Friday, January 30, 2009

Amazing (or at least Interesting) Science Facts

1. There are 62,000 miles of blood vessels in the human body - laid end to end they would circle the earth 2.5 times
2. At over 2000 kilometers long The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on Earth
3. The risk of being struck by a falling meteorite for a human is one occurrence every 9,300 years
4. A thimbleful of a neutron star would weigh over 100 million tons
5. A typical hurricane produces the energy equivalent to 8,000 one megaton bombs
6. Blood sucking hookworms inhabit 700 million people worldwide
7. The highest speed ever achieved on a bicycle is 166.94 mph by Fred Rompelberg
8. We can produce laser light a million times brighter than sunshine
9. 65% of those with autism are left handed
10. The combined length of the roots of a Finnish pine tree is over 30 miles
11. The oceans contain enough salt to cover all the continents to a depth of nearly 500 feet
12. The interstellar gas cloud Sagittarius B contains a billion, billion, billion liters of alcohol
13. Polar Bears can run at 25 miles an hour and jump over 6 feet in the air
14. 60-65 million years ago dolphins and humans shared a common ancestor
15. Polar Bears are nearly undetectable by infrared cameras, due to their transparent fur
16. The average person accidentally eats 430 bugs each year of their life
17. A single rye plant can spread up to 400 miles of roots underground
18. The temperature on the surface of Mercury exceeds 430 degrees C during the day, and, at night, plummets to minus 180 degrees centigrade
19. The evaporation from a large oak or beech tree is from ten to twenty-five gallons in twenty-four hours
20. Butterflies taste with their hind feet and their taste sensation works on touch - this allows them to determine whether a leaf is edible

I have no idea if these are true or not! I found them here, where they were listed as the "Top 20 Amazing Science Facts," which is just silly. Who decides what's the "top 20?" Can't they just be 20 amazing science facts? Likewise, the "20 Most Beautiful Castles in Europe." Do they have to be the most beautiful? Isn't beautiful enough?

Anyways, I wish they cited sources. I'd like to know who measured the roots of the Finnish pine tree or calculated the weight of a neutron star. I'll concede these are interesting... maybe even amazing... but how nice it would be if I knew they were true.

And this is my Top 1, Most Amazing and Beautiful Post of the Day.

I rarely watch Barbara Walters; I think she is a textbook case of someone with minimal talent being in the right place at the right time, and her interviews often border on inane. But a few weeks ago I happened to catch some of her interview with Patrick Swayze.

I've always appreciated the fact that Swayze's not a "Hollywood" actor. That may be the reason he's managed to stay married to one woman, his childhood sweetheart, all these years. And of course, now we have something in common, so I watched most of the interview. I was touched by his honesty, and he and his wife clearly provide strength and support for each other. (I don't know why he would allow such an invasion into his life.)

Tonight I "stumbled upon" this article, which says he has decided not to continue treatment, as there is little that can be done for him now. That in itself is such a courageous decision. I wish him and his wife continued courage, and grace, and peace.

Funny... or Not So Much?

  • The credit crunch has helped me get back on my feet. The car's been repossessed.
  • The United States has developed a new weapon that destroys people but it leaves buildings standing. It's called the stock market.
  • President Bush said clients shouldn’t be concerned by all the bank closings. "If the bank is closed, you just use the ATM," he said.
These were among the "Best Financial Jokes of 2008," but they seem a little less funny every day.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Now that's snow!

Mom & Sis in The Great Blizzard, which was chest-high on a weeble.

If you were alive then, chances are you remember the winter of 1977-78. Across most of the country, records were set for snowfall. It just kept snowing and snowing, without any warm-ups in between. Even in my hometown, "the Buffalo of the midwest," it was impressive. There was too much snow for sledding, skating, fort-building or snowball fights; there was too much snow for the snowplows to keep up with, especially on the smaller residential streets. After nearly a week of being house-bound, Mom ventured out, because someone had shoveled a path (just about as wide as the one in the picture) down the middle of the street. She intended to visit her friend at the other end of the block. But when she got there, she discovered that no one had shoveled from the street path to Janina's house, and there was no way to reach her door. So Mom just waved at her from the middle of the street, then trudged back home.

Thirty years later, it is still the standard by which all other winters, all other snowfalls, are measured. It reminds me of the poor pioneer women who suffered from Cabin Fever: after weeks or months of complete isolation, they just snapped and set fire to their homes, forcing their husbands to abandon a remote homestead and return to civilization.

I trudged to the drugstore and back this morning, a whole two blocks. My wonderful neighbors shoveled my walk yesterday morning and once I turned the corner, I was able to walk down a plowed street. Don't get me wrong: this snowstorm -- nearly a foot of snow overnight -- is a whopper! But the plows are out, almost everyone has either front- or four-wheel drive, most of us have a full pantry, and reliable heat. It's not like it was in 1877, or even 1977.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Crying Wolf! or Sick! or Snow!

For the last decade, every snow prediction has turned out to be not just wrong, but very, very wrong. If they predict 4-6" of snow, we rarely got even 2". And they embellish the drama of those 2" as if it were a truly life-threatening storm. So we've all gotten used to ignoring our weather hysterics, especially those of us from the north country. "You call this snow?"

Turns out they were just setting us up for a sucker punch. This morning, much to my surprise, I wake up to the Storm of the Century, admittedly a century that is barely 9 years old. Yes, overnight we got more than 9" of snow, for a total of more than 11" on the ground. This city is often crippled by half that snowfall, so the weather hysterics are practically wetting themselves, right there on the air. Almost everything is closed, and almost everyone is staying home. In another couple of hours, I will start calling to see if I even need to find a ride to a doctor's appointment; it's very possible that he and/or his staff have heeded the warnings and stayed home.

The "Crying Wolf" analogy immediately brought to mind the sick days of my childhood. Whenever we said -- or even hinted -- that we were too sick to go to school, The Boy Who Cried Wolf was paraded before us by Mom as a stern warning: one day you will come to me in mid heart-attack, covered with pox and pus, throbbing and bleeding and heaving, and I won't believe you, I will make you go to school, because you Cried Wolf! We sat through the parable, nodding seriously in agreement. Of course, of course, we would never betray your trust. We would never do such a thing. It never worked, not one single time.

I'm sure I'm not the only one, we're not the only family, who had to begin sick days this way. And here's yet another reason for me to doubt the existence, the veracity of Karma: wouldn't every single one of us have cancer, if it was the payback for Crying Wolf? Especially the weather hysterics?

AWESOME HOODIE UPDATE: Ulf and Dan are already shoveling/snowblowing and insist on finishing even though I told them that Chris has called with an offer to drive me to the doc. Help me to remember how my life is still very, very full of incredible friends and awesome blessings.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My turn already?

Sorry, I seem to be stringing together several bad days. At least, I hope that's what it is. Three good things:

  1. It's coinciding with more crappy weather.
  2. I don't need to be anywhere - at least until tomorrow afternoon.
  3. It's an effective way to jump-start a weight-loss plan.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sing. Floss. Travel.

  • Do one thing every day that scares you.
  • Sing.
  • Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.
  • Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.
  • Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Read the rest here
Graduation Thoughts: Words of Advice from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

World's Stupidest Criminals, Part 3,297,443

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Let Them Eat Birthday Cake

Happy Birthday to Me! Left to right: Age 5, 7, and 8 (with the infamous Flying Nun hairdo. Thanks, Mom.) There are party pictures, of course, but we usually started with a birthday portrait.

Once upon a time, children had birthday parties at home. The entertainment consisted of some games: pin the tail on the donkey, musical chairs, drop the clothespins in the jar, the memory game. A little prize was awarded to the winner of each game; no prizes for the losers. Then we opened presents, we had cake and ice cream, and everyone went home. Without "goodie bags." Yes, I guess it was a bit barbaric, but we didn't know any better; we thought it was fun.

We dressed in Party Dresses for the occasion. Everyone was on their best behavior, or as close as we could come. Aside from the presents, the highlight was the birthday cake. Mom was a wonderful baker and creative cake decorator. My cakes were usually doll cakes. They were baked in a bowl, then turned upside-down to become a Gone-With-The-Wind style skirt. A generic Barbie was inserted in the middle, with more icing for her bodice. I thought it was very glam.

The only low light was when Bro #1, still in his monster phase, would jump in front of the celebrant at the last minute and blow out the birthday candles. No matter how many times he was warned not to, he just couldn't resist. His monster phase lasted until his early teen years, when he suddenly boomeranged into Eddie Haskell, which made us all yearn for the monster.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Meet Supergirls 3 and 4

Here's a 2-3 year old picture of Sis and the Supergirls 3 and 4, TJ (left) and KC. I've mentioned that Sis and I have a somewhat challenging, often volatile relationship, and I must admit that being my sister might not have been easy. First, she starts out in the hole just for being born. Not technically her fault, I know, but someone has to take that hit. Then there is the fact that I'm a bit of a hothead. And although I think I've made great progress, I'm probably still a know-it-all, self-righteous smarty-pants. I can see where that might become tedious. So I'd say I'm responsible for 50%, maybe even 51%, of our difficulties.

TJ and I are especially great pals, and we share the big sister thing, but in so many ways (not good ways), KC and I probably have more in common. TJ, like Sis, is quiet, thoughtful and shy. KC is passionate, animated, and much more of an extrovert. Every once in a great while, life hands you a do-over. I've made a great effort to be a better aunt than I was a sister, and I hope I've succeeded. TJ and KC are both very smart, and funny, and kind. I'm sure they'll have their share of difficulties, too, but they will be much better at resolving them.

Call me... irresistible

One more shot of baby Elsie, Molly's predecessor. Puppies and babies are cute so that we are less likely to kill them when they drive us crazy. It's not an evolutionary accident. Elsie came within a paw of meeting her maker many, many times. Only this little face saved her. Because of Elsie, I am forever cured of puppy infatuation.

My Little Giraffe, Part 1
My Little Giraffe, Part 2

Friday, January 23, 2009

Go See...

Name the States and other (much more challenging) quizzes
15 Exciting New Ways to Tie Your Sneakers
Body Wallpaper Art - unusual and gorgeous
Creative Paper Sculpture - I never get tired of it

I Wasn't Kidding

The unchallenged Worst Photographer This Side of Pluto offers further proof. Left: my photograph of the Grand Teton mountain range (look at the bottom). Right: My thumb at a beautiful ghost town in Montana.

Baker's Acres, Part Deux

(In case you missed it, Baker's Acres, Part 1)

So there we were in Traverse City, Michigan, having survived yet another marathon car ride. Our grandparents from Indy and cousins from Cincy had even further to drive. How did we spend that precious week of vacation? Well, we were in the water most of the time; all the kids loved being in the water. On the rare occasion that the lake was just too cold, there was a tiny swimming pool at Baker's Acres.

Most of the time we were happy just to splash around in the water, and dig around in the sand. The grown-ups often used (rented?) something called paddleboards. It was sort of like a surfboard, and came with a two-ended paddle. There was no surf, of course, so the paddler would sit on the board and just paddle around. (I'm sure we have some photos, if anyone wants to climb Photo Mountain and find them.) Anyways, I remember 3-4 kids piling on anytime someone had a paddleboard.

There were two special outings I remember; I'm not sure if we went on them every year, or just once or twice. The first outing was a day trip to Charlevoix, Michigan. I vaguely remember watching a drawbridge open... and maybe a restaurant* meal? I'm not sure why we went there - maybe just to give our womenfolk a day off.

The other outing, usually the day before our last day, was a ride in a rented pontoon boat. With Grandpa Harold at the helm, we puttered around the lake for a few hours. Each of us kids got a short turn steering the boat. I can't remember if it was big enough for all of us, or if we went out on the lake in shifts. I believe the most memorable pontoon trip was the time when Grandpa couldn't get the engine to cut, and we "beached" the boat at considerable speed.
There was one more outing, but I wasn't allowed to join it, in spite of at least one rather memorable tantrum. That was the Boys' Fishing Trip. Grandpa, Dad and both brothers went out in a rented boat for an afternoon of fishing. Oh, gosh, we're going to have to dig because I know there are some great pictures of the menfolk returning with the days' catch: one little 4-inch fish!

I'm sure there must have been an occasional rainy day, but I have no memory of it. I know it was an almost commune-like atmosphere for the week: all the adults parented all the kids, and we were fed at whichever cabin we happened to be. Sis was only there for the last year. My twin cousins adored her: she was like a baby doll to them, and they just couldn't get enough of her. Their father, Uncle Sid, barked at us once in mock irritation, "Go play in front of your own cabin!" Of course, he was just teasing us, but a family punchline was born. Even now, when one of us is nearing their aggravation threshhold, we snarl "Go play in front of your own cabin!" at whoever is within earshot.

*Restaurant meals were rather a big deal back then, and misbehaving children were escorted out immediately until they could control themselves. Public tantrums were not tolerated, period. Also, parents often went out without their children.; they hired someone called a babysitter, and it was not considered a form of child abuse. In fact, it made it even more special when we were included, and thus, an incentive for good behavior. Remarkable, eh?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Choosing Hope Over Fear

WHAT A THRILL! The world ground to a halt today, and stopped to watch Barack Obama take the oath of office. I watched that and his speech, which I thought was brilliant. I've finally awoken from an eight-year nightmare.

For the rest of the afternoon, I flipped back and forth between channels. I'm sure it was exciting beyond words to be in that crowd, but frankly, not so exciting to watch. However... I just happened to flip back when the President and First Lady decided to stop the motorcade and get out and walk for a few blocks. And it just confirmed what I have hoped: he gets it. It was more important than irking all the security staff, more important than freezing his (and Michelle's) brains out, that he get out and share that moment, that experience, with the thousands and thousands of people who spent the entire day standing in the cold, just to be there. They had hoped to get just a glimpse of the motorcade...that would have been enough! And when they saw President and First Lady, they just went crazy. I was so excited and happy for all of them, yes, I had a teary moment.

As a child, you don't always have an understanding of the context of events. So I called Supergirl #4, KC, who turned 12 in September. Turns out she was able to watch the inauguration in school. I told her that someday, years from now, she would tell her grandchildren about this day:

"You will tell them, ‘When I was a girl, I got to watch the presidential inauguration of the very first African American on television!’ And they will say, “Grandma, what's television?’ And then you will tell then how your Auntie called you on the telephone to make sure you really understood what an important moment in history you had witnessed, and your grandchildren will say, ‘Grandma, what's a telephone?’”
And she cracked up. So I'm pretty sure she will remember me joking about her grandchildren, and maybe she will remember that we were talking about a magical, pivotal moment in history.

This is my fourth historical moment. Kennedy's assassination, moon landing, September 11, and today.

Florence and Harry

These were my "local" grandparents, Grandma Flo and Grandpa Harry. When I was a little girl, people always told me I looked just like Grandma Flo. And I'd look at this old lady who had jowls like a basset hound, and think...gee, thanks. Of course, now I get it: I do look a lot like her, and when I happened upon the few pictures we have of her as a young girl... yeah, the resemblance is striking.

They were quite a pair. They spent most of their marriage yelling at each other. In Yiddish, as if that would disguise the fact that they were arguing. They had separate bedrooms because each claimed the other snored; they were both right. Grandpa Harry was a terrible tease: no one was safe and any degree of humiliation was okay as long as he thought it was funny. He loved to hear jokes and tell them; I'm sure my Dad's love affair with bad puns came directly from Harry.

Although she was a working girl in the family's drugstore, Grandma Flo was all about family; it's too bad she only had one child. The sun and moon rose for her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. Grandma Flo carried some embarrassing prejudices, more as the result of her upbringing than from any personal experience. Still, I have wonderful memories of special times we shared, just the two of us. We often took the bus downtown, and went to several department stores, stopping in to visit Aunt Mildred in "Foundations." Yes, back then, there was a whole department dedicated to garments that kept the girly bits firmly in place. Once a year, we took the train to Chicago, had lunch and attended a fashion show at Marshall Fields. Each of us came home with one "good" dress. On the later trips, she was already becoming easily confused; I took over navigating our way around the city and the large stores. I was always thrilled to "work" next to her at the drug store, running the ancient cash register and making change for customers. I was blatantly Grandma Flo's favorite, more and more as she succumbed to dementia, or maybe Alzheimer's. Sis was deeply hurt by her bias; Grandma Flo often forgot her completely. (Sis doesn't remember that she was Grandma Sophie's clear favorite.)

I thought we were very lucky to have these adoring grandparents just a block away, rather than Mom's parents, who seemed very strict and expected so much from us. Grandma Sophie, especially, was always criticizing me and scolding me for not helping my mother more. Boy, that embarrasses me now to admit it. They loved us too, of course, they just didn't believe in indulging us the way Flo and Harry did.

I'm betting both brothers will be wistfully nostalgic, looking at themselves with all that hair! And now, of course, I look more like a basset hound every day.

I Save 'em All, Yes I Do

(left) Joyce and Tucker; (right) The Boys of Susan: Nate & Ben (now both in college)

Supergirls 1 & 2. SG1 is now a corporate exec and athlete, SG2 is a high school teacher and community theatre star. They are both still adorable.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Soup to Nuts, to a Better America

For the first time in more than a year, I had a few friends over for dinner last night. I made Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup, and my guests contributed a wonderful loaf of bread and a delicious lemon tart. As soup recipes go, this one is a bit involved, but the soup is so flavorful, it's worth the effort.

On the one hand, a rousing success: a very good meal, shared and enjoyed by delightful friends. On the other hand, I can't take credit. My sister and Supergirl #3, TJ, came over in the afternoon and helped with some housecleaning, and TJ, my unpaid sous chef, got the soup started, and did 90% of the chopping for me. They also came for dinner, and immediately tackled the dishes afterwards. (Otherwise, I'd still have a sink full today, I'm sure.) Thanks, Sis & TJ!

I was experiencing my usual teeth-gnashing back pain before, during and after. My performance may not have been Oscar-worthy, but I got through the evening without actually gasping or crying out. I realized that I'm still a long way from being able to entertain, even on that small scale, without a lot of help. Since I'm trying to figure out a new life that doesn't require a lot of help, I think my days of hosting dinner parties for 10-20 guests are over. I had considered hosting one of those "Bye-Bye Bush" parties, but now I know that even a low-key, open-house type of evening is just more than I can handle.

So, my friends, I will be imagining your presence at my private celebration; I will be imagining our shared pride, and glee, and hoist my sparkling cider in an imagined toast: Here's to awakening from a long national nightmare. Here's to a country that respects intelligence instead of sneering about "elitism" and celebrating ignorance. Here's to restoring our civil liberties, and maybe just a smidgen of respect from the rest of the world. To the abolition of Homeland Security. To the end of this shameful chapter that includes Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. To the convictions* of war profiteers (boy, I'm really shooting for the moon here, eh?) To finally being proud to call myself an American. Here's to the presidency of Barack Obama!

*A "Cost-Plus" For-Profit War; a chilling 4-minute video that was banned in Congress, as if that would make a difference.

No More Ostriches

W. and the Damage Done -- President Bush inherited a peaceful, prosperous America. As he exits, Salon consults experts in seven fields to try to assess the devastation.

From the war in Iraq to the Hurricane Katrina response, from human rights to the economy, the Legacy of the Idiot President will continue for a long, long time. Maybe that's a good thing... “lest we forget.”

Animal Odd Couple

You might have noticed: I'm a sucker for animal pictures and animal stories. Here's a sweet story about two unusual friends.

I'm also a sucker for reporter Steve Hartman's stories. Remember the series he did a few years ago, where he'd go to a town, pick a name out of the phone book, and go interview that person to learn his/her "story?" He found some remarkable people, and the lesson was clear: everyone has a tale to tell, something to share.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

WWW = Wicked Winter Weather!

Like much of the country, we have been in the icy grip of an Alberta clipper, experiencing near-record low temps. On Wednesday, with my usual impeccable timing, I battled rush hour traffic at the peak of our little snowstorm, inching along the road on my way to the hospital for my MRI. I realized that I probably could get DieSuckah Health Insurance to pay for another PET Scan, but it wasn't worth waiting the 3-4 weeks it would take. And yes, the MRI is the loud one. Bang!Bang!Bang!

Then I shlepped downtown yesterday, at the nadir of the cold snap. It was -7 when I went in for my labs. The plan is for the doc to have the results of the monthly labs and the MRI when I meet with him next week.

And I have decided that I cannot drop the whole Intervention Radiologist issue. Nope, not gonna do it. Not because I was treated badly, but because I firmly believe there is at least a chance that I can get them to take a fresh look at their policies and procedures, and maybe re-evaluate whether or not they have the right to be cruel and heartless, especially to patients who are already sick, frightened and exhausted. So I will be contacting John, the So-Called Patient Representative to give him the bad news: I haven't died yet, and I do want to pursue this. There's no need to fear, Underdog is here!

P.S. My Foodie pal, Cathy F, braved the frigid temps to bring me some chicken enchiladas and The Best Tomato Soup in The Universe. (Yes, it's in the cookbook!) The only tomato soup I'd ever eaten was that watery Campbell's stuff, so this was even more of a revelation to me. If there's a heaven, I'm sure the angels eat this tomato soup. Thanks, Cathy, for the great food and the visits.

Telling Our Stories

Memories... like the corners of my mind
Misty, water-colored memories of the way we were...

My family is fortunate to have several archivists and memoirists (did I just make up another word?). Nearly two decades ago, my cousin Shonnie put me in touch with Marian, a first cousin of my grandfather, who had been compiling a family tree for many years. We were delighted to share details of our branch, in return for her sharing all her research to date. This is how I learned we are one of the few Jewish families that can boast both a rodeo clown and a Catholic priest! Okay, maybe the only one.

Inspired by her legwork, my mother, cousin and I compiled a brief family history that went back much further than we would have been able without Marian's contribution. It was wonderful to be able to include a few stories from my grandfather's brother, Uncle Lee. We printed about 50 copies and I know the grandchildren, especially, really appreciate them.

My mom wrote a second book, "Snippets," that included more memories, more pictures, and recipes from her mother, Grandma Sophie, a much-respected cook, baker and professional caterer. I think we printed 80 books so that Mom could give some to her friends. We should have printed twice as many. Both of these little books will be treasured forever, and I'm delighted that my mother has started writing again; another cherished heirloom is on the way. I doubt this blog is heirloom quality, but I'm having fun remembering, and sharing my memories.

My point is this: start writing. Now. All of you. You are the only one who can tell your stories. You are the only person who has your memories, your context, your experiences. And once you are gone, so are your stories, the sum of your life... unless you have made the effort to share them. And include your pictures, your recipes, your songs and poems. You don't have to be a great writer. In fact, you don't even have to write. Get a little tape recorder and record your memories. Someone can transcribe them later. If you don't know how to get started, here are two brilliant books that will take you gently by the hand: To Our Children's Children by Bob Greene (the Chicago columnist, not Oprah's trainer). I know that one is at most libraries. A little more scarce but at least as valuable is Family Histories by Nancy Penga. (Family Histories Publishing, 137 Bates Ave., St. Paul MN 55106. Phone 612.774.5015)

Don't be greedy: share your stories. And don't even think about editing yourself. "Oh, no one is interested." Yes, we are!

Life in 1909

  • There were only 8,000 cars and only 144 miles of paved roads in the USA . The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
  • The average wage in 1909 was 22 cents per hour.
  • More than 95 percent of all births took place at home. Yet 90% of all doctors had no college education!
  • Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
  • Eighteen percent of households had at least one full-time servant or domestic help.

Read the rest here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Murkle on the Hudson

It's a murkle! And for once, it's not all hyperbole: it was a miracle that this accident happened to one of the few pilots with the skills, experience and temperament to safely land the plane in the middle of a river, and it was a miracle that everyone made it out of the plane safely, and that although it was one of the coldest days of the year, every passenger and crew member was plucked out of those frigid waters almost immediately. Hooray, US Airways! Hooray, Captain "Sully" Sullenberger! (It may not have made the headlines up your way, Bro #1, but Sully is a Purdue grad.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Purdy Pitchers

I have photo envy. I admit it. I've never been able to take good photographs. During my nomad years, I toted a little Kodak instamatic camera and took bad pictures all over the country: Here's my thumb at the Grand Canyon, Here's my thumb at Old Faithful geyser. I eventually just stopped taking bad, stupid pictures... until a couple of years ago, when I inherited a little digital camera. Even that is not idiot-proof, as I often prove, but the wonderful thing about digital cameras is the instant image: you usually get another shot to take another shot.

Both of my brothers are very talented photographers. (They also have straight teeth and musical aptitude. Not fair, I say, not fair.) My hoodie Judy, who has a garden that brightens the whole 'hood, is also a brilliant photographer with a real knack for composition, lighting, color. Not surprisingly, many of her gorgeous photos are of her gorgeous garden.

Although I lack the talent to take good pictures, I consider myself a true connoisseur of beautiful photography. How wonderful that, in this digital age, there are many skilled photographers who share their work. I try not to drool directly on my keyboard:
Nature's Best Photographs
Baby Animals - I want a Panda!
In Between Meals - photos of Italy (including the one above)
Addendum: I happened upon a site that features "15 of the best nature photographers" and it's quite an impressive collection, from spectacular weather shots to amazing underwater creatures, arctic animals to microscopic snowflakes. Wow. Go see.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What a Lark!

I don't actually remember this Studebaker Lark station wagon. (Far left, I am 4 or 5 years old here.) Was it ours, or our cousins'? Studies were made in my hometown so it was inevitable that we owned one or two.

The cars of my childhood had huge back seats, enough floor space for ballroom dancing, or so it seemed to this tiny tot. I remember my uncle's Chrysler New Yorker, because it had sort of a square-ish steering wheel and a pushbutton transmission. Seat belts? We didn't need no stinkin' seat belts! Wherever we went, a flock of (up to seven) tots bounced around those back seats like pinballs. Amazing there weren't any serious injuries.

I do remember another car, a sedan with fins the size of Montana. I believe it was "The Plymouth." It stands out because it was the site of one of my few childhood traumas: The Cherry (Phthththth!) Pie Incident. Every Friday we piled into the car to go to my local grandparents (Dad's parents) for dinner. I was all dressed up for the occasion, in my black patent leather Mary Janes and lacy anklets. As I climbed into that giant back seat, Mom said "Be careful. Don't step on the (Phthththth!) Pie." Mom had carefully placed it on the floor of the back seat. Unfortunately, the warning came a nanosecond too late: I was already in motion, unable to stop the forward momentum. Yes, the “Phthththth!” was the sound of my foot landing ankle-deep in the middle of that beautiful cherry pie. I looked down and it looked like my foot had been chopped off; my leg appeared to end in a bloody stump. The pie was ruined! My ensemble was ruined! My ever-patient mother was furious!

Yep, pretty much lost my taste for cherry pie that day.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Life in 1909

(Thanks to Chris for sending this.)

This is what life in the USA was like in 1909, "the good old days." What a difference a century makes!

The average life expectancy was 47 years.
Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.
The American flag had 45 stars.
The population of Las Vegas , Nevada was 30!
There were only 8,000 cars and only 144 miles of paved roads in the USA .
The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.

The average wage in 1909 was 22¢ per hour.
The average worker made between $200 and $400 per year. A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year. A dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.
More than 95 percent of all births took place at HOME .

Ninety percent of all doctors had NO college education! Instead, they attended so-called medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as 'substandard.'

Sugar cost 4¢ a pound. Eggs were 14¢ a dozen. Coffee was 15¢ a pound.

Only 14 % of homes had a bathtub. Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo. (Yuck!)

The five leading causes of death were: pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease, and stroke.

Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and ice tea* hadn't been invented. There was no Mother's Day or Father's Day. Two out of every 10 adults couldn't read or write. Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.

Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all sold over the counter at the local drugstore. Back then, the pharmacists said, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.”

Eighteen percent of households had at least one full-time servant or domestic help.

There were only 230 reported murders in the ENTIRE U.S.A. !

Now... I can forward this message from someone else, without typing it myself, and send it to people all over the world in a matter of seconds. Try to imagine what life will be like in 100 years, in 2109. IT

(*Nor had commercial airlines, telephones, air conditioning, computers, television, microwave ovens, refrigerators, and most vaccines we now take for granted. -- The Coot)

Bush ByeBye Parties

The economy is in shambles. Our sons and daughters are mired in an unwinnable war declared for the sole purpose of enriching war profiteers. The civil liberties upon which this nation was founded are but a dim memory. And thankfully, there are only 6 more days til the worst president in history, the man responsible for all this and so much more, retires in shame! Now there's something to celebrate, and I'm not the only person who thinks so.

Plan your very own themed celebration with the help of Bush Bye-Bye Parties! How cool is it that someone created a global website to celebrate the end of the Bush-Rove-Cheney era? You can either plan your own party or join one that is open to the public.
I don't yet know how I will celebrate, but it will be the happiest day I've had in a long, long, long time.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Invasion of the Poopy Beast

No matter how many times I shoved her in a kitchen cupboard, Sis always managed to find a way out. I tried several times to trade her in for a kitten; that didn't work either.

Really, she was the bane of my existence for so long. She dared to invade my planet when I was 7-1/2 years old. Suddenly I had to share my room with this squalling, poopy beast. "Jealous" doesn't begin to describe my reaction.

Sis would be my roommate for the next decade. The relationship did not improve for a long, long time and still continues to be challenging (as are many sister relationships).

Everyone else thought Sis was soooo cuuuute; me, I didn't see it. But now I'm very glad I didn't kill her: she has provided half of my spectacular nieces.

It was the least she could do for me.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


aka The Baby That Ate New York.
Hard to believe from this pic that Bro #1 is two years older.
What the hell were they feeding me??

And If I Did Not Make Mistakes

by Katie Paton

And if I did not make mistakes
And give too brief a thought to heavy questions
And too much time to little matter;
Or if I always knew which road to travel
Where every step would lead me into daylight
And if each face that turned to watch me pass
Was broken by a smile;
Or if, whenever I should choose to lay my heart
Bare upon the sun-warmed grass,
It always was returned with tender touches
And carried by a song;
And if my heaviest burden were only to be
A breeze upon my back, and blossom in my hair,
And my brow was never crossed with lines of pain;
If all this endless summer were my lot
And winter's fury never beat me back,
Then I never would have seen the stormy nights
Through which I've struggled, fought and won;
I never would have known the joy of needed comfort given,
Or the essence of a friend.


Now there's a fresh perspective: how lucky I am to have made so many mistakes! I certainly have re-learned the joy of needed comfort given, and without the essence of friendship, I'm not sure I would still be here, fighting to stay.

Paton is a Scottish poet. Why is it our friends from the British Isles seem to have a greater talent for poetry, songwriting, storytelling. I don't think we Americans share the appreciation, the reverence, for the richness of language.

Friday, January 9, 2009

So THAT'S what they want!

Go See...

There are quite a few sites with beautiful, unusual cloud pictures. Here's another one.
More spectacular nature photography. (the ice!)
Pieces by our favorite glass artist, Dale Chihuly, in context.
Not Borange. How About Orange is a crafty blog with groovy freebies.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Speaking of Ancient

Here's one that made the email rounds a few years ago.
You're not old unless you can remember...

  • Being sent to the drugstore to test vacuum tubes for the TV.
  • When Kool-Aid was the only other drink for kids, other than milk and sodas. (I remember FIZZIES! In fact, I think I remember Bro #1 nearly killing Bro #2, by daring him to hold a Fizzie on his tongue.)
  • When boys couldn't wear anything but leather shoes to school. Sneakers were for gym class.
  • When it took five minutes for the TV to warm up. (Our first TV had dials the size of bagels.)
  • When nearly everyone's parents smoked; even nonsmokers often kept cigarettes for guests.
  • When all your friends got their hair cut at the kitchen table.
  • When nearly everyone's mom was at home when the kids got there.
  • When nobody owned a pure-bred dog.
  • When a dime was a decent allowance, and a quarter a huge bonus.
  • When girls didn't date or kiss until late high school, if then.
  • When your mom wore nylons that came in two pieces.
  • When all your teachers wore either neckties or had their hair done, every day.
  • When you got your windshield cleaned, oil checked, and gas pumped, without asking, for free, every time.
  • When it was considered a great privilege to be taken out to dinner at a real restaurant with your parents, and your behavior was expected to reflect that.
  • When they threatened to keep kids back a grade if they failed--and did.
  • When any parent could discipline any kid, or feed him, or use him to carry groceries, and nobody, not even the kid, thought a thing of it.
  • (My addition) When parents were more afraid of ending up with an extra kid than they were of having one kidnapped.
It's tempting to look back fondly and remember only the good stuff. But would I want to go back to a time when no one reported wife beaters or child molesters? When gays were forced to stay in the closet? When interracial marriage was illegal?

What do you think: are we better off now?

Big C Update

Each month when I visit the oncologist, I get an elaborate version of "a poke and a piss." I bring with me a 24-hour urine collection, and they draw 3-5 tubes of blood before I see the doc. Before I get my IV of bone-strengthening drug (Zometa), they check the creatinine level. They mail the rest of the blood test results.

Each month, I feel like a big dope because I have no idea what these 2-3 pages* of results means. And for the last couple of months, I really haven't cared, because my back hurts, every day. Either I have a new fracture(s), or there are lesions/tumors causing problems. I also continue to have troubling neuropathy issues in both hands.

I don't care if I'm in remission or not. I don't care what the lab says. Those are just numbers on paper. Here's my new plan. When anyone asks me how I am, I'll say “Great! Never better! Best day of my life!” even if I'm curled like a pretzel and gasping through clenched teeth. And I'll get those double bonus points for Positive Attitude.

*The front page, from the doc, offers some multiple choice options for him to check. I went from "in remission" (November) to "improving" (December), which felt like a demotion. Abnormal protein is 3mg/d. IgA is 133, within the normal range of 60-400. IgG is low (540, normal 700-1500) as is IgM (29, normal 60-300). My WBC and platelets continue to improve. Free Light Chains are as follow: Kappa Light Chains Free Ser 41.70H (normal 3.3-19.4); Lambda LC Free Ser 4.52L (5.71-26.3); Kappa/Lambda Ser Ratio 9.23H (0.26-1.65). November report includes this immunology interpretation: "Multiple small monoclonal bands are present in the IgG, kappa and lambda lanes. Oligoclonal gammopathy." And December's interpretation is "An oligoclonal pattern is identified by immunofixation electropheresis." I have no idea if that's better or worse.

I'm Becoming Retro (or is it Vintage?)

My bare-bones super-cheap ($15) cable package is just channels 2 through 22: the networks, PBS, a couple shopping stations, local access, some god stations, and the weather channel. But for some reason, I pick up another 6-7 stations: TBS, Spike, the Comedy Channel, FX, HGTV (House & Garden), Disney, and the Bambi Killers. Disney is a huge disappointment. I thought it would be Disney cartoons and movies, but it's always a couple of hammy adolescent twin boys in an unfunny show with shrieking canned laughter. Once in a while the Kill Bambi boys are killing geese, or fish; it's sort of the opposite of Animal Planet. Most of the time I watch PBS or whatever is on HGTV.

I recently had the cable chap over to investigate my fuzzy stations. Oops, turns out I'm not paying for them, so if they're fuzzy, that's just my tough luck. But...he didn't bust me for having a cable "splitter," in fact, he replaced it with a better one. And since his visit, I occasionally pick up TCM, Turner Classic Movies. Such fun! I've been watching William Powell, Joan Crawford, Billie what's-her-name, Cary Grant, Jane Wyman.

Most of the movies are older than I am, but once in a while there's a 60s movie; last week I watched "To Sir With Love." Yikes! What a bird's eye view on how much our world has changed, just in my lifetime. I sort of knew this; I've been keeping a mental list: I'm so old...

  • my first telephone number started with letters
  • I remember car vent windows and pushbutton transmissions
  • I learned to type on a typewriter
  • I remember when models smiled
It must be even more amazing to my parents. They have always been willing to accept and learn to use new technology, from microwave ovens to computers to cell phones. I give them credit for being so adaptable. They really are the cat's pajamas...whatever that means.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Family Archives

My friend John (who I hope is dry, warm, and not snowed under) commented, "I'm also impressed that you've saved the photos. You must be the family curator."
My parents will get a big kick out of that. My father was an only child and my mother had one sister, so in addition to all the pictures they took, they inherited all the photos from my grandparents, and several of their siblings. The Family Archives are considerable, especially from Mom's side. Hundreds and hundreds of photo- graphs are carefully arranged into... piles. And a few boxes. And a lot of envelopes. There are pictures 4+ generations back: we don't even know who they are. Heck, we don't even know for sure that they're relatives! There are so many photographs that every time my folks start to organize them, they get completely overwhelmed. (A lesson here: don't do this to your children.) (And mark the back of pictures: you will not remember the date, or which baby it was.)

My mom wrote a little volume of family memories several years ago, and I scanned some pictures to add to her book. Over the years, I've scanned quite a few, but most of the pictures I use here were scanned by my brothers. Bro #2 scanned a bunch several years ago for a beautiful PowerPoint slide show that he showed at my parents' 50th anniversary party. And Bro #1 has made an effort to take home and scan several handfuls of pics each time he visits. Still, it's like emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.

The recent popularity of scrapbooking is brilliant. Several of the Supergirls scrapbook. SG1, in particular, has made incredible books about high school, her friends, her considerable travels. I don't know if they have any idea how much they will cherish the books years from now. And they are so much prettier, and better organized, and easier to store, than boxes, envelopes, and piles.

PHOTOS, top to bottom. 1) Grandma Sophie (center, legs crossed) with her large family, including Queen Fanny (far right). 2) Flapper & Dapper: Grandma Sophie & Grandpa Harold on their honeymoon, (1927). 3) Mom (left) her sister Carol (right) and their adored cousin, Rhea. 4) Mom (far right) in a posed picture for the newspaper, announcing mom as the winner of a national Singer sewing contest. I still have the dress! It has a side zipper, matching stripes, bound buttonholes, and is a size minus-nothing.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Memory Lane: Baker's Acres

When, oh when, they've been asking, are you going to write about Traverse City? Rejoice: that day has arrived. Let's brighten up a dreary winter day with mostly happy memories of mostly sunny vacations.
Our vacations were usually to visit my mother's parents, but every summer (for 3-4 consecutive years) we piled in the station wagon and headed to Traverse City, Michigan.

The trip was endless. In spite of books, toys, games, snacks, puzzles, pillows and blankets, crayons, the radio, etc., it probably took less than an hour for the choruses of "I'mmm borrrred!" to begin.

Mom had to mediate endless feuds and keep track of whose turn it was for the prized front seat shift, while we in the back and the "back-back" ratcheted everyone's frustration with our pettiness. "Mom! He's touching my side!" "Mom! She's looking at me!" Poor dad would slowly go from annoyed to seething; I'm guessing he must have taught himself some zen trick of turning off his ears. Again, a testament to parental love that we arrived 7-8 hours later without bloodshed. (I see kids now strapped into car seats like John Glenn and know that there is NO WAY I could ever survive a car trip like that, no matter how many DVDs are offered.)

Our destination was a row of little cabins on the shore of Lake Michigan, a "resort" called Bakers Acres. Grandparents, cousins and aunts and uncles all converged to take over five or six of the cabins for a week. We got to see our Cincy cousins Henry and Mary Beth, and our twin cousins, Judy and Susie, who usually celebrated their birthday during that week. The mob included Aunt Fanny & Uncle Harry, Aunt Regina & Uncle Lou, Aunt Rhea & Uncle Sid, Aunt Tootsie (Sonia) and Uncle Joe,
mom's parents Grandma Sophie & Grandpa Harold, as well as our local first cousins and their parents, Auntie & Uncle Bennie.

If there was a cabin or two not occupied by my family, I feel sorry for them! Between our raucous kids, chattering women, and cigar-chomping menfolk, they could not have had a very restful vacation.

Come to think of it, it couldn't have been very restful for the ladies: our tiny cabins were equipped with tiny kitchens, so we hauled food with us, and they spent their "vacations" providing three meals a day. It was more of a visit than a vacation.

I don't think Baker's Acres survived much beyond our annual visits. I remember someone telling me there's now a Days Inn or something on that lot. It's amazing that it lasted as long as it did, but this was before waterfront property was ridiculously overvalued.

Stay tuned for Chapter 2: what the heck did you do all week?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Time Warp

Yikes! It's 2009. Didn't we just cross the millennial threshold? I was trolling through some archives, looking at what happened 40 years ago, in 1969...

  • Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon.
  • Woodstock, a four day rock festival, took place in a small town in upstate New York.
  • Public Television began a new children’s show called Sesame Street.
  • Richard M. Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th U.S. president and Golda Meir became prime minister of Israel.
  • Sirhan Sirhan admitted killing presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, and James Earl Ray pled guilty to assassinating Martin Luther King, Jr. (He later retracted the plea.)
  • Lt. William Calley was charged with murder for the deaths of Vietnamese civilians in My Lai.
  • MOVIES included Midnight Cowboy, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Wild Bunch, and Easy Rider.
  • BOOKS included Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five
  • DEATHS included Boris Karloff, Dwight Eisenhower, Judy Garland, Sharon Tate, Jack Kerouac, and Joseph Kennedy, Sr.

I remember watching the the moonwalk, and hearing about Woodstock and Lt. Calley's trial. But the rest didn't really penetrate my adolescent universe.

It was in 1979, just 30 years ago, that the Shah of Iran fled as his government was overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary forces; the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant released radiation. I remember most of these events, especially the Americans taken hostage from the Embassy in Tehran; they would not be released until 1981.

I can put it all in some kind of perspective. It's 1999 I'm having trouble with. It doesn't seem possible that it's already been ten years since...
  • The world awaited the consequences of the “Y2K bug,” anticipating complete chaos as computers around the world go haywire.
  • Years of unrest in Yugoslovia’s province of Kosovo erupted into war, a reaction to President Slobodan Milosovic massacring civilians and deporting hundreds of thousands of Ethnic Albanians. NATO forces finally intervened with a 78-day air strike.
  • An earthquake in Turkey killed more than 15,000 and leaves 600,000 homeless.
  • Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s increasingly erratic behavior led to his dismissal and appointment of three prime ministers, finally settling on Vladimir Putin.
  • Two students stormed Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, killing twelve students and a teacher before killing themselves.
  • The number of internet users reached 150 million; more than 50% are from the U.S.
  • MOVIES included the Blair Witch Project, American Beauty, Three Kings, The Sixth Sense
  • BOOKS included John Grisham's The Testament, Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese? and Stephen King's Heart in Atlantis.
  • DEATHS included Joe DiMaggio, John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Stanley Kubrick, George C. Scott, and Gene Siskel
Ten years since Columbine? Since JFK Jr broke our hearts by plummeting his airplane into the sea near Martha's Vineyard? Since the Y2K hysteria? Vladimir Putin has been in power for a decade?

If time continues getting faster and faster, I'll need a new coping strategy. What is the chronological version of the bends?

So Long, Farewell

Last year, we said goodbye to...George Carlin, Cyd Charisse, Arthur C. Clarke, Bo Diddley, Bobby Fischer, Estelle Getty, Isaac Hayes, Jesse Helms, Charlton Heston, Sir Edmund Hillary, Harvey Korman, Heath Ledger, Bernie Mac, Jim McKay, Dick Martin, Paul Newman, Suzanne Pleshette, Randy Pausch, Sydney Pollack, Robert Rauschenberg, Tim Russert, Yves Saint-Laurent, Roy Scheider*, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Tony Snow, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

With the loss of Carlin, Korman and Pollack, we've lost some genuine, original comic talent. Other than Ledger, whose death may or may not have been accidental, I think Bernie Mac is the only person on the list who was close to my age.

*Though Scheider's cause of death was determined to be a staph infection, he'd been treated for MM since 2004 and underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2005. Other famous folks who have/had MM include Geraldine Ferraro, Mickey Hargitay, Sam Walton, Louis Rukeyser, Don Baylor, Ann Landers, and Peter Boyle. I believe only Ferraro and Baylor are still alive.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

So Bad They're Good

Not the music, which I can't vouch for, but the album covers. A wealth, a trove of badness! Bad Album Covers with funny comments:
Bad Album Covers, Part 1
Bad Album Covers, Part 2

My friends at Dark Roasted Blend always mine some great stuff: Cute Vintage Albums.
Sadly, no comments.

Pick a category and have fun: *Regrettable Music. There are some duplicates, but again, it's funnier with comments.

Where it all started: 50 Worst Album Covers

Bad taste actually circled the globe. Some of the worst album covers came from Sweden. Unless you speak Swedish, you won't understand the comments, but this is food-snortingly funny: Swedish Album Covers. (Warning: very big, somewhat slow-loading page.)

*The Regrettable Music title may have been inspired by one of the funniest books ever, James Lileks' "Gallery of Regrettable Food." It is the perfect accompaniment to any dinner party: it will spark the conversation, and whatever you serve will seem exquisite by comparison. A similar tome is his "Interior Desecrations," photos (and comments!) of excruciating 70s decor. And Lileks' take on the 1973 Sears Catalog has been making the email rounds, without due credit. Bad 70s! Bad!

Want more? Go to the Institute of Official Cheer and work your way down. Dateline: Kennel, Bad Publicity and the Orphanage of Cast-Off Mascots are not to be missed.

Select a new combination of features: MONOFACE

Everything All Day

by Dallas Clayton

Even though the ocean is dirty
and always too cold to swim
and full of amusement parks
and animals that sting
and fallen off diapers
I still can’t help but feel
inspired, overwhelmed
when I sit there
toes in the sand,
the entire mass of conquered
America behind me to the east.

Makes me wish I knew how to play guitar.


I have a little poetry crush on Dallas. See also Notes
and Bunny (I'm such a sucker for a funny poem).