Saturday, February 16, 2019

Cat in Space

Today, Larry guest blogs on cats in space. Enjoy!
In the third book of my science fiction series, The McGregor Chronicles, I included a cat named Qittah as one of my characters. Why an animal in space? Animals have traveled as pets or helpers on almost all the journeys of explorers and colonists throughout history. Cats and dogs were used to control stowaway vermin on long sea voyages. Cattle, sheep, and horses were brought aboard for use at their final destination. When mankind travels to the stars, I’m sure animals will accompany them.

Why did I choose a cat? Cats are independent, opinioned, self-sufficient, but if they find you worthy of their love, they can be devoted and affectionate. My cat doesn’t talk, do magic, or anything beyond the ability of an ordinary feline, but her presence greatly affects the wellbeing of the other characters and the outcome of the story.

After reading the history of the first cat in space, I knew this was the creature I wanted.

In October of 1963, the Centre National d’Études in France was set to rocket a small feline, a male named Félix, into space. After all, the Soviet Union had all ready sent dogs into space, and the Americans used monkeys. France was eager to join the space race with Félix. Rumor has it, on launch day, it was discovered that the intended little astro-cat had gone AWOL. A more likely reason was that the selected male cat had gained weight and could not fit in the restrictive carrier. The flight had to be delayed until a suitable replacement could be found to take his place. Her name was Félicette, a shorthair “tuxedo style” kitty.

On October 18th, 1963, Félicette jetted 130 miles above Earth on a liquid-fueled French Véronique AG1 rocket, soaring high above the Algerian Sahara Desert and into the history books. After her successful landing, French scientists at the Education Center of Aviation and Medical Research (CERMA) studied Félicette’s brain waves to see if she had changed at all since her voyage. CERMA officials later reported Félicette had made “a valuable contribution to research.”

You’d think Félicette would have received the recognition due her. However, The French commemorative stamp published after the flight shows a different, longhair cat incorrectly identified as Félix, thus adding to the confusion as to the gender and name of the real first cat in space.

So Qittah as a traveling companion is not very far-fetched.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Sick on Vcation

We just returned from a visit with our daughter in Plano, Texas. The day after we arrived, Larry started sneezing and coughing and blowing his nose. He kept feeling worse as it started to move into his chest. The congestion grew worse, so we went to a walk-in clinic. (I am always a bit wary of colds because when I get them, they often turn into bronchitis.) Turns out it was just a bad cold. The doctor gave him medication for the cough and inflammation, but Larry spent a couple of days out-of-commission.

I started taking Zicam right away. I eventually came down with the bug, but I was only affected for a couple of days—and no infection.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been ill on vacation.

I remember one memorable trip to Hawaii when I was miserably ill. Kim was with us. I spent a couple of days in bed while Larry and Kim enjoyed the beach. I pushed through for the rest of the trip, but I was dragging.

In 2015, we celebrated our 50th anniversary. Kim came from Texas for the party. A couple of days afterward, she became quite ill.

I’d had knee surgery the month before and was still recovering. I suspect my immune system was somewhat compromised, because I became ill with bronchitis—in spades. I went to the doctor, and she prescribed a round of antibiotics. When the first prescription didn’t help, she prescribed a second.

A couple of weeks later, we flew to Hawaii. I thought I was getting better, but by the end of the first week on Maui with our friend Suzi, I felt even worse. We flew to Honolulu, and the next morning, we went to the walk-in clinic. The doctor said I still had a bad infection. He prescribed a double dose of medication. I was out of it for a day or two. I kept going, but between my knee (still very painful) and the infection, I was pretty miserable.

Of course, I recovered—finally. This may have been the last time I was ill until this past week

Larry almost never gets sick, but when he does, he gets very ill. I also rarely catch anything, but I have noticed a change in location can introduce new germs. (The doctor in Plano said Larry probably caught something on the plane—despite our taking Airbourne before we boarded.)

We’re now home and pretty well recovered. Sleeping in our own bed helps with getting enough rest.

Have you ever been ill on vacation? It’s pretty miserable.

Friday, January 18, 2019

More Music Memories

I have several favorite memories tied to one specific hymn: “How Great Thou Art.”
In 1958, I went to summer camp for the first—and only—time at Forest Home in the San Bernardino Mountains. I went with my three best friends: Peggy Boone, Joyce Thomas, and Cassie Parker. My mother was told I had “won” a scholarship, but I always secretly suspected one or more of my friends’ parents had paid my way.

Each night, the campers gathered around the campfire in the outdoor amphitheater to sing Christian camp songs. Usually the last one sung was “How Great Thou Art.” When I was there, we sat on logs arranged around the fire pit. Today, the area boasts concrete walkways and seats.
I will never forget the sound of the song echoing off the other side of the valley. It had become the theme song of the camp in 1954 when Dr. J. Edwin Orr, from Fuller Theological Seminary, introduced it at the start of a conference, and it was sung each day. It soon became the most popular hymn in the country. And it remained a part of the camp for many years.

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made.
I see the stars. I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze,

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.
That on a Cross, my burdens gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"

The second verse always conjures up images of camp, the mountains, the music, and my friends.

I lost track of all of them for quite a few years. Then, in 2012 after we retired, we planned a month-long cross-country road trip. A week before we left, I was able to connect with Peggy’s brother and sister-in-law on Facebook. They gave me her contact information. I called her immediately and made arrangements to visit. We took a detour though Deming, New Mexico in order to spend a day with her. It felt as though we picked up right where we’d left off. She was the same and so was our friendship.

We continued to exchange email and track each other on Facebook. I had hoped to see her the following summer when she was to come to California for her nephew’s wedding. Unfortunately, she wasn’t well enough to make the trip. She passed away several months later, but I felt enormous gratitude to have been able to spend one last day with her.

I couldn’t locate Cassie, either. I finally contacted her sister, Cindy, who was just a year older and often joined us for activities. Cindy told me that Cassie was being treated for cancer, but she would give her sister my contact information. I never heard from Cass. She died about a year later, but I took some comfort in the knowledge she knew I was thinking about her.

Joyce and I are friends on Facebook. Her mother spent a couple of years in a retirement home near me and close to Joyce’s brother, Jerry. I visited Mrs. Thomas there a couple of times. I tried to get together with Joyce whenever she came to California, but we were never able to connect. Joyce’s mom died a couple of years ago, but fortunately, the two of us have remained in touch.
About twenty years ago, a fine gentleman named Don Miller, who was at the time a tenor in our church choir, told a story about flying alone in his jet plane high enough to see the curvature of the earth.
Don Miller
As a young man, Don had been a professional singer, at one time substituting for an ailing Perry Como. Right after high school, he sang with Pinky Tomiln’s swing band at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

Because of Don’s experience as a pilot and willingness to step into the unknown, he flew the acceptance tests for the first pressure suits to be worn by fighter pilots. The suit had been tested in the laboratory but never under real-life conditions. So, Don wore the suit to see if a pilot could successfully work in it. Don’s flew an F-104, which he took to the 70,000 ft. level. At that altitude, he could see the curvature of the bright earth, the dark sky, and the vast universe of stars and planets. As a singer, his only response was to sing:

“O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made...”

That Sunday morning, he told the story and sang the song again, a cappella, just as he had in his long-ago cockpit. No one who heard him could have remained unmoved.
My mother spent the last six years of her life in a nursing home, fading away from us as senile dementia stole her memory. In the last year or so, she had stopped talking. We went to see her in the hospital every Sunday after church. We fed her lunch as she was no longer able to do so for herself.

Me, Mom, and my cousin, Margaret, about two months before Mom died
After lunch, we wheeled her into the large living space/reception area, where a baby grand piano stood in one corner. I sat down and began to play her favorite old hymns. Although she had lost the ability to speak, I’d watch her mouth the words to each song as I played it. They were buried deep in her memory banks, and she brought them out whenever she heard the familiar melodies. Others—patients and staff—often arrived to listen to the impromptu “concerts.” Many sang along.

Usually, the last song I played was “How Great Thou Art.” As Mom mouthed the words, she often began to cry. One day, a caregiver asked if she was all right. I explained that the song was one of Mom’s favorites and had been my grandmother’s favorite, as well. Something in that particular song reached a deep place in Mom and connected, even if for only a short time.

Today whenever I hear it, all of these images and more return.

Do you have a song with multiple memory connections?

Friday, January 11, 2019

Attending the Funeral

Many years ago Larry heard an opinion piece on NPR entitled, “Always Go to the Funeral.” ( I have always believed in doing this, and yesterday, we did so once again.


We worked with Gabriel Rodriguez in Japan on the Universal Studios Japan project in Osaka, where Gabe was a Facilities Design Manager.
His background was as an architect. The photo below was taken by Dave “Bowtie” Frolich. During the project, he photographed all of the project team—American and Japanese—and “wallpapered” his office with them.
After USJ, Gabe went on to other projects in the entertainment industry—often in interesting foreign locations. Gabe loved to travel, enjoyed the challenges, and did a great job.
He was a favorite on the team. Men are rarely described as “sweet,” but Gabe was. He had a wonderful sense of humor and made lots of friends. He passed away suddenly at his sister’s home. Several of us from the USJ team attended his funeral yesterday—a fitting tribute to the special man he was.


We heard about another recent death. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, we worked at CF Baun & Co, an engineering firm in Alhambra, California. I was in the Power division, working on six nuclear power plants in Tennessee. Larry was on loan to the Power Division in Electrical Engineering, where he worked for Bill Forsyth. Bill’s son. Roy, worked in my area.
His best friend, John Osborne, was in the Electrical Section. The two of them were so much fun. The photos above were from Roy’s birthday party in 1979 at a local park.
A few years later, John moved to Tennessee to work at the jobsite. However, the job was halted, and he returned to California, where he went to work for Larry on his project. Shortly thereafter, this project was also cancelled. Not long thereafter, John didn’t arrive at work. Roy went to check on him and discovered he had passed away. John was thirty-five years old.
Not long afterward, Roy Married Terrie, who worked for me. (This is a fairly recent photo.)  Larry and I attended their wedding.
A few weeks ago, Roy died suddenly. He and Terrie lived in Las Vegas, and we haven’t heard about a funeral, but it would probably be too far to attend. If they were closer and scheduled a service, we’d be sure to go. Again, we were stunned at this sudden loss.


I worked with Tracy at Downey Savings. She was in Lending, so we didn’t work together directly. However, we ran into each other from time to time. Over the seven years I spent at Downey, I got to know her a bit.
Around the same time as we heard about Roy, we also heard about Tracy’s death. She was much younger, and word of her death came as a shock. She requested no service, so we won’t attend, but we would have if we could have.
Do you always make it a point to attend funerals? Why or why not?

Friday, January 4, 2019

Music and Memories

Studies have shown that music is the last memory those with dementia retain. I know for sure that I have many memories associated with specific pieces of music.

Last Sunday, we sang the carol “Born in the Night.” We were introduced to it by our pastor at the Kobe Union Church in Japan, Gerard Marks. He was from New Zealand where it was popular.
Born in the night, Mary's Child, A long way from your home;
Coming in need, Mary's Child, Born in a borrowed room.

Clear shining light, Mary's Child, Your face lights up our way;
Light of the world, Mary's Child, Dawn on our darkened day.

Truth of our life, Mary's Child, You tell us God is good;
Prove it is true, Mary's Child, Go to your cross of wood.

Hope of the world, Mary's Child, You're coming soon to reign;
King of the earth,
Mary's Child, Walk in our streets again.

Geoffrey Ainger (1925-)

During our three holiday seasons in Japan, we became very fond of this carol. When we heard it again on Sunday, many images from our stay played in my mind: friends from around the world, sights and sounds, the long drive over Rokko Mountain to go to church, leading contemporary music, the Kobe Luminarie, other decorations, and holiday parties.

Another song Pastor Marks loved was “Our God is an Awesome God.” When it was on the schedule, we assumed he’d ask us to repeat it—often many, many times.
Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love.
Our God is an awesome God

Rich Mullins

One very special memory triggered by this song is the weekend we spent at Camp Sengari with the church family. The first weekend in September every year, the congregation decamped to this facility to spend time in Bible study, camping, enjoying the hot springs and the outdoors, eating together, and playing together. This was our first experience of the Japanese bath.

What we discovered was the Japanese bath was not so much about getting clean, it was more about socializing and spending time together. We had a Japanese-style bath in our “mansion” (mahn-shone)—our penthouse apartment—in Takarazuka. We only used it once or twice during our time there because the master bath in our room had a shower/tub combo, and we are shower people.

At the end of our Sunday service at Sengari, we sang “Our God is an Awesome God”—several times. It seemed an appropriate finale to a very special time for all of us.

The contemporary group at our current church occasionally chooses a song we sang during the years we led music at our church in California, or when we assisted in leading music in Japan, or even harkens back to the traditional hymns I learned as a child. And all the associated memories come flowing back.

Do you ever have memories associated with specific songs? What are they?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Virtual Christmas--A Repeat

Today, I repeat a blog from five years ago. It is about one of my most memorable holidays. Thanks to Stephanie who suggested it.

A few years ago, during the financial crisis, most in our family were unable to spend much for gifts. We agreed to give the kids smaller presents, but the adults were in a quandary.

Larry grew up with a large extended family. All the kids got something small, but lots of gifts. Auntie Wanda, who worked in a bank, gave each child a crisp, new two-dollar bill. Uncle Francis brought them each a shiny silver dollar. (Kim still has some of hers.) Auntie Margie loved finding loud and crazy socks. She’d shop all year for them. (And Kim insisted on wearing them—with everything.)

Since Larry’s dad was one of six, and most were married with kids, we often had forty or more on Christmas Eve. Dad was the youngest and was sixteen years younger than his oldest sister. We loved having kids and adults of all ages, and we welcomed a new family member every few years.

The adults drew names for gifts with a $20 limit. This meant each couple only had to buy two adult gifts. Names were drawn on Thanksgiving, but we weren’t particularly strict about sticking with the names as drawn. Much horse trading occurred between that date and Christmas Eve.

Everyone knew Cousin Gerry loved getting Larry’s brother, Casey. Both were pranksters, and Gerry loved giving Casey off-the-wall gifts.

One year, she gave him a large box. When he opened it, the only thing inside was a clue to the next gift. She routed him all over the house until he finally located the small box in the center of her cookie plate. It held a $20 bill. Another year, he received a coffee can filled with change embedded in the most awful mixture of white glue, peanut butter, chocolate syrup… Well, you can imagine. He had to run the whole thing under very hot water before he was able to extract his $20 in change.

I always loved getting Auntie Margie. She had very definite tastes, and most of the rest of them found her challenging. What a coup when I was able to please her, and I did so often.

For many years, we hosted the entire family, but as the older generation died out, and the ‘kids’ grew up and moved away, the group grew smaller until we were left with only our immediate families.

As Christmas of 2009 approached, some of us were faced with limited resources. My sister-in-love, Lucy, had just started a new job. Casey’s company had folded, as had mine. Kim had moved to Texas for work and was no longer working two jobs. Our niece, Carrie, and her husband were leaving right after the first of the year to move to Utah. In short, times were financially challenging, and money was tight.

A coworker was faced with the same situation in her family. She had just gone back to work after nine months of unemployment. (I had gotten her a contract job at the same place I was working.)

Her family decided on a virtual Christmas. The rules were simple:
·              Decide what you would give each family member if money were no object and without any restrictions.
·              Write a note to each person, along with pictures or other enhancements (web pages, etc.) to let them know what you’d give them and why.
·              Put your virtual gift in an envelope, and put it on the tree on Christmas Eve.

Everyone took the challenge seriously. And the gifts we received that year far surpassed any material gifts we might have gotten.

I have kept my virtual gifts locked carefully away along with the birth certificates, marriage certificate, and all the other valuable papers. They are that precious.

Kim ‘gave’ Larry a trip to outer space, complete with photos and a web page. I ‘got’ a house in Hawaii.

My brother, who is a classic car fanatic, ‘gave’ Larry a woody and me a ’57 Thunderbird—my favorite car of all time.

Carrie and Loren had just bought a new house in Utah, so they brought the map of their neighborhood. Their ‘gift’ was a house of our choice so we could be near them.

Larry’s gift was a trip to Hawaii for the whole family. His gift to me was to retire and travel to all the places on my bucket list: Machu Picchu, England, Scotland (again), New Zealand (again, Italy (again), and Hawaii (always). Oh, and he’d go along.

My gifts were all intangibles. To Kim, I ‘gave’ happiness. To my brother, confidence, and so forth. Larry’s gift reads as follows:

To Larry I would give
In God and your faith
            In your work and your play
                        In your family and home
                                    In love and marriage
You are the greatest blessing in my life.
            If I could do it all over again,
I would. You taught me how to laugh
            And play and love (the best parts).
I love you.

We haven’t done it again, but someday, perhaps, we will. I’d recommend it to anyone, whether or not finances are an issue.

My virtual gift for you? A joyous and blessed holiday season and a prosperous New Year. May all your fondest dreams come true.

Friday, November 30, 2018

I Miss Christmas Shopping

Even though I used to have my Christmas shopping completed by September (yes, I planned ahead), I miss actually shopping for presents. Throughout the year, if I saw something and it reminded me of a friend or family member, I bought it and put it away for the holidays.
Wherever we traveled during the year, I looked for Christmas ornaments. Often, what I found weren’t originally intended to be used as ornaments, but when I added hooks and bows, keychains and other items became decorations. I got them each year for our daughter, godchild, and the nieces and nephews. These became expected. The kids looked forward to seeing where each year’s ornament came from.

I continue this tradition, but now for the great-nieces and nephews. Last April we were in Paris. We visited St. Chapelle, and I saw some great, fun gargoyle keychains—just the thing for the little boys in our lives. So, I have this year’s ornaments. Shh, please don’t tell. These are about the only gifts I still buy these days.

The family has spread to other states, and we don’t all get together during the holidays. These days, it’s easier to send a gift card the whole family can use for something special. We usually send a card, a copy of our latest book(s), and the ornaments.

Last year, we gave charitable gifts in the other family members’ names. We felt as though we were doing something positive, but it wasn’t the same as receiving a surprise gift.

This year, Kim isn’t coming for Christmas. She just started a new job and doesn’t have any vacation time accrued. We’ll really miss her.

When she was little, she had a clothing budget—a limit on how much we’d spend on her clothes. She got to make the decisions about what to buy, but when she reached the limit, she didn’t get anything else until the next period. The exception was during the holidays.

Usually, one day during her visit, I announce, “I feel like shopping.” What this means is we would go shopping, and I’d buy her something—or maybe more than one. However, we always pretended it was a spontaneous decision, even though we did it nearly every year. It is one of our favorite rituals, and I’ll miss it this year.

From the time we lived in Osaka, I have done most of my shopping online. I can compare prices and have everything delivered to my door or drop-shipped directly to the recipient. I have little or no need to go to a mall or department store during the holidays. I have always avoided the crowds, but I loved seeing the decorations.

I used to spend hours wrapping gifts, too. I usually picked a “theme” or “look” each year, and wrapped all the gifts alike. In the past few years, I have used gift bags. They are reusable with less waste. From a green standpoint, they make more sense, but I confess, I miss seeing the pile of wrapped gifts under the tree.

Change is the only constant. Some changes I like, and others are harder to adjust to. I wouldn’t want to go backwards, but a part of me still misses some things from the past.

Are there any traditions you no longer observe? Do you miss them?

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Gift-Giving – Another Take

For Christmas the year I was five, Santa brought me a “mama” doll. She instantly became my favorite, and I named her Mary Ann. By my seventh birthday, I had loved her so hard I had worn off her hair and her once-blonde wig had fallen off. Her rosy cheeks had lost their color from many kisses. Mary Ann had an open mouth and two tiny teeth. My brother had pushed the teeth inside her mouth so I couldn't see them. He also bit off the tips of a couple of her fingers and pushed in her weighted eyes so they were nearly invisible and didn't open and close anymore.

I loved her anyway.

The morning of my seventh birthday, I woke to the sight of a new doll sitting on the foot of my bed. I rushed into the kitchen to tell my mother how much I loved my new doll.

Mom looked at me funny. "Don't you recognize her?"

I looked closely and noticed the tips of her fingers were bitten off and some of the color was missing from her cheeks. “Mary Ann.” I held her even tighter once I realized she had been restored. Her teeth were back in place. Her eyes, once again, opened and closed. Nothing could have been a better present

Later, I learned my dad had spent most of the night repairing her, adding a new (and completely inappropriate) wig, and dressing her in new clothes.

She was my best friend throughout my childhood, including the following spring when my father died.

When my daughter, Kim, was little, she was allowed to play and sleep with Mary Ann, but only when she was ill. Kim knew how much my doll had meant to me, so for Christmas one year when she was in her teens, she found a beautiful doll dress at the thrift shop and gave it to me—and Mary Ann.

Years later, I told this story to the kids in church and drew a parallel to God. Dad had given me what I really wanted. I just didn’t know it. He'd restored my beloved doll. I believe God, too, gives us what we really need, even though it might not look as we expect.

As I told the story, I passed Mary Ann around and let the kids hug her. (She still likes to be hugged, and sometimes children visiting our home are allowed to hold her.)

My mom was in the congregation the morning I told the story.

When I finished, I looked at her and saw tears in her eyes. She shook her head. "We had no money for anything extra that year."

My dad had been in the hospital for months earlier in the year. Today’s unemployment insurance and other programs either didn’t exist or didn’t provide nearly enough money to live on. By the time he was well enough to go back to work, their savings had been depleted for food and other necessities.

Dad worked at the main Broadway Department Store in downtown L.A., so he had gone through the discard pile at the store and found the wig and clothes. Fortunately, he was clever with his hands and figured out how to fix her eyes and teeth. (I thought my daddy could fix anything. Both my brother and I inherited this ability from him.)

"I have always felt so guilty because we couldn't get you a new doll." Mom wiped her eyes.

I hugged her. “I always considered it one of the best gifts I ever received.”

I believe sometimes God uses our perceived lack to provide for our needs... 

Do you have any stories about how lack brought about abundance? I truly believe it happens—and I have my doll to prove it.