quality (and when it’s not there)

I’ve been a die-hard fan of In-n-Out Burger since my college days. I ate there when I was able on my lean budget of that era. I missed it during my sojourn to Texas and Oklahoma, as I did in my days when I first came to Northern California. I took the opportunity to go there whenever I was in Southern California. When Terry and I were commuting, In-n-Out was usually a part of our weekend on my trips down there, frequently right after we got out of the airport.

When Terry moved up here and we were living in Mountain View, there was an In-n-Out built down here in Gilroy. We would make the 50 minute drive from Mountain View to Gilroy just for an In-n-Out burger. Now, we’re spoiled since they are all over the Silicon Valley area.

Something may not be quite right, however. Last time our nephew Race was home from Annapolis, he said his In-n-Out burger was not as good as before. And when Terry was recently down in Southern California in the high desert, she said that it tasted as if the meat in the burger she had was not the same quality she was used to.

Now I can deal with it if the quality of the meat in my San Francisco Burger (Frisco Burger, really, but I refuse to call it that) at our local Marie Callender’s is not up to par. But In-n-Out? That’s a different matter. I’ve been fortunate not to experience that, but the anecdotal evidence is troubling.

Were I one to believe in such things, I might well consider declining quality at In-n-Out to be a sign of the apocalypse.

Remembering Roger

As I was going through the mail yesterday I saw that one of our Christmas cards had been returned. There was a handwritten note with an arrow pointing to our return address that said, “Deceased – return to sender,” along with the standard USPS yellow label, “ATTEMPTED – NOT KNOWN – UNABLE TO FORWARD – RETURN TO SENDER.”

The card was for Roger, whom I had known since my Oklahoma City days in the 1980’s. We were both members of the First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City, and we were both part of the Sunday evening Personal Growth Group, which I later coordinated. Roger was a postal service employee who chose to retire early to avoid the stress of the system. The tradeoff was that he had to lead a highly frugal lifestyle to make ends meet, getting about on a motorcycle rather than owning a car and renting a modest place to live. The upside was that he spent his days living the life He wanted to live. He borrowed and read books from the library, sat in coffee shops (the old-fashioned kind, not where they served lattes and cappuccino) debating matters of import with friends, watched PBS, and hung out at the Unitarian church. Not a bad life, I have to say. Everyone liked Roger. You can see why.

After Ruth and I moved to the Bay Area in 1985, I kept in touch with the Unitarian church in Oklahoma City, and for a while they listed me in their directory as an out-of-area member. It was by that means that Roger found me and started sending me his annual Solstice letter. (He was an agnostic or atheist – I think the former, but I really don’t recall.) I reciprocated with my whatever-I-was-sending-out-that-year. Roger’s frugality paid off and he was eventually able to buy a house and a small car, something along the lines of a Honda Civic. While I had gone through seven addresses in the intervening years, Roger had two.

Roger got up to speed, fairly easily it seemed, on the Internet and email, and I would occasionally get his musings that way rather than by postal mail. He set up a Facebook account and managed to upload a photo of himself, but beyond that never really got the hang of FB. When I checked yesterday his FB account was gone.

Having not heard from Roger for a while I was saddened but not terribly surprised to see our Christmas card returned. Indeed, I had a premonition along those lines when we were doing them. But Roger lives on. There is an element of the population in Oklahoma City who will keep his memory alive, as will I.

Rest in peace, Roger, and as now an Episcopalian, I will add, even if it doesn’t fit your theology, rise in glory.

Aunt Miriam and Uncle Johnny

Writing about worrying, I made reference to my Aunt Miriam. That got me thinking more about her and Uncle Johnny, who Terry and I both miss. I thought it was time to pull out this blog entry which I originally published on 6 July 2009. I hope you will indulge me.

Terry was wearing her San Francisco Giants sweat pants the other evening, and it made me think of Aunt Miriam and Uncle Johnny.

Guess you need some context for that.

Uncle Johnny and my maternal grandmother were brother and sister. Uncle Johnny married Miriam. There was one other sister, Marjorie, who married Willard. That of course made Johnny and Miriam my great uncle and aunt. This was the source of many jokes about “Great” Aunt Miriam, mostly from my dad.

Johnny and Miriam were always the black sheep of the family. While everyone else lived in Southern California, they lived in Northern California. While everyone else had kids, they had none. And then there was the fact that while Johnny was a quiet, mild-mannered sort of guy, Miriam was one of those people who never bothered to turn the filters on before speaking.

I always liked them, and I always liked Aunt Miriam in spite of her quirky ways. One time we were visiting them when I was four or five. I asked if I could watch Jack LaLanne on TV, and her response was “Only if you do the exercises.” I kept fretting as to whether we would make it to San Francisco to ride the cable cars as promised. She gave me her Worry Bird, which I have to this day. It originally  came with a card, lost long ago, which said, “Don’t be sad, and don’t be blue, ’cause I’m the bird who’ll worry for you.”

But mostly, Aunt Miriam always treated me as an adult, even when the other aunts and uncles and cousins were still treating me like a kid.

That affection continued into adulthood. When my first wife Ruth and I moved to Northern California, Aunt Miriam and Uncle Johnny were very hospitable. We spent more than one Thanksgiving at their small farm west of Petaluma, to which they had moved some years back. When Ruth died in 1989, I spent a day with them. Uncle Willard was there (we had lost Marjorie many years before). Miriam was fixing lunch and Uncle Johnny, Uncle Willard and I were watching a baseball game in TV. Miriam shouted, “Lunch is ready!” to which Willard responded, “Oh, no, we’ve got another three innings to go.” You don’t do that with Miriam. But Uncle Willard always loved yanking her chain.

When Terry and I got married in 1994, we were in Northern California and our wedding was in Southern California. Miriam and Johnny had by this time moved to Southern California with the rest of the family. Miriam was right there helping my sister-in-law make sure all went smoothly. It did. Or at least any glitches were kept from us until afterward.

Uncle Johnny and I were both baseball fans: Johnny the Giants and me the Dodgers. I ultimately switched loyalty and became a Giants fan after having been in Northern California for several years, and after the O’Malley family had sold the team. One fall when the Giants where tight in the pennant race, Johnny called me just to talk about how well they were doing. That was a nice surprise.

One time they were making a trip up here and we arranged to see a San Francisco Giants game with them. We took CalTrain to the stadium, and Uncle Johnny pointed out many of his haunts from this Northern California days as a United Airlines mechanic. Our seats were not nearly as good as I had anticipated, pretty much nosebleed seats on the left field side. But they didn’t complain, and said they liked the seats.

It was a chilly day and Terry was wearing shorts. I took off to the souvenir shop and found her a pair of Giants sweat pants. It took me about three innings round trip. That’s where the sweat pants and the memory came from.

Uncle Johnny died in 2005 and Miriam in 2007. I miss them and think of them often.

why I am happy to be an Episcopalian

The Episcopal Church has its problems, to be sure. Witness the situation with the Diocese of South Carolina. But there’s a lot of great things about the Episcopal Church as well. Diana Butler Bass met on a plane “a world-class climatologist, progressive evangelical, and Obama organizer” who said to her:

You go to the Episcopal Church? Women bishops, ancient liturgy, gay people, AND science? That’s the coolest church ever.

As Diana said, “Forget that ‘The Episcopal Church Welcomes You’ [sign]. Let’s go with ‘The Episcopal Church: Coolest Church Ever.'”

O Come Emmanuel

Mormon Tabernacle Choir


I havworrybirde always been a worrier, it seems. Sometimes I think it’s behavior I picked up from my Grandpa Monaghan, my mother’s dad. He would worry about just about anything — things like did we order enough Broasted Chicken for a family gathering.

It may be genetic, however. I say that because I think I was busy worrying before I was aware of my grandfather’s worrying habits. When I was four or so we went to San Francisco on vacation, and we stayed with Uncle Johnny and Aunt Miriam, who lived on the Peninsula. I was so worried that I wouldn’t get the chance to ride the cable car that Aunt Miriam gave me her worry bird, which I still have to this day. It originally had a small printed card in its beak that said:

Don’t be sad
And don’t be blue,
’Cause I’m the bird
Who’ll worry for you

I would have been well advised to have taken up the bird on its offer all these years.

The events of last week gave me the opportunity to revisit my habits of worrying once again. It’s time for me to let the bird do its job and to pay attention to the Buddhist proverb that states the obvious all to clearly.

If you have a problem that can be fixed, then there is no use in worrying.
If you have a problem that cannot be fixed, then there is no use in worrying.

our local market

I wrote about our local Rocca’s Market, and how we were delighted that our favorite purveyor of seafood had resurfaced there. Since I wrote those entries, Rocca’s has really become a part of our routine. We now buy almost all of our meat there, as well as our seafood, of course, and we get bacon by the slice from the meat counter rather than buying it packaged. In fact, we love the idea of having a full-service meat counter, rather than having to buy it packaged at Safeway.

It really is a mom and pop (well, brother and brother) business. Tom runs the meat department, and his brother Dan is responsible for groceries, produce, and wine. One day the other Dan (the sausage maker) was behind the meat counter while Tom was sweeping the floor. Another time Tom handled my meat request and then came up to the cash register and checked me out. When I commented on that he said with a wry smile, “Yeah, I’ll bring your car around in a minute.” Last Friday Poppy, the fish guy, was staffing the meat counter and Tom was taking care of produce.

Terry and I are both delighted to support them.