Thursday, August 30, 2007

BEST OF: A peachy predicament

I told husband Richard that if he’d really wanted me to wash the pantry floor, all he had to do was ask.

The crash was the kind of sound that bodes serious ill from the get-go. My husband’s plaintive appeal floated out of the pantry. “Katheeeee! Helllllllllllp!”

Dashing into the kitchen, I saw him standing very still, the victim of a misguided culinary swan dive by a 26-ounce glass jar of peach sauce, which had jumped off a shelf from 6 feet up.

The noun “splashdown” has a new definition in this household.

“I’m sorrrrrrry,” Richard moaned, sounding like the 7-year-old that always hides inside his senior-citizen body.

I’ve always known I have a peach of a husband, but this was over the top.

In his defense, our pantry is a registered hazard zone. A series of wire shelves fill the entire 14-foot height to the ceiling. Each shelf is stuffed full. Some rows of cans are stacked four or five high (with little squares of non-slip rubber stuff in between).

With enough fresh water, we could survive for months off what’s in that pantry.

Yes, we’ve talked about doing a redesign, or even just a giant rearrange. But as tasks go, that one rates right up there with cleaning out our barn or digging up the entire yard, the home-repair equivalent of knee-replacement surgery or a root canal, a minus 20 on the desirable-task scale of one to 10.

First order of the peach cleanup was to make sure Richard hadn’t been hurt or cut by flying glass. He was fine, but he was masquerading as human flypaper.

I scraped peach goop off his legs, tennis shorts, socks and shoes, so he could move without spreading the misery even further.

It’s plumb astonishing how far the contents of that jar went. I haven’t seen that kind of splatter job since one of our granddaughters decided that she really, really didn’t like baby-food squash any more.

The fragrant glop had flown from the wood-floor impact zone and landed as far as 7 feet away, into the kitchen itself, and about 5 feet up in a spatter-shot pattern. It could have been considered interestingly artistic, if it had been done in acrylic paint by a blindfolded gorilla.

In the cleanup process, I found peach goo and glass bits on two ladders and a stepstool, two party-sized cutting boards, one large cooling screen, four stacked dishpans, one recycling container, seven ingredient bins, a bottle of Mexican vanilla, a jar of pickled garlic, about eight onions, a small vacuum cleaner and all available surfaces of the bi-fold pantry door.

The broom was a disaster. The potatoes looked like they had an exotic tuber fungus from Bangladesh. Glass slivers nestled in a throw rug near the stove, waaay on the other side of the kitchen.

Every time I turned around, I saw more peach-colored blobs dripping from and sticking to corners, walls, shelves and more. I went to work.

Finally the splashes, dashes and dribbles were gone, but the gumminess remained.

I knew I couldn’t leave the absolute clean-up for later. It’s summertime, and we’ve been dreading possible military maneuvers by this year’s crop of ants. So every tacky spot or residual sugar dab had to be found and eradicated, lest it trigger ant radar.

Finally, I was finished (in more ways than one). The glass, peach and sticky were gone (I think). The soapy water had been replaced with more soapy water, then Simple Green, then clean H20. We sprayed off the ladders and the stepstool.

But the saga wasn’t over yet. This was Tanner Clumsy Day, and I had a box to take up to the loft of our barn.

On the way back down, I accidentally kicked another box, which proceeded to bibbidy-bobbity-boo its way down the 11 steps to the ground floor. As the unlatched, otherwise empty box flew, it spewed hundreds of Styrofoam peanuts hither, thither and yon. It was as if I’d tossed a beanbag chair into a ceiling fan on “high.”

I hate Styrofoam, especially those pellets our kids always called “ghost poop.”

I looked at the mess I’d wrought, walked over to the light switch, flicked it off, walked out the door and slammed it shut.

At least time was on my side in this go-round. Ants don’t like Styrofoam, either.

This column was published Aug. 8, 2003 in The Cambrian.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Love, compassion and hugs for depression's victims

North Coast residents have been reeling for more than a month since learning that two people they knew and loved had committed suicide within two days of each other. The deaths happened a hundred miles apart and were linked only by timing and the victims’ ties to Cambria. Their families have already suffered too much, so I won’t mention their names.

Suicide is an act of personal despair, an individual release from pain that shifts the agony into the hearts of those left behind.

From the outside in, those two wonderful people seemed to have had everything for which to live. Instead, after battling clinical depression for most of their lives, each made the conscious decision to die.

Why? Nobody can answer that. And nobody could have prevented it. As the priest said at one of the services, there was nothing, nothing any of us could have done. We could not have stopped the suicides, no matter how ready and willing to help we were.

Shirley Bianchi understands. Her adopted granddaughter, a clinically depressed preteen, committed suicide in 2000. “You know the ‘what if’ in your mind is a dead end, but still it haunts you. You ask yourself, ‘Could I have helped?’” the former county supervisor said. “No. There’s nothing you could have done.”

Most of us are deeply sad or depressed at some time in our lives. Usually, it’s short term and triggered by events, not chemistry.

Clinical depression, however, is a disease like diabetes, cancer or heart disease. Nobody is to blame, so there should be no stigma, only love and compassion.

Local psychologist Steve Brody likened clinically depressed patients to diabetics, because both “have been biochemically hijacked.” Simply stated, depressives’ brains have short-circuited.

Economic, social and educational levels don’t matter. Neither does age, although healthy, active seniors seem more immune. Children can be clinically depressed. So can elderly people, teens, young mothers, hearty grandpas. Anybody.

Deep depression is so much more than a permanently broken heart or spirit. It’s not something you can ignore, fix with a pep talk or wish away. You don’t “get over it.” It’s insidious, agonizing to watch in someone you love and difficult to diagnose and treat.

Are you depressed because you’re tired or ill or stressed to the max? Or are you stressed, sick and exhausted because you’re biochemically depressed?

Brody’s clients often ask him “Why am I depressed?” and “How long will this last?” Even specialists have a tough time answering such questions.

People can take do-it-yourself “depression inventories,” quick and simple questionnaires that can help identify what’s happening. However, because it’s so easy to self-diagnose incorrectly, it’s wise to have a professional interpret the test.

But “people with biochemical depression don’t have to tough it out alone,” Brody said. “You don’t have to go to a psychiatrist or psychologist — they handle the tricky cases. First talk to your primary physician or your minister, or ask for referrals from friends who’ve battled depression.”

Some medical-insurance programs have mental-health hotlines with strong privacy protections. The county’s “Hotline also is a great resource of information and referral. They’ll listen,” and then refer the caller to others who can help, Brody said. He also recommends the Community Counseling Center in San Luis Obispo.

Brody said patients also shouldn’t shy away from anti-depressive medicines, which can be “tremendously helpful, a good biochemical alternative.”

All that help is available, but the depressive person must be ready to take those steps and stick with treatments. Some simply can’t cope.

When such tragedies strike, caring Cambrians know what to do. They cry, hug, reach out and then go on.

We heal by talking about our late friends and sharing activities that made them smile while they were alive. We remember their passions — in this case, classical music, bicycle racing, 4-H, ocean sports, children.

We also can honor our friends by giving … to Jim Ellman’s “Bikes for Tikes” drive, for instance, or Allied Arts Association so a child can learn to play a musical instrument. Sponsor a youngster for surfing camp. Help a kid with a 4-H project.

Or take your children or grandchildren to the beach, a concert or on a bicycle ride. Think happy thoughts about your friend. Smile and remember the good times.

Then be grateful for the goodness of life you have.

Help is available
• Hotline of San Luis Obispo, 549-8989 (toll-free at 800-549-8989)
• Community Counseling Center, 1129 Marsh St., San Luis Obispo, 543-7969
• National Crisis Hotline, 800-SUICIDE

E-mail Kathe Tanner at

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

BEST OF: Vacation planning's half the fun

This column first appeared in The Cambrian Aug. 24, 2006. This year, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

People tease me because I like to plan ahead for vacationing. But sometimes it really pays off.

For instance, a recent trip sounded simple enough: meet our two youngest granddaughters and their mother for a fun-filled weekend in Santa Cruz.

But there were lots of reasons not to do what we were about to do.

1. It was high season, two weeks before Labor Day. Did we understand the concept of seasonal rates? We certainly do.

2. Anybody who hadn't yet had their vacation-for-the-summer was on the road, too, trying desperately to be someplace else.

3. As if all that wasn't enough, the other end of Monterey Bay was packed with people and their vehicles, most of which cost more than houses. Yup, it was Car Week, culminating in the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance (150 bucks per ticket to stroll through the Lamborghinis and Daimlers).

4. If you haven't spent time in Santa Cruz, as we hadn't, it's a shock to discover you can't get from Point A to Point B without first going to Point Q, which isn't close to anything you want.

5. Put a whole bunch of impatient people on those narrow, meandering streets, add the results of an overzealous stop-sign salesman and you've got a recipe for traffic jams.

6. Our group ranged in age from 7 to 80, some of whom have a severe aversion to putting their bodies on Boardwalk rides that a psychotic weather wonk accurately named as "Cyclone," "Tsunami," "Tornado" or "Typhoon."

We knew all this. We still wanted to go ... silly us.

I had to plan ahead. Spur of the moment doesn't work on in mid-August in California's oldest seaside resort area.

A month before, we managed to snag the last two available rooms at a fairly new Best Western hotel in Capitola. It's on one of the only straight-line streets from Highway 1 to anywhere near the beach, and is a block from the county's only shopping mall.

After neighbor Christine Greek forwarded details about a lovely-sounding Capitola restaurant, we made Saturday-night reservations online.

Super! Two big decisions made.

But planning ahead is more than pouring over touristy literature or making sure we could lay our weary heads on a clean pillow each night. I believe in travelers' espionage.

Arriving a day early, husband Richard and I did area surveillance. Good thing, too. Remember Items 4 and 5?

We learned that, to find a decent parking place at the Boardwalk, we'd have to arrive at least an hour before it opens at 11 a.m. We knew weekend lines would be long, so we bought passes and tickets early Friday for Saturday. We even located some rare benches with shade where weary grandparents could park for a rest.

We also drove up Highway 17 and back so we could give precise instructions to a direction-challenged driver.

We toured Capitola's beach areas, finding stunning shorelines, more parking crunches, narrow one-way streets and neighborhoods that would fit right into a Greek hillside. We tracked down the Shadowbrook restaurant, tucked high on a hill and accessible only by lots of stairs or a perky little red tram.

We found Gayle's, a delightful bakery, and brought back to the hotel an ethereally light orange chiffon cake and snickerdoodle muffins, dredged in cinnamon sugar. And a clerk alerted us to a popular, funky pizza-and-pasta place right around the corner from our hotel, so our travel-weary family could get out of their van and walk to a tasty dinner.

There! Not only were we confident we'd done everything possible to make our one-day adventure together a success, we had a great time doing the strategic reconnaissance.

The best successes were:

* Strolling to a nearby restaurant the first night together to share pizza, salad and a lovely bowl of Italian wedding soup. No pressure, no parking hassle, no more driving.

* Getting to the Boardwalk early, finding a super parking space and letting Caitlyn and Alyssa frolic on the breathtaking beach until the rides opened.

* Taking a quiet, kickback lunchtime-out in the van, using fixings from our cooler.

* Finding truly wonderful doughnuts from 41st Donut House, about a block from the hotel. "The best I've had since I quit making them myself at our bakery," Richard told the pleased-as-punch owner.

* Booking Shadowbrook reservations online, which netted us a waterfront table in the sold-out restaurant. The setting and meal were spectacular and exquisite.

* And most of all, by figuring out where we would be going and how to get there, we spent our sun-drenched, all-too-brief time together having fun instead of getting lost.

Will we meet them again in Santa Cruz? Here's a clue: We bought the girls season tickets to the Boardwalk. They may get me on that "Hurricane" ride yet, if I can't preplan my way out of it.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Getting a line on Follies tickets

A chamber-of-commerce employee wandered out of her Main Street office into a minor mob scene at a time when most of downtown Cambria usually is still asleep.

“What are we selling here, Harry Potter books?” Rody Salkeld quipped shortly before 9 a.m. Aug. 1.

Not quite, but more than 60 people had queued up to buy reserved-seat tickets for Pinedorado Follies 2007. The show runs Wednesday through Sunday, Aug. 29 through Sept. 2.

Guaranteed seats are so coveted that Cambrians line up for hours to snag some. General admission tickets are also available, but front-of-the-hall reserved seats have the best sight lines.

Seeing a show up close can be glorious. I’ll never forget being in the front row and watching the chandelier come down in “Phantom of the Opera.”

But premier seats can have risks attached. We were in the second row at “Tap Dogs” when ushers urged us to don rain slickers before hyperactive, work-booted dancers started skipping and stomping in a water-filled tray.

On Aug. 1, Mark Kramer started the Follies queue before dawn, although sales wouldn’t start for another three hours. Kay Luthi and Dorothy Prychoda soon lined up behind him. By 6:15 a.m., eight people were in place.

Those who really planned ahead brought folding chairs.

This year, each buyer got a numbered slip denoting a specific spot in line, so people were free to wander around a bit, get a mocha latte or take a quick catnap in a warm car.

However, most stalwarts stayed in the line-up, chatting, laughing, shivering and enjoying the annual coffee klatch for early birds.

Prychoda cuddled into her blue camp chair. “It’s worth it to get here early. Yes, you get reserved seats, but we also come for the camaraderie and companionship.”

Each person could buy only six tickets. No batch buying of 25 tickets, no sirree. We’ll have none of that nasty ticket scalping at our Follies.

But Bud Goff needed seven tickets, so he could see the Follies with six family members. So friend Susan Detweiler, there to buy a few tickets of her own, snagged two for Goff in one row, and he bought five in the next row back.

All income goes to Pinedorado’s 59-year sponsor, the Cambria Lions Club, which spreads funds around to other community causes.

And how the shows have changed over the years!

I remember when Pinedorado’s show was a melodrama. Lots of fun, but amateur night, for sure, rather like first-round, citywide tryouts for “America’s Got Talent.”

Follies concepts and performances have evolved, but shows took a giant leap forward this century with direction by Bobbie Monroe, Ruth Fleming and then, starting in 2002, under Peggy Christianson’s professional-quality (though still volunteer) direction.

It takes a full year to create a Follies show. When the final curtain call rings down on the 2007 version, Christianson, co-producer Teela DePond, the Zaragosa family and others already will have begun planning the 2008 edition.

Combine Christianson’s writing, directing and dancing skill with her Disney background and perfectionistic “we’ve got to add something new” attitude, and singers and dancers shine in the spotlights.

Part of the success is technical innovation, including black lighting, a fog machine, wireless microphones and professional lighting equipment borrowed from Cambria resident Ted Fowler, whose firm does entertainment lighting worldwide.

Christianson said, “Every year, we have to add something we don’t know how to do — yet — and then we have to learn it fast.”

So, look for new gadgetry, video and other special effects. I don’t want to be a spoiler, so I won’t say what more than four dozen cast members of all ages will be doing. But seeing Kirk Henning with “goats” and Jerry McKinnon as a centurion ought to be worth the cost. And hearing Cody Pettit and John Ruml singing in English accents should be priceless.

First-in-line Kramer said it’s been years since he stood in a queue for tickets for anything other than the Follies.

“It’s the only show in town, babe,” he explained with a chuck-le. “You can’t miss this one.”

By about 10:15 a.m. Aug. 1, lined-up people who shared that sentiment had already bought more than $7,000 worth of tickets.

(For more Follies ticket information, log onto, and scroll to Page 19).

Thursday, August 2, 2007

BEST OF: Posturing for the human-nature show

Figure this one out: We hate crowds, but we love going to county fairs, concerts, shopping malls, crowded street corners and similar hustle-bustle-busy settings.

Sure, we shop, eat fair food and listen to music. But in crowds, we get our real entertainment out of people watching. As husband Richard says, “Humans come in such interesting shapes and styles.” Temperaments and attitudes, too, not to mention wardrobes.

It is amazing how much difference the clothes can make.

Just imagine two twins — be they Bobsey or Olsen. Put one twin in nicely fitting jeans, a simple, tucked-in t-shirt that has met a washing machine once or twice in its life, and clean sandals or tennis shoes.

Then dress the other twin in a strapless, clingy top that stops short of covering where the bottom band of her bra ought to be, sockless feet in untied running shoes that look like gunboats and finish the costume off with some baggy, wrinkled, below-the-knee shorts barely suspended from her tush by good luck and imaginary push pins.

Don’t scoff. We saw both girls on a cable car in San Francisco.

Variety may be the spice of life in clothes and body styles, but within the limitless range of humans there is a remarkable similarity in the non-verbal language broadcast by those bodies.

I’ve written before about the oh-so-identifiable pose of someone trying to make a cell-phone call or trying to keep an ongoing one connected. You can spot it a block away.

Since then, other postures have come to mind, body positions that immediately tell the rest of us what’s going on.

People assuming certain postures might as well tack a billboard on their foreheads, proclaiming exactly what they’re doing.

For instance:

• The abstracted expression, determined stride and back-and-forth head movements of somebody wandering through a parking lot, looking in vain for the vehicle he or she rode in on

• The slammed-together eyebrows, total denial, hunched shoulders and abject misery of a 14-year-old boy forced to shop for clothes and shoes with his mother and grandmother

• The ultra-straight backs, stiff shoulders and popped-out eyes of a roomful of men holding in their stomachs as soon as a super-model type female walks into the room

• The mass clutching of belts, unsnapping and bringing of cellular phones to ears when the tweedledum music of an incoming call strikes, interrupting a packed public meeting or performance, and everybody tries to figure out quickly whose phone it is that’s interrupting the proceedings

• The tucked arms, rounded shoulders and mock-quivering lips of a child who’s playing up a minor “boo boo” for total attention, maximum sympathy and the 15th “Shrek” Band-Aid of the day

• The one-shoulder-higher-than-the-other, shifty-eyed, head-tilted pose of someone ordering liver-and-onions in a busy restaurant

• The stretched neck and back, tilted seating posture and raised chin of a newly seated restaurant patron, surreptitiously peering over shoulders of nearby diners to inspect what each of them is eating before placing his own order

• The “I can’t believe I’m doing this” facial expression and backward lean of someone taking a first foray off the pool’s high board

• The hunched-over posture and crowd-scanning over-the-blanket gaze of a mom who must nurse her baby in a public place

• The focused step-step-step stride, head slightly forward of feet and pained expression that advertises, “Don’t offer me a ride. I’m doing this because my doctor (wife/mother) says I have to do at least two miles a day”

• The total boredom and “Puleeeeeeeeease hurry up” expression of a man waiting for his wife by the door of the women’s restroom, especially at the abovementioned county fair or concert. Also its close relative, the can’t-stand-still hopping and twisting of someone at the end of a long line, desperately waiting to get into the same facility, or

• The “Heavens no, I’m not doing what you think I’m doing” expression, head position and arm-extended pose of a person waiting at the side of the road, holding the other end of a leash in one hand and an empty plastic bag in the other.

So, the next time you’re stuck in line, or are waiting for someone to arrive, check it out. See if you can figure out the storylines behind the postures.

Hmmmm. I wonder what that I look like when I’m doing that?