Wednesday, July 30, 2008

We all scream

Amazon Valley Chocolate.....Fleur De Sel Caramel.....Toasted Coconut Sesame Brittle.....Brazilian Acai Berry Sorbet.....Hawaiian Lehua Honey & Sweet Cream.....Pomegranate Chip.....Pomegranate & Dark Chocolate Bars (3 count).

We're talking ice cream of course. This morning's Harris-Teeter ad features a full page of pictures and description of Häagen-Dazs pints. "Explore the World One Pint At A Time." I'm not a particular fan of Häagen-Dazs. It's a made-up name, it's a little too rich for my taste, it's a little too pricey to be worth the cost to me when there are others I enjoy just as much. If I'm going for "super premium," I'm probably going for Ben & Jerry or Dove. But even with all that, I wouldn't bet that I won't find some in my grocery cart tomorrow.

Thursday, after all, IS Senior Discount Day at H-T, so that means that the advertised price of $3.99 a pint, which they say will save me "at least 70 cents", will be discounted another 5 per cent.

But it's not only about the money. The sugar, the fat, the calories! I could pass on my nightly glass of wine in favor of a light beer and save about 70 calories or I could go for a vodka and soda and save even a few more. Probably, though, I'd have to go on the wagon for at least a week before those sacrificed calories would equate the ones in the pint of ice cream. But pomegranate chip! Maybe I'll just do the bars.

How come the berries that are a much better deal just don't speak to me the way ice cream in July does?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


On Sunday night, CBS reran a Cold Case episode that was set in 1919 and involved women who were struggling to change their lives by meeting and organizing. Since by that year, the USA was well into the battle for women's suffrage, the emphasis on that part of the story seemed a little fanciful, but then Cold Case has never impressed me with its writing. There's something about the mood that I like though.

Anyway, my mind was kind of wandering, and as the episode unfolded and the characters of a maid and her daughter emerged, I started to think about my mother, who was born in 1913 and her mother, who was born about twenty years earlier in Germany. I don't remember ever having spoken with either of them about the right to vote and what it meant to them. My mother was very political, and so I guess I just took her voting for granted. My grandmother, though, wasn't like that. As I think about it, I realize that she may never have become a citizen. My Scottish father was naturalized and voted, but I can imagine that for my grandma citizenship and voting might not have happened.

Whatever her political situation and views, in 1919 my grandma had other problems. She was divorced with a child to support. To hear my mother tell it, the two of them bounced around living with other family members and somehow managing. That can be daunting in these more modern times, but nearly a hundred years ago, and in a world torn by war, it really must have taken some guts. At least my grandma had a trade. She was a weaver, and at that time textile factories were big in NJ, which hasn't been true for decades.

So she was a young mother facing all kinds of challenges, and I'm thinking that marching for suffrage wasn't a priority. I'm hoping she at least approved of the women who made it a priority, but maybe not. I wish, wish, wish that I could sit down with my grandma and her six sisters and talk it all out. The lone male sibling, Uncle Augie, wouldn't need to be there, but likely his domineering wife, Emma, would have something to say. I thought I knew them all so well, but as time passes, the pieces of their lives fit together differently. In fact, somewhere in the recent past it came to me that Aunt Gert probably had more than a platonic friendship with her friend Margie. It's obvious now, but for all those years, nothing was ever said.

In the end, my grandma and mother were rescued by a kind man I always knew as my grandfather. What's interesting to me is that all throughout my mother's family, women were strong and did things. And that was true even after being "rescued." There was no sitting around and being pampered. Maybe that's a hallmark and a benefit of being working class. Yes, there are tough times and challenges, but few hot house flowers emerge. Nothing builds self-esteem like overcoming adversity.

In an attempt to fight the anti-suffragists with humor, in 1915 Alice Duer Miller, writer, poet and suffragette wrote Why We Don't Want Men to Vote.
* Because man's place is in the army.
* Because no really manly man wants to settle any question otherwise than by fighting about it.
* Because if men should adopt peaceable methods women will no longer look up to them.
* Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other matters than feats of arms, uniforms, and drums.
* Because men are too emotional to vote. Their conduct at baseball games and political conventions shows this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force renders them unfit for government.

On August 26, 1920, American women joined many female voters around the world when a constitutional amendment was adopted upon ratification by state of Tennessee, granting full woman suffrage in all states of the United States.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Sometimes I have company on my couch, and my favorite companion is my grandson, Nicholas, who sits beside me, sucking his thumb, all entangled with his "Puppy", a sort of stuffed animal security blanket. If Nicholas is wearing his Bob the Builder toolbelt, a little padding makes things more comfy. He hardly ever gets to watch tv, so sitting next to his Mama-aw and watching Noggin is a treat for him, but it's an even bigger treat for me, especially now that we're well past The Wiggles. We might discuss what we see, but we might just sit there quietly and enjoy the relaxation of it.

Nicholas is my third grandson, but the only one I've gotten to spend time with. My first one was placed for adoption, which was a right and courageous decision for his mother, my youngest daughter, to make. My second grandson died at twenty-nine days, and I will never, ever forget what it felt like to have his tiny lifeless body placed in my arms by his mother, my eldest daughter. I said to her then, "Nothing worse will ever happen to you," and I found out the truth of that when she herself died the next year. So sitting quietly and enjoying the precious gift of three-and-a-half-year-old Nicholas is indescribable pleasure for me. I had all but given up the possibility and then there was his perfect miracle birth to my forty-two-year-old second daughter and her husband of less than a year.

And he is funny, as most kids are. His view of the world is quirky. A couple of days ago, after taking a twenty-minute nap, he decided that he had rested enough. My daughter said to him, "Well, Nicholas, that nap wasn't long enough," to which he replied, "But I started it yesterday, so it's really very long." How do you argue with that? But then again, I don't have to argue with him or discipline him or do anything but sit beside him and love him while he sucks his thumb.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oy, gevald!

It's a bad sign when I start cursing in Yiddish. I'm not even Jewish. I've worked for a lot of Jews though, everything from a Presbyterian minister to a Seventh Avenue schmate (rag, meaning fashion in this case) company with a nuclear physicist and a business professor in between. I don't remember where I learned the word "facocta", and I don't know whether that's the way it's supposed to be spelled. I just know that I heard myself muttering last night and going on and on in pseudo-Yiddish with a "schmietnik" thrown in from time to time. I just learned that last one from an ESL student. It's Polish for "garbage."

This tsuris (trouble, pain) is all about the state of the financial system in this country and actually in the world. I am grateful, however, for the nick-of-time reminder that indeed one has to look out for one's self; that no one, even if they're paid to do it, is as good at looking out for me as I am. That is scary because I'm not that smart and I am having more and more trouble keeping up with the increasing complications of daily life. But I didn't lose $8.9 Billion... Billion!... as Wachovia just reported they did. So take that, you facocta idiots! I can learn to understand the TEDspread global credit risk indicators. True, I'd rather be thinking about a new BEDspread, but I'm a grown up, and so I'll work with what we have, which is a facocta globalized credit mess, which affects everyone, young and old, rich and poor, interested or bored.

Unfortunately, the financial advice that's out there for the average DIY person isn't that great. It's all "Keep a three-month stash (of money) handy for emergencies;" "Try to negotiate better terms with your lenders;" "Cut up your credit cards," etc. Now they're adding some boilerplate commentary about the FDIC to quell the panicky feelings some have and to avoid any more IndyBank runs, but the utility of the advice for people who have enough money to be concerned with the FDIC limits isn't impressive.

If you are looking at foreclosure and bankruptcy, that three-month rainy day fund is probably gone or at least not happening now. Since it took me four transfers with lovely classical music on Hold to DEPOSIT money in a bank yesterday, I wonder how much patience it takes to find the one person who has not been layed off at Wachovia who might help you with your credit issue. And at a certain point, cutting up the cards is a meaningless gesture, because these days even American Express is imposing limits and lowering them if they feel the need.

I DID hear some useful advice this morning. Useful because it was direct and clear, not because I can use it. When Jean Chatzky, the financial guru who is cute but who has never told me anything I didn't already know, was pressed on "Morning Joe," she said that people should NOT deplete their 401Ks to forestall foreclosure or bankruptcy. Walk away from the house. And if you need to go bankrupt, at least know that retirement accounts, like IRAs and 401Ks, are exempt from bankruptcy claims.

That it's come to this. Facocta!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Of talking couches

Oh, if this couch could talk. Let the word go forth that I will no longer be accepting phone calls late at night. "Yeah, right", sayeth the couch eyeing its dented cushion with the cordless next to it. The couch taketh this attitude because it knoweth that I am a total pushover, and some people would translate that word to mean "codependent." The fact that I am aware doesn't always keep me from indulging in habitual behavior. I like the feeling of being needed. That's the honest truth, and sometimes I go there when I shouldn't.

At one time in my life I knew so many alcoholics that I was sure I must be a carrier. And anyway it's only by God's grace that I am not one myself. I just don't have whatever the thing is that makes people crave a drink or forget how many they've had. I like a drink or two, but then I get sleepy. However, there is alcoholism in my birth family and my poor kids have it on both sides. Imagine Scottish, German and French forebears joined to Irish and Russians. The offspring should have been enrolled in some program at birth.

But if we're going wth the disease concept, and not everybody does, I do have the companion-to disease known as condependency. Not counting my first marriage, it started with my friend Sylvia, back in the late 70s. We had been friends for years and it took me a while to notice that the discussion of life issues, which we both had, was getting later and later at night, taking longer and longer, and becoming less and less comprehensible. I never wanted to hang up because it just seemed so cold to cut off the conversation. And after Sylvia there was Shirley, whose alcoholism was obvious to me almost from the beginning, but who had some life-threatening stuff going on. What it took me a while to "get" is that neither of these women, and they're only two of the ones who have had my ear, remembered much of what we had talked about anyway and that I was the one sitting at my desk at work emotionally and physically exhausted.

And now I'm doing it again. Geez, it's depressing to be this old and still doing the same unproductive stuff.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fantasy Cooking

Today on the couch I'm reading recipes, which I find is sometimes a good substitute for actually cooking. I used to be a decent cook, and I enjoy it, and I'm very pleased that all my kids are foodies. But I don't cook a lot any more because mostly I just don't feel like it and I don't have to. I don't consider grilling a piece of fish and making a salad to be "cooking." And I eat pretty well, considering. Right now, though, all I feel like eating is nachos made with Target's organic blue corn tortilla chips, the ones with flax seed, and some Paul Newman's peach salsa and some shredded cheese. Oh, yes, I indulge myself with the fatty cheese because the no-fat ones turn into a repulsive gum when they melt. See, I care. Add some nice fresh grapes or berries, and I consider myself fed.

The problem I have is that I am still clipping recipes. There is a kind of disconnect here because I know that the number of meals in my future isn't infinite and is probably less than 20,000, and it's obvious to me that almost none of the clipped recipes will ever be used. After all I have dozens of cookbooks, and unless I am baking I seldom follow a recipe anyway even when I do cook. I like the ideas, and the new ways of using ingredients and seasonings.

The other day in Harris-Teeter I heard a woman ask for Waverly crackers, saying that her recipe called for them specifically and wondering why that would be. Possibly because the Waverly people sponsored the recipe? I have never really been that kind of cook. I am horrified to hear that there are people who try to use olive oil with a boxed brownie mix, but I often get creative with appropriate substitutions, my idea of "appropriate" anyway. For me, it's never been worth a separate trip to the store to get that certain thing. Yes, there's a difference between bread crumbs and panko, but I can work with it.

Whatever is the reality, I still have to have a kitchen to house my cooking equipment and all its good karma. There is my lucky brownie pan, that is aluminum and that I have been using since it was my mother's and I was a teenager. Now it has a couple of pin holes in it, but, again, I can work with it. There is also my original newlywed (the first time) Tupperware measure and mix pitcher bowl. It too leaks, but it's good for dry ingredients. Et cetera, except that one newer thing, from a Pampered Chef party, where I just felt pressured to buy SOMEthing, has become essential. It's a 1-quart plastic pan with a handle and a vented lid and it's great for heating a meal for one person. That's what the reality of cooking is for me these days, but I'm never giving up on fantasy cooking.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I like Ohioans

I like Ohioans, but I like them better when they are IN Ohio. The other day an ugly blue vannish kind of vehicle with a license plate surround that said something about Elyria was in front of me long enough for me to study it. I bet I even had time to check its tire pressures. Where are interesting bumper stickers when you need something to read? Nowhere in sight this time. We were both trying to turn left from Office Park (at the corner by Marley's) heading into Sea Pines. I had just come from Harris-Teeter and of course I had gelato on board. Since this huge thing was in front of me I couldn't gauge when or whether I would ever get across to the entrance lanes. We waited. We inched a little. We waited. And waited. Finally, nerve and inspiration moved these visiting Ohioans into, of course, the "residents" lane, which then caused yet another delay as the big, blue behemoth was sent across the "visitors" lane and into the Welcome Center. Big exhaling sigh.

I'm steaming as I finally see road space in front of me, and I'm reminding myself that we are all God's children and that we can't all live at the beach and that it's really silly to let stuff like that get to me and that anyway I'm not stuck behind them speeding along at 15 mph with my gelato turning to soup while they gawk at whatever. But multiply it by a bazillion times in summer after summer, and it gets old. And then of course there's the realization that this huge vehicle will be parking at the Beach Club, and that huge vehicles like that are the reason the parking lot was redone this past winter, wasting trees and also wasting a couple of months of easy access to the ocean. There's also the idea that an enormous vehicle can carry a lot of people who need a lot of food and so I know will see that thing again, or one like it, at Publix if I am foolish enough to go there on Saturday afternoon. I will be behind them in line, and with any luck they will have only one overflowing cart.

The thing is that Ohioans IN Ohio are much easier to get along with. I was there last week and feeling very happy for them about how high the corn was and how green the soy fields were and how nice some of the old-time architecture was. I even shopped among them with no issues. My youngest daughter and I had a wonderful al fresco dinner in Columbus' University area, surrounded by Central Ohioans who seemed to belong right where they were. We had cucumber martinis and some great small plates and we chatted with the people around us. Very enjoyable.

So how come these people seem so different once they get on the West Virginia Turnpike and start flying south, making time, oblivious to anything that resembles consideration?

Don't say much

"Speak low, speak slow, don't say much. And don't wear suede shoes." Advice from The Duke. Michael Caine says that John Wayne conveyed those words of wisdom to him. The first part is totally in John Wayne character as we remember it, but the second sentence reveals a very practical side. The idea is that if a famous man is found standing at a urinal, the guy next to him forgets what he's doing and pees on the star's shoes. So suede is a mistake. Since Pat Boone of white buck shoe fame is scheduled to participate in this year's Celebrity Golf Tournament on Hilton Head, I'm hoping to get to ask him about what his experience has been. I'll let y'all know. We may never know about Elvis and the blue suedes. Probably they were dark blue though.

In other, much more disturbing, film news we learn that Senator Phil Gramm, the same Phil Gramm who is (or was) associated with the McCain for President team, tried unsuccessfully to invest in a movie called "Truck Stop Women" that carried the slogan "No Rig Was Too Big For Them To Handle." Uh-huh! However, all was not lost. Gramm DID later get to invest in something called "White House Madness" that included a portrayal of an unhinged and nude President Richard M Nixon. I need a shower.

OK, those are both from days of yore, but how about this: Yesterday, on The View there was an actress named Diane Farr, about whom I know (make that knew) nothing, who shared with us that her husband's Korean family and her Irish and Italian family don't have a lot in common. What she said about her in-laws is that Koreans tend to be insular, something about small countries thinking they could get their butt kicked by other countries, but that when her husband was thirty-five he got to make his own decision and anyway the in-laws were pleased that she had a working vagina. What? I'm thinking that maybe they'll forgive her because she IS pregnant with twins and that pregnancy apparently happened when their first child, who was conceived on their honeymoon, was ten months old. Man, I needed to know all that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Nothing against old people

Nothing against old people...because, after all, I are one...but let's be honest: Along with the wisdom gained from living a long time and going through some stuff, there can also be some mental drawbacks. Already this morning, I have forgiven myself for leaving a pair of shoes behind on my trip last week and have spent some time in a panic about my cell phone charger, which I found exactly where I knew it was. The way I get around a lot of the age-related absentmindedness is to work harder about being organized. I make more lists than I ever have. I make piles and place them where I can't possibly ignore them. OK, it didn't work that well to have my pile of A-priority items in the bathtub, but stuff happens, right? And everyone says that a good place to stow stuff in case of flood is in something waterproof like the dishwasher.

The stubbornness, though...well, all you have to do is read the BT blogs, also Vox, and you get an idea of how that goes. Yes, I am stubborn, and it shows up in all kinds of ways. Forget the fact that I have a lot of years of being right behind me because that only feeds the lifelong tendency that I, a Taurus, have toward digging in. Today it's only about my answering machine. After a call to Hargray about my non-functioning phones, I learned that the problem was somewhere in whatever connects to the outside phone line. I deduced that it was my answering machine and disconnected it. All was well. But the stubbornness that never gives up on anybody or anything got into me and I just had to see if I couldn't make it work. The upshot, another long stretch where people got a frustrating busy signal. I think it's curtains for the answering machine...except that it has on it the voices of my children and an adorable message from my grandson that sounds like "Tanka winka wah," (translation: "Thank you for the Lincoln Logs.") which is irreplaceable because he now speaks much more clearly.

When I see John McCain, and I hear certain things, like confusion between Sunni and Shia and the latest failure to recognize that Czechoslovakia went away a good fifteen years ago, I'm thinking that his past hero-self is, well, heroic, but that his present old-guy-self, is Sun City material.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Macs, and I don't mean Bernie and Apple

Back on the couch after a lovely road trip. All right, not lovely, but bearable. And now it's time to contemplate dysfunction in the world and in my life. I am SO pissed about Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and their ugly stepchild, IndyMac. I could do a whole Old Lady Rant just on that topic and on my irritation with the notion that probably NO ONE WILL PAY FOR THIS. People all along the way built this house of cards that we call a real estate/mortgage/securities market, and most got fat salaries and bonuses out the ying yang. But not people like me who have no debt and who are honorable investors and who now don't know what to do with their assets, WHICH I might add, are losing value with every key stroke.

Because I have been paying attention for a long time, I'm not surprised. After I saw the first quarter earnings for 2007, I made some moves, but even so, I feel at risk, and I know I'm in a lot better shape than a bunch of retirees. Keep in mind that retirees will not be earning their way back to prosperity. That's what the concept of "fixed income" is about. So lots of us have followed the advice of supposedly much smarter people to invest and diversify and rebalance and go for safe instruments and yadda yadda yadda. What I am most grateful for is my frugality. I don't have to have the latest and the best, and it's true that I haven't contributed much on the consumption side of the economy, but damn I'm glad for my paid-for car and my paid-for house and my old countertops and, oh yeah, my health.

For the last little bit I've been throwing a little money around, trying to help the workers who I know are hurting. I've been eating out more and tipping more and donating more and in general trying to do my part without buying more clutter. I know that a lot of middle class workers got suckered into the shop, shop, shop mode that has propped up the US economy for too long. I'm not mad at them. I'm mad at the high-rollers, the livin' large show-offs, who by the way ought to consider the wisdom of a very good book, The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko.

According to Wikipedia, the main points of the book are:

**Spend Less Than You Earn

If you are always spending up to or above what you earn, you will never increase your net worth no matter how much you make. The author discusses being prugal: prudent and frugal.

**Avoid Buying Status Objects or Leading a Status Lifestyle
Buying expensive imported vehicles is poor value and you will constantly need to buy the newest model. Buying status objects such as branded consumer goods is a never-ending cycle of depreciating assets. Living in a status neighbourhood is not only poor value, but you will feel the need to keep buying status objects to keep up with your neighbours, who are mostly Under Accumulators of Wealth (UAWs).

**Prodigious Accumulaors of Wealth (PAWs)Are Willing to Take Financial Risk if it is Worth the Reward
PAWs are not misers who put every penny under their mattress. They invest their money for good returns, and will consider riskier investments if they're worth the reward. Many put money not in the stock market, but invest in private businesses and venture capital. They do not gamble or speculate on long-odds stocks.

**Economic Outpatient Care
The authors also make the interesting observation that PAWs tend to have children who require an influx of their parents' money in order to afford the lifestyle that they expect for themselves, and that they are less likely to have been taught about money, budgeting and investing by their parents.

See, it's that last part that I see all around me especially in Gated Community World. It reminds me of the very wise comment of a wealthy woman I once knew. She said, "I have done untold damage to the people I've helped." Yes, it feels good to indulge the ones we love, but doing that teaches dependence on someone else's efforts and assets and in the end it isn't really a kindness. Sorry, kids.

Monday, July 7, 2008

I Did It My Way (Sorta)

Yesterday was Sunday and as usual I started the day with "The Racket", which really doesn't take much time unless I get into the Sudoku. The Sunday Sudoku is usually rated "hard" and so it can take a while and a lot of erasing. I did today's in pen. Anyway, yesterday's Island Packet Lowcountry Life section which contains the Sudoku also contains an article about six-word memoirs. A man named Larry Smith has written a book and started a web-site where short and pithy life commentaries are listed. "Not Quite What I Was Planning," an example of a six-word memoir, is the main title of the book.

Naturally I was distracted from any other serious mental exercise while I thought of what I would say with limited space. Here's what I came up with:

If I had only ONE word: Fuhgeddaboudit.
If I had TWO words: Told ya.
If I had THREE words: Gimme a break.
If I had FOUR words: I wasn't even there.
If I had FIVE words: This will end in tears.
And my SIX-word memoir: I did it my way (sorta).

I really wanted to tweak people with "John David Rose Is A God," but chose not to go to the dark side. See, I'm not all bad.

But if I had EIGHT words, I could make my signature statement: "I liked it better the way it was." Oh well. We live, we change, we grow. OMG! That's another six-worder. Stop me somebody.

Friday, July 4, 2008

WTH, General Cornwallis?

Today is of course the day when patriotic Americans celebrate the birth of our country in 1776. July 4th is the day when the Continental Congress ordered that the Declaration of Independence be authenticated and printed. Things were rocky for those early patriots. There was by no means unanimity about what they were doing, and in fact, the Revolutionary War had started the year before and wasn't going all that well in 1776.

It continued to not go that well for five more years, which brings me to wondering what the heck the British General Charles Cornwallis was thinking that January day in 1781 when he found himself in North Carolina building a bonfire and burning all his stuff, including personal baggage, tents, books, silverware, and ordering his men to do the same. One can only guess how they felt about throwing casks of rum into the flames. Historians say that Cornwallis was trying to create a lighter, more nimble fighting force so as to pursue the half of the American army that was led by General Nathanael Green. Some also say that the bonfire was somehow symbolic of Cornwallis' determination to defeat the Americans whatever it took. So the plan was to live off the land in the North Carolina mountains in late Winter? Hmmmm. Well, I don't know much about military strategy and the symbolism is a little much for me too, but I DO know about "stuff."

As a bit of a pack rat myself, I can imagine accumulating a lot of stuff in one's travels. I usually do, and it's mostly printed stuff. But the gatherer in me would have a very difficult time setting it all on fire, especially if I didn't know what to expect from the coming days. I mean what if between skirmishes I felt like reading a complimentary copy of USA Today? And then there are the free supplies that I pick up at hotels, like pads and pencils and shampoo and tea bags and apples and bananas. There is, after all, no guarantee that the next hotel will have that stuff. Now if it were near the end of a trip, I might jettison some clothing that wasn't working for me and that someone else could use. But throwing useful stuff into a fire? Not an option. Could be that's why I'm not a General.

Fortunately for us Americans, and not so fortunately for the Crown and the Loyalists, the minor bonfire event became part of a chain of more significant events that culminated in surrender at Yorktown to General George Washington within the year. May God continue to bless America as we continue our improbable history.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Keep your eye on the ball

My idea of playing golf is to watch other people doing it. True, I did play a round at Pirate's Island last week and scored well, but that was just because I wanted to impress my three-year-old grandson. Anyway, for over twenty-four hours my game has been about seeing what happens with a ball I heard land yesterday. It's too far off the course to attract much attention, and close enough to my house to allow me to surveil it. Yep, it's still there. It's a nice new "TIT-lee-ist" with a green Young Life logo. (I learned to say TIT-lee-ist as a captive viewer of a Beavis and Butthead Moronathon. A story for another day.)

After the foursome that I think sent it there passed on by, I was guessing that it wouldn't be long before some tacky unentitled person who didn't hit THAT ball wandered into my "natural area" to retrieve it. This would be par for the course, so to speak. It's not even that long ago that I had a conversation through my bedroom window, where a guy said that he and his daughter were in my yard specifically seeking golf balls. I saw no daughter and called Security, but really people do take a lot of liberties. Oddly enough, when they think they might have hit the house, golfers usually go wheeling on by as though there is no dwelling there. It's only when they've hit a pathetic stroke, no doubt one of many, that they seek their ball as though it were the Hope Diamond. Once in a while, they ask permission, but usually not. And once in a while, in a magnanimous mood, I give found balls to whoever passes unless they act like jerks, in which case I am tempted to say something like, "Nice shot, Alice and you're trespassing."

Since I have hundreds of balls saved up, I don't care about accumulating any more of them, but I am a teensy bit territorial and don't like just any ol' person wandering around my yard. So it's with perverse interest that I keep watch on the occasional ball to see just who is going to irritate me by violating my invisible boundary. It's just a matter of time.

"His name is Love"

Sometimes you get to see a real life fairy tale. A while ago when Britain's Paul Potts sang a few bars of "Nessun Dorma" on the British version of American Idol, he brought the audience to their feet and to tears. The judges, including Simon Cowell, seemed spellbound. Since then, Potts's ensuing CD, aptly named "One Chance" has sold a million copies and of course been subject to sneering criticism from those who just can't allow an ordinary person to suddenly shine. Potts however has become a YouTube star and has also appeared on Oprah.

"Nessun Dorma" (translated "Noone Must Sleep")is perhaps the best known aria from Puccini's last opera, "Turandot," which is a fantasy romance about a Chinese princess named Turandot whose many suitors have been executed, basically for not meeting her standards. The aria is sung by her final suitor, the Unknown Prince, as he bets his life that his name will not be known by Turandot before morning. If she learns his name, which is Calaf, she will be released from her engagement to him and he will die. After a night of drama and tragedy, the ice princess has thawed and ends up in Calaf's arms where she declares his name is "Love."

So this operatic sleepless night where the stakes are as high as can be is the setting about which Paul Potts sings and which takes him from a life of mobile phone sales to international fame. I cannot listen to him without feeling chills. I cannot watch him without feeling love. Potts is such an unimposing figure and yet his own love of the music and of his supportive wife make him heroic. His diffident yet hopeful figure tells us so much about his struggle and his generosity of spirit. He seems even to redeem the unkindness sometmes exhibited by Simon Cowell, as we see softness and pleasure and recognition in Cowell's face. Potts could certainly sell me more than a cell phone.

I really wonder how many truly gifted people there are in the world who never find an audience, and I suspect they are legion. All the more reason to be grateful for the discovery of each improbable gem in each unexpected place, be it river bed or muddy road or sandy beach or the impossibly crowded 'net.


As a footnote, I have to say something about Giacomo Puccini, whose life ended before he could actually finish the final act of "Turandot." His love for his art produced ten or so operas and many, many other musical works. Born into a family with five generations of musicians, his gift was somewhat expected, but nevertheless a true gift.