Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Funeral

I can now say I've been to a funeral in my pajamas...and considering that the funeral was in Ireland, where people dress up for things, that's really shocking.

The church from which Nora was buried has streaming video available so that people who are unable to get to the service can watch it on their computers (they also broadcast the weekly masses for those who cannot get to church).

The problem, of course, is the time difference. The funeral was set for 11:15 a.m., Ireland time, which is 3:15 a.m. here.

Walt went to sleep for a few hours after dinner, but I decided to stay up. I had a dip in consciousness somewhere around 1 a.m. and tried to sleep for 2 hours, but couldn't get to sleep so I just stayed awake.

At 2 a.m., California time, I checked to see if the church camera was turned on. It was.

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Once I began watching preparations being made for the upcoming service (it was not a Mass), I was interested in the proceedings and that kept me awake. Just about on the dot of 11:15 in Ireland, they began arriving, with the casket.

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Nora's daughter Ailbhe made opening remarks and I was surprised that she welcomed the people who were watching around the globe, including her ex-daughter-in-law in England, her grandson in Costa Rica, and the Sykes and Baur cousins in the United States. She and the priest both talked about how Nora had planned her service and was disappointed that she would be unable to attend. But she had chosen the readings and the music that was performed.

It was a simple service, with readings by one of her daughters and by her grandchildren, a sort of euology by her youngest daughter (which was so "Nora") and then prayers and blessing of the casket by the priests (one of whom was also a relative). I was sorry that I forgot to hit "print screen" when all of her grandchildren were stretched out across the altar, waiting their turn at the microphone.

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And then the congregation was invited to walk to the nearby cemetery, where there would be a cremation ceremony. (That really surprised me. There was a time in the Catholic church when cremation was verboten).

Finally, the casket was picked up and taken out of the church.

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As you can see, you don't see the entire church, but based on comments that the priest made, I gather that it was a pretty big crowd, including a woman Nora always called her "French daughter," who, I got the impression, came from France to pay her last respects.

I am so grateful that we could be a part of the goodbye to Nora, even if we couldn't be there in person. I'm just sorry we missed the party afterwards. I hope she was able to watch it with her husband, who died in 1968.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Passion for Piano

First of all, I have to report good news in Squirrel Wars. We saw the squirrel the other day, as he lay, flattening his body on an upper branch. He glared at us, but then slowly made his way down the trunk of the tree and disappeared behind the side of the houses. We didn't think much of it but noticed later that day that the neighbor's tree seems to have branches falling off of it. In fact, today his sidewalk was covered with squirrel droppings and we had only a handful. I am hopeful that he has finally moved on.

Now, the living room clean-up in preparation for painting and new floor is progressing. Walt is doing the lion's share, I sheepishly admit, and he is finding some wonderful things.

The other day he was cleaning out our "music cabinet." This is the cabinet in which all of the sheet music, some of mine in the days when I dabbled a very little bit in playing the piano, and some of my father's jazz books.

My father had a passion for jazz piano. He had a huge collection of records, 99.9% of which were all recording by jazz greats. His favorite was Art Tatum and I think he had every record Tatum ever recorded, from the time he discovered him before 33-1/3 long playing records were invented. He frequently told me that my fortune would be his record collection and that there were so many rare records there, I could get a lot of money selling them.

Unfortunately, he died a year too late. About the time I was looking around for someone to buy the records, the word "remastered" had come into being and nobody wanted scratchy old records when they could get cleaned up CDs of the same recording. A guy finally gave me a pittance and "did me the favor" of hauling them all away.

Now, he may well have sold the lot for a fortune. I was just glad to be rid of them.

But in addition to having a passion for piano, my father also desperately wanted to share his passion with other people. He developed his own method of teaching people about piano chords. He had never taken lessons himself--well, he had taken lessons, but stopped and since he had a natural talent, he was able to play by ear. He felt he could teach others to play that way too.

He cut cardboard into various lengths and drew keyboards on them. He would then put them anywhere on the piano and if you played the keys indicated, you had the chord that was written on the guide.

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Along with the guides came detailed written instructions for how to play them.

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"The course eliminates the necessity of reading all the notes in a song sheet. Having learned how to form a chord, it is only necessary to be able to read the single melody line and play the chord indicated in the gitar squares above the notes. The only other requirement is the ability to understand the time values of the notes in order to play the tune in the right tempo."

Oh how he wanted me to be able to play using his method. I remember his showing me how the guides worked and then beaming at me as it made the right sound. He particularly loved augmented chords, I remember, and positively glowed when he played an augmented something or other.

The method might have worked, but I think a basic requirement was the kind of love that he had for music and chord progression (I'm sure Steve Schalchlin would have "gotten" it) and an ability to be able to hear enough to be able to play by ear, the way he did. I had neither of those talents and none of the interest.

He also could never give you a short lesson. The deeper he got into his subject the more excited he got, the faster he talked and the more information he threw at you until you couldn't remember anything at all.

Piano was so special to him that I really wanted to love it the way he did, but I just didn't and he moved on to try to teach other people who said they wanted to learn from him, but I don't remember anybody ever taking more than one or maybe two lessons. It was overkill for musical novices and he could not understand that.

It kind of hurt to dump all of his hard work into the garbage, but what was I going to do with it after all these years? I have children who already have his innate sense of music and who don't need these guides. And heck, I don't even have a piano any more. So...good for me...I tossed it all (after taking a photo, of course!)

Monday, August 29, 2011

"The Villa"

Here are a few pictures I took at the "villa" where we went to a party today. (I don't think they are calling it a villa, but it does evoke an Italian villa...especially with the number of Italians that were at the party!) I didn't go upstairs this time.

The living room

The dining room

The dining room ceiling

Loved this bedspread!

The spa

The deck and the glorious view
(it wasn't as clear today as it was on Wednesday)

The pool

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Nora.jpg (4412  bytes)One of our death watches has ended. Nora went home at 4:45 a.m., Ireland time, today.

It's amazing how she feels such a huge part of my family, when she was no blood relation at all. She was Walt's mother's cousin and Alice told us tales of her first trip to Ireland as a young woman, when Nora was a little girl. Later Nora would tell us of her strong memories of Walt's mother coming to visit for the first time and how she loved Alice's long hair.

We met Nora when we went to Ireland for the first time in 1988. This was our big trip, spending my father's savings, taking all seven of us to England and Ireland. We had contacted Nora and told her we would be arriving and I guess made arrangements to call her when we were settled in our hotel.

It was mid-summer, so it stayed light very late. We called her when we settled in and she came to meet us--but it was about 10 p.m. and the only restaurant open in Dun Lahghaire, where our hotel was, was McDonald's. So our first taste of "Irish cuisine" was a Big Mac!

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We went back to Ireland a couple of years later, without the kids, and used Nora's home as a base of operations while we explored the country. Nora also drove us around to various scenic spots. I remember her taking us to the family pub south of Dublin, where she was greeted as a queen and we were taken to a semi-private room away from the crowd in the main pub--we later learned this was considered a very rough crowd, which is perhaps why we had a private room!

She was always so gracious to us and regaled us with her stories and took us to wonderful places like Glendaloch and Powerscourt that we probably would not have thought to explore ourselves.

I don't remember how many times Walt and I traveled to Ireland to visit Nora and Walt went once or twice by himself. I loved spending time with her and getting to know her children and grandchildren.

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Nora and grandson Howard in 1996

I never saw a grandmother so proud of her grandchildren and so involved in their lives She was an inspiration and the kind of grandmother I wanted to be...but I live 300 miles away from Brianna so I can't be part of the carpool and the babysitting committee.

Nora never thought she would be able to come to the U.S., but she actually made two trips here. Her (cousin?) died and left her some money, so she came to California and we had such a wonderful time showing her the state. I always remember how she changed my perception of the hills around here...and how it's all in how you look at things. Each year, I love the rain because it turns the hills a beautiful lush green and I hate it when the weather starts to warm up and the green dies and all you see is dead vegetation covering the hills. But Nora said she loved our "golden hills" and how tired she got of seeing "green" all the time!

I can't find my favorite picture of us, but it was taken at Yosemite and it had started to rain. We bought cheap white ponchos and there is a very funny picture of us all huddled together looking like a gathering of the KKK. We laughed a lot. We always laughed a lot when we spent time with Nora.

The last time I saw her was at Alice Nan's wedding in 2006, the last time she came to this country. She came with her ex-daughter-in-law and I took the two of them traveling while wedding preparations were taking place. The best memory of that week was the bunch of us going for manicures and pedicures.

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I've made the video of that adventure the video of the day. About halfway through the video, Nora discovers she's ticklish and the rest of it is so funny ... so very "Nora."

She dabbled in computers, but never got the hang of email. But still she was able to have a Skype conversation with Alice Nan and Joe earlier this month and her daughter Ailbhe sent a photo from that session. Her daughters had fixed her hair and makeup so she would look good for the webcam.

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Nora liked her cocktail and Paddy's was her whiskey of choice. Tonight Walt and I will have a glass of the Paddy's whiskey he brought home from Ireland the last time he was there and we will raise a glass in Nora's memory.

She was a very special lady.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Perks

The reason you do something like writing a Lamplighters history is because you get to see all sorts of fun people. Sometimes the interviews are good, sometimes not as good as anticipated, and sometimes they are little gems that you want to remember forever.

Today was the "little gem" kind of interview.

I didn't have Bonnie Halford on my initial list of people who should be interviewed, because I hadn't realized what an integral role she played in the Lamplighters triumphant trip to Buxton, England.

Unfortunately, after I made the appointment to interview her on a Friday, I learned that was never a good day for Alison, but since that was the best day of the week for Bonnie, I went ahead and kept the appointment myself.

We were to meet at the Dipsea Cafe in Mill Valley, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. It was a good place for me because that put me in Marin County and I could stop and visit my mother after our lunch.

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I actually brought my camera with me, and didn't think to take a picture of the restaurant, but this is the general layout. As you might be able to tell, there is a parking lot attached to the restaurant, which is the low building with lights in front of the large grey building. In this photo, there are places to park. Not so when I got there. For one thing, it is a one-way parking lot and when you get to the end, there is a chain fence and no place to turn around, if the slots are filled. You have to back up, which is even more difficult when there are three cars lined up behind you, giving you no space to move.

But I did finally manage to get out onto the street, and after driving around for about 10 minutes, I came upon a car that was just leaving a spot directly across from the cafe. (Thank you, Gilbert)

But "directly across from the cafe" meant that you had to cross Highway 1 which had cars whizzing by very fast coming in a solid stream in both directions. I thought surely there must be an underpass walkway or something, but I didn't see one (Bonnie told me later that there actually is one). I finally found a guy who was also trying to cross and we decided we'd cross together and, miracle of miracles managed to hit a split second when it was clear in both directions and sprinted across the highway. I nearly lost a Birkinstock but managed to get to the restaurant alive, and with both shoes.

To get back to my car, I had Bonnie (who arrived after I did and managed to get a spot in the parking lot) drive me across the street! It was easier to nudge a car into the stream of traffic than a human body.

It was a great little cafe and I had read that the service was terrible, which it was, but that was exactly what we needed, since it gave us plenty of uninterrupted time to chat. Never mind that they never refilled my coffee cup or that we sat there for 20 minutes waiting for the check. The food was great and the interview was better.

Bonnie.jpg  (38459 bytes)We talked for about an hour and 45 minutes, partly official interview and part reminiscing, since Bonnie is someone from "my" era and we experienced many of the same things. We both talked about things that will never make it to print, but that's why it's fun to be the interviewers and writers of this book because you get to hear all the behind the scenes dirt once you've promised your subject that it will never see the light of day and nobody will ever hear it except yourself.

The nice thing about Bonnie was she was so incredibly quotable with wonderful observations and comments about other people and I know we will use a lot of her comments in the book. Not only were they quotable but they were articulate and in at least one, and I think more than one instance, downright poetic in their beauty. I love people who can express themselves well!

It was 3 p.m. before I left the restaurant and then I got caught in such bad traffic that I decided I'd better pull off and find a gas station, since my gauge was on empty. The warning light hadn't come on yet, and you have some time after it does, but the traffic looked pretty solid and I didn't want to risk running out before I could get to my mother's. Of course I drove around so much after I got off the freeway before I found a gas station that I probably could have made it to my mother's anyway, but I would have been a nervous wreck, so better that I stopped.

We had a nice visit and I stayed for dinner before finally heading home. It's been a busy week, but I have nowhere to go tomorrow and am looking forward to spending the day at home! (I'll probably stay home and watch the hurricane inch up the east coast, wondering how strong it will be by the time it hits Boston.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Where's the Lotus?

San Francisco radio personality, Don Sherwood, used to end his program with a saying I just loved: Out of the mud grows the lotus.

SherwoodBook.jpg (10451 bytes)For Donnie-Babe, who had more "do-yourself-in" / comeback episodes than Lindsay Lohan, it was the perfect mantra. He found himself in the mud more times, and somehow, miraculously came up smelling like...well...a lotus. We loved him.

I actually fantasized about writing a book about Sherwood and it would, of course, have been called "Out of the Mud Grows the Lotus." But Laurie Harper, the wife of his friend Hap Harper beat me to it in 2003 and I can't argue with the title she chose for her book, which probably sold more books than my obscure title would have!

I'm kind of feeling like I'm wallowing around in that mud right now and I'm wondering when I'm going to find the lotus. (or as the saying goes--with all this shit around, surely there's a pony somewhere!)

Everything bad going on around me is happening to somebody else, but it's all I can think about. My body feels like it's moving through mud. I went to lunch with the friend I lunch with twice a month and I would find myself staring off into space, not in the conversation, wondering when we are going to hear about Nora's or Kathy's death.

I sat down to write letters this morning, the thing I love doing, and words wouldn't come.

Everything seems like an effort and I spend a lot of time just bent over, holding myself and uttering a quiet expletive.

I've been here before and I know the feeling, but it still sucks. What's worse is feeling guilt about thinking about me when everything that is bad right now is happening to someone else.

Kathy continues to beat the odds. "She looks the best I have seen her look in months," her daughter wrote this afternoon, "although her grasp on reality is continuing to slip away. As far as what this means for her prognosis, we have been told anything from weeks to years. Kathy continues to defy the textbook definition of anything and to wish for an end to all of this. For now we take comfort in knowing how well cared for and safe she is."

Nora's daughter writes, "Mum hasn't let go. It's tough but we are all with her. I told her you sent your love. Not sure whether she still hears or understands. Will let you know but it is very close now."

These are two very tough, very determined women and they will obviously leave this world on their own terms. But the waiting is hard on everyone. Still they are both surrounded with people who love them and what more could one ask at the end of one's life?

But there are diversions. We took Ned out to dinner for his birthday this evening and had a good time. I ordered ranch house onion rings, those tiny slivers of onions...actually pretty much fried fat with a touch of onion attached. Walt actually ate some and so did Marta--and they both hate onions.

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It was a good evening and I hope Ned and Marta had a good time.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Yin and the Yang of Life

This morning we received the sad news that we are not on "a" death watch, but on two death watches. Walt's mother's cousin Nora, in Ireland, of whom we have grown so fond over these years was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, but she is now in hospital and not expected to live, so you'll understand if I cringe a bit whenever the phone rings, wondering if this is "the call" for one of the two of them.

This is such a shitty time for too many people I know. A good friend just lost her job and is out of work for the first time in her life, and unable to apply for the type of job for which she has been working all these years because she was too busy working and raising kids and never had time to get a Masters degree. And, pushing 60, she's probably too old anyway!

Others are caught in the whole housing boom/bust thing and now having to give up their wonderful home because they owe more than it's worth and they need to find a place to rent.

My mother's hip is bothering her and the doctors can offer her no pain relief and say that even acupuncture won't help.

I feel so incredibly helpless in the face of all the pain for so many people I love.

But life does go on and today I was interviewing the Lamplighters tech crew. We met at a home in the hills above San Jose. Waaay above San Jose. In fact, Walt said that no wonder it was called Sierra Rd. because by the time you got there you felt like you had driven over one of the passes in the Sierras.

Our trusty GPS, Nigel, got us unerringly to the mail box for the house, but it's another 1/2 mile or so down what might almost be called a road to the house itself.

But when you get there...oh. my. goodness. Wouldn't you know I would leave my camera at home! There is a deck that I swear is so big you could stage a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta there. And it overlooks downtown San Jose. Miles in every direction. I swear if you stood on tiptoe, you could probably see Alaska from there on a clear day. What an amazing view.

It's a 4 (I think) bedroom house on 2-1/2 levels and each bedroom is worthy of a 4-star hotel, with the master suite (including a sauna) worthy of a 5-star hotel. The master bedroom also overlooks that sweeping vista. There are 3 living rooms and 2 pools and I don't know what else outside, since I mostly oohed and ahhed over the furnishings inside. I told them if I had that view from my kitchen sink, I might actually wash dishes.

The house had been acquired in a foreclosure and the former residents had apparently trashed the place, so it has been under re-construction for the past year, but they are having an open house on Sunday, so I will return...this time with camera in hand. (I have to get a photo of that God-Man Sistine Chapel ceiling in the dining room!)

The interview was fun. I love that group. We reminisced about the Lamplighters trip to the 2nd International Gilbert & Sullivan festival in Buxton, England, where we ran away with all the major awards. The tech crew came prepared to build the set there and didn't realize they would (a) be building it in the street, (b) have the use of no power tools, and (c) be unable to buy the right color paint! Ahhh...but these are the things of which good stories are made, if not perfect sets.

We also remembered the time the tech crew got on an old reconditioned train car, which one of them owned, and rode on the back of an Amtrak train to Reno for the day, and we talked about the ones who either died too soon or who just disappeared out of our lives.

And was that one guy REALLY a pedophile? Or did he just have the same name as someone arrested in a pedophile scandal? Nobody has seen him since. 'Tis a puzzlement.

Photos were passed around and that is always fun. I'm sorry more of the old crew weren't able to join us, but there were 5 and that made for a nice number for an interview.

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Memories of Ned

1. How much back hair he had when he was born
2. Learning at an early age that if he thought he could jump from a certain height, he really could
3. How tender he always was with babies
4. Watching him smear pumpkin all over his belly
5. His first day at Yamaha, when he got to play the drum
6. How he took to springboard diving
7. The day he did a belly flop off the 3 meter tower, swam off the pain, and climbed the tower and did it again...without the belly flop
8. His winning the coach’s trophy that year
9. The Gumby costume he made
10. Every Lawsuit show for 10 years
11. How much I missed him the year he was in Brasil
12. The fabulous videos he's made for Brianna
13. Forty-four years of birthdays. Happy birthday, Ned!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Here We Go Again

Over dinner last night, we brought up the subject of our "next" cruise...and if we were going to go on a cruise next year or not.
We've been vacillating between going through the Panama Canal and taking The "Grand European" cruise on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, between Budapest and Amsterdam. Char said she had recently checked on the European tour and discovered that the early dates were already booked.
I came home and checked again and found a date open in late June, later than I wanted to go, but I wrote to Char right away. She called this morning and discovered that now the earliest we could book was July 15. Guess this tour is very popular!
So we decided to book today and make sure that we had a space. The tour sounds exciting. We decided to go Budapest to Amsterdam, instead of the opposite direction. I worry about the heat, but from what I can find on the internet it's "very hot," but that term is relative...high temps at the Budapest end should be in the 80s, and high temps at the Amsterdam end should be in the 70s. That doesn't sound too awful.
The good part about this trip is that we won't be traveling by airplane all the time, like we were in China. We will spend 3 days in a hotel in Prague first (an optional extension), and then get on the ship, travel for 15 days, and get off the ship and fly home. No constantly packing and repacking, no settling into a new hotel every night or so. I love that idea!
And free wifi shipwide. YAY!!!
So now I have to read up on that area to prepare!

Jeri's August vacation has ended. We had Waffle Tuesday this morning, then I finished writing and submitting my article and then she and I went off to Ciocolat, a lovely cafe here in town, and had a girls' coffee...well tea for her, coffee for me. We split a creme brulee and talked over the cares of the world, our hopes dreams and ambitions, and all sorts of stuff.
When we were finished, we drove out to visits "the boys" at the cemetery. Not much to say. They haven't changed much from the last time we were there, though the grass has covered the "fts" note at the bottom of the grave marker.
Char and I decided what we want it to say on our own grave markers when the time comes. I want mine to say "it's all juice and crackers."
I could have sworn I told y'all about my philosophy of life before, but I can't find it in my database, so if you've heard this before, just ignore this.
Our kids were in a parent co-op nursery school and each month there would be a parent meeting. When we joined the kids were having soda crackers and kool-aid for snack each day. After about 6 months, the membership of the school had changed and the nutritionists brought up their concern about what the kids were eating. They suggested we switch them to graham crackers and apple juice, which would be more nutritious, but more expensive.
A big battle would take place and at the end, we finally agreed to switch the kids to graham crackers and apple juice, because the kids' health was more important. In another 6 months, there were more new people who saw how much money we were spending on snacks and suggested that the school could save money if we just gave the kids soda crackers and kool aid. Another big battle would take place and finally we would agree to save money, because the school always had money problems.
Etc., etc., etc.
When I thought about it, I realized that all of life is juice and crackers. Think of any place where you ever worked or volunteered or supervised (like a home owners association)...even up to Congress and the White House. A group of people fight for how they think things should work and a way of operation is chosen and then, after a period of time, new people come in with new ideas and the same things happens all over again. Nobody seems to pay attention to historical memory. They go back to something that was already tried. And then again after a period of time, someone has an idea that you should try a version of the old way things were done.
Walt says he saw this all the time in his office, where he worked for nearly 50 years. After awhile, the old timers let the younger ones slug it out because, bottom line, is that nothing ever changes for good...sooner or later, someone will have the brilliant idea to try something that failed years ago.
So my dying message to the world will be: It's all juice and crackers!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Simple Monday

I spent the morning writing an article about Sunday night's Elly nominations, for the theater awards that will be given out in September. It involved several phone calls and e-mails to contact people, but I think I'm in good shape to send the article tomorrow mid-day.

The city finally came out to trim the dead branches off of our eucalyptus tree around noon. The tree belongs to the city, so they are responsible for keeing it trimmed. They got it done in no time and fed the whole thing into the mulching machine.

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Then, after showing Jeri the rest of our China Pictures, Walt presented her with the t-shirt he had bought for her at the Beijing Opea. He was so thrilled when he found that shirt!

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At 3:30, we finally got on the road, driving toward San Ramon (which is closer to San Francisco) to have lunch at Char and Mike's daughter Jenny's house, along with daughters Tavie and Dana as well. It was like a reunion of the "girls" who went on the France/Italy trip two years ago. I just love watching all of those kids talking with each other.

Jenny's dog Nikki seemed unimpressed to have us there.

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We had such a fun evening, laughing, everybody talking at once, the noise level rising higher and higher. Jenny & Dave's daughter had made a cake for dessert, and we pretended Ned was there so we could give it to him for his upcoming birthday this week.

Finally, around 10 p.m., we had to drag ourselves away, or nobody would be fit to drive home. I just love evenings like this. Best. ever.

(We also may have decided where to take our cruise next year...but more of that when it's definite)

Monday, August 22, 2011

"The Talk"

We had "the talk" today...the talk everybody is supposed to have, preferably younger than mid-60s to 70s, but definitely the one while you're still breathing, the one about the money and your "wishes" and all that good stuff.

This time it was a family talk. We met Jeri, Phil, Ned and Marta at Crepeville for brunch. Phil was getting ready to get on a train to take him to the airport for his trip home to Boston. Jeri still had another couple of days to stay here. Marta was getting ready to take Ned "somewhere" for his birthday, later this week. Marta had suggested that we get together for brunch before "the talk."

After brunch, we came home and sat around the table (Marta cleared away a corner of the piled up junk--I didn't realize we were going to make this a table talk!) and Marta took charge. Smartest thing Ned ever did was to bring Marta into the family!

Having recently been through the settling of her step-father's estate and seeing how difficult it was because of the things that had not gotten done, she knew all the questions to ask and all the pokes to be made. She went down the list about where is this and where is that and what insurance did we have and what did we want for health care and burial and did we have an attorney (no).

Walt, bless him, is extremely organized and he had written down everything and put it in a folder. Me, damn me, can't remember diddily so I knew that there was "something" somewhere, but didn't remember what or where. But now everybody knows what is where and who does what. Marta is going to find out the name of her mother's attorney and we will make an appointment ASAP. We agreed Walt's sister (a bank trust officer) should be the executor of our estate and if she can't, Tom. Marta and Ned, because they are here and not 3,000 miles away will have our medical power of attorney. Jeri will play Amazing Grace at my funeral. ;)

When "the talk" was finished, everybody felt MUCH more comfortable about our inevitable demise and there was nothing left to do but move furniture. With Ned and Phil here, Walt took advantage and had them move some furniture into the garage. We are another step closer to being able to paint the living room before tearing up the carpet and putting in the new Pergo.

After Jeri got home from taking Phil to the train station, Walt showed her our China pictures and then we went to a Thai restaurant for dinner. This place has the best curried duck, with almost more duck than we had at our Peking Duck dinner, and all for less than $ Walt eats there a lot, so they toss in a free dessert for us.

The restaurant is next door to the theatre, so we went and saw The Help. I'm not sure it is one that Jeri or Walt would have chosen, but it was that or Conan the Barbarian, I told them. I liked it very much because I had read the book. They said they sorta liked it, but I don't think they were as taken with it as I was.

When we came home, Jeri was determined to make friends with Polly. We learned that Polly, who is basically a slut, can be bought for treats.

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Of course all bets were off nce she'd taken the treat, and when Jeri got out of the chair and stood up, forget it! But for one brief moment, Polly allowed herself to be manipulated for food.

Yeah--I can relate to that.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

This is My LIfe

Alison and I met in Berkeley today to do another Lamplighters interview. We got there early and went out to lunch, then still had half an hour to kill, so we sat in the car while she presented me with a gift, of sorts.

Let me give you a piece of advice right now. If you ever are so foolish as to embark on a project like writing the 25 year history of a theater company, by all means partner with someone as anal retentive as Alison -- and I mean that in the most laudatory, affectionate way.

I'm not a big believer in astrology, but almost every Virgo I've known has been neat and organized (even if he wasn't that way when he was living at home, Ned). And I personify the stereotypical Aquarian traits for messiness and disorganization.

Alison is a Saggitarius and I don't know what their organizational strengths and weaknesses are supposed to be but organization is Alison's middle name. I cannot believe the stuff she has unearthed from our previous books as we have been working our way through this new project. She got a big plastic bag out of the back seat and pulled out of it a huge accordion folder inside of which were smaller subfolders, all neatly labeled...the entire correspondence between the two of us during the writing of the first book. My letters, and copies of her letters to me.

The first letter in this voluminous collection, dated June 1975, is from me and it starts:

Dear Mrs. Lewis:

I would very much like to be a part of the preparation of the History of the Lamplighters. Though I live some distance from the Bay Area, we are there quite often and if it is possible for me to help out either here in Davis or there, I offer my services...

Her answer begins:

Dear Ms. Sykes:

I was delighted to get your letter of last month, and I welcome you aboard with enthusiasm.

And thus began a friendship and a collaboration which has lasted (so far) 36 years.

The letters are a treasure trove and detail not only our gradual collaboration, working out the knotty problems we encountered in trying to decide how we were going to approach this project, but also the lives of our families as well. We both had forgotten how much work Charlotte put in on the project in the initial stages, and that Alison and I discovered that we were both friends with Jeri's godmother, Jeri.

I've only just begun to wade through all of this, but I loved this, from me:

Since "Patience," our house has become a "hotbed of aestheticism." All the boys (8, 6, 5, 3) are enamored of muscle men (thanks to my father) and Walt has taught them all "you hold yourself like this" and they prance around the living room singing and striking muscular poses. While this goes on, Jeri (our daughter) is in the family room playing "we sail the ocean blue" on the piano. No wonder our neighbors all think we are a bit odd.

Then there was this exchange between Alison and myself which should have struck an ominous chord for us:

Alison: I'm impressed that no one seems to know we are doing a History -- not one of the principals and chorus I've been introduced to has said, "Oh you're the one doing the history." And I thought we were important.

Me: Don't worry about nobody knowing you -- WE really know our worth... [that's a quote from The Mikado]

Over the writing of two books, we would come to understand that you don't get praise for a project like this in The Lamplighters. You do it because you want to do it, not because anybody is going to pat you on the back and say "job well done."

This letter to Alison also contained a report on Tom's first days in kindergarten, since her son Sherman was also starting kindergarten. Tom is so unenthusiastic it's ridiculous--I've spent more time in kindergarten this past week than I did when I was 5. However, he seems to be adjusting...a little...perhaps next week. My next letter said, Tom is improving. Still left him crying at school this a.m., but he managed to let me go without any teacher holding him back. Maybe in another couple of months we'll have it all worked out.

This was perhaps my favorite so far...with miles to go before I finish. We were still talking about how to organize all the material (which was presented to us in 2 giant garbage bags, containing 25 years worth of stuff!):

There is absolutely no reason to have 20 copies of a 2-line mention in some obscure paper--but who is going to throw it away? Likewise, some sort of order to photos could really be valuable to whoever is going to be doing the 50 year book!

In 1975 we certainly had no idea that there would be no 50 year history but that 36 years later we would be working on the 60th!

I can't wait to read the rest of this history.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

TV Meme

Pick your five favourite tv shows (in no particular order) and answer the following questions about them. Don’t cheat!

1. White Collar
3. Criminal Minds
4. Big Bang Theory
5. Amazing Race

Who is your favourite character in 2? Oh Gibbs, with Abby a close runner up. I've enjoyed Mark Harmon's performances since the 1980s, remembering particularly when he played Ted Bundy.

Who’s your least favourite character in 1? The bad guys. I like all the principal characters, even Mozzie (who is irritating me a bit now)

What’s your favourite episode of 4? The first episode of Seasion 4, where Howard developed a new use for a robotic arm was hilarious.

What is your favourite season on 5? I liked when they brought back the folks who hadn't won...they were all very pleasant, likable people.

What is your favourite relationship in 3? I liked Gideon's relationship with Reed, but alas, Gideon is gone now.

Who has the bad relationship in 2? There have been some tense moments between Gibbs and Vance, but no really bad relationship.

How long have you watched 1? From the very beginning.

How did you become interested in 3? I think I just stumbled across it and the description sounded intriguing. I became hooked very quickly.

Who’s your favourite actor in 4? Jim Parsons (Sheldon)

Which show do you prefer, 1, 2, or 5? It's a toss-up, but I'll have to say 1. I love White Collar.

Which show have you seen more episodes of, 1 or 3? Definitely 3! They haven't started having White Collar marathons yet!

If you could be anyone from 4, who would you be? Penny, just to find out what it's like to be slim, blonde and popular.

How would you kill off your favourite character in 1? KILL OFF??? Are you crazy?

Give a random quote from 1. "Life is more manageable when thought of as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party." -- Mozzie

Pair two characters in 3 that would make an unlikely, but strangely okay couple.
Garcia and Morgan, who already have a close friendship anyway.

Has 4 inspired you in any way? No. Those guys are way too smart. Though I do have this strange desire to eat at the Cheesecake Factory.

Over all, which show has a better cast, 3 or 5? It would have to be 3, since 5 is a reality show whose "characters" change from season to season.

Which has better theme music, 2 or 4? Oh 4. That whole Big Bang lyric is very clever.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Once a Mom...

HUSmudge.jpg (22023 bytes)I hadn't seen a smudge like that in 14 years.

The last time I was at The Hotel Utah in San Francisco was New Year's Eve, 1997. We were there the previous year, too, when Lawsuit played its farewell concert. Lawsuit had played the Utah a few times before and it was a nice sentimental place to call and end to the band's 10 year career.

A year later, the owner convinced the band to return for a big reunion concert. The tickets for the event sold out in 30 minutes. We were all there to see Lawsuit play together for one last time. The show was good, but it was clear that the magic was gone and that there would be no future reunions.

But Walt and I were back at the Utah again tonight, this time for an evening that was part of the International Pop Overthrow (IPO), which is held every year in August. Jeri is usually here at that time and gets together with some of the old Lawsuit group in a new band called Preoccupied Pipers. They do one ~20 minute set as part of an evening showcasing bands from around the area. She's been doing this now ever since she moved to Boston.

This year IPO was at the Hotel Utah for the first time and we decided to go down and listen to the band. We paid our money at the door and got the familiar hand stamp. We greeted the kids and were ushered upstairs, where they had saved a corner for us, so we could sit down. Ned handed me his camera and asked if I could take movies, and Jeri asked if I could watch her bag for her. I felt as if I had gone back to the old days when all the parents would come to all the Lawsuit concerts and we would do stuff like that for our kids. It was kind of nice to have my very grown up children asking me to watch their stuff again.

We sat through the 2 bands that preceded Preoccupied Pipers and I sorely missed the ear plugs that Jon Lee used to pass out to parents at Lawsuit shows. I thought of the irony that I had canceled a doctors appointment this morning. I was going to get my hearing checked because of some problems I've been having, but the problems seem to have cleared up a week ago. But the thought of going to have my ears checked in the morning and then going to this ear-shattering concert in the evening was strange.

It was fun seeing the kids back in action again. I only took a few pictures because I was busy working Ned's video camera. I also took a very short video, which I took with one hand while operating Ned's camera with the other! (I will post that tomorrow, after it has finished uploading--it's nearly 2 a.m. and I don't want to sit up and wait for it!) I thought at the time that someone with a camera downstairs might get a better picture of ME trying to handle two cameras simultaneously than what I was filming downstairs.

It was so much fun seeing them up there on that stage again.

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The band this year consisted of KC, Jeri, Joe, Marta (on bass) and Ned, with Kag and Barbara joining in on a couple of the vocals.

HUPhil.jpg  (46433 bytes)A fun surprise was Phil making his Hotel Utah debut wearing his old Lawsuit bowling shirt.

He was introduced as "Jiminy Hendrix" and rocked the house in his one number.

He is flying back to Boston on Saturday while Jeri is going to stay through the middle of next week. Phil came out early to go to a Phish concert with Ned and their friend Jessica near Seattle. He has apparently been having a great time while he's here.

Jeri arrived on Saturday and is doing her usual "fit everyone in" tour, having already spent 2 days with her grandmother, then coming up here to see friends in this part of the state, spend some time with us, and get together with some of the pinata people too.

August is usually a fun month.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen letter animals

1. A is for Appaloosa
2. B is for Blue Whale
3. C is for Capybara
4. D is for Dingo
5. E is for Elephant
6. F is for Ferret
7. G is for Giraffe
8. H is for Hedgehog
9. I is for Ibis
10. J is for Jackass
11. K is for Kangaroo
12. L is for Lorikeet
13. M is for Meerkat

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Run for the Borders

Borders is going out of business. Whoda thunk? Borders was my go-to place to browse. Some people walk the malls and try on clothes. I go to Borders and just...browse. I look at the magazines and check my favorite sections of the store. I love looking at the computer section, because all those big books are too expensive to buy, but I can look up things that I'm interested in. I love looking at the travel section, at all the books about places I've been and places I'd like to go.

I check the 2-for-1 table and the table where there are big discounts for buying more than one book.

I look at the calendars and see which I want to get for the next year...and try to get there early to buy next year's Sierra Club desk calendar, to which I have become a slave in the past several years.

I look through the paper good section and see what sorts of ridiculously overpriced cards and paper goods I won't buy, but like to check out.

I wander through the children's section and look for cute books for Bri...and then don't buy them because I can't believe that people actually spend $15 or more on toddler books that are only a few pages long.

And as I write this, I begin to see why Borders is going out of business. I'm a browser, but when it comes to actually buying something, I have joined the move to electronic media.

I've written before about my childhood where I would get six books a week from the local library, cart them home and read them all as quickly as I could so I could go get more.

I don't buy as many real hold-in-your-hands books any more now that I have all of my "gadgets."

I have an iPod, an iTouch and a Kindle. That means I'm never without something to read or listen to. It's audio books in the car, iTouch books with the kindle app during intermission at the theatre or in the car after dark. The Kindle has become the reader of choice at other times. I can (and do) have several books going at one time on the Kindle, and a different book going on the iTouch and perhaps one book that I'm listening to by mysef on the iPod, and another book I'm listening to with Walt.

For example, right now we just finished a Lee Child audio book and I'm listening to a Patricia Cornwell book on the iPod ( the latter was a test, to see how much I liked Cornwell as an audio and I've discovered I don't like it at all. The voice for the familliar characters was so far off what I've "heard" in my head while reading her earlier books that I am not enjoying that part of it).

On the Kindle, I'm reading a Dick Francis book; a book called "Driving in China," which is wonderful; a book about snail mail; and book whose name I have forgotten. There might be another one "active" at the moment. Whatever my mood is for whatever kind of book, I have a wide selection from which to choose.

On the iTouch, I'm reading a book of Dick Cavett columns.

(The problem with this is that I carry all of the electronic gadgets in my purse at the same time, along with my camera and heavy wallet. I just weighed the purse--it weighs more than 5-1/2 lbs! But, for example, when we stopped for gas or at a rest stop coming home from Santa Barbara, we would turn off the audio book and I could pull out my Kindle to read another book while waiting for Walt to return to the car!)

Oh, and I'm reading a couple of "real" books too, a book called "I'm not a tourist, I live here," which a woman I met recently here in Davis has written about behind the scenes in San Francisco, and a book by Dean Koontz about his dog.

I sometimes shake my head at all the things I'm reading and that I can keep them all straight, which I seem to be able to do. But I do realize that my less than generous contributions to the coffers of Borders has helped bring about its demise. I suppose I should feel guilty about that, but I suspect that it won't really bother me until I start wondering where I will be able to find my desk calendar for next year!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Water for Elephant Seals

AnitaS.jpg  (32494 bytes)Fortunately, I had agreed to do an interview on the way home from Santa Barbara, because it got us out of the house early, without any much dawdling.

Anita had worked for the Lamplighters for about 9 years, arriving shortly before I left, so our terms there overlapped, briefly. She now lives near Hearst Castle, which is about a 4-5 hour drive from here, but when she volunteered to be interviewed, it was right before we were leaving for Santa Barbara and I told her that if, by chance, she was going to be available on Monday, we could stop by and interview her on the way home.


We got to her house around 11, had an interview, and then went down to a fish 'n' chips place for lunch. Cayucas is a town of about 6,000 people, we learned, and there isn't much to the town but a few shops (antique dealers and surf shops seem to be popular!) and from the dock you can see the big rock that juts out at Morro Bay.

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We also discovered that people don't pay much attention to the rules around town.

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But we had a nice visit and then Walt and I started our way back. We decided to take a detour and drove past Hearst Castle...

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You can tell when youre getting close to Hearst Castle because you see cows and zebras grazing together on the hillside, the zebras no doubt distant relatives of some of the exotic species Wm. Randolph Hearst had installed on the grounds around his famous castle.

But our destination was about 5 miles farther up the road. We were going to look at the elephant seals lying on the beach sunning themselves. There is a sign guiding you to the spot, a parking lot and a walkway that goes along the beach where you can stand and watch these huge creatures snoring away.

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However, the first time I saw these behemoths was about 25 years ago and we were driving with our friend David and his son and all of a sudden David yelled "pull over here." We had no clue why we were pulling over, but we did and when we came over the crest of the sand, there were all these sea lions just lying there. You could walk right up to them. Obviously there must have been "incidents" over the years that caused the Parks Department to install a safety walkway, which acts as a barrier between the humans and the animals. I know it's much better for both humans and sea lions, but I will never forget standing close enough to a huge bull to feel its breath on my foot as it snored!

The drive home was uneventful, the dogs were thrilled to see us, and I have a busy week ahead of me, so it's good to be back and ready to go to sleep again! Really, a very, very nice weekend!

Monday, August 15, 2011

August Showers

Not the rainy kind, the baby kind. Today was the baby shower for Alice Nan's husband's daughter, Jocelyn. Most of the (50?) guests were members of the family, whether ours, Joe's, or Joe's ex-wife's family.

It was held in a park way the heck and gone up in the mountains. You really had to know this place was there, but it was lovely. Lots of trees making lots of shade, a huge reserved area, an outhouse that didn't smell bad and almost nobody else anywhere around us.

Joe and Alice had worked their tails off getting this party put together. Walt and I and Joe's mother and sister were the first to arrive. Joe's mother, Evelyn, is a fiend at card playing and immediately pulled out some cards and challenged her daughter's S.O. to a game of double solitaire.

He lost and asked if I'd like to take his place. Evelyn and my mother have spent many hours playing cards over the years, so I said I would love to--and then trounced her two games in a row. My mother would be so pleased!

YaYa arrived.

YaYa is Jocelyn's grandmother and her real name is Patsy Garrett. If she looks at all familiar, she was the actress who owned Benji in the Benji movies. In a small world story entirely too complex to explain thoroughly, it turns out Patsy lived next door to the sister of our first Brasilian exchange student, Eduardo and Joe has been good friends with Marissa and her husband for 20 years or so.

Briannna didn't make it to the shower because she had been to a birthday party, but Tom did. He and Walt chatted over guacamole.

There were lots of gifts to open.

And lots of cake to eat.

There were games to play and Tom and Walt shared a prize for correctly naming the offspring of various animals.

And to end the party on a rather unusual note, someone had brought a BB gun and people started shooting out the balloons which had decorated the area.

Jocelyn was a real "pistol packin' Mama" !!

When everything had been packed up, Walt and I, Alice Nan and Joe all went to Tom's for pizza and to be part of the nightly bedtime ritual. Bri had a 2-1/2 hr nap this afternoon and was in the best mood I think I have ever seen her. Of course it didn't hurt that she absolutely adores Uncle Joe and really turns on the charm around him. She was just so funny to watch.

Tomorrow morning we head home, with a brief stop to do a Lamplighter interview en route.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

More Butterflies

If yesterday's smashed butterfly on the hood of the car was an indication that my cousin Shirley was around, today's experience must indicate that she returned, and brought all of my dead ancestors with her!

Our day started around noon, when we stopped by Tom's to join him on a trip to the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum. Particularly this exhibit:

After a briefing by the museum staff to make sure Bri wouldn't touch or step on the butterflies, we were admitted to this marvelous little enclosure filled with butterflies and children with their parents.

It was just magical, with butterflies everywhere. Bri had an encounter with this guy

and was fascinated watching how this one drank water.

I tried getting some good shots, but they move so quickly and most of my close-ups came out blurry, though I did get a couple I liked.

We went through some other exhibits, but by the time we got to the car, Bri was really zonked and fell asleep on the ride home.

We left Laurel to put Bri to sleep while Walt and I went to Denny's to get lunch, then to visit our friends Dick and Gerry, and then off to meet the family at an Italian restaurant for dinner.

When dinner was over, we drove out to the end of Stearn's Wharf to check out the reflection of the full moon on the water.

It was pretty cold (heaven!) so Alice Nan and Joe's 85 year old Mom, Evelyn huddled together to keep warm.

I went wandering around trying to get a good picture of a seagull.

All things considered, a very good day!