Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “TOWN CRIER”

The Plight of the Trees

Dying redwoods in the median strip

Dying redwoods in the median strip

The combination of age and water conservation measures is taking its toll all around my neighborhood.  There are dead and dying trees on every street. Particularly sad are the landscape trees which were planted years ago when Los Altos was a new development, chosen for their rapid growth with no thought to their natural requirements, maintained for decades with irrigation, and now left to fend for themselves in an unnatural habitat.

Many of the redwood trees which tower along our major roads are slowly turning brown at the tips of their branches.  Growth rings on redwood trees show that they have survived drought periods as long as 200 years in duration, but not on the eastern side of the Coast Range.  Redwoods are adapted to get moisture from morning fog.  Deprived of their morning fog drink and  of  irrigation , they are struggling.

The Monterey pines are in even worse shape.   In native stands on the California central coast, a Monterey pine can live 100-150 years.  But “in captivity”, as a landscape tree, the life span shortens to as little as 20-30 years.  Monterey pines are adapted to live in crowded stands on thin soil underlain by bedrock.  As landscape trees, too much space, too much rich soil, and too much fertilizer all combine to put the Monterey pines in trouble..

Without sufficient water in the soil, the trees’ hydraulic system for transporting water to the limbs and leaf tips may fail, weakening the limbs and causing branches and trunks of well-established trees to split and fall.  My son’s car was totaled several months ago when a heavy branch split from the sycamore in his front yard.  Our flowering plum blocked our driveway when a third of its canopy fell.  Around my area old gnarled oaks and pepper trees have split down the middle. Seeing these trees go is like an old friend’s passing.  But when the branches fell from our plum tree we discovered a colony of wood boring grubs had ravaged the interior. It had to go. It felt like a mercy killing.

Gnarly almond hanging in there

Gnarly almond hanging in there

I felt differently about our almond tree.  One of a pair, its twin was sacrificed when my parents subdivided their lot so that we could build our house next door.  My father had worked tirelessly to protect the almonds from marauding squirrels, using his pellet gun to such great effect that for five years after his death the squirrels still avoided the area. The average life span of an almond tree is only twenty-five years and this one had struggled along for at least sixty.   Its bark had peeled off in large sections, leaving the bare wood to weather or rot where water collected in crevices, although it still bravely sported blossoms on its gnarled branches every spring.Almond - after

Finally, a few weeks ago, we ordered the almond tree and the plum tree cut down – too much of a hazard next to our driveway.  “This would make great firewood,” the arborist commented. “Don’t you want to keep the logs?”  But we converted our fireplace to gas years ago.  The logs were loaded into a truck for someone else’s hearth.

We planted a new little tree where the flowering plum had been.  It is a Chinese pistache, well known for its flaming fall foliage, recommended as a street tree by our city,  and reputedly very drought tolerant. It’s not going to bloom, but then it won’t be subject to fungus.  Despite drought conservation measures, we will be watering it every few days until the rains start.  Hurry up, El Nino!


Car Spotting 2015 (Los Altos TOWN CRIER Sept 2, 2015)

Pagani1 When I was a kid, September was exciting, almost like Christmas, because that was when the Big Three automakers would reveal the new models for the upcoming year.

Previous to the announcement date, there would be mystery and skullduggery, as the new models were trailered to dealerships shrouded in black drapery to maintain suspense while car buffs and rival carmakers would do their best to sneak photos of the new cars before their debut dates.secret1

The Big Reveal came with fanfare and hoopla. The new cars sported chrome and optional vinyl roofs, fancy rocket-ship hood ornaments, candy colors and exotic attributes like “dynaflow,” “swept-wing” and “push-button drive.” Once the new models were officially available, I eagerly scanned the road, hoping to actually see one. The high point of my youthful car spotting was a Chevy Corvette, turquoise and white, which roared down the highway past us one day to my awe and wonder.corvette1

Then cars dulled down. The new models dribbled out over months rather than in a couple of September weeks. The exteriors reverted to one color, chrome was expensive and heavy, vinyl roofs proved not durable, swept-wing fins were hazardous to pedestrians when backing up and rocket-ship hood ornaments the same when going forward. Candy-colored paint contained lead and tended to go chalky on exposure to sun. My interest waned.

But recently the excitement has returned. One of the side effects of the Google/Apple/Facebook explosion is that there are a certain number of folks around our neighborhood who have more money than they know what to do with. And if you are an American male with lots of extra funds, inevitably some of that extra seems likely to be invested in The Car. Not just any car, but a Head-Turner, a Statement, Bling-on-Wheels. Spotting one of these exotic vehicles adds zing to the most ordinary auto outing.

The sporty Mustang has reappeared in bright primary colors; Corvette ditto. I have grown adept at identifying a Tesla, in its various models, a Bentley, a Maserati and a Ferrari. I have driven past the McLaren dealership on El Camino Real and peered in the windows, but I’ve never seen one on the road. showroomPA1

The prize of my car-spotting collection appeared one sunny Saturday afternoon driving home from the beach on sluggish Highway 17. I heard a roar behind me, and there it was. Black, low to the ground, with an Italian name, sexy curved fenders and strange aileron flaps that rose and fell as the car braked in traffic. Comparing this sports car to a Corvette would be like comparing Sophia Loren to Taylor Swift.

Because we were both inching along, it was not difficult to read the name on the rear. A quick thumbing of my smartphone revealed that I was looking at a Pagani Huayra, an Italian sports car with a 720-horsepower engine and a top speed of 231 mph. It is named after Wayra Tata, “God of the Winds” in the Inca Empire. It costs roughly $1.3 million.

I felt a little alarmed. If someone is going to be driving a $1.3 million car on public highways, shouldn’t he or she have outriders as are provided for trucks carrying oversize loads? “Caution: Hyper-expensive car ahead! Pass with care!” In the stop-and-go beach traffic, what if some unfortunate accountant or schoolteacher or retiree bumper-kissed this black bombshell? There goes the monthly mortgage payment!

My enthusiasm for car spotting has cooled a bit. Even if I do see a McLaren on the road, it will seem like a poor substitute for the God of the Winds.

The question I hope someone is able to answer for me: If you build a $1.3 million car, do you have to satisfy U.S. highway crash-testing requirements in order to drive it on the road? And who gets to pick up the pieces?

corvette2 Pagani3

My Solar Clothes Dryer (Los Altos TOWN CRIER, August 5, 2015

Solar clothes dryer

My cousin periodically sends me Internet nostalgia with comments along the lines of “Are you old enough to remember this?” One of her recent items struck me as newly useful in our energy-conservation-conscious times:

The Basic Rules for Clotheslines: (If you don’t even know what clotheslines are, a quick look on Google or Wikipedia will clarify.)

1. You had to hang the socks by the toes … not the top.

2. You hung pants by the bottom/cuffs … not the waistbands.

3. You had to wash the clothesline(s) before hanging any clothes – walk the entire length of each line with a damp cloth around the lines.

4. Wash day on a Monday! Never hang clothes on the weekend, or on Sunday, for heaven’s sake!

5. Hang the sheets and towels on the outside lines so that you could hide your “unmentionables” in the middle (perverts and busybodies, y’know!)

6. If you were efficient, you would line the clothes up so that each item did not need two clothespins, but shared one of the clothespins with the next washed item.

7. Clothes off of the line before dinnertime, neatly folded in the clothes basket, and ready to be ironed.

My cousin claims not to have used a clothesline since she first discovered dryers at the laundromat. For me, my clothesline is an integral part of my Saturday routine. It is very soothing to take the laundry outside and pin up or hang the clothes. It gets me outside, makes me bend and stretch, and saves at least one dryer cycle.

I don’t follow all of the rules above. Contrary to Rule 1, I always hang socks by the tops, paired with a single clothespin. I’d never heard of Rule 3 – I guess my mother assumed that the occasional rain would keep the line fairly clean. And for a working woman, Saturday, not Monday, is wash day.

Rule 2 has been made pretty obsolete with the advent of permanent press and spandex. When I was a child, my mother and I struggled on laundry day with pants stretchers that you put down the legs of trousers and expanded as much as you could so that the trousers – especially jeans – would dry with fewer wrinkles. Now all I have to do is hang the pants by the waistband with the fly zipped and they will dry flat.

Because I own a limited number of clothespins, I have to challenge myself to use as few pins as possible, as Rule 6 above suggests. (That’s about as much challenge as I can stand on a Saturday morning.) And I do hang sheets on the outside line, but only because that’s where they fit best on my umbrella-style clothesline. (See solar clothes dryer in privacy mode below.)

Permanent press and Kleenex have also put an end to the sprinkler bottle, used to dampen pillowcases, dishtowels and handkerchiefs so that they could be ironed more easily. My older brother made ours at Boy Scout camp – an RC Cola bottle painted green, with a decoupage flower on the side and a sprinkler top secured by a cork stopper. (I’m sure my brother will curl up and die now that I have revealed he is a decoupage maven.) Ironing now is only for the linen napkins if company is coming.

But despite some improvements in textile technology, I’m still enthusiastic about my small-ecological-footprint, resource-efficient, cost-effective, reusable, easily repaired combination low-impact aerobic exercise device/solar clothes dryer, available in retractable, parallel and umbrella versions from most online or offline housewares providers. Let me encourage you – take wash day back to the future! Solar dryer- privacy mode

The Death Knell of Suburbia (Los Altos Town Crier, July 1, 2015)

Photo by C Birnbaum

Photo by C Birnbaum


The orchards are gone. The single-story ranch house is seen as a waste of valuable land and air space. An eight-lane freeway thunders past the bridle paths in Los Altos Hills. But nothing has signaled the death of surburbia more definitely than the announcement last month that Sunset, the “Magazine of Western Living” is abandoning its spacious, rambling, garden-focused headquarters in Menlo Park and relocating to an urban shopping/restaurant hub in Oakland.

When my family moved to Los Altos in the late 50’s, we knew nothing about suburban life. My parents had been raised in a city, relocated to a smallish county seat in the mid-South, living in a succession of small homes. Then we found ourselves in Los Altos, on nearly an acre of land which included sixteen assorted fruit trees, three assorted nut trees, plus a grapevine and a mint patch, a separate outbuilding (part garage, part workshop, part toolshed) and a creek in the back.

Sunset, May 1993

Sunset, May 1993

Sunset became my parents’ bible. My father learned about composting, about roto-tilling, and about hulling walnuts and protecting almonds from squirrels, and about grilling steaks and salmon and trout on an outdoor grill. My mother learned how to dry apricots, can peaches, make plum jam, and put together a block party or a kid’s Christmas craft workshop. For years my parents saved every issue, just in case they needed a recipe for fig chutney or how-to instructions for making a picnic table or a lawn chair. I even appeared in a sidebar about making party banners, back before you could buy banners for every occasion in the hardware store.

Sunset August 1976 -That's me at upper right!

Sunset August 1976 -That’s me at upper right!

Of course, when I brought my young family back to Los Altos in the 80’s, we immediately subscribed to Sunset. I noticed a change. There were fewer articles about how to make things, and more articles about where to buy things. The recipes used more exotic ingredients like fenugreek and sumac and grapeseed oil, and less of the things you might grow in your own yard. A wine section had been added. The travel section listed more resort hotels and fewer family camping spots.

According to the announcement of Sunset’s move to Oakland (San Jose Mercury News, June 3, 2015) “the new headquarters… underscores the shift in western lifestyles in recent years…. Rooted for decades in suburbia and the suburban lifestyle…, the magazine now is following the trend of young tech workers, empty nesters and others who increasingly seek larger cities for their homes.” Per Sunset editor-in-chief Peggy Northrop “ we are joining the trend that our readers have started.”

Sunset July 2015 - pay to play!

Sunset July 2015 – pay to play!

I didn’t go to the last Sunset Celebration, the annual food/wine/garden/home décor party that has been hosted for decades at the Menlo Park headquarters. I didn’t want to say good-bye to the showcase gardens, which had been one of the places we always used to take out-of-state visitors to convince them that we really were living in Paradise. The property “is deemed to be a prime spot for development of first-class office buildings.”

I wonder if they will install a tombstone, or at least a memorial plaque: “Suburbia – born in the Valley of Heart’s Delight, 1950; died in Silicon Valley, 2015. And so goes the dream.


Sunset June 1976 – Campfire Cooking

Sunset July 2015 - Almond Torte with grilled figs

Sunset July 2015 – Almond Torte with grilled figs

Drought Intolerance (Los Altos Town Crier, June 4, 2015)

P1020796webDrought intolerance

Four years into it, almost everyone but the Santa Clara Valley Water District is admitting that our drought is a reality that won’t go away. (Hello, SCVWD? Still insist on building those catch basins in San Antonio Preserve and McKelvey for flood protection?) Walking, jogging, and biking around my Los Altos neighborhood, you can see a number of different landscape solutions our neighbors have reached in order to cope with water scarcity . These include:

Total Denial: The lawn is green and trimmed, shrubs are pruned, flowers are blooming. “This is my lawn and my flowers and I’m jolly well going to keep them going – it’s bound to rain someday!”

Good Citizen: the lawn is trimmed but browning, flowers are going to seed instead of being pruned. “Brown is the new Green!”

Cottage Gardener: the yard has no lawn instead flagstone paths lead to a bench or wrought iron table and chairs, surrounded by, lots of roses, hydrangeas, and other blooming flowers and shrubs. “It’s all on drip irrigation, get off my case!”

P1020804webPractical Productivity: The lawn has been replaced by raised beds sowed with vegetables, herbs, snail-repelling marigolds, and cutting flowers,   surrounded by gravel paths and bark mulch. “If I can’t eat it, smell it, or put it in a vase, I’m not watering it!”

Concrete and Conifer (good for corner lots): A large tree in front of the house (usually evergreen, but sometime oak) with a layer of weed-stifling leaves or needles underneath, provides the focal point of the landscaping. A circular driveway takes up the rest of what would be lawn. Some shrubs fill in the corners. “High function, low maintenance – what’s not to like?”

Maybe Sleeping Beauty is in there?

Maybe Sleeping Beauty is in there?

Concealment: A new picket fence bordered with shrubs conceals the yard. Is there lawn behind it, or dried ground? “Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.”

Desert shrubs, bubbling fountain, recycled water?

Desert shrubs, bubbling fountain, recycled water?

Smugness: (prevalent with newer houses with either Mission-style or Modern architecture) Instead of lawn, lots of gravel in geometric designs, bark mulch, feather grass, sage, California natives and usually a “water feature” (with recycled water, of course) just to rub it in how much water they are saving on the rest of the landscaping. “We saw it coming and you didn’t! Nyah nyah nyah!”

Anachronistic: The traditional Los Altos ranchhouse, but the lawn has been replaced with bark mulch and gravel as with the Mission/Modern landscape. “So it doesn’t match the ranch-suburban look, it’s not going to be featured in Sunset, but it keeps the water bill down.”

50’s Los Altos throwback: a wide border of overgrown juniper shrubs, with a spread of English Ivy instead of lawn. “Everything old is new again!”

Is it real?

Is it real?

Embracing the inevitable (Suburban traditional): It looks like a luxuriant lawn, but a closer look reveals artificial turf. “I can have my cake and eat it too!”

Weeds, schmeeds! It's ornamental grass!

Weeds, schmeeds! It’s ornamental grass!

Embracing the inevitable (Pioneer traditional): A border around the former lawn has been mowed, but the central portion has been allowed to revert to waist-high horsetail grass and star thistle. “Weeds, shmeeds, I say it’s ornamental grass, and I say the heck with it!”

A Familiar Icon Pops Up


I was walking to my car parked on a side street downtown when my eye fell on an old familiar acquaintance from my early childhood.. It was the Steinway logo over the door of the new Steinway and Sons showroom, recently added to the local merchant roster.S&Slogo

I have been intimate with the Steinway logo ever since my mother inherited a beautiful mahogany Steinway grand (model M) from her step-father, who had owned the Steinway dealership in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The piano had been personally autographed by the then-president of Steinway and Sons, Theodore Steinway.  (According to family lore, this was because Mrs. Daynes wanted to prevent her husband’s selling the piano right out of her living room, as he had been known to do.) We had to buy a new house in order to accommodate the piano, as it refused to fit in our compact living room. (I gained a new sister at about the time the piano arrived, which probably influenced the move also.)

As a child the piano was my fort, my cave, my favorite retreat. I was quite familiar with all the small nooks and crannies visible only from the underside, so imagine my glee when one day I poked a toy into one of my accustomed hiding places and found something else hidden there. I bounced out from under the piano caroling “Mommy! Mommy! I found money hidden in the piano!” My mother turned white, then red. She had been entrusted with some cash from a school fund-raiser and had thought she had found the perfect hiding place. Her security had lasted only about forty minutes.

Later I was not on such good terms with the Steinway. My parents felt that with such an instrument in the family, someone must learn to play it, and the choice settled on me. I suspect my older brother, whose long fingers were much better suited to the task than my short stubby ones, simply made himself scarce at any time when the subject of piano lessons was mentioned. I wasn’t as agile, so I was sentenced to a weekly pilgrimage to the home of Mrs. Knox, a few blocks away, plus daily practice.

It wasn’t so bad at first, learning scales and simple tunes which I could memorize and play back without having to practice very much. But then we got to two hands, and the need for coordination overwhelmed my ability to fake being able to read the music. By the time I was ten I was weeping at the keyboard, and Mrs. Knox regretfully told my mother that as I seemed to have neither talent nor inclination to practice, I had better stop taking lessons.

Fortunately, that little sister I mentioned was just getting to the age where she invited comparisons to Shirley Temple, and she loved to perform. I gratefully handed over the practice time to her.

The Steinway is still in Mom’s living room, not used much now that my sister is married and away. But I do have three long-fingered grand-children, each of whom has embarked on piano lessons. I’m hoping the Steinway will be a family member for a long time to come.PianoSignature

Aliens Among Us (LATC February 4, 2015

Adolphin4 friend invited me  to go whale-watching outside Monterey Bay during the migration of the gray whales along the “Whale Highway”  which stretches along the California coast from Alaska to Cabo San Lucas.whalemigration

graywhaletailShortly after leaving the shelter of the bay, we spotted plumes of vapor not far off – at least a dozen whales, a “mega-pod”, were swimming together, blowing off vapor, and diving in rough synchronization.  As we approached, we could see the backs of the whales, scarred by barnacles, but glistening silver-gray in the sun.  The whales exhaled, one after another, or two at a time,  sending  fountains of white spray into the clear air. Then they dived, one by one slithering their huge bulk in an arc as they bent toward the bottom of the sea, than at the end flipping their heart-shaped flukes up into the air as if waving farewell.  It was like a dance.  We waited and watched – where would they come up next? A shout – “6 o’clock! Behind us” and the performance was repeated. “”10 o’clock! On our left!” and again the aquatic dance.  Why was this group of whales gathered together? The on-board naturalist had no clue. “It’s not usual to find so many in one group.”  We watched and wondered.whalespout

Finally the boat went on – there was more to see. “There’s a big school of dolphins up ahead – maybe they’ll come to play with the boat.”  In a moment we were surrounded by hundreds of hurtling gray shapes – needle-nosed dolphins barreling through the water next to the boat, dodging in and out of the bow wave, surfing in the wake, racing alongside the boat in huge leaps which sent them flying out of the water.  “If the water were rougher they’d ignore us,” said the guide, “but when it’s calm like today they get bored, and the boat is like a big toy to them.”  Could this be true? Or was he just ascribing human-like motives to these gray bullets? Why were there hundreds of dolphins in this one small space of ocean?  He had no clue.

rissos-dolphin1As we headed back toward the bay, the boat detoured to observe some Rossi’s dolphins, a very different sort.  These are stately silver swimmers, with a vertical dorsal fin and a rounded bullet head. The Rossi’s dolphins don’t leap from the water, don’t race each other, but swim smoothly along at a steady pace, paying no attention to our boat. “They mind their own business and want us to keep our distance,” said the naturalist.  But what is their business?  And why are they so unafraid, yet so aloof?

I read with bemusement about our astronomers’ search for alien life on other planets.  Most marine scientists seem to believe that dolphins and whales have enough brain tissue to have evolved what we would call reasoning, and that they communicate with each other through complex sonar systems.  How can we hope to recognize and interact with intelligent aliens on other planets when we understand so little about the intelligent aliens on our own?

Reflections and Resolutions for the New Year (Los Altos TOWN CRIER January 7, 2015)

Those of you who have been following my column for some time may remember a year ago when I wrote about my brother’s terrible accident, a fall from an extension ladder which broke both wrists and crushed his face.  A year later, I am welcoming him as a “guest columnist” by passing on substantial parts of his Christmas letter, complete with some New Year’s resolutions which I hope we can all think about.

My brother’s words:

“Last year, in October, I had a serious accident with an extension ladder that put me out of commission for 5 months. Along the way of recovery, I have found that there are people and friends that mean so much to me… and I didn’t know it, or know to tell them. And I also found out how much it means to have family that loves you and is willing to sacrifice time and effort to help you heal.

Four months into my recovery, my fiancée was diagnosed with metastasized colon cancer. After a seven hour surgery, two month recovery, six months of chemotherapy and  another major surgery in December , we now both know how well we can deal with each other’s infirmities, and how much our families love us. These are gifts that you cannot find in stores, cannot buy on the internet and could not have enough money to buy if they were available.

We have not done a lot this year, with both of us being laid up due to injury or illness. We go to work, do everything needed, and come home to crash on the easy chair, watching “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune”  while we eat dinner, then watching whatever takes our fancy on TV until, exhausted, we trundle off to bed. The hiking, biking, tent camping and long walks of previous years are not on this year’s calendar.

But we HAVE done some important things: a major family gathering last year in November just after I got out of the hospital, easygoing trailer camping at the beach, in the mountains, at an RV park and more, and visits with  family in California and in Idaho. Growing closer together (in ways that we NEVER dreamed of!) and finding “simple” things to enjoy together rounded out our year.

I would be remiss if I did not mention our  lessons from the past year:

  1. Extension ladders are evil! Do everything you can to exorcise them from your life! The small cost of hiring someone else to clean the gutter, hang the Christmas lights or clean the chimney is nothing compared to the pain and expense I have incurred due to these evil things!
  2. If you are 50 or over and have not had a colonoscopy, go to your primary care provider and demand one immediately. The small cost and discomfort of the preparation are nothing compared to what we have gone through.
  3. Cherish your friends and family; they are the ones that help you through the rough times         in life.”

To you, my readers, I join with my brother in wishing for you: “Let the New Year bring love and special events into your life, as it will be bringing them into ours.”

The Price We Pay for Fear (Los Altos TOWN CRIER, October 2014)

Our local paper on the 13th anniversary of 9-1-1 included somber remembrances, including an inspiring story of a blind worker whose seeing-eye dog led him and his office of workers to safety. The headlines also included a revelation that Yahoo had been required to turn over user data for “national security interests.” When the company refused to comply, hoping to preserve the privacy rights of their users, it was threatened with fines of $250,000 a day.

A couple of weeks earlier, I had gone to see an exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. I was required to open my purse for inspection before I could enter this public building.

I remembered that some years back a crazed person attacked Michelangelo’s Pieta at the Vatican with a sledgehammer and broke off several pieces of this masterpiece before being subdued. At that time, though, subsequent visitors were not searched for weapons before entering St. Peter’s.

And some years back, a crazed person slashed the Mona Lisa on display at the Louvre. Since then the picture has been protected with a Plexiglas screen, which makes its beauty less easy to see. But at that time subsequent visitors were not searched for knives.

However, I went through the inspection at the art museum with only a minor flash of irritation, having been hardened by the invasive airport searches of both my purse and my person over the last 14 years of air travel. And I had put up with the searches and screening gates at the local courthouse if I wanted to exercise my citizen’s right to observe a trial. And so on.

Then it got really personal. A few days before the 14th anniversary of September 11, I was informed that to return as a volunteer in my local school I would have to fill out a two-page application, provide a photo ID and my Social Security number, be fingerprinted, and pay $67 in order to get clearance from the Mountain View Police Department ($20 fee), the FBI ($12 fee) and the Department of Justice ($15 fee). I basically was being asked to give up my most important personal information and then pay to prove I am not a convicted felon, or a child molester, or a terrorist.

When I worked in education, I was told that one of the best ways to ensure student success was to get parents involved with school work, if possible as school volunteers. Even now at many charter schools parent participation in some way is required. I wonder if every parent is required to get FBI clearance. The $67 payment would be a significant barrier to many families whose participation would be most helpful to their children. What happens to community involvement if only those who can afford the fee or are not too proud to ask for a fee waiver can enter the life of the school?

And what is going to be done with the information gathered in this wide net? On what grounds would a parent be barred from working with her child or other people’s children under supervision at a school? What charges would disqualify a parent? How recent would they have to be? Who will be drawing the guide lines?


The challenge for a democracy is to find the right balance between the total security that can only be provided by an all-controlling government, and the total freedom that comes from no government at all.

Have we gone too far toward wanting to be perfectly safe?


You May Have Already Won! (LATC September 2014)


EsteroBondThere is something irresistible in the idea of buried treasure brought to light. We love to hear about the dusty picture in the attic that turns out to be a genuine Rembrandt, the stock certificate in the bottom of the neglected safe deposit box that has been accumulating stock splits and dividends for decades, the costume jewelry purchased at a garage sale that turns out to be genuine diamonds. We all want to star on ”Antiques Roadshow.”

I was excited when I visited my mother’s safety deposit box with her in February, and found buried in the bottom a copy of an elaborately engraved coupon bond issued by the Estero Municipal Improvement District with a face value of $1000, a due date of July 1, 1999, and 4 unredeemed coupons still attached.

With visions of compounding interest dancing in my head like sugarplums, I contacted the City of Foster City, which had issued the bond. After numerous letters and phone calls (the bond redemption had been managed by a bank which had merged with another bank which had sold the business to a third bank which had escheated the bond as unclaimed property to the state of California which had lost the record in their data base) my mother finally got her check for the exact face value of the bond and unredeemed coupons. (No sugarplums!) I figured I earned just below the minimum wage for my effort.

Sadder but wiser, I was skeptical when my brother sent me a link to a website listing unclaimed property by state. “ I read an article in the newspaper about this site, ran Dad’s name and came up with a list of unclaimed money. Check it out!”

Of course, I couldn’t resist. But all the listings were in Texas, and required proof that Dad had invested in the companies listed, plus copies of his and Mom’s social security cards and proof that at one time they legally resided at the address listed on the claim.  Since the total was only $38.18 for all 7 claims, I gave it up – no bonanza here for me. (The site is )Let me know if you strike it rich!)

Hope springs eternal. When clearing out my late mother-in-law’s house I saved several Japanese woodblock prints that she had framed inexpensively and hung in her bedroom. When I got them home I checked the internet. They might be valuable originals! After all, she and her husband had spent some time in Japan in the early 60’s. But again, they might be calendar art. I missed the San Jose filming of “Antiques Roadshow” so the jury is still out.

It’s almost more fun not knowing for sure.



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