Wednesday, November 28, 2007

You can go home again

We’re delighted to have son Brian back in Cambria where he grew up. It’s wonderful to have the third voice in the house, along with his laugh, strong back, willing heart and so much more.

And thanks to so many of you for asking how the move in has worked out.

We’ve survived but, no, we’re not finished. At this rate, everything should be where it’s supposed to be by 2015. If we’re lucky.

When you add another person to a household that’s been established for decades — even if he lived in the house before — a couple of things happen.

First, there’s the physical act of bringing his belongings into the household.

It’s been 12 years since husband Richard and I moved into the sparsely decorated abode we built after a fire destroyed the family home. Since then, our feeble attempt at living as minimalists has been firmly buried under all that … um … stuff.

Our entire house, “barn” and shed were crammed full long before we began rearranging one bedroom to make space for Brian’s belongings.

It’s an immutable, Einstein-esque law: Everything has to go someplace. Even when you run out of available someplaces.

Make a game out of it, Kathe. To play “Home-decorating Dominos,” move Item A (probably into a box in a storage area) so you can put Item B into the space formerly occupied by Item A.

Simple sounding, yes. But, since each space already was full, nearly every item switch took us all the way to items F or G. Some moves required the entire alphabet and then some.

By the time we found new homes for, say, 38,592 items, we had permanent backaches, crossed eyes and a total lack of recall about what wound up where.

For instance, I know the sewing machine is now on a desk in my office/guest room, because I can see it. But the box of patterns? The basket of mending? The lidded tub full of fabric? Oh, mercy, I haven’t a clue.

They’re probably in the barn. Somewhere. Sigh.

Beyond the physical readjustments, each of us also is dealing with some wildly fluctuating emotions.

Elation about our reunited family. Angst about making the arrangement work long term. Even an occasional twinge of depression, which often accompanies any drastic change.

Brian, of course, has had physical and emotional stress times two, because he moved out of his old place, lifestyle and job and must adapt to the new ones. He left a host of friends (and free rounds of golf) there to further his career as a chef here, while reconnecting with Cambria buddies and forming new bonds at work.

Psychologist friends tell us those normal emotion swings will fade as old routines are replaced by the new ones.

And there sure have been a lot of the latter.

For instance, we no longer have a guest room, just a Murphy bed in my office. So when a large group arrives for a visit — as happened a week or so after the move-in — a lot of people wind up sleeping on couches.

Imagine a three-night slumber party in a living room paved with four girls from kindergarten to preteen. Or when they hijacked Uncle Brian’s television remote so he’d have to watch “High School Musical” with them in his room ... instead of football.

It was chaotic, high-spirited fun.

Bingo. When husband Richard and I lived alone in the house, it was quiet, mostly tidy (yeah, sure), usually predicable.

I’ll stop short of calling our lifestyle dull because, as a reporter, my life is filled with the unexpected.

But now, the house and our lives are vibrating with variety, hilarity and the unexpected. We all catch up with each other at breakfast or dinnertime. Our excited chatter zooms around the table like the hummingbirds jostling each other at the feeders outside the windows.

Of course, the changes have been hectic and exhausting. We still have a lot of adjustments to make, rearranging and unpacking to do, and keep-don’t keep decisions ahead.

There’s a garage sale to follow, no doubt.

But once again, we’ve learned that family makes a house a home.

And that, yes, you can go home again.

E-mail Kathe Tanner at

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

BEST OF: Thankful for politicians (most of them)

On a day set aside for counting our blessings, it can be a stretch to include being thankful for politicians.

For most of us, gratitude is rightfully reserved for those who love us, like us, save our lives or our money, entertain us, keep us safe or fix our plumbing when it overflows at midnight.

The only people apt to be overtly thankful for politicians are those who are indebted to or courting the commissioners, supervisors, senators and governors of life. The rest of us are more likely to samba with an alligator.

The emotional distance between the camps is no surprise. By job descriptions and basic inclinations, most politicians aren’t warm, fuzzy, cuddly types, no matter how much baby kissing they do — although when you consider changed connotations for the political phrase “pressing the flesh,” maybe some politicos have been a little cuddlier than they ought to be.

And it’s tough warming up to people who must cut our services and benefits while searching for new ways to wheedle more money out of each wallet.

But maybe we ought to say “thank you” anyway.

Put yourself in their shoes. Would you be willing to put up with all the dreck that goes along with the titles? Uh huh, me neither.

Most political jobs fall into the “It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it” category. Somebody’s got to serve or our system of government could collapse.

“Of, for and by the people” means some of us have to be willing to step up and sign up.

As some have said about being a candidate for, say, the Cambria Community Services District, “You have to be smart enough to do the job and dumb enough to take it.”

For good, honest, hard-working politicians (which covers a lot of them, I have to believe), being in office must be a little like being in the military. You sign on for two or four years to work with or for people who often don’t like you much and some of whom may be inclined to shoot at you.

Oh, there are perks to elected offices and appointed jobs. Some politicos are treated to exotic meals, elite functions, junkets and special tours of exclusive places.

And the word “power” comes to mind. But for members of smaller or more obscure commissions and councils, such influence is ephemeral at best, imagined or nonexistent for most.

Some upper-tier political jobs pay pretty well, but to get them, you have live in Sacramento, Washington D.C. or other charming garden spots. City council-folks and county supervisors get a nice salary, but most other government leaders on a local level are paid a pittance or nothing.

Said Cambria services district directors, for instance, are paid $100 per meeting, with a maximum of six meetings per month.

And, as a reward, most politicians spend most of their “personal time” studying agendas and staff reports, going to extra-curricular evening and weekend meetings or functions on the creamed-chicken-and-peas circuit, listening to people kvetch or answering phone calls at midnight from irate constituents who want them to fix something — now.

There are lots of long days, thankless tasks and being nice to people who aren’t.

And the process of getting a job you probably won’t get to keep can be costly, egregious and occasionally painful.

So, one wonders why those good, honest folks are willing to put aside their lives and run for office at all, let alone spend their own money to battle for the right to win those elections or get those appointments.

Yeah, there are some politicos I’d love to introduce to the toe of my pointiest cowboy boot.

To all the others on this home-family-and-hearth holiday, I say, “Thanks for being there.”

This column ran first in The Cambrian on Nov. 27, 2003.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Iron & sparks in DNA

This holiday season, more than ever, we find ourselves immersed in the blessings of being close to family.

Eight days after Halloween, my Aunt Kate arrived from North Carolina for a week to help me celebrate my birthday. Our youngest son and his family will be here for Thanksgiving. We’ll split Christmas between them and his ex. And our eldest son and his wife will visit from Reno for New Year’s Eve and our 30th wedding anniversary Jan. 2.

In the midst of all that, our middle son has moved back home to start a new and exciting job in Cambria.

The latter, of course, means massive renovation in our back bedroom. Where to put winter coats now? Is there room somewhere for my sewing machine? And the Christmas gifts I haven’t wrapped yet (which is nearly all of them)? Arrgh.

Frenzy doesn’t begin to describe it.

But what a perfect season for it, because it’s all about family.

Husband Richard has nine siblings and enough other relatives to fill a metropolitan phone book. I, on the other hand, have few blood relatives, especially on my mother’s side. I cherish every one of them, if for no other reason than they’re … um … individualistic.

I get to share ancestral DNA with strong-willed, offbeat women who purposefully crafted the lives they wanted and needed.

My ancestor, British Major Gen. Robert Sedgwick, arrived in 1621 to the land that would later become the United States. The family established one of the first ironworks foundries in the Massachusetts colony.

When one of my great-great grandmas left home, she was the only young, unmarried woman on the wagon train heading west. She had a wonderful, somewhat X-rated time, thank you, as documented in her diary that’s kept under lock and key by a circumspect historical society.

Indiana (yes, that was her name) was the first white female teacher west of the Rocky Mountains. She married Richard Sopris, the first elected representative to Congress from the Jefferson Territory (Colorado) and later, mayor of Denver and parks commissioner.

Their daughter (my great-grandmother) Elizabeth Sopris Brown studied surveying and astronomy during the Victorian era, when few colleges even accepted women students.
Her daughter, Katharine "Kitty" Inglis Suydam, was the most conventional twig on my family tree. Even so, she took flying lessons in 1922.

Of course, my primary role model in eccentricity was my mom, Andy, who was strong-willed enough to ditch a name she hated (Betsy) and legally rename herself Andrew to honor the grandfather she adored.

When Mom was 16, her widowed mother married a man who Andy didn’t like much and with whom she didn’t want to live. She left home, moved to Greenwich Village and became a jazz critic.

Mom toured nationwide on a bus as a publicist with the Chico Marx Band, then met and married my father, a great jazz musician but an erratic, alcoholic husband. They divorced when I was five.

Mom made another life for herself and me, working at everything from selling freezers to writing and performing commercials and radio shows. That was in a time and place where divorcing just wasn’t done, the woman of the house stayed home to tend house and kids, and you were judged by how much money and status the man of the house had. Fit in? Guess again.

When I was 13, Mom, Kate and I were on a cross-country vacation when my unusual mother met my equally unconventional stepdad, a lifelong bachelor and resort chef. They fell in love and married 10 days later. No, that’s not a typo: 10 days.

About 17 years later, he died suddenly. Mom dealt with her grief in a motorhome, touring the U.S. alone for several months, revisiting places they had been during their all-too-brief life together (I had been in 13 high schools in three years.).

Is it any wonder I’m a genuine kook? It’s all in those blessed genes, the elusive DNA links we celebrate so enthusiastically every Thanksgiving, and all year long.

Thanks, ladies, for giving me such an unusually strong heritage. May I carry on and always make you proud.

E-mail Kathe Tanner at

Friday, November 9, 2007

BEST OF: Nutcracker redux

Imagine 9-year-old and a 79-year-old celebrating their birthdays together by seeing a ballet on stage, each for the very first time.

Husband Richard’s birthday is the week before Christmas. Our granddaughter Caitlyn’s birthday is in September. Last year, she told us that rather than getting toys or trinkets for her ninth birthday, she’d much rather see “The Nutcracker” as her birthday gift.

We suspected more than a little parental influence in her decision, but Cait was obviously delighted by the prospect of seeing the dance in person, so we were pleased to comply.

She lives with her mom and sister in a small town northeast of Sacramento. So the obvious, easy solution would have been to take Grandpa and his girl to see the ballet corps in the state’s capital.

Tanners never do easy.

Instead, we decided to host Cait for a holiday weekend in San Francisco and take her to an all-new production of the famed dance at the San Francisco Ballet.

If we could get tickets. Big if.

By a fluke of timing, Richard and I were in The City on the day tickets went on sale. We’d heard it’s always a mob scene, so to make sure we snagged good seats, we headed out early that morning to stand in line at the Opera House.

We arrived about an hour before ticket sales began and were startled when there was no line of potential buyers.

Maybe they forgot? Not likely. Hmmmm.

We studied the lovely old building until a kindly soul opened up the front doors and let us in, about 15 minutes before ticket sales were to begin.

Then we saw it — a sign at the ticket window itself (which we hadn’t been able to see from outside) informing us that all sales would be by phone or over the Internet, and the ballet office itself wouldn’t open for another month.

Well, phoo. So that’s why nobody else was there. They obviously knew. We didn’t. Once again, I felt like the outsider dummy kid at the new school.

And we still had to get tickets, somehow. We’d promised.

Unfortunately, time was racing by and my cell phone wasn’t working well (the downtown buildings are too high and block reception, I guess. It’s almost as bad as trying to call from Cambria!)

Every time I actually got past the busy signal to the ballet-ticket order line itself, the signal would fade and I’d get disconnected.

It was 10:30, and I know those gusty winds I felt were from all the good tickets flying out to all those other people who’d known we couldn’t buy them at the window.

Our options were running out. There are no pay phones any more (casualty of all those cell phones that don’t work). It would have taken us another half hour to get to the hotel for internet sales.

By then, if we could have gotten tickets at all, I was sure we’d have been banished to the hall’s cheap seats, up in the cashew gallery (even further up than the peanut gallery).

Finally and desperately, I called a dear friend at work, begging and pleading. Bless her soul, Linda took time on a hugely busy morning and snagged us seats in the front row of the first balcony. Whew!

On ballet day, a beside-herself-with-excitement Cait dolled up in velvet and chiffon headed for the Opera House. As we all walked through the doors, a light sprinkling of man-made snow drifted down in wisps at the doorway. Magic!

Helgi Tomasson’s newly revised production of “The Nutcracker Suite” had fresh choreography, costumes of unusual colors and stage sets depicting San Francisco’s “Painted Ladies” Victorian houses, rather than London.

Cait was enchanted by the swirling dance, the costumes and the joy of watching it all through a tiny pair of opera glasses. Most of all, she loved a charming young Clara, who captured hearts and wove magic spells. For those few moments, children in the audience could imagine they were just like her.

Richard marveled at the athletic feats, the huge talents and the beauty of the ballet. “Don’t they understand the concept of gravity?” he mused.

And there were extra benefits for a nearly deaf hearing-aid wearer who quickly figured out the music-only language of ballet. With a big grin, he said, “I certainly know the melodies already, and I didn’t have to strain to hear the dialogue.”

What a joy it was to provide such memories for birthday gifts that needed no shiny box or big bows.

There’s only one downside — how will we top it this year?

This column ran in The Cambrian on Nov. 10, 2005. Continuing the tradition, we'll take Caitlyn, younger sister Alyssa and their mom to see the same ballet in December. It will be a first-time treat for Lyssie, too.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Time and time again, doggone it

It was about 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, and I was still huddled under my quilt, because it was so dark and chilly … and Elvis had stopped wiggling.

It must be time to change time again, a task which rates right up there with cleaning toilets, filing for unemployment or having a tax audit.

Staying in bed sounds better and better.

In past years, you see, we’d already have gone through this agony by now. We’d be on standard time and the sun would be up by 6:30. This year, the time change won’t kick in until 2 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4.

To prepare, we’ll twist those stem-winders and button-push on every clock and coffeemaker, microwave, telephone and thermometer, printer and pocket watch in the house.

It could be worse. We could be on 24-hour military time … or each of our clocks could have calendar mechanisms. If either of those describes your household, I hope you weren’t planning to do anything else this weekend.

But back to Elvis.

We have a campy Presley clock, a gag gift that’s supposed to shake its booty 24/7. Twice a year and regular as clockwork, so to speak, the King keeps on ticking but his hip-shimmy mechanism quits.

I suppose dust mice, lint fragments and an occasional deceased spider clog the rock star’s wiggle-works. So, once again I’ll beg Jay Foreman at Once Upon a Tyme to give Elvis the clock-equivalent of a colonic.

Searching for a time-changing short-cut recently, I bought two self-setting atomic clocks. They’re linked via radio waves and voodoo to a Big Daddy that keeps them marching in clock-lockstep from Colorado, about 1,200 miles away.

I went online and learned that millions of devices worldwide are regulated from afar by a system of four ultra-precise, control-freak Master Clocks. How bizarre.

According to, atomic clocks are super accurate. “Without atomic clocks, GPS navigation would be impossible, the Internet would not synchronize and the position of the planets would not be known with enough accuracy for space probes and landers to be launched and monitored.”

So how do my little clocks work, you ask?

HowStuffWorks explains in part, “oscillation frequencies within the atom are determined by the mass of the nucleus and the gravity and electrostatic ‘spring’ between the positive charge on the nucleus and the electron cloud surrounding it.”

Got that? Great. Now explain it to me. In English, please.

But if the Jedi Master clock remotely tells all our little clocks exactly what time it really is … then why, on Oct. 27, did the atomic clock in our living room read 8:57 while the one in the dining room said it was 8:54?

Is one of them a black sheep that merrily clocks away to an alternate rhythm, perhaps in rumba time? Great. Just what I need, an inaccurate atomic clock that’s ready to debut on “Dancing With the Stars.”

I rationalized that maybe our atomics were on the same wavelength, but I was slow. I dashed back and forth between the two rooms, trying to catch both clocks with the same time.

Didn’t happen, but I wound up feeling like the spying mother of quarrelsome twin teenagers.

Then on Oct. 28 — the Sunday on which we would have “fallen back” if this had been 2006 — I arose to find the dining room atomic clock correctly on daylight time … but the living room atomic clock had somehow reset itself to standard time. A week early.

Totally confused, I went back online.

The notably unreliable, said in part, “typical radio ‘atomic clocks’ require placement in a location with a relatively unobstructed atmospheric path to the transmitter.”

This is Cambria, Wiki. Nothing has a relatively unobstructed path to anything here.

So, Tanner Manor now has self-setting clocks which work (or don’t) in the same manner that all Cambria cell phones do (or don’t).

I give up. I’m going back to bed. Elvis can meditate all he wants. The atomics can disagree. And I don’t even care what time it is.