Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

This is our happy group of knitters at the Redwoods in Mill Valley.

We are so lucky to be involved with Sara Oliver and her handbags. She comes every Thursday for 2 hours, inspects the results of our knitting and doles out yarn. We are the happiest group in this place (300 seniors live here). Among the newcomers, our first question always is: Do you knit? as we're always looking for new knitters to join our productive group (click for more pictures of us and of Sara's handbags).

There are about 10 - 20 knitters in our group that includes 2 men. One man had never knitted until last fall when his grand-daughter taught him how to knit. When he found he had 56 knitted pot-holders in a drawer, he joined Sara Oliver and is a great producer.

I've been knitting for Sara Oliver Handbags for over a year now and the experience has changed my attitude. I love getting up in the middle of the night to knit. I am legally blind and with my magnifying lens attached to a nearby piece of furniture I have two hands free to speed along.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Roosevelt Season

Now that there is so much talk about the Roosevelts, I want to share my time with Franklin D. Roosevelt. I have mentioned before that I was lucky enough to get a post-graduate scholarship to Warm Springs Foundation in Warm Springs, Georgia. I had been there a week or ten days when one lunch time in the big dining room where all ambulatory patients, nurses, physical therapists, doctors and aides ate together, I noticed a strange young man sitting at the table next to ours. The next day, I sat at lunch with another physical therapist and found the same man was siting very close to where we were sitting again.

I asked everyone if they knew who that handsome man was. They said he's probably Secret Service.

"Are you an American citizen, Svensson?" someone asked.

"Not yet," I replied.

"Ah ha! that's it."

I liked to walk barefoot in the forest around Warm Springs and I kept thinking that poor man must have to follow me. So I made all sorts of strange moves and followed different paths. That didn't last very long because I became so busy learning new things.

One day we heard that the President was coming for a weekend. Everything was spruced up: windows washed, gardens raked and the two pools cleaned. Young male patients were told they could not wear their bathing suits when having a treatment they had to wear the outfits all the regular patients had to wear.

The day when the President arrived, he went to his cottage -- though his house was much bigger than the house we lived in. Suddenly, we found out he was coming to dinner at our place in our huge dining room.

He was driven in a convertible Ford with FDR license plates. He walked in, looking very tall and very proud, but when he got to his table with his two secrets service men or two sons who had the duty to help for the day, he had a lot of struggle with his braces when he sat down.

Normally he was helped down and up by his sons or secret service people by them grabbling him under his arms. It was does so quickly and gracefully that people weren't aware that he was having any trouble.

After he sat down, he gave a speech to the patients:

  • Be patient
  • Work hard
  • Do more than people expect of you

He wished everyone good luck.

Then it was time for us to leave and we left in a long, long, long line, snaking between the tables. Patients lying on their stomachs on a gurney were attended by a nurse or an orderly. Everyone got to go in front of the President of the United States of America and get a hand shake and few words of encouragement.

Then my turn came. He told me he was sorry about the investigations before I arrived here. Before coming to Warm Springs, I was in Tennessee and my departure date kept changing because my clearance kept being delayed until I was checked out to be an innocent Swedish immigrant. Then he asked about my home town in Sweden and did my family come also? And all that took about 1 1/2 minutes.

That was a hard day for him because there were so many people there.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Cast Iron Bread Baking Pot

The photo of me and the cast iron pot in the middle of the table made me think of cast iron utensils we used when I was little. We did not have money for a standing rib roast. I think chicken was the only meat we ate -- once a week we did have a roast on Sundays, sometimes veal, mostly chicken. Otherwise we ate fish.
Many times with fish as the main course we would have Yorkshire Pudding. The utensil we used for Yorkshire Pudding was cast iron and deeper than a muffin pan and I guess we used bacon fat when we didn't have fat to use from a standing rib roast (which is what the English ate for a standard Sunday dinner -- standing rib roast and Yorkshire Pudding). Our old-fashioned kitchen stove needed have very small kindling and then a little bigger pieces of wood and then coal or coke as they called it sometimes and that would keep the temperature high enough to bake Yorkshire Pudding.

A man came and delivered wood and this man knew the size that every person needed in the little village where we lived and he cut it so it would fit in everyone's house. Everyone had a fireplace but not open like we have here but made out of ceramic tile and they always stood in the corner of whatever room we're talking about -- the only room that didn't have a fireplace was the dining room.

I remember as a child the little door on top of the ceramic fireplace was open and it made all kinds of scary shadows on all the walls.

But back to cast iron. The only other utensils we had were frying pans and they were cast iron. They had to be treated with lots of respect because if you washed them and you didn't dry them carefully rust formed from a drop of water and there would be hell to pay because the next time you made pancakes or something else delicious would stick.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Third Eye

In the first post I wrote about Eyes, I mentioned I went to the Berkeley Sidewalk Art Show. Walter Keane and his family were across the street from where I was drawing. I had never heard of him so I crossed the street to see what they were doing. I was interested in how he could be successful in portraiture when he enlarged the eyes to such an extent.
 It turned out he was a very good friend of the man who owned the shoe store in Danville and so news of his success came readily to us and we all enjoyed his fame.

However, his fame was a flash in the pan because soon his name became tainted by the stories of his wife being the one who actually painted the portraits.

Many years later, I read in the newspaper that there was going to be a sidewalk show in Walnut Creek and they asked me to submit a painting for the show. I didn't have one available so I took an old painting of a beautiful girl and changed her to very small and insignificant with pupils as small as raisins. I signed it Naek Retlaw. To my surprise, the painting was accepted. None of the jurors were suspicious and, since I didn't want the painting back, I hadn't put my proper name.

Next blog will be called The Nose.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

More Eyes

About 30 years ago, Sam and I took a cruise through Mexico as if we were on a ship moving through foreign waters only we were traveling on land on a train. An unforgettable trip. To explain a little. A man in San Francisco loved railroad cars and since he had a lot of money he bought a railroad car like you would buy a pound of sugar. Finally his mother said, you now have at least 10 fabulous railroad cars and from now instead of buying railroad cars you have to earn money with the cars you now have. And so he arranged the trip to Mexico.

He hired a famous chef from San Francisco and had a crew of well-known train people and he had made arrangements with the Mexican government to cruise on their tracks. We had American locomotive until El Paso. We crossed the border and from then on we had to have a Mexican locomotive or simply get attached to trains running regularly.

The train went from El Paso to the million dollar beaches on the west coast of Mexico where we stopped for one night. Then we went to Mexico City and stopped and checked into hotels and the train waited for us at the station. Then we continued to the east coast --the Yuccan and the north coast Vera Cruz and eventually back across the border. But… what happened on this trip was truly excited.

We had to get off the main track whenever we were in competition with a local scheduled Mexican train and we often sat on a spur for hours and hours and hours. Early on, when we were sitting on a spur, I decided I would I would see what I could find as an adventure. I got my sketch pad, sat on the steps of the train and waited. All of a sudden, a boy about 10 appeared whistling on his through a forest and in my broken Spanish, I asked him if he would like a portrait of himself. When I was finished I tore  off the sketch and handed it to him to give to his mother. In about 5 minutes he retuned with his mother, his brothers and about ten more buddies his age.

Before we left there was a sea of people waiting their turn. One of the waiters from the train was behind me and if anyone got out of line, he would say one word I didn't understand and everyone waited patiently. I'll always remember the sea of black eyes waiting and hoping to have their faces sketched before the train left.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Eyes I Have Known

A couple of months after my first painting lesson, I signed up to do quick sketches outdoors in the Berkeley Sidewalk Show. It was my first public affair and I had to leave home at the crack of dawn, get into Berkeley, find my assigned place on the sidewalk, unload the car and then park it.

When I was ready, there were very few people walking by. I saw a little old lady with little white gloves and a little hat on her head with little flowers or feathers on top. She looked interested so I asked her if she would sit down so I could practice before people came. I assured her it wouldn't cost her anything.

So she sat down and I started drawing her. When I got to the hat, I was already finished with her face, so I said you may get up and move around because I'm just going to do the white things on top of your hat. She got up and stood behind me so see what I was doing. I heard her blow her nose behind me. Then I head her sobbing.

I turned.

"Why are you crying?" I asked, worried she didn't like what she saw.

"The eyes look exactly like my father's eyes."

"Did you look like your father?"

"Not at all."

It was moving experience for both of us.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Last week, I awakened with a dream still in my head. It was a memory from one of my more confusing first days in America.

I arrived in America late September 1938. I was 18 years old. It was imperative I get a job because I had no money when I arrived and I needed to continue my studies.

I went to a Scandinavian employment agency on Madison Ave. in New York City and, within hours, I had a job. My salary was $70.00 per month plus room and board and I had the fabulous title of kitchen maid. The butler, who's name was Urban, was waiting for the lady-of-the-house to make up her mind and then he drove me to Princeton, New Jersey. It was a scary moment. Eveything was so different.

The help -- and there were lots of us -- there were parlor maids, a chamber maid, a butler, a chauffeur and several gardeners. The gardeners lived elsewhere. The chauffeur had a house of his own. The rest of us had a separate 2-story house where we slept and ate.

All of a sudden, Halloween was coming. People decorated and bought candy. I had no idea what they were celebrating. I had never heard of Halloween in Sweden. We lived on the outskirts of Princeton in the country where we didn't have any children knocking on the door. There were two children who lived in the main house as the children of the house. They had a German governess. They didn't go out trick-or-treating and they didn't get any candy.

We each had a bedroom in this separate house. Halloween evening we were off from work and gathered around our living room radio. Someone said let's turn on NBC. The broadcaster was Orson Wells. In a hysterical voice he was shouting about Martians who had landed on the New Jersey hillsides. He had a strong voice as he spoke very emotionally about how the Martians were looking for mischief. I had no idea what was happening. I think the chamber maid was from the area. She was terribly upset because her elderly parents lived in Trenton where the Martians were headed. She worried her parents could be picked up aliens.

The next morning we read about Orson Wells show in the newspaper (the big house had lots of newspapers delivered). When we learned he almost lost his job as a newscaster, we realized then what a historical event it had been.

When I woke up, I was amused by the memory. When I picked up the newspaper, I saw an article about Orson Wells and his Martian joke. I thought, wow! I was right there. Such a historical event in a different century and now very few people remember or have even heard about the historic Halloween night.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


The other day it was raining just slightly and I decided I should have more exercise. I put Edgar on my walker with a leash and we walked down to the parking lot for residents.

 Then we out on the sidewalk of Miller and to Alto Camino. It was a mistake I discovered early on and I should have turned back. Edgar was absolutely hysterical. He tried to run away. I picked him and put him back because he jumped off the walker a couple of times.

Since I am pretty unsteady on my feet and I had to let go of everything to pick him up, I was afraid I would tip over.

I wondered if I should let go of the leash and let him run home but I was afraid he may not know his way or could get caught on his leash and get lost. The sound of the cars scared him so much.

So scared I was going to lose him, I hurried along, turned the corner and came in the front door. There he was happy. People were talking to him and petting him and he loved it.

I gave him a treat. He ate it and went next door and went to sleep on my neighbor's pillow.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

How Could a Day that Started Out So Badly End So Well?

At 7:30am the telephone ran. Who would call me at 7:30? It was the desk at the Redwoods: "You have to get up and move your car because workers are there and if you don't move it right now you'll be trapped behind all that equipment."

I apologized profusely and promised to immediately move my car. Then I thought, what do I need to take with me? Car keys, of course. Will I have to park in the Safeway parking lot (with their overflow parking places)? Then I thought, how can I? I haven't driven for over a year. I called the desk back and explained they had woken me up and in my stupor and I'd forgot I can't move my car. She said okay and, in minutes, a young man arrived and asked: "What brand is your car and what color?" I couldn't remember the name. I said: "It starts with a S." He said: "Oh, a Subaru" and asked the color.

He said he'd move the car and leave the keys at the front desk. So I felt since I had been awakened so rudely, I would do the rest of my chores. I took off all my night clothes and starting cleaned the cat box. Then there was knock at the door. I thought to myself, now what? I'm naked (I don't like to work with smelly stuff with clothes on). How do I handle this problem?

So I found my robe, put that on, clutched it to my chin and went to the door. There stood the most gorgeous man -- one of our bus drivers, young and blonde and so extremely tall. There he was with the car keys in his hand. He had been sent down from the office to deliver my keys. I know they want me to move my car from where it's parked now in the front, but of course I can't. So there it sits in the front.

Then I got ready for my luncheon with my handsome son-in-law.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My New Year's Resolution -- 2014

I started taking a medical bus here at the Redwoods for periodic blood tests. My first time taking the bus was frightening because I had to stand with my walker on this little shelf that raises up to the level of the bus and I thought to myself: they don't know how much I weigh. How do they know I'll get up there?

Now, I do my own blood tests and phone in the results to a clinic. Because I'm not yet 100% successful doing it myself at home, I receive phone calls from the clinic.

A woman calls me from the blood testing office. She speaks through some sort of a machine that makes her sound like she'd been dead for more than a month. And she says in an outlandish and scary voice to check that I'm who she wants me to be.

It scares me so much to hear this voice from beyond that I hang up and do not write down the number I'm supposed to call back.

She'll have to call me again, next time preferably with her own voice. It's scary for people as old as I am; her voice is fraught with scary images.

When I was done needing to go by a long bus ride to the blood clinic, I said I'm through with this now and I'll investigate the other buses which will take me out to outings, shopping, lunch...

Today was my first step toward that intention, though ended up not working because the bus arrived with no lift. Next time will better because we'll let Art my favorite bus driver know that I need a lift. I know I can get up the steps and I just know I can't climb back down again and need the lift.