Ruth Wakefield and the Chocolate Chip Cookie

My late husband Jerry was a master chocolate chip cookie baker. Over the years he’d tweaked the basic Toll House chocolate chips recipe on the back of the yellow package, and the result was something divine. I miss many things about having Jerry in my life. High on the list are his chocolate chip cookies, served warm right out of the oven. My mouth waters at the memory.

The New York Times is running a series on obits of remarkable women that were never written at the time of their actual deaths.  The series is called “Overlooked”. One of those is Ruth Wakefield, who invented the original chocolate chip cookie recipe. Wakefield died in 1977, and her obit has just appeared.

Wakefield is long dead, but her iconic cookie lives on in a million iterations. Even without sampling them all, I think Jerry’s was the best. 🙂

Conscious Aging: Joan Baez

I’m a big fan of Joan Baez: 1960’s era folk singer, activist, beloved daughter and sister, mother. Baez has performed live for over 60 years; she’s recently made the decision to stop touring after this final round, given the insurmountable changes in her voice due to aging.

I came upon a YouTube interview with Baez on a Scandinavian talk show in which she speaks honestly about coming to terms with aging as a performer. Given my blog post the other day about aging and the obligation to share wisdom, I found the interview fascinating and listened to the whole thing.

I agree with Baez that the work of this stage of life is discovering what we have — without overlooking the real and painful diminishment in what we once had but no longer do — and making the most of it. That’s the work of every stage of life, really, but with aging there is much more to contend with in the “diminishment” bucket. My personal tool kit for engaging with life no longer seems filled to overflowing. But it’s hardly empty, either, and I agree with Baez that what might have once been hidden or overlooked at the bottom of the tool kit might be powerful and fulfilling.

There’s another nugget in this YouTube interview, which I found hilarious. Baez, always a beautiful woman and no less so at age 77, has had affairs with both Bob Dylan and Steve Jobs. She might be the only woman on the planet who has seen both men naked.

Carson’s Dining Room Table

Feeling sympathy for anyone in the Trumpist orbit is hard, but does anyone else think Ben Carson threw his wife Candy under the bus over the purchase of the 31K dining room set for his office?

Trump promised to bring the best and brightest into his administration. Instead we have users, leakers, con artists, grifters like Don the Con himself — and guys like Ben Carson who know nothing, see nothing, about the abuse of taxpayer funds in furnishing his office. The nepotism part I get; Carson is merely following Trump’s example by having Carson son and wife doing work at HUD. But picking the dining room set and blaming the resulting kerfluffle on your wife? Small, Ben. Really small.

Who Wants Charles Manson?

We’re talking about the frozen corpse of the recently departed mass killer and cult leader, stored in the coroner’s office of Kern County, California.

Turns out there were various parties vying for the body: a guy who collects serial killer memorabilia, a couple of guys claiming to be Manson’s illegitimate sons, and an authentic grandson.

The winner, not surprisingly, is the grandson, Manson’s only verifiable blood relative.

I’m most intrigued by the collector of serial killer memorabilia. What in the world was he going to do with Frozen Charles? The possibilities are dizzying.

Anderson Cooper in Seattle

Anderson Cooper, who spoke on Sunday night as part of Seattle’s Unique Lives lecture series, filled McCaw Hall on Oscar night. McCaw Hall is the opera venue, and it has a lot of seats. Cooper himself joked that when he realized he was booked to speak during the Oscars, he figured nobody would come. Wrong!

In person Cooper is every bit as engaging, witty, charming and funny as he is on CNN. I really like his nightly news program, and watch both hours every night that I can. He is my go-to guy for political coverage of contemporary events.

He has a really interesting and powerful life story, much of which I knew. His mother is Gloria Vanderbilt of “poor little rich girl” fame. His father died when he was ten, and his brother committed suicide jumping from a ledge in their mother’s New York apartment when Anderson was a senior in college.

Cooper had lots to tell about his life as a journalist, his travel through war zones reporting on conflicts, and the current state of political reporting. What intrigued me most, though, was a personal story. During the Q&A someone in the audience asked which celebrity Cooper might like to invite for dinner. Cooper responded that because of his job, he’s had dinner with tons of celebrities. The person he’d most like to have dinner with is his late father, whose memory exists fleetingly through a book that the older Cooper wrote, through a still existing recorded interview made during the book tour for that publication, Anderson’s own memories, and stories people have told him about his father. Cooper quoted a favorite author, Mary Gordon, who lost her father when she was seven. I know Mary Gordon’s work well, and recognized the quote. It’s this, approximately — I don’t have the citation in front of me: “When you lose a parent, everything is possible and nothing feels safe.” Cooper expanded that to “when you lose a parent and a sibling …”.

I share that experience with Cooper, having lost my father when I was fourteen and my infant sister when I was four. I came across that Mary Gordon quote myself many years ago, and it affected me as deeply as it did Cooper. What it means is that losing a beloved parent when you are a child is the worst thing, so if that can happen, everything else terrible can happen too. “Nothing feels safe” means there is no protective barrier — not religious faith, not other people who might fill in for the lost parent, not your own still less-than-adult-level resilience. Each of us — Cooper, me, Mary Gordon — figures out individually how go on, rebuilding a sense of safety about life and about the world.

For Cooper, that meant throwing himself into as many dangerous reporting situations as possible, and working through. For me, that might have been a good part of the motivation to go into the Peace Corps.

I like watching the Oscars, especially this year when I’d seen most of the Best Picture options and was heavily invested in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nominations. But I’m glad I went to hear Anderson Cooper. It was important for me to be there.

What Does It Mean to Die?

The New Yorker has a piece on Jahi McMath, a California teen whose routine 2013 tonsil removal surgery went horribly wrong. Declared brain dead after hemorrhaging, Jahi’s family refused to accept the pronouncement. With the help of a GoFundMe page and the same network that supported the Schiavo family in the Teri Schiavo case, the family had Jahi removed from the hospital in Oakland and sent to a Catholic hospital in New Jersey willing to accept her. Five years later, supported by a ventilator and a feeding tube and now out of the hospital, Jahi exists in an apartment hovering between life and death.

I remember this story; I wrote blog posts about it at the time of the original surgery.

If an upcoming trial determines that the 2013 declaration of brain death should be overturned, then the Oakland California hospital where the surgery was originally performed could well be on the hook for Jahi’s very costly maintenance.

This is a truly bizarre case. No one, not even her family, now thinks that Jahi will ever get up and out of bed or speak or smile or even open her eyes. No one thinks she could survive without the vent and feeding tube. But some neurologists, and her family, think that Jahi hears them and moves her extremities slightly in response to requests. Delusion, or is there some level of consciousness there? Who knows?

Jahi’s situation goes to the heart of what life is, and what death is. Physicians and medical ethicists thought they had the question resolved, but Jahi throws the question up in the air anew. She’s officially declared dead and her family can’t take an IRS deduction for her as a dependent child, but she’s still in New Jersey being cared for by family and 24 hour nurses being paid for by Medicaid. She wears pink pajamas and gets her nails done. Brain scans show that her brain stem is nearly destroyed, and the neural connections between right and left sides of her brain are hardly visible. But she has some brain matter; not all of her brain has liquified, as might be expected in a brain dead corpse.

As taxpayers, we’re all contributing to Jahi’s being maintained in this curious state. Whether or not her situation continues depends on that jury trial in New Jersey, which will determine whether the original pronouncement of brain death should be overturned. If the declaration of death is upheld, I doubt that Medicaid can continue to pay for her care. I know one thing: I’d hate to serve on that jury.

Panama 2018 Day 15: Photos de Tio Bob

Bob Levy, a week one guest, is a talented photographer, and he has graciously shared his work and given me permission to share it with you. This is a Guna woman [formerly known as Kuna] from the San Blas Islands off the Caribbean coast of Panama. Back in the Peace Corps days you never saw Guna off the islands, but now they are commonly seen in Panama City, in El Valle where they sell molas in the market, and even in Rio Hato. This is a matriarchal society. They women wear nose rings, have garments made out of molas that they now sell to tourists for framing, and have elaborately beaded wrists and ankles. They speak the Guna language, and many now speak Spanish and a little English as well.

I’ll be sharing more of Bob’s photos with you as the days go on. He has a great eye for composition — as familiar as I am with the places and people where he took shots, I am seeing them through totally fresh eyes.

Gracias a Tio Bob!


Panama 2018 Day Three: Billie Jean and I

Vedat Girgin, one of my regular readers from Turkey, said he looked up a pic of Billie Jean King on the internet and I ABSOLUTELY look just like her. 🙂

Billie Jean and I are about the same height, a couple of years apart in age, both wear glasses and have a similar hair style. I do see the resemblance. So, apparently, do many of you. 🙂 I think these sightings are all in good fun, and I’d love to meet the tennis icon in person some day.

Talking with Our Salvadoran Server

I said a few days ago that I feared for the Salvadoran woman who is often the server for Sara and me at Saturday breakfast. On Wednesday, having pretty much emptied out my refrigerator, I went to that restaurant for a quick lunch. The conversation I feared actually happened: this lovely woman and her family are subject to deportation under Trump’s latest immigration moves. Our conversation was heartbreaking.

How do I separate myself from the Ann Coulter and Donald Trump brand of racism and xenophobia? I can say to the Salvadoran woman that I, and people like me, deplore what is happening to her and her family. I can say I am ashamed of Trump, angry at his actions, repulsed by his followers.

But the power is not on my side. The Salvadoran woman holds out some hope that there will be a change before 2019, when they will have to leave. But if not, they will be prepared. They will, she told me, survive with their faith in God intact.

I sit here shaking my head at the mindless cruelty of it.

Language: The Last Speaker

Amadeo Garcia Garcia, according to a NY Times Op Doc filmed by journalist Nick Casey, is the last person to speak the Taushiro language. Mr. Garcia Garcia lives in the Amazon jungle of Peru, in a village called Intuto. He last spoke Taushiro in his home village with his brother, who died and is buried somewhere in an overgrown field, the simple cross marking his grave long gone. The rest of their people have also died. Now Amadeo Garcia Garcia is the only one left. When he dies, the language, the customs and culture of the Taushiro people, will be lost.

He also speaks Spanish, and that’s how he communicates with those now around him, and with the visiting journalist. But he says he dreams in Taushiro.

He is a lonely man.

Language is fundamental to who we are, how we formulate thoughts, how we communicate them. I find it terribly poignant to be the last speaker of a language, the one whom no one now alive can understand.