Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Late in December in 2003, we joined a group of strangers-to-us, the Boomers, in the desert north of Yuma, Arizona, for the annual New Year's "Boomerang". We had been traveling since April 1st of that year, and wanted to celebrate the new year with kindred spirits.

There were around 20-25 rigs there, and we knew no one when we arrived. On New Year's Eve, we were introduced to our favorite social activity, which seems unique to the Boomers: the Z Circle. Through a complex set of moves, couples rotate from one "host" rig to another, three times throughout the evening - meeting the host couple and another "circulating" couple at each host rig for 45 minutes of conversation, snacks (provided by the first set of "guests" to each rig) and drinks (BYO).

A 15 minute break after each visit allows time to replenish beverages and use your own bathroom - unlike most New Year's Eve parties, you NEVER ask to use your host's bathroom when you are boondocking! After the last visit, all the remaining snacks are brought to the campfire, where partying continues until the midnight countdown and celebration.

It is a wonderful way to welcome the new year, and we have not missed this gathering for the past five years - until now. :(

Odel came up with an alternative that put a smile back on my face: after completing his 30th treatment this afternoon (2/3's of the way to completion!) he is making his FABULOUS Hearty Fish Stew (I have added the recipe to the archive). He made the broth last night; it is "melding" in the refrigerator as I write. Tonight I will make garlic bread while he reheats the broth and adds the cod, shrimp, scallops and mussels. We have a selection of excellent red wine on hand - we'll choose one to go with dinner, enjoy a messy feast, and try to stay awake for the stroke of midnight. Doesn't sound too bad!

Thanks to our Boomer friends at the SKP park near Temecula (a bit over an hour from here), we'll get to visit with RV'ing friends on New Year's Day. Our friend Carol knows how to put on a good party and she's got it organized: socializing and food, food, and more good food.

Carol is fixing her grandmother's Alsatian dish of sauerkraut, sausage and pork chops. Bill Rayner, from Mississippi, is bringing the traditional "good luck" dish, black-eyed peas, and we're providing the "prosperity": collards and other southern greens (the "Greens" recipe in the recipe archive).

We'll miss our Boomer tribe tonight, gathered around the campfire, admiring the stars and welcoming the renewal of the new year - but we're happy here, where we need to be. We'll raise our glasses to you all with a wish for peace, prosperity, joy, and a realization of all your hopes for 2009. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008


Slowly but steadily, my cold is fading. Except for lingering congestion, I feel back to normal. Odel has been acting normal (?) for several days, so we are definitely over the hump.

Several of you wondered about the remedy for nightime coughing that was suggested in a reader's comment: slather Vicks VapoRub on the bottom of our feet, pull on a pair of socks, and go to bed. We tried it.

We tried it during the day, and at night. Did it work? No. We still coughed, and we didn't notice any diminishment of frequency or severity. We DID notice that we, the bed, and the bedroom smelled like VapoRub - a smell that says "sick people here". I consider this "treatment" to be an urban myth.

HOWEVER, I know from personal experience that VapoRub can cure some forms of toenail fungus - UGH. Sorry I brought it up, but if you want more information about this, email me directly (click here for our profile and email address) and I will give you the disgusting details.

From our health to our computer's health:

Our computer is an indispensible part of our life. Our far-flung social circle is mostly accessible online. We maintain our blog, and read many others. We take and save dozens of photos every month, an auxilary memory. Our financial information, our budget, our banking... it is all computerized. We handle the Boomer membership roll on the computer. Here in the mobile home, where we don't have a radio, the computer plays the live stream from my favorite local NPR station. For good or ill (and it is some of both), the computer is a part of our family and it's health is VERY important.

I know that not everyone likes the Geek Squad. If you are more computer literate than we are and interested in being your own tech staff, you probably consider the GS to be overpriced and under-trained, and I understand that.

I have had three experiences with the Geek Squad. My first was neutral - they did what I asked, no problems. My second was quite positive. My third, Friday afternoon (the big shopping day after Christmas) was spectacular.

Around 3 pm, when I tried to fire up the computer. Nothing. Nada. Zip. My heart leaped right into my throat. I made three quick phone calls. The first independent computer repair shop was not answering the phone at 3 pm on the day after Christmas. The second independent computer repair shop answered, but our conversation did not engender confidence. The third phone call was to the Geek Squad at the nearby Best Buy. They answered, they had suggestions, and they were open until 10 pm.

As soon as Odel came home with the car, I was off, computer in hand. The Best Buy parking lot was a madhouse. I found a spot, walked in the front door, took a sharp right turn and stepped up to the Geek Squad window. Ten minutes later the computer was fixed - NO CHARGE. That young Geek made my day!

This is what he did. I am reporting it to you because I had never heard of it, Odel had never heard of it, Sydney and Frank (they arrived for a visit shortly after I got home) had never heard of it - and we are all average, reasonably intelligent, laptop computer users.

He took out the battery on the back of the laptop and blew off the connectors with compressed air. He used the compressed air to clean out the battery compartment. He reinstalled the battery. He hit the "on" button, and the blue lights glowed. Fixed! He said it is not unusual for the connections to get a little dust in them over time, breaking the connection. Even if the laptop is plugged in, the power, which is routed through the battery, is unable to get past the interrupted connection.

Fixed, and fixed for free. The Geek Squad may have their shortcomings, but they deserve a RAVE today.

One last health issue... I have a new obsession - the hula hoop. Here I am hooping - oh, wait, that's not me but, since I can't see myself when I am hooping, this is exactly how I look in my mind's eye. Fortunately for the blog, I don't have a more accurate photo. :)

How did this come about? Odel and I are really enjoying the free Drayson Center (LLUMC's fitness center) membership that is available to proton beam patients and their caregivers. We've both noticed an increase in strength and balance in the couple of months we have been using the fitness equipment, and have puzzled over how to incorporate more fitness into our lives when we no longer have access to this equipment.

One day, "hula hoop" popped into my head. We had hula hoops as kids, and I thought of it as a fun way to get some exercise and maybe whittle my middle a little. Of course, I googled "hula hoop" as soon as I got home.

WOW - as with just about everything, there is a whole world of adult "hooping" out there that I knew NOTHING about. This is not the plastic Wham-O hula hoop crowd - these are lithe, athletic, exercisers using BIG, rather heavy hoops.

Well, you know me. I ordered one immediately. It was delivered just before we moved into the mobile home, where I actually have the space to hoop inside, out of the curious gaze of our neighbors. I was able to keep the hoop going immediately, calling on the skills learned in childhood. I've played with it a little bit each day (except the worst days of my cold), and yesterday took it outside, on the grass, into the wonderful warm sunshine and learned some tricks. It seems to be a good workout and, best of all, it is FUN! Lots of laughing and chasing the hoop, with an occasional Zen moment when I get all my body parts and the hoop working together.

Is it the new travel gym? Time will tell.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


It's gonna be a low-key Christmas for us this year. No party at the doctor's house - my laugh turns into a disgustingly phlegmy cough that simply can't go out in public. We'll stay at home, listen to Christmas music, play with Luna, watch the rain, watch news reports of travelers stuck at airports and on icy roads, and be happy we have a warm, dry place to recuperate and celebrate. We've got Christmas lights, a couple of presents, plenty of wine...

...but what will we do for Christmas dinner???

Since we aren't comfortable inflicting ourselves on the other party guests, we have to come up with our own Christmas dinner. Neither of us feels inspired to cook a holiday meal... hmmmmm.

Trader Joe's to the rescue! Without even a shopping list, we headed to the nearby TJ's on Wednesday morning. As it has been for the past week, it was jammed! We bumped our way down the aisles, picking up whatever looked easy and good. Here is our menu:

Turkey Breast with Cranberry-Apple Stuffing. This needs to be roasted, but is ready to put in the pan, with cooking instructions included. Easy enough and it looks good.

Sausage Cornbread Stuffing with Walnuts and Sage: nuke for 4 minutes.

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes: nuke for 3 minutes.

French Green Beans, washed and cut, nuke or steam (I probably will roast them while the turkey breast is roasting).

Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce and a box of Trader Joe's Turkey Gravy.

It all LOOKS good (delectable photos!), and sounds as though it won't require more than the amount of energy we have available. For dessert: the Buckeyes we had made and packed in a darling "gift wrapped" container that were intended as a hostess gift for the party-givers.

We're set, and we're content. We hope you all are in a warm place, in a place of love, with all the trimmings. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


In spite of our continuing colds, we have managed to get done, each day, the most important chores. We moved from Scoopy to the mobile home on Saturday and Sunday, and on Monday we drove Scoopy through another bout of rain for her appointment with RV Stripes. We hope to have her back around 1/6.

The bright spot of the arrangement is that Luna LOVES our new home! She tears through the hallway, tosses her toys all over the place, explores every nook and cranny, then poops out on the sofa, her very favorite place. It is so much fun to watch her - though it makes me feel a little guilty that she has so little room to run in Scoopy.

Today, Tuesday, Odel completed another job he has been working on, the purchase of four new tires for Jules. We have had Michelin tires on both our vehicles but, feeling unusually frugal this year, Odel spent hours researching tires online. He settled on a brand unknown to us, Komho - well reviewed and reasonably priced from an online website.

He then called a few local tire dealers and negotiated a deal on four new tires, mounted and balanced, for just $8 more per tire than the online price. He visited the local dealer, Big O, looked at the tires, got a printed quote, and made an appointment for this morning to purchase and mount the tires.

When he arrived at Big O to conclude the transaction, the manager immediately bumped up the price, pointing out that the quote was "accidently" for a different size of tire. Odel wasn't buying that and, after a brief discussion, said "Fine, give me my keys back."

Seeing money about to head out the door, the manager back-pedaled, especially when Odel reminded him of the conversation they had about the online price. It ended well, with our four new tires at the price Odel had previously negotiated - good job, Odel!

The other thing we accomplished today was a trip to the grocery store - big whoopee, huh? Though Odel seems to have most of his energy back and doesn't sound too bad, a trip to the grocery store is enough for me for one day! I'm feeling better, but sound disgustingly ill - hoarse voice, stuffy nose and, worst of all, deep, congested cough that would make anyone near me back away in fear (or revulsion). What starts as a laugh ends as a coughing fit, kleenex and cough drops required. We haven't yet cancelled our attendance at the Christmas party, but I wouldn't want to sit next to someone who sounds like me, that I know! We'll see...

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Monday is the big day - Scoopy goes in for her "makeover". We spent most of the day Saturday moving those things we use frequently from Scoopy to the mobile home across the street that we have rented as our temporary housing.

Where did all this stuff come from?? The number of trips we made back and forth from Scoopy to the mobile home was amazing! Everything in the refridgerator and freezer had to move, along with pots, pans, plates, bowls, glasses, knives. Bedding, towels, books, food from the cupboards, wine. All of our cool weather clothing and shoes, and our "holiday outfits". Hiking boots, slippers, shoes. Cosmetics, vitamins, our calendar and all the day-to-day paperwork. Our files, checkbooks, loose cash. Luna's food, cat box, condo and toys. It seemed like it went on and on and on. It was amazing how much we hauled from one place to the other.

We planned to complete the move on Saturday, so we could spend Saturday night in the mobile home and figure out what we had forgotten, with a chance to move it before Monday. On Sunday (today), we were going to give the mostly empty interior of Scoopy a good cleaning.

Our well-laid plans were thrown out of whack by our health - we both have colds! I think Odel was ever-so-slightly better on Saturday than on Friday; I was far worse. I just focused on getting stuff moved and put away in the mobile home - once that was accomplished, I collapsed on the bed with a book, kleenex, zinc lozenges, and cough drops. UGH is the only way to describe how I felt (today is slightly better).

Odel kept going, with enough energy to vacuum and shampoo the carpets. The amazingly messy refridgerator will have to wait, along with the dusting, mopping and countertop cleaning. Plenty of time for that when we get Scoopy AND our health back!

Thursday, December 18, 2008


The blogosphere is a funny place. Remember my posting about Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets? Well, yesterday we got a comment on that post from an anonymous reader, directing us to a blog that covers Fresh & Easy. While I was perusing the site, another comment arrived - from the blogger who writes Fresh & Easy Buzz.

S/he had been directed to OUR report on Fresh & Easy by a reader of THEIR blog - the same reader who posted the comment on our blog, I assume. In a post titled Two Motor Home Nomads, Laurie & Odel, Visit And Review a Southern California Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Store in Yucaipa, the blogger uses our post as the basis for an "interview" describing our lifestyle and our visit to the Fresh & Easy store.

This really tickled my funny bone! There was only one downside: I knew Odel would be crushed when he saw the "stock photo" of a motor home that was used to illustrate the "motor home" lifestyle. So, for those of you who know us only through a blog (ours or Fresh & Easy Buzz), let me set it right. Here is the majestic Scoopy, posed with Jules in tow, ready for our next adventure (or grocery store visit).

I still haven't figured out who writes Fresh & Easy Buzz but, if you want the lowdown on the chain and all sorts of other news relating to the grocery business, take a peek.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Whew, did it rain yesterday! We were scheduled to take Scoopy on a 20 minute drive to RV Stripes, the masterminds of our exterior refurbishing - but the weather intervened. We chose the wise course - procrastinate!

The rain stopped this morning, and glimpses of the mountains through the remaining clouds revealed fresh snow. It was a perfect day for a drive, and we pulled into RV Stripes' parking lot about 10:30.

Odel and Valerie got right to work measuring the length of the stripes so Valerie can get an order placed in time to be filled by the end of the week. We have swooshy stripes in three colors, one of which we plan to match. The other two colors will change slightly. We also have decided to have the old manual awning replaced with an electric awning - my Christmas present. (Odel gets the stripes!) We do not deploy the awning nearly as often as I would like because I can't do it alone - that will all change once we get the electric awning installed.

Heading back to Mission RV Park, facing east towards Palm Springs and the adjacent, snow-covered mountains, we both felt the pull of the open road. Oh, how I wished we could just keep rolling, up through the pass, east to Indio and beyond. Not this time!

On Saturday, we will be moving out of Scoopy, only the second time since we moved in 5 1/2 years ago. Staying in Scoopy and commuting to LLUMC while the work is being done would be incredibly inconvenient, so we managed to snag a rental mobile home at Mission RV Park - by FAR the least expensive and (for us) most convenient accommodations for the 2 weeks or so that we need to be out of our home.

Mission RV Park was a mobile home park at one time, and maybe 1/4 of the park is occupied by older mobile homes, most of them residences. One, though, is available on a monthly basis for proton patients for the amazingly low rate of $500/month (other, admitedly more luxurious, furnished accommodations start at about $1,200/month - and DON'T take pets).

As you can see, it is incredibly basic - but its convenience was the selling point for us. The proton patient who rented it previously moved out a week ago, and the next one will arrive 2/1 - so it worked perfectly for us.

We take Scoopy back to RV Stripes on Monday. The new awning has already arrived, and the material for the stripes will be waiting. If the schedule holds, we'll have our "like-new" motorhome back by January 8th (would have been much sooner but for the holidays). I feel like a six year old awaiting Santa. :)

Monday, December 15, 2008


First, the update on Odel: He has now had 18 proton beam treatments out of the 45 total required. So far, very minor side effects, treatable with Advil and Flomax. He spends two hours working out in the gym 5 days a week, plays golf every Wednesday, eats with gusto, and awakens in good spirits every morning.

One Sunday per month, proton beam patients and a guest can take a tour of the proton beam facility to learn what goes on behind the scenes. It is a popular tour - advance signups are required and woe to those who aren't there on the day signups open (two weeks before the tour). Yesterday was our tour day.

All the proton beam equipment is in the basement of the hospital. In the ground floor lobby near the Proton Beam elevator, a model of the proton beam complex (top photo) gives visitors and new patients an overview of the mechanics of the process. The tour brings it all to life.

The tour is led by the LLUMC Historian, who has been involved with the program and the building of the complex from the beginning, 18 years ago. The engineers in the group were in Physics Heaven, bathed in big, bigger and biggest words and concepts: 250-million-electron-volt accelerator, variable-energy proton synchrotron, cyclotron, exponentially, ionization events, dose-distribution characteristics, 411 million miles per hour...

I mostly heard "blah, blah, blah, kill cancer cells, blah, blah, healthy cells, blah, blah, rotating gantry, blah, photographs, blah, single-file, blah, blah, modulator wheel, Bragg Peak." A-HA! Modulator wheel and Bragg Peak - those were the Two Important Concepts that I understood and retained, and that is what I can explain to you. Engineers, google it.

Here are the basics: LLUMC has an accelerator that makes really, really, REALLY fast protons zoom around and around all day long. Very large numbers were discussed here - speeds, watts, etc. This is where "411 million miles per hour" came in.

Two things can happen to these speeding protons. They either can be "called to the treatment room" (and beamed into the patient), or discarded, sent into a carbon dump where they are absorbed.

We were not allowed to take photos in that area, so picture a large-ish room PACKED with heavy-duty metal structures, a circular accelerator, wires, dials - the mad scientist's hide-away times ten.

Next, check out the treatment gantry, the second photo. LLUMC has 3 gantries (one of which is closed, being rebuilt) and one Horizontal Beam Treatment room. Odel is being treated in the HBT room, so neither of us had seen a gantry.

In the gantry, the patient always faces the same direction (in the HBT, the patient's position alternates each day) and the huge gantry wheel (3 stories tall, 90 tons, so perfectly balanced that it is turned by a one-half horsepower engine) turns around the patient. Check out the lighting - wouldn't you expect music provided by a celestial choir? Hallelujah!

When the patient is properly positioned in either the gantry or the HBL, the tech team "calls the beam". From the accelerator, the super-speedy protons rush to the treatment room, guided and turned by focusing magnets. The Modulator Wheel spins (an incredibly fast number was mentioned here - imagine any number too high to grasp), the protons beam, and the cancer pays the ultimate price.

Each patient has several customized Important Parts (photo on left): the pod (expansion foam in the lengthwise half of a PVC pipe, the hilariously low-tech component); the blue wax Bolus and two metal apertures involved in shaping the beam, and the Modulator Wheel - the item of most interest to me.

Here is the difference, in simplistic and probably not totally accurate laywoman's terms, between pHoton and pRoton therapy (besides the second letter in their names): Photon beams, the standard radiation therapy, are kind of a "straight line" energy. They enter the body at 100% strength, and begin degrading as they go. At tumor depth, perhaps they are at 60% strength. They continue on past the tumor and exit the body at, say 40% energy. At all times, the photons are destroying tissue, whether healthy or cancerous, from entrance to exit.

Protons act differently, and the key is the Bragg Peak. Protons enter the body at a lower energy, travel a measurable distance, then begin to release energy, which peaks - BANG - at the Bragg Peak. After that, the energy dies - end of beam. So the key to PBT is the placement of the Bragg Peak. Shoot the protons in through the hip, arranged to peak in the prostate, and that's it - peak radiation where the cancer cells reside, and no radiation coming out the other side.

The Bragg Peak itself - the area of maximum energy release - is narrow, one millimeter or so. Of course, the prostate is much wider than that - so how do you position the Bragg Peak to cover the entire prostate?

Enter the Modulator Wheel, spinning at 300 revolutions per minute (Odel looked that up for me). Each "spoke" on the wheel consists of "stepped" thicknesses of material that deflects/absorbs/weakens (yeah, I didn't quite "get" that part) the protons before they enter the body, which means that the protons' "peak" is "spread" through the prostate. Protons that are not weakened by a spoke peak at the far side of the prostate, protons that pass through a thin part of a spoke peak in the middle of the prostate, protons that pass through the thickest part of the spoke peak on the near side of the prostate.

So, picture the beam coming from the accelerator, though the modulator wheel, and into Odel, with the Bragg Peak moving quickly back and forth throughout his prostate for a couple of minutes. That is one treatment. His next treatment is identical, except it is shot through the other hip, alternating each day.

While this is going on, the 3-4 person team of technicians retire to the control room. Computer monitors, keyboards - all the high-tech gadgetry you would expect. Very comforting to us "tourists".

Here is the other thing I learned on the tour that is a great interest to me: what's really going on in the prostate when it gets beamed?

All the cells are being damaged, both healthy prostate cells and cancer cells. The healthy cells, thanks to the miracle of your body's ability to heal, begin their recovery and healing as quickly as 5-7 hours post-proton treatment. The cancer cells can't do that. With each treatment, the cancer cells become weaker and weaker. By the 45th treatment, the cancer cells are either 1) DEAD or 2) STERILE and unable to reproduce. Your healthy cells, on the other hand, have worked to repair and recover each day. Once the 45 treatments are completed, the healthy cells continue to recover and reproduce. Result? A healthy, living prostate - and life goes on.

If you are a PBT patient: TAKE THE TOUR. It was totally fascinating, filled with history and anecdotes of early patients and treatment. We left feeling even more confident that Odel had made the right decision and, once again, grateful that PBT is available to us.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


It all started with a 28 oz jar of Costco’s creamy peanut butter, the last half of a Costco two-pack. We were unhappy with its texture (too runny to take as PB&J on a hike), so had decided to give it away. Then I had a brainstorm - uh, oh.

I make only one kind of candy, Grandpa John’s Buckeyes, and only at Christmas, and only if a lot of non-dieters are around. The recipe calls for 2 cups of creamy peanut butter, so feeling both frugal and inspired, we decided to keep the peanut butter and make the Buckeyes as gifts for the PBT tech team (gift, or bribe??), some of the friends we have made here, the wonderful couple that runs Mission RV Park… and we’d eat a few, of course.

Today was cloudy and damp. As I worked on registering giveaway books on BookCrossing, Odel looked bored. He jumped up when I suggested he start on the Buckeyes.

Its not a complicated recipe. Beat half a pound of butter until fluffy. Beat in 2 c. of creamy peanut butter and 2 T. of vanilla. To that, add 1½ pounds of powdered sugar, beating it in well as the mixture stiffens.

A cook with a lifetime of experience has a difficult time remembering and anticipating issues that might arise for the less-experienced cook. Regarding the powdered sugar, I warned that attacking it with the mixer can create a white dust cloud sufficient to cover the kitchen. Odel handled it well.

Our powdered sugar was a mixture of old (too old) and fresh powdered sugar. By the time I checked the consistency of the mixture, the smooth butter/peanut butter fluff was dotted with hard knots of old powdered sugar, ranging in size from pea gravel to sand grains. Oops.

The amazing texture of this recipe is part of its magnificence. In spite of our grave doubts, we dug in, smashing the hard bits between our fingers, but soon saw it was hopeless. It tasted great, but the texture was ruined. Into the garbage…!

We had enough “new” powdered sugar left to make another batch, but not enough butter or peanut butter. While Odel headed off to the grocery store, I cleaned up our utensils, occasionally pinching a bit of lumpy peanut butter filling out of the garbage. Yes, pathetic, isn’t it? That old biological craving for fat and sugar, particularly strong on a wintry day. I’m preparing for hibernation.

Odel was soon back from the grocery store, hard at work with the mixer - and, experienced now, whipped up the second batch in record time. Next step: chill the rich mix of butter, peanut butter, and sugar. Break time!

While the candy chilled, we went to a matinee screening of Milk, the movie about San Francisco's first openly gay Supervisor, murdered along with Mayor Moscone by Dan White, another of the Supervisors. GREAT movie, very inspiring, excellent acting. We recommend it.

Home again, it was back to the candymaking. We rolled the filling into dozens and dozens of bite-sized balls. For the coating, melt 12 oz of semi-sweet chocolate bits with 4-6 oz of paraffin wax in a double boiler. Stick a toothpick in a peanut butter ball, dunk it 3/4 of the way deep in the chocolate glaze, pull it out, let it drip dry - and do another one. As Odel did the dipping, I rubbed out the toothpick hole, making a smooth finish.

The chocolate/wax mixture hardens to a nice, smooth coating, and looks just like a REAL Buckeye (real on the left, ours on the right).

Okay, we're ready for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


This shell of a fifth wheel was someone's home 24 hours ago. They felt warm and cozy and happy in their big, recently-purchased fifth wheel, eating dinner, watching TV or reading. It was a cold night, and when they went to bed, they left an electric space heater running.

Around 3 am they awoke to FIRE and a screaming smoke detector. This is the result, the damage that happened before the park's residents could put out the flames with hoses, happened before the fire trucks arrived. The roof is gone, the interior gutted and charred, the windows exploded.

The residents escaped, barefoot but safe, and got their dog safely out. They believe the fire started when their dog knocked over the electric heater which ignited a blanket. Fortunately, they are alive, uninjured - and were well insured.

It all happened four sites away from us. Odel and I slept through the entire event.

On a much lighter note, I volunteered for elf duty today. Loma Linda has a large pediatric hospital and will hold a big Christmas party for the kids next week. Piles and piles and bags of toys have been donated for the kids.

The proton patients and spouses had the chance to volunteer to assemble the gift bags. We met at 10 am, in an empty room with a couple long tables. In the hallway outside were about two dozen 33 gallon plastic bags, FILLED with toys!

Our job was to fill 150 bags with age- and gender-appropriate toys. The age ranges were 2-5, 6-9, and 10-12. We started by labeling bags and sorting toys, carrying each bag back into the hallway when it was filled.

Was it working with toys that put us in such a light mood? The comraderie? The purpose of our work? Whatever it was, the work went quickly with lots of good humor. We loaded the bags (and bags, and bags, and bags) into little red wagons, onto the elevators, and into an unused office where they will await their moment at the party.

Then we all traipsed back to Santa's Workshop to reclaim our coats and bags and head home... well, all but Mary, who rode like a queen thanks to Joe.

Life's ups and downs. May you have many, many more of the former.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


When we were in Fredericksburg, Texas, I discovered smoked turkey parts at the HEB grocery store. They were made by Opa's, a local business that produces all kinds of smoked meats, also available by mail order. I bought a couple of smoked drumsticks to use as a substitute for the much fattier ham hocks frequently used in southern-style cooking. Ummmmm.... good!

Traveling as we do, ordering anything to be delivered is usually a pain - so I was happy to find that other grocery stores carry smoked turkey parts, too. This is THE time of year to find 'em, and when I do, I usually get extras to pop in the freezer.

I've added two new recipes to the "Recommended Recipes" section of the blog (left hand column), both using smoked turkey drumsticks (or substitute cheaper smoked turkey necks if you can find them). Both use the crockpot, my second favorite cooking appliance. What's better than coming home to the succulent aromas of a hot meal? Whip up a batch of Jiffy Mix cornbread muffins and dinner is ready.

Greens, Main or Side Dish cooks for 4-5 hours. Make the greens without meat for a side dish (great with grilled chicken thighs), or add canned white kidney beans and smoked turkey for a full meal.

Lima Beans with Smoked Turkey cook all day. Hearty, easy, nutritious, and yummy.

I picked up "Ultimate Slow Cooker" at the grocery store the other day, a Better Homes and Gardens magazine-style cookbook. One section is named "Feed Six for Ten", featuring recipes large enough for 6 people for under $10. To acknowledge the world-wide financial meltdown, I'm gonna' start there. Better yet, how about "Feed Ten for Six"??!

Monday, December 8, 2008


I was doing some half-hearted clutter control this morning when I unearthed this birthday card from my friend Becky. She found it irresistible because the person on the right looks so much like me - the "me" we both see in my future (not to mention that the future "me" shares the thoughts of the current "me").

Becky, Pat, and I (as she has labeled us on the card) like to visit Lake Tahoe when I'm in Sacramento (ex-"hometown"), and take a hike together. Really, looking at this card is like peering into my future (and I am happy to see we are still active).

What Becky didn't realize, though, is how much the woman on the left looks like my MOM! It's positively wierd for me to look at this card - like someone took a photo when we weren't looking. I just HAD to post it for my family to see - plus, now I can move ahead with my clutter cleanup without losing this hilarious image.

Thanks, Becky (yes, the same Becky whose great accessory gifts "made" my party outfit)!

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market - have you heard of/seen 'em? We hadn't, until we arrived in Loma Linda. They are physically distinctive and a new one, not yet open, is going in a few blocks from Mission RV Park - which got me curious.

On Saturday, we returned to the nearby town of Yucaipa, the site of our wet Thanksgiving hike, to enjoy it in clear, sunny weather - and to visit the Fresh and Easy store we had noticed in Yucaipa the first time we visited. Before we left for our hike, I did some menu planning and made a short grocery list for a stop at the store after the hike (a 5-mile loop that turned into a 6.1 mile loop).

How many of you think of a grocery store as a “Point of Interest”, a stop to look forward to on a day of sightseeing? Quite a few of the RV'ers, I’ll bet!

In the RV, our kitchen/pantry space is at a premium, so we don’t keep backups of backups on hand (no twelve packs of paper towels in the hall closet, no stashes of sale items in the garage, no deep-freeze full of chicken thighs bought at a good bulk price). And, in spite of the proliferation of generic malls and chain restaurants, there ARE regional foods - and you frequently find them in the grocery store, especially a local chain.

I’ll never forget the hog lard - on sale - that we saw at a small market in Abbeville, Louisiana. Too bad for us, we don't have the space to buy lard in gallon containers. :) Foodie that I am, I love a long, slow, browse through an interesting, well-stocked grocery store!

Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Markets have an interesting concept that combines several leading edge ideas: organic food; prepared/semi-prepared food; environmentally conscious buildings and practices; fair wages and benefits for employees; lower prices; small, easy-in/easy-out stores with wide aisles, good lighting, and a good-but-not-overwhelming selection.

Our grocery list was short but diverse, "express lane" length: salad greens, peeled garlic, a red pepper, scallions, a dozen eggs, a can of unsweetened pineapple, a jar of pasta sauce, a box of chicken broth and 2 rolls of paper towels. That is my LEAST favorite time to visit a supermarket, when the sheer size of the store and it's offerings are overkill compared to my needs.

Because we were going to Fresh and Easy, which I knew from web research specializes in ready to eat foods, the last item was "something for dinner tonight". I had my doubts that we would find everything on the list.

Not to worry. Fresh and Easy truly seems like a timely update to the concept of the "neighborhood market". Once you get the hang of their system, your shopping experience would likely be speedy, reasonably priced, and pleasant. Check out these pictures (double click on the collage to enlarge it).

First off, get your cart from OUTSIDE the store before you go in. We didn't and, after our 6+ mile hike, neither of us wanted to go back and get it! I guess I looked more pathetic than Odel, as he went and brought the cart after we exchanged looks.

Straight ahead is the produce section. All the produce (except winter squash and bananas) is packaged, something I hate at Trader Joe's (the pre-packaged quantities are too big) but liked at F&E, where the quantities were reasonably small. Nice selection of salad greens, many varieties of apples, various herbs - all the items on my small produce list (including peeled garlic) were there and many others, too.

Next I browsed the extensive selection of prepared and semi-prepared foods, while Odel went off to find eggs, paper towels, and chicken broth. He returned shortly, with a bottle of wine (NOT on the list!) - a Reisling, cold, for $4.99, had snagged him. It sounded so good after our hike that I was tempted to screw the top off and chug it right there in the nice, wide aisle.

Refrigerated cases abound. The least "prepared" foods are the meat and fish, but even they have some element of pre-preparation. Ground beef was formed into patties, and sometimes packaged with bratwurst in a "grilling pak". Some meats and fish had been marinated, some skewered, some paired with complementary sauce packets... and all are packaged in reasonably portion-controlled sizes, for two or four. Cooking directions are included for all.

Another cold case is filled with "Mix and Match" foods - fully cooked entrees and sides (with heating directions), portion-controlled for two, that can be combined into an appealing meal. "Something for dinner tonight" translated to a pound of pork tenderloin medallions with Dijonnaise sauce (saute the pork for 10 minutes, add the sauce and cook until it bubbles); mashed potatoes (about 3 cups, nuke for 4 minutes); and green beans mixed with peas and a small scoop of herb butter (nuke for 3 minutes). I had my doubts about the vegies - figured they would be overcooked, but was hungry enough to give 'em a try.

While I picked out dinner, Odel scored a coup - a 4 pack of Scott's single ply toilet paper, the most cost-effective TP for RV use and not available everywhere. Wow - F&E was really beginning to impress us! We finished up the shopping - found everything on the list and more - and moved to the checkout.

Uh, oh. It's all DIY - do your own scanning, do your own bagging. Yep, that slowed us down! With the assistance of the checkout supervisor, Odel stepped up to the scanner and we had a lesson in Do It Yourself checkout. Not bad - I'm sure we could handle it easily and quickly next time (or maybe the time after that). F&E has both cloth ($2? each) and recycled plastic ($0.20) bags for sale - if the plastic bag wears out, you can bring it back for a free replacement. Of course, they have standard free bags, too.

Then we were out the door and headed home. Dinner was easy and surprisingly good - and the vegetables were perfect, not overcooked at all. We paid $5.99 for the pork, $2.99 for the mashed potatoes, and $3.49 for the green beans. This could have been stretched to feed 3 small-to-moderate eaters, but we two hearty hikers consumed it all, washed down with Two Buck Chuck - about $15 for a very good dinner for two. It's the niche between "time and cooking utensil intensive" from-scratch cooking and dining out, both in time and cost - probably twice the cost of cooking from scratch and definitely less than half the cost of dining out. We were impressed.

After we got home, I researched their website and found a $6 off coupon - with a 12/9 expiration date. We had been given two $5 off coupons when we left the store, also with soon-to-expire dates. It's a smart ploy to get you back soon, and I am sure we would be if the store was actually in OUR neighborhood.

Lots of good ideas at Fresh and Easy, well presented and executed. They have grand expansion plans - I hope they can make it in these troubled financial times. If you live in California, Nevada, or Arizona, check out their website for a store in your neighborhood, or coming soon (to Sacramento!).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


It's Wednesday, which means that Odel is on the golf course with the proton beam guys, and I have the morning to myself. After meeting Luna's many and varied morning needs, I got right down to the business of the day: put together a Special Outfit.

Can you believe it is December, and that Christmas is just around the corner?? All the PBT patients and spouses who will be here on Christmas are invited to the home of one of the doctors for Christmas dinner.

Let's see now, where did I put my party clothes? Oh, that's right, they went in the Goodwill bag during the "third year on the road" closet cleaning.

I have an extensive wardrobe of clothing suitable for hiking, camping in the desert, grocery shopping, eating delicious greasy grilled chicken over a plate balanced on my lap, flea-combing the cat, checking tire pressures... and some recent purchases for working out at the gym. I'm light on "Christmas Dinner at the Doctor's House". I've been mulling over a purchase or two, but decided first to see what I could pull together from recent acquisitions and the very few more elegant articles left from my pre-retirement days - an expenditure of creativity rather than of cash.

Any woman reading this - most especially those of you who live in 300 sq feet - know that the absence of your spouse is critical to Creating An Outfit. Nothing will wither your creative impulses more quickly than innocent, casual questions ("What are you doing with all that stuff?"), unsolicited advice ("Are you going to wear that?"), eye-rolling, or wondering aloud how much longer you are going to have your "stuff" spread around the bedroom and bathroom. Not to say Odel would do any of these things, but even the thought of it...!

First, I dug through the medicine cabinet to inventory all my available cosmetic resources. Since I've retired, my makeup routine - never very extensive - has shrunk to the two most critical aspects: comb my hair (which I occasionally forget) and apply chapstick. However, reading mainstream magazines - filled with makeup tips, hairstyles, and current fashions - in the LLUMC patient lounge while I wait for Odel has reminded me that the average urban woman probably budgets for more than three new chapsticks, two new toothbrushes and a new washcloth each year.

Consequently, in preparation for our Big Night, I made a few cosmetic purchases when Odel and I shopped Target yesterday: a moisturizer, a "bronzer", and an "eye-brightening duo". When Odel looked at our receipt and said "Wow, what did we buy that cost so much??", I renewed my Note to Self: if you can't be with girlfriends, purchasing and experimenting with makeup and clothing is best done in solitude.

I augmented my new products with hair goop I got for my birthday from Sydney, whose hairdo I admire; a fistful of makeup brushes, always fun; an old mascara, remarkably liquid given it's probable age; and Burt's Bees lipgloss in my favorite color, Nutmeg - no doubt discontinued by now. After I washed and moisturized my face, I worked on one eye at a time - a scientific method designed to determine whether the "eye brightening duo", the eyebrow powder (when did the outer half of my eyebrows fall out?) and the mascara were actually improvements. Well... yes, they were, even in my inexperienced hands. I finished putting on my party face and went to the closet.

My potential party clothes were easily inventoried. Over an ankle length, jet black tube skirt (pre-retirement), I could wear: the red long-sleeved top from our trip to the outlet stores; a slinky, pre-retirement lizard print sleeveless top; or a boat-neck, blue, 3/4 sleeve top. For the "dress-up" aspect, I had layers (color me fashion-savvy): a lushly embroidered blue wrap given to me as a gift by Kim; a heavily embroidered vest; or a new red wrap given to me by Becky for my birthday a few weeks ago.

A year ago, channel surfing late one night, I came across Oprah's show on the importance of the right bra (really, I kid you not - it was a real show and I WATCHED IT!) and became convinced that I should switch from my usual camisoles (purchased in bulk at Costco) to a well-fitted bra. My sister Nancy and I headed to the mall for an Oprah-inspired bra fitting, and I came home with two. I wore one twice, the other once. For the past year, they have traveled in the back corner of the camisole drawer. It appears that our visit to Loma Linda is their shining hour, as I dug out the plain beige one for my gym workouts and auditioned the deep brown one for the Christmas party.

Thus prepared with my face made up, my hair styled, and my boobs lifted to a more youthful level, I got started. First, the skirt. It's stretchy, it fits and - the main reason I love and it have kept it all these years - it is ankle length, so no need to shave my legs (another of those work-related cosmetic items that has fallen by the wayside) or wear tights or pantyhose (shudder). Lookin' good.

Dress rehearsal came to a screetching halt when I slipped the slinky lizard print sleeveless top over my head. Still fits, and I love the print - but the parts of my upper arms that swing freely of their own accord are better left covered around all but the most intimate of friends and family. Unless my current workout program works much more quickly than seems possible, this is a dangerous holiday option.

The remaining, upper-arm friendly tops and potential accessories cycled through their numerous permutations over the next half hour, accessorized and scrutinized with jewelry and handbags, tweaked detail by detail. And, guess what? No need to hit the stores.

I settled on the reds - more Christmas-y than blue. I have new black flats I got on sale in Palm Desert when my girlfriends visited. I'll wear my silver Peace earrings from Bisbee (big danglies etched over and over with the words Peace and Love), my $5 beaded barcelet from San Antonio, the necklace Becky never wore so she gave it to me, and the woven handbag Becky gave me (along with the wrap) for my birthday (gosh, Becky, I couldn't have done it without your excellent taste!).

I wonder what Odel is wearing? :)