Friday Book Whimsy: The Great Pretenders

The Great Pretenders, by Laura Kalpakian, puts us face-to-face with 1950s America.

Roxanne Granville spent her childhood at a movie studio run by her famous grandfather. Her parents were actors who had little to do with Roxanne. Movies are part of her life, but it’s the 1950s, and things are changing drastically. Her grandfather has bought into the Red Scare, and has fired many people for being “red”, even if they were his friends, and even if the accusations aren’t true.

Roxanne’s beloved grandmother has died, and leaves her personal money to Roxanne. This allows Roxanne to open her own agency where she will represent screenwriters, and distance herself from her grandfather. But it isn’t long before these same writers — men and women with whom she grew up loving — to ask her to help get their writing into the right hands by having someone else’s name on the script.

It works. Until things start getting complicated. And one of her biggest complications is falling in love with a Black journalist — a man who has become an activist in the civil rights movement.

I grew up in the 1950s, but have little memory of the so-called Red Scare, or how deeply it impacted Hollywood. I, of course, am familiar with the situation of Black Americans long before the Black Lives Matter movement. Still, it’s hard for me to imagine how seriously separated the races were in the 1950s and 1960s.

I really enjoyed the book. I certainly grimaced at the situations that took place throughout the story. Still, I liked the characters — at least the ones who were the good guys . The glamour and romance of Hollywood was so well written that I could picture the dresses and see the movie stars smoking their cigarettes in restaurants as they awaited their martinis. The mental pictures drawn by the author kept me on the edge of my seat as secrets became exposed and it became more and more clear that Roxanne and Terrance’s love affair was going to be out in the open eventually.

I enjoyed the book very much, and recommend it enthusiastically.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Is the Doctor In?
This week has been crazy with doctor appointments. One of the side effects of growing older is the need to see doctors of all colors, creeds, and medical specialties. We have your cataracts. We have your movement disorders. We have your heart issues. Bing. Bing. Bing. It’s a full house. Anyhoo, yesterday we were out the door in plenty of time for Bill’s 10:30 appointment for an echocardiogram. We parked in the wrong spot, which resulted in the nicest security guard imaginable leading us to the place where we needed to check in. William McLain for radiology, we said. The receptionist looked and looked. She asked for his date of birth. She asked twice for the spelling of his last name. Finally, she gently explained to us that, yes, we had a 10:30 appointment for an echo, but unfortunately, it’s next Wednesday. Well, better early than late, isn’t it? Yikes.

See You Next Year
I sent a text to our lawn service this week explaining that we no longer needed the service this year. We had our sprinkler system blown out, and the lawn is now dead to me. Our lawn service fellow was very nice about it, but of course he had to be because Christmas is coming. You see, our lawn service this year was our 15-year-old grandson Alastair. He did a marvelous job. Hope to see him, or another grandchild next year pushing out mower.

Happy Birthday
Monday was Bill’s birthday. Admittedly, birthdays are not quite the same when you’re in the upper years as they are when you’re turning 7. Still, I made him King for the Day. I made a coffee cake for him for breakfast; I bought him his choice of lunch, which was barbecue; and Dave and Jll hosted him us for dinner. We enjoyed yummy pot roast and the kids baked him a chocolate cake for dessert. Happy birthday to my wonderful husband…..

A Chill in the Air
We’ve had a lovely fall so far, but the weather is supposed to cool down in the next few days. Friday, the high is expected to be around 40 degrees. That’s bearable, and I won’t complain. I’m ready to cover up my grill and start braising some meals.


Guest Post: Beach Vacation 2020 Style

By Rebecca Borman

Once a year, either in the spring or the fall, the Chandler Bormans travel to Cocoa Beach, FL, and we stay in our timeshare at The Resort on Cocoa Beach. This year’s trip, as you would imagine, was a different kind of trip.

There were more than just COVID complications. Erik, Josey, Mackenzie, and Carter (as well as their two labradoodles Bentley and Bailey) moved into a new and still-being-renovated house on September 30. In addition, Carter had important soccer games on both weekends of our week. After a lot of discussion, Erik encouraged us girls, Josey, Mackenzie, and Nana, to go without him and Carter. Josey and I talked about it, and we decided this trip would be good for all three of us, though we would surely miss the two boys. We discussed our safety protocols and purchased our airline tickets.

The trip to Cocoa Beach is a long day; it’s many hours in the air, connections along the way, a three hour time difference between Arizona and Florida, car rental, and an hour drive to the Resort. The trip east couldn’t have gone more smoothly, but it was midnight when we finally got to our “home” for the next week. We had our choice of two units, and we chose the one on the eighth floor, as we knew it would provide a good view of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Banana River.

Our first adventure was a trip Sunday morning to the nearby Publix grocery store. We weren’t sure how that would go, because we’d heard that many Floridians were resistant to wearing masks and social distancing. But, we were comfortable in the store, which wasn’t crowded, and everyone we saw was appropriately masked. We took our time and bought food, drinks, and beach supplies for the week. Three beach chairs, check! One boogie board, check! Life is good.

Mackenzie thought it would be fun to go out for dinner on our first night, to the Sunset Grill, on the Banana River, which is our favorite place to eat. We hadn’t treated ourselves to restaurant dining since early March, but we chose to go and were happy that we did. The seating is all outdoor and there were only a couple of tables with diners. We enjoyed our meals so much: fried shrimp and oysters for Josey and me; steak, Caesar salad and a decadent dessert for Mackenzie. And as a special treat, before we even sat down, we saw a dolphin and a manatee in the river. Good call, Mackenzie!

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were perfect beach days. We set up our chairs, distant from other beach-goers, and enjoyed the waves and the sun. Josey and Mackenzie played in the waves for hours, and I sat on the edge of the water, “only worry in the world is the tide gonna’ reach my chair.”

We walked the beach and found peace in a place that we love so much. For us, going to Cocoa Beach usually includes numerous visits to Ron Jon Surf Shop. Mackenzie’s birthday is in early March, and her gift from me was to be a shopping trip. That didn’t happen because of COVID. So I told her she could do her birthday shopping trip in Ron Jon.

She was one happy young lady. She found many cute things and it will give me pleasure to see her enjoying them. Josey and I also found many cute things and went back several times to make sure we hadn’t missed something!

In some ways, this beach trip was quite different.  We were careful and thoughtful about where we went; we wore masks everywhere, and on our travel days learned what it’s like to wear a mask all day–and found it challenging; we cooked more in our room and ate out less; we didn’t get into the elevator if another group was in it; we missed Erik and Carter. 

And, yet, in many ways our experience was as usual:  we ate delicious seafood; we walked on the beach and enjoyed the water; we hung out at the pool and made use of the Tiki bar to order food and fun drinks;  we watched a beautiful sunset over the Banana River. 

In a time that has been a challenge for everyone, our week at the beach was both a new adventure and a chance to enjoy some familiar things.  I think none of us will take our ordinary beach activities for granted in the future.

Short People

Short people got no reason to live
They got little hands
And little eyes
And they walk around
Tellin’ great big lies
They got little noses
And tiny little teeth
They wear platform shoes
On their nasty little feet
They got little baby legs
And they stand so low
You got to pick ’em up
Just to say hello
They got little cars
That go beep, beep, beep
They got little voices
Goin’ peep, peep, peep
They got grubby little fingers
And dirty little minds
They’re gonna get you every time
Well, I don’t want no short people. – Randy Newman

When Bill and I married in 1992, he admitted to me that he has always been drawn to short women. He claims nearly every girl/woman he dated throughout his life was short. I can neither confirm nor deny. I can only tell you that I’m short, and I’m glad he likes me that way.

Baby Boomers will undoubtedly remember the song cited above about short people. I know very little about the history of the song. Randy Newman, himself, is a full 6 feet tall. According to Wikipedia, the song was about prejudice in general rather than an actual bias against short people. He used short people to illustrate the stupidity of judging people by their looks, color, race, and so forth.

Since I am a full 5′ 2″ without shoes, I was never a fan of the song. But he made up for it with You’ve Got a Friend in Me. That’s a sweet song, even if it’s sung by a toy.

I’ve always liked being short. Of course, I liked it way better when I was young and short and weighed 105 lbs. Then I was just considered small. Nowadays, I try to argue that I’m not overweight, I’m just under-tall. We all know better.

But here’s what I’ve learned about being short over the years. It’s a handicap when it comes to grocery shopping. And it’s even worse since the grocery shelves are now often emptier than normal. I can’t tell you how very many times I have had to ask a nearby taller person to help me reach something on the very top shelf. The sad truth is there are many things that I simply can’t reach, especially if the first one or two of the items is gone. Reaching that third can of baking powder on the top shelf is a no-go, even on my tippy-toes.

When I was younger, I didn’t think twice about climbing on the shelves to reach the item in question. There have been a number of occasions when a grocery worker has come running, begging me not to climb on their shelves. I feel like I’m being disciplined like a 4-year-old kid. Here’s an idea: put the Joe and Nelly’s key lime juice somewhere that we can all reach.

And then the dairy shelves! Oy vey. I have taught myself a trick that often works because the shelves are wire. I fish out a pen from the bottom of my purse, dust off the cracker crumbs or tissue lint, and use it to coax that 1-pint bottle of Cinnamon Spice creamer towards the front where I can reach it. If I can’t find a pen, I look around for someone taller than me. In the olden days, I would have scaled the refrigerator shelves.

The good news is that I can almost always find someone taller (that isn’t difficult given my height), and every single time, the person has been very nice about it. Perhaps they’re of the Short People Matter mindset.

By the way, since I was 15 years old, I’ve been 5’2″ tall. At my last well check, the nurse broke the news to me that I was 5’1-3/4″ tall. I made her measure twice.

Short people got no reason to live.

There’s Always Room for Haggis

I never participate in those surveys that people find so much fun on Facebook. Have you ever ridden in an ambulance? Do you prefer vanilla ice cream or chocolate ice cream? What is your mother’s maiden name? What is your favorite password? I will forever be convinced they are designed for someone in Nigeria to learn my passwords.

But I read them, and answer them in my mind. Yes, I’ve ridden in an ambulance. Chocolate ice cream all the way. No comment on the other two questions, but I know the answers.

Recently, one of the questions I read was What is the strangest food you’ve ever eaten? That got me to thinking about what strange foods I’ve eaten in my nearly 67 years of life. Furthermore, it got me to thinking about how “strange” is in the eye of the beholder, or palate of the individual in this case. I, for example, have eaten oxtails on many occasions. It was one of my favorite meals made by my mother. Slimy, fatty, and delicious. Perhaps some consider that strange; I don’t. I also love me some escargot, though there are those who wouldn’t THINK about eating a snail. Yummy with lots of butter and garlic, and a bonus if puff pastry is involved.

I guess many would consider haggis to be strange. It’s hard to argue that it isn’t. After all, it’s the heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep mixed with oatmeal and fat and spices, wrapped in the sheep’s stomach lining, and boiled to within an inch of its life. I have eaten it on two occasions: once in Scotland, and once here in Denver when we attended a multicultural night at the grandkids’ school. Dave hired a bagpiper to “pipe” in the haggis, as is traditionally done in Scotland. It’s not tasty. Sorry Scotland. Stick to your whiskey.

My dad used to eat head cheese. There is no cheese involved in head cheese. What is involved is the ciced-up head (and various organs) of a calf or a pig floating in gelatin. My father loved it. It smelled awful. Simply awful.

One thing that I didn’t eat, but wish I had, was horsemeat in northern Italy. Again, the Italians don’t consider that strange at all, but I wasn’t brave enough to order horse meat on my pasta. I have regretted it ever since. It is on every menu during the spring in northern Italy.

The Asian countries take home the gold medal when it comes to strange things to eat. Lots of insects and worms and uteruses. (Uterusi?) As I perused a website featuring strange foods, I literally gagged at some of the photos.

My sister Bec tells the story of a friend of hers who served in the military in Vietnam. He dined one night with a native Vietnamese family. He was presented with a bowl of the soup they were all eating. However, as the guest of honor, his bowl featured the eyeball of the animal, with the retina holding it up so that it floated. They all watched him for his reaction. Not wanting to hurt any feelings, he ate the eyeball as expected. He told my sister, “I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, but I also didn’t want to act too enthusiastic. After all, I knew there was another eyeball out there in the kitchen.”

It kind of makes a guy appreciate a good ol’ American hamburger, doesn’t it?

Friday Book Whimsy: The Women in Black

After reading a series of books that were somewhat dark, it was a pleasure to stumble upon The Women in Black, a novel by Madeleine St John. This book, like the book I reviewed last week, takes place in the 1950s, but this time the location is one with which I am less familiar — Sydney, Australia.

This quirky, quick-reading novel features four characters, all of whom work at Goode’s Department store in Sydney. The women who work here are recognizable because of the black dresses they are required to wear.

Patty is married to Frank. Her biological clock is ticking, but unfortunately her husband pays little attention to her. As long as she puts his steak in front of him every night, he is content. He eats and then goes to bed.

Fay is single but would love to be married, but she hasn’t yet met the right man. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to her that she will ever find happiness.

Magda works is the fancy dancy dress department of Goode’s. She and her husband moved from Slovenia, and have worked hard at acclimating to the new culture, but maintaining their roots. She wants to own her own dress shop someday.

Along comes young Lisa, who is hired to work during the busy Christmas holidays. Lisa is eager to find her way into the world. She just graduated from high school, and is awaiting her final grades to see if she will get a scholarship to attend the university. Even if she does, her father will fight her all the way. In his opinion, women don’t need college; they need a husband and kids.

These four women come together under funny circumstances and are tied together in unexpected ways. They all find out that nothing in their lives is more important than knowing who they are and what’s is important, and friendship.

The author has a very unique writing style. The characters were all so very likeable. I read the book in a day-and-a-half, and it left me smiling and feeling like we can tackle anything in the world with patience and friendship.

I recommend this book!

Thursday Thoughts

Facing the Ballot
Our ballots showed up in the mail over the weekend. Yesterday I made the Big Move and opened up the envelope to glance at what I will face when I finally get up the nerve to vote. That will happen before the end of the week. And then I don’t want to hear another commercial, watch another debate, get another unwanted text message, or read one more Facebook political post.

The Fly
Bill purchased a pair of heavy-duty safety sunglasses. He tried them on, and is very pleased with how well they protect his eyes from dust and debris when he’s working in the yard. He demonstrated to me how handsome he looks when he wears his glasses with his facemask. Hmmmm. I see the resemblance….

What About the Lawn?
Yesterday I called the man who has blown out our sprinklers for the past few years. He didn’t answer, but I left a message for him. He called back yesterday evening to tell me he could come this afternoon to do the job. What is your address, he asked me. I told him, and he answered, “Oh, your husband is the one with the Ferrari in his garage, isn’t he? I admitted that he was the owner, though the car isn’t currently in our garage in Denver. Oh, if only his memory of our house was our beautiful lawn.

Little Bitty
In my never-ending quest to make cute small things to eat, yesterday I made the most adorable pumpkin pie for two. I actually try to make it for a couple of days, but Bill isn’t satisfied with one piece. I can’t blame him. They really are small. But the small piece makes me happy. Here’s a photo before I put it in the oven. The measuring cup is a quarter cup. I placed it there for perspective…..


Changes in Gratitude, No. 2

This week thus far, I have written two I-Am-Crabby-And-I-Know-It blog posts. Today, I’m not a bit crabby. Of course, it’s 5 o’clock in the morning when I post this blog. There’s still plenty of time.

A couple of months ago, I posted a blog about being grateful. Concentrating on the glass-half-full instead of the glass-half-empty. I think I’m generally a pretty cheerful person (unless you’re Bill McLain and you’re sitting across the table from me before I’ve had my first cup of coffee in the morning or my 5 o’clock cocktail in the evening, or really any given time between). But I do tend to go down the doomsday path pretty quickly when a problem arises. Like Pumpkin Spice toothpaste or being called Honey by a 22-year-old receptionist.

Anyhoo, I figured it was about time to look again at the positive side of my life, and name the five things for which I am most grateful THIS DAY.

No. 1: I currently have three — count ’em — three UNOPENED puzzles. That means three puzzles with which I am totally unfamiliar. Yesterday morning I started a puzzle that I bought last year around this time. It is a Springbok puzzle (my favorite brand) that features Halloween cookies. I’m having fun with it given the season and all, but I have to tell you there is something simply wonderful about starting a puzzle that is totally new to me…..

No. 2: All of my grandkids are stepping up to the challenges they face in school. They are all in live school now, and they complain little (at least to this Nana) about having to wear a mask all day. I’m sure it’s uncomfortable. Our eldest grandchild — Adelaide — is a senior this year. Rather than moaning and complaining about all of the things she is missing, she is creating her own fun. Both she and Alastair — along with their friends and with the help of parents — created their own “homecoming” that included dressing up and having dinner (provided by the parents). One of the perks of being a senior at Addie’s high school is that the seniors are given a parking spot. For a slight charge, they can paint that spot. Even though up until yesterday there was no live school, she purchased and painted her spot in August just because it was the tradition…..

No. 3: I love autumn, even though it’s a forewarning of winter. But the trees are spectacular this year, and I’m grateful to live in a place that has four seasons (and that I can be in AZ for the season I don’t like!)…..

No. 4: Years ago when we decided to take out a bed of perennials that made me crazy and put in a big patio, I immediately envisioned the grandkids playing on scooters or drawing with sidewalk chalk. I am happy to report that it has come about just as I’d hoped. Every time I see one or more of my grandkids riding scooters or playing four square or drawing pictures, my heart is grateful…..

Oh, and it’s more than the grandkids who enjoy sidewalk chalk.

No. 5: I am grateful to live in the 21st century when we can have cataracts removed and knees and hips and shoulders replaced. Just imagine how our ancestors suffered through crippling arthritis and blindness because there were no alternatives.

And so, my friends, this is my gratitude list for the day. I hope it makes up for my crankiness earlier this week.

Nevertheless, get off my lawn.

Rant Increase

In a few weeks, my sister Jennifer is having shoulder reconstruction surgery. You might recall that this past January, she had a knee replaced. Pretty soon she will have so much metal inside her that she will even stick to refrigerator magnets.

The reason she’s having the surgery this fall is that she met her insurance deductible with her knee replacement surgery, so since shoulder surgery was inevitable, she chose to do it in 2020. Why not? After all, it’s 2020. She probably could fit in a hip and her other knee if she put her mind to it.

She chose to have the surgery again in AZ at the orthopedic surgery practice where she had her knee surgery. Though it’s the same practice, it’s a different surgeon. She had to work with a member of their staff to get the information. Not surprisingly in this day and age, it took some time and angst to get it all settled.

Not the least of her frustrationwas the fact that the man with whom she worked talked to her like she was 10 years old. Well Sweetie, I’ll see if I can get the doctor to help me set a date for you. Would that work? Or, Now don’t you worry Honey. We’ll get everything to work out.

“Why does he think he can call me Sweetie or Honey?” Jen would say to me day after day when the man wouldn’t respond to her pleas to get a date set so that she could make her arrangements. “He doesn’t know me,” she went on. “He doesn’t know how old I am, and he certainly wouldn’t be calling me Honey if he saw me grinding me teeth in frustration.”

It’s a good question. Why is it that young cashiers or food servers or receptionists in doctors’ offices think it’s okay to call a Baby Boomer something like Sweetie, or Honey, or Dear? It is annoying as hell! I have been a cashier and a receptionist and a food server, and I promise I would NEVER have called an older person by such a name. It’s demeaning.

Do you hear that, Young People. IT’S DEMEANING. Stop. Just stop.

This is my second rant this week, and for that, I apologize. But the grocery store cashier yesterday said to me, “Goodbye, Dear. Have a great day.”

I’m not your “dear” and don’t tell me what kind of day I should have. To tell you the truth, it was going quite well until you called me Dear.

While much of my readership is on the receiving end of the Honeyisms, I will nevertheless make this plea to those who have yet to reach the Golden Years. Don’t call us Sweetie. Let’s go back to the good old days and just call me Ma’am or Sir.

Rant complete. And get off my lawn.