Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Books in Review

Every year at the end of December, I do a review of the books I read throughout the year.  Last year, I only read 36 books, or a total of 11,543 pages.  This year I increased that significantly, reading 57 books, 18,746 pages.

Of the books I read,

28 were "real books" and of those 18 were books I read at Logos
14 were Kindle books
15 were audio books
I broke the subject matter down into genres:
16 were what I call "blood and gore" books, technically crime dramas
10 were novels that don't fit any specific genre other than "contemporary fiction."
2 were classics (by Mark Twain and by James Hilton)
10 were non-fiction including...
     ....2 Compassion-related books, books about people sponsoring children
3 were about animals (including one young adult book)
4 were about dementia or Alzheimers
3 were books written by friends
2 were contemporary fiction with a lesbian theme (one of those was a cross-over, since it was also a blood and gore book!)

The non-fiction category was mostly biographies or autobiographies, or books like "Acquired Tastes" by Peter Mayle, which tells his experience of being sponsored to find out what it's like to spend a year living as an ultra  rich person enjoying things like Havana cigars, top of the line liquors, 5 star restaurants and hotels, first class transportation, specially made shoes and suits, etc.  (Nice work, if you can get it!)

I actually read three books by Mayle.  The other two were "A Good Year," the story of a man who loses his job and inherits a villa in the South of France and his adjustments to the life there; and "A Dog's Life," which I described as "the story Marley would have written if a real life dog could have written."

Of the autobiographies, my favorite would be a toss up between Rob Lowe's "Stories I Only Tell My friends" and Alan Cummin's "Not My Father's Son."  I listened to both as audio books, and both were riveting.  What a difference between Lowe's privileged childhood in Malibu and Cummin's violent one in Britain.  I've come to think that listening to an autobiography read by the subject is much better than reading it because there are nuances that don't come across on the written page (like Kristen Chenoweth's story, which I read a few years ago, which includes bits of her singing).  Lowe's follow-up book, "Love Life," wasn't nearly as interesting, though the relationship between him and his sons was beautiful to read.

Scary stories would be "Stolen Innocence" by Elisa Wall, the story of a girl raised in the Fundamentalist LDS church and her story of abuse and ultimate escape, and "Elephant Girl" by Jane Devin, a child who escaped an abusive parenthood and her struggle to become a successful adult.  The latter book suffered from lack of an editor, as it was self published and far too long.  There were places where you wanted to roll your eyes and say "Come on now!"

A disappointing biography, but not surprising, would be "Angry Optimist" by Lisa Rogak, which follows Jon Stewart's career and paints him as a less than likeable person, which I had heard rumors about, but I still like his public persona.

I thought I had already read all the books I was going to read about dementia, but found four more this year. "Can't We Talk about Something more Pleasant?" by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast was a book I shared with Jeri, as it is the story of Chast's relationship with her parents before, during, and after the onset of their dementia.  "While I Still Can" was written by early onset Alzheimers-diagnosed Rick Phelps, written to help caregivers understand what it is like to be him.  (I found that one very helpful in understanding what is going on inside my mother's head.)  He also set up a group on Facebook, which has thousands of followers and which has been so supportive to everyone who participates.  "My Roller Coaster Ride with Sallie" was more a soul-baring story about a daughter's trials with her mother, while "A Dignified Life" by Virginia Bell and David Troxel offers more practical ideas for dealing with a loved one with dementia.

Books written by friends included a re-read of David Gerrold's "When HARLIE Was One," and a newly published book, "How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness" by Toni Bernhard, who asked me to review her book for Amazon, which I was happy to do.  The third book was "Trowsering Your Weasel" written by not exactly a friend, but fellow blogger Murr Brewster, who is the funniest blogger since Marn gave up years ago.

There's also a "Miscellaneous" classification which includes "Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey" (a book I read at Logos), "Of All the Gin Joints" by Mark Bailey, which is a great bathroom book, since each "chapter" is only a page or two; and "The Wicked Stepmother" a fairy tale from Kenya, which I read because one of my sponsored kids mentioned reading it.  Strange book.

Of all the books, my favorites include Stephen King's "11/22/63" which shows that going back in time to change things has unexpected consequences.  I also enjoyed Emma Donahue's "Room," which I probably would not have finished if I had been reading it, but the voice of the young boy, Jack, who narrates this audio book, was so compelling that I couldn't stop listening to it. And surprisingly, I loved "The Martian" by Andy Weir, a story I would never have picked up if it hadn't been a book club selection, but it was fascinating.

Disappointing books included the much-touted "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt, another book club selection, which was much longer than it should have been and ultimately I think I liked it, but didn't always like it throughout the book.  I also labored through "Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which gives a not entirely pleasant view of America by a Nigerian, living here for 6 years and observing the overt and covert racism that goes on.  I also learned more about African hair than I ever knew.

I read 4 Ruth Rendell mysteries and 5 Harlan Coben books.  Rendell's best books feature Inspector Wexford and each of them made me wish I had started with book one because reading them out of order is confusing, since the series seems to cover his entire career as a detective.

As for Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar books, I loved them and listened to them all as audio books, though in the last one I read (there are two more) the original narrator, Jonathan Marosz, was gone and Coben read the book himself.  Suffice to say he is a terrible audio book reader and I'm glad to hear that the next two will have a regular professional narrator, though not Marosz, whom I will miss.

I do love looking back over the year and see what my reading life has been like.  I look forward to seeing what new adventures await me in the pages of books in 2016.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Disappointing Logos

Lacie was having a tantrum.  We had been to lunch and then we were going to walk over to Logos so I could show everyone the store and Lacie could look at the kids' books because books are what she loves best.  But she did not want to walk.  And sat down, insisting that someone carry her.

But she was cajoled into walking the two more blocks, with the promise of books at the end (though ultimately Auntie O broke down and did carry her).  But I had made a big mistake.  Logos is closed on Mondays and I forgot that.  When we got to the store and saw the sign, Lacie broke down.

(I do think it's kind of neat that a 4 year old could be this upset at not being able to get to books, though!  Obviously my granddaughter.)

We cheered her up again with the promise of frozen yogurt and that went pretty well.  Norm sat at the "kids table."

Later Lacie sat with Auntie Olivia and watched promos for Star Wars, which is apparently the kids' latest passion.

At the same time, Brianna was engaged in her own conversation with Uncle Norm, listening to him talking about Star Wars.

Ultimately Lacie decided she wanted to send text messages to Norm.

(Of course, since she can't spell, she just sent gibberish).

When we finally vacated the yogurt place (we were the only people in there and took up almost every table!), we took Tom et al over to Davis' famous Toad Hollow, the toad town that the postmaster's father built next to the post office when the city spent $15,000 to dig a tunnel under a new overpass so any toads that might want to cross the road wouldn't get squashed by the cars. (To the best of my knowledge, no toads have ever been seen near  the tunnel!)

I've been wanting to show Toad Hollow to the girls for a long time (the "going green" refers to the faux solar panels that were added to the buildings awhile back.)

We finally said goodbye to the family, who were heading back to Sacramento, and then leaving for Santa Barbara tomorrow (stopping en route to see Star Wars!).  It's been a fun couple of days and so nice to see the girls, though I do understand why you have children when you are young!

I had to add this brilliant window display at the Avid Reader.

I want to give a special award to the person who thought this up!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Sunday Stealing

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?
Took an ocean cruise.  We went from Barcelona to Venice.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don't make resolutions and won't next year either.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
No, but our dog sitter, whom I love, just announced she's pregnant, so next year I will be able to say yes.

4. Tell us a valuable lesson you learned in 2015?
I learned more about Alzheimers than I ever thought I would need to know.

5. What was your favorite new TV program?
I am loving the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  I never watched his old show and never watched Letterman, but the combination of the two is just great.  I also love Code Black.

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
I didn't really lack anything in 2015.

7. What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I may not remember the actual date, but I will forever remember that my cousin died the day after Thanksgiving.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Probably starting to work for the Sacramento News and Review as one of its 4 theater critics.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I know it's hopeless, but I just wish I could drag my mother out of her apathy.

10. What was the best thing you bought?
Membership in Blue Apron!  It is making meal planning effortless (at least 3 days a week)

11. Whose behavior merited celebration?
I'm pretty proud of our president, actually.

12. Whose behavior made you appalled and disgusted?
I'm wondering how many Sunday Stealing participants will join me in saying Donald Trump. Maybe even mre appalling and disgusting are his supporters who stand by him no matter how outrageous he is, no matter whom he mocks.  The last one I heard was a guy who said that inspired by Trump's rhetoric he set fire to a mosque the day after Christmas.  What a wonderful thing to do in this season of peace.  I am also appalled and disgusted at the congressmen who held off giving medical assistance to 9/11 first responders until so many of them died and Jon Stewart took them to D.C. to beg for their vote.  But then congress pretty much appalls and disgusts me most days since the Republicans vowed never to pass anything Obama wanted, even if it was for the good of the country.

13. What song will always remind you of 2015?
I'm not really familiar with popular music, so nothing special.

14. What do you wish you’d done more of?

15. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Bemoaning being unable to shake my mother out of her apathy.

16. What was the best book you read?
It's a toss up between Stephen King's "11/22/63" and Alan Cummin's "Not My Father's Son."

17. What one thing would have made your year measurably more satisfying?
To have my "old" mother back again, not the apathetic person she is today.

18. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
"You've got to accentuate the positive / eliminated the negative / latch on to the affirmative / and don't mess with Mr. In-between."

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas #3

As I write this it is 5:30 a.m.  I have slept the clock around.  I guess Christmas #3 did me in...or else it's the emotional impact of the whole holiday, that I am glad is over.  In any event, I am nothing if not well rested this morning!

Christmas #3 started with going to my mother's at about 11 a.m.  It was one of her disoriented days and I wondered if the upcoming time with Tom, Laurel and the grandkids was going to be too much for her.  I suspect it was but she kind of went in and out from enjoying it...

to being overwhelmed by all the confusion of what was going on.  

I was happy to give the girls their shirts from Venice.

At first, my mother didn't want to go to lunch with us because she wasn't feeling well, but when I told her we were just going to Atria's dining room, she agreed to go along

 (thank goodness the girls are so well behaved in a restaurant).

They had each received American Girl dolls for Christmas, Grace and Maryanne, and the dolls enjoyed lunch too.

My mother needed a rest from our visit, so after taking a picture by the Atria Christmas tree...

...we took her back to the apartment, where Lacie decided to read a story to Walt.

Then we said our goodbyes and headed off to Slide Hill Park for a bit of physical play to tire the girls out.

(Mommy too!)

Walt and I said our goodbyes and went off to a Boxing Day party at the home of our friends, Steve and Larry.  It was a small gathering and everyone there was a friend, so I felt quite at home. 
Before going home, Walt and I took a drive around town to see the lights.  The best, of course, belonged to our friend Derrick, whose home won for best lights this year.

Then back home and instantly to sleep.  I woke up twice thru the night and went right back to sleep almost instantly.  To quote my mother, "I'm getting old."

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas #2

It started out as a weird Christmas morning.  With no kids here, and nobody expected there was no big Christmas breakfast, nobody to squeeze a bazillion oranges for juice.  I did make Trader Joe's chocolate croissants.  Sometime during the morning, Walt said "I guess we could open each other's presents?"  So we did.  We now have a DVD/VCR player again, something we have not had in more than a year.  Can hardly wait to get it installed.  And Walt has a fancy new watch.

I called my mother around 10 to wish her a Merry Christmas.  She didn't know it was Christmas.  I told her we would come and have dinner with her, knowing full well she would not remember when we got there--and she didn't, though was happy to see us.

But the day itself was just like any other day.  I worked in my office and watched an NCIS "Gibbs rules" marathon.  Walt and I both took naps.  At 4 we went to Atria.  And of course she was surprised to see us and didn't know it was Christmas.  When I plugged in her tree (she always unplugs it after we leave), she told me over and over again how much she enjoys the tree (last time I saw her she was concerned about how she was going to get rid of it) and how she could never forget it was Christmas because the tree always reminds her.

We brought egg nog and brandy and had a nice pre-dinner drink.

Then I gave her her gifts -- White Shoulders perfume, which she used to wear all the time when I was growing up ("didn't I have a boyfriend who liked this perfume?" ... I reminded her it was my father who liked it), some new underwear (I can go 3 days longer now before doing her laundry!), and some slippers that were a last minute impulse purchase, but which seemed to be her favorite gift.  She was surprisingly delighted with everything (last year she just told me she didn't need anything and didn't want anything).  It was fun to watch her delight.

We went to the Atria restaurant for dinner.  They had their "big" Christmas meal at noon, a prime rib buffet, which, of course, my mother did not attend.  There were so few residents at dinner that they had blocked off half of the tables.  We had the choice of turkey tetrazzini or crab cakes and of course all of us chose crab cakes.  We were ultimately joined by Robert, the guy my other always refers to as her "boyfriend."  He's a couple of years older than she and is a retired surgical veterinarian and a published author, who regaled us with the plot of the story he had written this afternoon.  (He has a reading once a week at Atria...I think he said that he usually has an audience of one!)

It was all lovely and we really had a good time. Walt and I planned to drive around Davis and look at lights, but it was about time for Jeopardy and we were both tired anyway, so we just came home and stayed.  The dogs were happy.

Tomorrow Tom and the family will come to Atria at 11 and we'll have Christmas #3 and then lunch in the dining room.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Today at Logos

While most people were doing "Christmas Eve stuff" today, maybe having a fancy dinner with relatives or friends, relaxing in front of the tree, maybe a nice fire going and planning a fancy breakfast for tomorrow, around here it was a normal day.  I worked at Logos, cooked a delicious Blue Apron dinner and then watched a Chopped marathon.

As I write this it is officially Christmas day and there is not much planned today either.  We'll go to Atria around 4.  My mother will be surprised, though I will call her in the morning to let her know.  We will have dinner in the restaurant, listen to how old my mother is, and then come home.  Maybe we'll drive around town and look at house lights.  Maybe not.

Sometime this weekend, Saturday or Sunday, Tom and the family will come to Atria, possibly with Walt's brother and his wife, and we'll do a quiet "Christmas" with my mother, but not stay too long because she gets anxious.  Then...I don't know what.  Maybe come here for dinner, or maybe go out to a restaurant for dinner.

I have to admit I've been kind of morose all day.  This is so different from the memories of Christmas past.

I expected to have a very quiet day at Logos, but Sandy had the busiest day since she'd worked there.  At several times people were lined up to buy books.  Last minute Christmas shoppers.  Apparently on 'Bargain Monday' earlier this week Logos had made more than twice the normal daily income, which was very nice.

The radio was on in the background today, and when I started working it was playing Handel's Messiah.

My first customer was trying to decide between Cokie Roberts' book on the letters of Mrs. Henry Adams and another book.  She asked my opinion.  I had not heard of either book, but do enjoy Cokie Roberts on talking head shows and I guess that made up her mind.  She bought that book and then wished me a Merry Christmas (not a Happy Holiday)

The next customers bought Steinbeck's "A Life in Letters," one of my favorite books, and I was so enthused about telling her what a wonderful book it is that I forgot to note what her other purchase was.  As they left, she thanked me for being open today.

A middle aged couple arrived.  He was a tall professorial type and his companion was considerably shorter and was dressed all in black, with a faux fur coat.  As she turned around I could see that her stockings had a rather strange pattern running up the back of her leg. I snapped a quick picture as she was leaving the shop (they didn't buy anything)

An Asian woman bought a copy of Strunk and White's "Elements of Style," a thesaurus, "The Tao of Physics" and another science book and a copy of the bible.  Her total was $29.84.  It was one of the two big sales I had all afternoon.  The other one was roughly the same amount and it was to myself for books that I bought to give the girls for Christmas.

The next woman wore a purple jacket, a purple backpack with zebra stripes, and matching shoes.  She also didn't buy anything.

A mother and young daughter were looking for a book called,  think, "Baby Wise" about raising babies, but they didn't find it and I sent them off to the Avid Reader in the next block.

A tall woman with a very bad cough bought 3 bargain books, 2 contemporary fictions and one of the Ladies #1 Detective Agency series.

A couple came in looking for Len Deighton books, but a specific one.  We didn't have it and I suggested they, too, try the Avid Reader.

A middle aged man carrying a violin case bought two contemporary fiction books.

A guy popped in to ask if I knew where he could buy classical CDs in town.  Since Tower records left, I didn't have a clue where to suggest to him.

A tall, Jane Lynch type came in, dressed all in black with a black backpack and carrying a Trader Joe's bag.  Her perfumed wafted along behind her as she walked around the store.  I decided she must have dogs because she had what looked like paw prints on her upper thigh and on her lower calf, where Polly jumps on me all the time.  She wanted to buy a book on the conflict between Israel and Palestine, but didn't have enough money and said she would be back, but she didn't return.

A foreign guy with very, very limited English kept asking me something and it sounded like he wanted me to give him fifty cents.  It turned out he wanted to know where he could find the fiction books.  He ultimately bought one.

My last customer was an older man wearing a yellow slicker and leaning on a walking stick.  He bought a book called "Manchu" and talked about how terrible the highways were now and that he had friends who were taking the train to Oregon because they didn't want to drive and wouldn't fly because of terrorist threats.

Downtown was very dead when Walt and I left the store.  Most shops were closed and there were lots of parking places, so he had parked right across the street, which was nice.  And that was how I spent the day of Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Broken Bottle

One of the prompts for Holidailies today is "Tell us about a memorable holiday meal."  We've had many memorable holiday meals over the years, but some of the best came during the 10 year period when we hosted people from other countries, some students, some older people.  There were 70 of them from 14 different countries.

I remember the year when we had a girl from Japan, a guy from Venezuela and a guy from Congo who were here for Christmas and I got the brilliant idea that each of the foreigners should make something from his or her country to contribute to the dinner.

Chieko, from Japan, decided she wanted to make tempura, which I love.  I took her to the store to buy ingredients and when we got home, she admitted she had never cooked before and didn't have the slightest idea how to cook tempura.  I ended up making it and teaching her how to do it!

We had big crowds around our table in those years.  We have a relatively small house and our biggest year we had a sit-down dinner for 24 people, which involved moving furniture out of the family room and borrowing chairs from the local community center (conveniently, our kids worked there and would just pop down and pick up whatever we needed and return when dinner was finished).  The tables, put end to end stretched from one end of the room to the other.

I don't remember how many foreigners we had with us that year.  Vince, from Malaysia, lived with us for 3 years while finished high school and Marie, from Mexico, was finishing up her senior year in high school.  Marie's sister Sandra was visiting for Christmas.  It was the first time she had met any of us and she spoke very limited English

It was the year Jeri was working for a theatrical supply place in San Francisco and she bought her brother David a break-away bottle for Christmas.

Our kids, in those days, made movies of just about anything.  Naturally with a break-away bottle an intricate plot was quickly planned.  It involved lots of chase scenes and the kids spent most of the day filming the various scenes.

The final scene was to take place at the dinner table.  The final chase scene would be into the eating area, and climbing over the chairs, with David threatening Paul.  Walt was told he was to shout "Hey, you kids...cut it out," where upon David would pick up the break-away bottle, which looked like a bottle of wine and which was sitting on the table and hit Paul over the head with it.

It went very well and everybody was kind of watching, while still eating, nobody really very upset because this was so common in our house that they were used to it.

But when David grabbed the bottle and hit Paul, Sandra, who was NOT used to it and who didn't speak enough English to know that it was all just an act, just about had a heart attack.  We had to calm her down while Marie explained what was going on.  When she finally realized she thought it was funny, but for awhile there we scared the dickens out of her.

Vince is now an American citizen and a big mucky muck with his own company.  He has a big house here in Davis and a wonderful family, which includes a set of twins.

Marie is married and she and her husband own a restaurant, Todo un Poco in nearby Elk Grove.  She has been Citizen of the Year in the town where they live and her restaurant has been on "best of..." lists for the Sacramento area. She was recently featured with a full page photo and 3 page article in the local business magazine.

Sandra has a son and works in the restaurant with Marie.  Fortunately she has recovered from the shock of seeing the Sykes family in a little too much action!

I have to admit that contemplating our subdued Christmas this year, I miss those crazy days and "Mom's annual Christmas Crisis" before the guests arrived. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Oranges and Pay Phones

It was my day to work at Sutter.  I work the afternoon shift (12;30-4:30) because I'm too lazy to get up and functioning for the morning shift (9:30-12:30).  But yesterday afternoon I had a call from the morning person that she had a dental emergency and would not be able to work.  She wondered if I could come in a bit early.  I told her I could probably be there by 10:30.  She said I could then leave at 2:30.  

But as it turned out, Walt had a doctor's appointment and needed the car and as it was a cold, grey day and I didn't want to take the bus, I just had him drop me off on his way out of town. Thus I actually arrived at Sutter at 9:30 and, because Walt misunderstood me about what time I wanted him to pick me up, it was 4 before I left, so I pretty much worked 2 shifts.

It was my first time setting up for the day, which involves getting a bunch of stuff from the Auxiliary room and bringing it to the front desk.  You pile it all into the wheelchair that then stays at the front desk in case someone needs it.

The wheelchair was folded up and I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to unfold it.  I tried everything that clicked or rotated or what all but the damn thing just would not unfold.  Naturally there was nobody in the hall to ask for assistance.

I finally collared a woman putting laundry on a cart.  She spoke very little English and I had a difficult time making myself understood, but finally dragged her to the auxiliary room to show her my plight.  She went to the back of the chair, leaned over, pushed on the seat and the thing opened right up.  Did I feel dumb!  But now I know how to open the wheelchair when I need to next time.

There were also some New Yorker magazines in the room with a sign saying they were there for the taking, so I took two of them to read, mostly to check out the cartoons.

My desk all set up, finally, I was ready to settle in, only I couldn't log onto the computer.  I don't know what I was doing, but my log in was correct and I knew my password was correct.  I was finally able to do it, but it took me half a dozen tries, changing capital letters and punctuation.  When I finally got it right, I copied it onto my iPhone file so I won't forget next time.

It was a day of firsts.  My first time taking something upstairs to the nurse's station, my first time looking for the Patient Services office (there isn't one, but the Patient Services person had left the hour before).  A woman was looking for a pay phone and I didn't know where there was one so sent her to the gift shop, and the volunteer there didn't know where there was one.  I asked the security people who come by the desk every 20 minutes or so and they didn't know where there was one.  Ultimately we all found out that there was a pay phone just a few feet from the information desk, only it doesn't look like a public phone because it's built into the wall.

The one thing I did not do was go to the cafeteria for lunch.  I don't know why.  I was hungry at lunch time and through the morning the smell of food wafted by the information desk, intermingled with the smell of disinfect when they were cleaning the restrooms.  But for some reason I felt uncomfortable going in there.  I certainly don't know why.  Instead I bought peanuts at the gift shop.

I settled in with the New Yorker.  I never actually read the New Yorker because the articles are all the length of novelettes, but I found out you can learn a lot from browsing through the magazine.  For one thing, I learned from reading reviews of plays, restaurants, art exhibits and things about people about town that I am no New Yorker.  It was like reading about a foreign country.

I was also disappointed in the cartoons.  New Yorker cartoons used to be funny.  I checked all the cartoons in both magazines and only found on that was mildly amusing.  I wonder what the criteria is for getting a cartoon accepted to this magazine....or are those, too, so esoteric that you have to be a New Yorker to "get" them?

I started reading an article about Jeb Bush from September because it looked short, but it was actually five full magazine pages long and morphed into comparisons among all the Republican candidates that scared the bejeezus out of me.  The notion that any of those war mongers might take the White House is chilling.

I then read an article that looked like a simple article about oranges which morphed into another four long pages about writing and editing, but also contained more information about oranges than I ever wanted to know.  They author intended to write something "short" about oranges, "something under ten thousand words."  To put it in context, my reviews all run about 750-800 words so it's difficult for me to think of ten thousand words as being anything "short." He was prompted to write about oranges because there was a machine in Pennsylvania Station that peeled, cut, and squeezed oranges and he stopped there frequently.  But he noticed that the color of the oranges seemed to change with the seasons (lighter orange to darker orange) and he wondered why.

Writing the article involved flying to Florida to investigate the orange business.  (Nice work if you can get it!) He discovered several dozen people with PhDs in oranges and a citrus library of a hundred thousand titles--scientific papers, mainly, and doctoral dissertations and six thousand books.  Who knew there was that much to say about oranges?  The article took several months to write and, after submission, was edited down so that most of it was cut.  So the rest of this article (which was actually not about oranges at all, but about writing about oranges) involved how one decides what to cut, how to write "short" and the art of article editing.  Interesting.  I took the magazine home because I still haven't finished it, but it's clear why one does not become rich from writing!

I apparently earned Brownie points for working 6-1/2 hours, though the time pretty much flew by and I enjoyed having the opportunity to sit and finish the book I've been reading for the past month...and to learn all about oranges.

And, best of all, at the end of the day, when I returned everything to the Auxiliary room, I knew how to lock and unlock the wheelchair.  Maybe next time I'll get up the courage to enter the cafeteria.  Don't want to rush these things.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Santa Rhumba

Ned was on TV this morning.

The guy in the middle of this picture is Tom Fay, who used to be lead singer for a group called the Rhythm Kings in the era when Ned was performing with Lawsuit (the guy on the right is K.C. Bowman, who was also in Lawsuit and now has his own recording studio and two other bands).

In 1994, the Rhythm Kings and Lawsuit and a bunch of other local bands put together a CD of Christmas music as a fund raiser for the Sacramento AIDS Foundation.  Lawsuit recorded The Grassy Knรถel and the Rhythm Kings had one of my favorite Christmas songs, The Santa Rhumba.

Lawsuit called it quits at the end of 1996 and I don't know how much longer the Rhythm Kings stayed together, but apparently they haven't performed together in years.  I also don't know how they happened to have been invited to perform the Santa Rhumba on the morning program of one of the local TV stations.

Fay invited Ned to come with them to the station and KC, who had come up from Oakland to attend Ned and Marta's Christmas party and his father's 75 birthday party also came along to play the guitar.
When we saw him last night Ned let me know they were going to be on, but the show runs four hours and he wasn't sure which hour they would be on.  He suspected they would be on the 7 a.m. hour, but I set up the DVR to record from 6 to 10, just in case!

I have never watched this station and probably never will again.  Near as I can tell, all they do is tell the news and the traffic.  I cannot tell yu how many times during the course of the 3 hours I watched that I heard what the weather was going to be and saw traffic cam shots of the same stretch of highway.  There is funny chit chat among the hosts in between, and then off again to the weather report, in case it changed in the last 5 minutes.

Ned was right.  They were on the 7 a.m. hour, at the very end....and if they had cut out one of those weather reports they would not have been cut off before the song ended.

As a teaser for the 8 a.m. hour, the hosts said that the Rhythm Kings would be back and again it was at the end of the hour and the song was cut off before it ended.

K.C. played the guitar; Ned just futzed around.  He had rhythm instruments for the first song and just danced with and around the female vocalist for the second, but you know?  He's a media guy.  He has been on or around stage just about his entire life and he definitely knows how make a show interesting and how to present the camera guy with something more interesting to film other than a bunch of musicians standing in line across a stage, playing. Ned danced, kibitzed with the woman, and made faces when he could see the camera pointed at him.  As a result, he got more screen time than anybody else, though the others got their fair share as well.

It was a fun morning and always fun seeing Ned on stage.  They said they hadn't performed The Santa Rhumba in 20 years, and it was nice to see it performed live again too.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas #1

This is a year when our "Christmas" will be spread over several days.  Today was the day to have Christmas with Ned, who will be in Jamaica with Marta, Jeri & Phil and Walt's sister and brother-in-law.  It sounds like they are going to have a wonderful week there, with private beach, someone to drive them around the island and even, he thinks, the villa decorated for Christmas.

We made arrangements to have dinner with my mother tonight.  I wanted to be sure to send the Christmas packages for everyone with Ned.  He said "make them small" and they were...very small, other than his complete Breaking Bad CD set, which he opened tonight.  I knew he didn't need to take that with him to Jamaica.

Ned and Marta gave Walt and me the perfect Christmas gift:  They donated several dog beds and blankets to their local animal shelter in our name.  Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory.
We visited a bit and my mother apologized several times for having nothing to serve us because she didn't know we were coming (yes, I called her and let her know about 2 hours before we were going to get there).  There was a gift bag there with a book in it (but no gift card) and she doesn't know how it got there or who gave it to her, so if anybody who reads this brought it, please let me know!

We went off to the restaurant and had a lovely dinner, which ended with big chunks of coconut cream pie.  My mother didn't order any but Ned said they would share, which seemed to work for her.

After dinner we walked back to her apartment.  I just love this photo.  I have a similar one of my aunt Barb walking to her apartment with her daughter.

Back at the apartment, Ned pulled out the "travel guitar" he has borrowed to take to Jamaica since he doesn't want to pack his big guitar.  He surprised me by playing "I have a song to sing-o" from Gilbert & Sullivan's Yeoman of the Guard.  I didn't know he knew it!

My mother seemed to enjoy it.

We had gone to dinner at 5 so by the time we got back and visited a bit and decided to leave it was just slightly after early evening!   But it was a low key Christmas and since we pulled it on her kind of as a surprise, she didn't have time to get sick to her stomach worrying about "entertaining."
I probably won't even tell her that Tom et al. are going to come to see her on Christmas day because either she will get sick with worry, or forget anyway.  Better let it be a surprise.  Walt and I have decided to have dinner at Atria Christmas night, since we can't find a Chinese restaurant that is going to be open that night (which says good things about the consideration the owners of such restaurants have for their employees).

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Stealing

1. Have you been naughty or nice this year?
Nice, of course.  I'm always nice.

2. What do you want most for Christmas?
A new Republican candidate for president. 

3. What is your favorite Christmas movie?
Miracle on 34th Street, the original, with Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood, not the remake.  I also like White Christmas.

4. How many Christmas cards do you normally send out?
I used to send >100, but with postage skyrocketing, I went to an on-line Christmas letter, which goes out to about 100 people.  A shortened version (fewer photos) goes to a handful of people for whom I do not have e-mail addresses.  This year I have sent fewer than usual because when my computer died, I lost many of my addresses!

5. Do you still get a stocking?
Only fuzzy socks, which I wear, not stockings that get hung up to be filled.

6. What is your favorite Christmas song?
"Silver Bells" (Bing Crosby version) and "Little Drummer Boy"

7. What is your favorite Christmas tv special?
It's not exactly a Christmas special, but this is the season where they usually run Wizard of Oz and I usually watch that.  I do love A Charlie Brown Christmas, though.

8. What is your favorite way to wrap gifts?
I've always loved wrapping gifts in wrapping paper, and used to make ornate ribbons with roses and other fancy things, though lately I have been using more bags than wrapping paper, I think

9. What do you look forward to most at Christmas?
Seeing the grandkids.

10. What did you do for Christmas this year?
Well, this should be what WILL you do for Christmas, since it's being posted the Saturday before.  This will be a very low key Christmas since Jeri and Ned and their spouses are going to Jamaica and my mother forgets that it's Christmas.  Tom and his family will come over and spend some time with her (and us) some time Christmas day.  But it will not seem like the Christmases of old, when we had lots and lots of people here at our house.

11. Who do you want to kiss under the mistletoe?
My granddaughter, Brianna...but I suspect there will be no mistletoe.

12. What kind of Christmas tree do you have?
With no company coming, we have not put up a tree, though I will probably today get our ornament tree set up.

13. Did you take part in a Secret Santa?
Not in many years.

14. Did you go to any Christmas parties?
No, but we will go to a Boxing Day party on the 26th

15. How early do you wake up on Christmas morning?
When the kids were little, we would get up around 6, at first because they woke us up and later, as they got older, because we were eager for THEM to get up.  Now, we just sleep till we will just sleep till we wake up, since there won't be anybody here on Christmas morning but the two of us.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saturday Nine

Welcome to Saturday: 9. What we've committed to our readers is that we will post 9 questions every Saturday. Sometimes the post will have a theme, and at other times the questions will be totally unrelated. Those weeks we do "random questions," so-to-speak. We encourage you to visit other participants posts and leave a comment. Because we don't have any rules, it is your choice. We hate rules. We love memes, however, and here is today's meme!

Saturday 9: Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (1979)

Unfamiliar with this week's tune? Hear it here.

1) According to a marketing research firm, this song is both one of the most played and most hated songs of the season. Do you like it?
I've always liked it, ever since I first heard it.  I have a weird sense of humor that it seemed to speak to.  Never thought it would become the big hit that it has, though!  My least favorite Christmas song is "Feliz Navidad."

2) In this song, Grandma's troubles start when she drinks too much eggnog. Do you like eggnog?
I like it.  I used to love it, but somehow it never tastes as good as I remember. I should make my own.

3) In the song, Grandpa recovers from losing Grandma by drinking beer and playing cards with Cousin Mel. Will you be celebrating the holidays with cousins?
Sad question, since my best-friend-cousin just died.  But no, I never did spend holidays with any of my 32 cousins.

4) When did you most recently drink a beer? Was it in a bottle, a can or a glass?
I'm not a big beer drinker (or drinker at all), but I think I did have some beer on our cruise.  It would have been in a glass, though, since a bottle is far too much for me to drink.  I only like it ice cold and a bottle gets too room temperature too fast.

5) The lyrics refer to "pudding of fig." In "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," the carolers demand figgy pudding. Yet despite its popularity in holiday songs, Sam has never tasted fig pudding. Have you?
I think I made one, many, many years ago.  It reminded me of fruitcake and, as I recall, the best part was the hard sauce that went with it.  "Hard sauce" is described very accurately by the Pioneer Woman as "a soft, spoonable topping meant to be plopped onto the top of warm (and the “warm” part is important) desserts like pies, pudding, cobblers, and crisps. It has a butter base, so when it hits the warm dessert, it takes its own sweet time melting and running down the sides of whatever the dessert happens to be. It’s absolutely out of this world."

6) Thinking of holiday sweets, would you prefer a gingerbread cookie or slice of pumpkin pie?
Definitely a slice (or two) of pumpkin pie.

7) This song was recorded by a duo named Elmo & Patsy. It occurs to Sam that she has never met anyone named Elmo. How about you? Any Elmos in your life?
Other than the Muppet?  I have not met an Elmo, but I did know an Elmer a million years ago (he was the first husband of one of my cousins and used to babysit my sister and me)

8) Do you need snow to get "into the spirit?"
Since I grew up in California, I have never known a white Christmas,

9) Random question: Are you going to get/have you gotten a flu shot this year?
I got one the first week they were available at Kaiser.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Today at Logos

Christmas is creeping up on me and I didn't realize that Christmas eve was next Thursday.  Sandy asked if I was going to work and I told her I didn't see why not, so I guess Logos will be open for last minute Christmas shopping.  Today was very busy, maybe the busiest I've had since working here.

One of the first couples who came in was looking for a book on baby names, which we didn't seem to have, so they left.

The next was a middle aged couple with drinks in their hand.  The man was rotund with a very big belly over which was stretched a black t-shirt.  They were there for awhile before leaving.

A woman dressed all in black bought a book of Robert Fulgham stories.

I described the next customer as a "middle aged man with a gut and a goatee." He looked somewhat like Bruce McGill, who plays Korsak on Rizzoli and Isles.  He sat at the front table reading for awhile and finally bought a book by Deepak Chopra.  He told me he was a publisher and this year had published a calendar based on "Quo Vadis" and wantd to know if the book store would like his last remaining copy as a gift.  I told him to come back tomorrow.

A guy made a purchase.  I was intrigued that his name was Barekat.  He bought a bargain book and, after browsing the music section, bought a book on the Clavichord.  He was disappointed that our half off sale is not until Monday because he will be gone and thus would have to pay the full $8 price for this $30 book.

Two twll student type guys came in in woolen shirts with knit caps.  They searched science fiction for awhile and finally bought a book from there.

A woman in a too-small denim jacket with pajama type pants walked around with her arms crossed in front of her, but checking her cell phone.  She finally bought 3 books from the Literature section and I short changed her $4, she reminded me.

A woman walked in looking for "something wonderful" and walked out delighted with her biography of A.A. Milne and a history of Shiloh by Shelby Foot.  She paid in quarters from her bag of laundry money.

A woman new to the store was amazed to find out how long it had been here.  She was looking for a book by what she thought was an Australian writer, who writes mysteries.  Turns out she was looking for an English writer (Kate Morton) who writes contemporary fiction with a mysterious twist (like Daphne DuMaurier's "Rebecca.")  She was happy to find what she was looking for.

Another woman bought a bargain book, but was looking for Book 8 of Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series (which she called the "Voyager" series).  But it will be a very long time, if ever, before we have a copy of that book donated, I suspect!

A woman bought 8 books, an eclectic list:  a cookbook, a craft book. 2 sports books (on different unusual sports, which I don't remember now), a book on belly dancing, a book of Irish proverbs, a book of dog tricks, and a floral sketchbook.  

The next customer was a guy who bought a book on mountaineering accidents.  Whoda thunk there would be a book about that subject?  Or customers for it!

A woman came in with an armload of 6 bargain books. "I just gave away about 400 books -- now look what I'm doing!" she said, obviously exasperated with herself, but still buying the books.

A middle aged woman carrying a Starbucks cup and the local shopping news under her arm found "Painting Effects," and said "Well...I just found a gift for my sister."

A bald guy looked around for a long time and eventually bought "Julia and Company" (Julia Child).

A bearded man all in black, with a black backpack loooked at craft books and eventually bought a Costeau photo book and a book on the 1976 wine competition between France and California.

A large man wearing a t-shirt that said "I'm the anti-Weeble...I fall down" which almost covered his big belly complains that the store is too small.  He tells me he has collected books for years and has proudly shares that he has three big boxes of them.  

A woman was looking for a Spanish grammar book, but bought a Spanish-English dictionary instead.
Another Christmas shopper was a guy who bought a book about the Grand Ol' Ooprey, a textbook of Yeats poetry, a cookbook for pasta makers, and two books on honey, which he thought would be good gifs.  He used to teach enthomolgy and teaches people how to freeze bees to transport.

A girl bought a book I wish I'd seen, to buy for either Marta or Jeri, "Office Yoga," and a gardening book.

The last customer bought a California Road Atlas.

We have these 8-1/2 x 11 sheets on which we record each purchase.  If we are lucky we fill one side of the sheet, but last week I don't think that between us Sandy and I filled half of one side.  Tonight I was in the middle of the second side when Susan came in to relieve me, which shows what a good day it must have been.  I wonder how many people will be shopping in used book stores on Christmas eve...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Catching Up

It had been two months since my friend Kathy and I had lunch.  We have been meeting for lunch every month for nearly 20 years.  We don't communicate in between lunch dates, just have our lunch and a catch up, talking about our kids, our lives, our trips (she travels a lot) and what is going on in the world since we last met.

We usually start with a "what's new with you?" recap and then gradually move on to other subjects.  And there was a lot to talk about this time, from our big trip to my cataract surgery, to her recent theater experiences, what's going on with her son, the craft project she's doing with her granddaughter, etc., etc., etc.

But we had seen the Republican debate the night before and even before we had settled into our seats at Cafe Italia we were both exploding to discuss it.

I hadn't watched the whole thing...I can only take so much of that crap and, thank goodness it overlapped Jeopardy, so after an hour I switched channels.  I keep hoping to find some hope in the 13 candidates remaining who hope to win the top slot for nomination, but I can't find anything among any of them.  They are all scary.

The scariest, of course, is Donald Trump.  He's difficult to watch from the get go because of all the faces he makes while others are talking.

When he first announced he was running, I figured he would crash and burn quickly, but as his popularity has risen, and as I have watched him attacking everybody from Mexicans to Muslims to the appearance of women to other candidates to disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski to anybody who disagrees with him and his denial of what he said and didn't realize he had a disability (reports he never met Kovaleski, though they worked together for awhile), it has been scary to watch his followers  More than one person has mentioned that watching Trump's campaign to "make America great again" at the expense of our most treasured values and the cheering fans who support him makes us understand for the first time how Hitler came to power.

Trump's anti-Muslim fanaticism has created an anti-Muslim hysteria across this country.  A Palestinian grocer (who is not Muslim) was robbed this week and after taking his money, the robber shot him in the face, calling him a "terrorist" because he looked Muslim. He said that he used to "shoot people who look like you all the time in Iraq."

Children in school playgrounds are attacked and called "dirty Muslims." a Sikh temple in Buena Park, CA was vandalized (Sikhs are not Muslims). The Islamic Center in Palm Beach, CA had its windows broken, a severed pig's head was found in a mosque in Philadelphia.  A temple in New Jersey received hate mail that said, in part, "We do not want you here. We do not like you.  You are evil." (that email ends with "God bless Americans.").  A New Jersey mosque received voice mail that said "Every American that has a second Amendment right is going to take their (expletive) gun out and blow you away.  I just want you to be prepared for that." Two days later, the police evacuated the D.C. offices of C.A.I.R. (the Council on American Islamic Relations) after a suspicious substance was sent to the office with a message "Die a painful death."  On the same day, another C.A.I.R. office in California was also evacuated for receiving a suspicious substance in the mail.  An Islamic Center in Phoenix reported its windows had been broken and the same day a man was arrested for setting fire to a Somali restaurant in Grand Forks, ND just days after a swastika and "Go Home" was spray painted on its walls. This past weekend 3 mosques in No. California were attacked.  Ironically in all 3 cases the word "Jesus" was spray painted on the windows...I'm sure Jesus would be so proud to find his name used to viciously, then a mosque in the Coachella Valley (CA) was fire bombed just after a prayer service.

Trump keeps spewing out this hatred and his followers start frothing at the mouth and responding violently. He is playing on the fears of Americans based on the actions of a few and some are responding in the worst possible way.

Is this the guy we want leading our country?  He is creating such enemies of all Muslims that, as Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai and others have pointed out, he is becoming the best recruiting tool for Isis.

But even beyond Trump, the Republicans seem to have thrown truth-telling out the window. Chris Christie calls Obama out for "inviting Russia into Syria," a country in which Russia has had a presence since 1971.  He also says he wants to stand across from King Hussein of Jordan and say "you have a friend again, who will stand with you and fight this fight," though Hussein died in 1999 and the current King is Abdullah.  But who cares about the facts, right?

Carlie Fiorina wants to bring back those generals that Obama "forced into retirement because they gave him advice he didn't want to hear."  Men like General Petreaus, who left his post to become head of the CIA until he was indicted for sharing classified information with his mistress and General Jack Keane, who retired in 2003, never met Obama, and served under Bush.  But who cares about accuracy if it can blame Obama for something.

Then there was Ted Cruz who claims that "in the first Persian Gulf war, we launched roughly 1,100 air attacks a day. We carpet-bombed them into oblivion for 37 days.” and he is all for "carpet bombing" again, though that tactic was described as a war crime in 1977 and no, we didn't "carpet bomb them for 37 days"  Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff,  Gen. Paul Selva observed "The wanton bombing Mr. Cruz repeatedly refers to, is categorically not the way that we apply force in combat. It isn’t now, nor will it ever be.”

Republicans apparently don't need facts. They have a narrative and won't let reality change it. Gas low? Unemployment down? Obamacare helping to reduce healthcare costs? DOW up? Eh. All lies. Have to be. Doesn't fit what they want to be true. 

And one of these guys is going to be our Republican presidential candidate.....

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I Wanna Be a Chef

Like many people I know, I watch far too much Food Network.  I remember when the Food Network was full of the likes of Emeril Lagasse and Julia Child and high fallutin' chefs who made gorgeous food that took hours to fix and pages of instructions.  There's just something about cooking shows.  I've been watching them for most of my adult life.  I enjoy them as much as I enjoy doctor shows.

Joyce Chen was one of the many who preceded The Food Network and was lots of fun to watch, but my word you couldn't make any of her recipes.  What she did to a duck for Peking Duck shouldn't happen to...well...a duck.  Chinese cooking became more accessible when Martin Yan (from whom I took two courses) came along and made Chinese cooking fun.

Now cooking shows are big business.  They have figured out that the audience is drawn to personalities who make food that any reasonably competent home cook can make.  Heck, there is even a show for people who can't boil water (Worst Cooks in America).  Anthony Bourdain may think this is the death of good cooking (he once called Paula Deen the most dangerous woman in America), but there are an awful lot of us out there watching the parade of cooks making foods that we decide is easy enough for us to try.

There are cooks I relate to, cooks I could never relate to, and cooks I aspire to be.  I could never be Giada de Laurentis.  For one thing she's Hollywood royalty, with Grandaddy Dino a famous director and all.  She's also impossibly thin in spite of all that pasta. And the toothy grin...well, it's just too much.

The food is always impeccably prepared and looks good, but Italian is not my favorite food, so I'm rarely tempted to try anything.

Ina Garden (The Barefoot Contessa--she had me at "barefoot") is more my speed.  Zaftig and soft spoken, but an impressive chef.  Bourdain feels she's the only real chef left on the Food Network.

I like her food too, though I haven't tried much of it myself.  Anybody who knows how to work with filo dough is ok in my book.  

There are a lot of other chefs I enjoy for one reason or another.  Aarti Sequeira is very cute and I enjoy her--and rooted for her when she  was a contestant on "The Next Food Network Star"

I haven't tried any of her food because she mostly cooks Indian and while I love Indian food, a lot of the ingredients she uses are things that I don't have in my kitchen so if something strikes my fancy, it requires a special trip to the store

There's Trisha Yearwood, when she's not on the road singing, and Demaris Phillips, another contestant I was happy to see win but whose down home southern drawl and militant perkiness drives me nuts sometimes (I'm too old to relate to the excitement of a young new bride).  There's Nancy Whats-her-name another zaftig grandmother whose really down home cooking looks tasty and I've tried some of her stuff.

But in my heart of hearts, I want to be...

Here is a woman who has parlayed a simple blog into a TV career...and now she has her own set of cookware on sale at Walmart and I see she has started doing commercials and has published at least two books.  I read her blog for years before she was given a 3-show trial on Food Network, which is now in it's ?3rd? year.  She wrote about wonderful recipes that she used her photography skills to document in incredible detail so you couldn't make a mistake following her instructions. She lives on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma with her cowboy husband, four children (whom she home schools), and 2 basset hounds.

Who wouldn't like to live somewhere with a big house and a separate house just for cooking? Who wouldn't like to have the right bowl in the right color for every recipe you make (yeah, Martha Stewart does too, but she's obnoxious about it).  Who wouldn't love to have a pantry the size of a walk-in closet filled with every ingredient you could ever need for anything you might ever want to cook.  Who wouldn't like to go to the store and have enough money to load up on three different carts of food (and not even need to buy beef because you can go out to the front yard and cut it off the hoof, so to speak!) 

This is a woman I would like to shadow for a week to find out how she does it and how many unseen hands help her that we can't see on camera.  How does she do so many TV programs and home school her kids and deliver goodies to everyone in town and remodel an old office building at the same time and still look good on camera. 

I ran across a discussion group one day of women who detest this woman for being too perfect.  Amazing the terrible things they said about her, but anybody who isn't afraid to be a little messy and make mistakes--and admit them--is OK on my book.

So Rea Drummond is my idol.  When I grow up, I'd like to be just like her (especially with her money)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Box of See's

I grew up with See's candy.

My godfather, who was my grandfather's brother, was a bachelor and he joined us for every holiday meal.  He always showed up with a box of See's candy.  It sat on top of the glass cabinet until the meal was finished and then we passed it around the table, each person taking their favorite.

(My favorite was always that square piece  the upper right corner of the box.  It was a California brittle, a tooth shattering chunk of toffee brittle covered in milk chocolate.  Second would be that piece in the middle with the half round design on it.  That was a chocolate cream.

The sprinkle covered piece in the lower right is a Bordeaux, a brown sugar cream covered in milk chocolate before being sprinkled.

Over the years, I got to know most of the designs and could identify which I wanted to eat and which (coconut!) I would avoid.

My grandmother was addicted to See's.  She used to take me to the movies at the classic Royal theater, a couple of blocks from her house.  There was a See's right next door and we would go in and get acouple of pieces of candy each to take to eat in during the show.

See's has opened a temporary store here in Davis, just a couple of blocks from Atria.  Hoping to bring a "taste" of holidays of the past to my mother, I stopped today and bought a box of candy for her.  What a wonderful idea!  She was thrilled to get it and when I started talking about See's candy and the things I remember about it, she shared her own memories; she even remembered my grandmother's name, which she has not in a very long time.

Maybe some of the "Best Friend" techniques will work after all...

Monday, December 14, 2015

Tell Me a Story

Holidailies provides prompts for its participants to keep the entries on a Christmas theme.  I haven't used them for several reasons, but having participated in Holidailies since it began in 2003, I have written on most of them, I think.  But I think this one was new for me:  "What is your favorite holiday story or book?"

I don't know how old I was the year that my mother decided to read "A Christmas Carol" to Karen and me.  When I hear Laurel talk about reading "chapter books" with Brianna, it takes me back to that year, because she read one chapter a night.  She sat on the couch in the living room.  The tree lights were on, there were packages under the tree and the air was filled with the smell of the that tree, which I just can't seem to find these days.  Do trees still smell?

Anyway, Karen and I each sat at my mother's side while she read the night's chapter.  It is perhaps one of my favorite Christmas memories of my childhood.  I hoped she would read the book again the next year, but she did not.

I never did read the story to our kids, but Walt read "The Night Before Christmas" to the kids every Christmas Eve as they got ready for bed.  They would all dress in their matching pajamas and crowd around him, the youngest ones in his lap, the dogs at his feet.  When we were hosting foreign students and had someone from another country living with us, they joined in the group too, while Walt read the story.  The tradition continued into their adulthood with whichever of the kids was living at home at Christmas time.

That was one of the family traditions I loved that died when David and then Paul died.

There are lots and lots of Christmas movies out there, but most of them are a variation on A Christmas Carol.  There is a curmudgeon who hates Christmas. It may be a man or a woman...or a Grinch, young or old, disgruntled about the approaching holiday and how everyone else is celebrating.  Some kind of a being enters the person's life, whether a ghost or a little child, a little dog, or a romantic interest, and in the end the curmudgeon's heart, like Dr. Seuss' Grinch's grows three sizes and we see everyone smiling and celebrating the holiday.

If you watch The Hallmark Channel, you can see a different Christmas movie, back to back, pretty much 24/7 through the month of December.  I don't watch them because they are often not well made and, as I said, they are all variations of the same story.

I prefer the classics, with Miracle on 34th Street my all time favorite.  I've already seen the movie twice and the musical version once this year.  I loved Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle and 9 year old Natalie Wood as the little girl who doesn't believe in Santa.  By the end of that movie, the first time I saw it, I truly believed there was a Santa Claus and that Gwenn was he...and he left behind a cane to prove it.

In all the talk of the "war on Christmas" these days (which seems to be fading this year, thank goodness...many more important things to worry about!), when we come to discussing Christmas stories, we forget the original one, the meaning of the holiday to begin with.

But as my friend Jim Brochu says "I was Catholic--I knew nothing about reading the Bible" so Bible reading was not big in my house, but we did have a manger scene that we set up under the Christmas tree each year.  It was a rough hewn building that my father made with a hole in the back, so we could stick a Christmas light in it to light up the holy family.

On the top we had a ceramic angel holding a sign that said "gloria in excelsis deo" that was attached to a nail that you could stick into the roof of the barn.  When Jeri got old enough to read and we were setting up that same manger scene here in our own home, she decided that the sign meant that the angel's name was Gloria, so we have called her Gloria ever since.

But we don't do Christmas any more.  When you have no church affiliation, you aren't part of the ceremonials that accompany the holiday season, and when you have no children to be with you and two nosy dogs who get into everything, here doesn't seem to be a good reason to set up either a tree or the manger....and a lot of good reasons not to get a tree!

I keep thinking that I should do "something" for Christmas, but the heart just went out of me when David and Paul died...and the others lived far away.  This year, with my mother thinking it's April, despite the holiday decorations my cousin put up for her and with Ned & Jeri headed off to Jamaica on Christmas Eve, there is even less reason to make the house look festive.  

I've decorated by putting a carton of egg nog in the refrigerator and figure that's about the extent of my Christmas decorations this year....but I have watched not only Miracle on 34th St. but also White Christmas (another oldie I like) and am stealing my holiday spirit from them.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Who She Was

Last week was a bad one with my mother, so much so that I felt it was time to inquire into assisted vs. independent living at Atria.  (It's done well, where she stays in her apartment and just has more people helping her with stuff.)  She also had two mild anxiety attacks that made me think it might be time for anti-anxiety meds, but it was the week I was wrapped up in eye stuff and couldn't do much for her, and I figured it would not be a problem to wait a week.

Well, this week she is much better, calm, no signs of anxiety and when I talked with her the thing she stressed over and over again is that the thing she is most proud of is that she can be independent.  It's like she knew I was thinking of getting her more help.

So I met with the patient services coordinator at Atria and we had a wonderful chat.  She said she would do a mini mental health exam on her and decide if she needed further neurological assessment.  That exam was today and she told me that "It is not too bad, however clearly there is dementia that has been masked by the routine Mildred is in. Also being so independent with activities of daily living and being quite 'recluse' has masked the ability for me to see this sooner."  I hadn't though of the word "recluse" but that describes her life quite accurately.  The coordinator sent me the form for the exam she gave her and I will forward to her doctor.

She also gave me a book on Alzheimers by their go-to expert on the subject.  I thought I had read most of the major books on Alzheimers and dementia, but had not seen this book.  The authors use the "Best Friend" approach to dealing with people with Alzheimers and dementia and there are lots of suggestions for how to interact as a best friend, not as a caregiver or relative, and draw them out to get more intellectual stimulation, none of which will work with my mother since she is so resolutely reclusive and determined not to be interested in anything.

One of the things suggested is to make a "Life Book," for caregivers, presumably for when there are many different people caring for the client so they can know what they were like before the dementia/Alzheimers struck.  As I read through it, I started thinking about my mother's life and how totally different it is today and decided to do a mini Life Book here.

She was born in Stockton, California, a home birth, delivered by her father.  She was the 9th child in a family of 11 children, though one died at age 4 long before my mother was born.  Shortly after she was born, the family moved to a ranch in nearby Valley Springs.  I'm not sure exactly how many years they lived there, but from her tales of life on the ranch, this was clearly the happiest time in her life.  

At some point, she developed a bad disease.  The doctors called it "intermittent bilious fever" and she was quarantined in the house.  She was put alone in her parents bedroom, and her parents slept on the porch right outside her window.  Sister Marge (2 years older) was jealous because people would bring special treats for my mother in her exile.

She talks about dances they had at the ranch and playing with paper dolls she cut out of the Sears Roebuck catalog while sitting on the steps to the attic.

At some point they moved into "town," the small town of Galt, where they rented a house, but there were so many kids (even though the older ones were long gone) that they also had to rent rooms in a house across the street for the older boys to stay.  They also took in boarders to help raise money and it was during this period that one of the boarders teased her by calling her Chub and Marge, always ready to adopt nicknames (she had one for everyone in the family) picked it up and for the rest of her life--even today--everyone in the family calls her Chubbie.

In high school she was quite athletic and apparently a big star on the basketball team (something I didn't find out until she moved here and I was going through her things!)

Her father worked as a handyman, but it was the depression and he did a lot of work on credit and ultimately could not make a living when his customers couldn't pay.  He was offered the opportunity of a similar job in San Francisco, so the family moved  My mother was about to start her senior year in high school and wanted to graduate with her class, so she rented a room from a family and took in ironing to pay her rent so she could live there for the last year of her high school before she moved to San Francisco with the family.

She got a job working for a book store as a bookkeeper.  I'm not sure how long she worked there, but she met my father while working there.  Her sister Betsy was an artist and was working doing caricatures at the World's Fair when she met my father and thought he would be good for my mother.  I don't know how long they dated, but they were married at St. Brigid's Church (after my mother took the required classes to learn about the Catholic church).  I don't know if she left her job when she got married, or when she became pregnant, 2 years after they were married.

Rolling quickly through the 1940s to 1960s, they ultimately rented a flat owned by friends of my paternal grandparents, intending to buy a house eventually, though it was after Jeri was born before they ever moved out of that place (interesting side note.  My father was the manager of the other flats in the complex and, because of the friendship with the landlords, in the 20+ years they lived there, they only had 1 or 2 rent raises.  When they left to move to Marin County, they were paying $47.50 a month rent and the new renters paid $250.00 ... I'm sure it would now rent for >$1,000 a month)

When I was 10 my mother decided to become a Catholic and took classes from Fr. Joe O'Looney, joining his group of followers.  She and Joe were friends until his death.  The group had lots of parties, always with Joe leading the group in sing-alongs.  When the parties were at our house my father played the piano.  My mother was a consummate hostess, always with the right food, the right atmosphere.  She sparked on those occasions.

She became a devout Catholic, reading lot of religious books and attending Mass weekly, sometimes more often.  She was still a regular Mass go-er when she moved here to Davis.

But the marriage had problems and there came a point where she was faced with an emptying nest (or at least my sister and I were both in school) and having to be home with my father was a prospect she couldn't handle, so she answered an ad for a part time typist at the Bank of America.  Because of my father's odd work schedule (it changed from week to week), she told them she could only work 2-3 days a week and they would be different days each week.  But they hired her.

She went on to work for them for 30-40 years and retired as a Trust Officer for the bank.  During that time she also belonged to a kind of toastmaster's group for women and learned how to speak in public.

Eventually she could no longer live in the flat on the hill and gave my father an ultimatum--she was going to buy a house and move and he could move with her or not.  So they left the hill and moved to a house in Marin County.  She finally had a yard to work in...she was an amazing gardener.  I always swore that she could take a dead stick and make it bloom. 

In 1968, my sister was murdered.  It was an extraordinarily bad time for my parents because my father saw it as his own personal tragedy and my mother felt she had to hide her grief from him.  It was the start of the unraveling of their marriage.

She commuted to work in San Francisco every day until she was transferred to an office in San Rafael, which was when her life changed.

They made friends with another couple and liked to go to clubs together.  My mother loved to dance, my father didn't.  Fred loved to dance, his wife (my mother's colleague at the bank) didn't.  So in the clubs, my mother and Fred would dance, my father would drink and Fred's wife would hang around the piano bar.  Eventually my mother and Fred, both of whom were in unhappy marriages, fell in love.

The divorce was ugly but ultimately it was the best thing for all of them.  My mother and Fred made it through some rough patches and were very much in love and I was happy for her.  My father hated to travel but she and Fred traveled around Europe and put many miles in their RV exploring the United States.  She also worked with Fred on construction projects, especially a house they built at the Russian River.  Somewhere there are photos of her out on a thin piece of wood helping nail in a floor.

My mother answered an ad for volunteer office helpers for the newly opened Hospice of Marin.  The Hospice program was new in the country and the only place where it was to this point was Massachusetts.  She was its first volunteer in 1976 and worked with Hospice, first in the office and then in their thrift shop for 30 years.  When she retired, she was not only their oldest volunteer, but also their longest working volunteer.

She was always a fashion plate and working at Hospice gave her access to really high end clothes at low prices.  She had a closet filled with clothes and, as shoes were her special passion, she was coming close to rivaling Imelda Marcos in that area.

During her Hospice years, she was on more committees than I could count.  Her social calendar was filled with meetings, fashion shows, luncheons, and work days.  In addition to working many jobs for Hospice, she was also active in the Bank of America retirees association, which met monthly and had occasional social events.

Her husband died of cancer nearly 20 years ago, so she has lived alone ever since then, though continued to remain active through Hospice and the BofA retirees.

The signs of dementia began to show 10 or so years ago.  When we moved her to Davis, she closed a big door on everything.  She turned her back on her old life overnight. Walt offered to take her to Mass, but she refused to go (and won't even attend communion services at Atria).  She has forgotten how to garden and plants that even I could keep alive die now. In the last two and a half years, she has worn the same 3-4 outfits every single day, though she has a closet full of clothes.  She also has boxes and boxes of shoes and wears only two different pairs, both of which are starting to fall apart. She has no desire to attend movies, concerts or other activities at Atria and I suspect that if she didn't need to eat (and if she remembered that it's possible to get all her meals in her apartment) I don't think she would even go to the dining room.  

It's what makes being her "Best Friend" so difficult because every suggestion the book gives me about how to introduce things to her just won't work.  I've tried most of them.

But in her day she was a force to be reckoned with and a person I looked up to for all of my life.