Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cambria caring and chicken feed

This column appeared first on June 27, 2002, in The Cambrian

There’s something about the phrase “knee-replacement surgery” that makes people flinch a lot, turn a little green around the gills and rapidly change the subject. It’s even worse than saying “root canal” or “IRS audit.”

I don’t blame them, especially since husband Richard had that operation. We’ve both been flinching ever since.

However, the experience has retaught us what a wide spectrum of friends we have here in Cambria — and what a diverse, loving, quirky, supportive, wonderful bunch they are.

In our little corner of the world, any tragedy, illness or major disruption to your lifestyle brings people out of the woodwork, and they all chip in to try to make things better for the afflicted, the bereaved, the displaced. Each in their own way, of course.

We’re eternally grateful for the love and caring that has surrounded us though many years like a fluffy down comforter.

After the knee surgery, Richard progressed through his pain-killer haze to take those first awful steps to hobbling along as he leaned on his walker. He got better every day, in baby steps, so to speak.

But something else struck us as we thought back on the thoughtfulness of our friends and associates.

It was the variety of their responses, so typically Cambrian, where the only thing that this bunch of individualists shares is nobody is like anybody else. Everybody is a one-of-a-kind.

Even in the get-well cards, there was a huge range of types. Some were gently flowery, others raucous or loopy or very funny, still others prayerful. Some were hand painted or custom printed, others slick pieces of art, some hand lettered, still others e-mailed.

One even offered to find Dick some “mud-wrestling wenches” to take his mind off the pain.

All, of course, were deeply appreciated (except maybe that last one).

Each card was extremely individualistic, to the point where some wouldn’t even have had to be signed. We’d have known instantly who sent them.

Other friends offered advice or suggestions for things to help the swelling go away or the pain diminish. Some suggestions worked, some didn't. But all sounded like good ideas and were welcomed in the same spirit in which they were offered.

Some folks brought candy or goodies. Others brought flowers or fuzzy stuffed animals.

And then there was Richard’s surgical mentor Shirley Bianchi, who had the same surgery a couple of months earlier. For weeks, she covered the gamut of friendship with frequent counseling and commiseration, plus a pre-surgical CD to help Richard relax, a portable commode to help him rise to the occasion (so to speak), a pair of crutches and five bags of chicken feed.

Yup. Chicken feed.

Seems her wonderful rancher husband Bill Bianchi had discovered that a Ziploc bag filled with frozen chicken feed, put into a pillowcase, makes a wonderful icepack.

It’s not too cold, it forms well to the area that hurts and holds the cold for quite a while. The chicken feed doesn’t drip when it warms up, won’t freeze into bricks the way gel packs often do, and, best of all, it’s cheap, cheap, cheap to replace. (We did, however, put the feed into two Ziploc bags as insurance against a really nasty mess.)

So, the next time somebody talks to you about something that really makes you flinch, maybe you should offer ‘em some chicken feed.

Unless it’s the IRS auditor. He’d never understand.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mrs. Hodge Podge

After the coordinated chaos of the holidays, you’d think I’d be raring to get myself together in the new year. Instead, my January mindset keeps jumping around like a one-legged rabbit on a trampoline.

Since I’m operating on snippets of intellect these days, that’s all you’ll get in this space today.


Sometimes, the English language (or, more accurately, the U.S.-ish language) just tickles the daylights out of me.

A friend told me about a San Luis Obispo cop who was trying to haul someone to jail so the inebriate could sleep it off. The wobbly detainee protested loudly, “You can’t arrest me. I’ve got my arrestitutional rights.”


I hate buying a new cellular phone. But this time I’ve been told — rather peremptorily, I thought — that I don’t have a choice.

I won’t get into the pro or con debate about putting disguised cellular towers on Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. I love trees, I believe in safeguarding protected property. I rely heavily on my cell phone.

‘Nuff said.

But I believe it’s a given that cell reception and broadcast quality in Cambria are the pits.

How bad is it? In order to do my job on the North Coast, I have to carry two phones, one each from two different carriers. Even then, I can only connect to a network about half the time.

So, when a cellular provider — unfortunately, it’s the one with the best signal in most areas — tells me I’ve got until Feb. 18 to switch phones, it does get my attention. But the situation makes me want to stamp my feet and shake my fists like a petulant 4-year-old.

My “old style” cell phone is about to go the way of running boards, dodo birds and carbon paper. The carrier is disconnecting from the analog network that shuttles calls to my phone.

Grump, grump.

As is the case with most people in Cambria, I hate being told what I must do or what’s going to happen, without me being able to put in my two-cents worth before the decision is made.

I don’t want to go to San Luis Obispo to buy a new phone. I don’t want a new phone. I especially don’t want to go through the angst-ridden decision-making process again … especially when it’s not my idea.

In this case I just want a phone that always connects to people I call or who call me. Is that too much to ask?


Overheard on a San Francisco street corner, one enthusiastic fellow to another: “I just can’t believe you’re walking around with no underwear on!”


Several readers asked how The Cambrian got your news to The Tribune during the big storm earlier this month.

The short answer is: from my kitchen.

Nearly all of Cambria, including the newspaper’s offices, was without power for quite a while. No lights, no phones, no desktop computers, no Internet.

That doesn’t, of course, mean no news.

Fortunately our house has several old-fashioned, hard-wired telephones that function during power outages. If you don’t have one in your home, I strongly recommend getting one.

During the storm, when I wasn’t out in the rain and wind dodging falling branches and taking photos of scrunched homes and vehicles, I was standing at my kitchen counter, taking notes by lantern light and using my chin to clutch the prehistoric phone against my shoulder.

Because I had no way to send the latest news from my battery-powered laptop computer to the City Desk in San Luis Obispo, I’d call in the updates.

It was like being in an old Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn movie. I kept expecting someone to run through the dining room yelling, “Rewrite! Stop the presses.”

Later, The Tribune went through much more serious travails with the nightly print deadline looming.

They had no lights, no regular phones, no electricity and a malfunctioning generator. Even so, the team managed to put out a paper anyway by relying on remarkably stubborn ingenuity, the help of friends and several far-flung offsite locations.

They’re amazing. My hat’s off to ’em.


Sticker seen on the back bumper of a big, big brute of a four-by: “Get over it, guys. Trucks are for gals!”

Thursday, January 17, 2008

BEST OF: Type casting

This column ran in The Cambrian in the late 1980s.

We went away for a few days and came home to six bills, two letters, five solicitations and a stack of catalogs thick enough to challenge the phone books from all five New York boroughs … including Yellow Pages.

I understand about mailing lists. I know catalog folks get my name from various sources. The most common seem to be based on zip code, phone exchange, the credit cards I use, the magazines and newspapers I read and what I‘ve ordered from companies whose catalogs I got last year.

It may sound rational (if invasive), but in actual practice, something gets lost in the translation.

For instance, I once ordered a military-issue coverlet called a “poncho liner.” It only weighs a few ounces, it folds up to almost nothing, it’s got a nice smooth surface and it’s very warm ... great for traveling or those cold-toes days.

The firm from which I got the poncho liner obviously blabbed about it to the entire free world. So now my mailbox is overstuffed with everything from survival catalogs to a sample subscription to “Soldier of Fortune” magazine.

They must have a different me in mind than the one I see in the mirror every morning.

And that wildly colored jacket I bought, the one that looks like the remains of a religious stained-glass window after an earthquake?

I didn’t get the matching outfit ... pants, top and vest ... because the effect of the entire, intense package undoubtedly could louse up color-TV resolution for miles and would probably cause planes heading for LAX to set down somewhere near the Grand Canyon.

No, I only bought the jacket, which I wear with basic black when I need to feel really bright.

However, somebody may have misread those retailing signals, too. I now regularly receive a “Fashion Catalog for Today’s Black Woman.”

We obviously have a failure in communication here.

Catalogs aren’t the only printed matter that proliferates without regard to public need or wants, or the amount of space in my mailbox. How about the limited magazine racks at the drug store?

Obviously, magazine publishers have been watching the catalog companies and have now gone and done likewise.

“W” and “GQ” spawned a rampaging alphabet of single- and double-letter magazines, all of which should have a cheat sheet for those of us who do not instantly recognize what the letter(s) stand for.

Then “Vanity Fair” led to “Lears,” a magazine for us middle-aged baby-boomettes. “Lears” got imitated by “Moxie.”

For the career gal, there is “Woman,” “Working Woman,” “Working Parent,” “Pregnant Working Woman” and “Working Family.” (Blogger's note: Some of these magazines are no longer published.)

There are stacks of magazines for people who diet, use computers, surf or hot-air-balloon. On and on and on … and all I really wanted was a TV guide to replace the one the dog ate.

Any day now, I expect to see a magazine expressly for the pregnant 45-year-old single blonde roller-skating water skier who raises dogs and snakes, plays “Jeopardy” in her nightgown, lives in a 75-year-old renovated grain silo in Omaha and has kinky ideas about popcorn.

Whoever she is, I hope she likes catalogs, because a whole bunch of those people are going to find out about her, real soon.

She’s just their type.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Curve ball, straight talk

When life throws a curve ball at us, we only have a millisecond to figure out how to catch it and what to do with it.

For instance, on Dec. 27, husband Richard and I were heading back to the van with granddaughters Caitlyn, 12, and Alyssa, 8, after an unsuccessful shopping search for posters of Hannah Montana and other ’tween idols.

We’d had a wonderful laugh-and-hug-filled visit. We’d shared Christmas Day together in three different homes. Four girls had mastered games, embraced new dolls and modeled new duds.
Then Caitlyn and Alyssa stayed with us until early Thursday afternoon, which was loving, fun and very instructive.

For instance, we learned that a waffle-maker type device can produce decent, tiny doughnuts, and that chocolate icing can wind up in the strangest places.

We discovered that little household touches make a big difference, even to pre-teens, and a skateboard becomes a “RipStik” when the dumbbell-shaped device has two inline-style caster wheels and a complex pivoting hinge in the middle.

A RipStikker is part surfer-snowboarder, part “Cirque du Soleil” contortionist and all magician. On a RipStik, you can wind up with a left foot heading north and right foot going east, which can lead to some interesting splits.

I also discovered that when a former super-skateboarder … ahem … matures a bit … ahem … he may not be as adaptable to such radical changes as he used to be.

Caitlyn is an experienced RipStikker, so she soared around the pavement, looping and twisting and flashing victory signs. Learner Alyssa held onto her daddy’s hands as she wiggled her feet back and forth, trying to get up enough momentum to actually go forward.

Then it was Daddy’s turn.

At first, our son Sean wobbled and nearly fell. Finally, with eyebrows slammed together, mouth pursed and arms gyrating for balance, he managed a few shaky passes. But as he inched past, the former boarder yelled out to me, “This is supposed to be fun?”

Meanwhile, back at the curve ball. Caitlyn pseudo-casually lobbed it. “So … Grandma, do you know anything about the Spears family?”

I knew where the conversation was heading. As my life flashed before my eyes, I wondered how much the girls’ parents would want me to say and … gulp … if I was up for this, right there in a Target parking lot.

I caught the conversational ball. “I know more about the Spears than I ever wanted to know. Why do you ask?”

With downcast eyes, Caitlyn asked, “What about Jamie Lynn?”

Yup, I knew it.

“Well, it’s all over the news that she’s pregnant at 16, and not married,” I said, trying to master the art of walking with both feet in my mouth at the same time — much trickier than RipStik riding.

“How do you feel about her pregnancy?” I asked our grandgirls about the star of Nickelodeon’s “Zoey 101” hit show.

“Very disappointed. Jamie Lynn said she wasn’t going to turn out like Britney, and now she has,” Caitlyn said as her little sister nodded so vigorously that her hair flew back and forth like hummingbird wings.

I asked, “If you could talk to Jamie Lynn, what would you say to her?”

Caitlyn spread her hands at shoulder height, shrugged and said, “I’d ask her ‘Why?’ ”

We talked a lot then about Jamie Lynn, Britney and life. Our girls are disappointed that their squeaky-clean super-heroine turned into a fault-prone human being who makes mistakes. In other words, Jamie Lynn is just like the rest of us.

Eventually, the girls understood that making a mistake — even a serious, life-changing one — is different than living in a downward spiral filled with self-destructive actions.

I said, “I hope Jamie Lynn will enjoy being a mommy.”

Caitlyn answered, “I hope she’ll take good care of the baby. I hope she has learned her lesson. I hope she’ll be OK. I hope she will be happy ... I hope she won’t turn out like Britney.”

“Me, too,” said Alyssa.

So, what did I learn on our holiday vacation?

Well, I certainly won’t be getting on a RipStik in this lifetime. I’ve relearned that curve-ball catching can be thought-provoking.

And we’ve got super wonderful granddaughters. But I already knew that.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

BEST OF: Scrambled dregs for a new year

The original version of this column ran March 4, 2004, in The Cambrian.

Baryshnikov does Verizon:

It could be a new Olympic sport, but too many people are good at it. It's not particularly graceful … but then, neither is wrestling or shot-put. And this posture is just as identifiable as those struck by a golfer at the tee, a figure skater preparing for a triple axel or a diver bouncing on the end of the board.

The modern version is what I call feng shui of the body, because everything has to be arranged just so, aligned with mystical broadcast waves, the wind and the pull of the moon.

Envision rigid shoulders, clenched fist, tilted head and distracted expression of someone standing in the middle of a busy street, and you'll be seeing a cell-phone user trying to complete a call in Cambria.

"Can you hear me now?" Probably not.

The posture mimics frozen poses of yore. Remember holding a rabbit-ears TV antenna out the window so somebody else could watch a show? Or trying to hail a taxi while out in the rain, without looking like a drowning Pomeranian?

There are few areas of Camabria where you can actually walk and cell-talk at the same time. At my house, a cell phone will ring only when it’s on the charger, but the call won’t stay connected if I unplug the phone.

Yes, technology has a long way to go here. And the debate continues about whether to allow disguised cell-phone towers on the protected land of Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

In the meantime, here's a fund-raising idea for Caltrans, county Public Works or even the Cambria Community Services District: Find the 10 places in downtown Cambria where most cell-phone systems work, and put up street signs identifying same.

Then charge 50 cents a minute to park nearby.

My “to don't” list:

What a mess: Bills, letters, cryptic notes I can no longer decipher, messages, catalogs I'll never peruse, grocery, shopping and chore lists, magazines I'll never read, newspapers, things I've printed out but haven't tossed out and ticket stubs from a 2002 vacation.

The towering stacks of paper form a veritable monument to fallen trees, a wobbly edifice that threatens to take over our world.

The paperwork congregates on counters and tables, our desks, my files (if they get that far!) and a footstool between our easy chairs. Then the papers go forth and multiply, like field mice, wire hangers and unmated socks.

Eventually, most Tanner paperwork winds up in baskets. For an ambitious piece of paper, being sentenced to “the basket” is a fate worse than last year's file-storage boxes.

Paper-Amnesty International has a special strike team for Tanner baskets.

We’ll just muddle along in our documentary chaos, and then we'll get word that company's coming to visit. Awk! Panic!

There are two possible courses of action: sort through the papers and clean the baskets, counters, chairs, etc., or pile everything in a bigger basket that can then be hidden in a closet.

If I did the latter, Fire Chief Bob Putney would start issuing mandatory demolition orders.

So, I recently began to dig through the stacks, resulting in an image not unlike a chunky dachshund digging in a badger hole.

Now we have a new unwritten Tanner law: never, ever keep "to do" lists.

It’s plumb discouraging to find a year-old record and realize how little of it I’ve accomplished during the past 12 months.

Worse yet is realizing how many things I did do that now have to be done again.