Saturday, October 31, 2009

What? No Apple??

Aren't students supposed to bring apples for the teacher? I didn't get so much as a strawberry. But I sure got a hefty dose of ego-boosting.

Last night I taught another round of my blogging class. I did this last year and didn't think it went well, though people asked for a follow-up class. I had I think four students who came. All of them seemed to be needing a web site, not really a blog. The only one who was possibly really wanting a blog was going to use it to write a cookbook, but over the year when I checked back on her site, she never did anything with it.

This year I made sure that the course description included a brief explanation of what a blog was, and, more importantly, what it wasn't.

When I checked on the status of sign-ups last weekend, they had nobody signed up and my hopes rose that maybe nobody wanted to come. Maybe blogging was so common now that nobody needed to be "taught" anything about it.

But then I had word that three people had signed up. By the time of the class there were seven people who came to learn about blogging and none of them really needed a web site--they were interested to learn about blogging.

Of course I had performance anxiety. I don't really think of myself as a teacher, but if there is anything I can teach at least fairly, it's blogging. I at least have lots of experience.

Tsui, from DCN, and I went to the lab to meet with one of the tech guys to learn how to set up all the new equipment. Good thing we did, since there were a couple of little glitches that needed to be fixed and he was able to do that for us.

Then we returned at 6 to get all the computers up and running. I put some links into the machine so I wouldn't have to type them over and over again, and we waited for students to arrive.

Seven is a full class (that's all the computers there are), and we had exactly seven students show up. Now performance anxiety sets in.

I had them go around the class and introduce themselves and explain what they hoped to get out of the class. I expected to have the same result I did last time, with people not really being there to learn about blogging, but surprisingly they were, to one degree or another. One guy runs a Mac Users group at the senior center and also wants to start a blog for his Sons of Norway group. Another woman is setting up a blog for deaf users. A woman from Congo has a lot to say on her blog. A gentlemen, who is probably in his 90s, just wanted to find out what it's all about. Another woman was interested in blogging but concerned about privacy issues.

There were all sorts of levels of experitse, from people who knew the lingo to the older man who had difficulty moving his mouse and whose hearing impairment made it difficult for him to understand everything.

I had everyone set up a blog on Blogger, because that's the site I'm most accustomed to, but I also gave them a handout with several other blogging sites and examples of blogs from each of those sites, if they wanted to check them out.

It seemed that everyone had either problems I couldn't solve, or questions I couldn't answer because they dealt with situations I had never considered before.

Tsui was a godsend, because I've learned that you can't do this class in an hour and a half with only one person. Everybody needs individual attention and Tsui was able to handle one side of the room while I took the other.

When we left, everybody had a blog set up, whether they ever use it again or not. They had all asked for a follow-up class, which I agreed to teach. I had promised the older gentleman that I would make a step by step instruction sheet for him, and even offered to come to his house where we could work one on one and he could do it at his own speed. I had also offered to help the woman from Congo by proofreading her writings in English, which she has been looking for some help with.

The ego boost came when the woman from Congo was shocked to learn I was 66...and later referred to me as "Professor."

So I guess it wasn't as bad as I always think it's going to be.

But nobody brought me an apple. (Though, come to think of it, this was a PC class...what did I expect? LOL.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

How Obsessive Am I?

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a little place called GeoCities. Steve had a journal called "Living in the Bonus Round" there. When I decided to start writing a journal, I joined GeoCities.

When you joined GeoCities, you were shown a real "virtual neighborhood," a map of roads and houses. You picked the neighborhood you wanted to "live" in and then chose the design of the "house" you were going to fill. Seems all kind of silly now.

I don't remember what my neighborhood was, but it had something to do with theatre, I'm sure. I picked out my house and started to decorate it with journal entries.

It didn't take too long before all those "houses" were bought up and GeoCities dropped the graphical context. Now you just posted things to a web site called GeoCities.

Then Yahoo bought out GeoCities and things continued pretty much as they always had, but somewhere off in the distance, a death knell was sounding. You could still log into GeoCities, but if you wanted to set up a web site, you had to do it through Yahoo.

With GeoCities you had free web space, which was great, but it was limited. So I actually had three sites there. One for beverlysykes, one for bevsykes and one for bevasykes. About the time bevasykes was starting to fill up too, I decided to bite the bullet and get my own domain for Funny the World, which has been the address for many years now, still hosted by Yahoo.

Well, I knew it was coming. I heard rumors. And you can't say that Yahoo didn't give GeoCities members plenty of warning. Steve even wrote about it a couple of days ago. But two days ago, I was putting in the "Today in My History" section, and, as I frequently do, I was clicking through entries for the past ten years.

Imagine my shock when I clicked the entry for 2000 and was told that it didn't exist! All of my beverlysykes, bevsykes, and bevasykes entries were now gone.

As I said, it's not that it took me by surprise, but seeing it there on my screen gave me a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if a beloved friend had died.

Fortunately, though my life is an instruction book for how to live in chaos, there are parts of it which are organized, and, envisioning this possibility several years ago, I have been saving all of my journal entries for many years now. They all get saved to my hard drive and at the end of the year, the entire year is moved to a CD. The entries weren't gone, exactly--they all exist on disk, but they would all have to be reformatted to put on the Funny the World domain.

Did I really want to go through all that work? It took about 5 minutes for me to decide that...yes, I really did. It would be so much better if they were all in one place. I knew it was going to be a horribly time-consuming project, but I couldn't not do it.

I discovered that it takes about 3-4 hours to put one month worth of entries back, so I'm going to be doing one month a day, and at the same time putting in the current year 2000 entry while I am doing the current day's entry. (I.e, I've finished March and April, and also October 28, 29, and 30).

For some reason, when I saved the entries originally, not all of the photos saved with them. Some photos I've had to delete, some I've been able to find elsewhere on my hard drive, and some I just took again. If the photo is essential to the entry and I can't find the original photo, I've left a note explaining that the photo is gone. I'm sure lots of links are wrong, but I'm trying to upgrade them as best I can along the way.

Someone on Facebook introduced me to The Wayback Machine, which was brand new to me, a massive internet archive which has stored over 150 billion pages archived from 1996 on. You enter the old URL and it searches to see if it's still stored. While I have all of my entry pages on disk, I didn't have the table of contents for each month. I checked to see if I could find any through the Wayback Machine and they were all there. I just needed to edit them, not recreate them.

So this will be my activity for the next several weeks, along with all the other stuff. I anticipate that as I complete this project I'm going to find I've missed a lot, so I invite anybody who finds a mistake somewhere to let me know and I'll try to get it finished. (I should really take time to double check all those links to other sites and remove the ones that are dead, but I'm not going to do that at this point.)

I may never dust furniture in my house, but I really do like to have my journal / blog entries as correct as possible!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Be A Clown

Did you ever want to run away and join the circus? I did, when I read "Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with the Circus" as a kid. Of course I never would have done it. I was much too inhibited.

My friend and fellow blogger, Mary Wise, did it. She went to clown school and traveled with a circus and even wrote a book about it. The only clowning around she does now-a-days is on line (I think), but she does keep her hand in by meeting with a group of jugglers on a regular basis.

Today I met another clown. His name is Paul Del Bene and he is going to put on a benefit performance for DPNS (Davis Parent Nursery School) next weekend, November 6 and 7.

I would never have known about Paul and would certainly never have thought about going to his show, were it not for my friend / writing buddy / Scrabble partner Joan, who told me about it and suggested that his show might make a good article for the newspaper.

I contacted my editor, who said he had received a press release and had all the information that he needed, really, but if I wanted to do a feature article, go ahead.

So I contacted Paul's mother-in-law (that's how these things go...she's a friend of Joan's which is how Joan found out about the performance), who put me in touch with Paul. And then, in one of those small world moments, when Paul wrote to set up an interview time, he mentioned in passing that he had done a movie in Davis a few years ago and that Jeri had written the music for it.

Back to Mishka's I went, recorder in hand, to have coffee with a clown.

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Paul has been a clown for nearly 30 years, but, though he went to Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Clown college, where he graduated top in his class and then worked for them for a year in Japan, but he has performed mostly in Europe, where the tradition of vaudeville and clowns is very lively and it's easy to get work. He speaks several languages and was able to work in France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and several other countries and supported his family on his work as a professional clown.

But they returned to the states to help care for his ailing mother-in-law and it's not so easy to find work as a clown in this country, which does not have the mindset of going out to see a live show on a weekend, but rather prefers to sit home and watch TV or go to see a movie.

The character Del Bene has created is Olaf, and he is often hired as a comic waiter,

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which seems to be where he gets most of his bookings these days. He finds that his ability to relate to his audience, whether a restaurant full of eaters or a theatre audience is what has made him such a success.

At one point, as he talked with intensity about his feelings of frustrations involved with trying to find work, about his "other" job as a fund raiser for a medical company trying to fund research that will aid those with Type 1 Diabetes (a job he convinces me is not all that far removed from what he does on stage), and about his vision for how his kind of performance, and others who would do the same thing, in an area like this, using sustainable technology, local products, etc., would be beneficial for everyone, I had to turn away to take a swig of my coffee. His passion, his body language and everything about him reminded me so much of our own Paul when he was excited about a project that it was hard to watch, for a few moments.

He gave me a videotape, which included the video that he made with Jeri's musical assistance (unfortunately it's not on line, so I can't link to it) and I watched several of his videos, such as this one:

After 10 years of working as a critic, when the weekend comes around and there is no show that I have to review, the very last thing I want to do is go out to the theatre, but I was so taken both with Paul the man, and what I saw on the video, that I've decided I really want to see his show, even though I won't be reviewing it.

No greater praise can I give to anybody that I've interviewed!!!

It sounds like it's going to be a fun show, suitable for all ages, and it will benefit a great cause.

Anybody in the Davis area who is interested in getting more information can check the DPNS web site.

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Names I've given foster dogs (or groups of dogs)

1. Higgins, Eliza and Freddie (the My Fair Lady puppies)
2. Chunk (who was "Daisy" until she gained so much weight)
3. Tater & Tot (because when they arrived they looked like little potatoes)
4. Jed, Toby and Leo (the West Wing puppies)
5. Dexter (because he has a skin condition called Demodex)
6. Panda, Blue, Golde and Pinkie (the "Rainbow puppies"--they were all black and white)
7. Half Pint
8. Dakota (because he was found by a guy driving a Dakota)
9. Rupert (named for a fellow vlogger)
10. Google
11. Bissell (named for the steam cleaner I'd just purchased)
12. Gizmo (because he looked like a Gremlin)
13. Poochini and his sister Tosca

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Any woman who has given birth knows that if enough time has passed, you begin to forget the pain of the birth process itself and concentrate on the love you feel for the little baby in your arms. It's the only reason why there are families that have more than one child, I suspect! That lovely process of selective memory. We remember that it hurts, but we can't actually feel the pain any more and only remember that we recovered and had something that we loved and were so proud of in our hands.

I've been thinking a lot about that phenomenon since the e-mail arrived yesterday afternoon...and anybody who has known me since the mid 1980s is going to be shocked to hear what I'm about to write.

The letter was from a woman whose name I didn't recognize, but she was telling me that the Lamplighters, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2012, wanted to put out a Volume 3 of the company's history and she wondered if Alison or I would be interested in being involved.

My first reaction was to laugh hysterically, think that there was NO WAY I wanted to put myself through that again, and to forward her message to Alison. I knew Alison, too, wouldn't be in the least interested.

I thought that I had told the story of the Lamplighter histories before, but research shows that it's only come across in bits and pieces, so let me set it all down in one place. The year was about 1975. Walt and I had been attending Lamplighters shows since the 60s, before we were married. We had become Lamplighter groupies, were subscribers, had introduced lots of other folks to the company and we were on the mailing list, receiving company notices.

In one of the notices was a little announcement that a woman named Alison Lewis was going to be working on a book to celebrate the company's 25th anniversary and she was looking for volunteers to help. Two of us wrote to her and showed up to work on the book. It was serendipitous. Carolyn McGovern, Alison and I were all the same age, we all had kids and we were all at a place where our youngest child (in Carolyn's case her only child) had just started school, so suddenly we found ourselves with time on our hands. We all loved the Lamplighters and thought it was important and would be fun to record its history.

I still remember the first day I showed up at the Lamplighter warehouse. It was like Dorothy opening the door into Oz for the first day. It was just this dusty, dingy old storehouse but for me, it was entering the land of Oz. I remember seeing a suit of armor from a production of Yeomen of the Guard as I walked up the rickety stairs to Company Director Spencer Beman's office. I could recognize costumes, props, and all sorts of paraphernalia that I'd seen in shows over the years. It was magic. Of course by the time the book was finished the magic was long gone and you can't go home again, but that first day was really magic.

We worked on the book for months. There were lots and lots of interviews, most of which I transcribed since I was too far away to be part of the live interviews. But I did interview some of my favorite people. We built a humongous roster of everyone who had ever appeared in a Lamplighter program and all of the things that they did (>4000 people and 25 years of shows). We had hundreds, if not thousands, of little slips of paper with information on them that we spent months compiling for the roster. We made a list of every show the Lamplighters had ever done (whether in their own theatre or a guest appearance somewhere else).

We started with two huge garbage bags stuffed full of programs, reviews, and photographs and then scoured everybody's photo albums for missing programs and additional photos to get a complete picture of the company.

And then there was the text. We decided to divide the book into three sections and each of us would write one section of it. But I chickened out. I felt I didn't have the skill to write my section and make it sound as scholarly as the other two women, so Alison ended up writing two sections, and I wrote the first draft of the preface.

Though we had the nominal support of the Board of Directors, the deeper we got into the project the more roadblocks were put up by Spencer Beman, the Company Manager. Spencer hated women, and especially competent women and the more competent we were, the more he made our task difficult. He belittled us at every turn and put up as many roadblocks as he could to thwart the project. In fact, when it came to "acknowledgements" in the book, we were tempted to leave Spencer out completely, but Alison, ever the diplomat, wrote "Because of this history, Spencer Beman suffered numerous distractions from his already monumental job as producer and executive vice president of the Lamplighters; this book could not but become an additional burden for him." It was much kinder than he deserved.

We were not celebrated for our accomplishment when the book was published (except years later), but the board did get together to have a dinner for us. We sat off in a corner feeling like we were intruding on them!

However, despite our bitter feelings after the book was published, I stuck around the Lamplighters and worked off and on as a volunteer for the next ten years, which is when my friendship with Gilbert became very strong. The two of us started what became the permanent company newsletter, "Cock and Bull" and forever changed the course of Lamplighter Galas, when we wrote "Major General Hospital."

When Gilbert died in 1986, I was adamant that we put out a supplement to Book 1. I wanted there to be somewhere where Gilbert's accomplishments could be recorded for posterity. I also wanted MY period of time with the Lamplighters to be recorded.

Carolyn was so burned by Book 1 that not only was she uninterested in a second book, she refused to ever go to another Lamplighters show. But Alison was willing to work with me on a second book. It was she who convinced the Board to let the project go forth, while I sat waiting for her at a cafe. I suspect many things were said that she protected me from, but ultimately we had our OK.

The second book went easier. People who had joined the company since Book 1 was published felt they had missed out and so were eager to cooperate. They were familiar with what we were capable of producing and there was less skepticism about the project. Again, we did interviews and updated the roster, now including members of the orchestra as well.

By the time the book was underway, Spencer had been eased out as Director and Alan Harvey had taken the job (both men have since died). Alan was wonderfully supportive. Things still did not go smoothly, but with Alan's backing, so much better than the first time around. I was also not only more confident in my writing ability by this time, but it was also important for me to tell Gilbert's story. I did most of the writing, with Alison coming in to help me sound scholarly.

When the book was published in 1987, I felt I had done what I could to preserve Gilbert's legacy, as well as continue the story of The Lamplighters' next ten years, and I was ready to close the door on my involvement with the company.

When the 50th anniversary was coming up, people started hinting that there should be another book and I steadfastly said I was definitely not interested. And so the 50th passed with no updated history.

We have continued to go to Lamplighter shows, but my heart was not with the company the way it was before Gilbert died. I worked on scripts for a few of the annual Galas, Walt worked on the tech crew. We traveled with the company to England for an International competition (which The Lamplighters won).

But as time passed, I was of less and less value to the gala committees as more and more talented people who were there all the time became involved. Walt (and the rest of the tech crew) was eased out when the company started performing in a union house and had to work with union tech people.

We don't see all the shows any more, but we see most of them. We don't have season tickets any more, but buy single tickets, sometimes for a San Francisco performance, sometimes for a Walnut Creek performance, sometimes for a Sonoma performance. Sometimes we don't go at all (I wouldn't mind never seeing HMS Pinafore again, thank you).

After I forwarded the e-mail off to Alison yesterday, I started toying with the idea of working on a book for the 60th and I decided that, to my great surprise, I was interested. It would be completely different from either of the previous two books. It would be like going in cold because I don't know the performers any more--I don't even pay attention to their names any more so with few exceptions I can't tell you who is new and who has actually been around for several years.

Then an even more surprising thing happened...Alison said she was interested too, though didn't want to take a leadership role. So we have let the woman who wrote to me know that we're both in, and that she (or someone else) will have to be the leader 'cause we don't want that responsibility this time around.

We'll all meet next month and map out what needs to happen and who is going to do what. I can't believe I'm actually going to do this again, but...what the heck! It will involve commuting back and forth to San Francisco, and will give me a chance to listen to a lot of audio books!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Thrill of a Letter

I finally heard from Anjali yesterday. This is the little six year old girl in India that I began sponsoring through Compassion last May. I also sponsor Pedro in Brasil, but heard from him almost immediately after sponsorship began. However, it had been so long without any word from Anjali that, on suggestions from other sponsors, I finally contacted Compassion and found out that a letter was "in process." It finally arrived.

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She's only 6, so she can't actually write a letter yet, but did add some words in English, and drawings of flowers

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But there was also a long letter from whoever helped her prepare this message, responding to things I'd sent her and telling me about the things she likes. She thought the pictures of the eggheads on the UCD campus, for example, were very funny...

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...and she has never eaten an artichoke (which I pretty much didn't think she had, but I thought a photo of an artichoke was an interesting thing to send her).

I also had made tiny little books with pictures of some of our foster dogs in them for each of the kids, which I thought they would like. She said she did.

She told me about her favorite food, which is rice with dal. I remember long, long, long ago Walt and I used to go to an Indian restaurant in San Francisco and I remember eating dal soup, which we always called "gunpowder soup" because it tasted like gunpowder smells.

These are just the early days of establishing a relationship with this little girl and I hope that I get to learn more about her as the time passes. The thing I like about Compassion is the real feeling of community that it creates. It's not just me and these kids, but it's me and hundreds of other people and their sponsored kids. They established a social networking site for Compassion sponsors, where you can exchange good news and bad news and concerns and ask questions. I joined several groups, including a group for people who sponsor kids in Brasil and a group for people who sponsor kids in the same project where Anjali lives.

Compassion sponsors trips for sponsors to meet their sponsored child. I read stories of kids who travel hours (as many as 12 sometimes) to meet their sponsors. Also, sponsors who can't afford to take the trip themselves can hook up with someone else who is going to send bigger gifts to their child--there are wonderful videos on line of some of these meetings.

There seems to be a great transparancy about this organization that I like. You'd like to think that all of your money goes where it says it's going when you donate to an organization, but with some of them you just don't know. But with the opportunity to share experiences with other sponsors and the chance to visit the children and sometimes see the places where they study, you get a better feel about it.

I trusted Christian Children's Fund too, but only because I knew the guy who ran it was a very good guy with whom I'd worked with the Experiment in International Living. I figured if Charlie MacCormack was heading up CCF, it had to be good.

I don't really have a relationship yet with Anjali, Pedro and Fred (a little boy I am not sponsoring, but am writing to because his sponsor doesn't write to him), but I enjoy sending them letters and little gifts (you can include things that are made of paper and are no thicker than 1/4", which allows for things like thin coloring books, puzzles, stickers, patterned bandaids, etc.) and I know that as the time goes on, I will begin to learn about them and then things will get a bit more personal.

And it really is a thrill, after waiting so long, to finally get a message!

I also received notification from KIVA that enough money had been repaid from the micro-loans I've made that I could make another loan. I looked through the loans that are active and found a mother of five in Nigeria who sells food and "local gin." How can I not help out a gin-lover?? (And, trust me, if you're the mother of five, you need some gin from time to time!)

And while we're talking about helping out those less fortunate than ourselves, have you gotten yourself over to the National Association of Free Clinics yet? You can donate money to help sponsor a free clinic day for the nation's uninsured. Keith Olbermann mentioned the group in his eloquent program about health care in America and enough people donated that they were able to sponsor two free clinic days. Other shows are hopping on the bandwagon too (Dr. Oz is one I know of). Not only does it offer people without insurance (many of whom have jobs currently), but it also is an undeniable picture to our legislators of the dire need for health care reform in this country.

Monday, October 26, 2009


I guess this entry is the anthesis of yesterday's "feelin' good" entry. I realized this weekend that, my protestations to the contrary, I really am turning into a curmudgeon. I am in danger of turning into my father, hence the need for a "feelin' good" list!

After my mother left my father, he went through his social period, where he went out a lot, dated every woman over a certain age in Marin County (and slept with most of them, if he is to be believed). He had friends who visited regularly. He threw parties. And then, as he was wont to do, he began turning them all away. He would turn on them, get angry with them, have big arguments with them, until there was nobody left to care about him except my mother and me, and then he turned on us too.

There was a sign on his front door that said "if you haven't been invited, you are trespassing on my property."

By the time he died, his world had shrunk down to only himself, and a neighbor he had asked to check in on him if he hadn't opened his window shade in the kitchen in the morning. It was that neighbor who found him, 3 days after he died, in a house that would have qualified for one of those TV news exposes about the clutter in a house. The house was full of empty diet Pepsi cans, the kitchen table piled high with cigarette ash--when his ash tray filled up, he just dumped the butts and ashes on the table and filled it up again. The floor was covered with cotton balls and diabetes test strips and needles he had just dropped after he'd taken his blood sugar reading.

For some reason he turned off the water to the house and so every dish, pot and pan was piled high in the kitchen and, since he fried almost everything he cooked, everything was coated with grease. It killed me to throw away a huge collection of cast iron pots and pans that were just too gross to even try to clean up. (I did save a dutch oven and it took a lot of cleaning and scrubbing to get it to where I could bear cooking in it.)

His closet was piled high with dirty underwear. He once told my mother it was cheaper for him to buy underpants on sale and throw them away than to pay to wash them in the laundromat. So he'd wear his a pair of underpants once and then toss it in the closet.

And because there was no running water in the house, the place was filled with feces, the toilet overflowing, the bed full. My mother spared me that part of the clean up. She and her husband took care of that before I got to the house after his death.

I actually hadn't intended to be quite so graphic, but maybe I did it so I can say "I'm not THAT bad yet!"

But I am becoming a curmudgeon. As you get older, your circle of friends shrink, whether from death or distance or moving in different directions. The smaller it gets, the less you care about a lot of things. What's the point?

I don't think I'm as grumpy as my father. I don't think I've deliberately turned people away by my bad attitude. But then, he probably didn't think he did either.

However, this weekend, my curmudgeonhood rose to the fore.

The high school has just completed this beautiful million dollar sports complex. Since we aren't at the high school, I'm not sure what all it entails, but a new football field is part of it. This was homecoming weekend. There was something Friday night (I saw lots of balloons in the set up as I drove home from the store that afternoon), and a game Saturday during the day.

How do I know? Because the new loudspeaker is so bloody loud that I can hear everything that is announced, though we live four blocks away. I heard who made every touchdown--through closed windows. We would have heard everything that went on Friday night too except we were at a show and only caught the tail end as we got home.

This is a town which cited someone for snoring in her own home because it violated the town noise ordinance and her neighbor complained (imagine the police waking you up out of a sound sleep to give you a ticket for SNORING!). This is the town where the police showed up in our driveway five minutes after 10 p.m. because Walt, who had been building a set cut one last piece of wood at 10 p.m., the cut-off time for the noise ordinance. A neighbor called the police because he was keeping their child awake.

And yet now we have a loudspeaker system which can be heard all over West Davis. In truth, the announcements didn't go on past 10 p.m., but it was damned annoying, especially knowing that we have all of football season to get through.

So I did what any red-blooded curmudgeon would do. I wrote a letter to the editor.

I don't want to be a curmudgeon, and I don't want to begrudge the high school its fancy new sports complex, but it seems incomprehensible that in a town with such a strict noise ordinance that you can be cited for snoring in your own home, the volume level of the sound system in said new complex can be allowed to be so high. I live several blocks away and heard every announcement from Friday's football game, through closed windows. I can't even imagine how terrible it must be for the folks who live across the street.

I don't suppose this is going to win me any fans, especially among the high school football folks, but I'd like to think my father would be very proud!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Feelin' Good

I found a new (to me) web site yesterday. It's actually on the page for some health product (Sam-E). I'm not in the least interested in some kind of supplement, but part of the site is something called the "feel good blog," which seems to be a bunch of entries about uplifting things. In this day and age we can all stand to be uplifted, or to be reminded of how many really good things there are around us.

One of the first entries I read was "Lisa's List of 50 feel-good things," prompted by a blog called 1000 Awesome things (which I really like!). The latter blog is one entry a day about something awesome...which I may try doing some day, but not today. In the meantime, however, I decided to think about 50 things that make me feel good. What makes YOU feel good?

1. Puppy breath

2. Snuggling under a blanket in the recliner, especially on a cold day when it’s storming outside, and watching a really good movie (preferably a tear-jerker!)

3. A phone call from a friend who "just called to chat."

4. Having my PhotoShop project work out just right...or better than I expected.

5. Finishing a writing project and feeling good about the results, knowing I've said just exactly what I wanted to say.

6. Going on a long trip by myself and listening to an audio book.

7. A tall, very cold glass of water.

8. An NCIS marathon on a day when I’m all alone in the house.

9. Finding a parking place close to my destination in San Francisco. (Thank you, Gilbert!)

10. Finding what I think is the perfect Christmas gift for someone, then watching them open it and realizing that I'd chosen right.

11. Cousins Day

12. An unexpected call from any of my children, just to say hello.

13. A new batch of puppies to bottle feed.

14. Trying a new recipe that comes out great.

15. Having someone else clean up the kitchen.

16. Fur-lined slippers on a cold day.

17. Eight hours of (almost) uninterrupted sleep

18. Conducting an interview and not stumbling over my words and actually asking intelligent questions.

19. The sound of a pipe organ in a cavernous church

20. The smell of the ocean, with a sea breeze in my face.

21. A visit with Brianna

22. A thick, fluffy towel that actually wraps all the way around me.

23. Going out to dinner

24. Getting giddy with a friend over nothing in particular

25. Freshly squeezed orange juice

26. Fall color

27. An almond orchard all in bloom

28. Beautiful choral music

29. Bagpipes!

30. The end of a dental appointment when they tell me everything's fine.

31. Running into someone who tells me they've actually read something I've written in the paper and agreed with my opinion of the show I was writing about, or came to see a show because they read what I'd written about it before hand.

32. An interesting conversation that goes on late into the night.

33. The smell of brewing coffee or baking bread

34. A box of See's candy.

35. John Denver

36. A great rainstorm (that doesn't harm anybody)

37. A beautiful sunset, the kind that turns the whole sky red and makes you wish you had remembered to bring your camera along.

38. Making a wish on the first star...and having it come true.

39. A good book.

40. Seeing a movie on the big screen in the theatre.

41. Getting a letter from one of my Compassion-sponsored kids

42. A field of sunflowers

43. Home grown tomatoes

44. Any field or orchard-ripened fruit (especially strawberries)

45. Watching sea lions cavort on the beach or on the piers at Fisherman's Wharf

46. Standing on any tall point in San Francisco and looking at the view

47. The smell of the pages of a magazine when you open it for the first time.

48. A clear, crisp spring day where the temperatures are in the mid 70s, with fluffy clouds in the sky and no pollution in the air.

49. Still-warm donuts

50. Watching my kids do anything that makes my heart swell with pride.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


The period of transition has started around here.

Yesterday, Cayce, a local dog trainer, took Higgins to visit a family who is looking for a second dog. They need one who is gentle but who is going to be big (that certainly describes Higgins to a "T"). It was a test play date and she brought him back a couple of hours later saying it had been a great success. The family's other dog had been attacked by a big dog some time ago and is very afraid around dogs, but the two dogs seemed to get along well. She thinks this may be the perfect placement for Higgins. So we'll see where this goes.

The puppies are all getting so big. I know it's time for them to find forever homes. They've now been at Petco two Saturdays and it's only a matter of time before they all find new families.

This morning I took this picture. When I'm sleeping in the recliner they all sleep directly in front of me, on the dog bed. When they hear the sound of the footrest on the recliner click down three heads immediately pop up and they sit there staring at me for a few seconds before they come over to me for snuggles. I've been meaning to keep a camera directly next to me so I'm all ready to take a photo as soon as I sit up and today I finally got it.

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Higgins, Eliza, Freddie

(Actually, it's not cuddles so much they want as that this is their "OK--you're finally awake...when are you going to feed us?" look!)

At the same time, Dexter has been to the vet's and been neutered. He was gone 3 days (because they go up to UCD and they keep the dogs for a few days to give the students an opportunity to work with them). I swear he doubled his fur while he was there.

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Furry Dexter

As you can see, he's well on his way to looking like a real dog again (though extremely nervous being perched on top of my desk!) It won't be too much longer before he's ready to go up for adoption too.

This is always kind of the bittersweet time. It's nice to think of not having the piles of poop to clean up every day and as they start literally eating me out of house and home (Higgins will chew anything, though stops when you tell him to, thank goodness. He decided to chew a wall the other night.) it's nice to think of someone else taking on the task of training them not to chew, but yet these guys have been with me literally since birth, so it's always sad to think of them leaving.

I always say, as each group of puppies looks toward leaving, that these were the best puppies ever. And I always believe that every time. Maybe I just have really good puppies (though there were a couple of litters that I was very happy to see leave). But these guys definitely rank up there among the best. Maybe Tater and Tot were the best, but probably only becuase Tot/Lester has stayed in the family and I see how happy she has made Jeri and Phil.

But I will really always remember the My Fair Lady puppies fondly. Of course it's not like they're all leaving tomorrow. They may still be here for several weeks. But I can see the clock ticking and I know that it's only a matter of time--and someone else recognizing the sweetness that I see in all of them.

Friday, October 23, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

Our writing group met today, for the first time in a very long time. It was so good to see everyone again. I really have grown very fond of those three women. Though we don't often write something -- sometimes we do -- the conversation is always fun and the snack aways delicious.

Today one of the women had brought an essay she had written, at her children's request, about what she and her husband had been doing in the years before the first child was born. They were a military family and her husband was a pilot. I grew dizzy trying to keep up with the number of times they moved. It seemed that they moved more in a year than I have in my entire married life, so I decided to examine the places where I have lived.

Here is where my parents were living when I was born and where I lived for the first 18 years of my life.

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This is one of those Google street map pictures. When I lived there, there was no diagonal parking; you had to parallel park (and wasn't THAT fun with a stick shift!). There also were no trees planted on the street when I lived there.

The outlined area is the length of our flat. The windows on the right were in the room that my sister and I shared. There are bars on those windows now and an iron grate on the steps that lead up to the door. It shows you how times have changed since 1943. When I was very young, the landlords lived upstairs in the flat with the door to the right of ours, and the next flat over was occupied by the woman who introduced me to my first boyfriend, and later by my aunt Jean. Between those two flat doors is a light colored door that went into what we laughingly called our "back yard," a square of cement where my mother hung clothes to dry, where we had a teeny plot in which she tried to grow vegetables, where we first learned to roller skate, and back stairs that led up to the other flats, or down into the dirt basement.

There are reports that the man who owned Seabiscuit, who lived in the penthouse of the apartment across the street, would look down into that tiny cement plot, watching my mother, Karen and me and say that was what real happiness was.

I left San Francisco at age 18 when I moved to the dorms at UC Berkley. Some of the dorms had a larger occupancy than my entire high school and I was intimidated by the size, so I chose the smallest one, Smythe Hall, which was at the top of a steep hill and overlooked the campus. It was actually two dorms in one, Smythe and Fernwall and the grad resident in Fernwall was this stern student who didn't seem to like me very much. I was actually afraid of her. Her name was Charlotte--and who knew then that she would end up being one of my best friends for the rest of our lives and share with me most of the craziest things I've ever done in my life.

My first roommate was someone I chose because when we toured the dorm, she was the only other resident there. Her name was Judy and she seemed nice, but she had no roommate, so I requested her. It didn't take long to discover why she had no roommate and it was so unpleasant living with her that I spent most of my time at the Newman Center (where Char and I became friends, and where I met Walt--as well as everyone else in the Pinata group). By the time I changed roommates and had a really nice one, my social life was pretty much centered around Newman Hall and I'm afraid that I wasn't the nice roommate, because I was never home. I never did feel that I "belonged" in the dorms.

I quit the university after a semester and a half and went to work in the Physics Department and had a series of apartments, one across from what is now the site of the new Newman Center. I lived with Gerry, one day to be Ned's godmother, for awhile, then I moved in with Mike and Char while I tried to pay off the bills I ran up on my charge cards. Finally I had another apartment of my own, where I was living when Walt and I got married.

After Walt and I married, we moved into a little upstairs apartment on Prince Street in Berkeley.

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(love that Google Earth!)

We had the apartment on the right and there was a big living room in front, then a dining room and one bedroom and kitchen. There was a huge walk-in closet that we converted into a nursery when I was pregnant with Jeri. It was large enough to accomodate a crib, a dresser and a bathinette and still have room for us to hang clothes in the walkway that went off of the closet (in the space that was at one time a Murphy bed).

We moved to Albany, next door to Berkeley, when I was pregnant with Ned and had a wonderful 2-story house, which you can't see from the front in this Google earth photo.

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I was interested to see that it's still a double lot. We had this HUGE back yard because it was really intended for there to be two houses on it. The little roof you can see to the left was a shed, which would have made a great office, if I'd ever set that up, but I was too busy with babies to think of it. It backed up onto the grounds of a school and the two properties were separated by a fence and a line of Eucalyptus trees. One night one of the trees crashed down, knocking over the fence. The school paid to have it put back up again, but called the police whenever our dog got out and wandered onto the school property until the work got done! (I always thought that was unfair.)

That house had a front room, a dining room (which became Ned's bedroom), a kitchen and a bedroom downstairs and then something like a "widow's walk" upstairs, where Jeri slept. There was no room for a washing machine in the house, so it was in the basement and we were too poor for a dryer, so I hung clothes out on the line in the back yard and went into apoplexy every time the dog ("Ho Chi Mutt") pulled all of my clean clothes off the line and dragged them around the yard.

I remember that Jeri and I watched the very first Sesame Street in the living room of that house, I remember recording Jeri and me reading Dr. Seuss' ABC book so I could send the recording to Sister Anne, who had sent her the book, and I remember standing over the floor heater in the hall outside the bathroom one morning, opening the newspaper and reading that Bobby Kennedy had been shot. I also remember when we were going to be doing something with the refrigerator and Walt tipped it up onto one side and asked me to hold it there, the weight of it resting on me, while he went to get a tool or something. I was 7 months pregnant at the time. I've never let him forget that!

I also remember having a craving for Italian peppers while being pregnant with Ned and calling Walt at work each day asking him to bring another jar of peppers home for me. I don't think I've eaten Italian peppers since then--but I probably ate a lifetime worth of them during that pregnancy.

When Paul was expected, we had to find a bigger house and figured we were ready to buy our own. Pat and Rich were looking for a house too. Mike and Char were already living over in the Glenview District of Oakland and said there were several houses for sale in their neighborhood, so Pat and I made an appointment with a realtor to look at houses. I think Pat always felt I stole the best house out from under her. We walked into this house and I fell in love with it immediately. I called Walt from the kitchen phone of the house and we arranged to see the realtor that night and I think we agreed to buy it right then and there. Pat and Rich ended up buying a house about three blocks away.

I loved that house. I still love that house, though it would never have accommodated five growing children. Paul, Tom and David were all born while we were living there. David was 18 months old when we moved. The house had a nice big living room with a fireplace, a big dining room that held not only a nice table, but also the piano we recently sold, and a day bed that was always piled high with laundry. It had three bedrooms and a huge kitchen with a big island that I fell in love with. Me being me, the island became a place to stack stuff and it was usually a mess, but it was also a great place to cook. I made all of our bread in those days, buying whole grains from a bulk food store and making wonderful things like cracked wheat bread and lots of things made from sourdough. Char and I baked our famous pumpkin pies in that kitchen. I made all of the babies' solid foods. The kids and I made cookies together. I made soups and stews in the wonderful sunken pot in the stove. I made horrendous messes that drove Walt crazy, but I hope somebody also has some nice memories of that kitchen. I do.

Beyond the kitchen was a back porch where the washer and dryer (we could now afford a dryer) went. I remember the time it flooded. I was ankle deep in water, trying to wring out diapers that I could hang outside (yes, I had cloth diapers). We also had a small yard with a garage that never held a car and a gorgeous brick BBQ that we never used because it was too big (we barbequed on a smaller grill). The yard also had a prolific Meyer lemon tree that I loved and a prolific bottlebrush tree that I hated because it always dropped red needles all over the place.

Upstairs there was an attic that was half finished, so there was a nice small room up there and beyond it space on the rafters to balance boxes and things like that. When we were in the middle of trying to sell the house, I lost my balance, slipped off of one of the rafters, and ended up putting my foot through the ceiling of the living room. After she stopped laughing, the realtor postponed showing the house until Walt had fixed the hole.

Best of all, the house had a tiny little office (it was designed as a sewing room) just inside the front door where I set up my typewriter and both worked and started the journal that would one day evolve into Funny the World. The office looked out on the wonderful front porch where we liked to sit and talk to the neighbors as they walked by...and which was a great place for a baby to get a bit of fresh air, or to raise a turtle in a plastic wading pool.

I was so sorry when Walt was transferred up here to Davis, though we have settled in here and have been in this house for 36 years. so we must like it. But we both miss the front porch and neighborhood camaraderie, which we have never had here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Things You Can't Live Without

You never know where things are going to lead when you follow a simple link. It started here:

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Cheeseburger in a can. I just love the photo, with the fresh lettuce hanging out the side and a bun that is taller than the actual can that the cheeseburger is supposed to come in. I can't think of anything as disgusting as a cheeseburger in a can. But if I found it on a shelf I'd probably buy it just to find out how horrible it really is!

But you know. It's a slippery slope. It wasn't long before I was researching other odd products on the net.

I was amazed to discover this, for example:

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I actually found references to placenta shampoo everywhere, including a discussion about whether this was human placenta, animal placenta, or vegetable placenta. I never knew there was such a thing as vegetable placenta.

So when I went looking for a picture of a bottle of placenta shampoo, I came across this.

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You probably don't want to know what it is. But it looks like ciabatta bread on the outside.

This looks a little better (but not much)

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This aparently is a day's worth of food in one dish, from the eggs to beans to sausage to fruit, all in a lovely mold with mayonnaise tying it together. I may pass. (It gets worse the closer you look at it!)

Here's a lovely invention for the couple that wants to cut the cost of their smoking habit, but don't really want to give up cigarettes entirely. Finish this sentence: "The couple that smokes together....."

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For the conservationists, there is a solar powered bra... (7689 bytes)

which can generate enough electric energy to charge a mobile phone or an iPod. Unfortunately it only works in the sunlight, so unless you want to wear your bra without a shirt, it doesn't really do anything. "But it does send the message of how lingerie could possibly save the planet," the inventor said.

Finally, the Japanese, ever the leaders in really weird products have come up with a camouflage to prevent attack by street muggers.

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You just slip on this little costume (bottom right...see the feet?) and everybody thinks you're a vending machine. (I'm not sure how you get home, though...or what happens when someone slips a coin in a slot and expects a coke to appear!) There is apparently a companion ensemble piece which looks like a manhole cover. You slip your valuables in it and toss it onto the street to foil would-be robbers.

I think all this proves that there is no end to the creativity -- or lunacy -- of human beings!

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things that I record on my DVR

1. The Daily Show
2. House
4. Grey's Anatomy
5. Two and a Half Men
6. Glee
7. Law & Order SVU
8. Private Practice
9. Amazing Race
10. Survivor
11. The Good Wife
12. Monk
13. Three Rivers

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Not a Team Player

I've been fortunate throughout my life that I only had to work for a large corporation for a very short period of time because I've discovered, over the years, that I am a lousy team player.

Ned, on the other hand, started his adult working life working for a corporation and has been dealing with "the man" for all of his adult life. We share the same feelings about corporate mentalities, only I was luckier.

My very first job as an adult was a summer job at a tool company. We sold 99-cent tool that were all lumped together in a big bin in hardware stores and other outlets. It is my recollection that the man I worked for was probably just a distributor, because I swear we worked out of his garage and I don't remember there being a lot of tools around. There were only three of us, the guy who hired us, my high school big sister Joycie, and me. I remember very little about that job except that I was a biller clerk and that Joycie and I used to meet every morning before work and go to a cafe and have pastries warmed with a big pat of butter on them and hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream.

(It's amazing how most of the most special memories of my life are connected, in some way, with food!)

My next adult job for six months was as the secretary in the school from which I had just graduated. Then I had a part-time job working for the fund-raiser for Newman Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, in the days when they were getting funding together to build a fancy new church ("Sell Memorials!" was one of the motivational posters on the walls).

And then I got my first "real" adult job with the Physics Department at Berkeley. While it might be true that the University of California is a big corporation, my little corner of it was not. I had my own office from day one and I pretty much did my own thing on my own schedule without much interference from anybody, as long as the work got done. It still is my favorite job. I worked there for four years and only quit because I was pregnant with Jeri.

When I went back to work after the kids were in school, it was for first one and then another typing service. I kept no regular hours and though I had bosses in both places, I pretty much did what I wanted, again on my own schedule.

Then for awhile I was a roaming transcriptionist, filling in for transcriptionists who were sick or on vacation in every medical office in town. I was never part of the office friendships or office politics. I was the anonymous person who slipped in, sat at the typewriter and pounded the keys for a few hours a day and then left. (In the case of a pathology office, I went to work in a basement at about 6 a.m. and sat there until the work was finished. Nobody saw me arrive and nobody saw me leave!)

Finally I ended up in an office where I was hired for that office, but again as a transcriptionist and though I was part of the team, it was a small, usually congenial team. We were noted for being the best medical office in town and our working conditions were pretty amazing (who gives a year of housecleaning to every clerical employee as a Christmas bonus?).

But eventually the Big Bad Corporation came and bought us out, us and 9 other medical offices. I was in my 50s and I was encountering corporate politics for the first time. I was used to being my own boss, doing what I wanted, saying what I wanted. Now I had to watch what I said and had to do things that were against my principles. In very short order, the Big Bad Corporation and I came to the mutual decision that we were not meant for each other (my only real consolation is that 8 other medical office managers came to the same understanding with the Big Bad Corporation in that first year!)

I worked for Dr. G for a year, but again it was just himself and me and I was on my own again.

My life as a volunteer has pretty much followed the same path, though I've begun to see a pattern forming with regard to my ability to follow the rules and be a team player, even on a very small team.

I headed up a group of mothers in Oakland and started the same group when we moved to Davis. I also wrote the newsletter for three states but when the powers that be determined that the perks of the job should go to someone who hadn't lifted a finger in the job for two years, I quit.

I was part of a nation-wide council of people who ran different parts of the organization in their home state. I really enjoyed the work until the policies of the corporation began to change and I began to challenge the things that were happening. In short order I was called to the office of the high and mighty without being given a chance to make any explanation at all, and was dumped.

I took over the newsletter for a local organization when the woman who had been doing it for many years just got tired. I had been doing newsletters for just about every group with which I'd been involved all of my life and this was no challenge, but I enjoyed giving it new life. But the woman I replaced still wanted to hang on to the control. She complained that my newsletter was "riddled with errors" and demanded that she be given the final say on anything I wrote before it was published. A careful scrutiny of the "riddled with errors" newsletter found ONE typo in five pages. But I now had to run everything by the former editor, who went over things with a fine tooth comb. It was demeaning. It drove me nuts and I quit.

I was involved with another newsletter here as well, but this one has a dozen or so people who go through everything with a fine tooth comb before it is approved for print and the process again drove me nuts and I quit.

(Are we seeing a pattern here?)

See, the problem with my not being a team player is that I think that the rules are silly. Maybe I've been listening to Ned too long. I think there are people who take their jobs entirely too seriously, who feel that their company is far more important than it really is. I can't get excited about a lot of the lingo and the rules that go along with it. I have always gone with the "close enough for government work" philosophy (and seeing how our government works these days, that gives me a LOT of leeway!)

I can't stand nit-picking everything to death. My idea of a nightmare is going on a club retreat to discuss the image the organization wants to convey. I don't really care if our official color is royal blue, dark royal blue or light royal blue...or pink, for that matter.

So I'm not your team player. I'd love to work for what got me interested in the organization to begin with, be it dogs or breastfeeding, or collecting kumquats. But when the job focuses so closely on things that just, in the long run, aren't that important to me, I'm outta there. There are enough people who just love all that nit-picky stuff and, trust me, you really don't want me on your team!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

I'm so angry about "balloon boy." Oh, not about the hoax perpetrated on television watchers, apparently in the hope of getting a reality show. I'm furious about how much air time the stunt has received.

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For some reason, I missed the actual event and only saw the reports after everyone knew that the kid was safe, so I missed all that emotional involvement that many probably felt.

But still the media has gone ballistic over this whole thing. It has featured prominently in every newscast I've seen for several days and been discussed ad nauseam on talk shows. Ed Schultz made it the lead story on his "The Ed Show" on MSNBC and even devoted one segment of it to a psychologist, who never met the kid, never met the family and was basing his assessment solely on news reports. He gave an in-depth analysis of what the family dynamic probably was and how the kid was feeling and what his relationship with his father must be. Talk about a non-story.

Following The Ed Show, when I saw that Chris Matthews was leading off with balloon boy too, I turned off the TV.

When are the newscasters going to understand that you only encourage dumb stunts like this by giving them so much air time. Are we so hungry for 24 hr a day coverage that we have to listen to junk like this? (Notice please that I said I turned the TV off in disgust! I do have some integrity..not much, but some.)

The American viewing public has been so screwed by that writers' strike so many years ago. It spawned the first reality shows and I guess Americans are so fascinated by living vicariously through other people's lives that it has become an entire industry.

I will admit to having watched Jon and Kate Plus Eight a couple of times. I watched the first time because I've been pregnant and know the feel of a pregant belly at term and I just couldn't even begin to imagine carrying six babies. I watched because the show opened each week with shots of Kate and that enormous belly. Then I continued to watch that first episode and the next one because the kids were cute. But I hated Kate who seemed never to smile, who ran the house like a drill sergeant and who browbeat Jon so badly I'm amazed that it's taken him this long to find someone else. I figured they had a strange and unusual relationship that seemed to work for them and I had no right passing judgement.

I gave up on the show the day she fired her nanny for forgetting to dust a small shelf under a table once.

I guess people continued to watch because kids are always cute, but has anybody read how screwed up the lives of the Dionne Quintuplets were, the first "reality show" played out throughout their entire lives in front of the camera?

I wouldn't be caught dead watching any of the camera-in-the-home shows, starting with the Loud family, back in 1973, where cameras followed the family for seven months and 10 million people got to be peeping Toms. I see promos for that show where wives change families for a week and they seem to be so terribly exploitative, though obviously the women and the families have signed an agreement to participate. But am I interested in the resulting train wreck? No way.

But stuff like this, and especially stuff like balloon boy encourage nutcases to go to bigger and better extremes in the hope of getting their 15 minutes of fame. Some go so far as to create mass violence and end their own lives gloriously. That news reports publish their names and photos endlessly only encourages other people with troubles to follow suit. "I may be miserable in this life, so I'll end my life but by God you'll remember my name!"

The sad thing about balloon boy is that someone found a video of him and his brothers on You Tube (which I will not link to) in which they do a rap which appears to be strongly anti-gay and which includes lines like "I hate gay faggots. I hit 'em with a bat." Kids that young don't know enough about life to write lyrics like the ones that appear in this rap video. They obviously have some talent and it's a shame that they are being led in such negative directions.

Frankly, I want the whole family to climb into that balloon and sail off to a place where we never have to hear about them again.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Lord's Day

As I write this, Sunday is winding down. It started the way it always does, this Lord's day. I sat here at my computer, drinking coffee, puppies sleeping on my feet, and Walt went off to Mass. I haven't attended Mass since the kids were all still living at home. Well, there's been a wedding or a funeral here or there, but "church" hasn't been a part of my life for a long time, which is strange because I was such a church-oriented person when I was growing up.

I hesitate to bring the word "spiritual" into this because I do still think of myself as a spiritual person. I just dropped the organized religion thing.

It was quite different when I was growing up. It seems like it was nothing but organized religion.

Going to a Catholic school meant there were no arguments about whether to have prayer in school or not--it was a given. We had regular religion classes. Our school was on the grounds of our church, which was handy.

We regularly contributed to the support of the missions during our weekly "pagan baby" drives, where we bought "pagan baby stamps." kind of salmon colored with pictures of saints on them, I recall, to fill a book. There were little 10 cent ones and big 50 cent ones. In my mind's eye I can even see, I think, a picture of St. Dominic on one of the larger stamps. Kind of like green stamps. With green stamps, when you filled a book, you got to pick out a prize. When you filled a pagan baby stamp book, you got to name your own personal little black pagan baby and I laugh to think about all the "Tammys" and "Billys" there should be running around Africa these days. (You don't suppose the nuns actually misled us, do you?)

On Sundays we went to the 9 a.m. Mass and all the school kids sat together. We lined up outside the church in two groups, those who were going to receive communion and those who were not. You couldn't receive communion if you had put anything in your mouth that morning. If you accidentally swallowed a bit of water while washing your teeth, it was a sin to receive communion. I still remember the day I got in the wrong line, forgetting that I'd had a glass of water, but being more afraid of Sister than I was of God, so damned my eternal soul by receiving communion with the sip of water in my stomach.

Now you could probably walk up to the communion rail munching a Big Mac and still receive! Despite its rigid adherence to the word of the Bible on homosexuality and how it is absolutely forbidden to go against those ancient and not exactly clear laws, other laws seem to come and go on a whim.

We regularly had religious events that involved the little kids dressing in white and carrying chrysanthemums in their hands (I always think of Church when I smell chrysanthemums) and processing into the church until we lined the outside aisle. I'm not too clear on which events required processions, but we seem to have had a lot of them. I remember lining up in the church basement, my stomach in knots, waiting for the procession to start. I had performance anxiety even then.

There were novenas, 9 days of prayer, where we gathered together in the church every day (or night) for 9 days. I remember being at a novena at St. Dominic's church, a big tall Gothic thing one night, with my mother, when an earthquake struck. I still remember the priest reassuring us that we couldn't be in a better place....but I dunno. I think I would have preferred to have been somewhere that wasn't in danger of raining thousands of pounds of stone down on me!

Every Friday afternoon we were marched over to the church to go to confession. We stood in line waiting our turn in the black box where I confessed the same 3 sins each week because I couldn't think of anything else: I disobeyed my mother and father, fought with my sister, and told three lies. (Even as a kid, I had no ability to create a more interesting plot!) And the priest always gave the same penance: 5 Our Fathers and 5 Hail Marys. If I had to confess anything else, I got so nervous standing in line that invariably I wet my pants.

During Lent we went to the Stations of the Cross on Friday afternoons, when we sat, stood, knelt or genuflected as the priest prayed his way around the 13 stops which represented Jesus' processing from his trial to his death and being taken down off the cross.

When we were in the older grades of grammar school, we sang in the choir, climbing the tall steps to cluster around the big pipe organ and sing Gregorian chant. I can't pull one of those chants out of the top of my head, but if someone were to start one, I know I could sing it flawlessly. I remember being jealous of one of my friends once when she felt faint and got to leave Mass to get some fresh air. I decided to get faint the next week, but Sister knew I was faking and I had to stay and sing anyway.

therese.jpg (6572 bytes)I wanted to be a Carmelite nun when I was in grammar school. I read lots and lots of biographies of saints and I was particularly drawn to St. Therese of Lisieux. I think I liked her picture on the holy card. Or maybe because she was a modern saint (well, late 1800s) and this was an actual photograph, not an artist's representation of some of the earlier saints. Or it might have been her sad childhood and tragic death from tuberculosis. I don't know what it was, but I was determined to be just like St. Therese. I think I even visited a Carmelite monestary in San Francisco once.

By the time we got to high school, my school had its in-house chapel and we frequently had Mass in the chapel. At noon a group of us went to the chapel to say the rosary together. I belonged to the Sodality and the Legion of Mary. And we had retreats. A retreat was a period of time -- usually a weekend -- where we had talks by the priest, prayed a lot, went to Mass, did not speak to anybody and at the end, when we could finally speak, we got to ask the priest any questions about religions that we wanted. Most of them involved how far you could go with a boy before it started to enter the territory of "sin."

DCs.jpg (6655 bytes)Also, by the time I was in high school, I was a bit more social and didn't need the "safety" of a cloistered order of nuns, so I was more attracted to the Daughters of Charity, "God's geese." The Daughters didn't have to stay locked in a convent, but went out and did stuff. They ministered to the poor, they taught school, they were nurses. And besides, Sister Anne was a Daughter of Charity and I felt I would be able to work with her if I joined up. My father wasn't too happy that they were never allowed to visit their home after they joined the order, but I was determined I was going to become a Daughter of Charity.

Cooler heads prevailed, specifically Sister Anne, who talked me into waiting and thinking it over, so I did...and then I didn't go and went to UC Berkeley instead, where I became active with the Newman Club, where I spent most of my time. There was choir and Mass and more retreats...and no religious order to join this time.

After we got married, we continued to go to Mass at the Newman Center, or then to our parish churches (where I sang in the choir). I took a Bible Study class with Char, which was fascinating.

But somehow when we got here, things slowly started slipping away. I began questioning the teachings that I'd taken for granted for all of my life. I saw people hurt by the beliefs of the Catholic Church. There were several contributing factors, but the straw that broke the camel's back was when a priest and nun were forbidden from ministering to the gay community. If that had been a single incident, I could have gotten past it, but it was just too much. And when the College of Cardinals elected Cardinal Ratzinberger, the most homophobic man in the Catholic Church to be the new pope, I knew there was no going back. Ever.

Sometimes on Sunday morning when Walt leaves for Mass, I feel a little guilty. You don't go through a lifetime of indoctrination about the sin you are committing by not going to Mass without it sinking in. The problem with having been raised a Catholic is that you don't feel comfortable looking for another church (that's a sin too). If we lived in San Francisco and I could attend the Metropolitan Community Church, I'd be there every week, but I'm not into church shopping.

So I keep the Lord's day in my own way. I minister to God's creatures, who cuddle in my lap, give me puppy kisses and don't judge anybody for anything other than how well they skritch behind the ears.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Snake Pit

I remember seeing the movie The Snake Pit, made in 1948. It stars Olivia deHavilland as a woman who finds herself in an insane asylum and doesn't know how she got there. I don't really remember anything else about it except the final scene, which is an overhead shot of the women in the exercise yard and it looks like...a snake pit.

I thought about that today when I took the puppies up to Petco. They were all there today, all the puppies.

SnakePit.jpg (52586 bytes)

(See the video of the day to get a better feel for what it was like).

I packed our four up and stuck them in the car. They weren't sure what to make of it all.

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Dexter (the hairy one with the big ears :)) came along, but wasn't going up for adoption. Instead, he was going to UCD to be neutered. I had to pack him and his medicine, since he's on a special blend that is helping him regrow all that fur. He looks like a dog, now, doesn't he!

The MFL puppies seemed to blend in ok with their siblings, but I noticed that whenever I looked at the cage, they seemed to be hanging out together. And at the end of the day there were fewer puppies--at least one was adopted and another family was filling out paperwork to adopt another, but all three of mine came home again, which I was happy about.

I do miss Dexter, though, and wonder how he's handling the trauma of being in a cage. He's been glued to my body ever since he came here and I know that he is definitely not a happy puppy tonight. I'll also miss having him sleep in my lap tonight.

So this evening I decided to be a good guy and we have, unfortunately, suffered the consequences. Several weeks ago, my editor forwarded a message from a guy who wanted The Enterprise to review a show. I thought, from his message, that this was a new theatre company starting up, and I was going to do a story about it and also review his show. (As it turns out, this company has been in existence for quite a long time, but it was the premiere of this musical.)

Well, I never did get around to the story and I actually forgot the opening performance and the second weekend I already had two shows to review and besides, Derrick was loaded with stuff and had no space to put a review. I apologized profusely to the guy and promised him that I would give plenty of space to their next production.

He was very sad because apparently no newspaper had shown any interest. He said that people had expressed sentiments like: "I expected community theater -- this is Broadway quality." and "This play should be running indefinitely in downtown Sacramento." He himself (the author) describes it as "This ambitious world premiere production of a big-cast, big-stage musical, by a local writing team with established reputations, would seem to merit a review, just to provide an assessment of the work." He also said he was 77 years old and probably this would be his very last play.

There was literally nothing I could do to get him reviewed in our paper, but I felt so bad about it all that I told him about my review blog and said that if it would make him feel better, I would review it for the blog. He was thrilled. It meant, of course, that I wasn't being paid to write the review. All I would get were tickets to the show, but at least my guilt would be assuaged. We went to the show tonight. It was held at a high school gymnasium and seats were hard back chairs that killed my back. That was just for starters.

Because I'm not being paid, I was sorely tempted to leave at intermission, but there were only 20 in the audience, and our absence would have been noted. I was also tempted to write and ask him if he's SURE he wants this review. I am reminded of a gawdawful play I saw years ago, written by the late Larry Linville, of M*A*S*H fame. He may have been a good actor, but he was a terrible playwright and not even the red carpet and the presence of his family and his friend Garry Berghoff in the audience could make it a good play.

This one isn't that bad, but let's just say that it's definitely not "Broadway quality"! Because it's amateur theatre, I will be kind in my review, but it may not be what he was hoping for.

And I'll never, ever, ever volunteer to do a freebee just to be a good guy again!