Monday, November 30, 2009

She Never Forgot a Face

land near Kinard east of Dingle

On our first visit to Ireland in 1976 we were poor college students. We took a Friday train from Dublin to Dingle, the home of most of my Irish ancestors, and spent three days coming to know the town, visiting with the parish clerk, and looking up relatives in the parish books. My only living native Irish relative--Katie Brosnahan Griffin--lived in Massachusetts, and told me before our trip that all our family was gone from Ireland, or had died. So I didn’t go knocking on doors, and with no transportation, didn’t get out into the countryside at all.

In 1990 we returned to Dingle Parish, this time with more knowledge, and a vehicle. My first stop was to visit the same parish clerk. He asked if I had yet visited my cousin Peggy Flahive who runs Flahive Pub down on the Quay. “Who is she?” I asked. He looked incredulous that I hadn’t heard of my own cousin. Off I went to the pub and found that Peggy was a distant cousin on my Ashe side.   She had written down some of our genealogy years before, details that an elderly Ashe relative used to spout off when he was comfortably primed with grog.

Then Peggy asked if I had been to see my cousin Mary Ashe Griffin out at Kinard. No, I had never heard of her either. She gave me directions and off I went. Kinard is the historical domicile of the Ashe clan. My 5th great-grandfather once owned it all until the English stole it fair and square. He repaid them by running a smuggling business right under their noses. I followed Peggy's directions to Kinard, a few miles out into the country and knocked at Mary Griffin’s, one of three houses there. We talked awhile, I met her son, then I asked her a silly question. “My cousin Katie remembers the Ashe family—James, Greg, and Frank—living together in the old family house at Kinard. Where was the house located?” She looked at me dumbfounded and said, “This is the house.”  I was sitting in  my great-great grandfather's small house with its three-foot thick whitewashed walls.  Mary explained that a hundred years before, when the house was very full of Ashes, straws were drawn to determine who had to find a new place to live.  The family that drew the short straw--John Ashe and Catherine Prendiville and their 14 children--sent some children to Australia, the rest to the US.  A descendant of this clan is the actor, Gregory Peck.

Mary Griffin asked if I had visited my cousin Hannah Farrell out at Ardamore. I had never heard of her (surprise). Mary gave me directions to the Farrell’s dairy farm. Once at the property I drove past an old rock shed, a barn, and then up to the house. Hannah answered the door. I told her my name and that I was a relative from America. She warmly invited me in and began to talk, and then briefly whispered something to her daughter Anne. Anne disappeared into the cellar, then returned carrying a large box. Hannah never paused in the conversation and simultaneously fished through the box, whose contents I couldn’t see. After a couple of minutes she handed me something from the box. It was an old black and white photo. The photo was of a group of children posing with a very old woman. And, drum-roll please—the two-year-old girl in the photo was me! What the heck? I had seen this photo in my mom’s collection, taken in 1957 at 27 Taylor St. in Holyoke, Mass. It was probably sent to Hannah Farrell by her Aunt Katie who was present that day at 27 Taylor. I remember the day the picture was taken because I had fallen down the wooden staircase, and the old ladies had given me some chocolate to get me to quit wailing.

Craig’s comment about my visit with Hannah was, “Imagine making a visit to a foreign country--a remote area in that country--to a farm way off the beaten track--to visit a person you had never heard of until a half hour before, and not only do they know right off where you fit in, but they pull out a photograph of you!"

 This is the photo that Hannah Farrell showed me.  That's me in the plaid skirt on the left; the other children are 3rd cousins of mine and the elderly woman is Katie Doyle Sullivan, my great-grandma's younger sister.  She is holding my brother. My cousin standing on the right, Mary Sullivan, was killed in a car accident two years later.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Nine for Nine!"

Yesterday this blog was about Flight 93 which went down north of Somerset, Pennsylvania on 9/11. Curiously, less than one year later, masses of media and the world’s attention focused back on the same area when nine coal miners were trapped in the flooded Quecreek Mine, not 10 miles from where Flight 93 went down 10 months before. For over three days the world was at the edge of our collective seat around the clock, waiting for news of the trapped men.

The anthracite coal region of northeastern Pennsylvania, and the bituminous region of western PA combined have experienced an astounding 51,000 deaths from coal mining since 1877.  That's 32 deaths every month when averaged over a 130 year period, shocking numbers for only one US state.

With a steady stream of immigrants lined up for available jobs, miner’s lives were pretty cheap in the early days. My great-uncle George was killed in 1908 in a slate-fall in a Stockett, Montana coal mine. My own grandfather was crushed in slate-fall at the Colonial #3 mine at Rowes Run, PA, in February 1951. If a miner survives an injury he is typically gravely hurt. Grandpa should not have lived, but he pulled through, spending the next seven months in a body cast and another few months after that in the hospital, then two or three months in rehab learning to navigate his paralyzed self on crutches. My Dad said that in the early days of mining the companies took no responsibility for a miner’s injuries. They threw the injured in the bed of a wagon and left them on their doorstep for the wife to patch up. The work went on.

So why is it that with personal challenges and suffering in our own lives, we can suddenly find ourselves praying for total strangers, or sending messages of hope or condolence to people we don’t know in relation to an event that has nothing to do with ourselves? That’s what happened when Jessica fell into the well, and it happened at Quecreek in 2002. I think it is partly the inherent goodness in people. We stretch our capacity to love and care for others. Someday it could be our turn to need the best wishes and compassion of folks all around. In Somerset County expressions of faith and hope were heard from the families and friends, rescuers and reporters, and the governor.  Marvelous miracles happened such as when a broken drill part was tooled and replaced in three hours instead of the customary three to four days. People everywhere recognized answer to prayer when they saw it.

In this case, when the governor gratefully announced, “nine for nine!” the world rejoiced. A few months later, on the same day our family visited the Flight 93 site, we stopped at the Quecreek rescue site. My step-mother’s father once worked in this mine, and she was born here on Christmas Day 1921 in Acosta, just up the road. A few years ago a memorial to this tragic event with a happy ending--of a miner immersed in the Bible--was put in place. I don’t think we too often see memorials erected to commemorate positive events.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Shanksville, Pennsylvania

Y’all know what happened here on September 11, 2001. It was a bright spot in an otherwise unimaginably terrible day—that is if you can call it a bright spot that 40 people fought the terrorists, and then hurtled to their deaths at such great speed that there wasn’t much left of them or the plane either. You know what I’m talking about though.

About a year after 9/11 Steven and I visited my folks at their home in Belle Vernon PA, about an hour drive from the Flight 93 crash site. In fact, Flight 93 had flown to its fate not too far north of their house. My Dad decided to take us over there on a wintry November day. As often happened on a George Bubnash outing, we took country roads instead of the highway towards Somerset, PA, the nearest city to the site. The hoarfrost on the trees was cracking branches everywhere. It was a magically, frosty, pretty day.

From Somerset you drive north on country roads to the site. I don’t know if Pennsylvania has a corner on unmarked windy country roads, making places difficult to find, but they do a good job at it. I’ve had the experience of taking an hour to find a place three miles away. Even locals get lost sometimes. It was the same this day. Kind folks in the Somerset area though, had created these little red-white-blue markers that simply said “Flight 93” with an arrow pointing either straight or right or left. We followed those for a while but a few were missing so it was a while before I spotted the place on a hill near a farmhouse.

The hill is where the makeshift memorial is located. The crash site is in a draw in the valley below, maybe a mile away. The hand of God laid this plane down in a peaceful site away from houses and buildings. They say this was once an open-pit coal mine so that when the plane hit, it was instantly swallowed up. Down in the draw at the center of the site is a solitary American flag marking the spot. I like that. It’s a simple symbol that says much. The makeshift memorial contains homemade markers and messages received from the world over, and also some metal and stone plaques sent by other countries. You can leave a souvenir there or write a message in permanent marker on the guard rail.

I was just reading on the internet about the National Park Service memorial that will be ready for dedication in two years. It has various features that symbolize what happened on Flight 93. The site is largely outdoors. I like that. But perhaps it’s overdone. The reference below contains the drawings and descriptions of the various aspects of the memorial. The bowl with the walkway around it seems enough (minimal can convey peace). I don’t know if the concrete walls add anything—perhaps I’ll change my mind when I see it. But there is one thing that bugs and I will take the flak of being called unfeeling. There is private access for the “Flight 93 families” in the area that is basically a graveyard. I’m not sure why that is. When we go to Pearl Harbor or Gettsyburg or Flanders Fields, or any number of places where people have fought and died, we remember that they did it for their country. And so their country comes to pay them honor. In my book it's odd to be exclusive at this memorial.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rental Car Adventures

"Adventure" is not a word you want to use in the same phrase as ‘rental car’, but I’ve had a few of those. Two particular experiences come to mind, both relating to Budget Rental Car.

In Ireland in 1990 I picked up a car at Shannon Airport. The key the agent handed me was bent. They said, “this is the only key we have.” Oh really? You run a rental car business and keep only one key per car? Long story short, the bent-key-car was the only automatic available and I didn’t want to be learning to drive on the left side of the road with a manual transmission car. Three days later I parked the bent-key-car in front of a cemetery out in the country near Anascaul, while I searched for family names. I darted back to the car during a sudden squall, and the key chose that moment to snap off in the lock.

Minard Castle, near Anascaul

I hoofed the mile into Anascaul and found a garage man (Sean Evans) who said he would be with me “after I finish me pint of grog.” This guy spent several hours trying to help me but he really didn’t have a plan, and neither did I until he finally stopped off at another garage to get an opinion. In exasperation I told that garage-man, Sean Moran, the story and what I wanted Budget to do. He called Budget and in his no-nonsense voice berated them for renting a car with a defective key. He handed me the phone, and I told them I was leaving the car in front of the Anascaul cemetery and they could come get it. Furthermore, at no extra charge, they were to give my husband a comparable rental car when he arrived that night at Shannon Airport, and how dare they send out a rental car with a worthless key and cause such a waste of time blah blah blah. So Craig was paged on his arrival and picked up a different car and all was well. I lost a half day of genealogy research time though.

The same year we went to the East coast for a month, flying into/out of South Carolina.

South Carolina Statehouse

I picked up an Astro van at the airport and headed north for my grandmother’s house in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t until we stopped for the night in Northern Virginia that I noticed there were no license plates on the car. Not in front, not in rear. Mmmm, they do things differently here, was my thought, but I should have been a teeny bit more proactive.

We drove through 10 states without police paying any attention, but I barely crossed the Vermont border before being pulled over by two cops in my great-grandparents home town of Brattleboro. The officer told me I was driving illegally due to non-displayment of plates, and asked for the registration. Well, there was nothing, not one document in the car (besides my rental agreement). They really do do things different in South Carolina.

She announced that she could pull the car from me immediately, and then peeked in to see my four wide-eyed kids with our Mount Everest of gear. She decided to meet me at our hotel room, a Super 8 up the road. She kindly agreed not to pull the car but instructed me to switch it first thing the next day. She wrote an $80 ticket to the rental car company.

Whetstone Falls, Brattleboro Vermont

The next day, a Saturday, I discovered there was no Budget Rental open on weekends anywhere near where we were. Hartford-Springfield airport (BDL) was the nearest office, and it was a couple of hours away. And we would be going there on Sunday to pick up Craig. So, being the criminal that I am, I elected not to spend a good half a day and all that gas going down to BDL to switch the car. I slunk around Brattleboro for the next one-and-a-half days and was careful to avoid main streets and on-street parking. I hate being like that—it’s living a lie, but after all, this was our vacation!

On Sunday while picking up Craig at BDL, I took care of the car situation, and insisted they not charge us extra for switching cars. We had signed up for a month-long rental and by golly, that’s what we were going to pay for. They later did try to charge us for two two-week rentals but we prevailed, and they were really unhappy about not getting their car back to South Carolina. But heck, it wasn’t my idea to drive thousands of miles up and down the Eastern seaboard with no license plates!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Through the Decades

What else to write about today but a few Thanksgiving memories? Or at least some short snippets. It’s a magical day. So many delicious foods. A beautiful table setting. Company is often involved.

Except for my Grandma Ashe, in my childhood our family had few relatives nearby since my folks had pulled up their Eastern stakes to resettle in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. One of my mom’s cousins lived a few hours away as did one of her shoestring relatives on the Doyle side. So from time to time we got together with these families on holidays, including Thanksgiving.

Those Thanksgivings pretty much blend together but a few aspects of them never changed: Mom cooked a wonderful dinner, and she set an elegant table. By elegant, I don’t mean magazine-fancy with towering flower arrangements and centerpieces everywhere, but she used her shiny silver, the antique platters, and the best tablecloth, that came out only on special occasions. Every dish was done on time. Dad helped. The kids helped. And our pie tradition was unique: though Gram always brought her perfect pumpkin pie, none of us ate more than our obligatory sliver--we were not pumpkin pie fans. Mom made, or had us make, a chocolate crème pie, and that continues to be the tradition in my house now.

Southern Cal weather was always pleasant on turkey day. Not so when I moved to Utah, Idaho and Oregon. The stupidest thing I ever did for Thanksgiving was when Deb Schueneman and I drove home for the holiday from BYU my sophomore year. She had a VW bug and we left after our last class Wednesday, so probably not until 3 or 4 p.m. Somewhere in southern Utah we hit black ice and spun out on the interstate. Then we had only two days at home before heading back.

In later years we have had many Thanksgivings with just our family, but on occasion we have invited others or gone to other homes. I would just as soon cook my own and invite others, because we enjoy the leftovers so much. In fact, that’s one of my favorite aspects of TG—that I don’t do hardly any cooking the rest of the weekend. Everybody helps on TG, then the rest of the weekend people just eat what they want, it’s all ready and waiting in the fridge! We might vary it by making top ramen turkey soup or something equally exciting ;-)

I always have a home project on TG weekend because of having so much free time not having to cook. But this year am recovering from surgery so it will be different.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Guess I’ll just write an update about the surgery since I went to the first follow-up doc visit today. The pain has diminished a lot in the last 24 hours and it’s good to not be taking much medicine because it makes me so spacey and I forget what day it is and whether my dreams were real events or figments of my imagination.

On the x-ray today the screw, staples and straightening of the bone look real good. There’s also a very long pin in the foot that will be removed next week. The doc changed the dressing. Stitches come out next week. I’ve still been spending most of the time lying in bed reading, because if I’m up for too long the foot throbs uncomfortably. But being up for two hours for the doc appointment was just fine so I expect to be upright (at least sitting) more often now. Thanks to everyone for your positive thoughts and prayers.

Check out the photo of my foot (w/out the air cast on). That’s a self-portrait of the foot doctor wearing a Santa hat.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Most Embarrassing Tourist Moment Ever

I’ve traveled to many countries over the last four decades and have done my best to blend in, discover, enjoy, and empathize, and, AND to avoid giving American tourists a bad name. This is a post about the one time (albeit unintentionally) that I did insult our hosts and probably became the poster child for bad American tourist behavior. This experience doesn’t pertain to obnoxious clothing, insufferable conduct, or put downs of another culture. What have I left out? Oh yeah, cell phone etiquette.

One day four of us set off from Bridget and Jeremy’s place in Damascus, Syria, to go to the Christian Monastery at Seidnayya. As we left, Bridget thought to loan us her cell phone so that in case of any kind of problem we could call Jeremy for help. I said, “Is it shut off?” She said, “yes.” I looked at it and there was no screen display (in mine the screen would be lit if on) so I took her word for it.

Seidnayya Monastery has been a place of worship for 1400 years, but the current buildings are mostly from the 19th century. There are two things that make it unusual: one, it is a destination for Muslim as well as Christian patrons, and two, its most sacred shrine is centered around a portrait of the Virgin Mary, reportedly painted by St. Luke. This shrine is a most holy place. It is a tiny room with no natural light, the black-draped walls of which are adorned with tributes from worshippers who have come there to beg for a blessing. The painting of Mary is not visible—it is hidden behind the folds of ebony cloth. But it must be there, because hundreds come to light candles, to prostrate themselves before it, to implore God for a child or some other miracle. Sounds of muffled weeping and chanting emanating from unseen pilgrims resonate through the inky blackness.

All I could do was stand there quietly in the back with arms folded, in awe of the devotion before me. Until I was disturbed by the chirping of . . . a cell phone! What! Who in their right mind would bring a cell phone in a place like this, let alone keep it on! Everyone was startled and the pilgrims were disturbed. Steven whispered, “the ring is coming from your backpack!” Oh my, was I ever mortified. I squeezed out of the shrine and ran this way and that way down long stone corridors until out of view, and out of earshot of anyone who had been worshipping. I was shoeless, because all pilgrims remove footwear. I was embarrassed and mortified at having disturbed the devoted’s most humble pleas.

The call was from Bridget just to check on us. Eventually Steven found me and delivered me my shoes and we steered clear of the shrine the rest of the day. Because it had been dark inside, I  am sure no one recognized me as the crass American who brought their cell phone into the sacred shrine of Seidnayya.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Youngest Sister's Third Birthday

My Mom had planned a typical low-key family party for my youngest sister’s third birthday that Friday. She couldn’t have known that before the morning was over, that day would become one of those flashbulb moments in which most everyone living remembered where they were and what they were doing the moment they heard the dreadful news.

My fourth grade class went out for recess that morning, and when we returned Mrs. Hammill broke the news that President Kennedy had been shot. To nine and 10-year-old students, the news was hard to comprehend. Children were generally more sheltered then and news was less readily available for everyone. At lunchtime the tragedy was discussed in the lunchroom, but the meaning was still unclear. At least we kids knew who President Kennedy was, but why anyone wanted to shoot him was beyond our scope. Some of the kids even expressed the thought that God wouldn’t let him die.

As we gathered in our class room after lunch Mrs. Hammill’s tears told the story of the president's death. I walked home that afternoon expecting to find out the sad news had been in error. But the television was confirming the tragedy, and several neighbors were at our house discussing the implications.

I recall the famous photo of Jacqueline Kennedy in her blood-stained suit witnessing President Johnson’s inauguration aboard Air Force One. Several days later we watched the stirring State Funeral on television. And Oswald’s murder was on live TV. Mom thought my Dad was having a heart attack yelling for us to see what happened: "Jean! Jean! Jean!."

Nancy’s birthday, and the weekend following, had the atmosphere of a wake and no one felt like having a party.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Room Without A View

This has been my view for the last 48 hours. And will be for more to come. A year ago this week we had our entire family here together save one, for TG. This year the Palmers are vacationing in Boston and the Conders in North Dakota!

That's it for today.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Day We Almost Died

For a few years my sister Alice and I camped annually in Death Valley National Park over spring vacation.  The weather was usually just right and the park is so large and so varied and full of beautiful and unusual sights, that we never tired of it.  We always dry-camped, meaning we took her SUV anywhere from 5-10 miles off the pavement to remote and lonely spots, pitched a tent, and then hiked and did our sight-seeing from there.  There were no campsites out there, no water, no facilities of any kind, only rocks and sand and more rocks and sand.  At night we cooked dinner over a roaring campfire, then told tales and watched the sharp clear skies for constellations we could not see at home.
one of our D.V. camps

Various unique memories are associated with our Death Valley visits.  On one of those camping trips we were frightened when buzzed by a stealth fighter jet up on Lee Flat.  Another time before entering the park we met a fellow at a diner in Lone Pine who told us it would be ok with him if we bypassed the ‘road closed’ sign to go up the mountain to the Cerro Gordo gold mine (which I had been wanting to see for years), owned by his friend.  When we got up there the proprietor wasn’t very happy to see trespassers, but when I incorporated the name Mortimer Belshaw (the original owner of the mine back in the 1800s) into the conversation, she immediately gained new respect for us and gave us the grand tour.

One year we got this idea to go to a remote section of the park over Lippincott Road, which showed up as a dashed line on our map.  Turns out it isn’t much of a road—we must have been out of our minds.  It’s a track made of all sizes of boulders with an occasional bit of solid ground in between.  On some stretches the valley below is a thousand foot drop, without a guard rail in sight. 

There was no turning around once we started.  The only way to negotiate the boulder road was for me to get out and walk ahead of the SUV, and direct Alice which way to turn the wheel, so that her tires stayed on top of the boulders instead of slipping in between.  Steven didn’t seem visibly afraid yet at one point he asked if we were going to die.  We weren’t sure of the answer.  We made it through, obviously, and Steven christened that experience as, “The Day We Almost Died,” and still refers to it that way.

On the way home from that trip we stopped at the ghost town of Ballarat (population 3) and the residents wanted to know what we did in Death Valley.  We listed our experiences, including driving over Lippincott, and you could have momentarily heard a pin drop.  Then they gushed about how remarkable a feat that was.  But it really was out of our element and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, ever.

 Death Valley beauty

Friday, November 20, 2009

Kitchen Remodel

We survived a kitchen remodel last spring. We designed the original space ourselves 25 years ago when the house was built, but as our family grew, the room began to feel cramped and inconvenient. The fridge area was a bottle-neck, the island was too large; the gas cook-top was located on the island which eliminated a large open workspace. In the 70s and 80s a drop ceiling was all the rage and it was time for that to go. The countertops were 3-inch tile—loved the forgiving tile surface but had come to despise the mass of grout. The high quality oak cabinets needed a face-lift.



I agonized over a better design for quite a while and finally had a eureka moment. Moving the fridge across the room to the opposite wall was the key to reorganizing the space. I called four or five different contractors to give estimates:

One had grandiose (and expensive) ideas of cutting into the roofline to make an airy space. Another annoyingly kept poking fun at my 1980s kitchen claiming he would never have done things that way (he would have--it was built in the 80s). A third was unimaginative. Then I found out an old friend was still living in town, still in construction, so we went with him.

We did all the demo work (demolishing ceiling and old island, removing countertops), leg work (finding lighting, a range, hardware, sink, faucet, etc.), painting, and we refinished the cabinets and other woodwork ourselves (which led to a hospital visit but that’s a separate post).

After six weeks we got ourselves a more spacious and workable kitchen (and more cabinet space).  I’m more enthusiastic about cooking now that the room has a much better flow, nicer materials, and more available workspace.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

"I'm the Man You're Looking For"

One hallmark of my Mom’s life was her acceptance of every person, no matter their background, color, religion, etc.  And we children understood that it was forbidden to use racial or ethnic slurs, or otherwise make fun of people for their size, surname, or circumstances. And this was at a time when put-downs were a source of amusement for children and adults both. My mouth was washed out with soap once when I tried out the "N" word, which I picked up on the playground. It never happened again. And I never knew until after her death that there was a particular reason Mom felt strongly about this issue--so strong that it became a major theme of my childhood.

After her funeral in 1994 I found a curious item in her jewelry box. It was a small plastic tag with a man’s name engraved on it that might be pinned on clothing for identification. The man’s name was Albert Ragusa. Why would Mom save something like this for 50+ years?  I had to know. In a New York phone book I found three Albert Ragusas, and sent the same letter of explanation to each with my contact information. A few days later I answered the phone and a male voice said, “I’m the man you’re looking for.”

Several conversations with Al were enlightening. He informed me that he and Mom were pals at George Washington High School. Actually, they would have been more than just pals and might have eventually married except that my Grandfather at some point told him not to come back. His reason? Al was of Italian parentage. That just wasn’t acceptable to my Grandfather, the son of Irish immigrants. And that’s the way things were in heavily ethnic enclaves in New York City circa 1942.

Mom 1942

Ten years after high school Mom met and married my Dad, who was the son of immigrants from Slovakia. She once told me her folks weren’t pleased about that but by her late 20s, she did what she wanted. But she always kept that little plastic tag, perhaps to remind herself of a case of prejudice and pain and injustice from her late teenage years. And that's the answer to the "why" of a central theme of my childhood.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hope I Look This Good At 97

Today I'm purloining an article from the LDS Church News. It's not an earthshaking announcement of new doctrine, or a synopsis of a really good talk. It's notable because these people, who don't look a day over 75, have been married 80 years!

Married 80 years
By Rachel Sterzer, Church News staff (I condensed this)
Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009

"Don't take marriage lightly," counsels Laver Robinson. "You have to have a strong determination to make your marriage a success."

Any wise marriage advice from Max Robinson and his wife is backed by 80 years of experience. The couple, members of the Sierra Ward, Fresno California West Stake, will celebrate their 80th wedding anniversary Nov. 1.
  • parents of three daughters
  • they have 12 grandchildren
  • 27 great-grandchildren
  • two great-great-grandchildren
  • met during the height of the Great Depression at Church in Oakland, Calif.
  • marriage was solemnized in the Mormon Church's Fresno California Temple Feb. 18, 2008
With both of their fathers out of work, they felt fortunate to have jobs and decided they could do better on their own. On Nov. 1, 1929, at the age of 17, the two traveled to San Jose where they were married by a judge. "Needless to say, when our parents found out they weren't too happy with us," Sister Robinson said. "My father said it would never last."

Those words, however, served as further determination for the couple. They made a decision to prove him wrong, Sister Robinson said, and they did. A strong sense of commitment is one thing that has assisted their long marriage. "There are times where you think, 'This isn't worth it.' But then you work it out."

"People say, 'You can't be 97,'" Sister Robinson said. She insists that their youthfulness can be attributed to living a clean life in accordance with the Word of Wisdom, not giving in to despondency or depression, and keeping active. Brother Robinson, who turns 98 on Nov. 14, still works twice a week doing public relations. work for one of his grandsons. "I'm too young to retire," he insists. "We've had a beautiful time [celebrating our anniversary] but now we'll buckle down and get back to work," Sister Robinson said.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Front Row View Of A Volcanic Eruption

Mt. St. Helens: 8400' summit minus 4200' starting point=4300 feet to climb

About 1996 I accompanied Bridget’s X-C team on a field trip to climb Mt. St. Helens. You would think in mid-August the weather for such a feat would be ideal, but as we gained elevation cold and low clouds settled in, the wind whipped around us, and the circumstances were so unpleasant that the group eventually gave up.

A few years later our family and some friends made the attempt. The mountain had lost about 2000 feet in the 1980 eruption, and is now @ 8400’ high. We overnighted at Climber’s Bivouac at the 4200 foot level and enjoyed a roaring campfire. At 7 a.m. we set out through the forest and ascended steadily upward for a couple of miles until the trees parted and the blast zone unfolded before us. By this time 10 of the party had pulled way ahead leaving Carolyn and I to bring up the rear--we were ok with climbing at our own snail's pace.

From there the trail crosses an open ashy plain, and then the arduous, taxing part of the climb begins. For about three hours we navigated the rock field, pulling and heaving ourselves up over boulders, some the size of small cars, getting scraped and bruised and depleted in the process. 

the rock field

After that exhausting ordeal came a steep, steep haul up the ash cone to the summit. The loose ash and pumice made us slide back most of every step forward; as a result we might have climbed that part three or four times over. Partway up I sat down thinking there was no way I could endure the last 500 feet. My blood sugar had plummeted leaving me with zero energy. Blair skipped down from the summit to carry my gear and give me some zappers for last-minute pep.

the ash cone

After 5 ½ hours I joined the group at the summit and oh my, how worth every excruciating step it was. Peeking over the lip of the crater we viewed the lava dome 2000 feet below, and all around was a bird’s-eye vista of the eruption’s mighty power. Within our view were the other Cascade volcanoes--Rainer,  Adams,  Hood,  Jefferson, Washington, and the Three Sisters near Bend.  Exhilaration is the only word . . .

In 2006 we did it again. Only this time the mountain was in active eruption! The view from the top into the crater included a rare vista of brand new rock being created. It tumbled right out of the throat of the steaming lava dome to plunge hundreds of feet down to a pile at the base. What a mesmerizing view—it was impossible to look away.

This second time the climb took me only five hours to reach the summit. I strongly recommend this non-technical climb for anyone fit enough to do it. And if I’m able to summit, you could certainly do it too.

inside the crater--the lava dome has a quirky-looking 'fin' that collapsed and rebuilt itself several times during the last eruption

Monday, November 16, 2009

Best Bumper Sticker Ever . . . And The Worst

Seen in a campground on the Deschutes River near Bend, Oregon:  STOP GLOBAL WHINING

I second it!

Speaking of bumper stickers, a few weeks ago while driving through Beaverton I had the unfortunate experience to be idling behind a small pickup at a stoplight, and it's hard to avoid reading a bumper sticker when it’s staring you in the face.

This one on the truck, although an advertisement for a local crane company, was crude and coarse. But the company was smart enough to have put their phone number on the bumper sticker. So I called the number and was looking forward to giving them a piece of my mind. I was sad to get the answering machine but went ahead and said my peace, which, besides dissing their advertisement, included that if I had need for hiring a crane (which I obviously never will), I would definitely not pick their company. They did not return my call.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My Dad, a World War II Veteran

Dad on the Missouri, 1944

My father, George Bubnash, was born and raised in a little Pennsylvania coal town during a time when the coal mines were going full bore, coke ovens were stoked and glowing, and steel mills were blazing away. The Depression changed all that, slowing down work and leaving some miners destitute. Dad once said that FDR was the working man’s hero because of the social programs put in place to help the downtrodden. His mother hung a photo of Roosevelt in the living room.

Dad graduated from high school in 1939 and went straight to work in a New York restaurant--no coal mining for him. Two years later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and when Dad’s draft notice arrived in 1942 he marched right down to the Navy enlistment office and signed up.

For the next two years he worked at the Naval Education Center at 90 Church St. in Manhattan. In 1944 he went to sea on a brand new battleship—BB63--the Mighty Mo--the USS Missouri. He was a Yeoman Second Class. He sat high in the conning tower relaying messages for the Captain. Going through the Panama Canal to the Pacific, he recalled that the Missouri was so large that there were just inches between her hulk and the concrete edge of the locks. The ship arrived at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1944. Dad went ashore and was treated to a hot dog for Christmas dinner.

In 1944 and 1945 war escalated in the Pacific. The Missouri fired her 16-inch guns at the Japanese Mainland, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa and Dad was surprised he didn’t lose his hearing in all that din. In April 1945 a kamikaze hit did minor damage to the ship. The captain ordered a full military funeral for the pilot, including burial at sea under a makeshift Japanese flag and a 21-gun salute, because as he said, even the enemy pilot was a human being doing his duty the best he knew. Dad shed tears when he told this story, as did I listening his moving account of respect shown an enemy who was out to kill them.

The Missouri sailed to Leyte Gulf, Guam, and an atoll named Ulithi. Near the close of the war she served as Admiral Halsey’s flagship for the Pacific Third Fleet. The formal ceremony to accept the Japanese surrender was held on the Missouri, but Dad wasn’t present. His duty that day was on shore guarding officers on the Japanese Naval Base.

After the war Dad spent a few more years in the Navy and Navy Reserve. The GI Bill paid for the impossible dream of a coal miner’s son—college tuition to Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon). As his children were growing Dad quietly made us aware of his service during the war both on and off the Missouri. Those years spent doing his duty never faded in importance to him or to us.

In May 2004 I was visiting Dad at his home in Pennsylvania. The World War II Memorial was  opening that week in Washington DC. I prevailed on him to take a trip down to visit it—it took a lot of convincing on my part to get him there as he wasn’t feeling well. The area was a buzz of activity preparing for the tens of thousands who would be arriving in two days for the dedication.

The memorial is divided into two areas, the Pacific Theater and the Atlantic Theater, and each US state is represented. We saw elderly men with their children and grandchildren, doing the same thing we were. The photo below was taken in front of the Pacific Theater area where some of the battles he participated in are inscribed in stone.

As we were leaving a volunteer took our picture together. Then she put her hand on Dad’s arm and said, “It’s a little late, but thank you . . . thank you for your service.” We couldn’t speak for a good 10 minutes after that. Later I asked Dad if anyone had ever thanked him for his service and he said, “No.  No, I don’t think so.” But of course, he never looked for thanks. He was just doing his duty.  And when he passed away a few months later, an etching of the Mighty Mo was inscribed on his gravestone.

 World War II Memorial in Washington DC, May 2004

St. Nicholas Cemetery, Perryopolis, Pennsylvania

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What to Do on a Cold Rainy Day?

Friday started out wet, windy and rainy, and about 40 degrees. The boys were both gone for the day so Craig and I did stuff around the house. About 1:00 we decided to go hiking. In the Gorge. To Hardy Falls. On a nasty stay-at-home-sit-by-the-fire kind of day.

By some stroke of luck when we arrived at the trail-head it was not raining or windy and it had warmed up to 41 degrees. Hardy Falls is about halfway up Hamilton Mountain on the Washington side of the Gorge. The trail starts near Beacon Rock, an ancient volcanic plug which Lewis and Clark noted in their journal in 1805. Hamilton Mountain lost almost half its mass in 1700 when a violent earthquake tossed the area. An enormous load of earth tumbled into the river where Bonneville Dam sits now.

Anyway, we trudged up the trail and were rewarded with masses of water coming down the mountain due to recent heavy rains. There's actually two falls, Rodney and Hardy. One of them gushes into a small almost-enclosed pool creating its own windstorm that blasts you with mist when you stand nearby, a spot  appropriately christened "The Pool of Winds."  We went further up the trail to the fork where a sign lets you know you can hike one of two paths up the mountain: "Difficult" or "More Difficult."  I've been to the top of Hamilton Mountain a few times but today we had to give up on that as we were losing our light. At the end of the hike we were wet from sweat but no rain fell at all until we were safely back in the car.

me with my favorite sign ever: difficult and more difficult

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Best $25 Ever Spent

In the summer of 1976 Craig and I miraculously got a chance to spend the summer in Europe--how that happened would take another post, but it was remarkable because we were poorer than church mice. We had both graduated from BYU and Craig would be continuing his Masters Degree in the fall. Our first baby was due October 1.

We both needed passports and to save money in those days, the government offered joint passports, where two people could be on the same one. Your photo had to appear together. A neighbor took our picture. The drawback was that the two people had to travel together, which for us wasn't going to be too hard since it was a "second honeymoon before the baby comes" situation.

All went well for 99% of the two months we were in Europe. We each carried a frame backpack and sleeping bag as we traveled three weeks by train through the British Isles. On the continent we spent most of our time at Craig's brother Barry's house in Germany. A few times we borrowed his car to travel elsewhere. Near the end of our stay more of Craig's family arrived and for about ten days Barry took us all in his very crowded VW van on a camping trip to southern Germany and Austria.

Our flight home in mid-August was Amsterdam--Bangor Maine--Los Angeles. Barry and the gang decided to take us to Amsterdam to make a little vacation there, and do the service of dropping us at Schipol airport. We bid our goodbyes, the gang left to go museum hopping, and we approached the check-in counter. At that point our joint passport was nowhere to be found. We stepped out of line to tear through every single bag, pocket, fold, etc. but it had vanished. The airline folks had no problem letting us on the plane but they couldn't guarantee what the US would do when we arrived with no passport. "They'll probably put you right back on the plane to Amsterdam," was their best guess.

Schipol in Amsterdam

What a nervewracking flight home it was. Would be be turned away? Jailed as spies? I thought back to stories about people without passports who end up living the rest of their lives in limbo in an airport. How would that work with a newborn?  We told our story to seat-mates and it spread around the plane so by arrival time all passengers knew what was up.

On arrival in Bangor all eyes were upon us as our names were called to step off the plane first. We were ushered into an immigration office. A very nice man asked us to explain ourselves. When it was time for him to pronounce his decision I'm sure I was visibly wincing. Would the verdict be to send us back to Europe, or to pay hundreds of dollars we did not have? "We're fining you $25 for entering the country illegally." To a pauper $25 was a princely sum, but honestly, even at that moment it seemed the best bargain ever. We could breath again and I felt like kissing the ground of the good ol' USA. It was so great to be back!

Later we received our passport in a letter from Barry saying he found it on the dashboard, raced back to the airport, and learned our plane had just departed. But we were perfectly satisfied with our happy ending.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Golden Nugget Mined on the Internet

The internet has been a boon to those of us who enjoy doing family history work. A researcher can sit at their home computer in their pajamas and at their fingertips is exponentially more family information than was available in all past decades put together, when we had to extract it through phone calls and letters and visits to individuals, municipalities, churches, repositories, etc., begging for tidbits  about our ancestors.

Recently, using the internet for family history, I have:

*Located a person in Texas whose aunt is the widow of a man I’m researching; the widow has family pictures and historical pictures of their town, and my contact person borrowed and scanned the pictures, then sent them over the internet to me.

*Received an email from my Slovak cousin revealing that his father and uncle each spent a year in a German concentration camp during WW II, for working in the Slovak underground.

*Helped a beginner-stranger figure out where to find information about his early Vermont family.

*Located a website for my father’s hometown that contains links pertaining to coal mining. One website displays a very old photo of the colliery where my grandfather last worked. He was critically injured in a slate fall there in 1951.

I inherited very few photographs of my ancestors or places that pertain to their lives, and about eight years ago began using Ebay to locate pictures of places that are pertinent to my family. Ebay is a gold mine of photos and postcards and I have collected old pictures of churches, schools, main streets, parks, and factories for illustrating family histories. I marvel at the miracle of finding these things that add an extra dimension to my family background.

One day I perused Ebay for pictures of South Vernon, Vermont, where my great-grandfather, Michael Toomey, and his father John and grandfather Michael had worked in various railroad jobs during the period 1850-1890. I already own about seven different postcards of this once-vital railroad junction. But this one day there was an 8x10 photograph for sale showing the South Vernon Railroad Station with eight men standing in front of it. I could tell by the building and their clothing that it was taken about the time my great-grandfather was a brakeman, and realized he just might be in that photo. Even if he wasn’t, it was valuable because he worked there in that time period, so I bought it.

When the photograph arrived I dropped everything to examine it closely with a magnifying glass. The building dominates the photo, and because the faces are small and the picture isn't razor sharp, it’s not easy to distinguish features. After a while I narrowed down that great-grandpa might be one of two people. And who knows, his father could be one of the others. Then on a whim I flipped the picture over to see whether anything was written on the back, and guess what—my great-grandfather’s name was handwritten on the back!  I was holding his copy of the photograph . . .

It sounds like a lucky coincidence but honestly, experiences like this happen regularly in family history. Photos and valuable tidbits of information sometimes just appear. In this case I contacted the seller to determine the provenance of the photo, but he had bought many boxes of antique stuff here and there and could not tell me where it came from. I declare it a stroke of Divine Providence.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Rude Awakening (Part 2)

 another freeway damage photo

[continued from yesterday]

Sometime during the day of the quake, our electricity came on. That night all six of us slept together in our parents’ king-size bed, although the word “slept” doesn't really describe the situation. We dozed on and off but the near-constant shaking made true sleep impossible. Dad kept his favorite talk-radio station on all night, perhaps so that we would feel buttressed by the calming company. Our new neighbors across the street weathered the aftershocks in their car for the next few days, refusing to go back into their house. A few weeks later they moved back to Michigan.

The following Monday we went back to school, and everyone had earthquake stories to tell. Our PE teacher Mrs. Cheek had a good one. She described how the quake hit as she was talking to her mother on the phone, and she actually saw a series of waves going through her floor. Mr. Dickinson was an aged Humanities teacher at school. On February 8th he had given his annual lecture on earthquakes, describing what the ancients in various cultures believed about quakes. He alleged that he had jinxed us into experiencing a quake sixteen hours later. The following year he was my teacher, and when he gave the earthquake lecture he warned us to be prepared, because, “you know what happened last year after I taught this lesson.”

Gradually the damaged structures were torn down, the freeways were rebuilt, and repairs made around our homes. Dad rebuilt our stone fence [picture below]. I haven’t driven under a freeway or across an overpasses comfortably since earthquake day.

Major earthquakes are more than an initial terrifying shock. They are followed by countless aftershocks, over and over and over, around the clock, for days and weeks. Then they begin to diminish in size and taper off in numbers, and you find yourself finally calming down and able to relax once again. Then out of the blue, just to make sure you’re still paying attention, a five-pointer comes along and a new period of nervousness begins again.

The frightening thing about earth movement is that you don’t know how intense it is going to become. When a quake begins you snap into high alert, and then you have maybe a second to decide which way it’s going to go and act appropriately—will it increase in intensity or fade away? One night weeks after the '71 quake some friends from Agoura were visiting. An aftershock hit and quickly intensified. Our family darted to the doorway for safety. Our friends sat immobile, and asked what was the big deal. It was impossible to explain to them the terror we had been through. I have been in sizable quakes since 1971, but never one so frightening as the early-morning Sylmar quake.  Scientists in my area of NW Oregon tell us that we're ripe for an 8 or 9 intensity earthquake. That's an event I hope to miss out on.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Rude Awakening (Part 1)

On the evening of February 8, 1971, our family engaged in our usual weeknight activities. Some of us had homework; I studied for a dreaded chemistry test. Dad watched something on television and Mom read a book in her favorite spot on the couch. Just before heading for bed, Dad removed the empty Sparklett’s five-gallon glass water bottle off the water cooler, then loaded on a new bottle. We all hit the hay, but little did we know that our lives were about to be disrupted in a way we couldn't have expected.

5:59 a.m. Tuesday morning. Talk about a rude awakening! The monstrous roar of the ripping earth startled me awake just as the shaking began. The noise was akin to jet planes accelerating in our front yard and I was momentarily petrified. The fleeting thought crossed my mind that yes indeed, California is sinking into the ocean. My room reeled and rolled like a rodeo bronc. I wanted to bolt for safety--my room was on the first floor and I didn't want to be squashed by a falling ceiling--but the best I could do was slide out of my bed onto all fours and claw my way over the other twin bed towards the door. On my way over, the hutch flew off the dresser onto the bed, cutting my leg. The shrieking of other family members compounded my terror. The sound of smashing glass gave the impression the whole house was about to come down. When I made it to my door, in the dark I could see the rest of the family hanging onto each other and gripping the stair railing as they frantically half-slid down to the first floor. Mom was alarmed for in the dimness she saw a motionless figure prone on the front hall tile, which turned out to be, not an injured child, but the artificial tree that was ordinarily in standing position near the staircase. As the shaking subsided we all hugged at the bottom of the stairs.

We collected ourselves then toured the damage. The kitchen was in chaos. All of the cabinets and the refrigerator had opened up, spilling and mixing food with broken dishes and glass on the floor. Added to that was the five gallons of Sparklett’s water, creating an unappetizing soupy stew to clean up. Gradually neighbors began to come out to compare damage. In our immediate area the most common problem was cracks in the walls and in the brick chimneys, and fallen or leaning exterior stone fences, all of which our house had. This quake, called the Sylmar quake, was a 6.6, not a world class shake at all.  But it lasted a lengthy 59 seconds. There were about seventy deaths, most due to the collapse of freeway bridges and a couple of hospitals. We were without power and phone but we still had our well water.

It took the better part of the day to clean up the mess. There was a moment of comic relief when our dog helped herself to leftovers that had been ejected from the fridge. School was canceled for the rest of the week. I heard the chemistry lab suffered serious damage, and on the bright side of the earthquake, my chem test was postponed, which gave me more time to get a grip on the material (not that it helped). The grocery stores had a major job cleaning up their broken glass and damaged products. Some houses in Newhall were knocked off their foundations or partly destroyed. Dramatic destruction occurred at the freeway interchange in Newhall Pass. The sweeping concrete curves sailing above I-5 were sliced in half, the fallen portion smashing onto the freeway underneath. Mangled rusty tentacles of re-bar poked out from the debris like ghastly fingers grasping for help. (Almost identical damage occurred here in the 1994 quake). Further down near San Fernando two commuters died when an overpass fell on their pickup, leaving it a flattened 18 inches high.

Newhall Pass after the quake

Tomorrow: Recovery

Monday, November 9, 2009

Twenty Years Ago Today: The Inconceivable Happens

From the repressive 1960s to 
jubilant November 10, 1989

Craig and I grew up in the 50s and 60s when the fallout from World War II was still palpable. Both our fathers were veterans (his Dad was Air Force, mine was Navy) as were our uncles. And though these men didn’t routinely speak about their experiences, we kids were aware enough of their role that our childhood games included playing war against the Japs and the Krauts, as we called former US enemies.

But ironically, it was one of our former allies that was the real bad guy. After the war the Russians had moved in and taken over Eastern and part of Central Europe (including the eastern part of Germany), creating what the West called ‘the Soviet bloc.’ We had “the bomb” and they eventually had “the bomb”, and Americans knew we would never use it first but also knew the Soviets had no such scruples. It was a scary time punctuated by air-raid drills, warning messages on TV, and the building of bomb shelters. All schoolchildren were trained what to do if we saw a bright flash in the sky—drop under our desks and cover our heads with our hands (I can hear you younguns laughing)!

In the midst of this climate of fear and suspicion, in 1961 East Germany shocked the West by building a barrier that prevented the draining of East Germans into the West. Thousands of their citizens had escaped the oppressive government by filtering into West Berlin and the flow had to be stopped. In the beginning the barrier was simple barbed wire guarded by soldiers whose purpose was to shoot to kill, but soon a tall concrete fortification, christened “The Berlin Wall,” snaked through the city and countryside.

Over the next 28 years thousands attempted to escape East Germany; some were successful but several hundred were shot and killed. Phrases like “he came over the wall” were heard. We cheered when we heard about the sports car that zoomed through the gate at high speed, and marveled at the ingeniousness and courage of the family who was so desperate for freedom that they went over the wall in a homemade hot-air balloon.

Fast forward to 1987 when Pres. Ronald Reagan boldly uttered his famous phrase, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Two years later LDS members heard that for the first time in many years missionaries were sent into and out of East Germany. What the heck?  We had been praying for years that communist countries would open their doors to the Gospel, but I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t have much faith it would occur in the prime of my generation. Something was different.

In a nutshell, in the summer of 1989 Hungary for the first time allowed visiting East Germans to leave Hungary and cross over into Austria and freedom (East Germans were allowed to vacation in some of the Soviet bloc countries such as Hungary). The East German government tried to tighten the screws and one official said the wall would stand another hundred years. Mass demonstrations in East Germany resulted, and this groundswell of public opposition to the restrictions could not be stopped. In response the government decided to relax restrictions but in making this announcement the official made it sound like citizens could now exit freely to West Berlin. This was reported in the press on November 9, 1989. By evening that day thousands of East Germans had gathered at the wall demanding the gates be opened, the overwhelmed guards complied, and East Germans freely rushed into West Berlin!

We watched the stunning events on TV that night. There was one enormous all-night party going on around the Berlin Wall. Music was playing, people were dancing, hugging, weeping, and hacking away at the wall using everything from fingernails to sledgehammers. Even hours before we did not expect to witness the fall of the wall, at least not in the 20th century. It was impossible not to shed a few joyous tears along with the East Germans as we watched them dance on the wall. Some were reunited with loved ones they had not been able to hug since 1961.

In 2002 we visited Berlin. The wall had been gone for over 12 years (except a few memorial sections) and in its place is a miles-long streak of paint and bricks marking what was once the site of a country’s relatively short-lived, feeble attempt to imprison its people. I say feeble because though East Germany could physically keep their citizens prisoners, a person’s yearning for freedom can never be stifled. Sooner or later this government was destined to bend, and it bent that night in 1989, thanks to the united demands of a massive number of people saying they had had enough.

Read here for more details about the wall:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Encore Rock Concert

Warning: Dull post ahead.

It's the wee hours of Sunday morning and all day until this moment I've either been 1) volunteering at an H1N1 shot clinic or 2) painting the entry, hall, kitchen and stairwell or 3) cleaning up resulting mess and vacuuming, washing floor, scrubbing bathrooms.

The shot clinic at our local high school went ok (see photo of crowds--no, those people aren't waiting to be beamed up).  Way more people showed up than the county could accommodate, and it was priority patients only.  About halfway through the morning a strong storm blew in so hundreds of people stood out in the rain for hours.  My job was indoors determining which line people should step into, pediatric or non-pediatric.  It was easy but it seemed either the flow of people was too slow, or we were getting slammed.  The 'supply line' wasn't consistent.  On the downside I was there 1.5 hours longer than my shift because no replacement showed up.  On the up side people were almost all patient and understanding about the wait (after all, you have to give up something for a freebie).  On the bonus side, I got a free H1N1 shot!  My asthma qualified me as a priority patient.

Put the first coat of paint on the above mentioned areas, and a second coat on about half the area.  It took a long time because the stairwell is two story so it required fiddling w/ the extension ladder.  We got rid of that grassy green wall in the hall and viney-flowery wallpaper in the kitchen, and now the walls are a beige-y color.  Sounds dull but looks stunning w/ my new kitchen.  Which I'll cover in another post another day.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Unforgettable Books

Once in a while I have the impulse to create a top-ten-all-time-favorite book list, but it always turns out to be an impossible task. Moods change, seasons change; some books belong better to winter by the fire, others to the shade of a beach umbrella, some to upbeat moods, others to sadder times, etc.

Last week I picked my brain to write down every book I’ve ever read, omitting of course childhood sillies and unworthy pulp paperbacks picked up in a previous life when my oodles of spare time did not require careful choices in reading. From that list I came up with these unforgettable books. Yes, unforgettable is the best word. No matter how many years have passed since I have read them, they still have power over my thoughts.

Dates are first reading.  I will probably add more as I think of them.

Twenty Years a Growing (Maurice O’Sullivan): a novel of life a hundred years ago in County Kerry; oh to be young again, oh to be Irish (oh yeah, I am Irish) (about 2000)

The Virginian (Owen Wister): Eastern decorum comes West in the form of Miss Molly Stark, and meets the untamed frontier personified in the Virginian (about 1980 and many times since)

Sometimes a Great Notion (Ken Kesey): Powerful chronicle of an Oregon logging family (1972)

Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner): A painful story, first read for a Western American Lit class; I agonized over it for the next 25 years, then reread it and saw the characters from a much different perspective (1975)

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee): The good, the bad, and the unjust through the eyes of a child (1970s?)

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen): Austen’s 18th century world skillfully brought to life (1969)

Helter Skelter (Vincent Bugliosi): Exposé of 60s Manson clan’s drug and murder culture; best book on a true crime that I’ve ever read (1975)

Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott): Romantic tale of Medieval England complete w/ gallant knights, lovely ladies, and also, the unworthy (1975)

Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt): A modern Irish life revealed to the world; more Irish than non-Irish can probably swallow, but so precise in mood and temperament and tragedy (2002)

Bleak House (Charles Dickens): My favorite Dickens and so typical w/ countless interwoven plots; some characters have all the goodness it seems, others only the appearance of goodness; Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce:  “Case dismissed!” (1983ish)

Cataclysms on the Columbia (John Eliot Allen): an examination of the Ice Age Bretz Floods which were largely responsible for the formation of the Columbia Gorge as we see it today; a slow careful reading combined with a field trip or two is an eye-opener (about 1995)

Cold Mountain (Charles Fraser): y’all know the story based on Homer’s themes (2001ish)

Undaunted Courage (Stephen Ambrose): Lewis and Clark’s journey West; Ambrose captured the frustration and despair and elation and triumph of this super-human crew of men who did the undoable (2008)

Icon of Spring (Sonia Jason): life in an ethnic coal-mining settlement in Pennsylvania (2000)

Names On the Land (George R. Stewart): an exploration of the origins of American place names (1986)

The Great Mortality (John Kelly): intensive history of the Black Plague and a thorough examination of 14th century society (2008)

From the Holy Mountain (William Dalrymple): author recreates the epic journey of John Moschos (AD 500) through the Middle East, recording observations and comparing his experience to that of J.M. (2006)

Friday, November 6, 2009

DIY Attic Insulation

In May we remodeled our kitchen. Part of the project included raising the ceiling and we knew we would have a colossal mess pulling down the old drop ceiling. To minimize the disorder I corraled the attic insulation that sits above the kitchen by packing it into giant hefty bags and then storing them in another part of the attic. That took about 8 or 9 hours of work in the attic using a giant BBQ tongs to grab gobs of cellulose, stuff it into a bag, and drag the full bag over the living room portion of the attic. In areas of the attic roomy enough to stand up I just shoveled the insulation out of the way. When the target area was all clear I used a shop vac to suck up the remainder of the fibers—we didn’t want to be breathing that stuff in our house.

After the remodel we scattered the insulation back into its proper place but over 25 years it had compacted and lost much of its effectiveness. So, two weeks ago we blew in enough new insulation to create an R-38 effect, far superior to the original R-19. We like to save $$ by doing work ourselves so Craig checked out that possibility for beefing up the attic R-factor. We could do the entire thing for $475: $400 for the pink stuff and blower machine (free use w/ purchase of insulation), $20 to rent a Home Depot van to transport the stuff in one trip, and $55 to a friend for installing vent panels in the attic first.

This project was a blast! Craig did the attic duty and Daniel and I kept the machine full. Here’s how it works. The machine is about the size of a small refrigerator with a very long hose that goes up into the attic. The huge bales of pink insulation are wrapped in tight pink-panther plastic, and with a ripper we cut each one in half. We took the half-bale and pushed it into the machine, cut side first, plastic still on. A blade of sorts mounted on the machine cuts the plastic off and we yanked that back out. The insulation instantly expands to 16 times its volume. A beater separates and fluffs it up, then it flies up the hose and all Craig had to do was aim. The actual blowing part of the job took only 2 hours.

Bonus: Energy Trust of Oregon is rebating 25 cents per square foot of ceiling which amounts to $325. That leaves a $150 cost out of our wallet. But we’re very conservative with our utility use, never turning on heat until Nov. 1, which just passed. However, 5 days into November we still haven’t turned on the heat. It has gotten down as low as 62 in the house, which isn’t bad considering we had two nights this week of 35 degree temps. Could it be the new insulation that’s keeping the house livable? If it's that effective then with what we save on our heat bill, we’ll pay for the rest of the insulation job in just one winter!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

U2 Rock Concert or H1N1 Shot Clinic?

Steven had a voice lesson at Liberty High School on Tuesday. We rounded the corner by the high school and were greeted by the chaos of hundreds of people milling about in the street and jockeying for position in a line that appeared to wrap around the campus. There were police cars with lights flashing parked on the street and in the parking lot and officers were keeping order the best they could by directing the heavy traffic away from the school.

My first thought was that some rock star was making an appearance or something. Why else would there be such madness at an obscure Hillsboro high school? But what would a rock star be doing at said obscure campus? We only wanted to park in the lot to make it to the voice lesson on time. The lot entrances were blocked by orange cones or police vehicles and cops were directing cars to bypass the school and keep going down the road. At one point I was able to tell a cop we had a voice lesson. He directed us to the furthest lot entrance and gave us permission to enter there.

Then we came upon Mr. Grouchy Deputy who was adamant that no one was going to get into that lot, even to save their lives. He violently gestured at to me to do something--he kept yelling while pointing at the ground in front of him, and I didn't know what that meant, so through the open passenger window I told him what was up. He wasn’t pleased. In fact, he looked downright scary and maybe he was going to impound my car or something. He hollered, "Are you here for the clinic?" Ah-ha, could it be that we had stumbled unknowingly onto an H1N1 clinic? No wonder the “rock star” vibes. He let us in, we went our way, and we confirmed with the voice teacher that there was an H1N1 clinic. By the time we left the line had no end. Hundreds must have been turned away. Oh well, there’s another 'rock star appearance' coming up on Saturday at our very own Westview High School.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


A wise person once said, "Grandchildren are your reward for not killing your kids." And a wonderful reward they are. You have paid your dues for 30 years, and now receive all the fun and enjoyment while skipping the discipline and hard labor. I agree with every other grandparent I know, that my grandchildren are the best behaved/ cutest/ cleverest/ sweetest/ nicest/ handsomest/ smartest/ and every other positive "est" you can mention.

No two of our six grandchildren were born in the same state--we cover Utah, Washington, Arizona, Oregon, Vermont and Idaho. We are lucky to have three living close by. The others we see when we can, which works out to several times a year. I'm pleased that all the moms post weekly pictures and videos on their blogs, so that we can keep up with these special little people.

And here they are!