Friday, October 31, 2014

No Vampires Here

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Three for Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Bitch Speaks

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

Mr. XXX,

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

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

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

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Obviously the bedroom has not been dusted properly either.

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

Thank you.

Beverly Sykes

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Home for Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

My heart aches for her as she starts this journey.

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

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Next Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our dialog yesterday went something like:

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Stealing

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

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Nerd Alert Meme

1. Favorite childhood book?

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

2. What are you reading right now?

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

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

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

4. Bad book habit?

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

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

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

6. Do you have an e-reader?

Yes.  I love my Kindle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?

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

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

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

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

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

13. Can you read on the bus?

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

14. Favorite place to read?

In my recliner.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

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

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

Almost never.

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


18. Not even with text books?

It's been more than 50 years since I had a text book,

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

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

20. What makes you love a book?

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Good Times

In a comment on the entry for the 23rd, Linda Wilson said "Always, always remember the good times."

It had been my intention to add some photos of Mike over the years, but I'm having problems with my printer/scanner so this may be an entirely word entry, but there are so many memories of so many things, over 50 years.

Your mind does strange things.  The very first image that came to my mind when I realized Mike was dying was back from 1962.  I was living in a dorm at the very top of the steep Dwight Way in Berkeley.  Mike had been dating Charlotte, but she was at graduate school in Ohio.  Mike and I went to daily mass at the Newman Center, across campus, and every morning I would walk down the steep hill to the flat and Mike would come by on his motor scooter and take me across campus to the chapel at the Newman Center.  Why that was my first memory, I don't know.   I don't remember the Masses or what we did afterwards, but I remember him coming to pick me up every morning.

I remember being at their wedding, and I remember the weeks I lived at their house when their first daughter was a baby, waking up each morning, in the bedroom I shared with Tavie, seeing her little blonde head pop up over the top of her crib.  I would change her and keep her entertained until it was time for me to go to work, then I'd plop her in bed with Mike and Char and leave the house (after my confrontation with the cat, Yom, who ruined so many of my nylon stockings that he gave me a box of them for Christmas that year).

I don't remember what our first camping trip was, but we did a lot of camping together.  The most contentious trip was before Walt and I were married.  Char and Mike had Tavie and we were out exploring some ghost towns (we have probably been to every ghost town in Nevada at one time or another).  It was a warm day and Char and I wanted ice cream cones, so we drove into a town to get ice cream, then we set off down Pole Line Rd., Hwy 167, which parallels Mono Lake.  It connects with highway 395 a few miles from Lee Vining.  We were running out of gas but hoped to get to 395, after which we felt we could coast downhill, if necessary, to get to a gas station.  But several yards short of the small incline that leads up to 395, the car stopped.  We couldn't push the car up hill, so Mike and Walt took off hitchhiking along 395 to get gas.  For the past 50 years they have not let Char and me forget that if we had not stopped for ice cream, we would have made it to 395 and the downhill highway to awaiting gas station.

We also planned a trip to Death Valley, but Tavie got sick.   Walt and I decided we would go on without them.  They would make the trip a week later, when Tavie was better.  Before that, Char always packed our "kitchen," so I didn't have any utensils or anything for camping, since we weren't married yet and I didn't have the kind of kitchen stuff Char did.  We decided we would take the kitchen box with us and then a week later, we would meet them "somewhere" and give it back to them.  "Somewhere" turned out to be Blackwell's Corners in Lost Hills, CA, roughly midway. We would meet there at "high noon" on the appointed day. Somehow in the days before the Internet, we found out there was a gas station there, so on our way to Death Valley, we stopped and got the phone number of the phone booth at the gas station, so that if it turned out we were going to be delayed, we could let Mike know.  As it turned out we were delayed and so we called him.  He had arrived a few minutes before our call and pulled into the gas station and asked the attendant if there had been any calls for him.   As the attendant looked at him as if he were crazy, the phone rang and it was Walt.   I have often wondered what that attendant told his family about the experience.

In those days Mike avoided paved roads.  There was a Memorial Day weekend when we drove all week end long and never saw another car.  When we hit a real freeway, Char got out and kissed the pavement.  That was probably the trip when we ended up at the Scottish Games, going from the desolation of the desert to the chaos of a fair.  We pulled into the parking lot and the guy at the gate gestured to us to "follow that grey car."  We didn't want to tell him we had been following that car for days now!

There was also the year when we had all 10 kids with us and followed what turned out to be a dry riverbed trying to find wherever it was we were going.  That's when we had to ask directions from what were probably a couple of Mexican farmers, but which we have always referred to as the Basque sheepherders.

Then there was Easter in Death Valley.  We arrived in the park so late that it was impossible to find an official camp ground, so Mike (who worked for the USGS) let us onto the locked government site.  Mike, Walt and the boys climbed down into a bunker-like thing with all the electronic gears and gadgets and meters and slept there while Char and I and the girls slept in our cars.  Somewhere I have a picture of Cam, who was about 2 at the time, sliding down a sign that says "sensitive government instruments...keep 5 feet away."

That is probably also the same trip where we drove for an hour across barren desert land to Devil's Hole, where is reported to live the famous nearly extinct pup fish

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An hour.  Barren desert.  Ten restless kids.  We get there and there is this little hole in the ground and waaaaay below the surface swim the pupfish.  In total darkness.  Much too for to be seen by the naked eye.  And we had driven an hour to stand around a hole in the ground that we had to take on faith was the home of the pup fish.

I figure that was Mike's way of getting back at us for the ice cream incident.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ham and Croissants

Honestly, it is just sheer coincidence that we are having ham for dinner tonight.  I had to buy food for our last two nights here before leaving for Paris and a ham steak seemed a fast, easy meal.  Who knew Mike would die.   

In our family, after burying two sons, ham has become the symbol of death around here.  So many wonderful people brought food by for us after David's and Paul's deaths...and most of them brought something having to do with ham.   We got so many hams after David died that when Paul died, a friend brought me a big picture of a ham with a "NO" symbol over it to hang on our front door (we didn't, of course.  People were so kind and caring.  But we laughed about it a lot.).  So we joke about having ham when someone dies and here we will be having ham for dinner tonight.  The strange ironies of life.

Char pointed out this morning that her son Tim's birthday is October 20, Flo died on the 21st, Mike died on the 22nd, and our friend Michele, whom we still miss terribly, died on the 23rd in 2007. October is shaping up to be my least favorite month. (Except for October 24, which is Tom and Laurel's anniversary -- happy anniversary, Tom and Laurel.)

Things are winding down in Germany.  It will take several weeks to get Mike's ashes released, so the family is coming home, probably this weekend, and the mortuary will ship Mike's ashes to the mortuary here in California.
Mike was a seismologist and it just feels like the world has taken a huge seismic shift this week.  Easily an 8+ magnitude.  The aftershocks are getting a little smaller now, but Jenny has re-posted several photos that I originally posted to Facebook and today she included a video that I had taken in Ukraine of Mike dancing on the ship with our tour guide.   It brought the tears back.

People have been so wonderful with their comments on facebook, on Funny the World, and in emails.  The thing that surprises me, though, is the number of people who think our being here and not in France is a noble action on our part.  Heck, isn't this what you do for family?  Would you not cancel if it were your brother who was dying?  We may not be blood family, this Pinata group, but we are closer than many blood relations.  We have been there for each other through good times and bad times, in sickness and in health, until death do us part (Mike is the 4th first generation death; there are also 3 2nd generation deaths).  Our kids are like siblings.  Char's kids feel like my kids.  

Once we knew the seriousness of Mike's condition there was never even a discussion about whether we should or should not cancel our trip.  There was no way we could not be here to do whatever we could to help out.  (The only twinge of regret I have is losing those 2 weeks of someone else preparing and serving all of my meals!)
The emails I have received from others in the Pinata group underscores that it is the same for all the rest of us too.  Lara, the daughter of Concetta, who died a few years ago, is helping with things that need to be done at Flo's house because she lives closer than Jenny does.  Phoebe in Colorado has been finding out as much as she can about what happens legally when one dies in another country and what has to be done to settle things.  Jeri (the other Jeri) was my contact to all of the Pinata group because all of my addresses were on my desktop, and not on my iPad, so I just assumed she would contact everyone.  And she did.  Those who couldn't do anything to help called just to touch bases because we all feel the force of this tragedy so strongly and we need to reach out and hug each other, whether in person or from afar.

I was supposed to have lunch with my mother, but just didn't feel like food, so called and canceled, but told her I'd come over in the afternoon for a visit.  Then I decided to take a "short nap" first and when I woke up it was 5 p.m., so no visit.  I'll make it up to her tomorrow.

Char is headed for Berlin tomorrow and then home the next morning.  

I told you I'd be having croissants at an outdoor table on Wednesday.
I just didn't figure it would be on our own patio -- but at least I didn't have to get out of my pjs.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Lifetime Ago

So much has happened in the last several hours that it seems like a lifetime ago that I wrote yesterday's entry. 

But it wasn't a lifetime ago.

It was two lifetimes ago.

Something I have kept from this journal for a very long time now, because it wasn't my news to share, is that Char's sister, Flo, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and for the last couple of months has been on Hospice care.   Char knew that there was a good chance she would die while we were on our trip, but her primary caregivers, other than Hospice, has been Char's absolutely terrific kids and she knew that she was leaving Flo in good hands.  She was comfortable knowing that "the call" might well come during the trip.

Walt and I returned from Jenny's...whatever night that was (it seems like 6 weeks ago).  In the morning Jenny and I shared the latest bits of information we had about Mike's condition:
Basically he has aggresive pancreatic cancer that has metasticized to the stomach, liver, and probably the lungs, with a tumor surrounding his aorta and other major blood vessels (making it inoperable) and another one perforating his stomach causing the leaking of acids and gasses into the abdominal cavity and likely causing lesions on his lungs.  His kidneys and gall bladder may also be affected.  There really doesn´t seem to be anything they can do except provide for his breathing and fluids, and relieve pain and discomfort.
That left little room for anything but awaiting the inevitable.   

That was followed by another message:
Dad is only doing worse. His kidneys are failing and his heart is having issues.  There is nothing they can do to make him better and they have tried to ease him back to consciousness with no success. So now we are basically waiting for him to pass. A priest has given him last rights. The doctor says it could be days or hours.
They found a priest and he received the last rites.
We asked about a priest. They said it might be difficult. This is not a religious area - former East Germany. Priest did come, very nice guy with fairly good English....It was nice, prayers and anointing. Mike would have been pleased.
Jenny had received the messages while she was at Flo's to check on her.  Her message to me was short and sweet:  "I'm at Flo's and it is not good here either."

Shortly after that message came, the phone rang and it was Jenny.   Flo had just died.  She was going to be dealing with hospice, with the undertakers, with lawyers and with the dog walker and she wanted to know if I could go to her house to be with her girls.  Walt and I were on the road within 15 minutes.   This time I packed to stay overnight.  Walt couldn't stay because he had to get back for a meeting in Davis.

The girls and I had more pizza for dinner and Jenny finally got home after 9, drained from her day dealing with the after-death affairs of Flo.  We watched the end of the World Series Game 1 and then went to sleep. There were plans to Skype with the Germany group and people here in California at 7 in the morning.

In the morning we eventually got on the Skype call, 4 computers -- the two daughters in Germany, the two sons-in-law at two different computers in California, and Jenny and me on the fourth computers. It was essentially the same information. We learned that in Germany you can't choose to remove a patient from life support, but the doctor could reduce the oxygen level and up his meds so he was not in pain. The doctor couldn't say how long it would be, possibly days, but maybe just hours.

Jenny's husband, who had been halfway across the country trying to settle the estate of his mother, who died 3 months ago, was flying into San Francisco and Jenny set off to pick him up.  She was gone a couple of hours and when she walked in I could tell by her face that it was bad.  She had just received word that Mike was gone.  We cried together and then set about letting people know.

This is pretty much how Jenny and I spent the afternoon.

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We both had our cell phones; she had her laptop, I had my iPad and with text, and e-mail and FaceBook messaging and any other social media form we could use, we managed to contact lots and lots of people.  And we were both getting back messages of sympathy.  At one point I realized that I was getting sympathy messages to ME from Char's relatives, who have followed our travels on Funny the World over the years!  And occasionally Jenny would get calls from friends of Flo.  It was just Death Central all afternoon. 

But I've learned that after a death, the busy work of making arrangements and spreading the word is very therapeutic.  I remember during my times of deepest grief, after Gilbert's death, after David's and after Paul's I always said that I never cried so much...but I also never laughed so much either.  The body can't sustain deep grief.  There has to be a break to laugh...or just talk about something else.

In spite of all the trauma and emotion, somehow Niki seemed to take it all in stride.

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Around 4, we Skyped with Germany again.  This time it was everyone, including Char, and it was more a nuts and bolts kind of chat.  Tomorrow they have a list of English-speaking mortuaries to contact to find out about cremation and shipping Mike home and then, as soon as they can, they will be heading back to California.   Char says she is thinking about writing a book called "The Taxis of Magdeburg" because she has become an expert this week.

And then there are not one, but two funerals to plan.

This was the day I planned to be having chocolate croissants in Paris.  Walt, bless him, picked up frozen croissants at Trader Joe's, and we will have our croissants anyway.  

And we will think about Mike and remember the adventures we have had over the past 55+ years.  Char and her kids agreed that Mike always liked to do things the hard way and that, at the end, he really outdid himself.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


I don't know which is more difficult -- knowing, or not knowing.

Since Mike was taken to the hospital, we've been trying to figure out what they were testing him for, what his condition was.  Char was hampered being in a hotel with no wifi in the rooms, and having to use the computer in the lobby, which was a German keyboard and German instructions.  So we weren't getting the whole picture.

Yesterday, Walt and I went to spend the day with his daughter, Jenny (closest to Jeri in age) because being together was better than being apart.  We were also able to share what information we had each been given.   Jenny's four siblings were on a plane to Germany. She was home with her two girls (one of whom was sick), as her husband was out of town when this all happened.

Jenny went off to work before we got there because she couldn't stand being at home alone and needed the distraction.  Walt and I settled in, Walt on the couch with Niki, the dog, and me at the dining room  table fielding e-mails.

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When Jenny got home, we sat and talked over pizza for a very long time.  We compared notes and neither of us had a clear picture of what was going on.   We knew that Char's grandsons, Cody and Casey, who were already in Germany attending a semester at a university there, were headed to Magdeburg to be with Char and that Jenny's brothers and sisters would be arriving there probably in the afternoon, flying first to Berlin and then taking a train to Magdeburg.  

Finally the first message came from Casey that they had arrived at the hotel at 2 a.m. and Char said she would see them at breakfast.  Walt and I stayed until nearly 11, hoping for more news, but finally came home.  When I got home there was a message from Char which had probably arrived about 10 minutes after we left Jenny's house.  But it was just letting us know that the boys had arrived, the others would get there later and that she was still having trouble with the German computers.  She also let us know if we wanted to stay down to be with Jenny, we could use their house.

In the morning we finally got a definitive diagnosis.  Char's son wrote that Mike is on a ventilator and non-responsive and that they found cancer in his liver, pancreas, stomach, and lungs.  How in God's name the Kaiser physician he has been seeing for months missed this I don't have a clue, but I expect there are going to be angry confrontations when the family returns home.  Everyone has been so frustrated with Mike's complaints for the past six months or so and he has had tests and exams and everything, his doctor says, is "OK."  That's why they felt it was fine to take this trip.

There is a weird comfort in reading the words and knowing that there is not going to be any sort of a miracle to pull him out of this, but Walt and I are walking around here today feeling like zombies with lead weights on our feet.  We hug a lot.  Walt is dealing with Viking and all that is involved with maybe getting some of our money back from the trip we aren't taking. I'm back to fielding e-mails and trying to answer questions.  It's all I can really do at a distance.

I've logged into Facebook, but somehow political squabbles, animal videos, and what everyone had for lunch or dinner (I am guilty of sharing all of these things) just seem so trivial, as we sit here wondering how much longer our friend is going to live.

Sometimes life really sucks.  And other times it sucks even more.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

We'll Never Have Paris

This morning I had an e-mail from Char saying Mike was in a coma and the doctors say he won't come out and that it is "a matter of days."

I don't have the details.  They're irrelevant now.

We have canceled our trip.  Four of her kids are flying over to Germany to help and I'm going to be with the fifth, just because crying together is better than crying alone, 100 miles apart.

This is surreal.  I can't even wrap my head around it yet.

I was never destined to love Paris, I guess.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Stealing

Ok let’s talk travel, do you like to travel?
Well, if this isn't a timely Sunday Stealing, since we are leaving for Europe in two days!  (Note to would-be thieves:  our 3 dogs are home, along with our dog sitters, Ashley and David, and their dogs, so don't even think about it...)

Where have you been?

We have been fortunate to do a lot of travel in our nearly 50 years of marriage.   I think we've been to most of the states (missing some in the middle and south), and to I forget how many foreign countries, but more than I ever dreamed possible.   I've seen  the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pizza and the Pinnacles of the Nambung National Park in Australia.  I've walked the Great Wall in China, toured Anne Frank's house, walked on both Red Square and Tianenman Square and drove over Lucky Boy Pass to Bodie. I have been a very lucky person. 

Next place you want to go?

Paris.  On Tuesday.  Chocolate croissants for breakfast on Wednesday.

What is something you MUST take with you when you travel?

My camera, my computer, and something to read (usually on my Kindle)

How do you like to travel? (mode of transportation)

I used to love to fly, but now I just tolerate it (barely).  I do love river cruises.

With someone, or alone?

Definitely with someone.  It validates whatever you're seeing when you can say "Isn't that terrific?" to someone else.

Do you dance in your car when there are other people with you?

I don't dance anywhere, alone or with others.

If you're quiet what does it mean?

I'm thinking of something.

Favorite scent?

The ocean, coffee, freshly baking bread, and they way roses used to smell.

Favorite store?

The Tattered Cover in Denver.

Say you wanted coffee.. what kind is your favorite?

Peet's French Roast

Favorite kind of pizza?

Sausage and Mushroom

Do you get embarrassed easily?

Very, very, very easily.  I can embarrass myself sitting at home alone.

Do you mind people asking you personal questions?

Not usually.  Depends on how personal.

You have a tank of gas, $50, and the day off… what do you do?

I think I'd like to drive up to Apple Hill, where I haven't been in a very long time.   Take pictures, eat stuff, and wander around and then bring home a freshly baked apple pie for dessert.

Favorite tv show?

The Daily Show, Big Bang Theory, and Scandal.  (And then there is  the STARZ mini series Outlander!!!)

Song you turn the volume up all the way to listen to?

The overture to Phantom of the Opera, some of the choral stuff from The Lion King, and Judy Garland singing "Stormy Weather."

Something you keep in your car?

Cords to all of my electronic gear, bottles of water

Highlight of your day?

If we're talking about every day, then I guess it's Jeopardy.   (How pathetic is that?)

Something you do everyday that you wish you didn’t have to do?

Plan and cook dinner.

Do you mind if people just show up at your house unannounced?

Yes.  I never know what sort of condition the house is going to be in.  I'd like a little warning, enough to corral the dust bunnies and trick the dogs into going outside..

What do you do when you disagree with someone?

I'm not really confrontational, so I'm likely to let it go and seethe.

Do you enjoy rain?

Love it!  Of course I haven't seen any in years....

Who’s your favorite person in the whole world… besides me?

Well, I could get into trouble for naming one person in the family so I am going to assume this question means favorite person OTHER than family members.  It would have to be a toss-up between Steve Schalchlin, whom I almost never see any more, but who gives the world's greatest hugs, and Char, who is the person who has shared most of my life for half a century.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Our "Helen"

We went to see The Miracle Worker at the Woodland Opera House tonight.  It was a very good production and the young woman who played Helen did an excellent job.

I never see this show without thinking of our friend Georgia Griffith, our own Helen Keller, who died in 2005. As my friend, Tom Sims wrote in an article called "The First Woman of Cyberspace," She graduated cum laude from Capital University where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She had been a music teacher, could play 12 instruments knew at least 7 languages. She was featured in Discover and People magazines, conversed online with the Vice President, had an exhibit in the Smithsonian Institution and was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame. She single-handedly designed the IBM Special Needs Data Base and held the highest certification as a Braille music proof-reader for the Library of Congress. For eighteen years she managed some of the busiest and most volatile forums on CompuServe with a membership of thousands. She was a woman of deep personal faith.

(I encourage reading all of Tom's article for a real in-depth view of who Georgia was.)

After corresponding with Georgia through the CompuServe Issues forum, I met her in 1997 when she came to San Francisco for a conference of Braille readers and she invited Walt and me to be her guests at a banquet, along with several other friends.

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Later that year, she was honored by the Smithsonian Museum for her contribution to information technology for the handicapped ("Handicapped" was her preferred term...she frequently said "I'm not disabled; I'm handicapped, like in golf.")

GGMedal.jpg (174702 bytes)We were able to travel to D.C. to be with her for the Smithsonian honors.  She was recognized along with about 30 other people in one of the most bizarre ceremonies I've ever seen where the recipients were kept standing in the blazing sun while the dignitaries partied in a covered area with hors d'oeuvres.   

The way they awarded the medals to the recipients was strange n that they read their names off like a graduation ceremony, with two or three different people giving out the medals, but you couldn't tell who was who, or who had done what.

Then there was the "banquet" on one of the porches of the Smithsonian building.  The tables looked lovely but the food were all in colored Chinese take-out-like boxes.  It was as if they had gone to the Dollar Store for food.  Each box held something different, but there was absolutely no cohesion whatsoever.  You might have had chow mein or cold slaw or a cookie.  Nothing was labeled and you didn't know what you were picking.  I've never seen anything so weird.

A reporter came to interview Georgia and couldn't seem to get it into her mind that Georgia could not hear her

But it was a unique event and I'm glad we were there.  And after we went to see the exhibit about Georgia in the museum, we met with Ohio Senator Mike DeWine.

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I found out later that he and I disagreed on most social issues, but it was nice being in his office while they met each other.  I later wrote him a note about the death of his son (who had been killed in an auto accident), and told him and Paul and David.  He sent back a lovely hand-written letter, so I kind of forgive him for his stance against gay marriage.  Sort of.

Georgia could speak, because she spoke for more than 30 years before losing her hearing.  You either drew words into her hand and she would answer you by speaking or you sat at a machine called a versibraille.  You typed on a regular keyboard and it raised pins on her keyboard so she could read your comment in braille and then she answered you by speaking.

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Georgia chatting with Sean Friedman

 I watched her converse with people in 3 different languages one night.

Walt, Georgia and IWalt and I visited her with my mother when Jeri was doing summer stock in Ohio and we stayed at Georgia's house.  She lived independently, but relied on her sister for everything.  She had also lost her balance and so could no longer stand at a stove and cook, and her house had hand rails everywhere, that she either hung onto, or she crawled around the house. 

She had several computers in her office, but only one monitor and when I asked to use a computer, she crawled around the snakepit of electric cords to find the one that would connect the monitor.  It was an amazing sight to watch how expertly she knew all of those cords.

I remember getting up before sunrise on the morning after we stayed there and seeing Georgia sitting on the couch, just waiting for her sister to arrive with breakfast.  It took me a second to realize that of course she would not have turned on a light because she lived in darkness.

She may have lived in physical darkness, but that brain was as bright as Einstein's.  She was one of the most memorable people I ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Today at Logos

My day started today with Coffee #4, with Jessica Cox.  My report is over on the Coffee link, but it was fun...and I put off having breakfast so I could enjoy a Peet's berry scone with my coffee.

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After we ended our coffee, I went to Supercuts to get a much-needed haircut, so I'm all ready for France now.

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In the afternoon, Walt dropped me off at Logos.  Sandy and I, who learned the last time I worked that we were both Judy Garland fans, today discovered we both loved vanGogh and we compared notes on our respective trips to the jaw-dropping vanGogh museum in Amsterdam.

An old man interrupted our chat, looking for a book about John Muir and/or Yosemite Park.  His eyesight was poor and he had difficulty looking on low shelves, so Sandy helped me find the right section to look.  He finally ended up buying "100 Years of Yosemite" and said he would take it home and read it with his magnifying glass.

A girl dressed in a most beautiful shade of salmon, accented with black, and perfectly matching her tan skin tone and hair, came in to ask if we had any job openings.  I explained that we didn't have paid employees and she left.

A professional type with black Albert Einstein hair bought a book about Roman History.

For the next hour+ there were no customers in the store.   Finally a guy came in looking for a book by an author I thought was John Belaire (but I can't find that name or anything like it on Amazon). He didn't find it and left.

Bruce came in with a book he had purchased earlier in the week.   It was a Guide Book to Diego Rivera frescoes.  It was a small $4 book and he said that he has very sensitive skin and something in the printing process made his fingers tingle, so he wanted to exchange it.  The policy is no returns or refunds, but Bruce is a good customer, so I just let him exchange the book.

My friend showed up at 4:10 and bought a book on architecture.   I told him about our upcoming cruise and he wished me well and said he'd see me when I get back.

A business type woman, carrying a lanyard and a book on sound innovations marched in, checked a couple of shelves and then left, but she turned to say goodbye as she walked out the door.

A smiling kind of roundish man with curly hair came in, a messanger bag over his shoulder.  He dropped the bag on the chair by the desk and went to check out the old books.  He ended up buying two of them, plus a book from the literature section.  His credit card didn't go through the first time, but it did when I tried it again.
A couple came in.  He was wearing a Pink Floyd shirt.  She had hair down past her shoulders, with a grey stripe down the middle of it, the hair held off her forehead by a clip to the hair on the back of her head.  She spent a lot of time looking through cookbooks and eventually bought one book about bread and another about ice cream.

Another couple came in, he with an Assassins Creed shirt, she with a topknot on her head the reminded me of something worn by one of the wives inThe King and I.  They both looked through old books, but didn't buy anything.

One couple came in, not to look at books, but to look at the new artwork on the walls, many of which are beautiful depictions of the South West.  Art works are by Don Harting and Larry Woelfel.

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A guy came in with an amazing shirt celebrating H.P. Lovecraft, writer of horror fiction.  I don't know what he was looking for because Peter arrived, with Walt shortly after him, so we left to go home.

As we started to drive off from our parking place, we were passed by this group.

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The bushes cover them up, but every person in that group has a large-ish dog on a leash, some had two on leashes.  Mre than a dozen dogs.  I don't know where they were coming from or where they were going, but they certainly made an impressive sight on the street.

We ended the afternoon glued to the TV watching the amazing 5th game of the NLCS, where the Giants won their slot into the World Series (all of which we will miss because we'll be in France).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Blue Meme

This has been floating around in my files for awhile, so let me do it now and then I can delete it

26) Are you happy with the person you've become?
More or less.  Happier with parts of me than other parts of me (and I don't just mean that physically, though that certainly applies too)

27) What's a sound you hate; sound you love?
I sound I hate--skreeching tires followed by the sound of a crash.  Sound I love--Brianna and Lacie laughing.

28) What's your biggest "what if"?
What if I had graduated from college?

29) Do you believe in ghosts?
Yes.  I've never seen one, but I do believe in ghosts, I do believe in ghosts.

30) How about aliens?
I think it is egotism in the extreme to think that in the entire cosmos, we are the only intelligent life. Of course there are aliens.  I just don't think they are here yet.

31) What is the single best decision you have made in your life so far?
Hard to pick just one.  Looking back over my life the decision Walt and I made to have children, my decision to work on the Lamplighters history, our decision to take in a guy from Brasil for a couple of weeks, moving my mother to Davis.  Lots of decisions which, looking back, turned out to be very good ones.

32) What's the worst place you have ever been to?
I'm not sure, but it must have been a ghost town in Nevada.  Or maybe that hole we drove an hour to stand around because there were supposedly fish swimming around so far below the surface that nobody could see them.
33) Can insanity bring on more creativity?
I've been to the Van Gogh museum so I think that the answer to that is definitely yes.

34) Most attractive actor of your opposite gender?
Matt Bomer

35) To you, what is the meaning of life?
Some folks will tell you that it is 42, but I believe it is 63.

36) Define "Art".
I can't definie it, but I know it when I see it.

37) Do you believe in luck?
Yeah, I do.  I don't know if you can predict luck or create luck, but I have certainly seen that some folks are much more lucky than others, and definitely people who seem to have abominable luck.

38) In your opinion, what makes a great relationship?
Friendship, a sense of humor, and shared experiences

39) What's a song that always makes you happy when you hear it?
"Grandma's Feather Bed"

40) Where were you yesterday?
I went to Atria for lunch and then spent the afternoon at home.

41) What's the worst injury you've ever had?
Falling off my bike and dislocating my shoulder, and in the process wrecking my knee for the rest of my life.

42) Do you have any obsessions right now?
Not really.

43) What's up?
Nada.  It's all extremely quiet at the moment.

44) Ever had a rumor spread about you?
If there was one, I never got wind of it.

45) Do you believe in real magic?
You mean like Harry Potter magic?  No
46) Do you ever hold grudges against people who have done you wrong?
I forgive, but I don't forget.

47) What's your favorite (non-pet) animal?
The elephant

48) What is your secret weapon to get people to like you?
I'll let you know if I find one

49) Where is your best friend?
Somewhere on a river in Germany right now, I think.

50) What do you think is Satan's last name?
We have not been introduced, so I don't know.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Through the Looking Glass

Going to Atria today was like stepping through the looking glass, for all sorts of reasons, not all of which concerned my mother's memory deficits.

First we have to return to Friday, when Walt left for Santa Barbara.  He took my mother's clean laundry to her on his way out of town. As always, he left the plastic laundry basket on her bed.  I was surprised that the only thing in her laundry basket was underwear, but it was all of her underwear, so I'm glad I got it cleaned before I was without a car for the weekend.

Monday she called in a panic because "your husband" (she can't remember anybody's name any more) never brought her laundry and she was out of underwear.  I talked her through where Walt left it (no, there was nothing in the basket, she reported) and how to find her underwear drawer, where, to her surprise, she found all of her underwear.  Walt must have put it away without her seeing him, she said.

This morning when I arrived at Atria she told me that the funniest thing had happened and that she had come back into her apartment the other day and discovered that Walt had put her underwear away in her drawer and she never got a chance to see him.

We went off to lunch at the restaurant.  I was happy to see Margaret, about whose health I had worried when she was not there the last two times we ate there (she reported she was worried about me because I hadn't been there with my mother in a long time!).

There were lots of servers today, unlike recently when service as been abysmally slow.  In fact our server (who was a new face to me) was so speedy that she asked what we wanted as we were sitting down. before we'd opened the menus, and then took away the menus before we could see what the dessert was.  But she also brought our food very quickly, which is a first.

Sadly, the food was no improvement over the crappy stuff I've had lately.  This was a chicken salad sandwich on a croissant, which sounds like it should be good,  but the croissant was hard as a rock and cold and the chicken salad was under-mayonnaised and if a chicken salad can be dry, this was dry. It takes a lot for me to leave food behind, but I have left half of my meal at each of the last three meals I have had there, they are so bad.  This is in stark contrast to how things were when my mother first moved there.  But she has lost her appetite and doesn't notice what she eats, so I don't complain.

As soon as I finished what I was going to eat of my lunch, it was whisked away and I was asked about dessert.  I told the waitress I hadn't had a chance to see the choices.  She flashed the menu past my eyes and I took the blueberry cobbler.  My mother, as usual, requested an ice cream cone, but she hadn't even eaten half of her lunch yet.  Usually we wait 15 minutes for someone to come, clear the plates and take our order.

In minutes, our desserts arrived and my mother was stuck with a sandwich in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other.  I called the waitress and praised her to the skies for being so efficient, but then pointed out that my mother was still eating her lunch and she should have noticed that before bringing her an ice cream cone.

When we finished I wanted to walk down to the area where the puzzles used to be.  They have now created a big bistro with lots of tables and chairs, and a sign saying they had to close the bistro for awhile.  Behind that in the nice big space where Lucy's Salon used to be is an area which I assume some day will have computers, but now just sits open.

I was so sad to see there were no puzzles at all.  Not only that, but I was sad also to see how this months-long remodel has turned out.   The place no longer has the inviting, "comfy" look that it once had.   Even the beautiful floral display that always stands just inside the front door is now filled with dead flowers.  The care that attracted me to the place originally is just gone.  In its place is a cold, hard place where you can't even find coffee any more.  The chairs and couches do not invite sitting and chatting because they are so uncomfortable, the layout of the front desk, which used to invite conversation between visitors and staff now keeps them apart by a long desk.  I don't even know who works there any more.  And, of course, the chief of staff doesn't give a shit about complaints brought to him.

But as I keep saying, she likes it, so I am satisfied for her sake.

We went back to the apartment and when we got there she wanted to tell me a funny story.  It seems she was waiting for me to come and bring her laundry, but I had to go somewhere and she wasn't sure what she was going to do about clean laundry because she had no underwear.  She took off the underwear she had on and washed it so it could dry overnight, but when she went to open a drawer, she found all of her underwear and she realized Walt had come to see her and put it away for her.   Laundry is definitely the fantasy for this week!

On my way out of Aria, I stopped at the front desk to see what I could find out about the puzzles.  It turns out they have moved them to the second floor, which is the kiss of death for my mother who views the second floor just slightly more favorably than the Black Hole of Calcutta.  I've been upstairs and I didn't see the puzzles, though I know if I tried harder I could find it, but there is no way that my mother will ever find it on her own.

This makes me very sad because it was the only activity at Atria that she enjoyed and participated in.  It put her in the center of a social area and she interacted with people who came to work the puzzles with her.  Now that is gone.

But also going, if not entirely "gone" is her ability to write and spell.  The other day she tried to write "daughter" on a book and spelled it S-[two indistinguishable letters]-t-t-y.  Today she had to write a check and asked me to write it for her and she would sign it.  I notice she kind of screwed up her first name.

Not the greatest Atria day.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

It Gets Easier

On October 2 I wrote an entry called "Honesty is Hard," in which I talked about my experience being a member of the Shakespeare Book Club and my decision not to renew my membership this year, even though I enjoyed -- sort of -- my attendance at meetings last year.

I felt good about my decision to say "no" and even more to act on it.

Buoyed by my success in saying "no" already, I said it again tonight.

I have mentioned before that back in the 1980s and early 90s, we played host to some 70 foreigners from 14 different countries.  It started with one wonderful Brasilian, Eduardo, who came for a 3 week program from the Experiment in International Living and blossomed into other Experiment guests (I can't say kids because some were teens, some were older and my "Brasilian brother" Nelson was our age), and then people who just heard about us.  I felt there was a note on a phone booth in the Rio de Janeiro airport that read "For a good time in the United States call....")

The shortest stay was a guy from Morocco, who just needed a place to crash for the night and was gone in the morning.  The longest stay was Vince, from Malaysia, who stayed with us for 3 years and graduated from high school and then went on to get his degree here, marry an American, and now I believe may own his own engineering business.  Their twins are about the age Vince was when he moved in with us.

The weirdest guest we had was the guy who telephoned us from the Greyhound bus station in Davis to say his friend had told him about our family and could he stay with us for a few days.  He spoke no English, moved in, lived with us for five months.  He taught Dave and Tom capoeira, the Brasilian form of martial arts.

The worst guy was a teenager whose parents needed a babysitter while they went off to France and a friend of theirs had read a story about us when we had some Chileans staying with us.  What we didn't know was that the kid did NOT want to come, was gay, had a boyfriend they wanted to keep him from, and was sullen and angry the whole time he was here.  He went back home and sent us a letter letting us know that he hated us.  His parents never even said thank you, nor did they offer to pay his expenses while he was here.

It was inevitable that we would have bad apples and we did, but we kept doing it for people like Sonia, still in our lives today.  I was matron of honor at her wedding at Lake Tahoe.  And the sight of David and his friend Jeff teaching Victor, from Congo, to speak English. They had lessons every day after the kids finished school.  Victor came to David's funeral many years later. 

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(that's Victor on the right)
Eduardo taught our kids to make kites, and Caico brought such amazing life and joy to the house, and he fell in love with our kitten.  Juan Ignacio taught me to make empanadas and I taught Chieko how to make tempura because she had never cooked in Japan before.  I remember the guys who taught David enough Portuguese that he could be the representative from Brasil at his school's UN day.   There was Pujol making his stage debut in Camelot (he later went on to study ballet and become a choreographer), and the three guys living with us when Paul and Jeri did Oliver! all coming to the theater to watch Walt step in for an actor who just didn't show up. And of course Marie from Mexico, and all the pride we have in her for her many accomplishments.

It wasn't a perfect ten+ years, but we have wonderful memories.

Now whenever someone needs to find a home for someone, they call us.  They equate us with strays -- dogs and people.  I recently had a call about a homeless man someone had befriended who needed somewhere to stay.  I hated to turn this person down, but I'm just kind of liking the calm peaceful life we have now in our empty nest.  Tonight I heard a horror story of students who seem to be being held semi-hostage in a house built for 8 but housing 19, behind locked doors, the residents not fluent in English.  A couple of kids want to leave the place, but have nowhere to go.   My friend thought we might be able to take them in.  Thank goodness we have our trip to France coming up and are unable to even consider it.  After asking my friend if she was going to take one in (no), I suggested calling local churches to see if they could help.  Heck, even if I were still in touch with all of the host families I used back in the 80s, they are now dead, or just plain old like us and not willing to put up with in-home guests again.

So I said "no" again...and did have another twinge of guilt that I should be helping out.  But it was time to put dinner on the table and the twinge passed very quickly.

Just for future reference, anybody reading this days of hosting are over. It's lovely that you think of us and it pains me to say no.  We gave and gave and gave and have no regrets and so many wonderful memories.   But to everything there is a season.  We are 30 years older now and heck, I don't think I even want to host puppies any more.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Two Feet Higher

In 3 days it will be 52 years since the day when Willie McCovey did not "hit it three feet higher." (I am amazed that I was able to find that on the Internet!)

It was the day the defending American league champion New York Yankees played the national league champion San Francisco Giants in the 1962 World Series, at now about-to-be-demolished Candlestick park.

I've liked baseball all my life.  It's probably the only sport that I will sit down and watch by myself.  (Sorry, Tom.)  I like football if I'm watching with a group, particularly if watching with Tom (when the 49ers are winning.  I am always glad I am not in Santa Barbara when the 49ers are losing since Tom takes those losses so personally!)

There was a time when I was a bigger fan and knew all the players on the Giants.  To this day I still remember that Willie Mays wore number 24 and Willie McCovey wore number 44.

We didn't attend a lot of games live, but attended our share, getting sunburned in the box seats lining the field at Candlestick, shivering in the cold when the fog rolled in off the hills, filled the stadium, and made the teeth of those hardy souls who stuck it out to the bitter end chatter.

Even before the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, I was interested in baseball, not so much from watching games (though I remember my father taking me to one San Francisco Seals game) but because players like Pee Wee Reese, shortstop for the Brooklyn (and later Los Angeles) Dodgers, used to make guest appearances on kids' radio programs like Big John and Sparky.  At least I think that was the program.  I remember hearing him with at least one other baseball player on a kids' show.  I guess I rememember Reese's name because it was so unusual.

We used to play baseball in the neighborhood.  I do wish I had had a camera back then and could have recorded the yard where we played.  It was long...maybe 30 feet? and narrow, maybe 8 feet across?  On one side was the wall of the flats that my parents rented and our kitchen window opened out onto "home plate."  First base was a bump in the wall halfway down.  Second base was the back wall which was part of the four story apartment building in which my friend Stephen lived.  Third base was just past the stairs that you climbed to get up to Stephen's apartment building, and then round again to home plate.  I can't begin to count the number of games we had there.  Stephen and his brother Michael, Karen and I, and a few other kids from the neighborhood. I think we used our forearms for a bat and hit tennis balls.  I was never good at it, but we had fun.

So when "real baseball" came to San Francisco it was fun to follow the Giants.  During the 1962  World Series, I was working at the Physics Department in Berkeley and I don't remember how I followed the series, but I do know that by the time the final game was being played, baseball fever was at a peak.  So much so that the woman who was in charge of the department brought a teeny TV set in to watch it.  The screen may have been 6" wide. I don't remember, but it was teeny.

Her office was also teeny, but we crowded in there like clowns in a circus car, Nobel Laureats squished up against the girls from the copy room, physicists and secretaries.  And like all the playoff games this year have been, it, too, was a nail biter.  Reliving the day, from The Hardball Times, which I found on line

Heading into the bottom of the ninth, pitcher Ralph Terry had allowed just two base runners all day – Sanford’s single and a two-out triple by Willie McCovey in the seventh. The slender 1-0 margin still held, and now the Giants had just three outs left.

Leading off the ninth, pinch hitter Matty Alou bunted for a single off Terry for the third Giants safety of the day. However, Terry bore down and struck out the next two batters. One out from yet another Yankee triumph, Kubek’s run-scoring GIDP looked like it was all the offense Terry needed.

However, up to the plate came the one and only Willie Mays. Don’t look now folks, but the game may not be over yet. All Mays had done in 1962 was hit 49 homers, hit .304 and drive in 141 runs. Yeah, that’s all.

Mays swung on a Terry offering and his aim was true. The ball went to the outfield, where right fielder Roger Maris had to make a good play on it to cut it off before it got to the wall. Mays got a double, but Maris’ defense kept Alou from scoring. And now, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in Game Seven of the World Series, the Giants had the tying and winning run in scoring position with the heart of the order coming up.

And what a heart of the order it was! OK, so Mays was already on base. But next up was young Willie McCovey. All he’d done that year was hit 20 homers in 92 games. Plus, let’s not forget he thrashed Terry for a triple just two innings ago.

I guess you could intentionally walk him, but that means that Ralph Terry would have to face another future Hall of Famer, Orlando Cepeda. Folks, Cepeda was the reason McCovey had to fight for playing time. Not only had Cepeda hit 35 homers with a .306 average for him at age 24, but that was actually a bit of a down year for him. In 1962, he smacked 46 homers while hitting .311. So if you walk McCovey, you get a man who is possibly even a better hitter—and you’d have to throw him strikes because a walk would tie the game.

Ralph Terry gave it his best shot, and threw a pitch to the young Giants slugger. McCovey swung—and hit a liner.

Let’s pause here. This is the ultimate hair-standing-on-end moment. Once the ball leaves McCovey’s bat, it looks like the World Series will be decided, one way or another. Odds are, it’ll land where no Yankee can get to it, in which case the Alou and speedy Mays both score and the Giants win it all. However, if it goes where a Yankee is, then the Bronx Bombers will have done it again, winning 1-0.

End pause. McCovey’s liner has the oomph to land for a hit—but it just doesn’t have the placement. It goes to second baseman Bobby Richardson, who catches it in self-defense.

The sadness that Giants Nation must have felt was best expressed by comic strip legend Charlie Brown in a pair of Peanuts strips. In the first, there are three panel of Brown and friends looking utterly dejected. In the last panel, Brown screams out “Why couldn’t McCovey had hit the ball three feet higher?” The second strip is the same thing, except this time Brown cries in the last panel, “Why couldn’t McCovey hit it just two feet higher?”

Two feet. That’s all that separated a Yankee triumph from a Giants victory. But that two feet went to the Yankees.

Like today, there was no joy in Mudville when Mighty McCovey flied out.  The Physics Department manager's office cleared as fast as a political ralley after the losing candidate gives his concession speech.

At least the Giants have another chance to win their second game in this playoff series tomorrow, but if it's another losing nailbiter I know I will be thinking of McCovey and the time when he couldn't hit it three feet higher,