Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reflecting on Newtown

Usually, it's so easy to post my thoughts, but the events of the past two days leave me with feelings of helplessness and confusion on so many levels. Even with CNN's excellent coverage, the more I watch, the more questions I have. How many of those questions will ever be given satisfactory answers?

Googling this town's name (which most people didn't even know until Friday morning), I learned that "the population was 27,560 at the 2010 census." CNN reported yesterday that the town had a single murder in the past decade. Even the official Newtown website ( conveys a reassuring orderliness. It's almost Thornton Wilder's Our Town come to real life.

Small towns like this, and the schools within their municipal limits, seem to be the last hold-outs of old Main Street America, and what we more urban, sometimes world-weary folks nostalgically view as archetypes of safety and innocence. Any cherished, idealized views remaining in our collective consciousness seem to have been further compromised, if not forever.

I join in the mourning for Newtown, Connecticut. This town was tragically robbed of twenty children who were the future's promise. Also lost were six heroic educators, who, in the heat of the emergency, displayed the highest possible form of dedication to their students.

And what of the reported gunman, Adam Lanza and his mother? Aside from the observations that he was smart, a loner, and by some accounts, "troubled," what crucial problems slipped by unnoticed--or dismissed? If Adam was indeed diagnosed with autism, Asperger's, or a form of schizophrenia, what was being done to treat and support him?

I don't know how such a goal is to be accomplished, but this would be where communities could become another layer of oversight and support for individuals, families, and schools. Perhaps becoming one's "brother's keeper" needs to become a renewed mandate, even if such efforts might be perceived as intrusive. As I type that last sentence, I'm aware of how such a thing might be construed, especially in a country where we (including myself) cherish individual rights and privacy. My thoughts on this are still in process, and will appear in a subsequent post--so give me time to take a breath and formulate them.

Since the news of the shooting broke on Friday, we all seem to have gone into a determined search for meaning. So many experts, including those in criminology and forensic psychiatry, are grappling right along with the rest of us. To repair our sense of security, possible solutions are being put out there -- including gun control, temporary armed personnel at the Sandy Hook School, mental health resources. I have a great deal to say about the last one in particular, and am preparing for a follow-up in the next day or so.

Till then, I wish to join the world in offering my deepest condolences to everyone in Newtown, especially those who lost loved ones on Friday at Sandy Hook School. May the world's love draw around you in the days ahead.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Holiday Celebration Odyssey

This all started back in the late summer/early fall, when I pressed my long-idle crock pot back into service, began an active trolling of the site, and found my past-midlife passion of cuisine.

Spurred on by personal circumstances, and a frustration over "what to get" various people on my holiday list, I've decided to make this a "merry little Christmas" with gifts from my kitchen. It's been quite a process, with some unexpected new insights and private thoughts.

The Cranberry Nut Bread was simple enough, and went over well at the family Thanksgiving dinner. Last Saturday, I was up long before sunrise, producing this recipe for its encore serving at a party of high school friends.

What was a test of my skill and patience was the Savory Tomato and Bell Pepper Bread. At 6 AM, I gave the downloaded recipe my usual cursory glance, and, fueled with several cups of black coffee, cranked up the opera volume on my kitchen radio, and started the process. How hard could it be?

Several steps in, I was shocked to realize I had everything but the sun-dried tomatoes. Also, skipping to the end, I was reminded that this bread called for a spring form pan, not the usual loaf-shaped one, of which I had several. Ransacking the cupboards did not produce the familiar old spring form pan. Did I foolishly get rid of it during one of my springtime cleaning frenzies? No matter, it's probably around here somewhere...

First, I called my next-door neighbor, a sweet Italian lady who routinely bakes and cooks from scratch, even for everyday meals. When that SOS did not yield the goods, a frantic run to the local store did, even when the obstacles of a non-functional automatic front door and a clueless shelf-stocking clerk. I was back at home in less than ten minutes.

I kept watching the kitchen clock, as if I could slow down the passage of time. Forty minutes for the first dough rising...thirty more in the pan...and then forty-five to bake. Cooling, then wrapping, and maybe, hopefully, I'd get to the party, which was more than an hour's drive away, on time. And where the hell was that spring form pan?

The dough was sticky and tacky, like a mix of wallpaper paste, Superglue, and flypaper. Kneading it was like an aerobic exercise. My housemate came out for more of her own breakfast fixings, giggling, and saying, "I really should have a picture of you right now." I love this friend dearly, but when she said that, I shot death-rays out of both eyes. Why do I get myself into such complicated projects when I'm going to a party, or having guests over? Why, why?

Time to call my neighbor again. This time, I snagged one of her spring form pans. Bless her.

Long story even longer, as my brother would say, I transported both breads to the party. I would have left the tomato and bell pepper bread home, but after the ordeal I went through, I wouldn't have been able to live with myself. It got eaten, but I was privately not satisfied.

Early the next morning, I was at it again. I've gotten so I can knock out the cranberry and nut bread without much thought, but wanted a second go at the tomato and bell pepper one. The latter turned out higher and fluffier. I sent both home with my gentleman friend, who said that his mother and brother made short work of them at their dinner time.

Encouraged by the second-time-around success, I'm going to use these recipes as gifts, presented in lovely, festive baskets.

And yes, I got a new spring form pan, in case I can't locate the original one.

The biggest surprise is that, while shopping for it, I got a look at some Kitchen Aid standing mixers. I was flooded with nostalgia, remembering my Mom's old white one, and the creations she whipped up with it. All of the sudden, I wanted one. The price for the mixer was too high for now, but on Amazon they're somewhat cheaper. So, it's on my wish list. And where else can you get a Kitchen Aid in 28 colors, including Bayleaf and Persimmon?

AND...I want to start wearing a pretty apron in the kitchen. Maybe I could have two, or even three. Goodness, at this stage in my life, I'm becoming a regular little domestic nester!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sharing -- Both Sides of the Equation

In the spirit of the coming holidays, I've been thinking about this behavior of giving and receiving. I could start with my own household and myself, with something shamefully trivial.

Another ancient relic is soon to be gone -- our 15-year-old RCA television, which has a bulky outer shell like the first generation of desk-top PC's. Last evening, Mom and I were watching some of my favorite recorded reruns, and, poof, the picture was gone. Coincidentally, some family members were about to drop by to hash out the details of Thanksgiving dinner.

Long story short, "that side of the family" has decided to give us a new television for single, early holiday gift. I was grateful, especially since it's also a practical solution to their yearly gift-giving quandaries.

My mom, not so much. Since that conversation, she has gone into another spin of anxiety and guilt. She repeatedly states that she "couldn't possibly accept" our relatives' gesture, up soon by questions to me as to how she can "help pay for this." Nothing that anyone could say yesterday could dissuade her, so we let the matter drop for now.

We've all heard that exasperated rhetorical query, "Didn't your mother teach you to share??"

As we approach the holiday season, we will see and hear much about "reaching out to those in need." That's a sentiment that needs repeating, no matter what the economic climate, or news of any recent natural disaster. Lack is one great cross-cultural equalizer, but so patience and generosity.

The truth is, there's more to just distributing goods or services. What do you do when an individual or group is too proud (yes, this happens more than one would think) to receive what is offered? Or when do our cultural prejudices get in the way of one human helping another? Or bureaucratic red-tape, or greed?

I was raised in a family in which asking for help of any kind could either result in kind assistance -- or, in the next moment, being shamed for being "weak," "stupid," "helpless," or "taking handouts." My memories are too many to go into now, but, suffice it to say, they have forever influenced my own thoughts on sharing.

If it impacted me, than surely it did Mom, too.

We all bring our colored lenses to the issue of generosity. Consider the surviving Depression-era demographic, who survived worse than our current recession, and vowed to scrimp, even after they were well-off again. Occasionally, we hear of families in our own neighborhoods who are now on food stamps. Do we ever just breathe scared sighs, and pray that we're not next? Sometimes, we often just don't know of the situations because personal pride is all these folks think they have left, and so they suffer in plain sight. I recall how awful I felt when I saw a "Foreclosure" sign in front of a house in the midst of our "nice neighborhood."

Being generous, then, means more than just being free with material resources. It means being aware, courageous, and open-hearted. It also calls for tact and sensitivity, because usually a person does better when a vote of confidence in his or her ability to move forward. That's called empowerment, a gift to everyone involved. Does anyone remember the Bette Davis movie, The Corn is Green? All her star student wanted was "a push over the wall." Sounds good to me...

Whether it's getting my Mom to happily accept the new television, or taking others' life-or-death needs to heart at any time of the year, sharing is something that we--and I--always need to keep in mind. Maybe it's time I got my own vision checked...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Two Wonderful Views of the Past

Exhibition Detail: Decades of Dissent: Democracy in Action, 1960–1980 | Skirball Cultural Center

After I've put the menudo in the crock pot next Sunday, I want to take my cerebral sweetie by the hand and take him to the above exhibit, which is at the Skirball through February 17, 2013.

According to the article in this morning's Los Angeles Times' "Arts & Books" section, these are originals, with all the handmade details, rips, handwritten entries, and all. Seeing these items will probably take me back to the springtime of 1973. That's when my then- (and now deceased, RIP) boyfriend and I joined a ragtag band of antiwar protestors (and arguably anything "anti-establishment") to a trip to the heart of San Francisco and a rally on the Federal Building steps. One of our group's projects, while we weren't marching, yelling, and engaging in a few now-cringe-worthy activities, was to silk-screen posters for our cause(s). Whenever I see an old silkscreen device anywhere, I think of those few days with much nostalgia...

Another venue, summoning much less adrenaline-fueled memories, can be seen at the Heritage Square Museum (heritage The article spotlighting the Colonial Drug exhibit can be seen in today's "California" section of the Times. Sid Simmons is 90, and curates this display of his father's massive collection of vintage pharmaceutical bottles, posters (advertising goods such as "Cocaine Toothache Drops"), and the like. Old George's accumulation might, in the hands of other families, be seen as evidence of hoarding, but his sons had another visions.

I seem to remember my grandmother having a bottle of Lydia Pinkham's tonic (for "female complaints") in her room. When I get to this exhibit--and I will on some Sunday--I'm betting I might see some of this on display. Below is a photo of the still-working Lydia Pinkham Memorial Clinic, which is one of the wonderful sights I saw on my self-guided tour in 2008 (of Boston, Salem, and lots of points in between). That's a topic for another time and another post. Now there's another place teeming with wonderful visits to the past!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

New Food Frontiers, an Antidote to Boredom!

My gentleman friend will not be visiting this weekend, due to an overwhelming work-related schedule. As much as I pine to see him, I will utilize his absence to catch up on my own "stuff," and prepare for my next crock-pot venture, homemade menudo, made complete with beef tripe, pigs' feet, serrano chili, and all manner of intriguing spices. Drawing confidence from my recent beginner's success in cooking, I hope this dish will be an impressive surprise for him.

During a break in my work day yesterday, I went to the Vallarta Supermarket in North Hollywood. Along with the kindness and courtesy of the staff, I appreciated the various aromas--novel to me--as I stepped through the front door. I got what nonperishable ingredients I could, and used the opportunity to scope out the meat counter. I will know, next weekend, just where to find the 3 pounds of tripe, and what the pigs' feet look like before I ask the butcher to chop them into small, casserole-sized pieces. Because Mom is not the most adventuresome soul, I plan to serve it up, telling her this is a "Mexican stew," and only give details on the ingredients if she presses me.

The same anticipation goes for Thanksgiving. This is my first time "doing Thanksgiving," albeit with help from relatives pitching in with various courses. Originally, I'd wanted to be fully heretical and serve roast beef in lieu of turkey, but my gentleman friend talked me out of this; besides, I think my son's in-laws are hard-core traditional enough that they would be sorely disappointed without "the bird." Honestly, though, I'm not much of a turkey fan.

Okay, if I can't get my way about the main course, I'll be deviant in other ways. Instead of the run-of-the-mill, store-bought stuffing, I've found several fresh ideas from, like a stuffing with apple, celery, and a number of spices; or one with sausage. It's the family style to always go with "what we've always done," and I want to make some appealing changes. The green bean casserole can make way for one with other vegetables, for visual as well as taste appeal. Plain old biscuits, begone, and make way for tomato-and-bell-pepper bread.

I've heard many people say that Thanksgiving, a holiday to joyously celebrate family, is so often turned into drudgery. Me, I want to see how fun it can be.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Plumbing: Now It's WAR!

I offer the following musical interlude to both buoy my current mood, and to affirm my ongoing commitment to this property, as one of most enduring relationships of my life since 1964:

My FB friends have been following my plumbing saga since last Saturday. Well, it appears it's not over yet. Silly me, I thought this would be quick, if not painless (financially).

To bring the rest of the world up to speed, it began last Saturday, about 5:30 AM. I came out to find both my kitchen sinks backed up with nasty-looking water. What a sight I must have been, in my jammies, taking desperate-but-sadly-futile measures with my rubber plunger.

I'd had a heads-up on this about two weeks before, when my son and his father-in-law came out with the heavy-duty snake to unplug the shower drain. Hal (the elder, and whose technical knowledge I trust and respect), told me that my house pipes were not draining properly, and were living on borrowed time. No surprise, since they are the originals that came with this 1922 house. Hal said I "might" be able to defer the repairs till spring.

Turns out "spring" has come early to this house...

The plumbing company Hal recommended came out and did a patch job so my household could use the facilities until Monday, when the real work would begin. Of course, you all know about Murphy's Law. It covers the inevitable fact that plumbing emergencies don't happen, say, on Tuesday at 10 AM. I'm just grateful this didn't occur during my upcoming family gathering at Thanksgiving. Maybe I should include that in my table grace at that meal, huh? ("We also give thanks for sound plumbing...")

Two days of digging and banging, and then the supervisor came out this morning to give me MORE news. Perhaps the fact that the small six-by-three-foot hole was not yet covered over by anything but a plywood board should have tipped me off...

Apparently, this battle (nice, new black pipe under the house) was only "Phase One." The supervisor gave me the "good news-bad news." The good news was that the pipe installed so far will last, but the remaining pipes leading back out to the alley, ending at the city line were impacted with roots, etc., going back to the life of this premises (ninety years, old than my mother). The only way to ensure proper drainage was "major surgery."

So, as I downloaded the above sweet song, the jackhammer was tearing up a bit of old pathway. The supervisor swore they would leave my landscaping (newer walkway, flowers and trees) alone, so I have that as consolation, at least.

The parts and labor is under a 25-year warranty. The pipes, supposedly, are going to last, per the supervisor "at least twice that long."

Since I intend to be around 50 + years, we'll see about that. Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Time to Build ANOTHER Kind of Portfolio

This post has been a long time brewing in my mind, spurred on by something I recently appropriated from a friend's FB post:

Go to any online site addressing midlife-to-senior issues, and one finds a plethora of articles about finances, health, relationships, and family. Those are necessary things, but not the whole story.

The biggest asset in my own portfolio on which I now plan to focus is boundless curiosity, about anything and everything.

I find it sad when anyone ceases to explore new experiences. The nose-to-the-grindstone routine till one retires/dies is okay, but does one live to work, or work to live? After one clocks out for the last time, and is feted at a party given by one's coworkers, then what? I've seen this void contribute to scenarios such as depression or divorce.

I've made my views known, emphatically and often, about people being able to work far past 65, provided they wish to, and continue to be sufficiently physically healthy and cognitively sound. Continued recreation (read that as re-creation) replenishes that vitality.

In order to keep the libido (an energy force NOT limited to sex, by the way!) alive, I propose that each individual find something to question and be curious about--everyday. One doesn't always have to look far; often one's existing interests can contain kernels of new, unexpected exploration. Here are a few personal examples:

1. I've been a classical music fan and KUSC listener for decades. Recently, in the middle of the night, I began wondering just how someone would become a professional orchestra conductor. Viola--a new, pleasant train of thought.

2. Having a Latino gentleman friend and a newly-kindled interest in cooking, I'm planning to explore the local Mexican markets for authentic ingredients. Soon, for a Saturday night dinner, I plan to serve up a traditional pot of menudo, complete with the tripe and pigs' feet. (I'll get back to you as to how this was received at the table!)

3. Long a lover of provocative art and the Hammer Museum, I'd never heard of Llyn Foulkes until I read the piece about him in today's Los Angeles Times' "Arts & Books" section. He has an exhibit coming up in February 2013, and I'm making it my business to know more about this artist and his back story.

4. My love of pleasure reading and exploring the dark side of the psyche led me to pick up a book called At Home with the Marquis de Sade, by Francine du Plessix Gray, while my gentleman friend and I meandered through Brand Bookshop last Sunday. Nearly 500 pages thick, well-researched and artfully written, it takes the reader on a journey of Donatien de Sade's life from personal, social-religious, and historical contexts. It shifts this man's biography from that of being merely a sadist, to a product of a turbulent era that has parallels to our own. It also makes me want to explore, if I can, the life of Pelagie, the Marquis' long-devoted (and complex) wife.

Those are a few of my new wonders and explorations. I'll keep you advised about more as they come up, and where they take me...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cerebral Sunday--Good for the Brain and Lots of Other Things

Aside from seeing some clients in the afternoon, Sundays have become precious days for my gentleman friend and me.

Busy people that we are, it's tough to scrounge out the time to do things that we both enjoy. Bless his heart, my dearie shuffles around his schedule and drives quite a distance to be with me. We are also looking, like many Americans, to be economical and also creative. Breaking the bank isn't as worrisome to me as the risk of falling into a rut of "same ol'" leisure activities. How many of us know--or are ourselves--older couples whose conversations have become painfully stale over time?

Aesop warned, "Familiarity breeds contempt." I would also say it builds up boredom, a corrosive element in individuals' lives and couples' relationships. Sexy lingerie and weekends trips are indeed provocative and wonderful tools to keep the fires stoked--for awhile. But what about when one is catching one's breath after the intense heat? Boredom is one of the reasons many of my clients cite for occurrences of infidelity, impulsive behaviors, and depression.

I've lost count of how many I've seen professionally, who say that they've flat-out lost interest in a partner who can't hold an adult conversation, or whose fund of knowledge stopped expanding beyond the eighth-grade level. Perhaps something about this should be incorporated into modern wedding vows, such as "to love, honor, and to always endeavor to intrigue and amaze...". Just a thought.

In some of my recent alone-time, I was amused to read in the latest (November 2012) issue of Mental Floss Magazine about "penny stinkers" in the Old Globe Theater--theatergoers who paid a penny for admission, and whose hygiene was less than adequate. Grab a copy and have a read of this short piece on page 24. On the next page is the history of the American institution known as the green bean casserole (or GBCs for short), including how it came to incorporate those wonderfully unhealthy French's Onions. This article states that "an estimated 30,000,000 GBCs are served each Thanksgiving" (and, yes, at my house, too).

Many scholars I know, including my dearie, sniff at this publication as "research-lite." My view is that Mental Floss is pure fun; if I want to read a weighty, peer-reviewed tome, I have my resources for that.

Yesterday, we strolled through Brand Park in Glendale for some fresh air and exercise. Unfortunately, two of my favorite haunts, the library and the art gallery, are closed for renovations into 2014. We made up for this by a visit to Brand Bookshop, a venerable store on Brand Boulevard that's a refreshing departure from the cookie-cutter mega-booksellers of recent decades. There are few things more stimulating than floor-to-ceiling shelves of volumes exuding that comforting old-paper aroma. They should bottle that smell as a cologne!

We were able to snag a few discounted books, and my usually-unflappable gentleman friend's eyebrows shot up when he saw my selections. That's the topic of my next post, but it made for wonderful conversations for the rest of the weekend!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tomorrow's Culinary Adventure

Okay, I'm turning into a regular little chef. Maybe I should have my own reality show. Hey, everyone else gets theirs, why not me??

After my day at the office, I went to the market, spending an unprecedented hour-plus and about $134 + some change for ingredients, including some I'd never heard of before. This item called "Liquid Smoke" certainly sounds intriguing!

Tomorrow morning, I'll begin by baking some Mexican cornbread (mixing some chopped jalapenos into the dough), and placing a stern "hands-off till dinner" sign on the serving plate. Instead of my usual green-salad mix, I'm serving up grape tomatoes, daintily-diced hunks of mozzarella cheese, and red and orange pepper bits arranged colorfully on skewers. The same "keep away" message will be posted on its plate in the refrigerator.

The piece de resistance, the turkey chili, will be in the crock pot until dinner is served at 6:30 PM, giving me ample time to drive home after my afternoon's work, and drop my briefcase. Besides the meat, there is the following in the mix: yellow onion, red onion, garlic, diced tomatoes, kidney beans, tomato sauce, this mysterious Liquid Smoke, thyme, cumin, chili powder, a crumbled, dried New Mexico chili, and "hot red chili flakes."

I'm counting on some beckoning aromas when I get home.

For toppings, I'll have green peppers, scallions, sour cream, grated cheese, and guacamole on the table.

I found a nice Cabernet to hold its own with the strong flavors, and my selection seemed to be seconded by what I read on

Besides the simple vanilla ice cream for dessert, perhaps I should keep some Tums handy, and my large pitcher of ice water on the dinner table.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Whee!! This cooking is gonna be fun!

It's only Monday, 7:30 AM, and I've got next Saturday night's dinner party all planned.

Here's another fun site I found:

I paid special attention to the Mexican cornbread recipe, and the article, "Toppings: How to Make Chili Taste Even Better."

If this is my post-midlife crisis taking shape, it's all good!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On Becoming a Later-in-Life Cook

Switching gears from my recent, rather grim posts, I wanted to report on a new, and unexpected passion of mine -- cooking! Wow! No one is more surprised than I, as I have been a proudly, defiantly non-domestic woman throughout my late teens and adult life.

All the men in my life have quickly picked up on this inclination, including my late husband and current gentleman friend. Somehow, I have always managed to attract men who love to putter around in the kitchen, and who produce entrees that put my best efforts to shame. They have said they love to assist me, but I have a strong suspicion that there is a defensive aspect to their motives. If they can get the recipe right, why risk anything under-done, over-done, or totally screwed up from Valarie's hands? I can't say that I've blamed them.

My mom has owned a crock pot since the 1970's. It has been mostly consigned to the back hall cupboard, getting used maybe once or twice per year. I got it out two weekends ago, and it's now going to be a regular fixture in my kitchen. You read that right -- my kitchen! In my gradual assumption of the role of "lady of the house," I have been using the "good china" more often, and gathering folks around the dinner table.

Just as Amy Adams' character Julie in the 2009 film Julie & Juliainspired me to begin this blog, her finding relief from everyday stress in cooking is inspiring me now. For me, mastery in the kitchen will represent another credential as being "lady of the house." Also, it's a way to strengthen bonds by breaking "bread" made with my own hands.

Last night, I outdid myself for the first time. Using a recipe for "Italian Pot Roast and Potatoes and Carrots" I'd spied in a Rachel Ray's magazine, I dove in. What's not to love about a big chuck roast with baby red potatoes, chucks of carrots, mushrooms, garlic, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, and onions, filling the house with homey aromas as it slow-cooks for six hours? Since Saturdays are also a work day for me, I appreciate the convenience without sacrificing meal quality.

In addition to pleasing my gentleman friend and guests, it's also another way to encourage my mom out of her room and to the table, to eat and socialize. There were decades in which Mom produced good food for all; now, rightfully, it's my turn.

Everyone ate second helpings, and their praise was gratifying. And even I was proud of my dinner!

Emboldened by last night's success, I have signed up for participation on's site, and have found the following recipes to try in the coming weeks:

Crock Pot Turkey Chili, Crock Pot Chicken with Black Beans and Cream Cheese, and To Die For Crock Pot Roast.

Sucker than I am for anything historic, I also pulled out more long-forgotten cookbooks from a drawer, and plan to see what I can do. Here are images from two of the books:

I remember getting this "Cooking with Soup" cookbook while I was a single 21-year-old in my studio apartment in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles. My intention was to find ways to "cook for one," rather than subsisting on TV dinners. I felt I deserved better than that. Unfortunately, my ambitions lay elsewhere at the time, so cooking did not continue to be a priority.

Check out the next two images, and see if any nostalgia comes up for you. Take special note of the price of this publication and the contest deadline:

I'm going to host Thanksgiving for a total of nine people, and will take people up on their kind offers to "bring something." Still, I'm going to create a Pumpkin Surprise Pie, complete with its companion Peanut Crunch Whipped Cream. Not to be reckless, I will try this recipe out first several weeks ahead of time.

Fingers crossed, I'll keep you apprised of my new adventure.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Whom to Trust -- The Doctor, or My Instincts?

Update: According to Mom's doctor, she "looks good." Okay, that's fine, but I'm still unsettled.

Mom, like many a "sweet little old lady," presented well at her appointment this morning. According to what I've learned from seminars on dementia, a person's social skills can remain intact for a long time, which can confound health care professionals and family. Despite my gentle rebuttals to her "Oh, I can do (whatever) with no assistance," and my candid reports of my concerns, I felt dismissed. What I heard today was the long-held message that "Well, your mom is almost 88." This flies in the face of findings that dementia is not a normal part of aging. Yes, he's the doctor, but it's an inherently limited relationship with Mom. Mine goes back for a lifetime. So, my observations of changes are worth serious consideration.

It's time for me to expand my role as Mom's advocate. When she has her follow-up appointment in a few months, I want to have her sign a HIPAA release, so I can be privy to the findings. Even though I've been reading both professional and lay literature about aging (and dementia as one of the possible issues), I guess I just have to read more, and question more. I need to do internet researches on anything concerning Mom's healthcare, and come better prepared to her appointments. If that earns me a reputation as a pain-in-the-butt daughter, so be it. What we're talking about is my mom's quality of life, for however long that may be.

I look at Mom, and see what my own future might hold. Maybe with some muscle from my generation (which always wanted to revolutionize things), geriatric issues will be given as much urgent attention as those of younger age groups. To do any less is blatant ageism and a tragic waste of human potential.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Faced With Having the "Talk" Tomorrow

I've said it, repeatedly. My son has said it, just as many times. And Mom blew it off for a long time.

Mom's compassionate, trusted, longtime doctor called the other day, and insisted she come in. To not do so was not an option. No office visit, no more medication refills...period.

So, of course, I stepped up. The appointment has been made for tomorrow, a friend has been engaged to assist with the wheelchair transport...and per the doctor's orders, I am to be present and fully participating at this appointment.

When told of the arrangements, my mom became upset, until I reminded her that she had asked me to make them on her behalf. Her stunned response was, "Yes, but I didn't think you'd actually DO it!"

In previous posts, I've alluded to my mom's steadily increasing physical and mental frailties, and how they've affected me. There's an aspect of me that cringes at "sharing family business" online. I come from a lineage that has, for generations, promoted privacy and stoicism, no matter what the issue, or how lonely it caused the individuals to feel. One simply put on a brave face, carried on, and said nothing, even to one's friends.

There's also the part of me that is a member of the baby-boomers, the so-called "sandwich generation." We continue to be involved and concerned with the welfare of our adult children, even after they are grown and gone from home. At the same time, vast numbers of us are caring for elderly loved ones, day by day, and making up the procedures and coping mechanisms as we go along. We all need to talk, to share, to step out from the shadows, to draw strength from each other.

And yet -- it stuns me to consider how many of us don't. Or don't know about the Alzheimer's Association, or AARP, or any of the vast number of caregiver resources. We try to be solitary warriors, with great cost to ourselves, and no benefit to anyone.

Tomorrow will be difficult, and I try to hope I'll be prepared enough for it. If I whitewash my input to the doctor, I will be doing Mom no favor in the long haul. I know, though, if I'm as candid as I am capable of being, Mom will be furious...for a little while. She needs me. I'm all she's got on a day-to-day basis, and "brutal" honesty will be, in the end, the kindest intervention. When Mom was my age, and faced with her own caregiver roles, she would have agreed with me. In fact, she has been my role model for having the strength to travel her future path with her.

I can't presume to know what the doctor's diagnosis (likely some form of moderate dementia) will be, nor his recommendations, but I have an instinctive sense of them, so it won't be a total shock for me. Although it will be painful for Mom, I strongly suspect she already knows, in her heart, and it's a frightening prospect. At this stage in my own life, I can't even begin to imagine how vulnerable she feels.

We'll face this together.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

22,716 Cups of Coffee (a conservative estimate)

It's 9:27 AM on my day off, and I'm not happy.

My faithful five-year-plus Kitchen Aid coffee maker has apparently decided to go haywire on me, so off to the local store I go for a replacement.

The link above will show the closest representation to mine. Mine, however, is bright red, and was a graduation present from my Mom when I presented my doctoral defense. The figure cited in this post's title is what I arrived at by calculating 5 years, 2 months, and 8 days of EVERYDAY brewing, adjusting for leap years (2008 & 2012), and also times when I filled the water carafe to the 14-cup level (obviously anticipating a tougher-than-usual day!).

Okay, no cracks from anyone! I'm admittedly a bit obsessive about any details, and the fact that I could arrive at these figures with some of my mother's (ewww!) instant coffee should give me some slack.

I'm a coffee purist, and the years of having the freshly-brewed, unadulterated, black rocket fuel has spoiled me. I wasn't planning on going out of the house on my day off, but this is a real emergency!! Not to mention that my gentleman friend is my equal in caffeine passion, and since I anticipate his arrival soon, to be without a coffeemaker is a serious lack.

I will unplug my current appliance, and put it to one side for my son to look at at his next visit. If he can revive it, he can have it, along with the replacement carafes, unless they fit my new one.

Before I go on my urgent quest, I leave you with songs from Cream and Frank Sinatra:

Saturday, September 8, 2012

September 8 - UNESCO International Literacy Day

In its 30-day span, the month of September is graced with various holidays...Labor Day, Patriot Day, Grandparents' Day, and of course, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

This morning, while doing my usual morning internet-surf, I learned for the first time that today is UNESCO International Literacy Day.

I'm so glad to see that this issue, spearheaded by the United Nations, has taken its place as a seriously-recognized global issue.

In my usual excited, jump-in-head-first style, I've done a preliminary Google search, and have come up with a few websites. Of course, they are now among my personal bookmarks: UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. On its masthead, the site declares: "Building Peace in the Minds of Men and Women."

Another is, and the home page contained this challenge: "Spend the day participating in a readathon, kicking off a cross-grade reading buddy program, or making original books to share with others in the community. For additional ideas, visit the IRA's collection of ideas: Idea Starters! International Literacy Day Activities and Events."

Peace and collective and individual empowerment through education! This is by no means a new concept, but it continues to need emphasis, both here in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Looking at the population close to my own heart, I hope literacy campaigns will not neglect the senior population. Again, I want to stress that the statistic below is based on my very cursory internet search. It compels me to do more research, and incorporate findings into my services for the "midlife and beyond" population:

On the site, I found this:

"Seniors and the elderly over age 65 had the lowest average literacy scores of any age range, with 64 percent performing in the Basic and Below Basic levels."

Can anyone of us imagine the challenges of someone not being able to read a bus schedule, doctor's instructions, or a prescription bottle? And that's just a few of the circumstances contributing to the vulnerability of our elder population. What about those who trustingly let scam artists into their homes, and then "just sign here" when presented with some slickly rushed, confusing sales contract? How frightening!

Yesterday, I saw a Facebook image for ONE Generation, showing an elderly man reading a book to some youngsters. It broke my heart recently when I had an elderly client say that he has hid his illiteracy from almost everyone, all his life. He has to create elaborate excuses when his grandchildren come over and clamor to have him read to them. What sad barriers his inability to read has created around him.

In this election year, with all the massively pressing issues facing our community, our nation, and our world, let's take literacy seriously for everyone.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Not-so "Reliable Towing"

This whole saga began on this past Saturday AM. I was getting ready to go and from the grocery store, and then do my regular work routine. At least, that's what I'd planned...

There were no signs of life when I turned the key in the ignition, only a few red icons, including the battery light. I called the 800 number for Ford Roadside Assistance, and got a soothing, young voice, who dispatched this Reliable Towing company to give the battery a jump. The dealership's regular shop was not open on weekends, so I had fingers crossed that this would be a one-time intervention, and then I could move on with my life, thank you very much. This is important, since even on Saturdays, I usually have my life scheduled to the nanosecond.

I ambled around my back driveway, taking the deeeeeeep breaths I'm frequently encouraging in my clients, to bring down their feelings of irritation and frustration. Finally I got a call from the tow-truck driver, saying he was in front of my house, and where was I? I explained that my garage was situated not in front, but in back, off the alley. This is the case with many of my neighbors, as can be observed if one were to drive along my street. I had clearly explained that to Roadside Assistance, and had been given reassurance that this information would be passed along. Throughout the years, and with all the vehicles I've driven, it's never been a problem.

The driver seemed totally perplexed, saying, "I don't know how to get to the alley. Can you come out and point the way?" (Oh, really? You don't know how to make two right-hand turns?) When I said it was around the corner, he said, "I don't think I can do that." So, I stomped out through the side gate, and pointed (but not with the finger I was tempted to use), and wonder of wonders, he made it to the garage.

I got to and from the store, and then to and from work without incident. Sunday AM saw another dead battery, and I begged the same dispatcher to NOT SEND RELIABLE TOWING. This time, the neon yellow truck that arrived had "Polite Auto Service" on the side and was driven by an older,soft-spoken gentleman who actually had his wits about him. My plan was to keep my car running until I could get to the dealership on Monday afternoon after my morning appointments. My new "BFF" at Roadside Assistance and I agreed to schedule a "just-in-case" jump start appointment for Monday AM between 5:30 - 6 AM, which I would call and cancel if it was not needed. Fine, this worked for me. Again, I got to and from my office with no problems.

Today, Monday AM, I was up even before Tiggy, at 4:15, to go out and check if I needed the jump (turned out I did). I made breakfast for Mom, put her lunchtime provisions in the insulated bag, and set about with an efficient pace, with an eye toward the 5:30 - 6 AM ETA. At 4:50, I got a cell phone call from *cue the screechy horror film music*, RELIABLE TOWING. They were outside, in front of the house, demanding to know where I was.

I lost it. Not one to lose my temper on the phone, I yelled that they were way ahead of schedule, and I was just not ready! Click! A few minutes later, a (I believe) dispatch supervisor called me back, and I swung into Round Two, telling him that clear arrangements had been made with Roadside Assistance, and all this miscommunication was unacceptable. He yelled back, and said he'd route me to another company. Fine, do that...and I was so ramped up at that point, I didn't need any coffee! And it wasn't even 5 AM.

You know what they say about not "poking the bear"? Well, the same goes for pissing me off early in the morning.

So then, there I was, 5:32 AM on a Monday morning, fully dressed, doing the old "hurry up and wait" dance. Then, at 5:35, the call came...

P & M Towing was passed the baton this time, and I was to work was ahead of schedule, affording me time to do my makeup in the parking lot, slurp some now lukewarm coffee, and set myself right for my clients. I got my last jump at 2:30 (from an unmarked truck this time) and sped to my dealership. While I waited at Galpin, I had a late lunch/early dinner/whatever at their Horseless Carriage Restaurant -- a marvelously gooey cheeseburger and a huge hot fudge sundae for dessert. As I type this, it's weighing a bit heavy in my stomach, but I'm glad I indulged. Even if it was a couple of thousand calories, they call it "comfort food" for a very good reason.

I'm home, and it's not even 7:45 PM. I've got a fatigue-headache, and I'm going to crash any minute. My car now has a new battery, and all is well. I'm going to drop a note to my dealership and Roadside Assistance, thanking them for their assistance and giving them my feedback about the entire experience.

When I enter my car tomorrow, perhaps I'll kiss the steering wheel and promise not to take it for granted again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Oh, post-reunion let-down! On what shall I obsess now??

Okay, so my knees and calves have fully recovered from my dance-floor antics of last Saturday night. The afterglow of seeing all my friends still lingers, and I can still get misty over all the love. FYI -- Basically shy person that I am, I'm NOT normally a hugger, but I decided to put this aside the other night, and I'm so glad I did.

Thank goodness for Facebook; I can really now make good on those inevitable "We must keep in touch" promises. In meetings of pre-FB past, especially ones amped-up with cocktails and emotions, they used to be whole-heartedly made, but then so quickly buried under everyday demands.

We are -- (with a sigh of reluctance here) and I am -- not getting any younger. Facebook will now hold me accountable to my grand promises.

Speaking of promises, there was one I made to my friends Susie, Marcy, and Dave (you surely know what I mean...wink, wink). Just want you folks to know I haven't forgotten, and will be sending this token to each of you, probably when you least expect its arrival. Hint: it involves my love of the written word.

This is my day off, and I'm lingering over coffee, wistfully listening to my 1972 music (again!), and finding ways to get back fully to my writing and Facebook page presence. As I mentioned a few posts back, I was recently feeling as if I'd lost my momentum. Just know that I've taken some private measures to get my "groove back," and think I've succeeded.

Two "tasks" will be catching up on some piled-up New Yorker issues, and also my long queue of recorded Charlie Rose segments. That way, it will be, as our childhood Highlightsmagazine covers proclaimed, "Fun With a Purpose."

One point to digress a bit: I have been meaning to delve again into the literature on my bookshelf -- Johnson, Whitman, Shaw, Woolf, and Shakespeare. Oh, and I can't exclude Jung. All were required reading at some point in my academic journey, but now they're all beckoning me to do another, more thoughtful read. I'm thinking that I should scour the used bookstores for inexpensive Shakespeare copies to complete my collection, as he's one of my historical heroes. With his relatively unschooled, but uncanny, insights into humanity, I think he would have made a damned good counselor.

Or a late-night talk show host. Or comedian. Consider a terrific source I found my morning's internet surf: Shakespeare Insults Dictionary:

So, enjoy today!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The "prom" is over, but I suspect we've only just turned a page...

At about 12:35 this AM, I got home and sent Mom's caregiver away. Mom had groused mightily about my having engaged a "babysitter" for her, but too bad. They apparently had a terrific time, sitting in the living room, discussing the state of the world, and coming up with solutions to all its problems,..all while Chuck and I were partying at the Pickwick, as we hadn't in so long. "We" meaning the two of us...and I suspect others in the BHS class of 1972. Oh, sure, the little kids now populating the high school were off doing their own shenanigans somewhere, but we boomers have the better view of life, in my opinion. Am I right, or what?

As I begin to type this, it's 7:57 AM, and I'm the only one up (even Tiggy's laying low), with my black coffee as my only company. We were so wound up earlier, we didn't retire until roughly 3 AM (the last time I consciously saw those red digital numbers, anyway). I know I'm going to pay for my sleep deprivation later on, but I'll deal with that then.

OMG, just where to I begin to capture the experience of last night? Forgive me if much of what comes out sounds overly-sentimental, or cliche. I got moved to tears at a few points...some (formerly!) "mean girls" coming up and profusely explaining that they had hoped, for decades, that they'd have an opportunity to make amends to me...all the "you look great" compliments (and yes, back atcha, because I think we all cleaned up well, and did ourselves proud)...the hugs...the precious chances to be able to say (again) "let's keep in touch."

This time, I, for one, am sincere about that last remark. Seeing the touching photos of departed classmates, and trading anecdotes about where we've been/what we've done, has given me a renewed sense of urgency.

I'm usually so good with words, but they're failing me now. So let me take a rain check, and as other thoughts come to me, they'll be sure to appear here.

Now, for more coffee...and to nurse my aching calf muscles. Dancing with my dear Chuck and my old pals put some serious cramps in my legs!

Love to you all!! And here's some music to try to capture my feelings:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Upcoming "Prom Night" for us Older Folks

Ten days, and steadily counting down. Members of our 1972 class from Burbank High School will be gathering to catch up, reminisce, trade stories...and perhaps even rebuild a few bridges that got torn down over the past 40 years.

Speaking only for myself, a part of me is like a young girl again, giggling with anticipation, while I download YouTube clips of oldies I used to listen to on my little RCA transistor radio. I'm instantly transported back, from the responsibilities of my grownup present, and I can see the faces of those around me in my classes, as if we never left that time. In that wonderful never-ending alternate reality of misty nostalgia, we are all there, and always will be.

Another part of me is pretty damned nervous.

My new dress is hanging here in my closet, my shiny sandals are sitting newly-purchased in their box, and my bling-y jewelry has been carefully chosen. The dress code on the reunion website says "dressy casual." Dressy casual...what's that anyway? From my woman's perspective, there's only one or the other, and I'm determined to go with the former, to honor my friends, my gentleman friend-escort, and, of course, this occasion. And even though I'm not a betting woman, I'd put down a serious wager that I won't be the only one who'll be "gussied up" that night. C'mon, it's our special night, for heaven's sake!

I call this "prom night" because of the level of anticipatory energy--and because I didn't go to my 1972 prom. There were many reasons I wasn't at that once-in-a-lifetime event, and it made for one of the many regrets I've carried throughout my life.

At several points throughout this past year, and in response to various personal events, I have considered giving this reunion the go-by. Finally, I have decided that I don't want to add to the length of my "shoulda" list. The urgency of my life has gotten in the way of maintaining the importance of friendships, and perhaps reconnecting with classmates can help, in some ways, to make amends.

On August 18, I want to arrive with my heart and love. Stretching out my hands may be not only a social gesture for the evening, but a way to forge a whole new beginning.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Family Cleans Grand View Garden In Honor Of Beloved Mother, Grandmother and Friend

Family Cleans Grand View Garden In Honor Of Beloved Mother, Grandmother and Friend

This is where I used to be able to visit my maternal grandmother, my dad, and my husband--till we were "locked out."  Mom and I have "spots" here for potential use, but, frankly, I'm rethinking my plans for both of us.  If one cannot feel secure about one's final resting place, then it underscores the uncertainty of one's whole existence.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Sending Out An SOS"

Even though this song isn't one with which my class of 1972 and I might immediately identify, I felt the need to hear it this morning.

I've been off my blog for quite a while, off Facebook, so many levels.

Harking back to the advice I give clients about self-care, I realize I need to do the same. Last evening, I "hit the wall." I don't care to elaborate, but right now I'm feeling kind of raw and vulnerable.

Just give me a little time, readers and friends, to regroup a bit. I'll be back soon, and, as the English say, be "right as rain." After all, lots of people depend upon me, and I can't let them down--any more than I already have. Making things right with myself will help me make things right with others.

It's all part of the life-learning experience.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Losing Mom...slowly...

No, Mom hasn't yet passed away. In fact, she's probably a long way from physically expiring. Yet, with my caregiver insights being continually honed, I see that I've lost the mommy who has long been my inner anchor.

There's an image that has been coming up lately, suddenly and unbidden. I see myself as a small child, alone in a large house, no people, just little me.

The orphan archetype is usually seen in the form of a small child, not as an adult, and certainly not as one who is past middle-age. We older people are supposed to be prepared to lose our parents, right? Well, that is where real life parts company from expectations.

First thing in the morning, I'm always relieved to hear stirrings from Mom's room, including the soft coughing she does. On mornings I don't have to leave for early appointments, I'll let her sleep for awhile. I start getting nervous, though, when I don't hear anything, and go in at that point to check on her, not being sure what to expect. My eyes scan for signs of her breathing. Relief sets in, yet again, when Mom peeks out from her covers, and says, "Hi."

Her memory is now on a slow but steady decline, and I find myself providing her with light but substantive library books, small mending tasks for my clothes, and asking for her assistance with my Sunday crossword puzzles. All the while, I realize that my efforts are not simply for Mom, but for also for me, rooted in a desperate wish to not lose my grip on her. The image here is that of little Valarie, fingers clinging to the hand of her mommy, not wanting to let go. Don't leave me, Mommy. Don't go...

Losing the mother I once leaned on is also forcing me to come to terms with the dramatic shift in our relationship, and how I'm coming to view myself. I've always known, intellectually, that this time would come, but, at the core of my being, I've been caught off guard. The expressions about "becoming the parent to your parent" become so real each time my mom looks at me with a quizzical expression, asking me, "What do you want me to do?", whether it's about what she should eat for lunch, or taking tentative steps out of her bedroom.

And then there are the small tantrums, and Mom telling me to "shut up," arising from her fears and momentarily recollections of how she once was. Then there are her profuse apologies, and my awareness that this isn't the Mom I once knew. I just take a few breaths, marshal my emotional resources, and go on.

So life goes on for Mom and me. Difficult though it is, there are lots of small, cherished moments to be had. Lunchtimes watching classic television shows...talking about our cat...having Mom recount stories from her younger days... And when the orphan archetype finally becomes a real role for me, hopefully there will be no regrets.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Those close to me will attest to the fact that I get more than a little nuts when I've begun a project. This is no exception.

On my personal Facebook page, I mentioned to my friends that I wanted to scan and share some newspaper columns that my mother wrote back in about 1966 -- or was it 1968? They were for the now-defunct Van Nuys Valley News and Green Sheet. But, I can't find them, and Mom now can't be sure where they are!!

I've ransacked the living room desk several times over the past weekend--where Mom swears they were last time--and I'm eyeballing other potential storage places. How can I describe the frantic, frustrated feelings I have?

Okay -- the back story: My mom, Norma Cook, was then still a housewife, prior to her midlife jump to her longtime nursing career. I was a sulky teen, observing my parents' doings from the periphery of the household with careful adolescent disinterest. I remember the hair salon appointment -- a rare indulgence given how little money we had, followed by the visit to the hole-in-the-wall photographer for black-and-white head shots. I remember the "breaking-news" reaction of our family when Mom's column first appeared...and Mom's feelings of betrayal when she was abruptly told that her words were no longer going to be printed.

Only three or four printed columns, and a spiral-bound notebook with Mom's handwritten musings for potential articles that were never finished...where are they?? There are other drawers, other closets...hmm...

I've called my son, who, as a youngster, had been shown these items by his grandmother, and remembers marveling at his grandmother not always having white hair and wrinkles. His recollection -- they're in the desk. Mom swears she has not thrown anything out.

Now I'm beginning to question my eyesight and my cognitive faculties. That's it -- I'm going to enlist the aid of one of the major libraries, who might have the ability to retrieve my mother's articles on microfilm. Crazy fortune being what it is, just when I get reproduced copies, the originals will show up...somewhere in the house.

The moral to my readers is this: don't be careless with any pieces of family history! Have several family members know for certain where they are, and do an occasional check. Someone who has the heart and interest needs to appoint him/herself the family historian, to take collective memories seriously.

There's little that's more heartbreaking than seeing random, unlabelled photos in boxes at some swap meet, or handwritten letters consigned to the trash by an uninterested third-party cleaning out a house for a property auction.

Stay tuned...I'll find my Mom's articles yet!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Update on the bartering, and better living through reading

In follow-up to my last post, I've created a FB event page, "Burbank/San Fernando Valley Barter Club." How this pans out remains to be seen.

In addition to my recent library forays to find books of interest for Mom, my have pointed me in the direction of some wonderful, promising reads. Among them are:

How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci, by Michael Gelb. I think this should be required reading for all, especially for us baby-boomers, who are so mortally afraid of our potential memory loss. This book goes beyond the usual pat advice of, "Relax...take time out...listen to nice music." Gelb's book talks about seven dimensions of intelligence, and gives us detailed instructions about "mind-mapping." I won't spoil it for you, but this is a definite must-read. I was so impressed that I ordered it from, and the cost was offset by some of my recent book trade-ins (check that out, too!).

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines
, by Thomas Foster.

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, Francine Prose.

I haven't read the last two, but have them on order through Amazon. I'll report my thoughts when I've read them.

Last, from the local library, a nod to Shannon Hayes' Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture. As a child of the sixties, I used to dismiss "homemakers" as Harriet Nelson-types. Now I realize that we all--men as well as women--should be homemakers, as a way to truly embody the "family values" ethic, and reclaim our personal power and family stability.

Read on...I remember a bookmark I got in the seventies from the Burbank Public Library. It said, "If books are dead, so are we."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bartering, connecting, building a community

I need serious help. And I suspect I'm not alone.

In previous posts, I've talked about my proud steps toward being a DIY'er. And now I realize, with a big gulp of pride, that I can't do it all.

Yesterday, I saw an online piece about benefits of community bartering of needed goods and services, especially in our current economy. I am seriously considering this as a way to offload some of the tasks that I recently took on so zealously. I'll still do as much of the inside work as I can, and Mom's personal care -- but, *she grins sheepishly here* the lawn care is just too much, time-wise.

According to my online research, Burbank doesn't seem to have a barter club of any kind, and I'm willing to step up here and ask for local people to help me start one. To get this started, I'm willing to trade tutoring services to anyone who needs help with English classes, or anyone struggling with completing writing assignments. As an adjunct professor, believe me, the need for people to write well still exists, whether it's via pen-to-paper or keyboard media.
In exchange, I'm looking for a reliable person with lots of endurance to help with my beloved yard.

Here's one link that I found useful in my reading about bartering:

In addition to trading needed goods and services, bartering seems to be a great way to meet people one might not ordinarily. And done as an organized group, there would be accountability for the quality and equity of the exchanges.

So, thoughts from anyone, especially from Burbank?

Friday, May 18, 2012


This is such a wonderful, substantive, intelligently-written publication. As pressed as I am for time, I find I need my New Yorker Magazine fix! Below are some snippets of humor that capture "my generation." Hopefully you can zoom in on the images; after all, our eyes aren't getting any sharper. Nothing like some serious humor, or humorous seriousness:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Another Take on Mother's Day

Below is a link to a story about 56-year-old Kathy Murray, mother and early-Alzheimer's patient. A salute to one brave lady!

As a mom myself, I cannot fathom how this would affect my family if it happened to me. Maybe I'm just too scared to consider the possibility, especially when I "get forgetful" sometimes and worry if I'm just overwhelmed, experiencing a "senior moment"--or worse.

In the meantime, I'll try to pursue the healthiest lifestyle I can, and pray that we make advances in research and treatment in my generation.


Okay, now that I got your attention, I'll explain.

I was raised by my dear, now 87-year-old mom to believe that, instead of one day on which the floral, candy, and restaurant industries make their major ka-ching, one should honor and care for one's mother every day. Not a very festive sentiment, of course, but an agreement that has worked for my mom and me for decades.

Here are a few ways I'm inclined to give my nod to the wonderful lady who's put up with my nonsense all these years:

1. Practical items! Instead of another bottle of cologne, or some knickknack to gather dust, this 2-way radio set has probably been the biggest hit of the year. Mom has gotten quite proficient in its use. It helps me keep tabs on her while I'm doing the yard work, and it beats her yelling, "Hello, hello, are you still here?" when I'm in my office in the back of the house. I get a laugh sometimes when she calls me on it, and then says, "Okay, I was just testing."

2. Her favorite foods. Tomorrow, she'll have some salmon filets I got from Trader Joe's, mashed potatoes, and some pecan ice cream. Remember the days when we had to coax our kids to eat? I've heard that seniors often have a decline in appetite, and now Mom is no exception. I'm often a long time in the grocery store, perusing the aisles looking for things that will be nutritious and appealing to her. All part of the loving caregiving, I guess.

3. Making the most of her remaining interests. On May 27, Mom will be fixated on her TV, for the Indy 500, as she has been every year without fail. This is a lady who, while she drove her 1966 VW Beetle, never drove the freeways, or exceeded 35 mph! No matter -- she loves the annual race, and I've begun stocking the pantry with snacks to make the occasion "her day."

I looked on YouTube for a special song to dedicate to my Mom. My readers would have to understand my mom's and my shared dark, edgy humor to know that much of what I found would not have captured our relationship. I did, however, like the following Beatles video, and it came the closest to my sentiments. So here it is:

Friday, May 11, 2012


Okay, I admit I'm feeling a bit of withdrawal symptoms (I miss my Frasier reruns to decompress), but so far I haven't caved in. When I'm home, I turn up the radio and fill the living room with KUSC's lovely classical sounds.

Not to be extremely heartless, I encourage Mom to enjoy her "Bonanza" reruns when she's got her bedroom TV on. BUT, I pitched the idea of her reading more, and she was quite receptive.

So, on my way home this noontime for lunch, I stopped in at the Burbank Public Library (the Central branch is almost within shouting distance), and picked up several biographies and a crime novel to start Mom off. When we moved here in 1964, we (Mom, my grandmother, and I)were at the library no less than once a week. At that time, Mom and Grandmother were regular readers of the Ellery Queen detective novels, and evenings after dinner found us all in the living room, each reading her book, with the radio on in the background. Interestingly, the TV was there, but did not take center stage in our lives.

It wasn't until some family tensions and splits emerged in the years that followed, and the TV was kept on much of the time, perhaps to fill the uncomfortable voids in communication.

There were actually a few years, as a young single woman, that I consciously did without a TV. I'd just broken up with my first fiance, and moved into a peaceful studio apartment in Silverlake. Reveling in my newly-found calm life, I rambled around town on my days off, and when I was home, I was content to listen to KNX-FM (remember that station?) while I did my exercises or chores.

When my coworkers found out, however, that I was sans television, they plied me with many questions, including, Was it "some religious thing?" Was I offended by the shows that were on? Was there no room for a TV?

I even had a somber coworker discretely motion me into the file room. Putting her arm around me, she quietly and delicately said, "If it's the money, I could loan you some to get a TV."

NO! It wasn't the money. If I'd wanted a set, I would have and could have gotten one. Geez, one would have thought I'd confessed to not having enough to cover my rent or buy groceries.

Back to present day, and especially my visit to the local library. I had a great time browsing...and smelling musty books. The Central branch has a lot going on this summer, and, piggybacking on my recent forays into, I signed up to be part of the library's Summer Reading Program for Grownups. Check out:

My selection when it comes up on the hold queue: Michael Gelb's How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


There! I made that declaration, to hold myself accountable, and have you all help me with this!

I've thought about this for a while. While I honestly thought I'd been discriminating about the type and amount of viewing I've done (thanks, DVR!), I know I could do better.

After coming home from challenging work, it's been too easy, of late, to plop down on the sofa with Tiggy, and even--for shame--drift off to sleep while having my mind in neutral. Time to actually go to bed when it's time.

What to do with the freed-up time (when I'm not doing housework, seeing clients, or teaching)?

- Catching up on my reading, taking my relationship to my local libraries to "the next
level," and reporting to my fellow users
- Finishing the writing projects I thought would be completed two months ago
- Blogging more thoughtfully and creatively
- Making myself available for clients who would want to contact me via Skype(
- Finding more stimulating ways to converse to Mom (and maybe wean her off those damned
"I Love Lucy" reruns. Even she admits she's seen each one "a zillion times.")
- Inviting long-neglected friends over, now that summer's approaching
- Cook more, especially with that delightful quinoa I've just begun using

So, while I hope not to experience any withdrawal symptoms here, I just want to be more mindful about how I spend my evening hours. I'd like to check in and report how my "recovery" actually goes.!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I had an INTENSE dream last night....

I'm still processing it, and jotting down thoughts to make sense of it.

Suffice it to say, there were images of my mortality, time running out, and upcoming profound changes in my life.

Once I came to consciousness (with the help of my daily black coffee), I made the decision to interpret the jarring images as the universe hurling down a gauntlet, challenging me to kick up my activity and creativity up a few notches.

If you, or anything you know has had such a wake-up call, you might want to take a look at my site below.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Feeling a sudden urgency to capture life

I'm continuing to clean and rearrange. As I (re)discover things, my urgency to preserve memories--and fully savor what time I'm destined to have--mounts. It's fair to say that I'm feeling somewhat vulnerable, mortal, and a bit melancholy today.

You can see dolls like the one above all over. I've seen them in hobby and craft stores, but also in the homes of people who took up this past-time. Google "toilet paper cover dolls," and you get countless images.

This one is special to me. It was given to me by a lady I visited in 2001. While I never considered this kind of thing to be "my style," this dolly has claimed a special place in my dining room--and my heart.

Closing my eyes, I can recall this lady's smile -- and the tattooed number on her forearm, as she extended the doll for me to receive.

She had been a World War II concentration camp survivor. Her sweetness and kindness had prevailed over the adversity she had endured. When I grumble about mundane irritations, I can use this lady's life for some perspective.

I don't know quite what moved me to post this. Perhaps it was just a reminder to reach out. Her ongoing gift to me, aside from the doll, was the loving encouragement to have my life be a gift to succeeding generations.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The beauty of struggles

I've got 30 rosebushes in my yard, and they're all in rip-roaring full-bloom now. This, for your enjoyment, was the first full flower of the season.

What makes it touching and remarkable is that it's on one of the smallest bushes, the "runts," and one of the ones that I thought wouldn't survive long-term. But it has, against the odds of my tendency toward sometimes haphazard planting and periods of neglect. I love my yard, don't get me wrong; I just planted everything years before the dramatic shifts in my personal and professional lives. My dear plants are like my human friends, though, and they're hanging in and always glad for when I can be there for them.

I've always rooted for the archetypal underdog. The tiny plants that have struggled and are now producing gorgeous flowers. The local family-owned businesses that seem to have weathered the worst of the recession. The personal goals I've heard of my clients pursuing, despite the nay-saying from their families and friends.

In all these scenarios I've muttered to myself, "C'mon...just a little more. You can do it...". There's both the feeling of overwhelm and depression that something is just too big to accomplish. I tell clients to just do one small thing for today, and see how it feels. Then something the next day, and then the next. There's something to be said for the "one day at a time" maxim popularized by twelve-step programs. Indeed, each of us only has now to do something. Then, the rush of happiness and relief for having prevailed! And you know what? The most formidable obstacle, the foe, is almost always within each of us--not some massive outside force. Even if there is a mountain of bills, unemployment, underemployment, dysfunctional employment.

Winston Churchill may have been one of the first contemporary motivational speakers, when, in 1941, he said, "The pessimist sees the problems in every opportunity. Whereas the optimist sees the opportunity in every problem...
Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."

Struggle is useful in providing value. The necessities (groceries, housing) and the little indulgences (a Saturday night out), are so much more treasured when purchased with "hard-earned money." Perhaps the recession gave us the reality check we needed after the consumerism-mad '80 & '90's. I never thought I would enjoy "living small" so much, but I do. Frugality is fun!

Recently, I've gotten well-meaning, but irritating, input from men who walk their dogs past my house, and see me working in the front yard. One immediately said, "You shouldn't be cutting your own lawn." And why not, sir? Another grinned and muttered, "How cute!" CUTE! Listen, buddy, that's a fighting word in my book! I'll report you to the international sisterhood of WWMTOL (Women Who Mow Their Own Lawns). The first guy, on his return trip, admitted that "things are looking good here."

I've got a longtime friend/colleague I want to invite over sometime soon. My recent DIY forays are nothing compared with hers. She fearlessly tackles the hard stuff -- replacing windows in her living room, renovating bathroom plumbing, redoing flooring, etc., etc. When I go to OSH, and tiptoe down some of the aisles, I still sometimes feel like I did when I was a little girl, trying to infiltrate some "Keep out. No girls allowed" perimeter set up by some of my boy pals.

Time to call my friend. Time to take how-to classes.

Time to woman-up, and know that I'm capable of doing the stuff Tim Allen did on "Home Improvement," and making sure the job actually turns out.

Next in my cross-hairs of ambition: painting the kitchen and replacing the linoleum -- myself!

Sunday, April 22, 2012


This "Lady of the House" gig can be a real pain in the rear-end. Muscle aches, an occasional bruise...

It can also be wonderful, on so many levels, including senses of investment, pride, and ownership.

Unless I were to do something idiotic like sell the house from underneath her (and WHY would I even consider that??), Mom has given me carte blanche authority in its day-to-day management. Oh, I've been so looking forward to this!

As a full-time working woman outside our household, I've begun honing my time management and prioritizing skills more finely. I have FB/Burbank High friends who have said they "admire my energy," and I appreciate that. My late husband said, "The more you have to do, the more you can do." And I believe it now, more than ever. Back in my younger days, I used to futz around, and then wonder where the day/week/month went. Now I believe humans are like vehicles -- prop us up on blocks (virtually speaking) and we "rust;" get us out to rev up and roar at full speed, and our engines continue to purr.

I just go at full-throttle, and then rest comes sweetly and swiftly these days. One of my FB pals glibly posted, "My wife just hired a housekeeper." Okay, that's certainly her choice, which I respect. For me, it's so much more than just cleaning and doing chores. It's staking the family claim, and then being its guardian until it gets passed to my son's hands. That sounds grandiose, I know, but as I find each piece of stuff, each knickknack, I'm transported back to forgotten days of personal and family history. See this:

Running things has also given me opportunities to streamline the overall set-up. Recently, I've culled shelves and moved stuff around in the kitchen, to make it work for me. Since the family method, while I was growing up here, was to plant furniture and items in one place, and never move them for (literally) decades, this is revolutionary...come to think of it, that's what Mom and Dad did when my paternal grandmother was in her final decline...does this mean anything for Mom?

Wow...that was just a melancholy moment...

*Taking a long breath, she resumes* In honor of Earth Day--and also because it just needs to be done--I'll be spending this morning mowing, raking, clipping, and pruning (and for the record, I DO NOT USE A LEAF-BLOWER). Those weeds behind my garage just have to go; it's looking too much like Sherwood Forest back there. Good for my property, and good for burning the calories I've ingested with this breakfast (a pile of tater-tots while writing this and listening to a live-stream of classical music on WGBH-Boston).

Later, I'll be whipping up a batch of homemade, environmentally-friendly laundry soap (take a look sometime at my review of Virgil's Hardware, a terrific store, where I get the components). Let me know if any of you want my "recipe." I'm phasing out the use of most paper products, too; I've rounded up all the old rags (in lieu of paper towels) into a central location, and am re-introducing our cloth napkins into mealtime.

So, gotta go take care of the place. Here's one more photo before I sign off...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Annual Burbank On Parade -- a small business person's strategy

I think I've made it clear in prior posts, here and on Facebook. I love Burbank.

Sometimes, though, I can become unsettled when outside circumstances upend my routine. Like this annual parade, which took place today. There was an unexpectedly positive outcome, though.

On Saturdays, I usually go to the market very early, and then have some downtime until my workday begins officially at 1 PM. It's a straight 2.2-mile route from home to my office; if my car were equipped with the technology, it could almost find its own way to and from work.

When I saw the digital advisory signs along Olive recently -- "Olive Avenue closed 4-14-12 6 AM to 2 PM" -- my reaction was something that needs to be edited, for the sake of decency. The detour on the side streets becomes rather labyrinthine, meaning that I have to call each client to advise them of access and parking challenges. Some might be put off by this, I feared, and would cancel for the day. Last year was my first spring at this office, and I was caught unprepared, having to walk two or three blocks juggling my briefcase and paraphernalia. Oh, to be torn between civic pride and concern for one's business!

Hmm...what to do?

So, this AM, I was up at 4:45 AM, preparing breakfast, lunch, and supper for Mom in her insulated bag and thermos. Tiggy was fed and petted. By 5:35 AM, I was out of the garage, flying down East Olive and over the bridge. Lines of traffic barricades were already showing themselves, as I imagined myself speeding to the music of Back to the Future, at the wheel of the Delorean instead of my Ford.

I made it!

I found my favorite parking spot, unloaded my gear, and set up base camp in my office. Work files, a stack of magazine back issues, my Stanley coffee tankard...all I would need to be productive. In the pre-dawn, I rounded the corner, and saw even the parking lots of local businesses were already blocked.

Settling in at Tallyrand for breakfast, I was halfway through my eggs and potatoes when the server asked if I was with the parade committee. When I said no, she said I shouldn't "be in this area, because it was reserved." Really? No sign had been posted to that effect. I was a paying customer, taking up one body-space, and bothering no one.

I finished, left, and embarked on a rare walkabout, up and down a street I've known so well, at least from the car. For the first time, I caught the end of an 8 AM mass at St. Finbar's, finding the inner architecture stunning and comforting. Further along my trek, several people stopped me, asking, "What the hell's going on?" Like me the prior year, they apparently hadn't gotten the word about the parade. I took photos of a 1949 Burbank police squad car, got a jelly doughnut and McDonald's Shamrock Shake (a radical departure from my diet!), and took a circuitous route back to the office. Gotta walk off those calories, after all.

I kept checking my voice mail obsessively, and so far no one had cancelled. The doughnut and milk shake were beginning to act up in my stomach (served me right, I guess), and the time for the parade was drawing near. Time for more activity.

The parade route couldn't have been more handy -- right outside my door. It happened so fast -- the helicopter fly-bys, the bands, the vintage vehicles and costumes -- all just swept me away from my previous feelings of being put-upon. I found myself waving and laughing, like a kid, relaxed.

Then I saw fellow BHS alumnus Roberta Grande Reynolds, riding past in a school board vehicle. And I was so proud!

When 12:30 came around, the parade was over. I found myself surprised at my feelings of let-down and wistfulness, kind of like when a Christmas comes and goes by too fast.

And so, the Saturday proceeded pretty much like any other. Only better. What did I have to complain about?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kitchen views (see last post)

I HATE this linoleum. My parents put it in circa 1974, and it's hell, with all its crevices, to keep clean.

Now, who the hell is going to use cabinets that are up this high?? I'm 5'0", and even when my son (6'5") was here, these cabinets have only been wasted space.

I'd like to combine the microwave and stove to save space. Thoughts?

The wall & doorway in the background lead to a phone booth-sized utility room. I'd like to knock down this wall and make everything one big room. Thoughts?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Becoming "Mistress of my Domain" -- harder work than I realized!

Now that Mom is finally (and comfortably) owning her octogenarian status, the mantle of "Lady of the House" has been passed to me. As a rebellious sort, I have long managed to remain an undomesticated woman, even during my married years. I've been comfortable with "just-good-enough" tidiness, although I will, at least, insist on clean bathrooms and kitchen. My "culinary-challenged" tendencies have always been apparent, and thankfully, most of the men in my life have been those who love to cook.

Bless Martha Stewart and those of like mind, making their sweet little seasonal crafts and their elaborate dinners. Their creative territory is secure, because I couldn't care less for such things.

Perhaps I'm more of my father's daughter than I realized, because I'm actually a gadget gal. My eyes light up when I'm in a hardware store, or a garden supply department. Now that I've dismissed the "gardener" (in reality just a "grass-cutter guy"), I've commandeered the trimming equipment in earnest. One of my male relatives showed me how to use the edger without dismembering myself, and the lawn mower is surprisingly easy for me to maneuver. It's amazing what one can learn online, and with help from eHow, my next day-off venture will be to clean out the plugged-up sprinkler heads.

This morning, between appointments, I went to OSH (Orchard Supply Hardware), and got some nails to put up some vintage kitchen-wall embellishments I found at a thrift shop last summer. There was no one around, so I selected and bagged 'em myself. The digital scale was certainly not user-friendly. Who out there delights in muttering and swearing in frustration at these devices? I do, on a regular basis -- including the ATM, and also those irritatingly friendly voices at the supermarket self-checkouts.

I also got an education in the solvent aisle, when buying some "Goof-Off," being warned by a young man that the fumes can trigger a not-at-all-pleasant high. Years ago, Mom put some of those stupid adhesive flowers on the shower floor. They don't really prevent falls, and they look tacky -- so they're coming up! When payday comes around, I want to go back and get a power tile-scrubber that a friend told me about, complete with lots of little attachments. More and more, I'm realizing the appeal tools have to guys. There's such a thrill, and sense of proud mastery, to doing these projects oneself!

Now that I'm the only one who (reluctantly, believe me) enters the kitchen, I'm going to be spending some time tomorrow rearranging the cabinets, filled past capacity with lots of "As Seen on TV" utensils Mom acquired over the years, used once, and has since forgotten. I'd love to sell some china that was left by a grandmother of whom I was, shall we say, less than fond. That would leave more space for the china set I really love and use during the winter holidays (among the rare times I do play hostess).

Then there's the dipping kitchen faucet and a back-splash with seriously nasty
grout...hmmm...would a simple washer and re-grouting suffice, or should I take a Home Depot class sometime, and bravely tackle a major sink replacement? It is the original (1923) double sink, with ancient tile counters and back-splash. I bet I could bring some refreshing updates into my home.

Painting, doing my own linoleum replacement, renovating the cabinet configuration...I'll post some "before" photos here, and maybe someone could give me some ideas. I've got some Sunset Magazinehome improvement books squirreled away, and perhaps these can be my guide to putting my own style-mark--inside and out--to this beloved home of mine.

Damn...I can't get the photos that I took of the kitchen to load here. I'll try to do it in a separate post. (Another reason I miss my son since he moved to Lancaster! He's my resident computer-techie.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Thoughts on Wednesday (my "Sunday")

I work hard, and unusual hours. That's my choice, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sometimes, though, being a self-employed person has its trade-offs and drawbacks. Paperwork, being responsible for one's insurance, taxes, etc...promotion of one's enterprises to keep the revenue flowing...finding the right people in related fields to help with things out of one's field of expertise...making (hopefully) not-too-costly mistakes from which one can news to anyone, right?

What's usually forgotten is how we independent souls have to remember to function as our own HR (Human Resources) and EAP (Employee Assistance Program).

For my first 35 years as a full-time wage-earner, I drew my pay and benefits from the corporate world. Among the requirements, aside from performing within my job descriptions, were the expected attendance at staff meetings (zzzzzz), and adhering to schedules that were, more often than not, wholly inflexible. There were dress codes that were unevenly enforced, and usually subject to individual interpretation by an array of supervisors. And that ultimate guilt-trip, the let's-all-be-good-team-players-shall-we? As much as I (for the most part), liked the coworkers I met over the years, this last dictum was always bound to get my inner rebel to rise up. What the hell did "good team players" mean anyway? Again, usually what a supervisor felt at any given moment, someone who was sequestered in his/her corner office, often had only a passing acquaintance with "the workers," as well as how "the work" was really done, and was purposely kept out of the true communication loop. Most of us "workers" did support each other, but we found managerial reminders to do so irritating and demeaning.

One thing I took away from these 35 years was that there were two versions of office life -- the official, and the real.

Despite the above accounts, I found my workplace communities, at their best, supportive. Except for the last place I worked (which would have been bearable save for one abusive coworker), people were attuned to each other. Early on, I developed a bad habit of "forgetting" to go on vacation for years at a stretch, and then have a concerned coworker call me on it.

So, when recently I found myself becoming fatigued and irritable, I channeled my "inner-EAP," and backed off for a few days to recoup my energy. How many times am I lecturing my clients about balance, huh? And part of being my own boss is knowing how and when to take care of myself.

Today is Wednesday, my usual day off. But my M.O. lately has been to be online before dawn, before my coffee has even brewed, and "just one email" leads to another. I see things on my desk that can really wait, but still beckon. And so, I get sucked into the vortex of "working, but not really...". C'MON, VALARIE!

This morning, summoning up my awareness, I stayed far away from my desk; in fact, I didn't go even near my office door. I stayed out in my living room, with the radio playing KUSC, Tiggy purring on the back of the lounge chair, reading some issues of Newberry: The Lifestyle Magazine of Newberry County (South Carolina). My brother and sister-in-law have lived in that region for years, and Kevin often sends me these lovely publications, so I can have a sense of his life back there. How else would I have found out about Elmer "The Spoon Man" Fleming (see photo below)? BTW, Newberry Magazine has its own FB page, too.

Resisting the strong message that I "should get up now and do something," I perused a library book by William Stage, Ghost Signs, chock-full of wonderful photos of old signs from the early 1900's, painted on brick walls, and the "wall dogs" who plied their art. I learned something I didn't know -- that there's a Society for Commercial Archeology (, and I want to add this to my passions for preservation. Rounding out my morning of decadent, purposeful goofing-off, I began my new issue of Preservation Magazine. The afternoon will be spent looking at something my mother recently got, Sears, Roebuck & Co.:The Best of 1905-1910 Collectibles.

Yes, I'm online blogging about this now, but it's serving the purpose of reconnecting in a social way, now that I'm resting. I'm on the mend.