Elizabeth Willis Barrett…………..March 2014


The other day Brad and I drove separate cars to a detailing shop so Brad could leave his car there to be detailed.  There was a slight problem owing to the fact that  Brad hadn’t brought the shop’s address or phone number and thought he could just find it.  But he couldn’t.  It was sort of my fault that he couldn’t find it because there was heavy traffic on Baseline.  Because Brad knows how much I hate to turn left when there is even a moderate amount of cars whizzing and honking by, he turned right which was very thoughtful since I was following him.  But that put him in unfamiliar territory as far as the detail shop was concerned and he couldn’t remember if it was closer to Broadway or Southern.  The lack of knowing made for several turns and backtracking.

Finally I called him (thank goodness, he remembered to bring his phone which isn’t always a given) and said I would just park somewhere and he could tell me where to find him after he knew exactly where he was going.  Trying to follow him in tight circles behind the wheel of a potential weapon didn’t seem like a very safe thing in my opinion.

“No,”  he said.  “It’s here somewhere.”

Finally he did find the detailer after stopping a couple of times and squinting at the road sign to see if it said Broadway or Southern.  And, by the way, which comes first—Broadway or Southern?  It’s funny how things like that escape your mind at times.  Again, I will take some of the responsibility for getting lost.  No, I will take a whole bunch of the responsibility, since my left turn phobia made him come at the shop from a different angle.  What’s a little more guilt added to the great weight of guilt that I insist on carrying everywhere I go?

When he finally left his car with the attendant and got into mine he was very frustrated.

“I don’t want to be old,” he said.  “That’s what an old man does: wanders aimlessly and slowly and shuffle-y looking for things.   I don’t want to act like that.”

“Neither do I,”  I said as I pawed through my purse, forgetting what the object of the pawing was.

“See,” he said.  “That’s what your mother used to do.”

“What?” I asked.

“The rummaging.  The rifling through your purse. That’s what your mother used to do.”

He was right.  I felt just like her as I pawed with seemingly no purpose.  A definite sign of aging.  What a pair we are, Brad and me!


The drawbacks of the aging process  hit me once in a while and I just have to vent.  I feel like Diane Keaton’s character in the movie And So It Goes when she splays her arms and says with an emphatic grimace, “I’m sixty-five.  Uuuuuuuuuu!!!”

I do not like growing old.  There must be a better way.  I know, I should be glad to still be here on this fabulous earth and I should enjoy every minute and relish the now.  But aging is a big deterrent to relishing the now.

The other day I found a hair on my chin.  A dark hair!!! What was that doing there?  I have always been blond.  How long had it been growing?  How many people saw it before I finally did?  What would make a hair grow on a chin that has never had a hair before?  Weird things happen as you grow old.

Another sign of my own aging happened when I bent over to pick up something off the carpet.  I couldn’t tell what it was and I turned it over and over until I felt my mother slipping into me again.  She had done that action often in her old age, turning something over and over in slow motion trying to determine what treasure was indicated by a scrap found on the carpet.

Slow motion is becoming more of a companion to me and not an amiable one.  What happened to my drive, my focus, my hitting the deck running?  And weight that used to roll off without much trouble has become attached to my middle and it seems to delight in giving me a backache.  Arthritic thumbs add to my annoyance.

If age was honored and respected and not snickered at, it would help a little.  This might be a good time to move to old-people-loving China.  Hopefully, Brad will go with me.

No, No, Not a Squatty Potty!


Elizabeth Willis Barrett

“No, No,” Claire almost shouted.  “I hate squatty potties.  No.  I just won’t go.”  And she sat with defiance in the airport as we waited for our flight from Xian to Beijing.  My sentiments were most assuredly with Claire’s.  No squatty potties for me either, but I couldn’t yell my disapprobation as appropriately as seven year old Claire could.

China has the greatest of walls, the most forbidden of cities, and their terra cotta warriors are incredible, but China does not know how to do bathrooms.   The Chinese have an aversion to sit down toilets which they think are very unsanitary.  Well, when you use the squat method with a sit down toilet, they are very unsanitary and you never want to be the one to have to follow a squatter.   But when one is considerate and careful and uses the provided butt gaskets (as Brad calls them), a sit down toilet beats a squatty potty all to porcelain smithereens.

Both Claire and I were in crisis as we sat waiting to board with her family and my beloved Brad because we each were in positive need of a bathroom.  The airplane bathroom was an option but it didn’t sound much better than a squatty potty since most of the people around us were definitely squatters and I’ve had to wipe down an airplane bathroom or two before I’ve been willing to use them.  Besides, it would take too long to board and get situated.

“Come on, Claire,” I cajoled.  “Let’s just see what the bathrooms are like here.  Maybe they aren’t all squatty ones.”

So Claire and I went on a quest which seemed a little fruitless.  Yep, every closed door was hiding a porcelain hole in the ground that one was supposed to squat over. I don’t know how anyone does it gracefully without splashing all over feet, walls and clothes.  Actually, I don’t think it can be done.  The Chinese have much stronger squatting muscles, I know, since they have been squatting for a very long time.

After we passed door after door of the squatters, we came to the end–and there in all its relieving glory was a sit down toilet!  They called it a handicapped toilet and it was set in the far corner of the very long bathroom.  It didn’t even have a privacy door.  I think the handicapped should have something to say about that.  At this point, neither Claire nor I was as finicky about privacy as we would have been with empty bladders.

“OK, Claire, you go first.  I’ll guard the way so no one will see, then you can do the same for me.”

We first had to run to the front of the bathroom to grab toilet paper from a general dispenser.  Thank goodness, it wasn’t empty since it was the only source for the precious commodity.  Claire took care of her business and then just as I was going to run for more toilet paper, two little girls came up.  They, too, were looking for anything but a squatty potty.  I had to beg for their patience.

“Our plane is going to leave in just a minute,” I explained with a whine.  The girls were very kind and waited till I could replenish my toilet paper supply as they charitably kept their eyes averted.  Claire wasn’t nearly as faithful a guard as I had been for her.  She was going to leave me there in the open till I shamed her into turning her back and standing as a sentinel.  I should have asked her to be a Terra Cotta Warrior for me since we had just “oohed” and “awed” over thousands of them.

Modesty had to be flushed, so to speak, for a few moments, but I was speedy.

Enormously relieved, Claire and I washed our hands and shook them dry as we ran to the line that was beginning to board.


Mother, Daughter as in “grand”

Share many moments hand in hand

But none shines more on memory’s stone

Than when we paid homage to the throne!






A Lot to Learn

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Elizabeth Willis Barrett

I wrote in my blog about my four-year-old granddaughter, Bella, wanting to know how to play the piano after one lesson.  It reminded me of the time in Ireland when I wanted to do the same with photography.  We had taken a trip to China the year before with Gilbert’s Sister City program and two of the men in our group were very good at photography.  They each had a much nicer camera than I had and I figured that I was missing out because my camera was a point and shoot.  So before we went to Ireland, again with the Sister Cities program, I insisted on buying a Canon Rebel.  It was a lot of money for me to spend on a camera especially when we were also paying for the trip, but since I’m in charge of the minutiae of our family finances, I bought it anyway. Now my pictures were going to be phenomenal, too!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time before the trip to practice with the camera and my reading up on its functions during the long plane ride to Belfast didn’t help much.  At least I knew enough to choose the auto setting and I took pictures of everything: doors, castles, cathedrals, grass, water, children.

At one of our stops I saw a member of our entourage taking pictures with an over the top camera.  “Ah,” I thought.  “He can teach me everything I need to know in a few minutes and my pictures will turn out better than what I’m seeing on the view finder review.”

So I took my camera to him and asked him to teach me.  I can still see the quizzical look on his  face and as I think back I realize what an idiot I was.  He might as well come up to me sometime while I’m playing the piano solo “Charge of the Uhlans” and ask in a hopeful voice, “Do you have a minute to teach me how to play the piano?”

Playing the piano takes many years of learning and practicing.  So does photography.  I wanted to know something without paying the price.

That happens often to all of us, I suppose.  Whether we want to learn the piano or photography or how to post a blog or how to be a good friend or grandparent or even how to be a sober individual, it takes learning and practicing and we have to be willing to pay the price.

One  of the things I want to be is a good photographer.  I have a lot to learn, but I’ve taken some classes, bought some great books and hopefully, some of you out there won’t mind me asking a few questions.  I’ll keep them simple.

A Slow Quote to China

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 Elizabeth Willis Barrett

I accomplished something so great today that I think I ought to receive an award.  After around two weeks of searching, pondering, calling, disputing, figuring and befuddling, I purchased two round trip tickets to Beijing, China, on the Internet.

It would have been easier if computer program people didn’t delight in tripping you up on the very last step.  I couldn’t figure out how to purchase the ticket that I had finally chosen from a long list of options.

It didn’t help either that I had to keep asking my daughter who lives in China what she thought about the choice of airline, the choice of day, the choice of time and the fairness of the price.  When I most needed to talk to her,  she was most asleep.  Beijing time is 15 hours ahead of ours which I am getting pretty good at computing.

Computing the airline time was much harder.  I didn’t know that 12:00 PM means noon.  Did you?  Why doesn’t it mean midnight?  For the correctness of the return trip, I had to calculate backwards from when the plane lands in Phoenix after first landing in San Francisco– which is in a different time zone from us–and then add how many hours the flight from China to San Francisco is to finally figure out if 12:00 PM meant noon or midnight.   That makes a difference when you’re asking someone to take you to an airport.  My head was spinning.  It was too much math for me.

Finally I could choose the best outgoing and incoming flights but, as I said, I couldn’t find the button that would make that happen.  After some work, I found the phone number for United Airlines, thinking that a real person could book the flight for me.  The answerer informed me that that would add $25 to the price, so instead I let her pass me over to the tech center.

Anyone at a tech center that I have ever called in my hour of desperation hasn’t spoken the same English that I speak and this was no exception. It took several clarification exchanges before I finally understood that in order to “select” a certain flight, I had to hit the “select” button.  Oh!   I had seen that button but it looked like a style of flight not a button of selection.    United, you can do better than that!  It makes me really love Southwest Airlines because it is straight forward and understandable and when you call them to help you, they don’t charge another $25.  Unfortunately, Southwest  doesn’t fly to Beijing.

I think every company who writes computer programs for services used by ordinary people like me should allow some of us to try out their programs while the writers are watching from behind two-way mirrors.  I believe that is what they do at Fischer Price Toys.  They bring in real children to play with their new products while innovators watch to see where they are lacking.  As a “real person” I could show various computer programs where they are lacking in clarity and understanding.  If they could get me to understand them, most of the world could understand them.

Anyway, I was giddy after my success.  We have been to China before but not with the added joy of spending our time with beloved family members.  That is the best way to travel. So China, set out some extra chopsticks ‘cause here we come!