Saturday, July 31, 2010


I lived with Mike and Char for several months after my roommate graduated and moved back home to plan her wedding. I had run up a big bill at the local photo shop and needed to borrow money from my mother to pay it off. Mike and Char let me live with them while I paid off the loan.

They were renting a house which straddled the Hayward earthquake fault.

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We figured it was the perfect place for a seismologist to live. If an earthquake hit, Mike would be the first person to know it.

The house had a covered porch, which you can see to the right of that single window above the trees there. The porch had a jaunty slant, the result of house settling after earlier earthquakes. Anything round that was set down on the floor rolled to the front of the porch.

I shared a bedroom with their youngest (then only) daughter, Tavie, who was not quite a year old. I went looking for photos to include with this entry, but I guess I was taking slide photos in those days and apparently my photos from time in the house are on slides or movies. But I remember that I never needed an alarm clock because I would wake up when Tavie's blonde head popped up over the top of her crib and she started talking to me. Depending on the hour, I would either play with her or not, but I would get her diaper changed and deliver her to her parents' bed before I went to work.

If Tavie didn't wake me up, the cat, Yom would. "Yom" was short for Yom Kippur, who was the cat they got after Roshi -- Rosh Hashanah [how a Catholic family decided to name their pets after Jewish holy days, I was never quite sure] died. This was an old house and when Yom realized that there was movement in the bedroom, he would stick his paws under the door and reach up as high as he could--I swear the cat thought he could reach up high enough to grab the door knob. At the very least, he scratched furiously trying to get the door to open.

I worked in the Physics Department of the University then, a job that required me to "dress" appropriately. That meant good clothes, nylons and high heels.

After I got dressed in the morning, I would pick Tavie up and head for Mike & Char's bedroom. At some point along the dark hallway the cat lay in wait. He loved to reach out and grab the nylons. I cannot tell you the number of pairs of nylons he ruined and how many screams at the cat woke Mike and Char before Tavie being handed off to them did.

I was living in the house at Christmas time that year and Yom gave me a dozen pair of nylons for a Christmas gift. But he never did stop attacking my legs when I went to work each morning.

I don't remember how long I lived in the house on the earthquake fault, but not as long as six months. I think it was about 3 or 4 months, until I found an apartment in a building just around the corner, and off the fault.

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I lived here for about a year, until Walt and I got married and moved to the other side of town.

But I enjoyed my brief time living with Mike, Char and Tavie...and yeah, even Yom...and was grateful they were there when I needed someplace to go.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Skunk Train

Someone on Facebook posted a status update this morning that said, "back from a month of Boy Scout summer camp with no e-mail, electricity, phone service or Facebook. Our only outside contact was the Skunk Train."

I was instantly propelled back thirty years or so and my memories of the Skunk Train and our general "train era."

I don't remember when the "train era" began, but it probably pre-dated our marriage, and at least Jeri's birth, because of what happened to her when she was a baby.

Mike and Rich (Pat's husband) were both into trains and model railroading. I remember going to several model railroading displays...

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Rich had a big track set up in his basement or garage or somewhere in his house (I don't remember where now). I don't think Mike had his own train, but he collected railroad spikes, those big nails that held railroad railes to the tiles.

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Walt had a train set too, but it was from his childhood and was packed up in boxes in the closet. We've been married 45 years and to the best of my knowledge he's never unpacked it and the kids may never even have known he had it (until now). But he had fond memories of his train.

It seemed that in those days, a lot of what we did, especially going out and exploring ghost towns in Nevada, involved a hunt for railroad spikes. I remember once walking in knee high grass on a bluff overlooking the town of Mendocino. At some time in the very distant past, apparently there had a been a railroad line that ran through there and, damn if Mike didn't suddenly bend down and pick up an old rusty railroad spike.

I know that the "train era" predated Jeri's birth because she was less than a year old when we all went to the Western Railway Museum in Rio Vista, a town on the Sacramento Delta. It was a place where authentic historic streetcars and electric trains from all over California got new life as the object of veneration from train nuts. The 22 acre site had only begun to be developed in the early 1960s, so was still fairly new when we decided to take a day trip there with Pinata People.

On the day we visited, they were giving free rides on one of the electric trains.

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We all piled on the train and Walt went outside to take movies of Jeri at the window. I opened the window and when he started to aim the camera, the window slammed down on her hand. She began screaming, while the rest of us tried to open the window. Walt, laughing because he just thought the sound of the window had scared, continued to take the movie, and then felt terrible when he realized in how much pain she was.

There was no serious damage except that as a baby she sucked her two middle fingers to soothe herself and the window had slammed down on those two fingers, so she was unable to soothe other fingers, thumbs, or pacifier would work as well as those two fingers. It was a very long night, as I recall.

I don't know how long the "train era" lasted. It probably began to wane when Char and Mike moved to Alaska, but before that time there was the trip to ride the Skunk Train.

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The Skunk Train is an old steam train that travels between the towns of Ft. Bragg and Willits, a distance of about 40 miles. The train was originally built by the Ft. Bragg Redwood Company to carry logs from the forest to the lumber mill. But at the time we were there, the logging operation had moved to the highway and the train made its money from tourists.

The route crosses 30 bridges and trestles and passes through two mountain tunnels. It's a beautiful trip and you can sit there and get covered with soot from the chimney of the locomotive and relive the old days of railroading.

We had all the kids with us, ours, Mike and Char's and probably Pat & Rich's as well. We went from Ft. Bragg to Willits and while we were waiting for the train to turn around so we could get back and return to Ft. Bragg, we all walked the tracks looking for a spike for Mike, which we never did find.

Disappointed, we got back on the train and as the train began to pull out of the station, Mike looked down and saw a spike lying on the track next to where our train was moving.

We chug chugged the 40 miles back to Ft. Bragg, got in the car and drove to Willits to pick up the spike.

Mike was finally happy.

We haven't collected spikes in many years, but I still find myself looking for one whenever we are near railroad tracks. Old habits die hard.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Come Ye to the Fair

When I was growing up, I had dreams of going to the state fair. So many books talked about yearly trips to the state fair, there were movies about the thrill of going to the state fair but our family never went.

The first real fair that I remember attending was when I was in high school, and went with my boyfriend Bill and another couple fo the Alameda County Fair. One of the first things we did was to play one of the arcade games. If you threw wooden rings, you could get a polaroid camera. I desperately wanted that camera and spent all of my money and all of Bill's money trying to get it. Naturally, I didn't and we left the fair because we had no more money to spend on anything.

It taught me that I should never play games of chance, and it is a lesson I have remembered to this day.

When we moved to Davis, we attended a few county fairs. I remember the time we went to the Yolo County Fair and I made sure that all the kids had their contact information attached to them. We lost Tom at that fair, but they called for us over the loud speaker and we found Tom happily in the company of the fair security.

I entered a couple of cakes in the Dixon May Fair when I was taking cake decorating classes. I even won a couple of awards.

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(Betsy Ross)

The first state fair that I remember wasn't until we had moved to Davis and decided to take our kids to the fair. Char and Mike came with their five kids too, so we had ten kids, the youngest of whom was the Blackfords' Cam, who was probably a pre-schooler at the time. The main thing I remember was that it was so expensive. It seemed that everything the kids wanted to do or buy cost money and the thing I hated most of all was saying "No--we can't afford it" to the kids. But I do remember that all the girls bought "invisible dogs" and walked their "dogs" around the fair all afternoon.

Then there was the fair where we got into the sky tram with Timo the Clown, who was in costume, but out of character, riding with his kid and scolding the kid for something. Strange situation being with a father in clown face bawling his kid out.

We haven't gone to the state fair in years. The kids may have gone. I can't remember, but I haven't been in decades. It always seems too hot and too crowded to make the trip to Sacramento.

This year we're missing out on all the excitement. First of all, a few days ago two armed men, possibly employees of a food vendor, walked into a cash-counting room and left with $100,000 in a bag. They haven't seen seen since. Now there's a pair who know about how to rig games of chance!

And then a couple of days ago there was the "mad cow" incident. A pregnant cow, brought to the fair so that children could witness the miracle of birth and the first days in the life of a new calf, twice escaped her enclosure and bolted for freedom.

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She was described as "rampaging." It's hard to imagine a lone, pregnant cow "rampaging."

The cow was shot and killed.

There is a lot of controversy about the shooting, many feeling the police acted too quickly. There was a demonstration by animal rights activists today. The cow escaped before the fair gates opened and was chased in what I can only imagine as a Keystone Cops chase for a full hour and a half.

People wanted to shoot her with a tranquilizer gun, but the vets were reluctant to do that for fear of harming the calf, so they calmed the cow with food and hay, but when they tried to load her into a trailer, she got away from them again.

Finally, the decision was made to shoot the cow, but because nobody took action quickly enough, the calf died too. Lose lose all around.

Now what I want to know is... what happens at a state fair? There are midway rides and food and exhibits and....livestock. Cowboys. Rodeos. As my friend, columnist Debra LoGuercio asked -- in all the people who were part of this long chase, was there NOBODY who had a rope? Nobody who had ever ridden herd on cattle and learned how to rope a steer? At a state fair that celebrates the agricultural life in the state of California, did the capture of a cow fall solely to the city cops? And if it was a committee decision to kill the cow...with all those veterinarians around, why was it not possible to act quickly enough to save the calf?

Fair officials were pleased to report that "nobody was hurt during the incident."

Unless you count the cow and her baby.

Thursday Thirteen

Things I liked to eat as a child

1. Hockies (fried bread dough), which my mother made frequently. Slather with butter and see if you can eat more than your sister.
2. Milk toast – toasted buttered bread, with warm milk poured over it.
3. Powdered sugar donuts from our grammar school cafeteria, dunked in hot chocolate after Mass in the morning before school.
4. Pancakes for dinner (my mother would often fix that when my father was out of town).
6. My father made THE best potato salad. I’ve never tasted anything like it since he died.
7. My mother’s pot roast and potato pancakes
8. My mother would make a “chocolate cream roll” filled with whipped cream and topped with bittersweet chocolate frosting for special occasions
9. Campbell’s tomato soup with buttered balloon bread to dunk
10. My mother’s turkey stuffing. Sadly, she has forgotten how to make it.
11. Everybody loved my mothers enchiladas, which she learned how to make from a Mexican neighbor.
12. Homemade shoestring french fries
13. My father once made a GREAT calzone. I have never tasted anything that good since.

Food obviously paid a very big role in my life!!!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Aarti Party

I do love the cooking shows, some of them, particular shows like Top Chef and The Next Food Network Star. I like the competition and enjoy seeing what chefs can whip up on a moment's notice.

I was in a store once and saw a cookbook of recipes from The Next Food Network Star and I was tempted to buy it, but then realized that they rarely cook the way I would cook. Their ingredients are esoteric, and I'm just not at a time of my life where I am necessarily inspired to cook most of the foods that they serve, though I certainly wouldn't mind being on the tasting panel!

While I enjoy Top Chef, the contestants are already chefs and so it's just a battle to see who can outcook the other, but they already have their specialties and a certain "name."

The Next Food Network Star, on the other hand, pits a bunch of relatively unknown cooks against one another and tries to determine which has the "it" factor that will make them stars on the Food Network.

The Food Network is something that I often put on in the background when I'm doing something else. I sometimes am inspired by dishes I see, other times it goes way over my head. But I've come to realize that being a Food Network star doesn't guarantee great food.

The first Food Network star that drew me was Paula Deen (oh how I wish Diane were alive...because we discussed Paula Deen a lot over the years). How can someone who is a foodaholic not like someone whose principal ingredient is butter and who isn't concerned one whit about calorie content. Paula Deen has that southern charm and is someone who pulled herself up by the bootstraps.

I have tried several of Deen's recipes and have yet to try one that I actually liked. Oh they were OK, but nothing of the mouth-watering goodness that the salivating Ms. Deen promised. In time, I got tired of the fawning over her "boys" (though her sons seem like nice people) and I just lost interest in Paula Deen.

Rachael Ray's food, when I tried it, was always good and easy but her eternal perkiness wore me out so I stopped watching her too.

I like Giada deLaurentis and the Barefoot Contessa. Their foods are a bit more complex and things that I might make if I want to spend a little extra time for a special occasion.

The glutton in me loves Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. I remember when Fieri was one of the contestants on Food Network Star. With his bleached white spiked hair and unusual mannerisms, he was an unlikely winner, but I have to admit that he has taken his win and parlayed it into a real television persona (now with his own game show to host on one of the other networks). But Diners, Drive-ins and Dives is all the worst-for-you food that you could imagine, in huge proportions, dripping off Fieri's hands as he tastes it and you just know that it's gooood. The sort of food I wouldn't dare order in a restaurant, but I love living vicariously.

aarti.jpg  (50006 bytes)We're getting to the end of this round of Next Food Network Star and there are only five contestants left to battle it out. I have to admit that I've settled on Aarti Sequeira as my favorite of this season (I didn't even know she shared a last name with our son-in-law until Walt pointed it out to me).

From the beginning, Aarti had that sparkle that the camera loves and most of the time she's had a good on-camera presence. She would call her show, if she gets it, "Aarti Party."

She brings an Indian flair to everything she cooks and since I love Indian food, when the contestants cook from week to week it's Aarti's food that I most want to try. How does Ground Lamb Kofto Kebabs with Pomegranate glaze, Bengali spiced potatoes, and Persian Cucumber riata sound? Then there were the Indian spiced tri-tip tacos with caraway basmati rice and tangy tomato sauce, which reminds me of our Mexican daughter's restaurant, which serves Punjabi Pizza, my favorite thing on the menu (her husband is Indian).

Last week she made a "green chicken curry" that looked very good, so when Walt returned from his latest trip to Santa Barbara last night, I cooked it. I figured that with all that cilantro and all that mint, it had to be good. I also had a package of naan bread mix that I'd bought a long time ago, so I made that too. I will admit that it's been a long time since I'd cooked anything somewhat complicated and it was kind of fun, even if the sweat was running down my face and into my eyes as I tried to get everything done in the time required.

The end result was delicious

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I do need a bit more practice making naan...I thought I had the dough thin enough, but it was heavy and tough, though tasty. However, the chicken, even though I'd forgotten to add the yogurt at the last minute, was very good.

Best of all, the dish gave me a chance to use the little bowls I bought for spices awhile ago,

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which made my mise en place more efficient. (That sounds like I know what I'm talking about--just means getting all the ingredients together before you start to cook. I'm usually the one rummaging wildly for the cinnamon when it's time to add it, only to discover that we are out of it! Even doing the pre-work that I did, I still forgot the yogurt!)

I don't know if Aarti will ultimately win The Next Food Network Star, but I'm hoping she will. My next favorite, Herb, who is a very likeable guy, just isn't unique enough for my tastes and I probably would not watch his show, if he were to win it all. But in the meantime, I may try more of Aarti's recipes while they are still on the Food Network site.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hungry, Homeless

I don't know about other towns, but here in Davis street people have figured out that the best place to beg is at the entrance to shopping malls. You can't get into or out of a mall without passing someone with a sign begging for money. "Hungry, homeless...just need a break," the signs may say.

Over the years, I have come to a different perspective on street people. I guess it started when I worked in a homeless shelter and I saw all sorts of people, from those who were truly hungry, homeless, and doing what they could to get their lives together, to those who really didn't want a home. They liked their street life and showed up once in awhile to shower or change clothes, maybe get warm on a cold night, but they were doing just fine, thank you, and didn't want to change. And then there were those alcoholics and drug addicts who were trying, some more successfully than others, to get their lives back together again.

I remember one guy that I bonded with. It was right after somebody had donated a bunch of computers to the shelter and I was working with guys to learn how to create a resume, since I was doing that professionally at the time.

This guy was an alcoholic and had been in and out of rehab. He was serious this time, he said, and said that if he fell off the wagon again, he just wouldn't return. He worked hard at putting his resume together and learning all the mysteries of the computer.

And then one morning he wasn't there. We never saw him again, at least not in the weeks that I continued to work there. I think of him from time to time and wonder where he is and what he is doing, and if he is still alive at all.

But having that insight on the various attitudes about being homeless, I started looking at the people I saw asking for money on the street.

There was a man who stood in the street divider by our local supermarket, right where people had to stop for the stoplight. This positioned him right by the window of the first driver in line. Impossible to ignore. He would get to his spot around 10 a.m. He was always dressed nicely. He carried a sign that said "Hungry, homeless. Anything will help." He stood there until about 3 and then he packed up and went...wherever he went.

The thing was, though, that about every 4th car stopped and gave him money. Mostly it was paper money. I watched him one day and realilzed if everybody who stopped gave him $1 (and some may have given him more than that), the damn guy was making more per hour than *I* was! He had a sweet deal. He worked a 5 hour day, took an hour for lunch and in the end was probably making a decent living--at least above minimum wage.

About that time I read a story by Stephen King in his book of short stories,"Hearts in Atlantis." One of the stories was about a wealthy man who left his mansion, drove in to a downtown office, went into a secret room, dressed in "homeless" clothes, climbed out onto the roof and down an outside set of stairs and spent his day begging for money on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral. His mansion was financed by the money he made begging.

There is a whole community of "regulars" around the symphony hall and opera house in San Francisco. Walt has gotten to know several of them. When he has money, he gives them some. When he doesn't he stops and chats with them.

He always keeps quarters in his pocket so that he can give something to several people in a night. One night we had gone to the symphony and had parked in the underground garage. We were approached by a man asking for money and Walt gave him a quarter. We were a block from the garage and the guy followed us the whole way yelling at Walt for being so cheap and demanding that he at least give him a dollar.

I am not without a heart when it comes to people who are "hungry, homeless." But I am more likely to buy them food than to give them money, because I also know from working at the shelter what they are likely to do with money. I have bought deli sandwiches at the supermarket for people. I remember buying a Chinese dinner for a couple of guys one time and how grateful they were. I happened to pass by them some time later and they were laughing and smiling and enjoying their dinner, and waved at me.

By the same token, Walt and I came across a mother and a young child standing on a street corner in the rain with a "hungry" sign. The sign said something about how the mother wanted money to feed her child. The little girl was shivering.

They were standing across the street from a Denny's and so I went inside and bought a gift certificate from Denny's and gave it to the mother. I really wanted to just turn around and not see what she wasn't my business how she used the certificate and I kind of believe in not expecting anything when I give something--I give it because I want to give it, not because there is any expectation of what someone will do with it. But as we drove by her, I did look over and saw that she shoved it in her pocket and went on begging for money. I don't know if the little girl ever got her dinner that night.

I may, however, have come across the height of chutzpah the other day. There was a young woman--late teens or early 20s--standing at the entrance to the supermarket parking lot. She was holding a "homeless, hungry" sign asking for any donation to help her. pass the long, boring hours she would have to spend standing there in the hot sun begging people to give her money, she was listening to music on her iPod!!!!!!

I was tempted to tell her that if she was really hungry she should sell the damn iPod and go into the nearby fast food store and see if there were any jobs available flipping burgers.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Theater vs. Theatre

My boss (who is a movie critic) and I are constantly disagreeing on the spelling of the word "theater/theatre." He will use "theatre" if it is the official name of an organization, but feels that as we are not French, the use of it otherwise is pretentious.

I grew up spelling it "theatre" and I guess in my mind a "theater" is a building where you go to watch movies, but a "theatre" encompasses the whole experience of a live performance. The debate rages on...actually it doesn't rage on. My WordPerfect is set to automatically change "theatre," when I type it, to "theater" and Derrick and I are both happier for it.

Many times when people ask me what I do for a living (though "for a living" is laughable...I'd be homeless if I did this for a living) and I say that I'm a theatre critic, they say it must be a nice job because I get to see so many movies. For some reason, people hear "theater" and automatically think movies.

Actually, Walt and I average maybe four movies a year. We just saw Toy Story 3. This is July and it is the first real movie we have seen in a theater this year (other than a special screening of our friend Matt Callahan's movie, Camp Beaverbrook).

In contrast, I have reviewed 36 theatrical productions so far this year and have averaged between 60 and 75 stage shows a year for the last ten years. (Those are just the ones I've reviewed. We've also seen stage shows that I didn't have to review.)

I guess for most Americans, a "theater night" means going to a movie and it's a special group of people for whom that means going out to a live performance.

JoeCoat.jpg  (33267 bytes)My colleague Kel Munger, who writes for the Sacramento News and Review recently responded to a comment I'd made on Facebook about reviewing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (go see it at Music Circus--it's GREAT!).

Kel didn't agree with my enthusiasm for the production and wrote: Not to be a wet blanket--or a damp dreamcoat--but frankly, I'm glad the run is too short for us to review. It's one of those plays (like SOUND OF MUSIC and CINDERELLA) that are perfectly good a couple of times, but after that--oh, geez.

Our mutual colleague, Jeff Hudson, who is a Shakespeare fanatic and will travel anywhere to see a promising production of some Shakespeare play, can't understand how I can see the same musicals over and over again and doesn't seem to see the irony when I point out to him that this is what he does with Shakespeare. Shakespeare is supposed to be more high fallutin' than musical theatre, I guess.

I never could get into Shakespeare and the thought of seeing yet another production of any of the Shakespeare plays sets me to groaning.

But while I disagree on the enjoyment level of Joseph, I do agree with Kel that there are certain musicals I could see over and over again and other musicals that I would be happy if I never have to review in my life ever, ever again.

Annie heads the list in that category for me. Oh I know it's everybody's favorite. And what's not to like with all those cute little moppets and a loveable dog, bright sparkly hummable music, and a happy ending. I loved it when I first saw it. But I've grown to hate the idea of reviewing yet another production of Annie. Oh, I guess I enjoy it when I see it, but by now "Tomorrow! Tomorrow!" sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me, even if the little girl singing it has an outstanding voice (and you don't get that often).

But Annie is a loss leader. If you have Annie in your season, you have parents, siblings, relatives and neighbors of the kids in the show who are all going to buy tickets. Unless the performers really screw up, I'm going to give the show a good review, and people as a whole love Annie so as long as I give it a good review, they are going to come and see it. Win-win for everybody but the critic who is so tired of seeing that show.

My life would also be complete if I never ever had to see another production of Lion King. Yes, I know--gasps of horror. But there is no show there. Once you've see the breathtaking opening number (and I'll happily see that any day), the show loses my attention very quickly. It's a show to see once, but not four times. Yet they keep bringing it to Sacramento because it brings in audience. The company that puts it on makes almost nothing from the show because all proceeds for everything except the drinks you buy go to Disney, but ticket-buyers fear that the only way they can actually get tickets for the show is to buy season tickets, so it's a good way to sell season tickets.

Unlike Kel, I actually do like Sound of Music and I could see The Music Man and Fiddler on the Roof any day (as well as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat). But I agree with her on Cinderella. One of the theatre companies in town puts on a very funny verison of Cinderella as its Christmas show, alternating with A Christmas Carol. It was funny the first time I saw it, but its humor does not wear well and I really, really didn't want to see it when they did it last year...and they are doing it again this year. I need a little kid to take to see it. I think I might enjoy it more.

And please, please don't anybody do any version of any show that has High School Musical in its title again. God what an awful show. I've now seen the original and High School Musical 2 and I have heard that there is a version 3, which I hope nobody tells the company that did the first two versions! Teenagers love it, whooping and hollering and claping all throughout, watching their friends on stage. 'Nuff said.

Next week I will be reviewing Oklahoma! and actually Jeff is going to see it. His paper decided that it wasn't right that they keep ignoring American musicals, and Oklahoma! is the granddaddy of them all, so he's going to go with us. In truth, I'm not overly excited about the production. It doesn't come on a dislike par with Annie for me, but I 'd rather take it in small doses and I've seen it fairly recently elsewhere. I'd rather wait for five years or so before seeing it again. But unfortunately I don't have that option.

Oklahoma! is one of those shows, like Grease, which has a horrible message covered up by all the fun music. If you think about Grease the message is that a high school girl can only be happy and popular if she becomes a slut.

As for Oklahoma! it makes murder OK if the guy involved was somebody nobody liked (not that he actually did anything, mind you!) and that even if everybody knows who killed him, hey--it's the guy's wedding night and we can have a quick trial and get him off so we can have a shivaree, right?

With very few exceptions, American musicals should not be scrutinized too carefully for the meaning behind the plot. Just make the music fun and the cast cute and toss in some kids and a rousing finale and forget that Sandy has just discarded her demure outfit in favor of skin tight black leather, a bucket full of makeup and is off to do we can only imagine what with Danny.

Actually, being a critic has made me think more kindly about the critics who showed up, most recluctantly, to review Lamplighters shows. Gilbert & Sullivan only wrote 14 operettas, and the Lamplighters has performed each many, many times. It's great if you're a G&S fan (as I am), but if you are a critic who only goes to see shows because it's his/her job (as I also am!), I can understand the desire to never ever see another production of H.M.S. Pinafore, much less have to find something new to write about it! At least when we go to see Pirates of Penzance at the Lamplighters for the bazillionth time later this month, I won't have to come home and write a review about it!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why I Don't Do Origami

For awhile I thought this was going to be an entry about a total disaster of a day, but in the end things got better and now I'm just going to call it "why I don't do origami."

The lead up to today started a few days ago when I got a note from my boss suggesting that I do a story about a local origami group. The story had been suggested by Will* whose son was a member of the group--and in fact, Sonny had just returned from an origami conference in Singapore. (They have origami conferences? Who knew?)

It sounded like a fun story, so I said yes and we set up a photographer to meet me. I also sent off a note to Ellen, who is in charge of the group, to let her know we were interested in doing the story and was it OK if I came on Saturday. Normally this is just a formality, but it turned out Ellen wasn't so sure. She couldn't give me permission to come until she had spoken with the members of her group, and would get back to me.

Well, Thursday night she wrote to say she was still waiting to hear from 2 people. By now I was thinking we should just postpone the whole project, given that Ellen only had computer access in the evening and could not get back to me until Friday night, by which time it would be too late to cancel the photographer. I called Derrick at home on Thursday night, and at the office on Friday morning and I sent him an e-mail and never heard from him (still haven't).

In the meantime I talked with Will, who laughed and said I should just go ahead and do the story anyway and he was sure it would be OK. But if Ellen really had problems, I didn't want to force this on her. It's not like we were doing an exposé or anything. I tried calling the newspaper editor to find out which photographer was assigned, but she wasn't in and never returned my call either. It was obviously too late to postpone the story.

Besides, I had seen some of Sonny's creations on Flickr and was definitely intrigued.

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(I LOVE the leaf!)

At the appointed time, I drove to the Senior Center to meet the group. Only I couldnt find them. The girl in charge of the Senior Center (a job Paul used to have, by the way), said it was her first day and she didn't know anything. She led me all over the place looking for the group, but all we found was a cooking class and a room with chairs and no table.

By now it was after 1 (the class started at 1) and I decided I must have made a mistake in the location, so came home and checked the e-mail Will had sent Derrick, and yes, I had made a mistake. Only the only information he had provided was the name of the apartment complex and the street. I didn't have a clue where it was. It's a long street.

I tried calling Will, but he wasn't home. His wife gave me directions on how to find the place and in my usual unerring fashion I turned the wrong way and went several blocks out of my way. I finally found the place, which was huge and no sign of any community room. Fortunately, the mother had also given me Sonny's telephone number so I called him and he came out and met me (good thing, because I was about as far away from the community room as you could get at the time!)

When I got there, a man was giving instructions on making something using a big fake dollar bill (he said "my mother told me I should become a lawyer because I'd be dealing with big money"--then, twinkle in his eye, he held out this bigger than life dollar bill and grinned. A little origami humor)

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After he finished what seemed like endless foldings and unfoldings and twistings and turnings, he ended up with this:

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(He slips a quarter in the top of it and it becomes a standing heart holding money.)

Ellen demonstrated something called the "rocker," which was so simple she said even I could make it. My structure did rock, but looked very sloppy.

Then a very artistic woman got up and showed how to make the traditional crane. She has made thousands of them, uses them to decorate greetings cards and even makes them using teeny tiny heavy paper, then shellacks them and makes earrings out of them. I tried to follow along, but needed lots of help and my end result was definitely not as god as the little kids who were also making them with her.

THIS is why I don't do origami!!!
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I opted out of the comedian's next lesson, which made a bird-like mouth out of those oversized dollar bills, so he could say that he learned how to make money talk.

In the end, I had no time to interview anybody, but I got names and phone numbers from all of them and I plan to call them and do telephone interviews.

I thought the day was going to be a disaster, but it was actually kind of fun, even if it did only underscore my inability to make tiny paper figures.

*Names changed because I don't want to get into any trouble here!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Sleek Black Thing

What is about the size of a thick paperback novel, is black and shiny and smooth to the touch, vibrates a little and gets warm when you turn it on.

It's my new terabyte external hard drive!

I think back to the 1980s when I bought my very first PC. I bought it from a guy who ran a gold shop underneath the typing company for which I worked. Until then I had a little desktop Apple IIc which had no hard drive. Everything went on floppy disks.

This PC had a real hard drive. A whopping 60 mb of storage. I knew that I would never need more storage than that. I'm sure a lot of us felt that way back in the 1980s. Now I probably have photographs that are bigger than 60 mb sometimes, I think.

But I was blissfully happy in those days.

I went through one PC after another, each with a larger hard drive. When I got this latest desktop (which, at 7 years old is "ancient" and sure to stop working any day now) I wanted a huge hard drive and so I got a 120 gig hard drive. Surely I would never need more storage than that.

But, of course, I did. I don't remember when I bit the bullet and finally bought an external hard drive to complement the 120 gigs on the desktop CPU. I bought a 250 gig hard drive. This would give me more than 300 gigs of storage and that would certainly be enough! (I needed my guru to install it because it came with complicated instructions--or at least he made it look complicated.)

But we all know how it goes. We really are going to burn all those photos onto a disk but by the time we get to it we have enough for hundreds of disks and the task seems daunting, so we just keep storing stuff on the hard drives that we have.

I was making a video from the trip the other day. I store all my videos on the external hard drive, but when I went to store this video, I discovered that the drive was full. I had filled a 250 gig hard drive. I managed to erase a lot of stuff (I'm sure there are many gigs of stuff that can easily be deleted, if I just take the time to do it) and I was able to finish the project, but obviously something serious had to be done.

I had to either spend a week burning stuff onto disks, or I had to buy another hard drive. I joked that I should just buy a terabyte and be done with it. For laughs, I checked on line and to my astonishment I found one that was well within my budget--and far cheaper than I expected to pay. I checked user comments and everybody raved about how easy it was to install and how well it performed, so I ordered it.

It came yesterday. It sat here for a day because I'm a terrible technophobe. I'm always certain that I'm going to screw things up. But I needed this and so I checked the instructions for installation. I discovered that Brianna could probably figure them out. This is Step 1:

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which I intrepreted as attach the drive to the computer's USB port. I figured I could do that, even if it meant dusting off the thick layer of dust on the CPU. That done, I moved on to Step 2:

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Which seemed to involve finding a place to plug the thing into a power source. I plug things in all the time. So far so good. Then I came to Step 3:

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Step 3 just seemed to say "OK--does it look like this?" Mine did. I had also downloaded the upgrade for iTunes and I knew that was going to reqire a reboot, so I figured that when it rebooted would be the right time to finish plugging in the drive.

It rebooted. I waited. When everything had loaded, I checked the computer and by was THERE.

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I was so happy. I had really done it. And it worked. Just to be sure, I typed a brief test note in Notepad and saved it to the new drive. Saved like a dream.

I spent the entire day moving all of my photos from the external drive where they have been stored to the new external drive, which will be their new home. In the process I freed up tons of space on both the L backup drive and the original C drive. I am in storage hog heaven. I figure it should take me at least a couple of years before this becomes an issue yet again, but I am out of CPU slots and I'll probably need a new computer before then.

But there are those on Facebook who scoff and tell me how many terabytes they have filled. (What's bigger than a terabyte?) But for now I have 853 gigabytes free on this new playtoy and I am a happy camper.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Local Foods

I made "hockies" for breakfast this morning.

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Now I might not ordinarily have mentioned that, not wanting to admit that we ate what is pretty much fried grease with butter (actually it's fried bread dough), but I came across an interesting new web site today. It's called

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and is about sharing little pieces of your everyday life with people all over the world. Not the flashy, touristy kind of pictures but pictures of “real life”. Sounds like something right up my alley. There is a theme posted each week and you have a week to post a photo which represents the theme. Previous themes have included "green," "transportation," "corners" and "wheels."

This week's theme is "local food." And since hockies are local not only to my kitchen, but specifically to my family, it seemed a good place to start. The name "hockies" was handed down from my great grandmother and it was a breakfast favorite in our house. My mother would get a pound of bread dough from the local baker and then pinch off little hunks of dough, flatten them with her floured fingers until they were thin, then drop them in hot fat to fry until they were golden brown and puffy. It was a good day when we sat down for breakfast to a plate heaped with hot hockies and a cube of butter. Karen and I always had a competition to see who could eat the most (I think my all time high was 8).

I know fried bread dough is common in many countries, but we are probably the only family that calls this recipe "hockies." I haven't made a batch in years but just had a hankering for them. Walt loves them too. Now, though, I make my own bread dough, since we are beyond the day of the corner bakery where you can pick up a pound of unbaked dough!

It's interesting that this "food" theme came up today because I've been thinking about food and recipes. I was asked to submit a family recipe for a cookbook project and so I've been going over cookbooks to decide which would be the best to submit.

There was a time when I had a huge collection of cookbooks that filled a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. Cookbooks were the thing that I collected. But with the advent of the internet and the ease of finding what you want on line, I rarely look at a cookbook any more. My once large collection has dwindled down to just a couple of shelves--and most of those are hidden behind family photos.

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There are still some recipes that I need a book for, of course. My lemon meringue pie comes out of a pie cookbook and Walt sometimes makes a lamb chop recipe out of "Thrifty Cooking for Wartime," but most of the recipes I refer to are generally ones that were never published in a book in the first place, but recipes that I've collected from other people over the years. I pasted a lot of them in my "Good Housekeeping Cookbook" (which was my bible for years--I never did like "Joy of Cooking.") The front and back covers of the cookbook are filled with special recipes I didn't want to lose.

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They are nothing extra special, but, for example, I wanted to know what Walt's mother added to ground beef for her meatloaf when I first had it. It just tasted different and so I kept that record (a slice of bread soaked in milk, an egg, worcestershire sauce, a dash of tobasco, and a crushed bouillon cube...she topped it the last 15 minutes with cream of mushroom soup). I've been making that recipe, or a variation of it, for 40 years or so.

I also had my mother come and make her enchiladas for me. She learned how to make them from a Mexican neighbor and never used a recipe. I told her I wanted to watch her before she forgot it entirely. It's a complicated recipe, but I recorded it all, though it never tastes the way my mother's did when I make it.

When Nora came here from Ireland she made peas for a big family dinner that were so incredible, I had to have her recipe. Very simple--Fry 6-8 strips of bacon in olive oil till crisp. Add chopped onion during the cooking. Add 1 lb of frozen peas, 1 tsp sugar, black pepper and basil to taste. Stir fry it all for another 10 minutes. Fabulous.

There are longer recipes that actually represent a history of the Lamplighters era of my cooking. There is a Ham Mediterranian Casserole, with cashew nuts, that I got from an actor friend with whom I am no longer on speaking terms.

There is a tortelini salad made by an actress who was in one of the most special Lamplighters shows with which I was ever involved. The salad, which is flavored with fresh dill and Parmesan cheese and contains peas and broccoli is still one of my favorites to take to pot lucks, when I'm not bringing clam dip.

Arthur Sullivan from the Lamplighters always made a crab mold for cast parties, and I have his recipe, though crab is so expensive now I can't remember the last time I made it.

And there is also a recipe for a Jewish dish called Tzimmes, which is a mixture of carrots and sweet potatoes and apples mixed with apple juice, brown sugar and chicken fat. Gilbert once mentioned that he loved that as a child and hadn't had it in years, so someone in the Lamplighters chorus gave the recipe to me. It was a huge hit when I made it for him.

My mother used to have a cookbook like my Good Housekeeping Cookbook. All of the beloved recipes of my childhood were in that book but, Virgo that she is, when she reached the point where she didn't think she would ever do that kind of cooking again, she just threw it away without asking me if I were interested in it. So gone are all those delicious memories.

Given the hockies breakfast this morning and how many calories were consumed, it's probably a good thing.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Doggie Update

I got kind of a pang when I wrote the title of this entry. In the past, I always wrote about dogs in the title to signal Diane that there would be cute pictures of dogs in the entry. She always liked the dog entries best and I almost always heard from her after I wrote about the dogs, especially if there were cute puppies involved.

So now I'm writing "doggie updates" mostly for me, I guess.

We are down to "only" four dogs. That includes Sheila and Lizzie, of course.

Polly, bless her, is still here.

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She has now been here almost eight months, long enough to become the alpha dog around here. Sheila lets her, though Sheila knows that she is the one who is really in charge. Polly lives to be with me. Whenever I walk anywhere, she bounces like a ball, jumping up against the back of my knees, hoping I'll sit down. When I sit down, she instantly leaps in my lap, snuggles under my armpit and is asleep in seconds.

I really love this little dog, but I hope she's not too upset when I turn her over to a new family some day. I can't have a yappy dog permanently. For all the bundle of love that she is, she is also fiercely territorial. Everything is fine with everybody, 2 and 4-legged who live here, but any noise outside send her barrelling out of here at top speed, yapping her fool head off. I don't have to do much to get her to stop, though. All I have to do is open the back door and she comes racing inside. I love the sight of her bounding like a jackrabbit over the tall grass trying to get in here.

She actually may have a forever home. A woman who worked with her at the beginning of the year has expressed interest in adopting her, but won't be able to take her until September.

Cappuccino ("Cappy") arrived while we were in Russia and Ashley says the house became "chihuahua rescue."

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He's a 10 month old puppy who is the world's sweetest thing. He and Polly are good friends, but he's not yappy. I rarely hear him bark at all. When Polly goes racing off into the living room or back yard, Cappy is happy to just continue cuddling in my lap. Of the two, he is definitely the more appealing pet.

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The two of them spend most of the day lounging in my chair, waiting for me to join them.

Over in Australia, things aren't that much different for Peggy and the Uralla Wildlife Sanctuary, the kangaroo rescue organization with which she works.

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Those little orphans form close friendships too.

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(Do check out that Uralla site...Peggy has just added new photos and some of them are just this one....)

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We are both, in our corners of the world, helping to save the world, one puppy/joey at a time, I guess.

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen things I blog about

1. Dogs
2. Television
3. Current Events
4. Gay Rights
5. Travel
6. Our Granddaughter Brianna
7. Childhood memories
8. Theatre
9. People in my life
10. Work
11. Weight, self-esteem and body image
12. Memes
13. Cousins Day

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Like Pulling Teeth

Sigh. I swear photos are going to be the bane of my existence. No, not MY photos, though with all the ones I take, you certainly might think so.

(aside: I finished sorting through photos and posted the ones from Moscow to Flickr today).

No, I'm talking about publicity photos. I was up at 5 a.m. this morning finishing an article for this guy who has a film opening next week at the Sacramento Film Festival. We had a lovely interview on Friday (the one I sat in the heat of the day to conduct) and I think the story didn't turn out too badly.

When I left him, I realized I had forgotten to ask him to submit a photo to Derrick. I wrote to him immediately and he said he would.

On Friday.

It is now Monday and I'm feeling all virtuous because I got the article to Derrick before he arrived at the office this morning and now I discover that the guy never sent in a photo.

(Later update: Within minutes of my leaving a voice mail message for him, he did send some excellent photos to Derrick, apparently)

Oh, I'm not surprised. 9 times out of 10, when it is up to the person who wants the publicity to provide the photo, we have problems.

Now tell me honestly. If you are an unknown and you're doing this thing that you think is pretty cool and you want to tell the world about it so they'll come and see your play or movie or dance recital or whatever it is, wouldn't you think you'd expend just a little effort to make sure that there is a photo that conforms to the needs of the newspaper? Or would you just ignore requests for photos and assume that we will just magically find something to sell your event for you?

There are a few theatre companies in the area which are excellent about complying. They submit photos in plenty of time. The photos are high resolution (give me a snapshot and I'll give you an unusable postage stamp size photo!), have interesting action in them, and are in color. I love companies like that (yes, I mean you, Davis Musical Theatre Company. High marks!)

There are other companies which make excellent photos available for download on the internet (California Musical Theater) or give me a DVD with photos on them (Sacramento Theater Company).

ok. The kudos stop here and I won't name names any more, because everybody else gets anywhere from a grade of C to an outright F

Everybody else either is always or can be sometimes a problem. Some need reminders, but are pretty good at following through once a call has been made. Some need more than one call. Some can't really tell you who you should call and you have to go through several people before finding someone who knows something about photos. You are just supposed to know that stuff intuitively.

Some give you static poses, with two actors standing there like "American Gothic" staring blankly at the camera...and what fun is that? You have to call them back and explain that you want something that shows their show, not just head shots of the actors. One group shuffles through a stack of blurry snapshots, and hands me one to ask if this will do (in a word: no!)

Some just have nothing. You're a THEATER company, for God's sake. You're supposed to be the epitome of vanity. Why would you have NO PHOTOS of the show you want people to come to?

Now, I realize that what the theatre company is focusing on is the rehearsal, the costumes, the technical aspects of the show, and publicity may be the furthest thing from their minds.

But think about it, people. How does somebody find out about your production? What goes in the newspaper.

And think about your own newspaper reading. You're skimming the paper and you see a headline that says something like "young filmmaker to participate in film festival." There is no photo. Unless you are into young film makers, or the kind of person who reads everything in the newspaper (like my mother), is this headline likely to make you want to read all those wonderful words I have worked so hard at crafting?

BUT if there is a picture of a cute kid, or a funny situation, aren't you likely to at least stop for a moment and look at the photo and maybe at least start reading the article? And, if all goes well, won't that make you intrigued enough to perhaps attend an event that you may not have known about before?

So why is it so much like pulling teeth with so many people who are begging for publicity to actually get cooperation in the form of a photo for the article they want us to put in the newspaper for them?


Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Here’s one of those survey thingies...

You have to spend a year in quarantine -- alone -- "they" will provide the following items for you: Food, Water, Toiletries and a Bible. Plus you have the Basics of Couch, Table/Chair, Bed/Bedding & Electricity for: Lights, Heat, Air, Cooking, Cleaning, Listening to Music and Watching Videos ONLY.

You have to pack your survival bag. You can bring...

2 CD's
3 Books

3 videos

1 project

1 article of luxury

1 item of comfort

And can request a years supply of your favorite "junk" food.

OK--so what do I bring. A year without a computer??? Oh my...already I’m going into withdrawal. But let’s get practical here.

2 CDs...

Well, obviously it would be a Steve Schalchlin CD and a John Denver CD. Those are constants in the car and I probably have listened to them over and over again for a year anyway, so why should my period of quarantine be any different. The trick would be choosing which of their CDs to bring, but probably one of the "Best of John Denver" CDs, since those are longer than others.

As for which of Steve's CDs to bring, that is a bit more difficult, but probaby "The Bonus Round Sessions," which has all the songs from The Last Session, as well as most of the (then) new songs that I really liked.

Three Books would be a bit trickier. At least "they" (whoever "they" are) would be providing me a Bible, which is a nice long book and will fill in the times when I am bored with the three books I’ve brought. I wouldn’t want to bring a real page-turner because I’d finish it too quickly.

Steve Peithman, a friend of ours, once published "The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allen Poe," and I think that would definitely be one of the chosen books. It's big and thick and offers a lot of variety.

James Michner’s "The Source" would also be a good book. I’ve started it several times and never made it through to the end, though my mother loves it and has read it several times, so that seems to be a good recommendation (and during a year, I’m sure I could finally get it finished!).

I think the last book may be Steinbeck’s "A Life in Letters," the collection of a lifetime of letters by John Steinbeck, which is a fascinating book. I could easily read that more than once. But I may, at the last moment change my mind and pick Ken Follett's "World Without End," the sorta sequel to his "Pillars of the Earth," about the building of a medieval cathedral (probaby Salsbury). I loved "Pillars" and haven't gotten around to reading the >1000 page "World" yet. This year of quarantine is sounding better and better!

As for Videos (or DVDs)...Well, "A Star is Born" would have to be there. Just because it’s a nice comforting movie to have with me. I think the other two would be "An Affair to Remember" and "Shadowlands." Just because they’re all "comfortable" movies that I have enjoyed watching more than once.

As for a project, since I obviously can’t have a computer, this gets a little tricky, but I think I’d pick scrapbooking. With no computer, no digital camera, and lots of time on my hands, perhaps I could finally finish putting all of the photos in scrapbooks. Of course "they" would have to pay for all the supplies, since one thing which is keeping me from finishing that project is the cost of supplies.

As for an article of luxury, I’m going to chose something weird--it would be a luxury for me to have some way to write. If I can have a computer, I choose that. If I can’t, I’ll choose a typewriter. If it has to be a manual typewriter, I’ll take that. If I can’t have a typewriter, I’ll have an endless supply of paper and pens. Writing is both work and a luxury for me.

And finally I have to choose a comfort item. It would be a little difficult to pack my recliner in an overnight bag, so I guess I have to choose something small. I'll just have to combine "luxury" with "comfort" and bring my laptop. Besides, how else am I going to keep a year of journal entries?

They also say they will store a year's supply of a comfort food for you. Assuming that I get balanced meals three times a day and this is just a bit "extra" to pack on those pounds and prevent me from wasting away to nothing, I'll choose a year's supply of raised glazed and/or sugar donuts. Maybe if that's the only comfort food I have for a year, I'll get sick of them--I rarely have them now, so they are a real treat when I do. (I just hope they replenish the supply regularly, and not just give me a year supply up front! If that's the case, I will have to review the situation and choose something else. Nothing less palatable than rock hard donuts! )

Obviously I need to read the fine print a little more closely before I agree to this quarantine! But if I go, I'll miss you all.... :)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ten from My Bucket List

When the movie The Bucket List came out, I tried to think of things that might be on my own bucket list and I couldn't come up with anything. It's not that I'm particularly dull, but more that most of what I wanted to do in life, I've done. Which is really a very nice thing to say. The guys in the film did lots of adventurous things like jumping out of airplanes. I'm not that adventurous. My goals were always pretty low key.

For some reason I was thinking about bucket lists today. I think it was updating my Flickr map that shows the countries I've visited. I thought I'd just start a bucket list and see what I might put on one. This list assumes that money, and babysitting for the dogs, is no object (which pretty much throws the bucket list out the window before I even get started). But here are 10 things I came up with:

1. Spend a week in the South of France in the springtime. I loved the south of France, but I didn't like being on a tour--and I definitely didn't like the summer heat. If we were to rent a house, or even splurge and spend a week at that wonderful hotel in Arles, I could relax enough to do only the things that appealed to me. We could rent a car and drive to the other little towns in the area and do the exploring on our own terms, in our own time. I might even start speaking French.

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2. Take the train across the Canadian Rockies. Walt and I went to Canada on our honeymoon, stayed in a cabin in Jasper National Park and camped in Banff National Park. The Rockies were so gorgeous that I said then that some day I wanted to take a train trip across the Canadian Rockies. We could even stop and visit our Brasilian son, Eduardo, in Toronto.

3. Taste stone crabs in Florida. I saw something on the Food Network about stone crabs, which are bigger than my beloved Dungeness crabs. I also Top Chef this week, where someone talked about how much more meat there is in stone crab than in, say, Maryland blue crabs. I would love to be in Florida and have the chance to taste stone crabs.

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4. Have a theater orgy in New York. We've been to New York several times and we always go to theatre, but I've never seen a big Broadway musical on Broadway and I would love to go and see several of them in one trip. We always concentrate on the off-Broadway shows, which are more affordable (and our friends are in them!). Who can afford $300 for good seats to a musical? But this Bucket List assumes that money is no object.

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(of course most of these shows are not there any more!)

5. While we're in New York, I'd like to be crassly tourist and ride a carriage through Central Park. It's the sort of thing that I always secretly longed to do, but never even suggest because of the money. It would have been fun to take a carriage ride when we were on Mandrogy, but I never said anything.

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6. Cruise the Inland Passage to Alaska. No surprise here. I think this appears on every list I have ever posted to this blog! I have a feeling that if I ever actually took this cruise, I'll be terribly disappointed, because I've thought about it for so long.

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7. Visit the Sheldrick Elephant Rehabilitation Center in Africa. Daphne Sheldrick started this center to rescue orphaned elephants and rhinos. I am so inspired by her work and the babies they are able to save, also the dedication of the handlers for their little charges. I've helped to sponsor little Lesanju for a few years now.

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8. Buy a good SLR camera and take a basic photography course so that I actually started knowing what I'm doing. And we all know that what I really need is an excuse to take more photos, right? :)

9. Visit Iguacu Falls in Brasil and/or Argentina. Our friend Nelson has been promising to take us to Iguacu if we ever get to Brasil for about 20 years or more now.

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10. Reunite with some of the "special ones" from our days of hosting people from other countries. I once saw a real tear-jerker of a movie called The Blue Veil. It was so bad (apparently) that it never even made it to tape or DVD. But it starred Jane Wyman as a woman who had worked as a nanny for various families for years. At the end of the movie, all of her former kids, now adults, came back to see her. I always imagined a moment like that with our "special ones" foreign students, though we have now lost contact with most of them.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"My Eyes are Watering"

I had been warned to bring tissues when we went to Toy Story 3 but I would have done it anyway. I mean--Disney? heartwarming story of a boy and his toys? You KNOW there is going to be a moment or two when you're going to need a tissue.

We decided to go to the movies today because it's so hot outside and we might as well take advantage of the theatre's air conditioning system.

Walt and I were the only people there without little kids with us. I remember the first time I went to a kids' show alone. I was very pregnant with Jeri when they re-released Bambi to the theatres and I needed to see it, so I waddled to the theatre all by myself (Walt dropped me off, but wouldn't come with me) and sat there bawling like a baby as Bambi starts calling for his mother after she is killed.

Nowadays, cartoons are just as much for adults as they are for kids...especially a movie like Toy Story 3, which deals with what happens to a child's beloved toys when the child grows up and goes off to college.

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I ran into Joann this afternoon. She is the mother of one of David's friends and after he died it was years before I saw her. But lately it seems that we have apointments on the same day for blood donation. I donate whole blood; she donates platelets and we have brief conversations at some point.

But today she was there with her four grandchildren. She explained that the air conditioning at her house was out and she was babysitting and desperate for someplace cool to take the kids. I was in shock when I discovered it was costing her $35 to take her grandchildren to a movie!

As the movie was ending, and I was fumbling in my purse for that tissue I'd thought to bring, the little girl sitting next to Walt turned to her mother and said "my eyes are watering."

I wonder what little kids think about emotional tears, such as those that come while watching an emotional scene in a movie.

Little kids are really good about tears. They know tears come when you get hurt. They know that tears come when you're sad.

But what do they think about tears that come when you aren't hurt or sad? When something that you're watching is just...sweet...or tender, or any of those things that we adults can be maudlin about. What do they think about their urge to cry?

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"My eyes are watering" seems a perfect way to put it!

I realized how good all those credits that go on endlessly at the end of a film are for me. They give my face a chance to get back to normal again...and trust me, I stayed until the lights came up after watching Toy Story 3. My eyes were definitely watering!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hot and Cold Running Show Biz

Most of the time in the summertime things are relatively comfortable for a critic. You may have a brief walk in hot and/or humid weather from wherever you park your car, but then you get to a nice air conditioned theatre, you pick up an icy cold bottle of water, and you sit for a couple hours under the cool air and by the time you come out, the sun has gone down, the cement has cooled and it's a comfortable walk to your air conditioned car.

In my first couple of years as a critic, I hated the nights when Music Circus opened a show. Music Circus, for many, many years, performed in a big circus tent. The audience sat in things that resembled movie directors chairs. There were swamp coolers that blew cold air in that got to maybe a couple of rows, but it was hot and uncomfortable and the chairs were murder, especially on generous butts.

California Musical Theatre, of which Music Circus is the summer wing, built this big expensive new theatre, still in the shape of a circus tent, but with comfy seats, real walls and, best of all, working air conditioning. It made reviewing those summer shows much more appealing.

But today I couldn't escape the heat. I had made arrangements to meet Jared Martin, a young filmmaker I interviewed a year or so ago about his first film, The Lost Boys of Sudan. Jared has a new film showing in the upcoming Sacramento Film Festival and I had made arrangement to meet him at a table outside Peet's Coffee, where we met last time, for another interview.

Of course when I made the arrangement, I had no idea how hot it was going to be today. I tried to find a table indoors, unsuccessfully, so I sat outside and waited for Jared, sweat pouring off my face. We had a nice discussion about his new film, Smiley.

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It was delightful to spend some time with this talented young man again and to get caught up on what his original film has done (talk of it being picked up by a cable channel; some interesting folks finding it on YouTube, etc.)

It wasn't the most comfortable interview I've ever done and I noticed that when we parted, he went into Peet's with a cup in his hand...I'm sure I could have suggested moving inside where it was cool and he would have been as happy as I would have been!

I really wasn't looking forward to the evening, when I was set to review three one-act plays for Barnyard Theatre. Barnyard Theatre is a real barn...

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...which, like Mickey and Judy before them, a group of theatre kids turn into a working theatre in the summers. This is the 7th season and they have done marvelous creative things here, but it is a barn, which is open to the elements, and the goats, sheep, horses and chickens who live here when the actors go home. The theatre company sprays patrons with bug spray to help with the mosquitoes who are frequent guests as well.

I had visions of sitting there, sweating, outside watching the first of the three plays, which was held under a tree near the barn,

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and then sweltering as we entered the barn for the second of the three plays.

Actually, as the sun began to sink into the Vaca Mountains, it became damn chilly and I was glad that the entire show was only a couple of hours long, and sorry I hadn't brought some sort of wrap with me.

But the plays were good and told unusual stories that you don't often see, so it was worth it.

Today is supposed to be another triple-digit day, but we're going to fight the heat by going downtown to see Toy Story III. Controled temperatures...and I don't have to write anything about it!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The "Not Cousins Day"

We had a "not cousins day" cousins day. At 6:30 in the morning of our scheduled cousins day, I had a call from Kathy. I could tell that she wasn't feeling well. Kathy suffers (and I do mean suffers) from COPD and some days her breathing is worse than others. She always has oxygen and lots of meds with her. We've gotten used to driving and visiting and playing cards with the sound of the oxygen tank going in the background. She usually has to take a nap during the day, but some days are better than others. It was obvious this was not one of those days.

I thought she was calling to cancel Cousins Day, but she said that Peach really needed a mental health day and she was hoping that if Kathy's husband drove her to our house, I could drive the two of us to my mother's (Peach doesn't like to drive on the freeway)

Peach's problem is that her husband has just been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, after a lot of pain on a recent vacation they took. She's dealing with a 70-something man who has been active and healthy all his life and suddenly is not, who is suspicious of doctors and scared of medications, which he's never had to take before. It's a lot of anybody to deal with and it's a lot for Peach to be responsible for. She desperately needed to get away.

So Kathy's husband brought her here, Walt gave up the car for the day, and the two of us took the dinner Kathy had prepared and drove to my mother's. Without sounding too enthusiastic (because we don't want to make Kathy feel bad), we had a great time, and it was definitely just what the doctor ordered.

We decided that since we couldn't call this "Cousins Day" and sicne Kathy had told us we were NOT to play "65," we decided to call this "The Canasta Club," since we played Canasta for two days.

First, though, there was the usual start of a normal Cousins Day with everybody sharing what needed to be shared, our trip to Russia, Peach's vacation, Bob's back problems, my mother's activities since our last get together. Then Peach pulled out a photo she was very excited about.

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My mother and I both looked blank. This is where we have to say "I love the internet." The guy on the left, it turns out, is my mother's cousin, a cousin she didn't know she had. The woman on the right is his daughter who apparently found Peach's family tree on and contacted her. It happened right before we left for Cousins Day, so we don't have any follow-up, but my mother vaguely remembers this guy's family. He's 5 years older than she is and he and his parents had been living in Argentina (she doesn't remember why) and came back to the United States to try to move in with my mother's parents during the Depression, a time my mother's family didn't even have room enough for all of their own kids in the small house they were renting. This would have been in the late 1930s and my mother hadn't seen or heard of this guy since. He's 95 years old now and we are interested to see what is going to happen as his daughter and Peach begin to share stories!

Then it was time to play Canasta. Canasta is my mother's game and it's very difficult to beat her, but I creamed both her and Peach so badly in our first game that they gave up and we started a second one. Peach won the second game.

It was getting close to cocktail time when we started game three. Peach made a Vanilla martini, with cranberry juice and craisins in it.

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We didn't take a group picture, because that's a Cousins Day thing, but I did take this picture.

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Game Three was one of those games where the discard pile kept getting higher and higher and higher and it was obvious that whoever was able to claim the pile would win the game. The pick up pile was getting smaller and smaller. We were tossing wild cards into the discard pile to keep the next person from getting it. Finally my mother picked up the last available cards and, thinking the game was over, discarded exactly the card that Peach needed. Her dumb mistake gave Peach FIVE "natural" canastas (7 of a kind, without having to use a wild card, 500 points each as opposed to 300 points for a canasta that is made using wild cards). My mother was livid and you'd better believe we will never let her live down the mistake that gave Peach the game.

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My mother did finally win a game, after which she finally let us to go bed. In the morning we played one last game, which Peach won again.

joker.jpg  (24940 bytes)It was midway through one of the games when I realized what was on the Joker, and wondered if that was done deliberately by the card makers as a joke!

Kathy sent some mahi-mahi for dinner, which was delicious (and waaay too much for us to eat).

We missed Kathy a lot at this "not cousins day" meeting of "The Canasta club." But when we talked with her this morning she was sounding better. Her son and his family are flying in from Iowa for a visit and arriving this evening. I know being able to spend time with the grandkids will be a great picker-upper for her, and it was probably just as well that she chose to stay home when she wasn't feeling well so she will be at her best for the family.

But she WILL be there next month and we'll be back playing "65" again.

And when Peach called her husband to let him know we were on the way home, he sounded better than when she left him, so it appears that "The Canasta club" was a good idea all around!