Friday, March 27, 2009

Flashback Friday: Family Fun

Wading in the cold, cold water in Colorado. My cousin, Alene Woodhouse Starkey is on the right. I'm the little blondie on the left, holding onto my stuffed dog, "Pinkie."
Here we are again in 1969, enjoying a little liquid refreshment at my Uncle Bernard's house in Pueblo, Colorado. Can you say, "PLAID PANTS???" Yep, we were stylin' and if weren't careful, those plaids could knock your eyes out. And check out that super-large console TV in the background..TVs were major furniture back in the day...

Jump ahead - Whoa! 35 years - to 2004! Whew! - That was a BIG jump!! Still got a thing for those cold, blue waters in the Colorado mountains. My cousin stayed true to her "roots," although as you might have noticed, my "roots" migrated from blonde to brunette back to blonde again. Oh, well. Beats what's underneath, I'm sure!!
Tonight Mr. H. and I are going to dinner with Rob and Alyssa and Rob's parents, Lou and Corinne, at Il Fornaio - a yummy Italian restaurant in downtown San Jose. I feel very lucky to have enlarged our family in September of 2006 to include these wonderful new friends and super son-in-law - who now all seem like family. And how lucky is that!!! So what does all this have to do with this week's flashback? Ok, I'm getting to that!

Family has always been super important to me. I was so fortunate to grow up close - both in proximity and otherwise - to my mother's family - my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, their spouses and children. Closest to me of all was my cousin, Alene, who was (and still is if she's admitting to it these days!) 7 years my senior. She was a very cool older cousin, dragging me around with her to do all sorts of fun things. She was something of a tomboy, as was I, although she had me beat in tree-climbing, catching bugs and crawdads, hanging by her knees on the jungle-gym and other admirable accomplishments.
I'm looking forward to the relationship Ashley and Jim's little ones (Gracie and as I write this, baby-to-be-born-soon-Emily) will have with their cousins someday when Rob and Alyssa expand their little family from their furry baby, Buddy, to babies of the other variety - you know, the kind that eat, throw up and poop, etc. Wait. Come to think of it, Buddy does all that, too. Oh, well, never mind!
So my hope for my daughters and their guys is that someday their little ones will enjoy the special bond of cousins. Since my cousin and I never had a sister, we felt connected in much the same way as I'm sure sisters do...I guess you might call us Sisters of the Heart.

A Little Shout Out to Country Automotive

Yesterday I wrote on this blog that I was all down in the dumps about my car's "check engine" light coming on and that said light's illumination was a repeat performance of last July's occurrence. The whole thing had kind of knocked me for a loop since a trip to the repair shop is never inexpensive and there was this sort of nebulous deal where Smitty and Mr. H. had talked about if the light came back on that he, Smitty, would have another look, blah-blah-blah. But ok, that was nine months ago.

Anyway, I got the call yesterday afternoon from Smitty's wife, Elizabeth, that my car was ready. I didn't want to know how much the bill was going to be or what, if anything, was wrong with the car...I just wanted my car to run with no lights looking back at me and - hopefully - without running up beaucoup bucks for an unfruitful search of the cause for my temperamental engine light. On the other hand, I've owned my own business and know the costs associated with owning said business - and I sure have no love of asking other business owners to delve into hours of work without proper compensation.

So yesterday as I was home making mountains out of molehills, Smitty's right-hand man, Ben, figured out that it was possibly my loopy gas cap causing the engine light to illuminate because there wasn't a tight enough seal on the cap (engine lights are apparently drama queens about such things). So yesterday's charge for service? Twelve bucks for a new gas cap. I can sure live with that :)

Therefore, I wanted to give "props" to the guys in the coveralls at Country Automotive here in Morgan Hill - especially Smitty and Ben. We've trusted them to care for our cars for 25 years and have never been disappointed. Thanks, guys!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Oh, oh

Today I am a little out of's just one of those days that sort of limps along and I'm not doing anything creative to justify my existance in it. Because it's a beautiful spring day, but! Maybe it started this morning when I had to take my vehicle into the repair shop because my check engine light came on - for no apparent reason that I can detect. No, I'm not a mechanic, but my car has pulled this little stunt before, last July. Unfortunately, $165 later, our repair guy, Smitty, (yes, that's really his name and how neat is it to know somebody actually named "Smitty") couldn't find anything wrong. We trust him to know his business, though, paid the bill and went on our way.

So when we returned from our Colorado trip and I fired up my car only to find the "check engine" light on - again! - I made an appointment to take it back to the shop. Now Mr. H. had a conversation with Smitty last July where something was said to the effect that if this happens again to bring the car back in. Now I don't know whether Smitty meant there'd be no charge and if not - for how long does that apply? ...but I guess it's going to be up to me to determine all that, which is waaaaaaay out of my comfort zone. Of course I could have the two guys confer about all this except Mr. H. is down mowing the "south 40" and I couldn't reach him with a hydrogen bomb at this point what with all the noise out there. So there's this little cloud hanging over my head as I wait for a call from Smitty. I mean, it's not Smitty's fault the light came back on and my car is being a spaz and how long is somebody supposed to spend diagnosing a problem with a vehicle with no compensation? I dunno. So I have this cloud.

Now sometimes "clouds" lead to other things. Such as the photo you may have noticed above. Since I hadn't had breakfast and we were now well into lunch territory, I was starving. Not a good thing. I wanted something "comfort-food-" like (the clouds, remember?) but I didn't want to go totally off the deep end, either. I'm meeting Alyssa at Weight Watchers tonight; since I've been in Colorado the last three Thursdays (meeting day) I didn't want to come back and find super bad news at the scale...

So there in my cupboard was this little box I'd picked up from Trader Joe's a few weeks ago. Now normally this would not have caught my attention at TJ's except for the fact that I saw a woman (a trim, healthy-looking gal) scooping these little blue boxes into her basket for all she was worth. She must've plopped 20 or 30 of them in there. So I thought to myself, "Hmmmmmm....those must be REALLY good - and healthy, I mean, look at HER, after all) - so I quickly grabbed one and put it into my basket before she could abscond with them all!
So today seemed the perfect opportunity to pull my little blue box out of the cupboard - couldn't be easier. Mix the rice with the sauce, nuke a minute and - Voila! Lunch is served.

Now I will admit, now that's it's over and done with, this wasn't the greatest lunch I've ever had. The sauce was really "processed" tasting and way too spicy and the rice was sort of stuck together all pasty-like. But it was hot and, I suppose, comforting in a way and it filled up the emptiness for the moment. But THEN. I idly turned the box around and checked out the nutrition label. Oh, yes. I have made this mistake before. This sucker was for TWO servings. What???????!!!!!!! Yep, that teeny little box was supposed to feed two people. Right. I mean, even for ONE person, the nutritional counts were bad enough - 240 calories (ok, not bad for lunch but not when you double it) - and 9 grams of fat (not great - ESPECIALLY when doubled) and less than 1 gram of fiber (again, not so good).

So when doubling all this mess - I ended up with 18 WEIGHT WATCHER points. Holy cow. I might as well have gone to Sinaloa's for tacos and a margarita.

So I'm hoping the clouds will move along. At this rate I'll need to find some duct tape to keep my mouth shut!!!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Column: It's the Economy, Stupid!

Sorry about that snarky title, friends, but by now, we're all pretty much sick of The Economy. Yes, that would be the "Sick Economy." Or maybe it's that The Economy MAKES us sick. Whatever. But there is one side of The Economy that I'm not seeing much about on all of the "Main Stream Media" outlets. So (serious journalist that I am) I decided it was my duty to take it on myself. That little-seen side of The Economy is the extreme pressure that The Bad Economy puts on a marriage. That's right: all over the place we hear about The Economy as it pertains to...Wall Street. The crashing numbers; the tumbling Dow; the greed of Wall Street movers and shakers. Or the dreaded Ponzi Schemes (think Bernard Madoff), the fraudulent investment scam that pays investors returns out of their own money or the money of subsequent investors. Nope, it wasn't pretty, people!
Although Wall Street gets most of the media attention when it comes to The Economy, there are other aspects of The Economy raising their, umm...ugly? heads. Take, for example, the following: An artful QUILTED depiction of the "Snowballing Economy." My friend Lorraine Navone, a world-class quilter, could probably explain this concept much better than I...So who says losing money can't be fun?! And tasteful, too...Yes, stay inside your own cozy home and create a quilted momento of the "Snowballing Economy" like this one below: (See the snowballs? Those round white thingies..)

We've been pounded over the head until we're senseless about our "Unsustainable Economy." Now what does that mean, exactly? Do we even know? Maybe it means the "State of the Union" as represented here...Yikes, this doesn't look good, folks:

And if the U.S. Economy is "Unsustainable" - what does that do for another faction of The Economy? That's right: the "Global Economy." Yes, Virginia, it's quite a puzzle...But moving back closer to home, what we are all looking for right now is good..."Fuel Economy!!" Remember those $4.50 per gallon fuel prices? Yes, fuel costs have dropped to less than half that amount, but look out! Those prices could go escalating right back up there...especially when those countries in the Middle East are holding the deed to the world's largest oil supply, and it's buried somewhere beneath all that sand. So we like this kind of ad these days:

But remember when "Economy" wasn't always such ummm...a 7-letter word? No, it wasn't a bad word at all. For example, there was never a question about whether we wanted to "Fly Economy" - I mean, who could afford First Class?

But the notion of flying - or traveling anywhere for that matter - has been foreshadowed by The Economy. So many Economies...So little time. We hear more and more about a new and GREENER "Energy Economy..."

Or how about the Economy and the GDP? Look at the effect it's had on retailers and other institutions...Did you ever think Mervyn's would go out of business? Or Circuit City? Or all those newspapers? I mean - what's next????????????????

And if all of the doom and gloom predictions about The Terrible Economy wasn't enough, we've all been remembering what our dads used to remind us of on practically a DAILY basis! You know...about how "Money doesn't exactly grow on trees....!"

So we're tightening our belts and making our own lattes and growing our own veggies and playing cards at night instead of going to the movies or out to expensive dinners. Yes, today we are moving into a new, more "Creative Economy"...

But sometimes, we just want to say: "THIS ECONOMY SUCKS!!!!!" So maybe we do a little STIMULATING of The Economy and purchase a cute little purse like this one...just to, you know, let our true feelings out of the "bag" a bit...
But, like I said way back up there at the top of this post...nobody's said much about one particular aspect of The Economy as it relates to today...particularly now that our bottom lines are headed here.....................................
So if you would like to read my thoughts on The Economy and how it relates to Marriage, jump on over here: (and hey! I promise: it won't cost you a penny!) Thanks for reading :)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Flashback Friday: POTUS

Another "Flashback Friday," and here is a little story of the past and the present and the "POTUS" (President of the United States). President Barack Obama was visiting southern California yesterday and I (teasingly) asked Ashley if she had seen him while he was out and about in "LaLa Land." She said, no, BUT! Yesterday on her way home from work, she DID see the new president as he was aboard Marine One - the official helicopter of the president, escorted by four more identical helicopters as the president made his way from the Long Beach airport where he landed on Air Force One - the giant 747 and official aircraft of the president. So, not that Ashley technically "saw" President Obama but she certainly saw the large convoy of marine helicopters carrying him to his scheduled meeting place.
Marine One, as well as the other large Marine helicopters, are built by Sikorsky Aircraft (a division of United Technologies where Ralph worked for 33 years and I worked for seven)although a controversial change is on the horizon. Lockheed Martin, in 2005, won the contract to redesign and manufacture the 28 helicopters composing the Marine One fleet at a cost of $6.1 - approximately $4.1 million over budget. Oops!!!!!
(Ok, kids: Can you say 'R-E-C-E-S-S-I-O-N'???)

And I am finally coming around to the "Flashback Friday" aspect...I know, this is me making a short story long...On August 17, 1962, I had the tremendous honor of meeting President John Fitzgerald Kennedy when he arrived in my hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, to dedicate a water project known as the FryingPan-Arkansas Project, developed to benefit the citizens of Southeastern Colorado. In his speech, President Kennedy said, in part, "This (project) is an investment in the future of this country, an investment that will repay large dividends. It is an investment in the growth of the West, in the new cities and industries which this project helps make possible." Some 45 years later, the "Fry-Ark" project has been a success in bringing water not only to the agricultural communities but to private homes in the Pueblo-Colorado Springs area.
No, I wasn't taking notes during his speech (I looked this up) - instead I was focused on the vision of a great and powerful man. I was drawn to the above picture of JFK when doing this post because from where I was sitting on that hot August day in 1962, this was approximately my view. I could have almost reached out and touched him. He was speaking at a podium on the highschool football field; we were seated in rows a mere few feet in front of him. We were "special guests" - part of a highschool group of kids that performed throughout the state to promote the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. The group was an off-shoot of the Chamber of Commerce, and I was 16 years old.
There was something about President Kennedy that, when you saw him, you knew that here, indeed, was a great man. A year and a half later, when he was assassinated, it was if something extremely special and rare had been taken from us. It's often been said that the death of President Kennedy was the end of the innocence; the end of Camelot. I would agree that this is so.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Mighty Rumble

As I write this post, the Space Shuttle Discovery is less than 5 minutes from launch. These events are always exciting as a launch can be scrubbed at the very last minute. Everything must be as perfect as science can make it!
With an original fleet of five Shuttles, only three remain. On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated a mere 73 seconds after launch. All seven members of the flight team perished, including a young teacher, Christa McAuliffe who was the first non-astronaut member of a Space Shuttle crew. Christa was chosen out of over 11,000 applicants to be a part of NASA's "Teacher in Space" program. Her mission excited school children all over the country, making the loss all the more tragic.

(Today's launch, thankfully, just occurred - a beautiful twilight liftoff out of Cape Canaveral, Florida. The solid propellant rocket motors performed perfectly, providing 4.5 million pounds of thrust. After about a minute, multiple separation motors ignite (more about them in a minute), moving the huge booster motors safely away from the Shuttle vehicle. These things just never get old!!)

The second loss of a Shuttle space craft was the Columbia, which disintegrated during re-entry on February 1, 2003. Again, all seven astronauts were lost. But the Atlantis, the Discovery and the Endeavor remain and will continue with a precious few more launches through 2010, and then the Space Shuttle program is scheduled to be retired after 30 productive years. Another program is already in the works, going by the working name "Project Constellation."

I have been thrilled by the space program ever since I was a young secretary at United Technology Center (later Chemical Systems Division) - the West Coast division of United Technologies. A solid rocket propulsion company in Sunnyvale and Coyote, I worked at UTC for seven years. This is where I met Mr. H. who was a solid rocket propellant engineer at the time (1972). UTC supplied NASA with the Shuttle separation motors (mentioned above) until Chemical System Division's demise a few years ago - after Mr. H. retired. No, they couldn't operate without him :)

I was fortunate to be a guest at a static test firing of a huge seven-segment rocket motor at the Coyote test facility in the early 70s. Standing amongst the engineers, an early morning cup of coffee in hand, I listened to the countdown from a safe place about a mile from where the rocket motor rested in its silo. The motor was in an inverted position (nobody wanted any loose rocket motors flying off into space, after all). Before testing the motors, these seven-segment giants were assembled nose down so the large plume of fire flew skyward. It was a spectacular sight, and the earth truly rumbled beneath our feet as the solid rocket fuel contained within the motor burned away.

This experience is part of the reason I am still in awe - goosebumps, lump in the throat, tears in the eyes - the whole nine yards - whenever these impressive, beautiful "birds" soar high into the sky, "slip the surly bonds of earth," and burst onward into space.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Flashback Friday - one day late!

When Daughter #2 (Alyssa) began Flashback Fridays on her blog a week ago, I loved the idea so much that I am totally swiping it for my blog! The premise of Flashback Fridays is that most of life happened 'B.B.' (before blogging), so Flashback Fridays exist to recount a life event out of the past. Since my foggy brain neglected to remind me that yesterday was, indeed Friday, and therefore a perfect Flashback Friday opportunity, I'm going to "pretend" that it's still Friday...and hey! Maybe it still is - somewhere - although I sorta doubt it :)

So here is my flashback of the week...I found this very old newspaper ad while doing research for my next column. The department store, Roos/Atkins went out of business in the 80s, but in their hay day they had some pretty upscale outfits and I LOVED buying my work clothes there (well, some of them). Not that I could necessarily afford them on my paltry secretary's salary, but still. I stumbled upon the ad because I had a senior moment in recalling the unique spelling of the store's name. I knew that "Roos" didn't have an "e" at the end. But when I typed Roos Atkins - it didn't look right. Thus the Internet search and - Voila. Roos/Atkins had that intriguing little "slash" right through the center of its name. The ad is from an August 1966 issue of the Oakland Tribune. I'd been a California resident a year when the ad ran - I was a mere lass of 19 at the time :)

Note the sweaters were retailing for $50 - pretty pricey for a 1966 salary...another interesting point is the sizing: Sizes available were 8 to 16, or 10 to 16. Not a Size "1" or worse "0" in sight! To see the detail of the ad, click on the photo. Or go see it here:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Doo,Doo,Doo, Lookin' out my backdoor!

Above, the view from our house of the Never Summer Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountain Chain on the western slope in Grand Lake, Colorado. And, below, the view, a little closer up thanks to my big, fat telephoto lens...

OK, so technically this is not the view from my BACK door exactly...but this is what we see from the front deck of our home here in Grand Lake - altitude 8500 feet, give or take...The view brought to mind one of my favorite songs by Creedence Clearwater Revival... "Just got home from Illinois, (California?) Lock the front door, oh boy! Got to sit down, take a rest on the porch. Imagination sets in, pretty soon I'm singin, Doo, doo, doo, lookin out my back door." Yes, it's a little chilly to be sitting on the deck but with a view like this (even from the living room windows), ya gotta be happy, right?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Column: Put on your Big Girl Panties

Awhile ago I received a nice letter from Linda, a super fun new friend. We had met years before when she and her hubby, John, owned a printing company in town but we were both busy girls and never had the opportunity to get acquainted. Well. I regret that we lost a few years there, but when Linda sent me an e-mail last year saying she had been enjoying my column, we began an electronic connection. At the time Linda and John were preparing to retire and I was living in Long Beach watching Miss Gracie grow!

After several back-and-forth e-mails, we both came to the mutual conclusion that we desired to lose a couple of pounds (and, honestly, what girl doesn't these days?!) - so Linda challenged me to a little weight loss contest with the loser to buy the winner coffee. Except in this case I guess the loser would be the winner. Or something. Whatever!

With the hilarious heading supplied by Linda, I couldn't let the opportunity to write a column about this Biggest Loser challenge slip by. Check it out right here: And let the battle of the bulge begin! Or, ummm...continue...or something...

Friday, March 6, 2009

Gracie Goose - 3rd Time's the Charm

Gracie and a bright, sunny day in L.A. Well, technically Long Beach :)

Mr. Potato Head won the "Toy of the Day" prize. But it was hard keeping all his "parts" together.
"I'm just going to chew on this arm for awhile."

" Maybe need a little help from Grampy."

Pretty spring day. Well, almost spring. Technically winter - for a few more days.

Mr. Head (or is it Mrs.?) - still missing a few parts

There are always soooooooooo many interesting things to look at on the ground!

See? Right here!! ANOTHER pretty green blade of grass....

A secret smile...wonder what she's thinkin' about....

Hangin' out over by Daddy's 'Q :)
On Wednesday (March 4), Ralph and I drove from our home to Long Beach. It seemed like time to give Miss Gracie Goose some great big hugs - and because Gracie's daycare provider was going to be on vacation. So Grampy and "Mimi" (my new name...I was going by "Grammy" but Gracie had other ideas - hence Mimi it is) watched Gracie Thursday and Friday (today). This is too fun to be work. The weather here is beautiful - after mucho rainy days in the Bay Area - this southern California sun feels sooooooooooooo good!
The trip south down "The" 101 ("the" for southern Californians!) was a gorgeous drive...a little fog, a little misty rain, and finally the sun hitting the big Pacific Ocean with the bright lights. The hills were as green as fields of Irish shamrocks; the prolific winter rains have been kind to our hills, turning their grassy surfaces to velvet. The vineyards were just popping their new leaves - every trip south (and there have been a lot of them) I swear more vines have been planted. I love the seasons of the grapes and we're heading into one of the prettiest times.
We'll have one more day to hang out with the Strombergs here in Long Beach before starting on the Big Kahuna - as our trip continues onward to Grand Lake, Colorado.

Gracie Goose, part deux

Future business woman...CEO? Secretary of State? President????
SO much to do! SO little time..."I have my glasses, now where is that phone?"

"OK, here's the phone.......what was that phone number again????????"

One ringy-dingy...two ringy-dingy...answer the phone, dad-gummit!!

Gracie Goose!

Gracie - found "Mimi's glasses and put them on - upside down! It's her new look.
Gracie Goose - 20 months old!

Girls just want to have fun...Gracie's "fave" activity is rooting through a purse!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Beans and Brownies?

When Alyssa brought over some of her homemade brownies made with black beans and brownie mix, you might say I was a little, ummmm...skeptical. This is a Weight Watcher recipe and the bonus here is that each brownie costs just 2 points, which is a BIG DEAL if you're a points counter.

I had to admit they looked delicious and smelled, well...just fine. After he bit into one, Alyssa asked her father for his comments. "Good!" was the response. Then she asked if he could guess what one of the major ingredients was. Ok, this was funny. This was like asking me to explain the theory of quantum physics. Assuming there is one. A theory that is. Ralph would no more be able to detail the ingredients in a recipe than he could fly.

He was a bit astonished, though, when she revealed that her yummy brownies were made with black beans and they were - gosh! - healthy!

The next day was cold and rainy with lots of fog - a good baking day, so I broke out the black beans and brownie mix that I'd picked up at the store. I was willing to give them a go, but even though I bought the exact same mix as Alyssa's I still couldn't believe this was going to work. Kind of like when I think the laws of gravity are suddenly going to come to their senses and say - "Hey! No way is this big 'motha' able to stay airborne," shortly before the major airliner I am encased in goes hurtling earthbound.

But I digress. So I made the brownies. Alyssa said even the BATTER tasted good - and she should know because the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Or the brownie from the baking pan. Or something. Now she did admit that their friend Paul said the batter smelled "bean-y" - not that I know what that means, but trust me, it doesn't sound like a good thing. So I took a whiff - but kind of tentatively as if I'd just been hypnotized into believing that the smell from a skunk "emission" is nice - you know, that kind of sniff. Well. No "bean-y" fragrance that I could detect.

So the bean-filled brownies are a hit. I even threw a couple of walnuts in for the heart healthiness benefits. I should probably go have a couple. Right now. Since they are so fibrous and heart-healthy and all.