washed it all anyway. Still no sign of the rose dress or the coat, but he did reappear with one box marked "coats" and one marked "hats." All held great memories, but not what I was looking for.

(In fact, as I write this, I still have not found either)

But I have spent the evening washing, and oohing and aahing over clothes that Laurel needs like she needs a hole in the head. I'm only bringing a very small (relatively speaking) percentage of the clothes, but I'll leave it to Laurel to decide whether she wants to use any, or just toss them and hang the sentimentality of it all.

Lots of things I wanted to do before I left didn't get done, but it's not like I'm going to Outer Mongolia.

Since Amtrak told me there is no dining car on this train, I thought I'd find fun snacks, but no time to leave the house to go shopping. In fact, I sent Walt off to get money for me so I could continue getting all the "stuff" together.

I'm not taking the laptop with me, but decided to take the laptop case because it contains all my things like cell phone charger, SD card reader, iPod charger, camera battery charger. I added my book, gorillapod, iPod and some snacks. It's slightly lighter than it is with the computer, but since the book I'm taking is a thick hardback (James Lipton's "Inside Inside"), it's not that much lighter than it would have been otherwise.

So I guess I'm ready. All that's left is for me to go down by the station early in the morning and see if the little puffer bellies are standing in a row.

It's anybody's guess when I will add the next entry, but I'm sure it will come with photos of my train adventures!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hungry and Grumpy

The reports of my living have been greatly exaggerated.

After I posted my journal entry last night, I had another wave of nausea. I finally went into the living room to lie down on the couch hoping that it would pass.

It did, thank goodness, and I slept all night. But the dogs decided I needed to be up at 6 and as soon as I got up, the diarrhea started again. I don't know where it is coming from because I've had almost nothing to eat. I had some rice and some crackers last night. A little rice and a couple of crackers.

By 7 a.m. this morning I was on my third change of clothes and was taking Imodium again.

I have had what amounts to next to nothing to eat since Friday night and what I have ingested has passed through me faster than a bottle of water through a Betsy Wetsy doll. So I'm hungry and grumpy, dammit!

Fortunately Walt was spending the day at the office today because by mid-morning I pretty much was angry with everything -- the dogs, the computer, Walt, myself, and anything that didn't go the way I wanted it to go.

I finally checked out some hints for what I can eat on the internet and discovered (what I really should have already known) that Jello is good, so I whipped up a batch of jello.

My food today: a piece of toast, broth, jello, water, and Imodium. The Imodium seemed to be working, but I was cautious.

I had a meeting to go to tonight, where I was to be installed onto the board of the Davis Community Network, but I had to beg off because I just didn't want to run the risk of being out of the house. It proved to be a very good decision.

I was feeling just "off" in the late morning, so I decided I needed a nap. Apparently my assessment was correct because I slept for two hours.

When I woke up, the diarrhea started again. Not bad, but enough to be noticeable. Then it got worse, necessitating two different changes of clothes (so far). Where in the hell was all this stuff coming from? Who knew there was so much "bulk" in...jello???

I finally decided it was time to call Kaiser's advice nurse (I was hoping I'd get my friend Marsha, but no such luck). There wasn't much the nurse could tell me and I seem to be doing all the right things. She said she'd put in a call to my primary care physician.

While I was talking to her I had an incoming call from my old boss--not Dr. G, but Dr. S, for whom I worked for 12 years. He was calling about some work he'd like me to do, but I ran my symptoms by him too, and he pretty much told me the same thing as the advice nurse. I seem to be doing everything right and he can't think of anything else to tell me.

I sent Walt to the store for Crystal Lite (to replace electrolytes), bananas (which they say would be good for me...something to sink my teeth into!) and laundry detergent, since I've gone through a huge box of it the past four days.

I sincerely hope that this is not going to drag along so long that it's going to force me to cancel my trip to Santa Barbara (the day after tomorrow), but there is no way I will risk bringing the virus down to anybody there. I'm hoping that by tomorrow I will be back to normal again.

In the meantime, I'm all set to turn my thoughts baby-ward because I have a whole new appreciation of and sympathy for babies in dirty diapers. It's too bad the baby isn't here yet, because I'd be the first one leaping up to change her diapers, so she doesn't have to sit in her own mess for more than a few seconds.

Oddly enough, even though I have eaten almost nothing for 3-4 days, I don't feel hungry. What a great time this would be to get serious about a diet, the virus having done the hard part of dieting for me!

Just a note: As of midnight 2/19, I am feeling better than I have in days. I am cautiously optimistic. I am probably going to Santa Barbara after all. My guru is coming to get my computer for some tune-up work tomorrow and I'll be on the train Thursday for hours and then at Walt's sister's while I'm in Santa Barbara. There will be journal entries all along the way, but Lord knows when they will be posted, or when e-mail will be read or anything else.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Magical Medical Professionals

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Life and Death

It looks like I'm going to live.

I woke up this morning realizing that I had slept more than 8 hours without having to rush to the bathroom. This was a great step forward.

Yesterday was probably one of the most embarrassing days of my life. I discovered, to my chagrin, that if I had the sense I was going to need to go to the bathroom, it was already too late. I can't count the number of changes of clothes I went through during the day. I just started leaving clean clothes in the bathroom.

So we canceled my birthday dinner with Ned and Marta and, after the horrible day-long bathroom experience, I also canceled my birthday lunch and shopping excursion with my mother as well.

Ellen and Shelly called mid-day to wish me a happy birthday and said they knew several people who had this. "Did you have the headache too?" they asked. Yes, I'd forgotten about the headache. It was kind of overshadowed by everything else, but apparently that was all part of the thing too. I haven't had so much aspirin in years. I also worship at the altar of Imodium.

But this morning I woke up and felt almost normal. I wasn't hungry, surprisingly, even though I hadn't eaten anything, really, in 2-1/2 days. But I was very dizzy, so I took a cracker and that seemed to wake up the taste buds. All of a sudden I was starving. The oatmeal seems to be staying down.

So let's hope this thing has finally run its course. They say it is "highly contagious," but so far Walt seems to be OK. If he's going to get sick he only has a day or two to do it in, since I leave here on Thursday for my trip to Santa Barbara. I already had a call from Amtrak letting me know that there will be no dining car on the train, but that I can buy food in the lounge car.

Despite the fact that I've been running the "Bissell's Last Day" video for a few days now, Bissell is still here. He did not find a home yet again this week and he is just tickled to death that I'm sick because it means he has a lap available to him 24 hrs a day. He probably uses it 20 hrs a day. This is the world's perfect lap dog!

And the other thing that has happened in the last couple of days is that my Aunt Barb finally passed away, quietly, in a coma. Her son didn't make it home from Arizona in time to be with her, but the rest of her family was able to spend time with her before she died.

I am so glad that she was able to recognize Kathy before she died. It was a fleeting moment, but it was like a gift to Kathy, who has borne the brunt of the responsibility for managing Barb's care all these years, by virtue of being the one who is here (her two siblings live out of state).

My mother says everyone is being very solicitous of her but she doesn't really feel much except relief because the Barb we all knew really died several years ago and now she is finally at peace. My mother stopped visiting her the day that Barb no longer recognized her any more.

The funeral will be on Saturday, but that is the day of our granddaughter's baby shower and I will be in Santa Barbara, and everyone agrees that I should be with the living. Barb and my aunt Marge, Peach's mother, were the two aunts I was the closest to and it's sad that all of the siblings are gone and my mother is the sole survivor.

In 1999, Barb completed her "Ten Little Indians," which tells the saga of the family as far as it went to that point. I finished it for her. You can read it here.

Bye, Barb...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Peggy

Today is Peggy's birthday (though since there's that whole time zone thing, she's probably reading it after her birthday).

I wanted to tell you what I got her for a gift, 'cause I hope that some of you might get intrigued as well.

You know, last year she had her trip of a lifetime and went on a long-dreamed of photo safari to Africa. Some day I will finally get to see her photos, but I have seen a few of them and they are spectacular.

I had seen a BBC special on TV before she went to Africa, and copied it onto a DVD for her. (I can't remember now if that was the reason she visited this place or if she discovered it on her own).

It is the David Sheldrake Wildlife Trust and it's an amazing place where they rescue orphaned elephants and rhinos. It was founded by Daphne Sheldrake, in memory of her husband David, who had been head warden of Kenya's Tsavo National Park until his death in 1977.

(Now whoda thunk that a person who works with orphaned puppies and a person who works with orphaned kangaroos would be interested in a place like this!)

The Sheldrake Wildlife Trust is in Nairobi National Park. (There are several videos taken by people if you do a search on "David Sheldrake" on YouTube. There are also video clips on the Sheldrake web site.)

It was a few years back when I saw the BBC video, but I remember the tales of the traumatized babies, some only weeks old, watching their mothers be slaughtered by poachers. One of the articles linked on the Sheldrake web sites says, "When I met [Daphne] Sheldrake in 1989, she was soothing a baby elephant so traumatized after ivory poachers killed its family that it screamed in its sleep, apparently suffering nightmares."

You know what that did to my heart.

Each baby has an individual caretaker, so they are with a single human being 24 hrs a day, but they have discovered that separation anxiety is very real for these babies, so they rotate the caretakers so that the babies don't get too attached to one person, who might have to leave for one reason or another.

Anyway, Peggy went to visit the shelter while she was in Africa and when she returned to Australia, she went onto the web site and got information about their adoption program and adopted little Dida, born September 2007, who is the youngest of the group available for adoption.

I decided to adopt a companion for Dida as a gift for Peggy's birthday. I wanted a very young elephant (that's how I found that Dida is the youngest). I read through the profiles of every single elephant on the site and settled on Lesanju, a year older than Dida, who seems to have taken Dida under her wing.


I know that "fostering" programs are just hooks to get you to contribute money, but it's a terrific cause so I don't mind. I got turned on to elephants and their plight worldwide when I was following The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, which rescues elephants from zoos and circuses and moves them to the compound where there are no visitors allowed and they are free to do what they can and live out the remainder of their lives in as normal an environment as they can (given that it's not Africa).

I am more than thrilled to help support an organization which does what it can to ease the trauma for these poor babies and raise them to eventually be released back into the wild.

So, happy birthday, my friend. Now you have two elephants. YOU can clean up the yard.

Dida and Lesanju

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Bit of Undigested Beef

You may be a bit of undigested beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato, Ebeneezer Scrooge said to the ghost of his partner Jacob Marley.

I understand his sentiment.

We had leftover meatloaf last night. I had cooked it two nights before and then had a slice of it the next night, while Walt was in SF at the symphony. I reheated it for dinner last night, along with potatoes and salad.

About halfway through my slice of meatloaf, I realized I was feeling very full and didn't want any more so I gave the rest to Walt.

I came in here to my office to work on my journal entry. I was furious with myself because I had the perfect entry that I'd worked on most of the morning, a bit about the election that I really really was proud of...and then somehow forgot to save. That rarely happens. I was trying to recreate it and not doing very well, especially since I really wasn't feeling very well.

In fact, I felt so poorly that I decided to take a break and sit in the recliner. I cuddled up with Bissell and began to wonder if maybe I had food poisoning.

Walt had eaten exactly the same (including half of my dinner as well), so when he came downstairs, I asked him how he felt and he said he felt just fine.

Well, I wasn't fine and by 10 p.m., I decided to go to sleep for real. I had been up since quite early in the morning and thought that maybe sleep would cure me.

The thought flitted through my mind that I was feeling so miserable I might actually find myself losing my dinner. I tried to remember if I had ever vomited in this house, and couldn't remember any time when I had. The last time I remember losing the contents of my stomach was many, many years ago on a whale watching boat in Puget Sound with my friend Diane (a memory she still groans about today, and which I still enjoy, even with the bad conditions on the water).

I lay down with Bissell at my feet and the other dogs on the floor next to me and assessed the symptoms of my intestinal tract. I had pinprick shooting pains in my stomach and still that feeling that I could vomit at any moment. I had even brought a big pot with me in case something happened suddenly.

I fell asleep, but was awake again in an hour, that water-in-the-mouth feeling that, for me, always hails the arrival of a session of vomiting. I ran into the kitchen and did, indeed, lose my dinner. I stood there, bent over the sink, breathing heavily until I could go back to sleep again.

I returned to the couch, fell back asleep again and two hours later found myself bent over the sink again. This time the vomiting was a bit more intense and I do not recommend doing it unless you have emptied your bladder first, which I had not.

I finished vomiting, took off all my clothes, cleaned up, put on clean clothes and went back to the living room and back to sleep.

When I woke up at 4, I lay there for a long time trying to decide how I felt. I still had the pinprick sensations in my stomach, but wasn't as nauseated as I had been.

I got up around 4:30 and went to the recliner and didn't let the dogs know I was actually awake, when they finally came looking for me. That worked until about 5 a.m. when Bissell started getting restless and I realized he needed to go outside. The nausea was much better, but the stomach cramps continued.

I took Bissell outside and then raced to the bathroom where whatever was left in my intestinal tract burst out the opposite end from earlier in the evening.

I had two very impressive bouts of diarrhea and made the decision that I'm going nowhere today. We have tickets for Orpheus-X, which I don't have to review and I'm not going. I'm also going to send Walt to take Bissell to Petco. I'm going to try to stay quiet and maybe get some sleep.

My stomach is still cramping and I feel terrible, but I'm so much better than I was last night.

You can tell how sick I was in several ways: (1) I don't want to eat anything (though I'm trying to drink water so as not to become dehydrated), (2) I put off writing this journal entry for 12 full hours, (3) I have not checked any of my Scrabble games, or done anything of the things I do routinely each morning on the computer, and (4) as soon as this posts, I will get off the computer. That almost never happens.

Now I'm going to post this and try to get some more sleep.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

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Oh Pulleeze

15 February 2008

Didja hear? Jane Fonda said a bad word. She and playwright Eve Ensler were on The Today Show talking about The Vagina Monologues and V-Day and how Ensler's play has been empowering women for more than a decade, how it has spawned a global movement dedicated to raising awareness of violence against girls and women world-wide.

But the message got buried in the headlines because Jane Fonda said "the c-word." Cunt. There. It's a word. The world has not come topping down because I printed it. Horses have not fallen over dead in the streets, nor children run screaming in horror to their mothers' skirts. It's. just. a. word.

I would much rather see/hear the word slip out unexpectedly (it is used in the script of the fact it is chanted by cast and audience over and over again in the play) than have the speaking of that earth-shattering word bury concern of people for women (and children) who are being gang raped in Congo. But because Jane Fonda (accidentally?) said cunt, nobody is talking about rape. They are talking about how horrible Jane Fonda is for saying such a terrible word.

Within five minutes, Meredith Vierra was offering an abject apology for the offense that sensitive ears may have suffered on hearing the word. To tell you the truth, I had the show on and never noticed it. There were no explosions in Davis this morning because Jane Fonda said "cunt."

Recently 60 Minutes aired a segment about rape being used as a weapon of war in Congo. I saw a recent follow-up report. A woman in tears, having been repeatedly gang raped. Undergoing reparative surgery for the physical damage that had been done to her. She will still not be able to go home because she is now branded as untouchable because of what was done to her. Read about the situation here. Be forewared that it starts with the rape of a small child. All the more reason to read it and inform yourself.

Would that people were 1/10th as concerned about ongoing gang rape of innocent women than they will be about Jane Fonda's inappropriate use of the word "cunt." In fact, her use was quite appropriate. The whole point of using it in the play was for women to take back the term, the way gays have embraced the word "queer" and use it as a badge of honor.

We hear a lot of dialog about "family values" these days and you can just bet that there are whole groups which will recoil in horror when speaking about Jane Fonda. What will those people do about the rapes in Congo? Will they even think about them? Or will their sensitive ears be so offended by hearing a bad word that this is all they hear? Will they be so busy vilifying Jane Fonda that this little matter in Congo will be forgotten?

Ensler and Fonda had come to The Today Show to discuss the goals of V-Day this year, which Ensler explains.

Although we cannot prevent such events as Hurricane Katrina, we can be there with and for each other when they occur. We can extend our hand; we can remember those who have lost their homes, their jobs, their minds and their way. We can bring water and food and hammers and nails to rebuild the broken walls. We can support and empower the women and the men left behind so that violence does not become the solution or the norm. When disasters occur, we can stand in solidarity and make a commitment to end violence itself.

The funds raised will go to help the needs of women and will be directed toward sustainable, long-term projects that will have maximum impact and fuel growth for women and business. "We will be targeting projects that economically empower the Women of New Orleans and the Gulf South, focusing on self- sustaining businesses that are improving the economy of women as well as spreading, increasing and sustaining their wealth," explains Ensler.

Anybody want to guess which we will hear more about -- Ensler's fund-raising in New Orleans, or Fonda's use of "the c-word."

For a Good Cause

Suzy wants to shave her head again this year, in memory of an 8 year-old named John, who lost his life to leukemia.

Donate and help her meet her goal!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Valentine's Day Scam

I heard the most ridiculous commercial on the radio the other day. It was for The Shane Company--"your friend in the diamond business" (but then I think all their commercials are ridiculous. Shane Co. is the one which talks about their finance plan for your "emergencies" -- who has jewelry emergencies? -- and also the diamonds or sapphires or rubies that complement "her jewelry wardrobe.")

This commercial topped them all, though, I think. The announcer was offering a solution to the last minute emergency of running out to Safeway to pick up a Valentine's gift. Instead, he says, come to Shane Co. and look at their fresh crop of diamonds.

Can't you just see some guy who was planning to stop by Safeway to pick up a $5 box of chocolates for his sweetie suddenly hearing the commercial and deciding to get her a diamond necklace instead 'cause now he knows where he can go to get one?

Thanks to this week's Says You I know where the legend of Valentine's Day began. Supposedly in the 3rd century A.D. the Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage (for straights too!) because men were refusing to go to war, preferring to stay at home with their wives and families instead. A priest named Valentine was secretly marrying couples anyway and was beaten and then decapitated for it. Out of that bloody history has come the holiday we now celebrate as Valentine's Day, which was set aside by Pope Gelasius in 496 AD.

The first commercial Valentine's day cards appeared in the 1800s. Presumably as people began to buy cards, merchants began to see a real money-making market and ran crazy with it.

I never remember Valentine's day as being as huge as it is now when I was a kid. In fact, I was kind of a Charlie Brown type, waiting for Valentine's Day cards that didn't come. We would decorate boxes that I can't remember where we put. Did we put them on our desks? I don't remember. It was embarrassing at school when the popular girls got lots and lots of cards and I had a handful. You smile and pretend it doesn't hurt, but it does.

By the time our own kids went to school, the rule was that you had to bring a card for everyone, which seems a better way to handle it, if kids are going to pass out cards at all.

But the gift thing is just, in my opinion, out of control. I watch TV shows which devote whole segments to all the expensive things you can buy for your sweetie, and I hear chats among women (never among men) about how furious they would be if their sweeties didn't give them a "good" gift for Valentine's day.

We've never done Valentine's day in a big way around here. Walt started buying little (what were then) 25-cent Whitman samplers for the kids when they were very little. He has continued doing that and now mails them off to the kids each year, adding boxes for their spouses as well. He and I exchange a card. Sometimes he buys me flowers. But it's just completely beyond my comprehension to make this a major gift-giving occasion. (Unless, of course, he wants to buy this for me.)

In my opinion, there are two gift giving occasions a year--Christmas and birthdays (Walt doesn't even do Mother's Day because he says that I'm not his mother). After that it just all becomes exploitation and manipulation by merchants looking to make a killing by guilting people into buying expensive stuff. (I'm a cheap date!)

Web Chat

My friend Doug, a vlogger in Rhode Island, helped me test out my new webcam for conferencing. It works! Yippee! We used AOL's instant messaging.

I haven't tested out ease of use on Yahoo Messenger yet.

But everyone tells me that Skype is the best way to message using a web cam, so I downloaded Skype (again--I'd had it before), set it up and tried to contact my friend diane [sic] in England. We could text message, but couldn't get the video going, so she suggested trying AIM and that was successful. What fun!

Laurel is only a few weeks away from delivering, and things are falling into place for Project Grandbaby. Now that's better than some expensive Valentine's gift any day!