Saturday, March 31, 2007

Critters


I read my niece’s blog yesterday and found her most recent entry to be a laugh-out-loud funny story. I can just picture her in her purple negligee, broom in hand, with a Wonder Woman stance……..well, you should just go and read it. You will enjoy. Her blog can be found here.

After reading about her adventures with an outdoor critter in the house, it, of course, made me think of my various adventures with outdoor varmints who have made their way indoors.

The one that first came to mind is the one I’ll share with you today. We live in the desert and near our housing development is a large open field, several acres in size. In this field live many of God’s wild creatures, ranging from the bunnies that we see every Spring, to snakes, coyotes and, of course, the lowly field mouse.

I could not, in a million words, explain to you why I am afraid of mice. It is totally, completely and absolutely illogical. I am a big woman, tall and strong and very adept with creatures. I will take on a 100+ pound dog, who is misbehaving and not happy, and have him behaving well in very short order, with never a second thought for my safety. And yet, a little critter, who is tiny enough to sit in the palm of my hand, and who is more scared of me than I am of him, for some reason makes me run for high ground. It’s so stupid.

But it’s a fact. So, here’s my story.

One day, OMAS yells out, with this note of terror in her voice, “Come here, NOW, there’s a mouse in the hall!!” I immediately wish to run to anywhere but the hallway, however, I go to her “rescue” cause that’s just how I am.

As I arrive in the hallway, the terrified mouse races under the closed door and into OMAS’ bedroom. Now OMAS is really upset and says things about how now she can’t go to bed, and omigod there’s a mouse in her room, and what am I going to do about it, etc. etc.

I am wondering how I, the person who is afraid of and detests mice, suddenly became responsible for getting this mouse out of her room. However, she’s clearly laid the job at my feet and it seems I have no choice. She is older, and in poor health, and somehow I feel it’s my job to “take care of her”. The Spouse, who has no problem at all with mice (but that’s another story) is not at home and it’s just the two of us.

Therefore, after a moment’s thought, the light bulb goes on over my head and I say “We’ll put the cat in there!” I go and round up the largest of our two large and “ferocious” cats, crack the bedroom door and toss the cat in. OMAS and I remain in the hallway with our ears to the door, listening for the sound of battle. (We were also keeping one eye on the bottom of the door in case the little bastard tried to escape)

No sounds. No mouse escaping. Just quiet.

Finally, after several minutes of quiet, we opened the door and peeked in. The cat was on the bed asleep.

So we went and got the second cat and tossed her in too. Surely the scent of mouse was on the floor. There must have been something to alert the cats that they were in the same room as a mouse. However, either their sensors were dead or they just didn’t care. When next we checked, we had two sleeping cats on the bed and the mouse was still running loose in OMAS’ bedroom.

At this point, I pointed out that it was highly likely that the mouse had an escape route, maybe a crack in the baseboards under her bed or something of the like. We didn’t even know if the mouse was still in there, so what did she expect me to do?

So we both put on sturdy shoes, just in case, and ventured into her bedroom. We saw nothing. So, I started pulling out furniture and peering behind it, looking for the possible escape route. I had to convince OMAS the mouse was gone or there was no way she would be sleeping in there that night. I could set a trap but I knew she’d spend the whole night laying there waiting for it to go off. We had to do something.

Finally, I pulled out the dresser to peek behind it and as the dresser moved, the mouse came running out and across the floor right in front of us. He ran behind the book case. Of course, we did the only intelligent thing we could do. Both of us screamed and leaped onto the bed.

So there we were, two cats and two women standing in the middle of the bed. The cats yawned and we just stood there looking at each other. After a minute, I started laughing. I said “Well, now what?” “We sure as hell can’t stay here all night.”

Then we both started laughing. The situation was so absurd. Here we were, two grown women and two lazy cats, all standing up on the bed, in the middle of the room, in the middle of the night, because of a 5 ounce mouse.

So, I bravely leaped off the bed and ran for the door. Too bad the mouse didn’t run out right then for I surely would have squashed him had I stepped on him in my haste.

This time I decided one of the dogs might be a better choice for the hunting job since the cats were obviously worthless for mouse catching. So I went and got Gracie, a large black Lab mix. From the hallway, I shoved her into the room and she was immediately interested in the smell on the floor. (Labs are hunting dogs you know.) She sniffed and sniffed and sniffed and wandered around the room and then climbed up on the bed and lay down beside OMAS. After all, you shouldn’t let a good comfy bed go to waste.

Gracie and OMAS and the cats all laid there looking at me in the doorway.

Finally, in a last ditch effort, I went and got Sammy, our Golden Retriever mix. Beautiful, sweet Sammy who we miss so much.

She walked into the room, put her nose to the floor sniffing around, immediately went to the bookcase where the mouse had last been seen, and glued her nose to the crack at the bottom of the bookcase. She was, for all intents and purposes, “pointing” at the prey.

I obligingly pulled out the bookcase and immediately, the mouse came racing out. Sammy, with one agile leap, grabbed the mouse, shook it briskly, breaking it’s neck, then spit it out on the floor.

Sammy regally strolled out of the room and went back to whatever she had been doing.

Moral: never send a cat to do a job that can be done much more efficiently by a Golden Retriever.

Lesson learned.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Empathy Factor


In my class at school, one of the things that the students have to do over the course of a semester is present a debate to the class. The debate has to tackle a tough healthcare question, ideally one with all kinds of ethical implications and moral ambiguities.

The question for last night’s debate was “Should our healthcare system allow physician assisted suicide?” The State of California is contemplating this very question for the next ballot and, according to the polls, some 70% of the population support this. Consequently, this was a very relevant and topical question for the students to discuss.

The debate was presented very well by the four students involved. They had a Power Point presentation, had done lots of research and both sides presented a very convincing argument. When they were done, the class was opened for discussion and one of the first questions presented to the “pro” side was, “If it was your mother who was sick, would you still believe it was okay to help her commit suicide?”

The student who was asked this question immediately began back pedaling from her stated position and said she didn’t REALLY believe in physician assisted suicide, but somebody had to take the pro side for their debate. The other “pro” student debater chimed in and indicated that she DID believe in it and proceeded to reiterate to the class how many millions of dollars could be saved if we stopped wasting so much money on people who were going to die anyway. “Just let them check out early if they want to” was her true opinion.

Then one of the students in the audience raised her hand and started talking. She started talking about her Dad who had died a bare 3 months ago from cancer. As she talked the tears started and soon she was sobbing so hard she could scarcely talk as she told about how incredibly precious those last few weeks and days and hours with her Dad had been. How much that time had meant to her and her family. Her father was a physician and actually wanted to end it and get it over with, but his family begged him not to, and for them, he did not. As she was talking, another student chimed in and said she had lost her Dad just 6 months ago too, also to cancer. She too got teary as she talked about those last days with her Dad. Then, of course, I had to tell them that I lost my father just 5 months ago, also to cancer, and that I could not imagine having shortened his life voluntarily just because he was going to die anyway.

Other students entered the conversation talking about grandparents and beloved family members whom they had lost and the class got more and more emotional. I had to call a halt to the discussion simply because I was so near to tears myself. I simply couldn’t talk about my Dad and death and dying and not get very emotional. It just wouldn’t do to have the professor crying in front of the students. One must maintain decorum.

It was a very powerful afternoon in the classroom. I believe the student who was truly “pro” was given a great deal to think about.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Happy Birthday My Darling Girl

Today’s post is very long but, it’s one of those times I have a lot to say. Bear with me please……….......………..or not, as you choose.

To: Gina

Address: Heaven

From: Mom

My Sweet Baby
Happy Birthday, my dearest daughter. It’s hard for me to believe that, had you lived, you would have been 39 years old today. I can scarcely grasp the concept of being the mother of an almost 40 year old person. Without a doubt, our children are the surest sign of how fast we are aging.
















The Early Years
















It seems like only yesterday, or at the most, last week, that I was changing your diapers; then potty training you; then going to your tee ball games and then Miss Softball America games; then helping you sell Girl Scout cookies; then watching you march proudly along the parade route in your twirling flag girl costume. I watched you dance across the mats and fly through the air in gymnastics; I was amazed at your skill as you skimmed across the ice at the ice rink and I cheered as you raced in the pool with your swim team. The day we went skiing, I fell on my butt over and over but you learned to ski in 30 minutes and went sailing down the slopes with ease. We laughed so hard that day because I had some illusion that I was the athlete in the family! And it all seems so…………..recent.

The Tee Ball Slugger























The Ski Bunny


















I can’t believe you have been gone for eleven years.

It seems impossible that your childhood was more than a quarter of a century ago.

Where have the years gone?

One of Santa’s Angels























I remember when you were in 2nd or 3rd grade and you came in crying from school and said some boys had thrown rocks at you as you were walking home, and they had called you “nigger”. I can’t recall ever being so angry and I stormed up to that school and into the principal’s office to demand something be done. It was done. The boys officially apologized to you with their parents at their side and both of them were suspended for several days. You couldn’t believe how mad I got. You kept saying, “it’s okay Mom, I’m not hurt, it’s okay”. But it wasn’t okay and my heart broke for you.

The Second Grader























I know how tough it was for you to belong to two worlds. The black kids called you “white patty” and the white kids called you “nigger”. You had such difficulty trying to figure out where you fit in. I remember your tears as you struggled to live with one foot in each world. You didn’t understand prejudice. What child does?

You were so incredibly beautiful with your cafĂ© au lait skin, luminescent brown eyes and wildly curly hair. I never understood how anyone could see your features as anything but gorgeous, but many ignorant people did. They didn’t see a beautiful, talented, intelligent, racially mixed baby/child/girl/teenager/woman. Instead, they saw someone who they categorized as “black” and somehow, in their stupid, ignorant, bigoted and uninformed eyes, that made you less. And you felt it. And I knew you felt it and there was nothing I could do. No amount of parental love could erase the prejudice of the world that you were born into.

My Little Mermaid




















You were always so very tiny and every team uniform you ever wore was too big for you until you hit your 11th year. Then, you suddenly just shot up in size. Just about the time I had decided you were going to be a small woman of short stature, you suddenly started growing! You ended up being as tall as me when you reached adulthood. I remember how you outgrew every item of clothing you had that summer and we had to buy you a new wardrobe from the skin out in order to start school that year. When you were two years old, the doctors had done all kinds of measurements and testing and they said you would be about 5’7” when you were grown. For years I was sure those doctors were crazy, but damned if they weren’t right!

I remember your adolescence with mingled memories of laughter and tears. You did so dearly love to swim and you swam like a little fish. The day you were able to beat me in a race from end to end in the pool, I’ll never forget how you sounded when you laughed. You were so tickled to have beat the teacher! And I was so tickled that you had learned to swim so very well. All that swimming ability stood you in good stead when you made the swim team in high school. You were so fast, it still takes my breath away to think of it!

You were such a jock; swimming, playing softball, doing gymnastics, skiing and ice skating. To this day I believe if we had had the money to pursue the dream, you could have made the ice skating team for the Olympics. You were so good. You floated and danced and twirled across the ice like an angel. I still have the beautiful ice skating costume that your Ah-Wee made for you and I have your ice skates. I’ve thought of selling them on eBay but decided I could never part with them. They are packed away in a trunk with your cowboy boots, your dolls, your teddy bear and other treasured possessions.

Gymnastics – age 6 to adulthood























I recall the movies we laughed about together, like “Tootsie”, and when we cried together over “An Officer and A Gentleman”. I also remember the beginning of the dark times when I found you smoking for the first time and the way we fought over the condition of your room and what you wore to school. I remember how many times the school called me at work to ask where you were, and the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because I knew that I had dropped you off at the school’s front door that morning. I REALLY remember the time I came home from work in the middle of the day and found you and your friends playing hooky and partying at our house. I don’t think I’ve ever seen kids disappear quite as fast as your friends did when I started bellowing. You used to say that when you were little, you could hear me call you home to dinner when you were playing three blocks away. I guess your hooky playing friends thought I yelled pretty loud too.

But aside from the troublesome things and all the problems we had, I remember so many of the good times, the wonderful times in our life. I remember our houseboat vacation when you and Annie gathered every rock you thought looked interesting and piled them on the front of the boat until I thought you would make us sink. I remember you on the beach in Pensacola, dancing on tiptoe in the surf in your excitement over being there. I remember you at Disneyland, laughing hysterically as the teacups went spinning madly around. I remember carrying you on my shoulders after the championship softball game, when you hit the grand slam that won it all! You were so incredibly happy that day! So many memories.

Gina & Annie and The Rocks on The Houseboat

















Gina on Her Raft Beside the Houseboat

















I’ll never forget how much you loved that little Terri dog and how you used to dress her up and take pictures of her. I still have some of those crazy pictures of you and her together. Remember the one of her when you punked up the hair on her little doggy head with your mousse, put sunglasses on her, put her in front of your keyboards and put her paws on the keys? It looked for all the world like Terri was a punk rocker playing her heart out. And the one where you put a tee shirt on Terri and entered her in a radio contest as the “most unique way to advertise the radio station”. You didn’t win, but I thought you should have. The picture is hysterical. Little Terri was such a good sport and she loved you so much she would let you do anything to her. Terri is with you now and I truly believe that you two are together and taking care of each other. That little dog loved you dearly and I know how much you loved her in return.

Terri – The Beloved Pet























I’ll always remember how beautiful you looked in your prom dress with all that pink satin against your creamy golden skin. You were truly a vision of loveliness that night. You were not happy with your hair which you had cut short because of swimming. You wanted long flowing hair “like all the other girls”. However, that kind of long flowing hair was not to be for you. If I had known then, what I know now, you could have had long straight hair, but what did your white, short-haired, uninformed mother know about hair straightening? Obviously, not much. I’m sorry about all your hair issues honey, and I want you to know that if I had it to do over again, you’d have the longest, straightest hair of any girl in that school. Hindsight is a great thing indeed.

The Prom Queen























I always worry, when I look back on our time together, that you didn’t really know how much I loved you. I always tried to let you know how important you were to me, to let you know how much you counted for something in my life. If not for you, I would never have known the joys of being a Mom. I treasured our time together. You are irreplaceable and wonderful and I am infinitely richer because you were a part of my life.

Throughout your teenage years and on into adulthood you struggled with drugs. I’ve never understood how someone who had so much potential, so much talent, so much to live for, could play around so callously with their life. You were too smart not to know the risks of what you were doing. However, I guess that’s what addiction is all about. Clearly the drugs had taken over your life.

I’ve also never understood how you could be a jock and a druggie at the same time, but somehow you seemed to manage it. I guess, since you never competed professionally, you were never drug tested, but I knew what was going on and we surely had some legendary fights because of it. You knew exactly how to “push my buttons” and I was always so afraid for you that it took very little to set me off. I’m sorry I slapped you and I’m sorry I acted like a crazy bitch so many times. I can only say that I was hysterical with worry and fear that something would happen to you.

I never understood your terrible taste in men and boys. I thought that, somehow you just attracted the losers, and I never understood why. To me you were such a winner! But then you met dear, sweet Dwayne. He was a fine young man and he loved you so much. I had visions of him being my son-in-law and the father of my grandchildren, but that was just never to be. If only, if only…………

What Might Have Been













I know how much you hated the Rehab I made you go to and I also know NOW how little good it did, in the long run, in helping you with your problems. I hope you know how much I tried to help you. I hope you know that I wasn’t trying to be mean when I sent you there. I was trying desperately to save someone I loved with all my heart.

When you came out of Rehab, started college, and gave every appearance of being clean, happy and healthy, words cannot tell you the joy I felt. Every dream for you that I ever had took wing and soared. I was so sure the worst was behind us.

The GREAT College Report Card
















Gina on Campus at EKU
















But I was wrong.

The rehab people said “slim to none” when asked your chances of staying clean. I refused to believe them. I was sure you were going to be okay now. It was over. Your life was going to get back on track. You would graduate from college. You would have a wonderful career in broadcast journalism just as you wanted. You would get married. You would have children. I would be a grandmother. We would have a lifetime together.

Gina at The Family Farm























But I was wrong. Horribly, tragically wrong.

You died September 20, 1996 at the age of 28 from an overdose. When I got the news, my world turned upside down and my heart broke. I knew I would never be the same. The shining beautiful joy of my life was gone.

I was right. My life has never been the same since. It never will be.

I have learned to live without you. I have made a new life. It was that or die along with you and I knew you wouldn’t want that. So I pulled myself together and went on. And time goes by…….and now it’s been 11 years. That’s just unbelievable……………………………

I think of you everyday. I miss you everyday.

Happy Birthday, my darling girl.

My Beautiful Daughter

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Cigarette or How a Red Hot Crotch Almost Killed Me

I’ve been thinking about it and it seems that most people’s blogs are like a diary, tracking their everyday lives and the events therein. However, mine seems to be different. Sometimes I write about the here and now but when I stop and think, “what shall I write about today?” the answer seems, more often than not, to be “write about your youthful adventures.”

I guess my life today is not particularly interesting or exciting (at least not to me) but my past, well, that’s another story. I did travel a rather bumpy road, with lots of detours, on the path to getting where I am today. When you leave home at 18 and head out into the big, bad world; when you think you know everything, but you really haven’t got the sense God gave an ant; when you’re young and brash and cocky and good looking, all kinds of interesting things happen. Hence, today, we again return to the past.

My last post talked about the fact that OMAS and I were living in the Deep South in 1964 and so, we’ll just pick up right about where we left off:

After many phone calls, lots of letters (snail mail-no email in those days) and a few back and forth visits between Alabama and Florida, OMAS and I decided we wanted to leave the South. We wanted to go somewhere where people knew how to have FUN! We wanted adventure, excitement, thrills and spills, to meet new friends, to see never before seen things, to experience the ups and downs of making it on our own. We wanted to leave family behind and leave the safety of always knowing they were there. We wanted to fail or succeed on our own. So where is the home of dreams for the young and the restless? Of course, no question, we decided to head West to California.

Since OMAS had a car, we planned for her to come and get me in Florida. On a cool Fall day, she, and a little dachshund named Heidi, arrived with all of OMAS’ worldly possessions packed in the car. You’ll recall I was living with my grandmother and, although Granny loved me dearly, I think she was not overly unhappy to have me leaving. An obnoxious teenager can most assuredly “cramp your style” and my Granny had lots of style. While I was loading all my stuff into OMAS’ car, Granny and OMAS were talking. I learned much later that Granny had extracted a promise from OMAS that she (OMAS) would make sure that I finished my education. OMAS promised. Considering I was a mediocre student who couldn’t wait to leave high school behind, I couldn’t imagine ever going to college. I’m not sure if OMAS really meant to keep her promise or whether she was just placating Granny. I’m not sure she knew at the time. However, some 30 years later, when I graduated from college, as she hugged me, OMAS whispered in my ear, “I kept my promise to Granny.” I have no doubt on that day that my Granny was smiling down on us from heaven.

As we pulled out of the driveway of my Granny’s house and pointed the car towards the West, to say we were excited would be a mild understatement. We were beginning the biggest adventure of our lives and we were both, literally, “over the moon”.

It was our plan to catch Interstate 40 and follow it all the way across the country. Once we got “out west”, we would need to switch over to Interstate 10 to head directly into Los Angeles. We had talked endlessly about where to go exactly. We had discussed every big city and little town in California and it had come down to a toss-up between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Los Angeles had won for several reasons. First and foremost because of the weather. I like warm weather and little rain. Secondly, we had numerous friends who had been to California and, we were reliably informed, that Venice Beach was THE place to go. Despite our wildness of spirit and desire for fun, we were not druggies and had no interest in going to Haight Ashbury in San Francisco, since that place seemed to be the heart of the drug culture on the West Coast. Therefore, we backed out of the driveway, pointed the car West, and headed for Venice Beach, a coastal area of Los Angeles.

OMAS figured we would share driving duties and the co-pilot would be the map reader. There was only one small problem with this plan. I didn’t know how to drive.

I know, I know, it’s hard to believe that an 18 year old, almost 19 year old, didn’t know how to drive, but as I’ve said before, I was very immature for my age. I rode my bike everywhere throughout my teenage years and I really didn’t have a big interest in learning to drive until now.

OMAS wasn’t worried for she planned to teach me to drive on the cross country trip. It wasn’t that I had never been behind the wheel, but I had never done any REAL driving to speak of and I had no license. I had tooled around parking lots and around the block, but that was about it up to this point. So our plan was that I would learn to drive as we traveled and by the time we got to L.A., I would be an accomplished driver and I would go get my license.

Once leaving the Panhandle of Florida, in what seemed like no time at all, we were flying across the long, flat, endless plains of Texas. It was actually a great place to learn to drive for there was very little traffic and the road was completely straight for mile after boring mile.

So, I was behind the wheel, tooling along at 60-70 mph and I decided I wanted a cigarette. Both OMAS and I, young fools that we were, had a big time smoking habit. After all, smoking was very grown-up and very cool and God knows, we wanted to be grown up and cool.

I stuck the cigarette between my lips and reached down to push in the car lighter so it would get hot. In a few moments it was ready and popped out. I took it out and applied it to the end of my cigarette. (Let us not forget that I was driving, so the whole cigarette thing was leaving but one hand on the wheel.) As I pulled the lighter away from the end of my cigarette, the entire red hot tip of the cigarette pulled away with the lighter, and then, it dropped off the lighter and down between my legs.

I dropped the lighter screaming “Oh, Shit! Oh, Shit!” and began frantically digging between my legs trying to smash out the hot cigarette tip before my pants caught on fire. To say I was upset would be a mild understatement as I was frantically smacking my poor privates and bouncing up and down on the seat as I tried to find and extinguish the flaming cigarette tip. I was so very busy trying to save my ass, that I forgot I was driving.

In the ensuing moments, the hot ash was smashed out and my twat was saved from being scorched. Then, I suddenly remembered what the hell I was doing and looked up. OMAS was screaming and the car was headed across the highway, across the opposite lane and heading for the ditch and the open desert. Being the inexperienced driver that I was, I immediately jerked the wheel back to the right, overcompensating dramatically, and the car went into a wild spin. Round and round we went in the middle of the highway with our hearts pounding, the sweat pouring, and me feeling the hairs on the back of my neck standing straight up. I was such a fucking idiot.

We ended up on the wrong side of the road, facing in the opposite direction from which we had been coming. It is an absolute miracle of God that there had been no traffic coming from the other direction. If there had been, we would have hit them head on and I would not be sitting here writing this story tonight. Or, we could also have hit that ditch and rolled over and over and over and died there in the hot desert sun. However, God protects fools, and he kept us safe. We were both shaking like a leaf and suddenly smoking didn’t seem near so important.

Need I say, OMAS took over and drove for a while?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Party Weekend or How to Act Like an Idiot and Be Seen as a Hero

In January, 1964 I was living in Florida with my Grandmother. I was a wild 18 year old, full of piss and vinegar, and ready for anything. I was most definitely a handful. With hindsight, I can’t imagine how Granny stood me, but, fortunately for me, she did.

I had a girlfriend up in Alabama (OMAS), just a couple hundred miles away, and we were itching to get together and get into some trouble. She couldn’t come down to Florida, so we made plans for me to come up to Alabama. We planned to get together and have some fun!

We decided to meet in Birmingham, Alabama since that was a good sized city, big enough to have some cool nightspots and plenty of shopping. It was pretty much the half way point on a trip to meet one another so we just met in the middle. Fortunately, she had a car, so all I had to do was get there and we would be ready to P-A-R-T-Y!!! Look out Birmingham!

I bought a train ticket, excitedly packed for the big weekend, and at the appointed time, I caught my train and off I went. We had made plans for OMAS to meet me at the train station in Birmingham.

At this point in the story, it’s time for a short break and a brief “history lesson” since my younger readers may not be aware of the significance of the time and the place in this story.

In January, 1964 our country was in turmoil. Our beloved President had been assassinated a few short weeks earlier and the Civil Rights Movement was tearing the country apart. Martin Luther King was leading peaceful protests and demanding civil rights for blacks; “Freedom Fighters” from colleges all over the country were pouring into the South to register black voters and join in the protests and the Klan was making their last stand for the supremacy of the white man in the Southern United States. In a nutshell, the U.S. was at war with itself. The young college students that traveled into the South and registered voters and marched and protested, literally put their lives on the line in their valiant attempt to secure true equality among the races in our country. The South was, most assuredly, a powder keg just waiting for a match. If you haven’t already seen it, watch the movie “Mississippi Burning” about the college student civil rights workers that disappeared in 1964. It will give you a good “feel” for that era.

And now, back to our story…………………………..

Into this potential powder keg comes OMAS and I, ready for a party weekend and a good time. It would be hard to explain to you just exactly how oblivious I was to world events and/or national events at that time in my life. I was a typical (I think) self-absorbed teenager whose main concerns revolved around having a good time, having enough money and spending time with my friends. (If 18 sounds old to be this juvenile, let me just say that I was late bloomer.)

I arrived at the train station, OMAS met me, and our big weekend began. We were so excited!! This was long before the days of the Internet, so we had no reservations to stay anywhere. We had planned to just hop in the car, find a nice looking place fairly near the train station and just go for it. So that’s exactly what we did. A clean, well maintained, nice looking Motel popped up on our driving route, just a short distance from the train station, so we stopped and got ourselves a room. The very nice black man at the front desk was warm and friendly and helpful. He insisted on carrying our bags, he escorted us to our room and he was just as pleasant as he could be. I remember that very clearly. Astoundingly, I even remember the name of the place. It was the General Lee Motel. (I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night but I can remember the name of a motel I stayed at 43 years ago……Good Lord!!!)

We had heard from our friends that a particular nightclub in Birmingham was really “cool” and we were anxious to see for ourselves. After checking in, we got cleaned up, put on our best duds, picked up a city map from the front desk and off we went. We found the club easily enough, although it was quite a long distance from where we were staying. However, since we had the car, we didn’t give it much thought. Gas cost about .25¢ a gallon in those days, so it wasn’t a big factor in our weekend expenses.

We had a great time clubbing, dancing, drinking and meeting new friends. We closed the club, headed back to our motel room in the wee hours of the morning, and dropped into bed to sleep soundly for several hours.

The next morning, we got up, dressed for a day of shopping and headed over to the coffee shop/restaurant that was attached to the Motel. We walked in, were given a booth, and checked out the menus. The black waitress was exceptionally efficient, kept the coffee cups filled and fresh, brought our orders very quickly and checked on us repeatedly while we ate. I noticed, somewhat as an afterthought, that people in the restaurant were glancing at us, smiling at us and just generally being very nice and friendly. I remember commenting to OMAS about what an incredibly friendly and welcoming town Birmingham was.

After we ate, we walked out into the parking lot and started walking towards the car with the intent of heading over to the shopping district. The people in the parking lot waved at us, as if we were old friends, more smiles, head nods, welcoming attitudes. I was puzzling a bit over just why all the friendliness. It was definitely over the top.

And suddenly, it hit me, and I realized that EVERY SINGLE SOLITARY PERSON I had seen up to this point, at the motel, in the restaurant, and in the parking lot, was black. I don’t know exactly why I suddenly “tuned in” but it definitely had something to do with everyone being so friendly. In the back of my mind, I was wondering why and then, all of a sudden I knew………………..we were at a black motel, in the black area of Birmingham, in the middle of the Civil Rights movement in the Deep South. We were young and white and they thought we were Civil Rights workers; college students come down to register voters and work for their rights. No wonder they had been so wonderful to us. They thought we were there for them, ready to put our lives on the line to make sure they had their voting rights and their freedom.

Why else would two, intelligent appearing, young, white women stay at an all black motel on the black side of town in a very segregated Birmingham, Alabama in 1964?

Since we didn’t want people to know we were idiots, not heroes and not civil rights workers, we never said a word. We just smiled and nodded and enjoyed our stay.

After all, when we got in the car and drove away, how did they know we were going shopping? We might have been headed to the nearest precinct headquarters to register voters…...............it’s possible.


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Just in case you are interested in seeing what I was in the middle of, here's a very interesting website that tells about the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Click here.

The Wedding


During the years we lived in Taipei we were fortunate enough to have a live-in maid and houseboy. As I mentioned in a previous post, this certainly did not mean we were rich, for we most assuredly were not. However, in that time and place household help could be had for literally pennies a day. Besha (Bee-Shaw) and Wong were paid the princely sum of $20 American dollars each, per month, for their services and they were very happy to get it. That was simply the going rate in Taipei some fifty years ago. Most all the American families living there had live-in help during those years. I believe that Wong may have actually received $25 since he was experienced and had worked for an American family before us and, therefore, knew and understood our “strange” American ways.

In the first few months we were there, my Mom was pregnant with my brother and then, after he was born, she had the exhausting job of caring for a newborn. Since she also had a toddler, an adolescent and a husband to take care of, having live-in help was truly a blessing to her. For me, as the resident adolescent, it meant that I became a spoiled, rotten brat who never lifted a finger to do housework for over two years. When we returned to the States, it was certainly a rude shock for me to once again begin helping my Mom around the house. I’m not sure I ever got over the indignity of having to do housework! Need I say, I LOVED having servants??

Both Besha and Wong were young, healthy adults of about the same age, so I don’t suppose it’s surprising to tell you that they fell in love and decided to get married. When they invited us to their wedding, my Mom and I were very pleased and excited to be included. I don’t think my Dad cared much one way or the other. Men! What do they know about the romance and excitement of a wedding?

When the big day arrived, my Mom and I got all dressed up and went to downtown Taipei. We went to the given address, a challenge in itself, and upon arrival we found this large building that sort of resembled a church. I’m not really sure what it was, possibly just a large recreation hall or maybe a temple. There were folding chairs lined up in rows and there were lots of flowers. There was a BRASS BAND standing over to the side of the room which seemed a bit surprising to us. In our Americanized version of a wedding, we, of course, expected an organ or a piano or something similar. However, there was only the brass band to provide music. They were playing what can only be described as “Chinese music”. I have no idea what it was except it sounded Oriental and certainly was very different to my ears.

We sat for a while and the place filled up slowly with what I assume were friends and relatives. We received a good number of interested and curious stares as we were the only Occidentals there. Suddenly, the chattering died down, and the band began to play some lyrical sounding song with what sounded like tinkling bells chiming in the background. I can only assume it was the Chinese version of “The Wedding March, for at that point the doors at the back opened and Besha came in.

We hadn’t known what to expect in terms of how Besha would be dressed and Mom and I had wondered if she would be in some “exotic” silk Chinese dress or the like. As it turned out, she was in a full length, white, wedding dress just like any bride I’d ever seen. The only difference I can recall is that the dress desperately needed to be ironed. It was unbelievably wrinkled as though it had been packed away for many years. Maybe it had been, but to this day, I can’t understand why she or her mother or her friends or somebody didn’t have it pressed and made ready for this big day. I guess I’ll never know for we certainly could not ask the bride why her dress why so wrinkled and messy looking. Who knows? Maybe she thought it looked fine.

She came down the aisle alone, not with a Dad escorting her, as we do in our wedding rituals. There were no bridesmaids and only Wong was waiting for her at the end of the aisle, so no groomsmen either. There was a man waiting for them at the front of the church and when she reached Wong, they joined hands and walked together to stand in front of him. At this point the preacher(?) spoke for a while, seemed to bless them and then spoke to the attendees. He read from a book and then, suddenly, it was over.

We, of course, had no idea of exactly what had been said, but apparently, they were now Mr. and Mrs. They turned together and started back up the aisle. As they walked out, heading for the reception, the brass band began playing, very loudly, “You Are My Sunshine”. It seemed so incongruous for the occasion that Mom and I both had to hide our giggles. You are my sunshine indeed!

The reception was held next door and it was basically a nice buffet food spread with friends visiting and talking. The band had followed them over, so dancing may have been planned for later. Mom and I decided that we would eat, pay our respects and then hit the road.

We were both quite knowledgeable about Chinese food and both of us were good with chopsticks, so we did not anticipate any problems. However, the table was laid out with types and varieties of food we had never seen. It looked very nice and smelled good, but the reality is that we had absolutely no idea what we might be eating. Talk about a food adventure! We each put a little of this and a little of that on our respective plates and then retired to a quiet corner to try out these new delicacies.

I honestly have little memory of the food that we ate with one exception. I popped this little tater tot sized bit of food into my mouth and began chewing. I chewed and chewed and chewed and the damn thing just kept rolling around in my mouth not getting chewed up, not dissolving, not doing anything except laying there. I would have bet money that I was chewing on a very large piece of rubber. Finally, in desperation, I spit the “chunk” into a napkin, wrapped it up and stashed it in my pocket. I learned later that I had been eating, or trying to eat, octopus. If that chewy, rubbery mess is what octopus tastes like, then I can assure you I will never eat it again. I certainly have not done so to this very day. God, it was awful!

And so ends the saga of Besha and Wong’s wedding. My most enduring memories of the occasion are the brass band playing “You Are My Sunshine” very loudly and the rubbery octopus.

I wonder what ever happened to those two? They were older than me at that time, so today, assuming they are alive, they are probably venerable grandparents telling stories of their youth and the time they worked for those “crazy Americans”.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dog School

Our Ultimate Goal for Meggie

Meggie and I went to the first night of dog school last night and it was a fun experience. I’ve done this before, with our other dogs, and the most interesting part of the whole thing is the people watching.

As usual the class is large and there is every kind of dog there from Great Danes to Chihuahuas. Each animal is functioning at his or her own particular level of training at the beginning and, in the majority of cases, there has been no training at all up to this point. I can’t imagine how people can live with dogs that are as obnoxious as some of those last night. Before going to class, I thought Meggie was obnoxious, but after being around those other dogs, I realized that she is already well on the way to being a good and obedient dog who is well trained. She is far from perfect, but soooooooo much better than many of the others.

Take the other Labs for example. (Of course I immediately noticed the Labs). This one Chocolate Labby boy acted like he had never even seen a leash and he was literally jumping up and down like a hopped up kid on a pogo stick. When the poor guy tried to get him to sit, he would push his butt down, holding the treat over his nose at the same time, but instead of sitting, the dog would jump sideways and then flop to the ground rolling around. He and his trainer were finally singled out by one of the assistants and taken aside for “extra” training. He was truly obnoxious and out of control. He was a BIG boy! Had he been behaving this way his whole life? Good Lord, how did someone live with him?

The little teeny tiny dogs are the ones that tickle me. They’re so close to the ground in the first place, you have to look twice to see if they’re really sitting down! The Papillion, the Chihuahua, the little Terrier, the tiny Poodle all seemed to be learning very quickly. Why? Are little dogs so smart, or is it just that they are so little it’s more difficult to notice when they are misbehaving? When you have a large “horse” flipping through the air, rolling on the ground and ignoring your commands, it does seem to be more noticeable!

There was a Husky who absolutely would not shut up. He was not barking, he was yodeling, yipping, chuffing, huffing and generally telling anyone who would listen his opinion of being there. He didn’t like it! However, his young teenage handler was putting him through his paces and he was learning, although he never shut up the entire time. My Lucy is a talker, but nothing like this.

I was particularly impressed by the Pit Bull. I don’t like Pits, just on general principles, and I would never own one, however, this fur boy was smart and he was learning fast. His owner, a middle aged woman, was teaching him and he was listening and responding well. I was impressed. Too many bad news stories have given me a terrible impression of Pits. However, they are probably just like any other dog: a product of their breeding, their training and their home life. However, they scare me.

The German Shepherd with his little girl owner, the old man with his large mutt, the couple with their little black Cockapoo, the woman with her Springer Spaniel, the young man with his Irish Setter…….the class was full. All shapes and sizes of people and dogs. All at various levels of training, all responding to the teaching in their own particular way. It was an interesting evening. One of the things I noticed most was that it seems like the bigger the person, the smaller the dog. A strange phenomenon to be sure.

Meggie, of course, had to take an extraordinarily large dump right in the middle of class, right in front of the instructor, but then nobody ever said my dog didn’t have class. She did, however, do very well overall. I didn’t realize how much she had already learned until I saw her immediately sit on command, lay down when I pointed to the ground, stand when I told her to and walk along beside me quite well when told to heel. She needs LOTS of fine tuning in order to be considered well trained, but she’s definitely already on the path. Unfortunately, for many of the others, they don’t even yet know there is a path.

For me and Meg this class is about socializing, about being around new people and strange dogs, and about learning to be a REALLY good girl, not just being a half-trained, sometimes I’ll mind you and sometimes I won’t, kind of dog. I know from experience that only about half the class will stick around until the bitter end, but Miss Meggie and I will be there on graduation day and we’ll be hoping for a first place finish. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

It was a bittersweet experience for me as I keep seeing Bessie’s sweet face when I looked down at my young charge, however, in fairness to Meggie, I pushed my other thoughts aside and concentrated on her.

I will be well repaid for my efforts with a dog who will be a joy to be around for many years to come.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ramblings - 1

I played golf a couple of days ago and the whole time I was playing, I kept thinking “Spring is sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the flowers is?” I don’t know why this silly old verse kept going through my head because the flowers were most assuredly present and unbelievably beautiful. The course where we play is part of a very large park and it is beautifully landscaped. The pink and white dogwoods are in full bloom and they are spectacular. The weather was in the 80’s and I was doing something I really enjoy. It doesn’t get any better. Here’s a couple pictures so you can see what I’m talking about.

















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Lucy is getting better. Today she seemed almost like her old self. She is back in the pool and enjoying swimming and she was playing and horsing around like a puppy. It’s been 6 months since we lost Bess and between the time factor and the beautiful weather, she is healing.
















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My daughter’s birthday is this month. I plan a special post for her on that day. I find I’m thinking about her more than usual. Remembering, thinking about all the what ifs………..If I can figure out the scanner doo-hickey on my printer, I’ll include some pictures with that post. She was a cute baby, a darling little girl and a beautiful woman.

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My brother sent me a link about global warming and wanted to know what I thought about it. It is most assuredly thought provoking. You’ll need some time to check this out as you’ll be watching a TV show on your computer. Here’s the link: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4520665474899458831 It’s hard to imagine that we have been fed such a load of BS, however, the argument presented in this video is mighty darn convincing. Let me know what YOU think.

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I had a post awhile back about me and eBay. (see post here) I just wanted to update you and let you know that things are much better. I am listing and selling and getting back to my old self. Apparently time really does make things better. I should have known that from experience. The pain of a major loss never goes away, but you learn to live with it and not let it rule your life. That’s the spot I’m approaching in regards to my Dad and Bess as we near the 6 month mark. I think writing about Dad so much with my Taipei stories is helping too. It just seems to feel good to talk about him and our life together from childhood on.

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I’m doing well at Weight Watchers as those of you following my stats may have noticed. I’m not sure why this time seems easier than previous attempts. I really can’t explain it. I’ve certainly been “fired up” before with a weight loss attempt, but this time I feel like I will make it all the way to goal. I think the blogging may be helping. Somehow, I feel “accountable” to a lot of readers and I don’t want to let you down by having to post a weight gain. That probably sounds silly, but somehow, it’s making sense to me. My WW group leader has already talked to me about becoming a WW leader in the future when I reach goal and maintain for a while. She knows I teach and I guess she mentioned it because she knows I’m used to standing in front of a group of people and talking. Time will tell how that all works out. Talk about having to be accountable!!!

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Meggie starts Novice training Monday night. This will be her first “real” training. She went to puppy pre-school just to learn to be civil, but now we’re starting the real thing. She seems very smart, so hopefully she will do well. She’s certainly a sweet pup. She’s 11 months old now and it’s high time she learned how good dogs behave. She will be shocked to learn that “good” dogs do not jump up in hysterical joy and plant their paws on Mom’s chest when she returns home; they do not chew up slippers, socks, underwear or anything else that does not belong to them; they do not beg and drool when Mom is eating dinner; they do not pop-up like a jack-in-the-box and run after a bird, a butterfly, their own tail or anything else that catches their interest, when they have been told to stay; they do not chase the cat and think it is extremely amusing to scare her; they do not run head first into a closed glass door in their excitement at the idea of swimming; they do not steal their sister’s bones, toys, food, collar and everything else she has, just because they are a greedy little pig. Dear Meggie has a lot to learn.

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Well, the buzzer has announced that dinner is ready, so enough rambling for tonight.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Fresh Goods


Once upon a time in the Far East………………..

Fifty plus years ago, when a military family was stationed in a far flung outpost of the world, you simply never knew exactly what it was going to be like. You didn’t know if there would be a large military base with all the American goods that you have come to treasure; a base with a PX and a Commissary and all manner of other goodies; OR, if you would be out on the edge of “nowhere” with a severe shortage of American consumer goods.

And sometimes, even if there was a base and a PX and a Commissary, in this far ago time, BEFORE JET PLANES, these facilities would not be well stocked or else would carry goods that were many, many weeks old. In the case of the Commissary, (that’s grocery store to you non-military folks out there) food that is “many, many weeks” old may be less than desirable. Such was the case with the bagged and boxed products offered at the Commissary at the small American Military Compound in the city of Taipei.

The food to supply the Commissary was brought over on ships and whereas meat could be frozen and canned goods could, theoretically, last forever, things like boxed cereals, potato chips et al, did not hold up well over long periods of time. They were stale and unappetizing by the time they reached the consumer. I don’t know if things move faster in today’s marketplace or if our preservation methods today are just better, but the fact is, in that time and in that place, it was impossible for my family to get fresh, crisp potato chips.

During those years in Taiwan, my folks were in their 30’s, (an age I now consider unbelievably young!), had many friends and did a lot of entertaining. As you know, entertaining means providing snacks and hors d’oeuvres and drinks for your friends, among other things.

Well, my Mom decided she wanted some FRESH potato chips to serve with her great new dip recipe, so she just made some! It’s not really very hard, if you think about it. Just slice potatoes very thin, fry them golden brown and salt them. Mom happened to have one of those handy dandy slicer thingys that would slice potatoes paper thin, so she was able to make great chips.

To say that the chips were a big hit at the party is a mild understatement. People went absolutely wild for them….”where did you get them?”, “Ohmigod, these are wonderful”, “I think I’ve died and gone to heaven” etc. etc. etc. (Apparently you don’t realize just how much you might miss something until you can’t get it) And so, in the midst of all this unbelievable “potato chip love”, the idea for a business was born.

My Dad, ever the entrepreneur, realized that he had stumbled upon a potential gold mine. After all, what is the most basic principle of a business enterprise? Find a need and fill it and you will be successful. Dad had found his need. He then proceeded to go about filling it.

Initially, he thought small. He figured we could make the chips and sell them to our neighbors directly. There were a lot of American families in Taipei and selling to them directly seemed like a great idea. I would go around the neighborhood and take orders, my Dad could make the chips and then I would deliver on my bike. Sounds simple enough, right?

First problem: what to put the chips in? My Mom came up with the answer to that one. Mom was and is a seamstress. So it was her suggestion that we take a piece of wax paper, fold it in half and then she would sew up the bottom and side on her sewing machine. Then the bag would be filled with chips and stapled closed. It worked perfectly!

And so we began. To say we were successful in this enterprise was a mild understatement. Our potato chips were unbelievably popular. We couldn’t make them fast enough to keep up with the orders. There were orders backed up, my Dad was spending every spare moment that he wasn’t at work, frying potatoes. My Mom was sewing bags like a mad woman and I was pedaling my little legs off, taking orders and delivering. The only reason my little sister and brother weren’t involved was because they were so small. Other than that, this was a family enterprise.

Next problem: finding enough oil and potatoes to keep up with the demand. We were buying all the oil the commissary could provide and getting 50 pound bags of potatoes from local farmers. The commissary started special ordering large quantities of oil for us and we spread the potato orders among several farmers in order to get enough spuds.

Next problem: getting the potatoes peeled and sliced and ready for the fryer. My Dad hired Chinese workers to come and peel the potatoes. The cost of labor at that time in that part of the world was unbelievably cheap, so the people were delighted to get the work and it was certainly cheap enough for us to hire them.

At this point my Dad decided it would be much simpler to just have one customer rather than many. So he negotiated a contract with the commissary to sell our potato chips to them directly. Then our customers could just buy from the commissary. The commissary said they would take all the chips we could make.

And so we launched into high gear production: numerous Chinese peeling potatoes, Mom either slicing spuds or sewing bags, Dad and our Houseboy frying, me salting chips, filling bags and then stapling them closed.

This went on for a while and then Dad realized what had been obvious for a while; we couldn’t begin to keep up with the demand. This business was so successful, that it had to be taken to the next level OR we had to let it go and stop completely. It was literally taking over our lives. My Mom had two small children and a home to care for, my Dad was a military man with an assigned job and a career to take care of, and I had to go to school. Something had to be done.

I think my Dad considered the “next level” but then the reality of what that meant sank in. Buying or renting a small factory, hiring workers, hiring a foreman, buying all the necessary supplies, handling all the paperwork that goes with running a business, delivering the product, etc. etc. etc.

And he already had a job.

So, he did the only thing he could do. He closed up shop. The customers were unhappy, the commissary was unhappy, the Chinese workers were unhappy, but our family was fine with it. We were tired and weary and sick of the smell of frying grease and never having a free moment to just relax.

Our life slowly returned to normal. We still had homemade potato chips occasionally (just for us) and we loved them, but we never again made them for anyone else. To this day I prefer homemade potato chips over anything you can buy in the store. The homemade ones are so fresh and crisp and just a tad thicker than the store bought ones. They are WONDERFUL!

Until the day he died, I don’t think Dad could ever pass a bag of chips in the store and not smile a little secret smile of memory.

None of us will ever forget the Taiwan Potato Chip Factory.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Retailers Pull Dog-Fur Trimmed Coats Mislabeled as Faux"

I had to share this article with you. This is a follow-up to this post (click here)

An investigation reveals that some apparel labeled as faux or raccoon fur is actually from canines, prompting department and clothing stores to remove the items from their shelves.

From the Associated Press
February 24, 2007

WASHINGTON — That fur trim on your jacket that you think is fake? Tell it to Fido. An animal advocacy group says its investigation has turned up coats — some with designer labels, some at higher-end retailers — with fur from man's best friend. Some retailers were scrambling to pull the coats from shelves, take them off websites and even offer refunds to consumers.

The Humane Society of the United States said it purchased coats from reputable retailers, such as upscale Nordstrom Inc., with designer labels — Andrew Marc and Tommy Hilfiger, for example — and found them trimmed with fur from domestic dogs, even though the fur was advertised as fake. "It's an industrywide deception," said Kristin Leppert, the head of the Humane Society's anti-fur campaign.

The investigation began after the society got a tip from a consumer who bought a coat with trim labeled as faux fur that felt real. Leppert and her team began buying coats from popular retailers and then had the coats tested by mass spectrometry, which measures the mass and sequence of proteins, to determine what species of animal the fur came from. Of the 25 coats tested, 24 were mislabeled or misadvertised. Three coats — from Tommy Hilfiger's website ShopTommy.com, Nordstrom.com and Andrew Marc Inc.'s MARC New York line sold on Bluefly.com — contained fur from domesticated dogs. The others had fur from raccoon dogs — a canine species native to Asia — or, in one case, wolves. The single correctly labeled coat was trimmed with coyote fur, but it was advertised as fake.

Most of the fur came from China.

In response to the Humane Society's investigation, Tommy Hilfiger stopped selling the fur-trimmed garment and said it was looking into the matter. "We were quite concerned to hear of this finding," spokeswoman Wendi Kopsick said. Nordstrom called the 62 consumers who had purchased vests with dog fur trim to give them the opportunity to return the vests "because we would never want to deceive our customers in any way," Nordstrom spokeswoman Brooke White said. She said Nordstrom no longer buys fur-trimmed products from the vendor, who had marketed the vests as faux fur.

Charles Jayson, chief executive of Andrew Marc, disputed the Humane Society's investigation and insisted in a statement that all fur on his coats labeled as raccoon contained "only farm-bred raccoon fur from Finland, and our items labeled 'faux fur' are a 100% synthetic fabric."

Importing domestic dog and cat fur was outlawed in 2000. Intentionally importing and selling dog fur is a federal crime punishable by a $10,000 fine for each violation.

Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the Humane Society, said his group had contacted all the retailers and designers selling mislabeled coats or coats with dog fur. Raccoon dogs look like oversized, fluffy raccoons and aren't kept as pets. Importing their fur is not illegal, but activists say they are still a type of dog. "This is an animal that is routinely killed by stomping them or beating them or skinning them alive," Markarian said. Video produced by Swiss Animal Protection and posted on the Internet shows raccoon dogs being clubbed or slammed on the ground. Some writhe, gasp and blink as they are skinned alive.

The discovery of domestic dog fur is the latest twist in the investigation that spotlighted retail giants Macy's and J.C. Penney Co. late last year. Both retailers were found to be selling coats with raccoon dog fur labeled as raccoon. Burlington Coat Factory Direct Corp. also pulled some coats with mislabeled fur from its shelves. Rap artist Sean "Diddy" Combs stopped producing and selling coats from his Sean John line that had raccoon dog fur, and rapper Jay-Z pulled coats with raccoon dog from his Rocawear label. Mislabeling fur is a misdemeanor punishable by a $5,000 fine or a year in prison. Fur valued at less than $150 is not required to be labeled.

A bill introduced by Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.) would close that loophole by requiring labels for all fur products regardless of their value. It also would ban fur from raccoon dogs. "Americans don't want Lassie turned into a fur coat," Moran said. "In the U.S., we treat cats and dogs as pets, not trimmings for the latest fashion wear."

The Humane Society said other retailers that had sold mislabeled raccoon dog fur included Lord & Taylor, BergdorfGoodman.com and NeimanMarcus.com. Designers whose clothes were mislabeled included Donna Karan's DKNY and Michael Kors. A coat from Oscar de la Renta advertised as raccoon had raccoon dog fur. Neiman Marcus Group Inc., which owns Bergdorf Goodman, said it removed Bogner and Andrew Marc coats from its websites. Michael Kors said it was investigating, and a DKNY spokeswoman said the label was unaware that raccoon dog fur had been used.

Donna Karan's executive vice president for global marketing and communications, Patti Cohen, said, "While it is not illegal to use this type of fur, we have taken measures to ensure that it is never again used for any of our products."

A spokeswoman for Oscar de la Renta declined to comment.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Holy Mother of Pearl

Thanks to all of you out there who have sent “get well” wishes. I am most appreciative of your kind words. I am getting better. Still not 100%, but definitely on the mend.

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Today’s post is about a well known phenomenon that most of us women have suffered with for years: Excess body hair.

Actually, if we were smart and European, we wouldn’t care. We’d go around with our hairy legs and hairy armpits and never give it another thought. But, alas, we are not. We are Americans (most of us) and our society’s standards of “beauty” includes smooth hair-free legs, armpits, faces, et al.

Unfortunately, I have discovered that the older I get the more of a propensity I have developed for growing facial hair. I looked in the mirror one day and said to myself, “Self, you are growing a mustache!” I did not like this AT ALL. Therefore, I decided at my next leg waxing session, I would have my wax lady “do” my upper lip.

I am quite capable of growing a “forest” on my legs, but, for some odd reason, I have almost no armpit hair. That’s handy, for the thought of waxing THAT area makes me sweaty and nervous. I don’t wear bikinis, for with my figure and at my age, it would be a sight to make grown men cry. It’s a good thing I have no desire or ability to wear bikinis for again, the thought of waxing anywhere in that general area also makes me all sweaty and nervous. However, somehow, the idea of waxing my upper lip didn’t really bother me at all.

I have gnarly chin hairs that are just itching to grow down to my navel, but with my handy tweezers, I keep them under control. There are only about 6 or 7 of them, but boy they are determined. I pull them out by the “root” and the damn things grow right back just like the plucking had never happened. I guess if I were a guy, I could grow a helluva beard. Anyway, the point is, I’m accustomed to disposing of unwanted facial hair and I didn’t think the lip thing would be any particular big deal.

So, comes leg waxing day and I casually tell my wax lady that I want her to wax my upper lip today since I am growing a “mustache”. She laughs and says “No worries, I’ve done that a million times. Lots of ladies are growing mustaches and this is the best way to get rid of them.”

She does my legs first and then moves to the head of the table. She quickly and efficiently puts the warm wax on my upper lip and also does my eyebrows for good measure. I am pleased, for I can already “see” my new hair-free self and I’m sure I will be happy and hairless.

After a few minutes, she reaches down and grabs hold of the now firm edge of the lip wax and says “this may sting a bit” and she pulls the wax off my upper lip.

I am tough, I am strong, I am WOMAN!

However, I thought I was absolutely going to DIE when she jerked that wax off my lip. I was quite sure that she had accidentally ripped off my lip. I saw stars it hurt so bad. My upper lip was zinging and stinging and screaming as though I had just been punched in the mouth. I had tears in my eyes; it hurt so bad, I couldn’t even say anything as I was gasping for breath. “Ohmigod”, I finally gasped in a stunned voice. “That was unbelievably bad, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts.” My lip was now numb with shock but underneath the numb, it was still hurting. She assures me that I will get used to it and next time it won’t hurt near so bad. Surely she is joking. Does she really think I will let her do this to me again? I will grow a luxuriant black beard or take up shaving or something but never this again.

It continues to hurt. I pay her. I leave. I go home. I look in the mirror. I am hair-free. I am also flaming red and in pain. Now instead of a black hair mustache, I have a flaming red skin, numb to the core, mustache. It took HOURS for the numbness and pain to wear off.

I discussed this painful event with friends and family mainly to see if others had had this experience or if I was just a wimp. My niece had had a similar experience and when the wax was ripped off her upper lip, she screamed, “Holy Mother of Pearl!!” and cradled what she assumed to be her lipless face in her hands. Apparently this painful response is pretty normal, at least to first timers. What’s amazing to me is that any first timer ever becomes a second timer. What are they? Masochists?

I do believe that the next time the “mustache” is bothering me, I will try one of those cream depilatories. It may burn the hair off my upper lip and take some skin with it, but it can’t possibly be as bad as the lip waxing experience.

What we go through in the name of beauty……………………………..

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sick, Sick, Sick

Hi All. Sorry I have been AWOL but I am sick as the proverbial dog. We went out with friends to an "authentic" Chinese restaurant and had a big meal this past weekend. I suspect it truly was the real deal since we were absolutely the only Occidentals in sight and it was a very large place. When The Spouse asked, in desperation, for silverware, they brought her a plastic fork. That was apparently all they had. Fortunately, I am very adept with chopsticks.

Unfortunately, those chopsticks apparently picked up "something" they shouldn't have since I believe I probably have food poisoning. I'm living in the bathroom and I hurt all over so that's my assessment. Hope I'm not giving the restaurant a bad rap and it's really just the flu or something, but the timing was pretty coincidental.

I have to go lay down now. My head is throbbing, my stomach is churning. Another trip to the bathroom is coming up soon, I guarantee you.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Dogs

Rex as a Puppy in Taipei

From childhood my house almost
always had a furry creature to pet and love and cuddle. Today, as an adult, I can’t conceive of a life without animals. I guess it isn’t surprising that I love them so much. They have always been such an integral part of my life.

Some of my earliest childhood memories revolve around dogs, starting with Penny, the fox terrier who once climbed up on the dinner table, when all our backs were turned, and consumed a whole roast.

And I know that before her there was a cat, but I really can’t remember him too well. I’ve just seen pictures of me holding him in my lap.

And then there was Rex, the German Shepherd who loved rice and who once gave me the scare of my life. (today’s post)

And Champ, the boxer who hated peas, whose “green cloud” farts could clear a room and who rang the doorbell when he wanted in.

And Heidi, Hans, Fritz and Gretchen, the Dachshunds who one day dug under a fence and got out of the yard and into the big bad world – but that’s a story for another day.

And Heidi the 2nd, a little terrier/dachshund type mutt, who literally grinned at us with a big smile that showed her teeth, when she was happy and excited. And it was really a smile. The more we laughed, the bigger the grin.

And Misty, Ricky and Twinkle, the Norwegian Elkhounds, who, between the three of them, could and did shed enough hair to knit mohair sweaters for a large family and who wore out several vacuum cleaners during their reign. Ricky, the ever defiant and dominant male, once took careful aim, and shit in my cowboy boot because he was angry at me. I didn’t know anything was wrong until I shoved my foot down into the cowboy boot. What a lovely surprise!

And Dutchess, the Silky Terrier, who was a mean little shit who would just as soon bite you as look at you.

And precious Terri, the Norwich/Cairn Terrier who absolutely worshipped the ground I walked on, and who once, when I was upset and crying, climbed up on the bed, slipped into the bottom of my sweatshirt at the waist, worked her way up to the neck hole and lay there quietly, literally, plastering herself against my skin and holding me to console me.

And of course, dear sweet Samantha (Sammy) the Golden Retriever mix, who spent her yard time sitting in a lawn chair because, apparently, she didn’t want to get dirty.

And Gracie, the gentle giant, who was part black lab and part something else that was huge. She was so big, but so sweet and so gentle.

And finally, my beloved Labs, Bess, Lucy and Meggie, who have all loved to swim and play and who all just seem to get such incredible joy out of every single day. As readers of this blog know, we lost our precious and beloved Bess this past fall at barely 6 years of age due to cancer. It’s hard to imagine anyone loving a dog more than I loved her, and as you can tell, I’ve got a lot of experience in loving dogs. I’ve been through the “horrible decision” more times than I can stand to count, but this was the worse loss of them all by far. Not to say I didn’t love the others, for I surely did, but Bess was the most special dog I’ve ever had and therefore, her loss was the most heart rending and heart breaking. They say in every dog owner’s life, there will be that one dog, THE dog that you will never forget and never get over. Bess was mine.

As can be seen by the variety of dogs I’ve owned (or who have owned me, depending on your point of view), I love them all; big and little, short haired or long, feisty or cuddly. As I’ve said before, once I discovered Labs, I doubt I’ll ever have any other large breed dog, for I think I’ve found the “perfect” dog, if there is such a thing. I may someday have another little guy, because I like lap dogs, but only time will tell.

Today’s post takes us back to Taipei where I want to tell you a short story about Rex, my beautiful German Shepherd. Rex was a gorgeous Shepherd, as you can see by the picture and I loved him dearly. We were constant companions. It’s hard to wrap my head around the idea that this picture of him is almost 50 years old. Surely it can’t have been 50 years since I wrapped my arms around that sweet boy and hugged him close.

Since we were in Taipei, Rex lived the majority of his life inside the walls of the bamboo fence that I have spoken of in previous posts. We had a large, fairly roomy yard, so he had plenty of room to run and play and still be safely at home.

One day, as I stepped out into the yard and called for him, he didn’t respond. Usually, he came galloping up immediately, eager and ready for play time or a walk on his leash. When he didn’t respond to my calls, I searched the yard thoroughly and then searched the house and then asked other family members if they had seen him.

No one had seen him recently and he was not to be found on our property, so we came to the inevitable conclusion that he had gotten out somehow. Perhaps the maid or houseboy (to be discussed in a future post-just don’t think rich, because we weren’t by a long shot) had let him slip out the gate, perhaps he had slipped out when Dad opened the gates to leave for work, somehow, some way, he was out.

And I was HYSTERICAL!! You may remember from a previous post (
go here) that the Chinese people EAT dogs and now, my beloved pet was out and roaming free. I walked for miles, I called and whistled and searched and asked everyone I saw. He could not be found.

Night fell and we began the second day with him missing. I kept searching, but the longer he was gone, the stronger my mental images became of a roasted dog haunch on someone’s dinner table. Words cannot tell you the fear and worry and horrifying thoughts that went through my mind as I tried to find my dog. Rex was a big boy and he would have provided a lot of meals for a desperately poor family.

And the third day came and went, and still no Rex. Where was my sweet boy? At the butcher shop? In someone’s smoke house? Running free in the woods? I simply did not know and not knowing was killing me.

On the morning of the fourth day, once again I went outside of our yard and started calling and whistling. He was a good boy and I knew if he heard me whistling, he would come. I stood outside the bamboo fence on the back side of the yard, overlooking acres of rice paddies and I whistled and called.

Suddenly, in the distance I saw “something” that appeared to be moving towards me. It was coming across the rice paddies, swimming, running, jumping and coming ever closer. And then I could see and it was Rex. Leaping through the rice paddies with Chinese farmers yelling at him as he flew past in answer to my whistle.

The Rice Paddies Rex Came Racing Through
And then he was there and I was on my knees hugging and kissing and squeezing the muddiest, dirtiest, filthiest dog you can possibly imagine. I was sobbing and he was licking my face and wagging his tail furiously. His collar was gone but aside from all the mud of the rice paddies clinging to him, he looked fine. He was fat and sassy and certainly did not look as though he had missed any meals. Maybe someone had been fattening him up in preparation for the table? Maybe another American family had taken him in and for a few days he had a new family? I’ll never know. I only know he came home to me.

After a good bath and several rinses and lots of dog cookies, life slowly returned to normal. Rex was home and I did my level best to never let him out of my sight again.

We brought him back to the U.S. with us and, in hindsight I realize what lengths my Dad went to just to make me happy. We returned home on a troop carrier that had just a few staterooms. Our family was in one of them, but Rex had to stay in a cage at the back of the ship with the luggage. It was winter and the deck was icy and it was freezing cold, but every day, 2 or 3 times a day, my Dad went back there, took Rex out of his cage, put a leash on him and walked him.

My Dad, the farm boy, thought indoor pets were a rather silly concept. Dogs were meant to live outdoors and be fed table scraps and not worried about. They could take care of themselves. Fencing a yard, taking a dog to the vet, doing vaccinations and regular check-ups and all the other stuff us dog owners do, was just crazy to him. He NEVER understood the relationship between me and my dogs, but he understood I loved them. That was enough for him to walk a dog on the icy deck of a troop ship in the middle of winter. There was my Dad, the ranking officer on the ship, at the back of the ship on the poop deck (no pun intended) among all the smoking enlisted men, walking that dog, simply because I loved him and did not want to leave him behind with another American family.

This is just one of a million reasons why I loved my Dad. I hope he knew how much.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Pinky Promises


You know that old saying about you can choose your friends but you can’t pick your family? You get what you get in the way of family, good or bad. I know people who don’t speak to their siblings or, even if they speak, they haven’t seen each other in years. I can’t imagine. I’m one of those very lucky people whose best friends also happen to be my family members.

My sister, my sister-in-law and myself call ourselves the three musketeers. There’s nothing we like better than being together. Spending time together, taking trips together, eating together, gossiping endlessly, sharing the good and bad times of life, being there for one another at the joyous times and during the tragedies of life. We have all those things and more. But, I guess I really found out how deep the bonds go this past summer when my Dad was dying.

My brother and sister-in-law moved into the family home with my parents in order to be there to help with Dad. I came too, from California, and I moved in as well. Since I teach, I’m off work in the summer, so being there for an extended period of time was not a problem. My brother and SIL both had to go to work each day so my Mom and I were there for the “day shift” and they took over when they got home in the evening. It was teamwork and family love at it’s finest.

Obviously, spending that much time together, in such close quarters, could easily have created friction or tension or problems, but it didn’t, we just grew closer, if that’s possible. We talked endlessly about everything you can imagine. My SIL and I did most of the talking, along with my Mom, while my brother buried himself in football. Everybody escapes in their own way.

We had home health care coming in to handle personal hygiene for my Dad, to take care of medications and regular nurses visits. As things progressed, we ended up alternating with hospice and home health due to some stupid Medicare rules. But the point is, somebody besides us was giving Dad his baths and keeping him clean.

As time went by, we realized that my always fastidiously clean, good smelling Dad, didn’t smell so good. At first we thought it was the smell of cancer, but that didn’t seem right. So on a Saturday morning, my brother took Dad into the bedroom, stripped him to the skin and went over every inch of his body. To his absolute horror, and ours as well, he discovered a horrible festering sore hiding in one of the creases of his body. My Dad was not a heavy man, but when you sit down, if you are of a certain age, we all form a crease below our stomach, heading down into the groin area. This is where the sore was located. Clearly, “the bath lady” had not been cleaning him properly and the bacteria in this area had gone crazy. The chemo made him vulnerable to any sort of infection and so this mess in the crease of his body had just gone wild. It was black and infected and horrible. He was in the emergency room, and then into surgery to debride the wound, within hours. The wound was cleaned and packed with sterile gauze and he was hospitalized. I think it is very fortunate that the bath lady was not standing in front of my brother when he discovered that horrible festering wound on our Dad. I think he might have killed her. He was so very angry. He is a gentle man, so his incredible rage was totally out of character. But we understood. We all felt that way.

That was the beginning of the end. Dad never left the hospital again. The wound became blood poisoning and it spread throughout his body. He didn’t have the strength to fight it off. Our strong, brave Marine succumbed within days.

I tell you this story only because I want to share what happened later. After the horror, after the funeral, after everything, we went home, and as we always do, we talked. Endlessly. We told stories. We talked about Dad. We rehashed what had happened. We debated the wisdom of suing and knew we had no chance because of the cancer. We talked and talked and talked. It’s who we are. We talk, we write, we tell stories, we communicate. My mother has been accused of having the ability to have a conversation with a fence post. One could never accuse this family of verbal reticence.

During that time of endless talking, my sister-in-law and I promised each other that if either of us were ever terribly sick and in a similar situation, we would check each other’s creases. Whatever she and I may die of, it won’t be from some festering wound hidden in a crease of our body.

This healthcare pledge was the second thing we have promised each other regarding personal care in case of dire illness. This subject had come up between the three of us in the past. The other promise? If any of the three of us are ever paralyzed, we will take care of nose picking duties for one another.

We locked pinkies and swore an oath. This is true friendship.