Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Where on Earth Did 2008 Go?

Yes, fins can be worn around the house

I hope that you have been visiting Ronni Bennett's blog, The Elder Storytelling Place, which is a place where elder bloggers can share their stories.

Just in case you need a little encouragement, let me modestly guide you to my own stories that appear there, including one today. All of these have appeared previously here on The Zees, but feel free to read them again.

Fins and the Art of Swim Kick Maintenance

Second Tier Girl

Hope Wins; How We Heard the News in the Reddest Part of a Blue State


Mr. Zee Goes Up

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Visiting The City Different

Not my photo; but this is what it looked like

How many shades of brown can you imagine? We just went to Santa Fe for a day trip and I believe that we saw them all. Picture a city that you almost can't see from a distance, because its public buildings and houses blend into the landscape so perfectly. Picture tiny winding snowy streets, lined with beautiful adobe walls. Picture every kind of adobe house in every shade of brown and tan and russet, and you will begin to have an idea of Santa Fe.

I wish I had photos to share with you. There was snow, lots of snow, capping the walls around the houses and piling up against the coyote fences. The air was cold and it smelled of those delicious piƱon and mesquite fireplace fires. The city was surrounded by mountain ranges dusted with snow. What a beautiful place, and unlike any other American city--The City Different, indeed.

We were invited to visit the family of one of my son's dearest friends. There, in a warm little adobe house, we learned the secrets of making enchiladas the real way--stacked and topped with fried eggs. I got to see the actual process of making chile (red chile sauce, I've been calling it) at the side of an expert, instead of reading the how-to out of books as I so often do.

We sat around a table and shared companionship and swapped stories. It was hard to believe that we had just met these people. I felt so at home, I didn't want to leave.

We slid down the icy driveway waving good-bye to our new friends, and drove out into the empty New Mexican spaces under our big, big turquoise sky; then down through the mesquite-covered foothills, and out through the great flat plains, and so back to our accidental prairie home.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

In Honor of My Mother's Birthday

My mother, Elva, was born on December 27, 1914, and died in 1997, although we would have sworn that she was immortal. In honor of her birthday, I'd like to share one of my favorite photos of her, which was taken in 1978.

I would like to pretend that she was an intrepid explorer who discovered a great many antiquities in Egypt, but I'm afraid that this photo is a little too revealing. Note the old gentleman in the background wearing a vacation outfit--a sure tip-off that this photo was staged as part of a retired teachers' tour of Egyptian sightseeing highlights. And, for heaven's sake, check out the purse (always referred to as a pocket book by my mother) she is carrying. It's a rare explorer who carries a purse when riding off toward adventure in the desert.

By and by, I'll share a little of Elva's life story. It's a good project for the New Year, and it will only make me stronger.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Last of the Exhibition

Two Frankensteins by Jimmy McGlaughlin

Here are the last of the paintings that I have to show you from the Close to Home and Far Away exhibition. There were a few more that were exhibited, but unfortunately they were hung in a spot where I couldn't get good photos of them. The photo of Two Frankensteins is from private correspondence with the director of the North Fourth organization.

Remember, collectors, some of these paintings may still be available. For more information, go to

Family by Steve Romero

A Lot of Color by Stephanie Trujillo

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Here are some more paintings from the Close to Home and Far Away exhibition. Some of these paintings may still be available. For more information, go to

Portrait of a Man by Marc Frye

Walking in Water by Lena Han

The Wild Fox by Lena Han

Untitled by Joe Andazola

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Here are a few more pieces from the show Close to Home and Far Away.

Both Worlds by Helene Valdez

Outside Rain by Heather Aragon

My Flower by Georgia Moya

The Friendly Bear by Esteban Lujan

Spotted Horse by Elaine Archuleta

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

More Joyous Paintings

Here are some more paintings from the Close to Home and Far Away exhibition. Some of these paintings may still be available. For more information, go to

Flower Garden by Dolores Montoya
American Flowers by Cindy Billings

The First Flower by Cheryle Coburn

Galloping Horse by Adam Smith

Monday, December 22, 2008

Close to Home and Far Away

Blue and Purple Man, by Ian Donaldson

The North Fourth Art Center art show, called Close to Home and Far Away, was held at the Eula Mae Edwards Gallery at the Clovis Community College, from November 5 – December 19, 2008. I had hoped to get there a lot sooner so that I could tell you about it while the show was still open, but I was hampered by this pesky knee replacement recovery. I was finally able to drive myself to the show only on the day before it closed.

Pauline, by Esteban Lujan

I'm glad I was able to get a look at the paintings. (Please forgive the glare from my camera's flash that appears on almost every painting. I couldn't figure out how to avoid it). They were joyful and full of color. I'm certainly no art critic, but these paintings, displayed along with photos of the artists, made me happy and made me want to know more about the painters and the North Fourth Art Center.

Here is some information about both from a recent press release: Close to Home and Far Away captures the immediate surroundings of artists, portraying people, animals and places with an eye open to new experiences. The exhibit includes works by Jon Andazola, Elaine Archuleta, Heather Aragon, Cindy Billings, Cindy Brannan, Cheryle Coburn, Ian Donaldson, Marc Frye, Lena Han, Angelica Harrison, Esteban Lujan, Jimmy McGlaughlin, Dolores Montoya, Georgia Moya, Priscilla Rodriguez, Steve Romero, Adam Smith, Stephanie Trujillo, Helene Valdez, all artists from the VSA Day Arts Program at North Fourth Art Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Flowers and House, by Angelica Harrison

These artists turn ordinary moments into memorable works of art created in acrylic, oil pastel, pencil, prismacolor, mixed media and watercolor. The goal of the exhibit is to highlight the artistic achievements of individuals with disabilities and provide opportunities to exhibit and sell their artwork statewide.

VSA arts of New Mexico offers inclusive arts education, creative employment and training, production, exhibition and presentation opportunities for all New Mexicans, with a focus on people with disabilities and other diverse social and cultural perspectives. VSA arts of New Mexico operates Albuquerque's N4th Theater & Gallery/ North Fourth Art Center and is affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. For more information visit

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saving the Firstborn Son

I must share this story from Bruce Chatwin's book, Songlines. It seems to me that within its brevity it exposes the very worst and the best of our human behavior. You might even notice some parallels to the Christmas Story. This is from Chatwin's notebook:

On the train, Frankfurt-Vienna

He was on his way to see his old father, who was a rabbi in Vienna. He was short and fat. He had pallid white skin and ginger ringlets, and wore a long serge greatcoat and beaver hat. He was very shy. He was so shy he found it impossible to undress with anyone else in the compartment. The sleeping-car attendant had assured him he would be alone.

I offered to go into the corridor. The train was passing through a forest. I opened the window and breathed in the smell of pines. When I came back, ten minutes later, he was lying on the upper bunk, relaxed and eager to talk.

For sixteen years he had been studying at a Talmudic Academy in Brooklyn: he had not seen his father since. The morning would reunite them.

Before the war his family had lived at Sibiu in Romania and, when the war came, they hoped they were safe. Then, in 1942, Nazis painted a star on their house.

The rabbi shaved his beard and cut his ringlets. His Gentile servant fetched him a peasant costume: a felt hat, a belted tunic, a sheepskin jacket and boots. He embraced his wife, his two daughters and the baby boy: all four of them would die in Birkenau. He took his first-born son in his arms, and dashed for the woods.

The rabbi walked through the Carpathian beech forests with his son. Shepherds sheltered them and gave them meat: the way the shepherds slaughtered sheep did not offend his principles. Eventually, they crossed the Turkish frontier and made their way to America.

The rabbi never felt at ease in America. He could sympathise with Zionism, but never bring himself to join. Israel was an idea, not a country. Wherever was the Torah, there was the Kingdom also. He had left, in despair, for Europe.

Now father and son were returnng to Romania, since, only a few weeks earlier, the rabbi had received a sign. Late one night, in his apartment in Vienna, he reluctantly answered the doorbell. On the landing stood an old woman with a shopping basket. She had bluish lips and wispy white hair. Dimly, he recognised his Gentile servant.

"I have found you," she said. "Your house is safe. Your books are safe, your clothes even. For years I pretended it was now a Gentile house. I am dying. Here is the key."

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Mexico Sunset for Skywatch Friday

Be sure to view the sky photos from all over the world on Skywatch Friday by clicking on the Skywatch button in the margin of the blog.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Merry Christmas from the Family

I've been listening to a great selection of Christmas music mixed by National Public Radio. It's called Jingle Jams, and consists of 100 holiday songs, familiar and not-so. You can see the playlist here, and join the streaming continuous loop of music by clicking on the link on that page.

One song was new to me and I found it a little offensive at first. I'm a traditionalist, more or less, and have a picture in my mind of what a family Christmas should look like. Of course, that sort of thinking often leads to disappointment. This song, "Merry Christmas from the Family," gives a far more realistic representation of some of the characters we may actually have in our families, and of some of the quirky events we may experience during our holiday celebrations.

Just for you, I found a video of Jill Sobule's rendition of the song. It's a riot and I'm getting fonder of it all the time. One of my favorite parts is of the jellied cranberry sauce being dumped from the can onto a paper plate. Watch for it!

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Simpler Christmas

Last year's Christmas lights

You might have noticed a little theme happening on the Zees lately--looking back, way back. Memories of Christmases past, old family houses, how we used to dress, road trips of the past. I started wondering why I was doing all this looking back into the past. I guess it is because when times get tough, we love to get nostalgic and look back at simpler times. We pretend that the old days had fewer problems and that we didn't have to worry about anything way back then.

It's probably no mistake that all this nostalgia started happening at about the time when our national financial meltdown occurred. The net worth of the average American family has been going down, down, down as many homes are worth less, while mortgage payments stay the same; life savings are shrinking while the need for retirement income comes closer and closer.

I guess we are lucky, out here on the prairie. We're in a small town that has a growing need for additional housing, so our home values are pretty stable. Mortgages are held by small community banks that have always made loans on conservative terms so we have avoided the problems in many places where foreclosures are growing.

At the same time, we dare glance at the shrinking 401K only when we are feeling exceptionally strong. I was listening to an NPR interview with bankruptcy and commercial law expert Elizabeth Warren (What Does $700 Billion Buy Taxpayers?) and her report on the future for credit card debt and home bankruptcies over the next few years was so grim, so appalling, that I suddenly realized that I shouldn't be listening alone--I couldn't deal with this awful outlook by myself.

As we prepare here for the holidays, we have cut back where we can, as if doing so can make any difference in our shrinking life savings. Last year we set up for the first time a modest outdoor light display--even those few lights made a big increase in our electric bill. This year, we have only two little electric candles, one in each of our front windows. While simple and plain, the Christmas symbolism is still there, and we feel that we are doing a tiny bit toward simplifying our lives.

However, we never stop being grateful to have our home, our family, and our lives. For a look at those who are not so lucky, see June's post from Australia called Homeless at Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What Are You Reading This Weekend?

I've just started the book, The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin. What a relief! I had been trying to make my way through a travel book on Great Britain in which the author was finding fault about almost everything--not a pleasant read, and not a book I'll name here, since I'm finding fault about it. Lucky for me, there was one more unread book in my library bag.

I picked up The Songlines last night just to take a look at the table of contents and then found myself, half an hour later, many pages into the book and marveling at the lovely writing of Chatwin. He is interested in nomadism and the way that some cultures wander the earth, and has ended up in Australia. He has explained how the Australian aboriginal people "sing" the world into existence. Beyond that, I cannot tell you yet, but I am struck by his eloquence on every page.

So, what are you reading this weekend? I would love to hear your recommendations because I am always looking forward to my next great read. The comments are open, and I hope you will share the titles of some good books we can all add to our lists.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Road Trip; Old School Style

Family vacations were a big deal when I was a kid. My father often used his two weeks off all at once and we traveled in the family car that whole time. We bought new clothes before hitting the road; we called them our vacation outfits. For some reason they always included a hat, although we rarely wore casual hats in the other parts of our lives.

Here are my Aunt Nellie, little me, my mother, and littler Bucksnort, while on a visit to Jerry and Jimmy's Grandpa, who also appears elsewhere on this blog. He's the guy with the boots and jeans and for-real cowboy hat; the one who is grinning and no doubt cooking up another trick to make his San Francisco visitors remember their trip to his Arizona ranch forever. He isn't wearing his vacation clothes, but the rest of us are. My dad and Uncle Jack were off branding cattle, much to their dismay, so they didn't appear in this photo. You can tell that these are vacation clothes that we are wearing because they are matching outfits, and because we kids are wearing hats with our names stitched on them.

And here we are, much later, back in civilization. That's our neighbor's house and car in the background; and Bucksnort, my dad, and me in the foreground. We are not wearing vacation clothes, although they might have been road trip outfits at some time in the past. You can tell that we are no longer on vacation because we are not wearing hats. In spite of the fact that we have no labels stitched anywhere, revealing our names, my dad seems pretty certain that he has hold of the right girls.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Kids at Play; Three Generations

My friends, Alan, Sherry, and me; taking a break from Cowboys and Indians (c. 1950)
Nowadays, for whatever reason, when I walk or ride my bike around the neighborhoods, I rarely see children outside playing. Back in San Francisco's Sunset District in the 1940s and 1950s, we kids were rarely inside. We rode bikes, jumped rope, roller skated, played long and involved games of something we called "covered wagon," and, of course, we always had a cowboys and Indians series of some sort going on. The rule was more that kids were out playing, not in.

My own kids played outside a great deal at our place in Washington state in the late 1970s. There were chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, pigs, and even a donkey to either play with or run from. These kids from the two neighboring houses joined my son, Ben (the littlest), in a somewhat crowded "day at the beach."

Edgewood, WA, 1977
Interestingly enough, my own grandchildren posed for a similar photo in California, not too many years ago. They live a wonderfully healthy lifestyle, as their home is situated in a dead-end court where the neighborhood kids join in playing ball and riding bikes--not so different from my own childhood. Except, as my son would say, their life is in color.

A surprising number of kids here are in the same Zee family; another has been added since!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dressing Up

Ready to go downtown in winter

While looking at old photos and reminiscing, I remembered an annual family tradition that started in the 1940s in San Francisco. We always went downtown on the street car, my mother and me (Dad was at work, as all men were in those post-war years), to see the Christmas decorations in the big department stores. We would go for evening drives later when my father got home from work to see decorated outdoor places like Maiden Lane, which I now find was originally an area of brothels(!) that had been converted to fancy shops that were decorated beautifully during the Christmas season.

I remember going up the escalator and all but gasping at the sparkling decorations in the Emporium* on Market Street. We always went to I. Magnin's, and Macy's, too. The transformation of the familiar stores was amazing and it seems to me that the decorations were far fancier than anything we see now.

Dressed up in spring

You know, we used to get pretty dressed up to "go downtown." For me, always a coat and matching hat, if possible (my mother made a lot of my outfits), and a little purse to hold my white gloves. My mother insisted on those gloves when we rode on the streetcar. For my mother, a dress, high heels (how did she do it?), matching purse, coat, hat, and gloves.

Fancy family dress

Beez and I recently received an invitation in the mail for a Christmas party, being held in a pretty fancy part of town, to honor volunteers of a local charitable organization. The invitation, in addition to giving other details, specifies "spiffy casual" dress. Whatever that might be, it points out how much things have changed over the decades. People get dressed up less often, and so do our public places, especially during holiday times.

*I feel so historical. While looking for links to the stores and places I remember in downtown San Francisco, I found that many of them are gone and a part of history. I guess I am, too (a part of history, not gone).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Going Home Again

Our new home in the 1950s
My parents bought their first brand new home in 1956. It was in one of the new suburbs that were being built outside of San Rafael, in what was to become northern California's very fancy and expensive Marin County.
At the time, these houses ranged in price from the high 12's--I guess I need to translate that, in view of what has happened to house prices since. I mean that the prices ranged for $12,950 to $19,950--hard to believe now, I know! I just did a price search and the cheapest home in this area is currently listed at $599,000, even with the recent dive in real estate prices.

For that original price, people were getting some very nicely designed homes. Ours had a public area--living, dining, and kitchen--that was built around a massive brick wall that contained a two sided fireplace open to the living and dining rooms; and a large indoor barbecue, complete with spit, copper hood, and firebox that added to an already special kitchen.

The kitchen barbecue, spit and all

The kitchen contained General Electric's very best and latest appliances--countertop burners, a wall mounted oven, a built-in dishwasher, and a washer/dryer combination that no one ended up liking very much. My dad eventually took it out and built a matching cupboard for the space left, and we put our replacement washer and dryer out in the garage, as did most of our neighbors. The kitchen was small, but very workable, and opened into the dining room so the cook could have company. The most interesting appliances in the kitchen were the wall-mounted countertop-height fridge and freezer--three little doors, conveniently placed right at eye level. I've often wondered how people managed when those fridges wore out and needed replacement--there was literally no space for a big fridge.

Image from an old GE advertisement

The living room had a peaked wall of glass that rose up to a beamed ceiling and opened out onto a covered flagstone patio that my dad built.

At the other end of the house there was a long hall that included two small bedrooms, a bathroom, and the first master bedroom suite we had ever seen--a large bedroom, two closets with an adjoining dressing area and built-in dressing table, and a bathroom of its own. This was fancy living after our small 2 bedroom, 1 bath home in San Francisco.

My family owned the Marinwood house until the year after my father died. We kids had moved away, and my mother moved to a smaller condominium.

In the 1990's, on a trip to California, I took a photo of the house as it was then. The little tree we had planted out front decades before was giving lots of shade. The garage was converted, so the driveway was littered with cars--not a look that my parents would have appreciated.

This photo was taken in the summer of 1998--different paint job, more cars

Monday, December 8, 2008

Some Armchair Traveling

Image from

Riding the Iron Rooster; By Train Through China, by Paul Theroux (1988).

I am so grateful to Paul Theroux for taking this journey, as I am sure that I never would undertake anything like it. He describes 22 different train trips through a China that few of us might ever see.

He shares his sleeping compartment, as is the custom in this overcrowded land, with a variety of travelers--even some honeymooners. When he offers to leave the compartment so that they can have some privacy, they cheerfully reply that they will have privacy in the upper bunk. Indeed, in a place where every room of every home features at least one bed, privacy is a state of mind.

He describes a country where almost every natural feature has been reworked by the hand of man--mountains that have been carved into steps for growing crops, rivers that have been swallowed up, and valleys that have been dug over, inch by inch--and where wild animals are almost non-existent and seen always as something to be eaten.

I was fascinated and appalled to read about the effects of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which the country was recovering from during Theroux's railroad trip. "It was a mistake," most Chinese told him. [While reading the book, I even dreamed that I was working at a school during a cultural revolution, and found that my library was being used for calisthenics, and that I was expected to deliver books to classrooms on a cart, but the cart was in a closet and needed to be put together before I could use it, and the schedule for visiting the classrooms was secret, and, oh, yes, I looked just like Ugly Betty, which had nothing to do with anything].

This was a nice, long (480 p.), and very satisfying read. I really didn't want to put it down, and I read it while drinking cup after cup of tea, of course!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Taking Another Look at California

The little Sunset Distric house in San Francisco

My parents moved our little family of three (Bucksnort came along a little later) to California from Maine when I was an infant. I grew up in San Francisco, just a block from the beach in a little house they sold in 1955 for $11,000; then in Marin County, in one of the suburbs that were springing up in those post-World War II decades, in a house they bought for exactly, I remember, $19,950. In recent years, either house was valued in the six hundred thousands, although prices have fallen a bit lately, even in these expensive areas.

By the time I was 21, I was anxious to leave California, finding fault with the traffic and ever-increasing development. After leaving, I lived in British Columbia, Washington state, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Connecticut, then New Hampshire and New Mexico once again.

I still see those things when I go back to California for a visit--crowded highways and the resulting smog, and endless developments that fill up the farm and ranch land that I remember from my childhood. But I was surprised, on this trip, to find that I was enchanted by the other parts of the landscape--the deserts, the mountains, and most of all, the beautiful rolling foothills, grassy and studded with bay trees and live oaks, still festooned with the mistletoe I remember from my childhood. I had brought along lots of knitting to work on during the many hours of riding in the car, but found that it sat there in my lap while I admired the scenery.
Northern California foothills

Friday, December 5, 2008

California Desert Skies for Skywatch Friday

After our years in New Mexico, it turns out that some of my favorite California landscapes during our recent trip were the ones around the Mojave Desert.

Be sure to click on the Skywatch Friday banner on the side of this page to see skies from all over the world.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

That Burro Calendar

Be sure to scroll down for the other post for today. I've been away from blogging for way too long, obviously.

I promised to tell you when the cutest little burro calendar ever became available. Now rush on over to to place your order for those adorable pin-up donkeys, George and Alan!

When you've ordered a calendar for everyone on your Christmas list, be sure to visit Linda at her blog, The 7MSN Ranch. You won't be sorry.

Road Trip Reading

California palms, always fascinating to road trippers

Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson (1989)

While on our recent trip to California, I read a fine road trip book by Bill Bryson. It was his first book from way back in 1989, Lost Continent, and I could sense from the start that he was a) very young (I checked--37 or so counts as young to me), b) very grumpy about his country of birth, and c) so grumpy and critical that he had left to live in another country altogether. I recognized the signs, having followed the same path myself, although I had once gone to live in Canada and Bryson had left for England.

As he wrote about the 38 states he traveled through, he put down town after town in such a way that pretty much indicated that nothing here was going to please him. I was understanding of his malaise, and hopeful that as he got older that he might begin to appreciate the finer points of America. Indeed, I discovered on his web site that he had brought his family back from England when he was in his mid-forties, just as I had eventually returned to my country. Of course, he left again to live in England within the decade, but that might have been because of the rootlessness one finds after trying to go home again. Who knows?

Parts of this book were hysterically and overtly funny; other parts were sly and trickily humorous, as when Bryson dryly tells us that "Booker T. Washington...was a remarkable man. A freed slave, he taught himself to read and write, secured an education and eventually founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, the first college in America for blacks. Then, as if that were not achievement enough, he finished his career as a soul musician, churning out a series of hits in the 1960s on the Stax record label with the backup group the MGs." Or, when he sneaks in this one: "Lancaster County is the home of the Pennsylvania Dutch, the Amish and Mennonites. The Mennonites are named after a well-known brand of speed stick deodorant." Honestly, this stuff reminds me of some of the more ambitious conversations between Auntie Bucksnort and myself.

Something that especially struck me was when the youthful Bryson was grumbling about the late 80s' suburban sprawl and the way that people, after visiting a tidy and picturesque Colonial Williamsburg, didn't just return home to restore their old buildings and to beautify their towns with trees and flowers. It occurred to me that almost thirty years later, this very thing has been happening with great results. A good many of the northern California cities and towns that we visited had well-preserved central "old towns," in addition to their more modern (and sprawly) shopping areas. Here are some links that will get you started on an old town tour.

Grass Valley (very walkable, dog friendly with dog water dishes set outside shops)
Gridley (has a small old town area)
Old Sacramento

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Puppy Love

We're back from a Thanksgiving trip out to northern California, and I'm hoping to get back into the daily blogging habit.

For starters, I thought I'd share some photos of the trip with you, beginning with some of the doggier members of the family. This is Rocket, who lives near Sacramento with five children who keep him hopping. He loves to fetch a green tennis ball and will do so long after you are tired of throwing it for him.

But look at poor little Rocket's facial expression in this first photo, taken during last year's Thanksgiving trip.

Something had obviously been missing from his life, and we discovered what it was when we introduced him to Leny (short for Magdalena and pronounced Lainey), our beloved Sharpei/Lab mix who accompanied us on this trip. Here she is, looking especially winsome and photogenic in the first photo, and with her usual Scooby-Do-ish look in the second.

Rocket took one look at this charmer and fell in love. And so I present to you the new Rocket expression, one that never left his face the whole time we were there. He reminded us a bit of Jack Nicholson as The Joker in the 1989 version of Batman.

Where'd she go?