Friday, November 7, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mr. President


Photograph by David Hume Kennerly, official White House Photographer during the presidency of Gerald R. Ford. Mr. Kennerly is a Pulitizer Prize winner for his photos of Vietnam, achieving the honor at the age of 25.

It was the summer of 1980 when the wall phone (remember those?) rang in the kitchen of our Dallas home. "This is Mike Deaver calling for Ron Walker."

Wow, I knew who Mike Deaver was, Governor Ronald Reagan's right hand man. He told Ron that it looked like the Governor was going to get his party's nomination for President of the United States, and they needed help. Could Ron come to the convention in Detroit and help?

I, of course, wanted to go too. I'd never been to Detroit. The first morning we were there, a bunch of us were standing in the lobby of the Detroit Plaza Hotel. Ron was waiting to go to a meeting. Chuck Tyson, the Governor's scheduling chief, asked me what I was going to do that day. I told him I was available for any assignment that needed a volunteer. Well, as a matter of fact, they needed someone to do a special favor for the Governor.

It seems that today was former President Ford's sixty-seventh birthday. The two men had experienced both private and public differences over the years, and Governor Reagan wanted to make a gesture of friendship. In the summer of 1980, there was lots of talk about a Reagan-Ford ticket, and the Governor had gone to Ford's desert home right after the California primary to discuss the idea. Ford declined the offer of the second spot on the ticket, but said he would support him. You probably remember, too, that rumors were flying that a co-presidency was being talked about. My assignment was to find a peace-pipe. Have a plaque engraved and have it framed, in time for the Governor to present it to President Ford, at their meeting scheduled for 3:45 THAT AFTERNOON. (Gulp)

Now, I've already told you I had never been to Detroit, so how in the world was I going to pull this off inside of a few hours? Chuck assured me that they would provide me with a car and volunteer driver. That was a help.

A short time later, a very nice young woman introduced herself to me. (I deeply regret I don't remember her name) We were sworn to secrecy as we jumped in her car and began our mission. She knew Detroit. She saved the day. I was soon going to learn that Detroit had a huge Polish population. She was Polish. She saved much more than just the day. Our first goal was to find a peace pipe. She took me to a section of Detroit that was full of little store fronts, filled with antiques and treasures of various vintage and design. We would pop in, find a sales person, and ask if they had any peace pipes. We gots lots of surprised looks, smart aleck answers, and my favorite retort, "What do you think this is, the Navajo Nation?" Just about the time we were getting really discouraged, and even talking about finding a place to eat lunch, an amazing thing happened. "Yea, do you want one with a tobacco pouch, or without it?"

Well, I figured, if you give a guy a peace pipe, shouldn't you provide something to smoke in it, too? We bought the one with the tobacco pouch. Next stop: an engraver.

As we waited for the little brass plaque to be engraved, we paced the floor of the tiny shop. It seemed like the guy took forever to put a few words on a piece of metal. The minutes were flying by and we still had to get the thing mounted and framed. Next stop: find a framer.

My wheel lady, heroine and Detroit expert, knew right where to go. Now, it really wasn't a huge secret, because anybody could read the plague, and put two and two together.

Mission accomplished: We flew back to the hotel with a few minutes to spare and delivered the precious present to the security desk on the floor of the Governor's hotel room.

Then we hurried down to the lobby bar and I was proud and happy to buy my new friend a congratulatory glass of wine, or beer, or something. Honestly, I don't remember what we actually drank, I just remember how happy we were. It's pretty amazing to look at the photo and see a little snippet of history that we made happen. Hats off to you dear wheel lady and miracle worker. I hope you think as fondly of this day that we shared and take pride in it, as I often do.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

North Rim Art

Yellowstone National Park: the world's first national park and one of America's best ideas ever. Many countries have taken our lead and copied the idea. To preserve and protect beautiful places is a very good thing.

We recently had the amazing opportunity to see a work of art in progress on the north rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The road has been closed this summer to tend to some much needed maintenance and repair. We found out about it by accident and sheer good luck. We drove out to once again enjoy the amazing view at Artist Point on the South Rim. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a place of great, wild beauty. The stone is really yellow in color, named for the golden lichens on the rock walls. The shear force of the water fall that has carved the canyon provides a scenic wonder that is a feast for the eyes and a magnet for the artists that have tried to capture it with paint and canvas.

On our way to the parking area, we were stopped by Ranger Joe. He told us they had worked all night paving the parking lot and, while they weren't quite finished, we could proceed with caution and park on the right. We enjoyed the amazing vista and spent some time taking it all in.

Ranger Joe was at the same spot when we left, and my husband Ron, as he often does, stopped to say thank you and introduce himself. Ron was the 8th Director of the National Parks and he loves being in a park and especially meeting young rangers and learning about them. Ranger Joe said if we thought artist point was cool, how would we like to see what they were doing on the North Rim?

What we saw was a work of art. Because the young project manager, Ranger Joe, was so dedicated to greatly improving the visitor's opportunity to truly experience the canyon. He wanted to improve and also preserve the historically significant work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC, was responsible for most of the work in National Parks during the administrations of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They worked in Yellowstone during the summers of 1933 to 1941, building and repairing walkways, trails and bridges. Ranger Joe took care to save the "look" of the CCC work, but also to add safety features, walking trails and overlooks. Years of putting new asphalt over old, crumbling asphalt, had resulted in several inches of added heigth. This meant that in several places, clueless tourists could easily hop over the barriers and venture out onto unsafe presipices.

Ranger Joe had a great team working with him. Experts from the Federal Highway Administration shared his enthusiasm, and were also dedicated to providing more than had originally been planned. One of their most impressive accomplishments was the strong desire to not be able to see the "newness" of the project on the north rim from across the canyon on the south rim. They found over 600 huge boulders in different parts of the park that perfectly matched the yellow hue of the canyon. These were put in place on the boundary of the trails and overlooks, replacing the old wooden barriers. Obviously, rocks last much longer than wood, and reduces the burden of maintenance costs in the near future.

We loved spending a few days in Yellowstone National Park. The wildlife thrives. Buffalo, moose, elk, deer, and even some wolves were spotted among the trees, in the Lamar Valley and in the thermal areas. The Old Faithful area was crowded with tourists, as it so often is, but other beautiful places were serene areas of solitude. That's why we visit and why we always want to go back soon.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Big Box Fan Fan

If you aren't a big box fan fan, you don't know what you are missing! So listen up!

During our army days, we lived on the island of Okinawa in the South China Sea. All military housing had at least one window unit air conditioner. And of course, the higher your rank, the more units you had. They whirred away, night and day, and as they cooled off the inside, the outside extracted buckets of water from the humid, thick-as-aloe-gel island air. Literally, they were our lifesavers. Since this was before the days of central air conditioning, our only alternative was to soak your sheets in the bathtub, climb into bed with them over you and hope you could get 40 winks before they dried and you had to repeat the process.

After almost four years, we flew home to the states, fondly referred to as the land of the big PX. But alas, we found we had difficulty sleeping. Why was there so much noise outside, all night long? Why were birds making so much noise at the crack of dawn? Whose dog was barking all the time? Then it hit us, we have no droning machine sticking out of our window. It's way too quiet here in the good old USofA. That's when we discovered the big box fan.

We run it year round. It whirrs all night long. It is the most wonderful invention since indoor plumbing.

When we stay in a hotel or motel, we phone ahead for a box fan. If they don't have one, we ask them to buy one and put it on our bill. They only cost about $19.99 at Walgreens, but considerably more at a Hilton or Marriott. But that's OK. Without a box fan, you hear all the footfalls in the halls. Every tap tap tap of ladies calling "housekeeping" as they go about their daily routine. If your room is close to the elevator, you hear the chime every time it hits your floor. And my personal least favorite, the person next door with the voice that can be heard constantly talking. What is the deal? They must be constantly talking on the phone, because you usually only hear one incessant voice. How annoying.

When we take a roadtrip, the box fan goes in the car last so it can come out first when we reach our motel. That way you don't hear the folks who arrive at your location all night long. You don't hear the people who manage to slam 53 car doors as they move into their room. And best of all, you don't hear thunder thigh's in the room above as he/she paces the floor.

A few days ago, I discovered another reason why I am a Big Box Fan fan. I recently received a mechanical aortic heart valve. It took me awhile to realize how much it "thump, thump, thumped," because the hospital was noisy and when I came home I slept with the comfort of the box fan purring away in the corner. Then, one afternoon, I saw our two doggies snoozing on the guest room bed and I decided to join them. That's when I discovered how noisy my new heart valve was. It's a comforting sound, of course, but kind of distracting when one is looking for a quiet afternoon nap. So, I cranked up the big box fan we keep in the guest room, and soon I was sleeping right along with the two little brown furry creatures that comfort and warm me. How nice! If you are not already a fan fan, think about joining my fan club.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Store bought Cookies

Back in the day, as they now like to say, store bought cookies were special, delicious, and enjoyed. What happened? They sure don't taste like they used to. Now they have a fakey, fakey flavor. I used to love chocolate covered graham crakers. The chocolate got melty under the spot where your thumb and finger held it. You could lick those two and swoon.

My mother kept a stash of chocolate covered graham crackers in her bedside table. She liked to read in bed and munch on them. She thought we didn't know. She had decided my brother was allergic to chocolate since he always had a runny nose, and thus the secret stash of anything chocolate. (Marshmallows and peanut clusters were there too)

Growing up without air conditioning meant the shades were drawn and folks retired to the dark and cool during the hottest part of the day. Ah yes, a good book and a delicious stash in a drawer made those times ones of glorious retreat. Mom sure knew what she was doing. We would be in our own rooms, on our own beds, sans snacks. "You don't want ants in your bed do you", we were told. Actually, I remember sneaking dill pickles to my room during quiet time. I reasoned that pickles wouldn't attract ants. I liked pickles.

The other day, my daughter brought me a package of chocolate covered graham crackers as a special treat. I was excited and took a big old chomp. BLAH! No flavor at all. Candlewax? Parrafin? What is going on? Why would cookie makers take this drastic step? What are they thinking? Makes me wonder what other favorites have been updated and ruined. And this got me to thinking further about the state of cookies in America. Bought any at a bakery lately? They are way, way too over the top sweet. How come? You can't taste anything but sugar, which means all flavors now taste almost the same. Maybe that makes it easier on the bakeries.

My idea of the perfect cookie is the soft, raisin cookies my dear old Granny used to bake. Now that was a cookie to talk about. The dough was soft, the hints of cinnamon and nutmeg lingered on your tongue and the raisins were soft. They were not too sweet, allowing you to savor each and every flavor. Perfect. Keebler elves, call me.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Heart Surgery

"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

That has become my mantra ever since I found out that I was facing aortic heart valve replacement surgery. I came across it quite by divine intervention in the middle of the night. I have noticed that when you know you are going to have this kind of "moment" it is harder to go back to sleep in the wee hours. My mind has a tendancy to create a "thinking problem" and so I got up to read for awhile.

I enjoy the UPPER ROOM and as I read the daily lesson, I turned to my bible to read the selected verses. Then I discovered Psalm 51, verse 10. That's what I need God and my doctors to do, and it will be in the form of a mechanical valve, the On-X. I saw one and got to hold it. It's awfully pretty. By renewing the right spirit in me, I hope to face the future with a greater appreciation for all the blessings God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit have sent my way. Perhaps by documenting my experience I can provide information and reassurance to others facing the same situation.

Ever since I was pregnant with my first baby, I have been told I have a heart murmur. I don't think I have any symptoms, but have been seeing a cardiologist on a regular basis. Three months ago he didn't think surgery was imminent. Now he says the function has lessened to the extent that it is time to replace the valve. I had a heart catherization to make sure all other functions of the heart are normal, and they are. Both my dad and my younger brother had aortic heart valve replacement surgery in the mid-80's. My dad got a pig valve and my brother the Bjork-Shiley valve that has since been-recalled, a process which caused the company to go broke. Fortunately, my brother has not had any problems with his valve.

A friend and neighbor, where we normally would be at this time of year when it is 108 degrees in Tucson, had the same surgery. The only difference is that she received a pig valve, or "tissue" as the professionals prefer to call it. She gave me great encourgement as she passed on the lessons she learned. Follow the rules, get up and walk, have a good attitude, and press a pillow to your chest if you have to cough or sneeze. I can do all that!

Another friend at my church said he had the same surgery eight years ago. They told him he would have two good days and then a bad day, then two good days followed by another bad day. He said, "It's all about your attitude. I didn't like the sound of the bad day routine and I can honestly tell you I never had one."

As the big day approached, our family rallied and gathered to lend support. Lynne and Barry and their two doggies drove all the way from Lexington, Kentucky. Marja made plans to move in and provide round-the-clock care. Lisa, with two little boys to worry about, was the back-up go-to guy. On Monday, the pre-op day, Marja and Lynne insisted on accompanying me to all the appointments and interviews. They made an ordeal turn into fun and time passed quickly. They, ever since they were about 4 and 5 years old, have seen the humor in just about any situation, and they didn't let me down on pre-op day.

Since daughter Lynne is president of the International Spa Association, we were introduced to the world of "healing touch practitioners." You can google it and get a wonderful, wealth of information. One of Lynne's board members knew of a healing touch practitioner here in Tucson and I was fortunate to get an appointment with her on very short notice. You stretch out on a massage table, although there is a miminal amount of touching. Soft "spa music" fills the darkened room. It is a peaceful and soothing atmosphere. No words are said in the beginning. When she did put her hands on me, the result was sometimes a feeling of warmth, but more often just the gentle squeeze of her touch. Softly, she begins to offer guidance:

Think of a safe and peaceful place and go there in your mind. I went to a chair on the deck of our home in Wyoming, right under the view of the Grand Tetons.

Picture yourself surrounded by people who love you.

Imagine a white light coming from the heart of each person and shining on you. Breathe in that white light with each breath you take. It is the healing light of love and gratitude. (I came to think of it as the healing light of God's love.) Visualize the light coming into your heart as you inhale and exiting through the solar plexus when you exhale.

Let the faces fade and remain in this peaceful place surrounded by the white light. If/when your mind wanders, bring it back to the white light, your breath, and the peaceful place you have chosen.

You can "go to" this special place whenever you feel the need, and as often as you want to go. During the post op day, as the nurse got ready to draw blood, Lynne reminded me to go to my "place." It was good and wonderful advice.

The surgery was on tuesday, scheduled in the second time slot. Before I could begin complaining about not being first, I was told that the doc was operating on a six year old in the morning. I didn't utter my initial concern. The procedure took four and a half hours. I had wonderful care and can't say enough about my gifted (and famous) surgeons and doctors.

The only down time was during the dreaded "breather tube hours," when you can't talk. That's when the terrorist, in deep cover nurse-mode and sent by Saddam, came to kill me. Since I couldn't talk, nobody could listen to my concerns nor were they too interested in what I was trying to scribble on a pad of paper. My ever keen sense of survival kept me alert and somehow I was able to thwart the terrorist-nurse's attempt to sabotage my recovery.

The other worst time was when I had to prove that I could breathe on my own, or they wouldn't remove the breathing tube. Except that I couldn't stay awake and when I fell asleep the breathing tube took over. Nobody could make me stay awake. That is, not until they put Ron in charge. He was brutal, tenacious, loving, caring and accepted no excuses. I don't know how he did it, but he finally succeeded and the breathing tube was history. Oh happy day!

My healing touch practioner came in my hospital room twice. Quietly, and bringing a sense of peace, she walked around the bed, touched me gently, and left in a few minutes. I had been told that I would be in the hospital for six days. I came home in four. Healing energy, the best of care, and some of my resolve all must have played important roles.

Talk about loving, hovering home care. My team here is amazing. Great nourishing food, soothing glasses full of ice and juice, plump pillows, and hands extended to help at every turn. And not everyone is lucky enough to have a team of four nurse doggies on hand to lend warmth and comfort. They have each picked their spot to provide healing, two on my footstool and one by each side. I can't describe the feeling of healing warmth that was present when the five of us would take our assigned places and enjoy a snooze. How do doggies know when they are needed for special assignments? God works in wonderous ways, and doggies are certainly an important part of His army of angels.

Each day brings a feeling of getting stronger. Pain isn't so much a true feeling of pain, as it is one of pressure. I have never had a bad day, but I'm not doing jumping jacks or running sprints yet either. I started out doing laps around the back yard, increasing a lap each day. Then Ron and I would do an early morning walk on the High Mesa, going a little further each time. (You gotta get out early, we have been having hot, 108 degree days. UGH) In times of quiet, I can hear the On-X valve thumping along. A comforting sound, somehow.

TIP: The thought of wearing a bra was not a happy one. Then I had an "ah-ha!" and put a "sleep bra" over a T.shirt, and behold, it was pretty comfortable. Of course I covered all that up with another shirt before I ventured out in public. . . . and I've given away all my low cut shirts and strapless ball gowns. I don't want to look at the scar and don't think I should subject others to having to look at it either.

At one day shy of four weeks since surgery, I received a a final OK from my docs. We will soon be able to escape the desert heat and spend a few weeks in much cooler Jackson Hole. I need to sit on my deck, look at the Grand Tetons, and breathe a huge sigh of thanks for the role that special place played in making my "moment" much easier. And of course, thanks be to God.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad

Tomorrow marks my father's 102nd birthday. No, he's not here to mark it with us, so we will do it for him. I have been reading lots of tributes to Dad's since last Sunday was Father's Day. Lots of good stuff, sad stories, funny anecdotes and tributes to Dad's in our newspapers lately. It got me to thinking. My Dad was a relatively quiet and comforting presence in the background of my growing up. My mother was the dominant force in our home and in our lives. He let her be and we didn't question it. My younger brother and I came to understand that Mother has more high strung, suffered from headaches, needed to be the center of attention and loved us with every fiber of her being. This was just the way it was. Dad had none of the above things to deal with, except the last one. Dad was always happy, and always whistling an unidentified tune. We loved that, because it was always easy to find him.

Dad was born on a Farm in Fargo, North Dakota, the third of six kids. He hated the winters. When the family moved to California for the health of the youngest child, Dad was 16, and he never looked back. We had 13 valencia orange trees in our yard and every morning he squeezed fresh orange juice for me. His memory of sometimes getting one orange from Santa Claus stayed with him. He didn't lecture me about how lucky I was, but he said it was a glass of "liquid sunshine that would keep me healthy." In fact, Dad never lectured me about anything. He never yelled at me or criticized. Total approval was the greatest gift he gave me. And because he thought I was one of the most amazing peoople he had ever met, so did I.

My Granny, Dad's mother, told the story of how when the kids were small, at the end of a meal, he would always pass the plate of homemade cookies and announce, "Everyone take your cookie." The seven other people at the table would take their cookie and Dad would get the rest. Pretty ingenious for a kid smack dab in the middle of the pecking order, huh?

Temple City California was the "Home of Camellia's" and we had a Camellia parade every year. The High School marching band lead off the festivities down Las Tunas, the main drag of town. I was a pom pom girl and loved marching in the parade. We always got white buck or saddle shoes at the beginning of the school year and Dad would wear my new shoes to work (yes, we had exactly the same size foot)for several days to break them in for me. The result was that he always got the "new shoe blisters" and I didn't.

In later years, we'd always launch into a project when he came to visit. The memorable ones include building a puppet theatre for my marrionetts, a new tile floor in the basement play room, painting whole rooms, and laying carpet tile flooring in the den. When we were getting ready to lay the squares of tile on the cement floor in the basement, the instructions indicated that we would need to heat the tiles first, to loosen up the glue. A long way from the kitchen, we were momentrily stumped, until Dad said, "Get your electric skillet." So we fired up the skillet, and put the tiles in it, one by one, before we stuck them on the floor. It worked. Having to buy a new electric skillet was a small price to pay for such a beautiful, wall-to-wall tile floor in the basement playroom.

I may have inherited Dad's shoe size, but I didn't get his beautiful singing voice. He sang in a barber shop quartet and people always marveled that he had "perfect pitch." He loved Bing and the Mill's brothers and he knew the words to a million songs. My brother and I grew up singing, even if we weren't as good at it as Dad. Most of the parties I can remember my parents hosting in our home, centered around the piano and people holding glasses, smoking cigarettes and singing. It's a happy memory.

When Dad died, he was cremated and his ashes were sprinkled in the sand trap "under the most beautiful tree in the world," at his favorite hole on his favorite golf course. It makes me happy to think of him there in that peaceful place that he loved. I miss him every day and I know my brother does too. Happy Birthday, Dad.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Wisdom of Jake

JAKE: Age 3

We went to buy new sneakers for the approaching start of "itty bitty sports." Afterward, I wanted to check out a new Mexican Furniture store that had just opened. From the moment we walked in, Jake wanted to leave. It wasn't his kind of shopping experience. Not a toy or lollipop anywhere in sight. I kept saying we'd go in a minute, and asked him to walk around with me. "GramAnne can we go now," was his repeated request.

Then, in a loud voice, "I can FAWT with my AWMS when I'm naked."
"What did you say,?" I asked knowing full well what he'd said but couldn't believe my ears.
"I can FAWT with my AWMS when I'm naked," he repeated.

Of course we fled the store, I was choking with laughters, and Jake got what he wanted. The amazing mind of a three year old to realize that if he said something outrageous I would leave faster than anyone could blink.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Home Grown Pickles

If you are an old phart or an old beautiful and you don't read the comic strip, "Pickles," you should start. Sometimes it is me, sometimes it is him, and sometimes I can't relate at all . . . . but it is fun to check it out.

The other morning, reading the paper and drinking coffee, with our wonderful daughter having spent the night, we had our own home grown pickles moment. I said, "Was that the hawk whistling?"

We often hear them flying overhead and it is always a thrill. Our wonderful daughter said, "No, I think it was Dad's nose."