First Do No Harm

One of our mountain bike rides takes us through an open space conservancy that has been generously left open to the public to enjoy sans motorized vehicles. A few years ago some of the hillsides were seeded with gazania seeds (a particularly hardy type of daisy) so, when we get winter showers, at the perfect time of year, the bloom is breathtaking.

The sanctuary is bisected by a busy road and the flower display is visible to passing motorists. Lovely! But no, viewing them from the road, or walking up the dirt path that allows a closer look, doesn’t satisfy the narcissists who are compelled to tramp with the entire family to the middle of the slope, to take images of themselves. By the end of this three-day weekend, the hillside will be a mess of trampled flowers, never to go to seed, never to bloom again.

I try ever so hard to keep my mouth shut, knowing that the type of person who so cluelessly and selfishly despoils such a wonder doesn’t want to hear my opinion. But…yesterday, with Sally egging me on, I approached a family who was wading through the blooms. I gently suggested that their foray into the field made it less likely there would be subsequent mass blooms next year and other visitors would not enjoy the trampled flowers.

The man of the family took umbrage at my intrusion into his rightful enjoyment. His initial retort was that I didn’t own the hillside and I couldn’t tell him what to do. I agreed that I did not. He followed with the argument that the flowers had been here for thousands of years with no help from me. When I pointed out that this was conservancy property and that the flowers had been seeded, he countered with his erudite opinion that he paid more taxes than I did. It was obvious that reason was not his strong suit, so I bid him farewell and pedaled away.

I returned that way again today, and again found hoards of people following the paths made by their predecessors, looking for an undisturbed area where they could pose for their own selfie. Undaunted, I reminded several groups that the flowers were fragile and wouldn’t return if they were trampled. To my pleasure, most of the people acted truly grateful to have been enlightened. Being an eternal optimist, I take hope. We friends of the earth must speak up, even if we are not always heard.

Both of the above images were taken from the dirt road. No flowers were injured in the making of this post.

It’s the Least I Could Do

With natural gas prices being what they are, I’ve taken to doing household chores in the morning to warm up. I can keep the thermostat set at 64 degrees if I remain active, dressed in layers.

Photo by Hannah Gullixson on Unsplash

So, this morning I was cleaning the blinds. I started out just dusting them with a microfiber cloth and they looked pretty good. But then, I rinsed the cloth and tried a little detergent and found they fairly glowed after being washed. I mentioned to Mike that while it was more work, the soap and water WAS far more effective.

He replied, “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about doing that for a while.”

I said, “I appreciate the thought.”

“It’s the least I could do,” he answered.

Home Is Where Your Peeps Are

iampeacenow’s post about her mom’s passing and her brother’s disposal of her worldly possessions got me thinking about my own dad’s death. I used to go back to Michigan every July to visit my dad, cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces, and great niece & nephew. But now I don’t. Admittedly, Covid got me out of the habit, but when I look at why I haven’t resumed the annual pilgrimage, I have to wonder if unbeknownst to my conscious mind, the pull to return “home” was my dad.

Babs paddles by De Zwaan, imported piece by piece from the Netherlands in 1964

With so many family activities, it was sometimes hard to carve out a lot of time to visit with my dad. Kayaking with cousins, hiking with nieces, biking to the beach and the culmination of the week with a huge family reunion, all served to push quality time with Dad to the fringes. And as he grew more infirm, I wasn’t eager to take him out for the long, shore-line drives and beach-side lunches he so enjoyed when he could no longer drive. He had to pee often and just getting in and out of the car was fraught with the danger of him falling. He was a big man, over 200 lbs. and I feared that I wouldn’t be able to right him if he ever toppled over on my watch. So, our visits consisted of me visiting him in the depressing assisted-living facility where he spent his last few years.

My Favorite Aunt Mary Jane, me, Dad, and sister Babs July, 2008

Thankfully, his memory remained as sharp as his ever-ready sense of humor so our visits were interesting and funny. He was a great story teller and could always surprise me with a tale I hadn’t heard before. I always parted from him with a vague sense of guilt that I didn’t spend more time with him, and as he grew more enfeebled, I feared that each good-bye might be the last.

His failing health gave us ample warning of his imminent demise and I was lucky to be able to make one final visit, a month ahead of my regular, annual journey, to say our final good-byes. Weak but still of sound mind, he entertained me with more stories of my grandparents and great-grandfather. He told how in The Great War (WWI) his dad’s commanding officer advised him to take good care of the mules because they were more valuable than the poor soldier who tended them. The admonition was not necessary, dad said, as my grandpa loved those beasts like his own children. What a poignant illustration of the connection of family! I had come by my passion for horses through my dad’s genes.

So, Dad’s been gone a couple of years now and for a variety of reasons, I have stopped returning to the place of my birth on an annual basis. Though the cousins and nieces are still there, and the places of childhood memories remain, there’s one missing piece. Like a jigsaw puzzle, the one missing piece spoils the picture. is right, you probably can’t ever go home again once the people who made it home are gone.

Kitchen Help?

Recently, my one and only, decided that our expensive, non-stick Scan Pans were poisoning our food with plastic chemicals and that we would return to using only my lovely set of aluminum-clad, stainless pans. When I complained that my clean-up time would be quadrupled, he agreed to be my pan washer. Fair enough.

Now I have to bite my tongue to keep from suggesting that his pan-washing methods don’t meet my standards, mostly because of his profligate use of paper towels. I recognize that my feeble efforts to minimize my footprint on this earth don’t make even a wee bit of difference, but yet I try to be conservative in the use of resources if only to make myself feel holier-than-thou.

Acres of Astral Coffee granite with white, porcelain sink

Also, as you who cook know, washing the pans is only small part of the kitchen clean-up job. I have acres of granite counter tops that camouflage every thing, of every color, including cat food, screws, rubber bands, even phones (placed screen side up), that need to be wiped down to prevent runaway science project growth and large scale ant farms. Couple those discreet counter tops with a gas range, diabolically designed by someone who has never in his life cleaned a stove top, that cradles every speck of oil, oatmeal, and pasta sauce in its maze of ridges and cracks, and you have an idea of the scope of routine “pan washing”. Then add to all of that, my white porcelain sink is anal retentive about hanging on to each bit of cat food and vegetable matter, making every effort to incorporate their myriad colors into its pristine, white finish.

My American-made, Blue Star range, designed by Bubba in …. insert the pejorative state name of your choice.

So, yesterday, he was facing the job of cleaning a pan in which he had cooked eggs at too high a temperature and made the oil and egg residue a permanent part of the pan. He suggested taking it out to his workshop to clean it with a wire brush attachment on his drill and asked my thoughts about it. I offered the idea of using the Kleen King Stainless Steel and Copper Cleaner that I keep under the sink for such emergencies.

“Where do you keep that? he asked and I pointed under the sink.

“Oh, it does require some elbow grease as it’s a very fine abrasive.”, I warned, knowing his attention deficit when it comes to cleaning.

After a couple of minutes he asked, “Where do you keep the elbow grease?”

40 Days and 40 Nights

We Southern Californians aren’t very good at telling time when it comes to cold, rainy weather. It goes something like this:

Day 1 – Okay, the weather report said it would rain by noon today so we had better get a bike ride in early.

Baby it’s cold outside!

Day 2 – Ah, a rainy day, perfect for baking cookies, except the previously unopened jar of all natural peanut butter has a layer of oil, inch-deep on the top and the ground peanuts below are hard as clay. The “best by” date says July 2021 but I’m not one to demand the best so I generate some much-needed body heat by stirring it into a lumpy form of “butter”. While I wait for the dough to chill, I check the weather report. Yup, more rain to come;

Day 3 – Well, actually, it’s still day 2 but it’s now 3:00 in the afternoon and my laundry is folded and put away, there’s bread rising in the bread machine, the house has been cleaned (more or less) and I’ve completed my prescribed exercises for my geriatric hip/back pain;

Day 4 – I check the calendar to confirm that it’s still January 15th, then I check the weather report again. It’s the same as it was yesterday which was really this morning, or was it yesterday morning?

In the last 2 days (or has it been 4?), I’ve finished two books that I’d been reading long enough that I had to renew them. The Orphan Master’s Son (good read despite the torture) and The Four Winds (think Grapes of Wrath Lite), neither of which did much to lighten my mood.

Now, here I sit, in my jammies, eating potato chips and waiting for my subscriptions on Word Press to post something. I’m only half way through the predicted 40 days and 40 nights of rain. It would be hard to take if not for the promise of green hills and superlative traction to come.

Painted with a Broad Brush

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

I went to the doctor the other day for an annual wellness exam. I’m not sure why my insurance company insists that I have a wellness exam but they pay me $50 to do it so, I comply.

The visit consisted of a fully clothed interview with a physician’s assistant who asked me what I wanted to discuss today. I had just come from a particularly fun mountain bike ride so I told her all about it.

She listened to my heart and lungs and stomach with a stethoscope placed over my down jacket. Her subsequent report said we had discussed: Mild brain atrophy and chronic kidney disease. I’ll have to concede the brain atrophy part because I have no recollection of having discussed either of those things. There was nary a mention of the stimulating bike ride.

The physician’s assistant’s assistant administered a cognitive test, asking me to remember three words and draw the face of a clock. Banana, sunrise and chair weren’t that difficult to keep in mind but it was difficult to resist responding, “It’s, uh, like, person, woman, man, camera, TV,” but feared she wouldn’t get the humor. She proceeded to take my blood pressure, 98/72, and checked my oxygen saturation 97%, weighed me, 121.8 (still fully clothed including jacket).

I was sent home with three pages of instructions. Here is a sampling:

  1. To prevent falls, take up throw rugs at home; use a walker or cane for instability and hold onto railings when going up or down stairs. Nary a mention of training wheels!

2. Please be sure to get some regular physical activity at whatever level you are able. I am also encouraging the following; Annual Flu vaccine (we had already determined that I was current on this), improving physical health, improve mental health.

I was super impressed that she was able to diagnose the fact that I needed to improve my mental health. Usually it takes getting to know me to learn that I need to work on that.

The last recommendation was to not drink any fluids after 6:00 P.M. to improve bladder control. That imposes a pretty narrow window since I’ve been told one shouldn’t start drinking until after 5:00 P.M. Gotta go now as it’s 4:48 P.M. and I need to roll up my throw rugs. Cheers!

Photo by Enis Yavuz on Unsplash

Let’s See, Now Where Was I?

Oh, yeah, the trip from Denver. Well, after Sedona everything paled by comparison.We drove home through desert scenery that would flabbergast anyone who had never seen saguaro forests, desiccated wadis, brooding mountains, or untenable cities sprawling over a hellish wasteland. Well, to be honest, we skirted Phoenix by traveling a new freeway that was built with the expectation of Colorado River water being infinite.

We stopped in Indio at El Mexicali Cafe to grab some breakfast/lunch/dinner, knowing that the fridge at home would be as bleak a wasteland as the aforementioned desert.

El Mexicali is squeezed into a strip of land between the railroad tracks and heavily-trafficked Indio Blvd. which makes the outside dining patio about as inviting as a table in the infield of the Indy 500.

But the dining room was as warm and hospitable as your abuela’s kitchen and your tio’s favorite cantina. Seriously, if you’re ever hungry in Indio, skip all the chain restaurants and try the fish tacos here. Heck, the chips and salsa and guacamole are worth the price of admission.

I spent the next two days preparing food to take to Carlsbad for the family Christmas event. My traditional dishes are rum cake and zucchini appetizer pie.

Sadie gave me this reproachful look when I informed her that I was leaving again.

The time at the beach flew by as we hiked, ate, drank and generally behaved, or more accurately, misbehaved like children.

Like good little Dutch people, we leave our shoes at the door…even in a rental.

And then it was all over but the journaling, blogging, and remembering.

Holiday Time Travel

I am not one to attempt travel during the holidays since I prefer to live in a less complicated, less populated fantasy. But my adventuresome great niece, who once worked for, boldly put money down on a VBRO, that sleeps 11, at the beach, for the week around Christmas, way back in early 2022. This leap of faith was completely unwarranted since most of the members of my family are on the agoraphobic spectrum.

But as the months went by, my memory traveled back to times when we all gathered around my sister’s dining room table, eating, playing games, laughing until someone peed her pants, and generally enjoying the company of the few people on earth who “get” our mildly ribald sense of humor. I have three favorite nieces, one lives in Michigan, one in Denver, and one who lives a couple of miles away here in California. The Michigan contingent was a given since they had initiated the plan, but the Denver niece, MFN Tamera was going to be a hard sell as she would rather take a beating than be parted from Lucy, referred to by the unenlightened as a dog.

So, it was incumbent on me to persuade MFN Tamera to do yet another road trip. In a moment of weakness she tepidly agreed it could be fun when I told her I’d booked a flight to Denver and I’d be there on the 16th. It was her job to find pet-friendly hotels along our intended route to Carlsbad, CA, which included Sedona, AZ.

Denver was shockingly cold when I arrived, and that was BEFORE the cold front that moved in a couple of days later. We immediately headed South to her dad’s place in Pueblo where his wife, Bonnie, had prepared a brunch fit for kings. A fluffy, cheesy, egg concoction that included little cubes of ham (which I could surreptitiously pass to Lucy under the table) was deliciously fortifying for the four-hour drive to Santa Fe.

As we drove through desolate scrub lands of New Mexico, I entertained Tamera with the tale of how her mum (aka Babs, in this venue) and I had nearly run out of gas in this area. Babs had grown increasingly panicky as her low fuel light glowed larger and larger in her consciousness. I had tried to calm her fears reminding her that we had two cell phones, two bicycles, a pop-up trailer with a bed, and a refrigerator crammed full of food. What was the WORST that could happen? At last, we had come upon a for-sale sign on a property with what I thought would be a local phone number. I dialed and got a woman in Idaho who kindly assured us that there was a gas station less than a mile ahead of us. Of course, I embellished the story to include rescue by a Brad Pitt look alike when in reality there was only a girl selling freshly made doughnut holes in the gas station parking lot. She insisted that the first one was free and wouldn’t allow me to pay since I only wanted one. But I digress…

Tam had talked about filling the tank at some crossroads north of Taos but, Google Maps had taken pains to divert us from any road that included gas pumps, and soon we found ourselves in mountainous terrain with dusk falling like fog rolling in off the ocean. Tam, like her mum, prefers not to have adventure forced upon her but, she tried valiantly not to express her anxiety as the low fuel light grew hard to ignore. As luck would have it, we eventually came upon a gas station before adventure found us. And, thanks to a generous state government, we paid a scant $2.99/gallon!

A charming diner/convenience market on the highway through the Laguna Reservation.

Our overpriced room in Santa Fe, reeking of fragrance intended to mask the smell of pet-friendly, rarely-shampooed carpet, was a welcome refuge from the lung-searing cold. I think it was in the high twenties (Fahrenheit). The grand lobby, with its silent, gas-fueled fireplace and twenty-foot ceilings, led to unrealistic expectations of a luxurious room. Our bathroom had no exhaust fan and mold on the ceiling. But the beds were comfy and the neighbors were quiet, even the coyote we had seen casing the parking lot.

In the morning we hiked up a drainage behind the upscale houses above our hotel. Lucy was kept on leash as there was no reason to encourage the local coyotes to develop a taste for pedigreed dog.

In spite of our efforts to keep to some sort of discipline on the road, we still didn’t make it to Sedona much before dark. The steep descent from Flagstaff to Sedona was slowed by road construction that allowed for appreciation of the natural splendor of the darkening canyon.

This time, we were not disappointed by the comforts of our room. The hotel restaurant included a well-stocked bar and a chatty bartender, so we saw no reason to look further for something to eat, especially because we intended to hit the trail by dawn to avoid the crowds at the Subway trail in Boynton Canyon.

The side trail to the Subway was blocked by logs, placed to deter hikers from straying from the main trail, so we mistakenly passed it by. Big mistake! By the time we got to the end of the canyon and turned back, scores of other hikers were already ahead of us making the final ascent into the Subway tunnel look like the Hilary Step on Everest. I made it half way up the slippery ramp before deciding that I was in danger of having another hiker slide down on top of me. Tamera took advantage of a break in traffic and scrambled to the top while I waited below with Lucy.

MFN Tamera poses for a selfie.
The Hillary Step of Sedona
Morning frosting on the cake.

To be continued…or probably not.


Mum, aka Baby (in this photo), Tootie (when brother Louis replaced her), Joanne, daughter, sister, aunt, wife, Joan, grandma, great-grandma

December 3, 1924 – the date of my mom’s birth, the anniversary of which slipped by with only a hiccough of melancholy. Probably there are many other dates in her life that deserve more note, particularly the date of my sister’s birth and especially the date of my own, which to my way of thinking, had to have been the ultimate accomplishment. (I’m only half kidding as I did present a rather difficult delivery)

A date that inspires more celebration than her birth would be the date of her death, October 1, 2019. Just shy of the 95th anniversary of her birth, she had been longing for death for many years. Dementia, of which she was acutely aware, had robbed her of all joy in life, despite a position of utter ease. She was able to live almost independently in the granny flat she had designed and helped build (she dug most of the septic pit) to the day of her final exit. But she had lost herself.

In the years between 1924 and 2019 she confidently parlayed her cloistered farm upbringing and narrow religious views into an adventurous life that might be admired by many men. I don’t think it ever occurred to her that there was anything a man could do that she couldn’t do better. From her choice of professions, first studying at an all Japanese school for chick sexing, the tuition for which she borrowed from her father, to becoming a real estate agent and ultimately investor, she simply did whatever she wanted.

By today’s standards, my sister and I grew up rather feral though not without some essential training in manners and hygiene. We knew better than to be cheeky with our elders and not to chew with our mouth open. Beyond the basics, we were left to the village to shape our understanding of how to make our way in life. When the time came, we were taught the fundamentals of procreation and the avoidance thereof. I took the lessons seriously; my sister not as much.

When Mum first noticed the symptoms of dementia, she took great pleasure in reading the memoir she had written while still agile of mind. She, like the rest of us, marveled at her chutzpah and reveled in reading about adventures she had almost forgotten. As the disease progressed though, the protagonist of her biography became a stranger to her and she lost interest. She gradually lost interest in everything as nothing in life related to her. She had evaporated.

My sister and I have both made attempts at writing a memoir, but both of us are better at chronicling our days via blogs, journals and correspondence. Now that Babs is anticipating moving into her own tiny granny flat, she’s consolidating decades of writing into cohesive digital files. We both expect that we will enjoy them as we decline but we have no expectation that anyone else will ever read them. None of her daughters are big readers but our epistles will have served their purpose when we’re finished.

Spreading Christmas Joy Wherever He Goes

Is there anything more crazy-fun than going to Costco between Thanksgiving and Christmas? I think not! First of all, you need to put on your big girl panties and gird yourself for the madding crowd. Personally, I rather enjoy the mad scramble as people ignore the “normal flow” and navigate their boat-sized shopping carts like a New York cab driver.

Starting with the grid locked parking lot, a great deal of equanimity is required. Drivers cruise the lanes like tiger sharks looking for prey. Since there is no preferred direction of travel, it’s common for drivers from both directions to aim for the same spot.

Coming from the newly designed gas station, we were funneled into the slowly moving carousel of parking space seekers. I spotted an empty space in the row next to the one we were in, but held out little hope that we could claim it before someone coming from the opposite direction spied it. At the end of the row, the line of vehicles making their way towards the exit blocked our progress, but since there was no oncoming traffic, I figured it was safe enough to bypass the outbound vehicles and scoot into the next row of parking spaces. Evidently, one of the gentlemen waiting in line to get to the exit, resented my scofflaw behavior and followed me, in spite of the fact that it took him away from his intended route. I saw him and assumed that he had also seen the vacant spot and intended to park, so I passed it by to allow him first access. I pulled into the next spot but, noooo, he was intent on enforcing the rules.

He pulled up behind me and leaned out of his window to inform me of my infraction. Of course, I said I was sorry but he responded, “What if I had not seen you and hit you?!” (never mind that he hadn’t signaled an intent to turn and had ample opportunity before I passed him)

Always irrepressible, I replied, “Then I would have been REALLY sorry.” Oh, dear, wrong response.

“Sorry doesn’t cut it!” he retorted with more vehemence than I thought was warranted. He followed up with some profane language and I realized that de-escalation was in order so I quit with the flippant replies.

Since my adorable great-niece was in the back seat, I briefly considered inflicting her charm on him, but thought better of it. A hostile jerk is in no way deserving of her supernatural charisma. I don’t think I’m biased when I say that this woman can melt the most unhappy man. By her definition, she “blows sunshine up his skirt”. And the reason she’s so successful is because she is sincere.

When my great niece turns her attention your way, she makes you feel like you are the most lovable person on the planet. Her interest in what you have to say is genuine and her enjoyment of your company feels like the real thing.

For a few minutes after the unpleasant encounter, we all felt a little deflated. After all, it’s sad to think that there are people driving around, seething, rather than enjoying the spirit of the season. But, once inside, we were caught up in the happy frenzy of material acquisition and the poor man was almost forgotten.