Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hockey Pucks

We eat a lot of "hockey pucks" in my family. And by "hockey pucks", I'm referring to packaged biscuits-- The semi-cooked "brown 'n serve" kind that you warm and toast in the oven. For some reason, my family thinks they are the greatest invention since Cool Whip and they were, and continue to be, a "treat" reserved for holidays, birthdays and special occasions.

Growing up, homemade biscuits were served for supper in our house almost every night. If the meal didn't include biscuits and gravy, it wasn't considered a "proper meal". Mom would roll out the biscuit dough and us kids would cut them with an upside down juice jar. But when "brown 'n serve biscuits" first graced our table, around the time Mom surrendered and started using pumpkin from a can to make pies, that's all our family wanted. Of course if the hockey puck biscuits were smeared with butter and homemade jam, all the better.

My kid brother, who's nine years younger than me, named them "hockey pucks" back when the only foods he'd eat were Oreo Cookies, Cheerios and Mom's Hockey Pucks. He was a fussy eater until he was in his 20s and missed out on some of the other family recipes the rest of us enjoyed back in the day.

A few years ago, I decided to capture Mom's special recipes, and those of all the cooks in our clan, and gathered about 5 dozen recipe faves from my siblings, aunt and my grandmother's recipe cards, and organized them into one file for each of us. It includes foods like Crazy Beans, Beef with Tator Tots, Chicken Crunch, Nude Apple Pie, Potato Chip Cookies and numerous Jello recipes to name a few. They may not be gourmet, but they are my comfort foods and I flip through the recipe cards on a fairly regular basis.

Mom, who is a really great cook, submitted only one recipe to the family collection. It was, of course, titled "Mom's Hockey Pucks". Here's her recipe:

Step 1: While putting side dishes in serving bowls for family dinner, remember the rolls are still in icebox.
Step 2: Turn oven up to at least 50 degrees above the package directions.
Step 3: Put rolls on anything that won't melt. Put in oven.
Step 4: Go to table to say Grace.
Step 5: Wait for smoke alarm to go off.
Step 6: Serve.... enjoy laughs.

Yep, the name "Hockey Pucks" is well earned because I can't remember a single time the brown 'n serve biscuits weren't burnt black on the bottoms. Oddly enough, the tops were never scorched so we cut them in half. The tops were delicious and the bottoms were-- hockey pucks-- stacked up in front of each place setting to see who'd eaten the most. It's still a family tradition to this day.

Dinner to celebrate my brother's birthday is October 2nd and Mom's Hockey Pucks will definitely be on the menu. I won't be there to eat my share, but I'm sure my brother will have the biggest stack of hockey pucks in front of his plate.

Do you have a family food tradition?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dream Location

In our quest, for lack of a better term, to stabilize our pool and deck, which are slowly sliding down the backyard hill, I've learned a thing or two about geologists, engineers, contractors and our local Department of Building and Safety.

Who knew inside the walls where building permits are "copied, pulled and processed" was a single woman's dream location to meet eligible bachelors in every shape, size and age range? Seriously! The place is crawling with prospective love connections! Granted, I'm not single or looking for a man, but I've discovered the proverbial jackpot for all my single gal pals.

The ratio of males to females in the waiting line at Building and Safety is easily 25 guys to one girl. You're not going to find that in a singles bar! And the guys are VERY helpful with no corny, or sleezy come-on lines either.

With few exceptions it seems, contractors, engineers and architects are largely a male dominated business which means the few woman in this office really stand out. And, since the primary reason this group of professionals are in the office is because they are employed, it's all the better!

If you are not in the construction biz, you stand out even more, because, like me, you enter the office with a bewildered, befuddle, what-the-heck-am-I-doing-here kind of look on your face. It's a confusing joint with lots of windows, instructions and often staff who just point to random signs for instruction rather than actually speaking words when spoken to.

On my first visit, I scanned the numerous signs to figure out which line to stand in for a numbered ticket, so I could stand in another line to be assigned a line, then I waited for my number to be called so I could stand in yet another line. You get the idea. If you don't know the drill you're walking in circles and wasting a lot of time. But, if you're a single woman, that could be a good thing because all the experienced contractors, engineers and architects are very helpful and point out where to go and what to do next.

One day I had to complete several forms to obtain copies of past permits. I was joined at a long counter by obviously experience form completers who, upon seeing my lost expression, spoke right up and asked how they could help. I gratefully accepted.

After my forms were finalized and I stood in the proper line for processing, I was finally told to "sit in the chairs along the wall". Woo-hoo! Words were actually spoken and they offered me a place to sit! But before I did, I quickly scanned the 30 plus guys who were also seated and selected a seat near a contractor who had been helpful earlier, and who just happened NOT to be wearing a wedding ring.

On this particular day, that idiot Governor Sanford from South Carolina, had recently been busted for having an affair with a woman in South America, and was all over the front page of the Los Angeles Times. At one point, Mr. Helpful actually laughed out loud as he read the front page story so I used the opportunity to strike up a conversation-- on the behalf of my friend Liz, who was single and dateless.

Mr. Helpful seemed like a nice enough guy and was chatty and pleasant. I found out he's a contractor, divorced, unattached, 48, and had a great sense of humor. He asked about my construction issues and was sympathetic to the seriousness of our problem although it was not his area of expertise. By the time our numbers were called, twenty minutes later, I had his email address and my promise that Liz would be in touch.

Although I swore off matchmaking a long time ago, he just seemed like a nice guy and Liz had just told me to be on the lookout, so I stepped outside my comfort zone and hooked a friend up. I'm happy to report, so far so good. They meet for coffee and are having their third date this coming weekend!

When my other single gal pals heard about the potential dating pool at the Department of Building and Safety they enthusiastically volunteered to "keep me company" anytime I have to return-- to stand in line-- and check out the single guys. Who'd have thought Building and Safety had the potential to replace bar hopping for the singles crowd!

As for our sinking pool and sliding deck. Sadly, they're both still on the move while we await soil tests and geologist reports that are still "being processed". We've gone from having to stand on the deck to see the movement to standing 50 feet away and seeing the movement through the living room window. It makes my heart skip a beat.

Thankfully, our pool and deck are not hanging by a thread and no, we are not in danger of the yard pulling the house crashing down with it like you might have seen during California mud slides glorified and television and replayed hundreds of times. It's no where near that bad. But it's definitely not good and going to be a very big job to repair. If only there was a line to stand in to move the process along faster.

A million thanks to all of you who have sent good wishes and asked about it since my last post. As much as we need rain in California, I'm hoping it holds off until we can get things shored up and stable again.

Back to a happy note...

Where's the craziest place you've ever connected with people?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sundays In My City #8 - Firefighters

Do you know Unknown Mami? She's awesome and she's started a fun Sunday theme inviting you to get out and take pictures of your city to share with the rest of us. Click here for details and her logo and click here to see Unknown Mami's City today.

This is the view of my back yard about a month ago-- the day one of the biggest fires in California history started, by arson, about 30 miles from our home. The sky was blue but we soon realized the "white clouds" were smoke.

The smoke grew so big that it looked like a giant mushroom cloud over the city. This smoke literally goes 20,000 feet UP.

For days and weeks our view looked like this during the day-- Thick with dark smoke. Ash was everywhere and it was hard to breath. The temperatures were usually over 100 degrees.

The fires grew and grew until the smoke covered the entire 180 degree view from our yard. 89 homes were lost in the fire and miles of national forest and neighborhoods were burned.

But as of this past week, the fires are now mostly "contained" and the winds have picked up a little helping to clear away a lot of the smoke. For the first time, in a very long time, we could actually see the HOLLYWOOD sign again through the trees!

And today, I took this picture. The white you see against the beautiful blue sky are actually clouds-- glorious smoke-free clouds!

Even though we were blessed and never in any direct danger, it was a scary time for us. I know a number of people who live much closer to the fires and either had their cars packed to flee or were evacuated. They could have lost their homes but thankfully did not.

Everyone in Los Angeles is so grateful to all the firefighters and first responders who have, and continue to, work to put these fires out. There are no words to express our deep and sincere gratitude.

Today I pay special homage to two brave firefighters who lost their lives while working this blaze which grew to more then 250 square miles. Arnie Quinones and Ted Hall were killed when their fire engine rolled down a hill while they were trying to escape flames on August 30, 2009.

This past week, on August 25, Lori Quinones, wife of the deceased firefighter, Arnie, gave birth to their baby daughter Sophia Grace.

My city-- Los Angeles-- is the City of Angels. I hope the angels watch over Sophia and her mother Lori.

How is your Sunday?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Do Five Words Say About You?

Five words can help you get to know someone.

Recently I received 5 words from Betty, at A Glimpse Into Midlife. It's all part of a meme, that you can do too, if you want. Here's how it works. Betty was given 5 words from another blogger and she did a post about the words she was given. She then offered to give 5 words to someone else. I thought it would be fun, so now I'm going to post on the five words she gave me. If you want to join in, tell me in the comments and I'll send you your own five words!

Here are my five words...

1. Fall:
I'm making an executive decision and assuming "Fall" is not meant to describe the number of times I've fallen flat on my derriere, because THAT, my friends, would make for a very long post! I am one of those girls who'll try just about anything and as a result, SPLAT has my name written all over it.

No, I'm assuming it's "Fall" as in Autumn, which is my very favorite time of the year. Growing up in the Midwest, I have vivid memories of collecting orange and gold leaves and pressing them between wax paper to enjoy for months to come. When I was older and lived in New York, I loved the 8 hour drive back to Ohio in the Fall-- mostly across Pennsylvania, with more than 450 miles of spectacular Fall colors. Now, living in California for the past 24 years, I truly miss everything about Fall. The trees in our area do not turn colors, there are no golden miles of freeway and all the great things that go with Fall like wool sweaters, hot cider and raking leaves-- Not happening here. So to make up for it, every October, I fill my home with a lot of these.....
I'll let you decide if I'm taking about the pumpkins or kids.

2. Gifts:
I have long since thought "the Gift is for the giver", not the other way around. Sure it's nice to receive a gift for a special occasion, or for no occasion at all, but I like the giving part of Gifts far more then the getting-- I enjoy selecting something "just right" for a person I care about and wrapping it beautifully. I also enjoy giving the Gift of "myself"-- my help and support to a loved one who could use a second pair of hands or a boost.

That said, I've received two Gifts in my life that hold a special place in my heart. The first you'll know, if you are a regular reader, is of course my Godson. When I unwrapped him the very first time-- I yi yi, I'm crying already just thinking about it so I'll leave it at that.

The second Gift was from my mother. For my 40th birthday, she wrote every day in a journal for three months telling me stories about being her daughter. It is one of the all time most loving and generous gifts I've ever received. It's a gift I've been trying to write/post about for some time but it always leaves me so choked up I've yet to finish. Stay tuned, hopefully I'll be able to complete the post soon.

3. Retirement:
My whole adult life I dreamed of Retiring and "enjoying the fruits of my labor". Ha! I thought I had it all figure out but I forgot one important thing. What the heck would I do with myself after I walked away from a big portion of my identity. I started working when I was 13 years old and I was, and continue to be, very proud of my ability to "take care of myself". But when I hit the breaks, stopped the endless work days involved with owning my own business, and was able to kick back and sleep in, I suddenly could not sleep past 7am and had nothing to kick back and actually DO that gave me any sense of accomplishment to identify myself with. Blogging has been a big boost but I'm still on the hunt for the "ideal Retirement" with balance and fulfillment.

4. Stepchildren: I do not blog about my two stepdaughters, but I will say their father and I met when they were college students. They are beautiful, smart and accomplished women, each with a strong sense of family, generous hearts and the kind of people you'd love to have as your friend or neighbor.

5. Passion:
Hmmm. That's a word that can go in many different directions. I think I'll tell you about my Passion for food. I love to cook and entertain. I am forever clipping recipes and own way too many cookbooks but it seems I just can't get enough.

My parents and grandmother taught me how to make comfort food (Translation: pot roasts, gravy and biscuits) then in my 20s, my aunt introduced me to the use of fresh herbs and spices. (Translation: I was 24 years old before I realized garlic didn't just come in a shaker with salt by Lawry's!)

Over the years my food Passion has lead me to many cooking classes, but I would love to spend long vacations in Tuscany, Provence and Israel taking classes to learn the local ways of preparing a feast.

I could be very content having an endless stream of company around the dining room table enjoying foods from around the world. (A couple of full time dishwashers would be nice too.) But as I type, I realize ultimately my Passion is not really about food, it's about sharing a lovely meal with family and friends, and especially seeing my husband smiling at the opposite end of our dining room table. He's really my true Passion.

Those are my five words. Mention in your comment if you'd like me to pass on five new words to you. In the meantime....

"Gift" was my favorite word. What does it mean to you?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna

Monday, September 21, 2009

Born An Old Lady

"She was born an old lady and is working her way backwards." That's what my ballet teacher told my mother, about me, when I was ten years old. I had no idea what she meant at the time and I thought long and hard about it before I decided it probably wasn't a compliment.

Miss Erin, the ballet teacher, was elegant and grand and the most beautiful dancer I'd ever seen. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. But she called me an "old lady" and she wasn't implying I was mature for my age.

After a few weeks of worrying about being a "geezer", I finally broke down and approached my mother on the meaning of the comment. Mom smiled and turned it into sweetness and nice and explained that Miss Erin thought I was a "very serious dancer". In actuality, I was a very intense kid and Miss Erin was calling me a stick in the mud.

Over the next couple of years, I made it a point to lighten up around the dance studio and especially Miss Erin. But truth be told, I was a stiff, kinda boring and an extremely serious little girl. I don't think Miss Erin noticed my new found light-heartedness but eventually I out grew it.

I think.

No, I was never a true "party girl" or the life of any party for that matter, but once I stopped studying ballet, when I was 18 years old, and started listening to rock and roll and then disco, life got more fun. In my 20s I started becoming more adventurous, saw a bit of the world and, dare I say, became slightly "hip", in a Granny kind of way.

I've thought about the "old lady backwards" comment many times over the years, especially on my 40th and 50th birthdays. The older I get, the more I like the sound of it, not that I'd ever want to be Benjamin Buttons. But, best case scenario, I figure at my current age of 51 1/2, I should be about 35 years old today if I'm going backwards. And I like the sound of that.

Thirty-five was a great age-- Actually all of my 30s were mostly good and it was an exciting time in my personal and professional life. If I had the opportunity to "get stuck in a decade" it would definitely be my 30s.

Today, news reports often talk about people living well into their 100s. Although that has appeal to many, it does not float my boat. Unless I could go back and stretch my younger years to last longer, I have no desire to spend MORE time in my "golden years". I know my health and my body and I know it's not going to be a walk in the park. Simply put, I will not be one of those 80 is the new 70s kind of gals. I'll be more like "80 is the new older than Moses" women.

Yes, life should get easier as we age because we learn from our past mistakes. Yes, yes, yes, blah, blah, blah. I get the aging gracefully concept. But what doesn't appeal to me is more years of my body breaking down, my mind fraying, my finances diminishing because I'm living longer, and the likes.

Sure I take good care of myself and do the best I can medically, but as one doctor so *ahem* eloquently put it recently, "as you age, your body begins to wear out and yours is". He was, in fact, bracing me for the possibility of a pacemaker, hip replacement, cataracts and the likes in my future-- my near future.

So much for working my way backwards, huh? Somewhere along the way I hit the "fast forward" button by mistake. Damn!

I've long since given up my little girl dream of being a prima ballerina/tap dancing teacher/fashion designer. Heck, I've given up my dream of being tall too-- A good thing since I've shrunk a full inch. But lately I've dwelled on the "old lady working her way backwards" comment that was made more than 40 years ago and I'm thinking now might be the time to finally embrace those words and start dreaming again.

Sure, my aching 50-something body is what it is, but if joints need replaced-- then thank gawd they're available! If my eyes need bifocals, at least they aren't Coke-bottle thick and come in designer frames. And, I dodged a pacemaker once before so maybe if the need comes around again, it'll be simpler than an oil change at Jiffy Lube.

No, I'm not knee-deep in a medical crisis, it's one of "those days" and this is a pep talk for myself. Sometimes a girl just needs one-- or a kick in the pants, take your pick, but today I'm going with the pep talk. Being 50-something, and the aging process often feels like a full time job. Today, this working girl is going to start thinking like a 35 year old and hope my aches and pains get the message.

How old you you feel today?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna
Photo Credit: © Maceo -

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sundays In My City: #7 - The Apple Farm

Do you know Unknown Mami? She's awesome and she's started a fun Sunday theme inviting you to get out and take pictures of your city to share with the rest of us. Click here for details and her logo and click here to see Unknown Mami's City today.

This is one of my favorite places in the entire U. S. of A. The Apple Farm is in a sleepy Northern California town called Philo in the Anderson Valley, which is north of Napa Valley, about 120 miles from San Francisco.

Godson’s Mom and I have spent a couple of glorious weekends at The Apple Farm’s cooking school, tucked on the grounds of a stunning organic apple orchid. Our small “hands-on” classes produced some of the most amazing foods we’ve ever tasted-- All clean and fresh, mostly organic and locally raised, if not actually grown on the farm itself. I can honestly say, the food and the classes are a treat for your taste buds and your soul.

This sign greeted us as when we arrived. We knew we were in for a wonderful and relaxing time.

From Friday afternoon (in time to make dinner) through Sunday after brunch, we enjoyed a charming cabin tucked amongst the apple trees.
Cabins are spacious, cozy and inviting. This is one of the beds in the light filled cottage that also had a potbelly stove for the cooler nights. You'll sleep like a baby here.
And this is the outside of the cooking school building. It blends in with nature but behind it's doors... Oh the things you'll learn and the foods and wines you'll enjoy!
Below is the kitchen set for a casual breakfast on Saturday morning, complete with their homemade jams. It overflows with natural light and immediately became my "dream kitchen".
After breakfast we took a tour of the gorgeous grounds and their beautifully tended orchids and gardens. Below is a picture of a huge "potting shed" to die for!

We wound our way through the orchid smelling heirloom apples as we strolled. They have more than 1700 trees, some over 90 years old.

The farm is huge and the fog was just starting to clear on this morning.

Along the way we picked fava beans for the evening's dinner.

And we stopped and collected a few fresh eggs from here.
As we walked, we saw apples trees everywhere. But here-- the clearing with the low growth-- That was described as enough blackberries for a season of jams-- All made in the Farm's kitchen! Trust me, one taste and you'll think you're in heaven!

So naturally, when we returned to the kitchen we had to buy a few things to take home with us. Okay, we bought so much stuff it had to be shipped, but we've both used everything we purchased over and over again. And, we've reordered The Apple Farm's amazing jams and chutneys numerous times.

So about the amazing cooking classes-- It's all hands on and each step is carefully explained while you taste and sample as you go. Our small classes used many different recipes, techniques, ingredients and flavors and there was always time for plenty of questions and answers so we could actually reproduce the food at home-- And we have MANY times!

We made the most delicious goat cheese ever. Yes the goat milk came from the Farm's goats but no, we didn't have to do the milking ourselves. Phew.
We picked fresh baby yellow tomatoes from the kitchen's garden and, after marinating them in vodka, amongst other things, enjoyed them as a starter for dinner Saturday night.

We made a delicious curry chicken (perfect with their apricot chutney) with greens just picked from the garden.

And we dined outside for brunch under a beautiful arbor of foliage. It truly was a magical place with the kindest and most generous owners/teachers/hosts you could ever ask for.

Whether you're a gourmet or a microwave cook, a weekend at The Apple Farm will remind you what GREAT food tastes like and how easy and enjoyable it is to prepare.
Before we left, I shamelessly begged owners Sally and Don Schmitt and Karen and Tom Bates to adopt me. No luck. But I'm still working on them. We hope to return again in the spring. It's paradise and a wonderful and relaxing weekend.

And, since I'm gushing so much about The Apple Farm, please know that I am not being paid to sing their praises. The Schmitts and Bates are very special people with a great love for the land, people and good food. I hope you'll pay them a visit too.

How's your Sunday?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna
Photo Credit: Godson's Mom

Friday, September 18, 2009

What Did He Say?

To say I'm not a fan of the dentist is an understatement! But then again, who loves getting their teeth cleaned or drilled? Not me, I'm a wimp, but it's one of those things you just have to do and get it over with.

On my Monday visit, I noticed a definite change around my dentist's office. Gone was the perky hygienist who'd been cleaning my teeth the the past six years. Gone was the receptionist who always called the day before an appointment to reconfirm and gone with my happy, friendly dentist. In his place was a crabby guy who looked just like my regular dentist only this guy had a full-on attitude and a giant chip on his shoulder.

Apparently, the sagging economy has made it's way to the dental biz and he was not happy about picking up the slack. He'd laid off staff and was once again a "working stiff" doing the "grunt work". Yep, he actually said those words. It was early so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and thought perhaps he hadn't had his morning coffee yet.

Dentist went on to grouse about being "reduced" to cleaning my teeth and having to "lug around" the lead x-ray apron all by his lonesome. Let me tell you, there was a lot of moaning and groaning, huffing and puffing, and whining going on, and it was only 8:15 in the morning! I wanted to speed dial Starbucks for a delivery to shut him up.

The poor pitiful doc had to do his own charting too-- Which made me wondered where his pen had been before my oral exam because each time he picked it up to write, he then threw the pen back down on my chart and stuck his rubber-gloved hands into my mouth again. I'm guessing he does that with all his patients. It gave me pause and a couple of WTH? moments.

While he was digging around in my mouth for the cleaning, I squinted to read his framed diplomas hanging on the walls. He was so rough I figured it must have been quite a while since he'd taken a class in "gentle" cleaning. Low and behold he graduated in 1973; I'm sure he'd forgotten most of what he learned.

Doc Dentist has joked over the years that he "can't make any money off my mouth". I'm lucky to only have two cavities in my 51 year old teeth, but now, apparently, it wasn't a joke anymore. With his hands and a couple of instruments jammed in my mouth, my lips stretched wider than the Grand Canyon, exasperated, Doc asked if I'd recently had my teeth whitened, which I had-- at Brite Smile. That prompted a rant about how tough business was for him. Um, okay, but he doesn't offer Brite Smile.

Oblivious to my discomfort and squirming from his polishing drill jabbing my mouth, Doc then launched into a sales pitch for a $17 tube of whitening tooth paste. Yes, seventeen dollars and it was for a "travel size" tube! I scanned the room for a mirror to see if I wore a stupid face that day.

Doc was working it too-- non-stop-- brighter, whiter, fantastic, blah, blah, blah. I'm making hand gestures of "no thanks". He kept talking. I give him a thumbs down. The sales pitch continued. I try to make "no thanks" noises while he nearly drowns me with the water spray. Finally I close my eyes with my hands folded tightly together so as not to give him the middle finger salute.

At last I was allowed to rinse and he asked how many tubes of toothpaste I wanted. I ignore him. "How about some new sparkle mouthwash to go with it?" he asks! "I'll give you a good price."

Did I step into The Twilight Zone, Let's Make a Deal or the friggin nut house without realizing it? My dentist was hocking unnecessary stuff to beef up his sales? What's next-- Amway, Tupperware, Avon?

By now, my head is ready to poop off my shoulders and frankly, I'm none too please by the strong arm sales tactics. I wiped my mouth, dried my face and pulled bits of mystery stuff from my hair before I turn around and firmly, but politely, said no thank you. One. Last. Time. Then I walked out to the billing station.

The doc wrote up my $30 co-pay invoice himself and asked for CASH! When I gave him two twenty dollar bills he told me he didn't have any change. Huh? I offered a check or credit card. Nope, he only accepts cash now. So I folded my arms and said I'd give him twenty now and mail him a check for ten or HE could make change, but I was not leaving him forty bucks-- As if the extra ten dollars was a tip?!?!

Houston we have a problem. We both stood there with our arms folded in a stare down.

Tick, tick, tick....

He blinked first.... And actually pulled a wad of cash out of his pants pocket and handed me ten bucks!

As you might imagine, I did not get the usual free toothbrush and dental floss in the little plastic bag with smile faces on it. And I did not pre-book my next appointment in six months. Oh yeah, and he doesn't validate for parking anymore either.

Can anyone recommend a good dentist-- without an attitude?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Democracy Is...

NBS's Today Show featured a short segment Wednesday highlighting the U.S. Department of State's global video contest on YouTube that coincides with the United Nations' first International Day of Democracy. Called "The Democracy Video Challenge", it asked filmmakers, democracy advocates, and the general public to create video shorts that complete the phrase, 'Democracy is..'.

I believe the performing arts are not just about entertainment; I think they are meant to engage audiences and stimulate conversation. So I searched around and found this LINK to all six of the winning videos (900 were submitted) to see how, and what art forms, were used to express their opinions of democracy. Each are by amateur filmmakers and some are a little hard to hear/understand, but they are all unique and have an interesting perspective and presentation. The filmmakers, all young adults, are from Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Poland, Philippines and Zambia.

Below is one of the shorter of the films (just 55 seconds) and I think it does a simple and beautiful job of summing up what Democracy is to me.

How do you answer "Democracy is..."?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna
Photo Credit: © Aloysius Patrimonio -

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oldest And The Best-est - Take Two

Sorry all, I've figured out how you can view the video below. I apologize for the inconvenience. xo jj

Have you ever needed a little boost, a pick me up, a good laugh, or a few kind words to help turn your day around?

My oldest sister heard through the "family grapevine" that I was having a tough day. I'm the second of five kids and she's looked out for me since day one. Oldest Sister always teased that she's the "oldest and the best-est" of us five siblings but she took her "job" of watching out for all of us every seriously.

Below is a voice message she left for me when I returned home late one night from the hospital recently. It's an example of her generous heart, caring spirit, and how she watches out for me. That's Oldest Sister on the left with the long dark hair, along with the rest of us siblings when we were kids. Oh, and that first photo you'll see of the two of us if you click "play"-- when Oldest Sister was 4 and I was 2 1/2-- She cut her hair herself. Ha!

I've played this message at least a hundred times. It always makes me smile. I figured out how to save it on my laptop with a few favorite photos so I'd always have it. It's now a cherished memento that will last me a lifetime.

Today I wish Oldest Sister a very HAPPY cough*twenty-ninth* ahem BIRTHDAY! I love you a bushel and a peck too!

Isn't family great!?!
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna

Monday, September 14, 2009

Glimpse Into The Future?

The words "physical therapy" used to make me cringe. Thanks to various ailments over the years, I can honestly say I've spent as much time in physical therapy sessions as I have in the grocery store, the park, Disneyland and Barnes and Nobles combined.

In the early days it was depressing-- The "typical" P.T. office was mostly filled with ailing seniors recovering from broken hips and the likes. I was always the youngest person in the facility and it felt like a glimpse into my future.

One such facility looked like a torture chamber and sounded like a heavy metal nightclub. The staff was young, the clientele old, and the music was head-banging. The two didn't mix and I always made the staff kill the music for silence, or Frank Sinatra, which ever they preferred. The seniors always thanked me as the therapist ground their knuckles into the painful spots in my neck and back.

But my current P.T. joint is the greatest. It's a huge facility with multiple treatment areas to suit your every need. And because the place is so big, you can also visit a wide range of other doctors in the same place, at the same time. For example-- an allergist, acupuncturist, chiropractor, massage therapist (my fave), Pilates, x-rays, cosmetic dermatologist and even a Russian speaking podiatrist.

Recently, when I limped my way into Pilates for my twice weekly stretching for fibromyalgia, I was surprised to see every babushka-wearing Bubbie in the greater Los Angeles area lined up in the waiting room-- Not a sight I usually see. Apparently it was toe nail cutting day and the podiatrist had several Russian speaking staff members chatting up the Bubbies and helping with their insurance paperwork.

One Bubbie, in particular, caught my eye. At about four feet tall and three feet wide, this 90+ year old was all "gussied up" in a leopard print skirt, a red and blue plaid jacket, blue Nike's, a bright orange babushka and a pocketbook the size of New Jersey. Odd as it sounds, the "look" worked on her. But something was missing....

When this Bubbie was called for her appointment, she fished through her pocketbook and pullout out a perfectly pressed handkerchief with something wrapped inside it. Ahh yes, her false teeth, which she popped in her mouth, smiled brightly, then strutted off to get her nail clipped.

Although I hope I have my own teeth when I'm her age, I wondered if I'd glimpsed into my future again. Note to self: Avoid purchasing leopard skirts and orange babushkas.

What do you see in your future?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sundays In My City #6: Santa Monica Pier

Do you know Unknown Mami? She's awesome and she's started a fun Sunday theme inviting you to get out and take pictures of your city to share with the rest of us. Click here for details and her logo and click here to see Unknown Mami's City today

Since school started on Wednesday, Godson and I spent one last summer vacation day at the Santa Monica Pier near Los Angeles on Tuesday. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect day.

When we arrived, we found out that Wednesday would mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Pier. Who knew!
Over the years, the Pier has had its ups and downs to that point that in the 1973 the City Council actually voted to tear it down in favor of a man-made island with a resort hotel. The "locals" didn't take that lightly and pitched such a huge fit that the council rescinded the vote and three of it's "anti-Pier" members were badly defeated in the next election.

Then, in 1983, Mother Nature had her way with our lovely Pier during two nasty storms and destroyed 1/3 of it, along with shops and restaurants. A Restoration Task Force was formed and by 1990 the entire Pier was restored and open to the public once again. Phew!

Yes, over the year, our lovely Pier has had a few face lifts but who hasn't in this town (wink, wink).

The Pier is 1,600 feet long. If you walked to the end (which has a terrific Mexican Restaurant) and back, you'll get sunburned. Trust me on that, so don't forget your sunscreen.

In 1996 Pacific Park opened, bringing back the first full-scale amusement park on the Pier since the 1930's. The Ferris Wheel was replaced last year with a more eco-friendly version. And by the way, I wouldn't be caught dead on that thing. I'm afraid of heights.

But honestly, it's the beach that brings Godson and I to the Pier. We're not much for the rides. We hang out at the beach for hours digging in the sand and chasing the waves. Then we'll make our way up to the Pier and have lunch at Bubba Gumps, grab a bag of freshly made cotton candy, and then head back down to the beautiful ocean.

Tuesday was a hot day but perfect for the beach. Since it was the last day before school started, it wasn't to crowded. That's Malibu in the distance.

This is the view of the Pacific and the beach from the middle of the Pier.
Like they say, "Life's a beach!"

How's your Sunday?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna

Friday, September 11, 2009

A True New Yorker's Point of View

I have watched and read many tributes to September 11th today. But one in particular took me right there.... to New York City.... today... and then.... Please take a few minutes to check the moving tribute put together by the King Of New York Hacks-- He's a true New Yorker.

It is stunning.

Click here

Bring Kleenex.

God Bless America.
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Pool is Closed

You know it’s going to be a rough day when you look out the window to your back yard and things aren’t where you left them the night before. I’m not talking about flower pots, beach balls or lounge chairs. Oh no, no, no. I’m talking about the pool and its adjacent wood deck! Mine are clearly NOT where I left them the night before.

They are moving…. Sinking actually, downhill. And it’s not pretty.

It started about three weeks ago with no apparent reason. No earthquake, no rain, no mudslide, no drilling, no broken water lines and no demolition in the area. One night the pool and deck just started to separate and sink.

Insert big sigh and a hefty dose of hysteria.

I immediately called our pool contractor—A 70-something curmudgeon who's a real character. He’s been building pools since Moses parted The Red Sea and he looks it. His skin is like shoe leather and constantly sunburned. His hands are strong and, even at his age, still dig in the dirt every chance he gets. And, he has a full head of gray hair but it looks like it’s platinum blonde from years of sun exposure. The pool guy is a good ‘ole boy with a mouth like a drunken sailor. (Consider yourself warned about his language in this post!)

Walking across the yard together towards the pool, our conversation went something like this…

Pool guy: Shucks little lady, I remember this pool. Damn, you did a fine job of dressing it up with flowers. Hell, it looks better than I thought it would.

Me: Um thanks. Now, but about the movement. I'm very concerned about it.

Pool guy: Movement? Hell this pool isn’t going anywherrrrrr…..

Wait for it-- Wait-- Wait.....

Pool guy: Ahh*hell*shit*son-of-a-mother*shit*hell*oh boy* shit that’s big*hell*oh honey*Jees-sus H. Christmas*hell*damn girlie*ahh hell*shit*I’ll be*shit*damn it almighty*for the love of....

You get the idea.

Me: So?

Pool guy: Jees-sus H. Christmas girlie, you are totally*hell*shit*ahhhhh! That’s bad. Oh hell. How long did it take to move this much?

Me: Overnight.

Pool guy: Are you shitting me? Who did you piss off to make that happen so fast?!?!

And then he looked at me for an actual answer!

After a long silence, Pool guy started cursing again, calling me girlie and honey in between his run-on-sentence of expletives. Finally he stopped, hiked up his pants to (finally) cover his butt crack, and said…

“That pool’s not going anywhere honey, but I suggest you step off the deck and onto the grass.”

Yes, it was a rough day indeed.

I learned that last statement was code for “this is NOT his problem”. He built the pool and deck according to the geologist and engineer’s specifications and I should follow-up with them.

Problem is, I have no idea who the engineer was for the original construction and pool guy can’t remember either. The pool was built in 1992. In 1994, we had a huge earthquake and lost a lot of our “important papers” (amongst other things) and that included the pool and deck blueprints and permits.

So the games begins, so to speak. The pool seems to have stopped "moving" for the moment, fortunately. I've met with numerous geologists and engineers and learned more about "mystery movement" than I care to know. It's kept me busy of late (Could you tell by my lack of posts?) but oh the stories I will tell-- Just as soon as we get to the bottom of things.

And YES, I'm praying "the bottom" will not be my pool and deck at the bottom of the hill we live on.

How's the view from your back yard?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna