Sunday, December 27, 2015

Raising Ourselves

My sister emailed upset with herself because she raised her voice to our mother.

They disagreed. My sister did what she wanted to do. My mother told her she had wasted money. My sister blew her top.  My mother is 93. My sister is 65.  They’ve had this dynamic for as long as I can remember.

Except that my mother used to be in the power position. And it used to be my mother who raised her voice – which still makes no sense – because why would somebody in the power position raise her voice.  She has already won.  There is nobody to impress.

But this is the dynamic we were raised with.

Our father used to insult people he disagreed with. Particularly his family.  I remember trying to do the same, as a teen.  It didn’t work. It just got my father madder, and he would slap my face.

Again, he already had the power. And he had the money. The decision was already his.  So why the raised voice? Why the hitting?  So he didn’t like it that I disagreed with him.  My opinion had no influence on any decisions.

And now, my mother’s opinion has no influence on my sister’s decisions.

What’s really crazy is that this dynamic of anger, after one has already won.

We didn’t like it as children.  But it is the way we were raised.  It seems like the expected behavior, even though it hurts.  Cancelling our childhood training is probably the hardest thing we ever need to accomplish.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fixing a Printer via TeamViewer

A neighbor called – her computer was refusing to print, and she wanted me to fix her printer via TeamViewer.

Knowing this neighbor is poor at diagnostics, I agreed to try TeamViewer. I opened her Devices and Printers, right clicked her default printer, chose Printer Properties and Print Test Page.  It printed.

I opened WordPad, typed: This is a Test, File, Print.  It printed. Nothing wrong with the printer.

So, I asked what doesn’t print?  Her email didn’t print.  I opened her email and tried to print.  The only choice was printing to the cloud.  She checks her email via browser.  I tried printing another browser page.  Again – cloud.  I tried a different browser.  Cloud.

So, I asked if things were working a week ago.  Yes, they were.  I tried System Restore.  System Restore failed. I tried two other dates. Both failed. The error message suggested I try chkdsk /r   At this point, I was thankful for any ideas.  I ran chkdsk from the Tools tab on drive C.  This involved a reboot, but TeamViewer reconnected us when it was done.

I tried printing her email.  Ta da!  Chkdsk to the rescue!

Now my neighbor thinks I can fix printers via TeamViewer.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Do the Good Guys Always Win?

Yesterday I talked with a 5-year-old about Hannukah.

He asked me, “Do the good guys always win?”

I know he’s 5, but I had to tell him the truth.

“ Both sides in any war believe that their side is good. But the winners get to write the history books.”

He gave me a blank look.  So I told him the story of the Dreidel Deception.  When Xerxes was in power, it was illegal to teach about Judaism.  So, the rabbis took the children up into the mountains and taught them the dreidel gambling game.  Each side of the dreidel is marked with a letter. Players spun the dreidel and when the dreidel fell, the rabbi started a story with whatever letter landed on top.  When the soldiers came by and found these children playing and talking, they asked, “Any teaching going on here?” 

The rabbi answered, “No. No teaching. Just nice clean gambling.”

The 5-year-old seemed to like this story better.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Words for Snow and Water

I grew up hearing that the Inuit have over one hundred words for snow. Nobody could tell me what these words were or what they meant.

Finally, on the web, I found a page that explained the words.  They are really phrases combined into words – long words without spaces.  The words mean things like snow sparkling in moonlight, snow sparkling in sunlight, hard packed snow, light fluffy snow, avalanche, falling snow, snowflake, big snowflake, wet snow, dry snow, crusty snow – all concepts that we have in English. There may be nuances that don’t translate well, but basically, snow is snow, the world over, whether or not you put in spaces.

Another website made the point that English also has many words for water: lake, ocean, pond, puddle, river, waterfall, pool, raindrop, storm, thunderstorm, drizzle, fog, cloud, mist.

Whether we use single words or phrases, we use language to precisely describe our world.  This is a human trait, not unique to any language or any people. Climate does contribute to vocabulary.  People who live at the equator don’t need words for varieties of snow.

We English speakers are particularly lucky because we have incorporated words from other languages, and therefore have nuanced synonyms to better understand as well as convey our meanings.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Idiomatic Insults

I don’t keep up with slang.  Especially insults. Never have.  In junior high, “bitchin” sounded like an insult, so I never used the word.

Lately I have received an email from a man who called me a name I didn’t recognize, followed by a link to his website. He informed me that this term was an insult. He even told me to click the link and “look it up.”  Like I care what his made-up insult is supposed to refer to?  They’re all sex, toilet, and intellect jokes. Which one he chose is of no interest.

Then a woman I with whom I was arguing on facebook ended her argument by typing “bite me.”

I know she’s not a gold coin. There’s no purpose in biting her to determine if she is real gold or a fake.  But, what if she was one of those chocolate coins in a foil wrapper?  There is a good reason to bite them.  So, I could not resist.  I typed, “Why? Are you delicious?”

Then a man entered our argument.  He asked if he could watch while “you ladies get it on.”

I do not think this woman will be typing “bite me” any time soon again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Wide Path and the Narrow One

When I studied comparative religions in college, I learned the terms Mahayana and Hinayana, meaning the Wide Path and the Narrow Path.  I understood that the Hinayana path meant becoming a monk and living in a monastery.  I thought maybe the Mahayana path meant going to religious services once a week.

The Mayahana path was for most people and the Hinayana path was for a few people who were simply cut out for it.

Not being cut out for the life of a monk, I was interested to learn more about the Mahayana path, but nothing I could find made much sense.  Until yesterday when I stumbled on a website that wasn’t even talking about Hindu religion or different paths.

The website focused on thinking.  When we see dirty dishes in the sink we can think “I’ll wash them now,” or “I won’t wash them now,” or “I wish there weren’t dirty dishes in the sink.”  That’s pretty much it, as far as choices of what to think. (Okay, there are alternative: I think I’ll paint a picture of the dirty dishes, or I think I’ll write a poem about the dirty dishes, or I think I’ll write a story about somebody who has dirty dishes in his sink, but ultimately, the artist will decide – to wash or not to wash – that is the question.)  The first two choices are realistic choices.  They see the truth – the sink has dirty dishes.

In other words, the Mahayana path is the path of choices – what do we do NOW?  And the easier we make it on ourselves – sticking to the action choices, the simpler the path becomes.

It’s all a matter of choices. It’s hard to train the brain not to wish reality was different. That is the big challenge of the Mahayana path.

The Hinayana path is the path of no choices.  The monastery has a routine. Monks follow that routine. The only breaks in a monk’s routine come when the unexpected happens, like illness or natural disaster.  I’m sure the monastery has guidelines for these unexpected events, too. Yes, a monk could think “I wish there were no dirty dishes in the sink” but that thought would not affect his actions. And when thoughts cannot affect actions, they serve no practical function.  The one choice – to give up all choices – is the challenge of the Hinayana path – and that choice can be made an infinite number of times.

My choice was to blog about this topic which has intrigued me for decades.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Breaking in to a Dead Man's Computer

A client called me.  One of her co-workers had gifted her a laptop computer that used to belong to her recently deceased husband.  My client wanted me to check it out and put it on her network.

The computer looked okay – the keys were clean, the monitor was clean.

The first screen gave us a choice of Windows 7 or Vista. This indicated that the computer was probably 8 years old.  In my view, that’s pushing the lifespan of a viable computer.

I chose 7.  It failed to boot.

I chose Vista.  

We got the login screen.  The User ID photo was a woman’s crotch.  No comment.  I asked my client if she knew the computer’s password.  She didn’t.

I requested the password hint. The hint was Cat.  

I asked, “Did the husband have a cat?”

“Yes, Garfield.”

I tried Garfield, GARFIELD, garfield.  They all failed.

I looked again at that User ID photo.  By this time, my client was watching me work.  I suggested “Pussy.”  She laughed.  That wasn’t the password.  Also not pussy or PUSSY. We tried Kitty.  Not the password.

I went online on another computer on her network and searched for slang terms meaning vagina.
Cunt and Snatch didn’t work either.  Then I started finding some names I’d never seen before – but names that would not work for a cat.  Wizard’s sleeve. The Grandest Canyon.

My client said she’d been thinking about asking some of her teenaged male students to help with the computer.  Now she was glad she hadn’t.  She’d never live it down.

I asked my client if she still had her Windows 7 installation disk.  She did.  The DVD drive on the laptop was broken.  Next stop, I’ll bring a USB DVD drive and reinstall Windows 7.  

Guessing a dead-man’s password clearly isn’t one of my talents.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Art and Science

Taking an art class is a different world from the science world in which I got my BA.  Yet there are similarities.  Both world teach techniques.  Both worlds have expected results as well as surprises. And both worlds teach a new way of seeing.

The first time I saw a scientific article with a title like Calcium Transport in the Muscles of Bullfrog Tadpoles, I laughed. The extreme specificity of the headline surprised me.  Now, I understand exactly why the headline was so specific.  Calcium transport varies by tissue, by species, by temperature, and other factors.  Anybody studying calcium transport knows which details are important for the question being asked.  Until I understood the question, I did not understand the answer.  The world is more fascinating when I have a sense of what goes into the inner workings of life.  

Painting asks different questions. A key question is how can paint be used to represent a natural object?  I didn’t know how to look at natural objects in order to see all the colors.  To help us learn to see, our teacher had us paint first in white, black and grey.  Then we added shades of grey.  Finally we were allowed to use colors.  Then we went back to shades of grey to learn about warm and cool shades of grey.  And now, we are using full color again, attempting to paint even more of what we are now able to see.  

With my new way of seeing, I found myself making my dog sit while I stared at a squash somebody had placed on a front door step.  This squash had at least 20 shades of orange, plus shades of grey. The world is more fascinating now that I can see more of what I look at.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Voodoo Doll on the Refrigerator

A man at Quaker meeting stood to speak the message that was in his heart.

He awoke in the morning to see a voodoo doll on his family’s refrigerator.  Someone had given this doll to his wife as a gift.

His wife explained that the doll came with two pins: one for enemies and one for friends.  He thought about this, since he is the kind of man who would never intentionally hurt anyone.

A pin is not only to cause pain.  A pin can also pinpoint something that needs focus.  The pin for friends could be used as a reminder of those friends who are in stress and who need to held in the light.  And a pin for enemies could be a reminder of those folks whom he needs to forgive.

He goes to the refrigerator at least 3 times a day. This doll is a reminder at least 3 times a day to think about the people who matter to him.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Correct Spelling?

I’m working on a book in which an egg hatches a caterpillar.  I want to describe the egg as miniscule.   My spell checker immediately changes it to minuscule.  When I insist that I want miniscule, the word gets a red underline as an error.

So, I looked it up.

Merriam-Webster says:

“Usage Discussion of MINISCULE

The adjective minuscule is etymologically related to minus, but associations with mini- have produced the spelling variant miniscule. This variant dates to the end of the 19th century, and it now occurs commonly in published writing, but it continues to be widely regarded as an error.”  

The OED says:

The word was originally minuscule, borrowed from French. The minuscule spelling has always been the preferred spelling. However, miniscule is not as simple as a typo. According to the OED, the first citation of the miniscule variant is from 1871, so this is a form that has been around quite a long time.

The OED says the following about miniscule:

Variant of MINUSCULE adj., probably arising partly from shift of stress from the second to the first syllable, and partly from association with MINIATURE adj., MINIMUM adj., etc.
So, there are two reasons that miniscule persists as a variant.

The first is the shift in stress. In English, unstressed vowels are often reduced to schwa, [?], no matter what the fully stressed vowel would have been. Minuscule used to always be pronounced with stress on the second syllable (containing the "u"), and was therefore unambiguously an [u] sound. When minuscule began to get stress on the first syllable, it was no longer clear from hearing the word what the second vowel was.

The second was the existence of semantically similar words that contained the spelling mini, such as miniature and minimum. The word mini is associated with small things.

Therefore, a person spelling the word minuscule, having no auditory cues to indicate the spelling "minu", and knowing other smallness words contain "mini", has every logical reason to think the spelling should be "minuscule".


This is a book for children. Am I obliged to use the “correct spelling” or may I get away with the “logical spelling.”

Why does it matter if words are spelled in various ways, if the reader can understand what is meant?  How long does it take for a spelling to become accepted?  1871 is 144 years ago. Do I want to be part of the spelling police, and use the “correct spelling” when I didn’t even know it existed until a few hours ago?

What exactly do I want to pass on to the children who read my book?  Love of butterflies, yes. Love of words, yes.  I have always loved the word miniscule.   And until today I did not know it could be spelled any other way. 

I am sharing the world I love in this book.  Some child may lose the National Spelling Bee if I use the non-standard spelling of minuscule. Is this a reason to continue using a spelling that makes no sense?

And no, I don’t want to use a synonym, like minute or tiny.  I want to use the word that best expresses the smallness of the egg.

I’ve always had a problem with authority.  Now the problem is which authority – my own sense of the right spelling, or that of a dictionary?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My First Visit to Planned Parenthood

I was 17. I did not consider myself a sexual being. The sex-ed class at my high school was mainly a vocabulary lesson. And I had no idea what an erector set had to do with babies. And whatever sex was, we weren’t supposed to do because it would cause babies. And babies would ruin our lives.

I’d had trouble getting a tampon in and I didn’t believe my then boyfriend (now husband for the past 48 years) when he explained what he wanted to do.  Biology took over.  I called Planned Parenthood the next day.  I figured they would be nicer and less expensive than a doctor.  I wasn’t even making minimum wage, and my take-home was $34 a week.  My rent was $40 a month including utilities. I also had payments on my motorbike. And regular expenses like food and books.

Planned Parenthood gave me an appointment for a week later, at 9 AM on Saturday.  When I showed up, they ordered me to change into a paper costume and sit in the waiting room.  I did so, along with about 20 other women, also wearing scratchy paper costumes, that tended to flap loose in embarrassing ways..

We had to sit through a class on how many sperms are in a typical ejaculation, and we passed around a plastic breast with a lump in it, so we’d know what cancer felt like. Then we got called back one at a time for an interview. 

My interviewer kept asking me if I could pay for it.  I was terrified of being denied birth control, so I said yes. Over and over.  She said the bill would be about $60 including a one-month supply of pills.  That was nearly my entire savings, but I kept saying yes.  Later, one of the other women told me if I’d said, no, they’d have given me a discount.  But I didn’t know that. 

After over 2 hours of sitting around, my paper costume was getting tears in it.  I was feeling totally embarrassed.  Supposedly I _knew_ better than to be in this situation. After all, I’d taken Sex Ed. (Later, my city ranked highest in STDs in the entire state – which probably is a comment on the quality of the sex ed program.) My mother would be furious if she knew I was here. And I might be pregnant.  Abortions were  illegal. And in my mind, pregnancy was not a good reason to get married. My mind kept going in loops about what if, and how scary!

Finally, I was called back to see the doctor.  He saw my name on the form I’d filled out, so while I was lying there, legs in stirrups, and he was poking and prodding me, he asked if I was related to Richard (with my same last name) who lives in Chicago.  “Yes,” I said.  “He’s my uncle.  You aren’t going to tell him I was here, are you?” 

The doc just kept going on and on about how he and my uncle were such good friends, and they’d gone to school together. Finally, he promised not to tell my uncle. Then he wrote a prescription for birth control pills, but told me not to start taking them until after my next period.  He made I big deal about taking them at the same time every day, and never skipping a day.

Then he left.  I wiped the goo off my crotch, put my clothes back on, paid for the visit and the pills and knew I’d have to find an extra $16 every month to pay for more pills.  If I wasn’t pregnant.  If if if.. (Luckily, I wasn’t.)

And I wondered if a regular doctor might be cheaper, and take less time, and not make me sit around for hours in a paper costume, and didn’t know my uncle.  But then, I didn’t know what kind of regular doctor prescribed birth control pills, and if they’d even see a 17-year-old. And if they did, would they repeat the Sex Ed lecture about how bad I was being? Planned Parenthood seemed like my only option.  I wanted to rename them Planned Unparenthood. And I wanted to redesign the entire system so there wasn’t a 2 hour wait in a paper costume. And the doctors didn’t get to see the women’s names. And if they give a discount based on income, they should say so.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Two Kinds of Theft

Two kinds of thieves

My mother, who is 92 and uses a walker, was pushing a cart full of her groceries to her car. A man followed her.  When she opened the trunk to put in her groceries, he opened the hood and appeared to remove something. 

He told her there was something seriously wrong with her car and she needed an $8500 part to fix it, which he just happened to have.

He escorted her to the ATM, which luckily had a $200 daily limit.  My mother gave the man her $200.  He yelled and fumed that his wife wouldn’t like it that he had sold this $8500 part for $200 but he would fix her car.  

He walked her back to her car, re-opened the hood, appeared to put something in, and went away.

My mother told the store manager. He said she should have come to him before going to the ATM.  She was feeling threatened.  She thought she had to go to the ATM with the man who had her car part.  She does not know how to fix cars.  She did not know if her car would start without that part, if he had actually taken something.  She didn’t feel confident enough to get into her car and see if it starts.  

She was picturing calling AAA, waiting for hours, having her car towed to a shop, where they would want more than $200 to replace the stolen part.

Meanwhile, in Philly, I put out boxes of old clothing and a VCR that still works for Big Brothers Big Sisters on their pick-up day in my neighborhood.  I clearly labeled the boxes with BBBS signs.  When I came back in the middle of the day, half the boxes were missing, and  the remaining boxes had been opened.  At the end of the day, all the boxes were gone, and there was no receipt from BBBS.

I was giving this stuff away anyway.  All I was robbed of was my tax deductible receipt.

My mother was robbed of real cash on her limited income, and her dignity – knowing she was taken advantage of by a criminal.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sears Dryer Installation Blues

We bought a washer and dryer from Sears online.

The first time the delivery man had both the washer and the dryer on his truck. He delivered and installed the washer. But the washer pan was too close to the wall for a back installation, so the dryer would need to be vented on the side. The dryer is switchable.  But the driver did not know how to switch it. So, he took the dryer back to the warehouse.  He delivered and installed the washer. He also left the vent pipes and elbow and stacking kit.

The second time, the driver brought a dryer with the vent switched to the right. But stairs to the room where the dryer will go are 27.5 inches wide.   If the dryer vent is at the back, the dryer is 27 inches wide and will fit up the stairs. If the dryer vent is on the right, the dryer is 29 inches wide and will not fit up the stairs.  So, the dryer would not fit up the stairs and the driver took it away.

The third time, the driver brought another right-side vented dryer and took it away.  He also took away the screws for the stacking kit and the vent pipes and the elbow.  He said they were the wrong type of vent pipes.  I learned later that he was wrong – they were exactly what we ordered and exactly what we need to install the dryer.

The 4th time, the delivery man brought the rear vent dryer, brought it up the stairs and promised that an expert installation team would be by in a couple of days. He also brought screws for the stacking kit. 

The 5th time, instead of an expert installation team, two men came and said they were supposed to pick up and remove the dryer.  I refused. They brought a vent pipe and elbow, but they took them away with them.

The 6th time, we talked on the phone with two sets of scheduling people, both of whom promised that this time we would get an expert installation team.  Instead we got a driver who did not know how to switch the vent from the back to the right.  He also did not have a vent pipe or elbow.  He promised he would call the installation customer care and we would get a phone call within 20 minutes.  

As I write this, It is now 5 hours later and nobody has called.  I called Sears customer support and they offered to send an outside firm to install it for $160.  I told them I have already paid for installation and I want what I paid for.

I called the installation number.  The recording said to call back during business hours.  I was calling during the stated business hours. I waited to see if it would let me leave a message. Then it hung up on me.

No wonder Sears is going broke. Meanwhile, I want my dryer installed.  I unscrewed the back to see if I could switch the vent.  Even thought I got all the screws out, I couldn’t get the back off.

Maybe the access is on the bottom. I give up for today.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sanders vs. Trump

Yesterday I met a man who was a Donald Trump fan.

I asked why.

He said he likes the fact that Trump is a businessman.

I said, Trump has bankrupted three companies yet managed to make millions for himself while destroying his employees’ pensions.

He said that’s just because laws allow it.  And he thinks that if elected, Trump would change the laws.

I asked why.

He said that Trump is already rich and therefore doesn’t need those laws any more.

I said Trump reminds me of Johnny Rocco in Key Largo.  What does Johnny Rocco want?  Johnny Rocco wants MORE.

He said, “Be nice, now.”

So, I asked if the race were down to Donald Trump vs Bernie Sanders, who would get his vote?

He said that was a difficult choice, but probably Trump.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Pope is Coming

The Pope is coming! The Pope is coming!  And some of it fell on my city.

I admire and respect this Pope, even though I’m not Catholic.  But he’s not a rock star.  I don’t understand the magic of being in the crowd when he speaks.

I live in the green zone.  That means that buses won’t be running through my neighborhood when his eminence is here. If I drive a car out of the zone, I will not be allowed to drive back into the zone until after the Pope leaves.  I am permitted to walk or bike out of the zone and return. Some of my neighbors are leaving town for the duration.

We’re told that at least 1.5 million people will be here to see him.  These people are paying $1000 a night to stay in hotels that are walking distance from where the Pope will speak.  These people will eat in restaurants.  The restaurants are trying to figure out how they will get food with the driving restrictions.  Same for the grocery stores.  Some exceptions will be figured out.  Right now, it looks like chaos will rule.  

It’s even worse for people who live in the black and red zones. These are zones where the Pope will actually be.

At this point, I don’t care if he can do the loaves and fishes magic.  I have an artificial hip, so it is unlikely I’ll be able to get through the metal detectors to hear him.  Besides, it will probably be easier to hear him from home on the internet.  In which case, why doesn’t he stay home, too?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Barnes and Noble's Mistake

In 1978, I wrote a picture book story: Ladybugs for Loretta.  My friend Francie illustrated it.  Because our only publication option was print (ebooks hadn’t been invented yet) we decided to limit the colors to black and red.  That meant two pieces of art for each drawing and two passes through the press.  We printed 1500 copies.  We split the stack. And we sold them.

A few years ago, we had an offer from a small press to bring our book back into print, but with only black and white illustrations.  We turned them down

A few months ago, Francie emailed me – she had used her watercolor magic on all the old illustrations.  Would I please drop everything and make ebooks?

I did some minor edits to the text.

She sent me scans of all the colored art.  

I used my word processor to create both doc and pdf files.  These days, that’s easy. Just click Publish to PDF.

I uploaded the PDF to Amazon.  Voila – we had a published book.

Amazon has a print-on-demand division. I sent them the PDF and a cover graphic.  Now we had the print book we’d always intended, which full color illustrations on every page.

But, we were missing part of our audience – in other words, we wanted to expand our market.

Barnes and Noble has an ebook reader called Nook that is supposed to be at least as good as Amazon’s Kindle.

I tried to upload the pdf file to Barnes and Noble. They don’t accept pdf files.  

I tried to upload the doc file.  It was over 20 megabytes.  They don’t accept files bigger than 20 megabytes.

I tried using BN’s online book creator tool.  I got about halfway through the process and the website said I had exceeded my size allowance.  Plus, their book creator is flow style, which means that art and text are not necessarily on the same page.

In order to get Ladybugs for Loretta onto Barnes and Noble’s Nook platform, I went back to the pdf, made screen cuts, reduced their size, reduced their color density and reduced their pixel count.  Finally the file was less than 20 megabytes.  I uploaded it.

But the result is that the Nook book is lower quality than the Amazon book.

BN is already number 2 in the market.  They don’t need to be number 2 in quality as well.  I hope they figure this out soon.  I’ll be happy to upload a quality file to replace the current minimalistic one.

Friday, August 7, 2015

My Summer Vacation

This summer I reverted to elementary school.

I met up with a couple of women who were my friends in 3rd grade nearly 60 years ago.  Anne brought jacks, and Alison reminded us of the rules.

 I was the only one who remembered how to use stilts, which were readily available at a museum we visited.

Then we made chocolate cupcakes,

 and went for a walk on the beach where we picked up rocks and put them into our pockets.

Anne also let me cuddle her toy rabbit (sorry no photo.)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Bee Count 2015

Guest Blog by Jean Lorrah

Many people have discussed the disappearance of honeybees across the North American continent. It is noticeable even in cities, as long as there are yards, lawns, gardens, parks, or even window boxes. For the past several years there have been fewer bees than usual.

In the summer of 2014 I decided to count honeybees on my daily walks with my dogs. I noticed Mother Nature putting big bumblebees to work pollinating the blossoms, as well as tiny sweat bees, flies, and even wasps. That summer I counted every honeybee I saw on my walks from the first one I spotted late in May to the last one before the first frost in late October--and for that entire time I counted 63 honeybees. A sad accounting.

But of course one year means nothing, so as soon as I saw my first honeybee in 2015, I began counting again. At first I thought this year would be worse than last, because not only were there no honeybees to be seen, but a new kind of big bumbler moved into our area--bees that look exactly like the big bumblers, and move in the same clumsy way, but are about half their size (still bigger than honeybees).

It was a few days into June before I saw Honeybee #1. A couple days later I saw Honeybee #2, then it was #3 and #4 on the same day--and suddenly I was seeing from four to ten bees every day! The count advanced rapidly, and by late June passed last year's count for the entire summer.

I continued counting with rising hope that whatever had caused the hive collapse might be over, and by early July my count reached 174. Approaching triple the number of bees in 2014, with three months to go.

And then the rains came, over a week of storms, torrential rains with flooding, and damaging winds. That sequence was followed by a blistering heat wave.

My bee count stopped. Since the first storms almost a month ago, I have not seen a single honeybee. The heat broke last week, giving us several lovely days with highs in the 80s before it began getting hot again yesterday, but still no bees have appeared. Actually, not even the big bumblers or their smaller cousins are back, and the wasps, flies, and sweat bees have been pollinating the proliferation of flowers we have this time of year.

So I don't know what is happening. Perhaps the honeybees collected so much pollen before the storms drove them to shelter in their hives that they are still busy processing. I'd like to think that, and I will continue to keep an eye out for their re-emergence.

Monday, July 27, 2015

COPY CAT 2 -- Blue

Guest post by Jean Lorrah

Blue started out life as a feral kitten, one of three born to a mother cat who risked bringing them to my friend Lois Ruiz' house to eat the food she put out for them. Lois tried to catch the kittens, but they were too frightened and too fast for her, so all she could do was put food out. Eventually two of the kittens were hit by cars, but Mama Cat continued to bring the third for food.

Then one day Lois saw neighborhood kids dragging something down the street--the surviving kitten! They had a wire twisted around her neck and tied to a rope, and would have killed the poor little thing if Lois had not grabbed them, threatened them with a report of animal cruelty, and taken the kitten away from them. So the one remaining kitten, now named Blue, was finally safe, and Mama Cat disappeared back into the wild.

Blue had cuts on her neck, but otherwise was not injured. However, the experience did nothing to increase her trust in human beings. Lois tended to her wounds and turned her loose in her house, where there were four other highly domesticated and friendly cats.

Blue grew up skittish and distrustful, but slowly accepted Lois as her person and would even sometimes come to me and let me pet her if I didn't visit with a dog in tow. If Lois had not died, Blue would have been set for life. Sadly, though, Lois unexpectedly suffered a stroke while in the hospital for a broken pelvis. I already had her dog, Fancy, at my house. Lois' oldest cat, Elmer, died within days of her death; her daughter Kay took the larger cats, and I took poor little Blue.

I put Blue in my bedroom, where she hid under the bed during the day. At that time (two years ago) I was crating my dogs at night anyway, so nothing changed for them except that the bedroom door was closed at night. Dudley and Splotch, though, were baffled at being shut out. But Blue needed attention: during the night she came up on the bed and slept with me.
Blue is a small gray cat, only seven pounds, long and lean when she stretches out. She has gold eyes, and a rather long nose that gives her face a distinct triangular shape. She and I spent the nights together for two years, with the dogs, Fancy and Bianca, joining us when I felt it was no longer necessary to crate them. Blue already knew Fancy, and soon made friends with Bianca. For weeks Blue never left the bedroom, even during the day when the door was open. The main reason for her reticence was Splotch, the only one of my menagerie who did not welcome her. He was not happy at no longer being the youngest cat, and I could not keep him from bullying Blue, who is half his size. So Dudley took it upon himself to teach Blue cat martial arts, which gave her confidence just as such training does for many people. She began venturing out of the bedroom, at least into the spare bedroom or across the hall into the bathroom. As time passed she would stay in the hall, and even occasionally stray into the kitchen. That was how things stood until Dudley died last month. Like all cats, Dudley had particular places he liked to sit or lie. I told you last week about Splotch taking his place on the TV table. Well, Blue chose one of his other favorite places, the bottom shelf of one of the living room bookcases, where he would sit for hours like a knickknack. Within days, I began to see Blue sitting in that spot. Also, Blue began to play. Dudley and Splotch were both playful cats, separately and together, but Blue was solemn, cautious, quiet, sitting under the rocking chair and watching the others play. But now she began chasing sunbeams and imaginary mice! Then one day I was at my desk in the office, concentrating on something on the computer. Slowly I realized that a gray cat was on my lap, having quietly invaded while I was not paying attention, just the way Dudley used to do. Sure enough it was Blue, on her first visit to my office--but not her last. She now follows me in as Dudley did. As I write this she is sitting between the keyboard and the screen, another of Dudley's favorite places, telling me I've been at this too long, and the animals need some attention. One of Dudley's annoying traits (yes, he had some) was to knock things off the table when he wanted my attention. This morning I was putting allergy medicine in Fancy's eyes when Blue jumped up on the table and meowed for attention. I didn't stop what I was doing to pet her, as I usually do to encourage her to assert herself--and, BOP! She very deliberately knocked a box of tissues onto the floor! I'm not sure exactly what is happening, except that Blue is coming into her own in ways that suggest she is using what she learned from Dudley. She now prowls the whole house, and demands more and more cuddling. She still hasn't forgiven Splotch, but this morning I saw something that just might get him into her good graces if he keeps it up. Splotch approached Blue again, and she held her ground and growled at him as usual. And then Splotch began to go through the cat martial arts opening ceremony. Blue stared at him and stopped growling. No, she didn't accept the invitation--but she simply walked away. I hope Splotch has realized that the techniques Dudley taught both younger cats could be the means of bringing them together. Perhaps one day soon Blue will accept Splotch's invitation to engage safely under the rules of cat martial arts, and they will find their way to friendship. Whatever happens, Dudley's legacy lingers in this house in the actions of the two younger cats he raised. As for Blue, it's almost as if what he taught her is now giving her the courage to come out of her shell and have a more meaningful life.

Monday, July 20, 2015

COPY CAT 1 -- Splotch

Guest post by Jean Lorrah

It's only a month since my Zen cat, Dudley, died, but in that time the behavior of my other two cats has changed. 

The cat that Dudley adopted, Splotch, is still somewhat bewildered. At eight years old, Splotch is a big, strong, beautiful animal, sweet to people but a bully to dogs and other cats. He is quite vocal, with an unusual gravelly meow. 

He is a certified therapy cat, but doesn't have the patience Dudley had. Every time he meets a new dog in the program, he is not satisfied until he boxes that dog's ears. No claws come out, but he has to show each dog that he's the boss. After that he's happy to be friends. 

Splotch came to us as a half-grown kitten, so he probably can hardly remember life without Dudley--and of course Dudley was his parent figure, mentor, and tutor all his life. He was used to Dudley going away with me and not coming home for days at a time when we traveled, and later when he had to stay overnight or longer at the animal hospital. Splotch was secure--Dudley always came home to him. 

But when this time Dudley didn't come home from the vet's within a few days, Splotch started looking for him, quickly realizing that he was not hiding inside the house. It was out in the garage that Dudley taught Splotch to hunt mice and crickets. 

One of Dudley's favorite parts of the garage was the loft, which is low enough for a cat to jump into from the top of the car. Splotch always preferred staying on the car roof while Dudley napped in the loft. There were occasions through the years when either Dudley fell so sound asleep up there that he didn't hear me calling, or else he just didn't want to come down and come inside when Splotch did. So in his hunt for Dudley, Splotch insisted on going out to the garage. 

It was a busy day, and I had to open the garage door a couple of times to get at tools and gardening equipment. Around dinner time I realized I hadn't seen Splotch for hours, and wondered if he had gotten out sometime during the day. 

Normally when he gets outside, Splotch goes to the south side of the house and huddles under the bushes either until I come looking for him or until twilight, when he comes up on the porch and cries to be let in. However, twice over the years Splotch has disappeared completely, only to return drunk as the proverbial skunk. He loves and responds to catnip, so I've never been sure whether there is a patch of catnip back in the woods, or if perhaps someone is growing some wacky weed. 

The last time Splotch got into whatever it is was last summer, when he didn't come home at twilight, or when I gave the dogs their bedtime walk. Worried about him, I didn't sleep well, so when the dogs alerted me after midnight I went outside--and sure enough I heard Splotch calling from two houses down the street. 

I keep a light on my driveway, and my neighbors light their front yard, so I could see Splotch approaching. He strolled in a devil-may-care way under their trees--but every few steps he would LEAP into the air, four or five feet high. Then he would stroll a few more feet and LEAP again. Oh, my, but he was intoxicated! But he finally made his way home, and slept off his hangover. 

So when I couldn't find him the day he went looking for Dudley, I wondered if he had decided to go off and find something to make him feel better. If he had, I knew he would come home, but at bedtime I decided to check the garage once again. This time when I called him he answered--from Dudley's hiding place in the loft. 

He came down, came inside, and wanted lap time. At 14 pounds, Splotch is quite a lapful! It was clear Splotch had finally accepted that Dudley was gone, and he both needed comforting and wanted to comfort me. Since then he has been trying to figure out his new place in the house. 

Dudley was a floor cat, and now I frequently find Splotch sleeping in Dudley's favorite spots on the floor instead of his own favorites on the couch, the back of my chair, and the top of the bookcase. One evening I was watching television when Splotch did something he had never done before: he jumped up on top of the cable box and began attacking the TV screen, trying to catch some horses running through the picture! 

That was an argument I had had with Dudley a hundred times, especially during the Olympics when he always tried to catch divers or figure skaters. Then he would sit on the cable box with his tail hanging in front of the electric eye, so I couldn't change the channel--which Splotch now proceeded to do. And finally Dudley would settle down among the wires between the cable box and DVR and the wall, where Splotch finished off that evening. He had never, ever been up on the TV table before. 

 Splotch apparently decided the TV table was no fun, as he has not gone back there since. He has also repented refusing to make friends with Blue, and keeps approaching her to no avail. I hope she will make up with him as he works out that he is now senior cat in our house, and it's time to grow up.

Monday, July 13, 2015


Guest post by Jean Lorrah

My cat Dudley came to me early in 2002, after my Siamese cat Soolin died. Dudley was a rather ordinary looking gray tabby, but he had personality to spare. He loved everybody, including the dogs, and quickly settled in as family.

Dudley soon figured out that if he joined the dogs when I got them together to come, sit, down, and wave, he would also get treats if he did what the dogs did. I put a harness on him, and he quickly learned to walk on a leash simply because he was a laid-back cat who went with the flow. I often took him to school with me, and my students were delighted to have him wander about the classroom, sitting on laps and taking naps on backpacks.

Soon my friend Lois Ruiz urged me to join the newly reorganized Pet Therapy program through our Humane Society. Dogs had to pass obedience training, but my remaining dog Kadi ended up with a certificate of attendance. She was a rescue who had been abused as a puppy, leaving her with brain damage, a sweet personality, all the instincts of a herding dog, and very little sense. So we just loved her, and let Dudley take on pet therapy duties. Cats only have to behave well on ten supervised visits (as well as passing the same health tests as dogs) to be certified,

As the first and for a long time only cat in the program, Dudley quickly became very popular. Children loved him, as did the cat lovers in nursing homes. He quickly became the most photographed cat in town, riding in Homecoming and Christmas parades, and participating in fundraising activities. International students in particular seemed to love him, so I'll never know how many of their selfies with him are circulating online.

Dudley had an active social life, and for the first five years he lived with me seemed perfectly content as an only cat. But then, Dudley was always content. Twice during that time I fostered kittens until homes could be found for them, and he paid them no mind. But then a friend brought me a half-grown tabby/tuxedo kitten to find a home for--and Dudley decided to adopt this one! He took over training, cleaning, and disciplining the kitty I named Splotch for the strange configuration of his coat pattern.

I watched Dudley go into sensei mode, teaching Splotch the cat form of martial arts, complete with formal addresses before each match. He also taught him how to interact with dogs, and how to catch mice and crickets in the garage. Eventually Splotch grew to be larger than Dudley, but Dudley could always beat him, even when he became old and frail. Splotch followed in his master's pawprints in becoming our second therapy cat.

As he grew older, Dudley grew fat. I told him I shouldn't have nicknamed him my little Buddha, but he didn't care. He just went on living in the moment and enjoying life.

But life changed around him. Lois lost her therapy dog Tessa to old age, and for a while took Splotch on our pet therapy excursions. Then she adopted a little chihuahua/terrier mix, and named her Fancy.

Kadi's brain damage was finally too much for her medication, and she passed over the rainbow bridge. I adopted Bianca, a dear little Maltese, and Lois and I signed up for obedience class, planning to train our dogs together for pet therapy. But then Lois suffered a fall and a broken pelvis. While she was in the hospital, Fancy stayed with me. But Lois never came home: in the hospital she suffered a massive stroke and died.

I kept Fancy, and also took in Lois' smallest cat, Blue, while Lois' daughter took her other cats. Through all of this, Dudley remained a calm center who had many tears shed into his soft gray fur. He became Blue's protector, as Splotch was reluctant to give up the position of youngest cat. Lois had rescued Blue from some children who wrapped a wire around her neck and dragged her down the street. She was afraid of everyone and everything, except Dudley and Fancy. Dudley taught her the same moves he had taught Splotch, and she learned to stand up to the would-be bully.

Then in 2013 Dudley had his first brush with mortality, when he developed bladder stones. Never one to complain, he didn't know how to tell me he was in pain--but he knew he needed help. So one day when I was putting on my makeup in the bathroom, he came in, ignored the litterbox, jumped up on the toilet and peed in the bowl.

Peed blood into the toilet.

I went from, "Oh, Dudley, you're so clever," to "Oh, my God!" in a split second, and rushed him to the vet. He had to have surgery, and then a special diet for the rest of his life to make sure the stones didn't come back. He recovered well, without complaint, and went back to his usual routine, including keeping Splotch in line.

For two more years I had my lovely zen cat--but this spring he began losing weight. I hoped he was just losing the excess, for he continued to be his sweet self until one morning in May he staggered into my bedroom and fell over. Thinking he had had a stoke, I once again rushed him to the vet. The diagnosis was vestibular disease, which affects the inner ear. With steroids and antibiotics, Dudley recovered, but the weight loss continued. I noticed that while he still came when I put food out, he ate only a few mouthfuls while I was watching, and then quit.

I took him back to the vet to discuss how to coax him to eat more, and she discovered a mass in his abdomen that had not been palpable only three weeks earlier. It was an aggressive cancer, and although I had it removed to give him the best chance to live, he survived only a few hours and died in his sleep.

It was very hard for me when the vet called to tell me Dudley had died alone in the night. Since I have been an adult all the pets I have been responsible for have died in my arms.

But that was my Dudley. He didn't want to suffer, and he didn't want me to suffer. I've tried to see it his way: better to go quickly, without the pain that recurring cancer would have caused. He had lived a good life, touching many lives both animal and human. My tribute to him online drew over a hundred comments and emails. He will be remembered.

Friday, July 3, 2015

48 years

My husband and I just celebrated 48 years of marriage.  I feel incredibly lucky. Lucky that I met him. Lucky that he has been my friend this long. Lucky that we still enjoy the same things, and doing things together.  Lucky that we are still both alive and healthy.  But knowing that we have taken care of each other, and can do so again if necessary.  We have managed to survive when we both lost our jobs and had to survive on food stamps and unemployment.

That marriage vow about for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,  wasn’t written for people of typical marriage age.  It was clearly written with hindsight, on a marriage that worked.

People ask me for advice on marriage.  I don’t know how to convey luck.

Monday, June 29, 2015

One Filmmaker's Point of View on Racism

Over the weekend I attended a movie entitled, “I’m not Racist ... Am I?” by Catherine Wigginton Greene.  

Here’s the summary that got me interested in seeing this movie: “What if this next generation could transcend racism? One year, 12 teens, on a remarkable journey to face racism and white privilege, and to have the conversations most of us are too afraid to have. Once they push through naivete, guilt and tears, what they learn may change us all.”

These teens did not face or openly discuss racism.  They were guided to discuss racism by proponents of unusual black Point Of View.  Basically, Ms. Greene extrapolates from the indisputable fact that the power system in the US favors white people. She explains, via a male spokesperson, that because all white people have benefited from this system, all white people are by definition racist.  And no colored people can be racist. If they are racially prejudiced, they are bigots, not racists.  

I see no value in redefining well-known vocabulary. In fact, I would say that one reason I was not allowed (by my African American city council person) to purchase city property in his district is that I am not African American.  In Philadelphia, the power structure benefits the non-whites.   

The movie also states that addressing a person of a different race or ethnic origin as an equal is wrong.  That all our interactions must take into account our differing ethnic heritages.  I, personally, see nothing wrong with having a business deal with somebody and not asking anything about their ethnic culture, but then again, I'm white, so I clearly "don't get it."

The moderator, who guided these teens’ discussions, also said, “if we get an image in our minds (such as skin color) when we hear the word "nigger" that whether or not we use that word, we are part of the problem.”  He also said we must NOT use the word "halfies" because that is insulting.   He had to explain that "halfies" means biracial.  I'd never heard the term before.

At the end of the movie, when the teens were allowed to say what they’d been thinking but that had not been discussed, what came out was more of a personality conflict between a white female and a couple of African American males.  I think these teens would have disliked each other if they were the same race.

During the year, the teens played games designed to show how the system helps white people.  The moderator read statements and if the teen felt it applied to him or her, s/he took a step forward. If not, s/he didn’t move.  One statement was “I see people of my race on television program presenting good examples.”  

As a white person, I don’t think most people on television, of any race, present good examples.  They all do things that hurt each other and society. They all argue about trivia.  Another statement was, “I can be accepted into a good school, and nobody will ask if I was helped by affirmative action.”  Just the phrasing singles out white students, who can’t get affirmative action.  The game was rigged.

At the end of the movie, the teens in the movie said they’d learned a lot.  But as a viewer, I didn’t see that they’d learned anything, or changed in any way, except perhaps that they had memorized the filmmaker’s point of view.

After the movie, many people in the audience talked about how moving it was.  I was not moved. The main point seemed to be that the movie maker thinks that talking about racism from her point of view is a good thing.  We’re all entitled to our opinions.  I just don’t see how her opinion is going to help improve race relations.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Repeating Conversations in My Head

I have a bad habit of repeating conversations in my head.  Or, sometimes, I use past conversations as a model for future conversations and play them in my head.  Either way, I’m having conversations with someone who isn’t there – which I freely admit is insane.

I have sat or walked or tried to go to sleep while these crazy conversations play in my head.  I know exactly how they will go before they finish, but I continue to play the whole thing, hating every second of it.  I didn’t know how to turn it off.

Poking around on the web, I stumbled into this site:

The author is a brit who talks about the “nutter” in my head.  That feels right – I know these conversations are crazy.  But it never occurred to me that the conversant was a subpersonality of sorts.  The next time one of these recordings started playing, I found my self thinking, “That’s just my nutter.”  It stopped!

It tried again in about half an hour.  And again, I thought, “That’s just my nutter.”  It stopped again.  It keep trying.  Different conversations – it must have stored up thousands.  Some are briefly interesting, but then I remember how they go.  That’s just my nutter. I don’t have to listen do this nonsense.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Trying to give stuff away - free

I’m reorganizing my house and giving away stuff I don’t need.

I had a comfy couch – not new, but certainly presentable.  Habitat for Humanity said they’d take it if it was on the 1st floor.  I hired some guys to move it to the 1st floor.  Then Habitat said they couldn’t get it for a month.  It was now occupying my living room, and I wanted it gone.  Habitat suggested I call Uhuru, which is a charitable furniture store.  Uhuru had me send them a photo. Then they had me fill out a questionnaire.  Then they said it wasn’t new enough for them.

I listed it on my neighborhood newsletter.  One man came over with his wife and said he’d bring a truck by the next day.  The next day came and went. I called him.  He no longer wanted it.  My husband listed it for $50 on Craig’s List.  It was gone in an hour.

I also had an old portable typewriter.  I have an emotional attachment to this toy.  I bought it with my first paycheck in 1965.  It took my entire paycheck of $40.  I wanted it to go to a good home, or be used as a theater prop.  I listed it free on the theater group I belong to.  One woman emailed me that she was interested.  She couldn’t come over that day because she was prepping for a colonoscopy.  She couldn’t come over the next day because she was having the colonoscopy.  She said she’d try to get by during the next week to come look at it, and she had a a bunch of questions about the ribbon, as if she’d never used a typewriter in her life.

In my experience, most of the people who email intently about a freebie never come over. Or if they do, it doesn’t meet their approval. And since she had not requested an appointment to see it, I wasn’t counting on her.  It’s a freebie.  First come is first served.

A friend wanted it.  I notified the theater group woman that it had been taken.  She says she’s now suing me in small claims court. She had put in her request first so she should have had first grab.  

When this woman saw my listing for the couch, she wrote me a nasty email that I had better not do the same thing with this couch.  I told her it was already gone.  She wrote “see you in court.” 

Does nobody sane want free stuff?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Weird Conversation at the Airport

I was at the device charging station, keeping m mouth shut while a fellow charger ranted loudly about how Obamacare is worse than having no insurance at all.  I figured anybody who could say that was not interested in, or capable of, a conversation about health insurance.

Then he switched the topic.  He was suddenly angry about Cain killing Abel in Genesis. Cain must have been a truly evil person, and God should have destroyed him.  The rant continued.  This time, I thought – I’ll defend Cain.

So, I said, “How was Cain supposed to know that death was even possible?”

The man said that he was sure God had explained everything. Then he said, “It’s our job to learn what God wants and not God’s job to explain anyway.”

I tried asking – how would you explain death to someone who had never seen death?  

He said, “What did Cain expect if he hit Abel on the head?”

“A headache?” I ventured? “Being sore?”

But my fellow charger was unconvinced.  And I don’t know how to explain ignorance to someone who has never thought about it.

Friday, May 22, 2015

My Big Red Monster

My Big Red Monster
by Lois June Wickstrom

A big strong red monster lives under my bed.
My brother doesn’t believe me.

My brother says, “There are no monsters! Tell it to come out! I dare you!”

One evening, when my brother isn’t looking, I lean over the edge of my bed and I say, “Red Monster! What do you want?”

The monster comes out and glares at me with eyes like burning cinders.  He grabs my bed covers, so I can’t hide. Then he growls, “ I’m your monster. You have to give me jobs to keep me busy, or I’ll eat you.”

I have to think of something fast, so I say, “Clean my room!”

The monster looks around. He looks at me.  Then, in a whir, my room is neat and clean.

Again, the monster stares hungrily at me.  “Give me a job! Or be my night-time snack!”

That gives me an idea – I lead my monster to the kitchen and say, “Wash all the dishes and put them away.”

In a whir, the dishes are sparkling on their shelves. All in their proper places.
The monster’s red eyes glow fiercely at me, again.  “Give me a job! Or I’ll wolf you down!”

I get another idea.  “Wash my dog and dry him all fluffy.”

Another whir, and my dog is frisking around the livingroom, smelling sweet.

My monster stares down at me again.   “Give me a job! Or...”

“I want you to leave me alone.”

“I’m your monster. You have to tell me what to do.”

“Quit bothering me.”

“I’m your monster. Give me a job.”  Saliva drips from his lips.

I say, “Get back under my bed.”

“There’s no job for me down there. You’re not scared of me any more.”

My brother yells through my door, “Who are you talking to? The monster under your bed?”

I yell back, “There’s no monster under my bed.”

“Of course not,” he says.  “There are no monsters.”

 “Go hide under my brother’s bed,” I tell my monster.

And he does.

Friday, May 8, 2015


Why doesn’t my family believe in nepotism?

I wish they did.  I feel like many doors are closed to me because of their belief system.

I totally get why Satan in the Bible stories was mad at God.  Satan had been a good and faithful servant and a friend to God for aeons.  Then along came Jesus and – who gets to inherit the kingdom? The newcomer – the kid.  God of the Bible believes in nepotism.

So, maybe nepotism means that qualified people might get passed over.  It also means that people who matter in your life get a chance.

When I was in high school, other students parents got them summer jobs at the places where they worked.  My father said he didn’t believe in nepotism and he refused to help me.  He even hinted that he thought I wasn’t worthy of a paycheck.  So, I mowed lawns for nearly nothing while my classmates were paid more than minimum wage, and had interesting jobs in air conditioned buildings.

Many of my neighbors got their jobs because of family connections.

I have a niece who is a literary agent. I write stories that sometimes find publishers.  My niece says her boss won’t let her be an agent for friends or family.  I asked her to just read some of my short picture book texts, and give me feedback.  She doesn’t have time.

I fix family members’ computers for free. I take care of them when they are ill. But this isn’t the nepotism they don’t believe in.  It’s only their time and their effort that counts as nepotism.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

What Use are Dead Ancestors?

My younger daughter signed our family up with an online genealogy site.

A few days ago I received a message that there had been updates in our family.
I clicked the link.

My father’s name is now misspelled.
My father’s mother’s name is now misspelled.
My father’s current wife is listed as a relative of my mother.
My brother, sister and I are now listed as children of one of my father’s other wives – not our mother.
And my father’s current wife is listed as dead.

I spent the time correcting these errors. 

Then I thought – why do I care? If the only way this site will know anything about my family is if we tell them, then they’re not doing anything we can’t do without them.  They’re not accessing the Mormon database of ancestors that goes back centuries.

My father’s brother researched a family tree for my father’s family in honor of my father’s father’s 50th wedding anniversary.  The entries go back to the time when people only had first names, and has the story of how his family got their last name.

There are a few details, such as careers that some of my ancestors followed. But mainly they are just names without stories.

The online genealogy site is less detailed than the paternal family tree. And since they have mistakes in the living members files, I see no reason to care about the older ones.  Actually, I’d only care if there were stories – the whole fun of having family is the soap opera.

My older daughter is interested in a different website – one that studies the genetics of families – what diseases they have, how many neanderthal genes they carry. I can see a use for this – it might be nice to know what diseases to be on the lookout for. But my family doesn’t have hereditary early onset cancer or other diseases that can be treated by modern medicine. So, I’m not excited about this service, either.

I think the current soap operas and diseases present plenty of problems, and that these history services don’t help solve them.

Friday, April 10, 2015

No Vacant Lots for Us

My husband, the alien, and I have been trying to buy vacant lots that belong to the city of Philadelphia. We want to build a one-story home because my husband is having trouble climbing stairs. Philly is a city of row houses and over 40,000 vacant lots.  The city has created a map of these lots with “for sale” signs on a good fraction of them. We only want to build one home. We have been requesting to purchase lots that have “for sale” signs.  Every time we request one, we are told that “the council president has other plans for that lot.” . 

After sending about 30 such requests, we received this note from the council president’s person in charge of real estate:

“I wanted to let you know that I have been receiving your requests.  The lots in the neighborhoods you are considering (such as Brewerytown, Francisville, West Poplar, Ludlow, North Central) are on “hold” pending or have been identified as part of other larger community development plans and/or the Council President’s affordable/workforce housing initiative.  Until these initiatives/plans are finalized, I am afraid I won’t be able to move forward on any of these requests.”

One of the lots we requested and were denied has now been removed from the map of city owned vacant lots.  To me, this indicates that this lot was sold to someone else and is now somebody’s private property.  I conclude that there are rules for who can buy city owned vacant lots. But I have no access to these rules.

There is also a map of privately owned vacant lots. I used Google Earth to look at some of these lots.  About half of them have buildings in progress. This morning, I biked out to look at one that appeared empty on Google Earth, and the owner is in the process of building.  This map is out-of-date.

A friend suggested I find an abandoned dilapidated warehouse, buy that, destroy it, and then build.  That probably costs a lot more than buying a vacant lot.  Meanwhile, I can keep looking at the privately owned vacant lots, find one that is really vacant, find the owner, and offer to buy it. This is not going to be simple.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Blemished Wishes

On the way back from the restroom at a local business, I noticed a new sign: Best Wishes

This sign never makes sense to me.  Nobody ever offers mediocre wishes, or damaged wishes. I wouldn’t know where to look for used wishes or remaindered wishes, or seconds. 

I expect any business I patronize to want the best for me, if for no other reason than their desire that I come back and buy more stuff from them.

On the other hand I sometimes have bossy wishes or greedy wishes when I think about companies I patronize.

Last weekend I took the Greyhound bus to New York City to see a play.  I had planned to make a day of it.  I booked what I thought was an express bus for 9:15 in the morning. The play didn’t start until 2 PM.  It’s usually a 2 hour bus ride, so that would give me plenty of time for people watching and eating lunch at a restaurant. 

My husband and I arrived half an hour early to make sure we could get seats next to each other. Upon arrival, we learned that our tickets were not for the express bus, but rather for the stop-and-go bus that takes 25 minutes longer.  

When the 9 AM express bus arrived at the station, they let 4 people who had arrived before us board because there were empty seats.

No bus came at 9:15.  

When the 9:30 express bus arrived, they decided that none of us could have the empty seats because we had the wrong kind of tickets.

When the 10 AM stop-and-go bus arrived, they decided that none of us waiting for the 9:15 bus could ride it because there were people who had tickets for the 10 AM bus.

Finally at 10:45 our bus arrived.  It had stopped and picked up passengers earlier and it did not have enough seats for all of us.  Since my husband and I were now at the front of the line, we did get to ride on it.  It actually took 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to NYC.  So, our 2 hour ride took over 4 hours to get us to NYC, and I have no idea when or if the passengers left behind arrived.  Perhaps they were allowed on the 11 AM bus, if it had empty seats.

When an airline messes up like this they apologize. They buy seats from passengers on oversold flights.  They give everyone free miles on their account.  At no time did Greyhound apologize.  They acted like we passengers were being unreasonable to want to go to our ticket destinations.  I sent them an email explaining that I wish they’d improve.  They didn’t bother to respond.

I have blemished wishes for them.  I know that’s not going to accomplish anything.  But then best wishes don’t accomplish anything either. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Evolution of a Story

A friend sent me what he said was an old spiritual teaching story. 

The premise fascinated me, but the tale had no plot.  In the beginning, the protag had a problem. This was a worthy problem – definitely worth writing about. The protag went to a spiritual teacher who gave him an answer. The answer caused another problem. Again, the protag went to the teacher, who gave him another answer. End of story.

So, of course, I rewrote the story. In my version, the protag makes mistakes, matures and solves her own problem – in fact, she solves two problems at once.

I felt that thrill of discovery and accomplishment when I wrote it. Jubilantly, I took it to my local writers group.

Of course, they trashed it.  But in a nice way.  They told me where it stuck in their craws.

I rewrote it – now sure that I had something commercial in my hopper.  I sent it to agents. I sent it to the few publishers who look at over-the-transom manuscripts.  Most ignored me.  The ones who responded gave me that “not suitable for our list at this time” letter, which means nothing. I could get that response if I sent a blank piece of paper. 

I’m a professional. I don’t think I’ve lost my talent. In fact, I feel like my story-telling ability has improved over time.  This story is a keeper.

When I do find an editor, I may have to do more rewriting. But the core of the story will remain intact.  I've been a writer long enough to know that the story in my head may need to take a different shape before it effectively communicates with other people's heads.

Off it goes in another envelope to another possible buyer.