Friday, May 30, 2008

Another Meme

Lucy, thank you for tagging me for this meme. I feel honored that you want to know more about me, since it seems to me that I already talk too much about myself. But here goes:

1. What were you doing ten years ago?
I can’t find any records, so I may be off on the year in which some of this happened, but I THINK that ten years ago we held our big Smith family reunion at a waterlily covered lake in Montana, with the usual board games (Scrabble, Boggle etc), young cousins enjoying each other, a side trip to Glacier, canoeing and music,music, music. Afterwards Otto and I drove back to Ontario, Oregon, and saw for the first time Otto’s PhaseAble Enabler installed on an irrigation pump at Oregon State University’s Malhuer Experiment Station, as well as prolonging a visit with daughter Candace and her family. Months later we also spent Christmas with them.

Candace and Clinton's house at Christmas in Ontario, Oregon

During the summer we visited in Port Townsend with son Otto and family.

Otto and Kristin's house in Port Townsend, Washington.

Those were the days before gasoline became so expensive that we could no longer drive on these interstate visits! Personally, I was completely enthralled with making Fimo jewelry and polishing my novel for publication.

2. What are 5 things on your “to do” list?
a. Find out what is under the toppling stacks of paper, folders, photos, letters, notebooks, envelopes, nail polish and crayons on my desk. Oh, yes: I detect a magnifying glass, a purple imitation feather duster, a clipboard and a bottle of pills - among other things...
b, Write thank-you letters for gifts received last Christmas.
c. Take shopping bag full of books back to the library and check out my weekly supply of new ones to read.
d. Shop on the inter net for a gift for granddaughter Gwen’s new baby. (See my last post)
e. Download to my computer my most recently snapped pictures from digital camera.

3. What are 5 snacks you enjoy?
a. Breyer’s chocolate mint ice cream.
b. Fresh cherries.
c. Watermelon.
d. Tiny yellow pear tomatoes.
e. Bagel with smoked salmon.
4. Name some things you would do if you were a millionaire.
I agree that a million dollars is not what it used to be. I imagine that what I would really do is put it into our family trust to be divided someday among our children. But I’d also like to catch up on some of our dreams for our house, such as earth-quake proofing it and enlarging the kitchen. I would also like to travel some more, maybe go to Antarctica on a Lindblad/National Geographic cruise, see Emperor penguins and icy landscapes.
5. Name some places you have lived.
Abroad: Brazil, Germany, Romania, Australia, Netherlands
In USA: Massachusetts, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and my native California.

6. Name some bad habit you have.

7. Name some jobs you have had.
Soliciting questionnaire answers door-to-door.
Art teacher.
Head of community “Switchboard” during the turbulent sixties.
Creating computer graphics, particularly circuit diagrams, for “Smith and Sun”, our family business.
8. And now for the tricky part of this assignment. I’m supposed to tag other bloggers. But I’m not going to do it. I have been tagged several times for memes that I have already done once or more than once. It’s not that I resent doing them again, but I do think that there are entirely too many tags bouncing around the blogsphere. My new resolution is not to add to them. I feel honored to have been chosen for them, and I hope I don’t hurt any feelings by saying this.

Have a good weekend!

Newest Great-granddaughter!

Meet Elizabeth Dianne Zuber, our new great-granddaughter, born last Tuesday, May 27. In this photo she is all of a few minutes old and obviously already interested in this new experience. This glimpse of her came to us from Colorado by the magic of email.

Roller Coaster

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is curve or curves. And what has more curves than a roller coaster, not along one plane but on constantly shifting ones? The picture below is of a modern monster roller coaster. But the one below it is of the old wooden roller coaster, still in operation, which is scene for this memory that is deeply embedded in my psyche. If I remember rightly, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk roller coaster was (and probably still is) called “The Big Dipper.”

modern roller coaster

roller coaster on boardwalk at Santa Cruz

Until I was eight years old my family lived in Santa Cruz, California, a beautiful seaside town. We often visited the boardwalk along the beach. We were allowed to ride the merry-go-round and, with an adult to drive, the bump-’em cars. I’m not sure how old Allen and I were when this story took place, but he was only three years old when we moved to Stockton. I was five years older than Allen, my only sibling, so I would have been eight years old or younger.

Allen and I both loved playgrounds, especially the slides and swings. We both looked with yearning at the Big Dipper. It seemed obvious to us that it was a very superior form of slide and therefore would give us correspondingly greater pleasure. So we begged and begged (Allen learned the art of begging early with such an adept older sister) until Daddy finally consented to take us on our first roller coaster ride. The three of us crowded into one of the two person seats with little Allen in the middle. The cars climbed clickety-clack up the first steep grade then seemed to hang suspended at the apex of the curve while we stared down at a seemingly vertical drop.

Allen shouted, “I don’t want to go!”

What followed was sheer terror for Allen and me. We were alternately jammed into our seats or terrified of being lifted out of them. We were thrown from side to side. Our heads bobbled on our necks.

When our car finally coasted to a stop and we emerged on shaky legs, Mama asked, “Well, how did you like it?”

“Fine,” I said in a quavering voice. How could I admit otherwise after all that begging? Then Mama and Daddy got on the roller coaster and smiled happily as it began its dreadful circuits. Mother loved roller-coasters and would not be cheated of her ride.

It’s hard to believe, but Allen and I continued to accompany our parents on roller coaster rides with only slightly diminished terror on our part. I wouldn’t admit to being a coward. Maybe Allen had the same motivation.

Until one wonderful liberating day when I was already in college and Allen was in high school. A summer vacation found the family one evening at the Venice, California, boardwalk. “Oh, let’s go on the roller coaster,” Mama suggested, and Daddy agreed enthusiastically.

Allen and I looked at each other and wordlessly came to agreement. “No. You go ahead. We’ll just watch.” Nor could their coaxing change our minds. We stood contentedly as they went up, down and around, grinning maniacally and waving to us each time they passed to show us what we were missing.

I am not afraid of heights. I love airplanes. Otto’s brother Steven took me stunt flying in his plane and I thoroughly enjoyed barrel roll and loop-the-loop. I want to ride every Ferris wheel I come across. But my heart thumps and I get that sinking feeling if, on my TV screen, I see a roller coaster ride from the passenger’s perspective.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Six More Things About Me

ginger cookies

Here is the list that Retired and Crazy tagged me for. This is the second time I’ve done this particular one. I have decided to stop tagging others because I feel that there are entirely too many tags bouncing around the blogsphere. I also expressed this in my post of yesterday, and I will say it again in the tag that I will answer tomorrow (from you, Lucy). It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing tagged tasks - I do - but won’t pass them on from now on.

Here is first my first meme list of six things about me, should you be interested.
So here are six more things about me:

1. One of my favorite foods is ginger: candied ginger, Japanese pickled ginger in little thin slices such as are served with sushi (I used to buy the sushi just to get the pickled ginger until I discovered that it also came in jars), Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered ginger, fresh ginger grated into stir-fry, ginger snaps, ginger tea, gingerbread (really cake), ginger cookies and plenty of ginger in my pumpkin pie!

2, I love folk music of all kinds from all countries. I would include the songs of the 1960s - Pete Seeger's, for instance - since they were the voice of the people struggling to integrate our rainbow race and to end a tragic and ill-conceived war. I cry when I hear “We Shall Overcome.”
Pete Seeger

3. I’m a bad housekeeper, letting things accumulate in piles until such piles collapse and demand attention.

4. I love all kinds of flowers, and, while I find roses and orchids utterly beautiful, I also think a lawn full of dandelions is downright pretty.

5. I forget lunch. I don’t mean to, but it’s often the middle of the afternoon before I remember that we haven’t eaten. And Otto is no better at remembering lunch than I am. Quite often we settle for early supper and our midnight mint-chocolate ice cream.

6. I find it very hard to stop reading at night. I sit propped against the headboard, feet tucked comfortably beneath the comforter, fully intending to turn out the light on my side of the bed as soon as Otto turns out his. He turns out his and rolls over to go to sleep, but I’ve reached a really interesting part of my book. I keep saying to myself, “I’ll put this down in just a minute.” But I don’t. The latest I’ve kept on reading - and it was just this last week - was 4:00am.

Date Limerick

Here's another limerick for Mad Kane, whose prompt was "date or dating."

From the start of the night she could tell
That he was the blind date from hell.
When he spotted Trixie,
A cutie from dixie,
She knew she’d been saved by the belle.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Book Meme

My blogging friend anno tagged me with this very simple and fun book meme, which tends to say a bit about the reading tastes of the tagee. But I issue an immediate disclaimer, since my reading tastes are wildly eclectic. The book I picked up was actually the one nearest me, but it is one that Otto is now reading at my recommendation. I recommend it to you too. Here is the tag:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

“And I wanted these people to feel like it wasn’t just me, that there was a bunch of other Americans back home concerned with helping them.” “He slipped me a big roll of rupees,” McCown says, “and asked me to act like a big boss from America. So I hammed it up...”

These sentences are from the inspiring true story of Greg Mortenson and his lifetime work bringing schools, especially those for girls and women, to the remote areas of the lower Himalayas:
Three Cups of Tea
One Man’s Mission to promote Peace...One School at a Time

If this looks strange it's because I stole it off of Amazon

I intend this to be the last tagging list that I will publish. I enjoy answering tags, but it seems to me that there are too many of them bouncing around the blogsphere, with numerous duplicates and repetitions. I thank everyone who has shown an interest in my life, and I am happy to answer tags - just not to pass them on.

Here is my list of tags for this book meme:

Mary Anne
Tea Leaves
Maggie May

Lucy and Retired and Crazy, I'll fill out your memes on my next post.

Friday, May 23, 2008



Just yesterday I asked Otto to reach across a bunch of boxes that sat on the floor of our bedroom waiting to be sorted, and to take down the 1920s Martin guitar that has become part of the wall decor. And that’s all it has been for many years. It’s hard to believe how long it has been since a guitar was like a second soul to me. It was often propped by my bed at night. Letting melodies flow from it was as easy for me as breathing.

Yesterday I held the guitar tentatively and let my fingers try to remember something. Anything! My right hand was happy to oblige, easily reproducing the finger picking patterns at which I used to be so proficient. No problem there. But ,oh, my left hand! I produced a number of jarring discords with it before something clicked in the automatic part of my brain and I heard a C chord then a D and F. I couldn’t get beyond these most basic chords, and then my aging fingers rebelled at the painful pressure of holding down the strings. When I turned my hands up to see the pads of my fingers, I found deep grooves which persisted for several minutes. And to think that I once had such calluses on those finger pads that I had almost been denied an exit visa from Brazil. An examination of my fingerprints had led an official to conclude that I must be a criminal who had filed off her fingerprints to conceal her record.

Guitar was my passion for several years. I wrote songs and Otto, who had taken up guitar at about the same time that I had, joined me in programs where we played and sang. Below is a picture of us in the 70’s with grandchildren Josie Smith and Byron Shock giving a performance of my songs. They had been written at the behest of the local Council of Churches for the Unicef Year of the Child.

I will tell another time about memorable performances, once over Bulgarian radio after the assassination of Salvador Allende in Chile. But the Sunday Scribbling prompt is about quitting, not about my love affair with the guitar.

I quit guitar just as I have quit every other temporary passion that has consumed me for a few short years. I’m not apologetic about it. I think it may be my attempt to cram many lifetimes into one. And I don’t quit because I’m tired of one activity but because the next leaves none of my leisure time free for the previous one. My children (for whom I never lost my passion!) are aware of this and tease me about it. Let’s see. Here are a few of my temporary but intensely practiced activities starting before most of you were born:
water-color landscapes (painting them)
humorous poetry (writing and being published)
science fiction stories (writing and being published)
guitar and song writing
crayon abstract drawings
singing in choruses
stained glass
translation of Portuguese poetry into English (published)
novel (AI is a Three-toed Sloth)
polymer clay jewelry (Fimo)
There are sporadic bursts of other enthusiasms. And lots of things I never quit, such as working for peace and social justice.

And there are the things I’ve had to quit because of the physical changes of aging, such as the longs walks through all of my city, seeking little known paths and parks.

And what is my current enthusiasm? Blogging. Of course!

Crayon Abstract
"Of Moons and Springs and Dragon Wings"

Monday, May 19, 2008


I ran across Mad Kane's blog with a humor prompt this week. It's to be a warning or cautionary limerick. While waking up this morning (a slow process) I came up with the following three. Check out Mad Kane

You loved your McMansion so neat.
It’s adjustable mortgage was sweet.
Who burst the bubble?
You’re caught in the rubble
And sleeping outside in the street.

h TEE t p COlon slash SLASH
On the web net/coms mingle and clash.
Some are wise, some are porn,
Some are old-fashioned corn
And you have to winnow the trash.WHO’S A TERRORIST?
This flight is your highest priority
Yet you share the fears of majority?
The true fright (it’s mine)
Is that long shoeless line
Of passengers queued for security.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


The Sunday Scribblings prompt is "soar"



That almost silent whoosh of air is Dramok,
prince of dragons,
dark body limned with luminescence,
riding the night sky
searching -- searching
for Trog, beloved bride,
she of the iridescent scales--
dead long ago.


His dragon mind can't comprehend that eons have passed.

An ice age (not the last one)
felled him with its sudden chill, and he has lain
inert and dreamless, entombed in ice
until a chance event of warming wind, a ray of sun that angled
into the crevasse where he lay
thawed and wakened him.

To him it seemed a single night had passed.
He longed for night again with orienting stars to guide him home.

But now the very stars betray him.
Earth's slow precession had made of them
false beacons that lead to unfamiliar landscapes.

And what of the stars below?

He remembers the sparse and scattered fires
of the hairy ones, small bipeds such as those encamped
within the entrance to the dragon cave, scorned but tolerated
by their noble dragon hosts. Their fires were pretty, like dragon breath.

But now great starry clusters light the ground
or move in files, as ants do.

A different world. Somehow
he was transported to a different world.

An empty ache moves in to fill his dragon heart.
He longs for home and Trog
but would greet any dragon, even his greatest rival,
with open wings.

On and on he flies.
By day, chameleon-like, he turns to green and rests unseen in forests.
At dusk he takes the darker colors of night.
Non-dragons share his sky, swift winged giants
whose roar could have drowned out even Myroc
fiercest of dragons. But where is Myroc now?

His wings beat out a sad refrain: Where is Trog? Where is Trog?

To us he seems to be
only a shadow against the stars.

Friday, May 9, 2008


The staff of the Free Church circa 1970.
Rev. Dick York is the man with the wild hair under the 1st "H" of "Church".
I am 3rd from left, back row, also with wild hair.

The Sunday Scribblings prompt today is telephone. I have never liked telephone conversations. I would much rather see the person I am talking to, their facial expressions and gestures which are such a vital part of communication.

Therefore it may be a surprise to learn that for several years of my life, in the late 60s and early 70s I was the head of a “switchboard” to the largely hippy community in Berkeley. Yes, that involved being at the telephone myself for at least several hours of every day.

This is how it came about: Otto and I, with son Stan, arrived home to Berkeley in August of 1969 after a year of sabbatical leave (Otto’s) in Australia. We had missed the “summer of love” in San Francisco, but the word of it had spread nation-wide, and Berkeley, just across the bay from S.F. , was crowded with a motley congregation of young people - the genuinely idealistic who felt that they knew a better way of life than their capitalistic uptight parents, runaways from abusive homes, drug users, pacifists protesting the ongoing war in Vietnam, and others just here because it seemed like a fun thing to do. All of them needed beds at night and food to eat. Some of them needed the services of doctors, dentists, lawyers, drug counselors. And some of them just needed a hug now and then from a concerned adult. The majority of them took up street residence on or near Telegraph Avenue in the immediate vicinity of the University of California.

In response to this needy group, all of the south campus churches and a number of Telegraph Avenue merchants had banded together to hire Dick York, a young Episcopal priest, as a street minister. He was lent a vacant house owned by the Presbyterian church. It was to be called “the South Campus Community Ministry”. It was soon dubbed by the street people “the Free Church.”

As a middle-aged volunteer, I was astonished at how I was immediately accepted by the predominately young crowd who dropped in to ask for help or just to sit down for a few minutes to visit with one another or with me. Glee Bishop (who later married my son) had already assembled a directory of service providers, but I had to constantly use the telephone to find out who was available or to scout out new sources of help. In the course of time I became Switchboard manager and had the responsibility of several telephones and other volunteers who manned them. The switchboard room was also the drop-in room, which meant that I was also the person in charge of seeing that Free Church rules were obeyed. The rules were “No Dropping, No Holding, No Dealing, No Smoking Grass,” and, soon after I started working there, “No Knives” was added after an incident involving one. The staff had decided that we would be of most use to people we were serving if we adopted a policy of complete confidentiality. No police were to be admitted to the building without a search warrant.

But this Sunday Scribblings prompt was “telephone” not Telegraph avenue culture. Suffice to say that there were hundreds of calls to be made daily, especially since we tried to find a bed somewhere for everyone who needed one. Many people, from university professors to a janitor in a junior high school, had offered to open their homes and provide “crash pads”. But every nightly placement required a phone call.

The scariest phone call I ever took part in was as I was training, Bob, a new volunteer, with him on one phone and me on the other. It was near midnight and we were the only people still in the building. I planned to go home soon and leave Bob on the relatively light overnight shift. I had been there since 9:00 am and was tired.

The phone rang. We picked up our receivers and heard a wild party going on in the background, loud music, much shouting, then a frightened male voice:
Voice: Help! Help! He’s trying to kill me!
Bob: Do want the number of the police department?
Voice: I can’t call the police!
Me: Where are you? We’ll get help to you.
Voice: I can’t give you the address.
Me: We can’t get help to you without an address.
Voice: But I don’t know where I am! Help me! Help me!
(I write a note to Bob to call the police department and ask them to trace the call).
Me: Do you know what street you’re on?
Voice: Oh my God! Oh my God! He’s got a knife!
Me: Call someone else to the phone. We’ll get the address from...

and then there is a despairing scream and the caller’s phone goes dead.

And there is a subsequent article buried in the back pages of the local newspaper about the body of an unidentified stabbing victim found on the sidewalk in the 2200 block of Oregon street. It was discovered by an early morning jogger on the morning following that phone call. Ironically, that was within two blocks of our Free Church.

No, I don’t like telephones. But many telephone calls can bring relief to someone, though some cannot. And I could tell maybe a thousand stories based on the six years that I worked many unpaid hours a day at the Free Church switchboard.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Daddy in South America

A typical page from Daddy's South American snapshot album.
As you can see, he wasn't particular about the order in
which he arranged the pictures

My favorite book when I was a small child was a snapshot album of my father’s adventures in South America. At the age of 24, my father, Allen Sterling, was sent by the Carnegie Institution at Washington to South America to measure terrestrial magnetism. During the course of several different trips between 1916 and 1919, he covered much of the continent and was the first white man into various regions of the Amazon basin and tributaries of the Amazon. He traveled by raft for much of his work along the Amazon, by conventional transportation when it was available, by donkey-back over the Andes, and set up surveying sites from the inhospitable desert of northern Chile to the mysterious land of Tierra del Fuego.

This is Daddy in bleak northern Chile

Even more fun for a small child were the stories he told of his adventures. His only companion on his rafting expeditions was an indigenous man, and their only common language was Spanish, which neither of them spoke well. Daddy considered him one of his dearest friends. Daddy never met a fellow human that he did not approach in friendship and expect to receive the same in return.

One story that I liked, however, was of an evening by the river when Daddy felt apprehensive about the activities of a tribe near his tent. When he and his companion went to the small village to meet their neighbors-for-a-night, they found them in a frenzy of shouting and waving of weapons as they also drank great quantities of the local brew. It looked as though this might be the prelude to going on the warpath. So what did Daddy do? He bought up every spear, every gun, anything that could serve as a weapon. The not-very-sober celebrants were delighted. They had made a fortune. They continued their noisy celebration far into the night while Daddy and friend slept on top of their new purchases. By the sober light of morning the tribal members realized, as daddy had anticipated, that their weapons were needed to garner food. They were happy to buy them back.

Daddy’s mother had made him several flannel night shirts for the trips. In one small settlement along the river. the local inhabitants had obviously had some contact with civilization. Several of them had items of manufactured clothing. They did not, however, have actual money and had apparently acquired them through barter. One woman was wearing only a skirt made from pounded bark. For that skirt Daddy traded one of his nightshirts, which she immediately proudly donned. The bark skirt is still in my cedar chest, but archeologist Myrtle thinks she has found a museum setting for it.

The woman with the small child in her arms
is wearing the pounded bark skirt.

I will write about Daddy’s adventures from time to time. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Down to Details

Otto and me surrounded by just a few of
those who attended the Smith family reunion at Asilomar
last August. Back row, Son Stan with daughters Josie and Daria.
The great-grandchildren are Summer Bishop, Jon Andersen and Baxter Bishop.

The prompt for Sunday Scribblings this week is “family.” My mind is spinning among the multitude of approaches I could take to this subject. There are human families and animal families and, scientifically speaking, families of animals. I might discuss family size with reference to the population of the earth, which has tripled within my lifetime, or the pressures on the modern family that have resulted in increased rates of divorce..

I guess I’ll take the approach that I suspect most Sunday Scribblers will take. I will talk about my own dear personal family. Except that, even here, I must choose between the parental family in which I grew up,

My father Allen with my brother Allen.
My mother, Pearl, with me.

and Otto’s and my own family. All right, I choose the latter. But who said that even that is a simple choice, given the four generations our family comprises?

Smith Family Passport Photo, 1959
Back Row: Phyllis Otto Joe, Otto
Front Row: Sterling, Stanford, Candace

So I narrow it, and narrow it, and narrow it. (You don’t want to go through all of the steps!). I finally arrive at the subject of gifts for our multitudinous family, for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, births. I need a marked calendar to remember the dates, and then I forget to look at the calendar.

Just yesterday I realized that I had missed great-granddaughter Summer’s tenth birthday, which was April 28. I sent an electronic late-birthday greeting, but the gift is yet to be chosen. And, during April, I also missed the birthdays of Ruthie, Anna and Gwen. Where has my mind been? I thought April was just beginning. Time passes faster all the time!

Maybe I should just resort to the following strategy, adopted when grandson Ian’s January birthday was over-looked. I made a card with the following verse (and the proper enclosure):

I didn’t forget you. Honest, I made it
from DEC into FEB with no JAN. I mislaid it,
or else someone stole it to fence or to pawn.
Today when I looked it had vanished, was gone
just when I thought it was time to begin it,
gone with your birthday buried within it,
gone in an instant, quick as a wink,
while I wrote a verse or you skated the rink.

You know what I think?

I’d better just change the words at the head
of this verse to OWED TO IAN instead.
So I. O. U. something clever and nifty
or useful, or frivolous birthday gifty.
But if I choose it you might have plenty
of it already - so here’s a twenty,
I hope you’ll spend it on fun or a show
or somewhere you have been wanting to go,
event or place that will give you a lift
that I can’t wrap up as a birthday gift.