Friday, December 25, 2009

A Pileated Woodpecker has arrived!

I think it was right after we moved here, in 1975: A Pterodactyl-size (or so it seemed at the time) woodpecker flew noisily over the property, traveling east to west, and absolutely commanding our attention. I had never seen a bird quite like it, and I didn't see one again until about 30 years later, when two fellow wedding guests and I dashed away before the vows were spoken in order to photograph a Pileated Woodpecker that had been spotted across the lawn.

And now, this winter, a Pileated visits my suet feeder every day, several times a day. I wonder when I'll get used to him; I wonder when I'll stop rushing to get my camera. It's hard to tell from the photo, but this bird is the size of a crow.

In the almost 40 years I've been feeding wild birds, more have left than have arrived. I would love to see and hear Evening Grosbeaks again. I'd love it if Rufous-Sided Towhees would come back to kick leaves around, and Bohemian Waxwings once again treated me to the experience of seeing them pass Cardinal Autumn Olive berries to one another. A migrating flock of Redpolls once landed on me simply because they saw Chickadees and Evening Grosbeaks doing the same. I haven't seen them since. I miss all these birds. They all brought life and color and their distinctive sounds to the property. When I tell people I love living close to nature, it is the birds I think of first.

But the House Wren that disappeared more than five years ago came back to sing and raise babies on my porch this past spring, and now a Pileated Woodpecker has a serious suet addition. The sheer size of him must count for something. These things give me hope.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

If you just found this blog.........

.......after hearing about it at tonight's reading, here's my promise to write in it more often. I was going to promise to try to write in it more often, but we all know what happens to those kinds of promises. Anyway, thanks for finding me!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

My friend Lisa posted a couple of Thanksgiving memories on Facebook. The first one I thought of from my Thanksgivings past was an image of my daughter Gillian at 23 months old, sitting in her feeding chair and daintily eating cubes of homegrown rutabaga, one at a time, over and over. She grew to become a vegetarian, and rutabagas remained one of her favorite foods.

I also remembered one of the first Thanksgivings Joe and I spent in our first house—a little cottage on two acres of woods that we bought when we lived in Manhattan. That year three feet of snow fell on Thanksgiving, and we were grateful for the gas range and fireplace that allowed us to enjoy a 20-lb. turkey (yes, just for the two of us) and the rest of Thanksgiving dinner even though the storm took down our power line.

We always had turkeys. Big ones. And stuffing made from my dad's recipe. And creamed celery from Joe's family tradition. Plus lots of other vegetables, many of which we grew ourselves. And pies, always homemade. Everything always homemade. The house started smelling good early in the morning, and by noon I was on the phone to Florida, wishing my parents a happy Thanksgiving and comparing turkey stories with my mother. Thanksgiving is one of those things we think will never change.

Change is hard. Even inevitable change—children grow up, we get older, whatever—is difficult to fully anticipate. We know it's going to happen, but we can't exactly go there before the fact. When we bring home a new baby someone is bound to tell us that the first year will fly by. "You should savor this time," they say. And we try to. But no matter how much savoring we do, that first year flies by. The thing they didn't mention is that the first year is only the tip of the iceberg. When our third child entered Kindergarten, I envisioned a long stretch of time during which we would have children in school. In my head (and remember, there's a reason why we have blonde jokes), this period stretched on for what seemed like forever. But then it was over in a blink.

There are, of course, changes we can't plan for even if we tried, because we only know so much. A stack of plastic pails sits outside at a corner of what used to be the vegetable garden. Joe used them to extend the growing season, planting early and covering plants when necessary. He used them for years. When he stacked the pails neatly for the last time, I'm sure he had no idea that the following year they would go untouched, and a few years after that he would not be able to articulate what they were for.

And so it's Thanksgiving, but I'm not cooking a turkey. I'm not cooking anything; the most time I spent in the kitchen today was when I soaked a cat's foot in Epsom salts (four times). Mickey, our 15-year-old barn cat, was badly hurt a couple of weeks ago, and we almost lost him to a massive infection. So I've been Mickey's nurse this week. I moved him into the house, and the vet put us on a schedule of antibiotics and and soaks.

I can think of worse ways to spend Thanksgiving Day. Truly. Because although I probably sound as though I'm feeling sorry for myself, I'm not. I'm grateful that my surviving children live relatively close to me. I grateful that my son worked on the barn today (and even let me play with his nail gun). I'm grateful that we'll gather at Suzanne's house for a Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. (Traditions can be flexible.) I'm grateful that I still live in this house that holds so many wonderful memories. I'm grateful that my granddaughter is recovering nicely from the flu. And I'm grateful that my efforts are paying off, and Mickey is showing signs of improvement.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Mali reminded me that I hadn't posted the pic that won the DPReview Leica challenge last month. This is the one.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Update on Wolfy

When I wrote about Angel and Wolfy in June, Angel, the older by two years, was beginning to fail, and it seemed as though Wolfy wasn't far behind. And after Angel was gone, Wolfy seemed to decline a little more. But that turned out to be temporary.

Wolfy, I'm happy to tell you, is thriving as Only Dog. He enjoys all the treats and toys that our dominant-to-a-fault Briard never allowed him to have when they shared the house. He soaks up (or, more likely, tolerates) my baby-talk. On our walks, he gets to travel at his own pace. He no longer trashes the pantry or exhibits any other sign of depression or anxiety.

One very welcome change, from my standpoint, is that he has stopped having so many accidents in the house. Most days he "holds it" during the seven hours I'm away at work. Ditto overnight. This is wonderful! I may be deluding myself, but I think the house is beginning to smell better.

I'm not without concerns, of course. He is 14, after all. One big worry is that he loves our walks more than anything—more than dinner, even, some days. But winter is coming, and I don't anticipate being able to walk him then. Our dirt road will become an ice road, and I try to avoid situations where I'm likely to fall. Also, as many of you know, I have wicked Raynaud's. Two of my fingernails are just starting to look halfway normal after nail-bed damage from last year's cold. Most winter days I don't even like to open an outside door unless absolutely necessary.

So......when the weather turns I'll let Wolfy out by himself on a 30-ft lead, and hope the yard doesn't ice over like the road. With his bad arthritis, it wouldn't be good to slip. No walks......what will this do to Wolfy's quality of life? I don't know. I had said I wouldn't put him through another winter, but that was before he started doing so well. I took this picture of him this afternoon. Doesn't he look beautiful?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why I Changed My Mind About a DSLR

Almost two months ago I posted here about deciding not to buy a DSLR. My mind was firmly made up to buy the new Panasonic FZ35. I'd still like to get that camera, but this morning I bought another one.

After I made that first decision back in August, I continued to hang out at the DPReview forums. I mostly frequented the Panasonic forum, but checked out others as well. After a while I noticed something: Most of the photos that really caught my attention were taken with DSLRs. Of course, it makes sense that the better photographers had invested in the better cameras. And in the end it's the photographer's skill that matters more than the equipment. Or, as someone put it, "It's not how big your sensor is, but what you do with it that counts." :-)

Still, I was intrigued. Most of my favorite shots on those forums were taken with a higher-end ($2,000+) Canon or the Olympus E-520, which sells for considerably less. The Olympus images were mostly shot with an expensive ($1,000) 50-200mm lens or the more reasonably priced ($400) 70-300. But I learned the kit lenses that can be bought with either Olympus are a cut above most kit lenses, and eminently usable.

I could buy the E-520 with the two kit lenses for under $600. I could buy the E-520 with a camera bag and a couple of UV filters, plus the Panasonic FZ35, and still be under $1,000. dad had many good cameras. My son has several sophisticated ham radios. My daughter and her SO have a speedboat, a luxury pontoon, a kayak, and a jet ski.

I just bought myself a DSLR.

PS: While hanging around DPReview I entered a photo in a Leica challenge. (My camera has a Leica lens.) It won first place. So I think that alone justifies a new camera, yes?

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11: Where Were You?

I was working as a newspaper reporter, and had just arrived at my office when my daughter called to tell me about the first tower. Everyone assumed it was an accident at that point. And then it wasn't, and everyone was stunned.

My boss sent me down the block to the courthouse, to interview the Director of Emergency Management. It was there, on his office TV, that we watched the second tower fall.

Where were you?

Friday, September 04, 2009

And One For Sunflower Lovers

That's all of us, right? The stalk on this one is over 12 feet tall.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

Making Students Feel Welcome in the Library

The new semester started Monday, and quite a few students came into the library to make photocopies of parts of books. Some didn't have enough money, and some didn't have any at all. I lent one desperate student 40¢, but the rest said they would be back after class. I kept their books for them on my desk.

Last evening a student came in and said she was back for her book. It was the last one left on my desk, and I completely forgot that she had been in the night before to take the book out. I couldn't check it out to her at that time because she didn't have her ID card. So she was back with her card to check out her book, and I, ever the on-the-ball "librarian," was thinking she wanted to make copies.

I handed her the book, and she stood there. I smiled. She smiled.

"Um . . .I'm new at this," she said. "What's the procedure?"

"It takes money," I said, referring to the copy machine.


"Yup, money. It can take dollars . . . "


"Right. Or dimes. Whatever you have."

"Dollars or dimes?"

I wondered why this normal-looking girl kept repeating everything back to me. She still stood there, so I gestured to the copy machine across the room. She turned and looked in its direction, and then turned back to me. Did she not know what a copy machine looked like?

"Where do I go?" she asked.

"Over there," I said. "Against the wall. The copy machine. Here, I'll show..."

"But I just want to take the book out," she said.


As I've said more than once, there's a reason why we have blonde jokes. (She had brown hair, by the way.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Curtain of Beans

Last year I posted about my Rube Goldberg bean support. I'm guessing most of you are too young to know who Rube Goldberg was. If so, I'm sure the Internet can show you lots of examples of his work. I got a crop of beans from my efforts, but that sure was one unstable mess by the end of the season.

This year I've moved from Rube Goldberg to Frank Lloyd Wright. I'm sure the father of organic architecture would approve of Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans curtaining my ice house window. After procrastinating about creating a large and permanent support system for pole beans, to the point where I either had to plant them now or not do it at all, my desperate move was to nail strings to the top of the old window (unfettered by sash or glass) and hope for the best.

The best happened! I don't want to jinx things by sounding overly optimistic, but don't these plants look healthy? The only problem is that once they hit the top of the window they keep going inside the building, where they run out of sunlight in short order. I keep a little step stool in their so I can gently encourage the vines to climb back down the strings. The plants are covered in teensy beans, so while I don't exactly have the water boiling in anticipation, I'm looking forward to my first picking.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Magazines and Me

I woke up this morning thinking I should stop getting magazines. I’ve always been a bit of a magazine freak, but these days I can’t keep up with them at all. I subscribed to Family Circle, Women’s Day, and Good Housekeeping because I’d like to write something for them. The issues come in every month, and I never read them. I used to like GH, but I never seem to have time now.

I get O (Oprah’s magazine) because I love the quality of the writing (she doesn’t use freelancers, so that lets me out) and the subjects, but I hardly ever open the magazine. They're so big and glossy and packed with advertising. Not quite like Vogue (or how I imagine Vogue), but rather intimidating when it comes to a quick perusal.

I've always subscribed to Country Home and Country Living. Country Home is gone now, a victim of the economy. The current issue of Country Living is out on my porch, open to an article about raised vegetable beds, dahlias, and an impossibly rich couple who love to entertain on their rickety old wooden table surrounded by rickety wooden chairs, all outdoors with grape vines dripping around their heads. It sounds like I'm keeping up (with the magazine, anyway), but the fact is about a dozen back issues of Country Living sit in a copper coal scuttle on my hearth, still in their plastic wrappers.

At work at the library, I read a magazine while eating supper at my desk (actually my co-worker's desk because it's not so visible). I go through The New Yorker, Time, and Newsweek every week, and The Atlantic Monthly, Psychology Today, Agricultural Research (really!), and sometimes Ebony and Advocate every month. You know, looking at this list, I'm thinking maybe that's why I don't read any magazines at home.

My magazines at home end up in stacks where they don't belong and are in the way. It's not a good situation, and that's why I was thinking this morning that I might do well to get rid of the whole bunch of them. Then I got an email from Amazon.....

Amazon said my recent electronic purchase (a case for the computer my son is building for me) entitled me to half off their already discounted price on a selection of (you guessed it) magazines. I was about to delete (honestly!) when I saw the word "photography." My lifelong interest in photography received the equivalent of a shot of steroids this year with the shows I did. And I've been asked to do two more next year. So it would be nice—very nice—to read about photographic techniques and equipment on a regular basis. Like every month.

Okay, I'll cut to the chase. I ordered two photography magazines. One qualified for the half-off offer, and one........well, it didn't. And I threw in a subscription to Popular Science for my son. I have no idea if he'll like it, but he's a born scientist and hey, it was only six bucks.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yesterday's Sky

I took this on my way to work yesterday. (No, I didn't do it while driving.) The road elevation is pretty high at that spot.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Cameras: Why I'm Not Getting a DSLR

Not that I think everyone's all that interested in why I decided not to get a Digital Single-Lens Reflex....... But I thought maybe someone else might be in a similar position. Or maybe you just like reading about cameras. I do. :-)

I have a Panasonic FZ5 that I love. It's four years old and is what's called a "bridge camera." I guess these are considered to be a bridge between point-and-shoots and DSLRs. I've been wishing for manual focus and other manual settings, plus more pixels to give me the option to print bigger than 11x14. So I started saving up for a DSLR. I figured it would cost about $1,000 plus the price of a couple of decent lenses.

I have several 35mm SLRs in my closet, and know the drill. I considered (and still do, in a way) SLRs/DSLRs to be the ultimate camera. I began to think like my dad when he talked about buying his "last car." He lived to be 90, and I believe he ended up buying four or five "last" cars. The DSLR, I figured, would be my last camera. I had a Nikon D90 in mind, but wanted to look at what was out there. I was excited about this, and happily embarked on some research.

As I got deeper into looking at these cameras and lenses, I realized that in order to duplicate what the current generation of bridge cameras offer, I'd need a wide angle lens, a 50mm 1.8, a couple of good zooms, and a macro. This quickly added up to way more than I wanted to spend. Also, I started remembering how heavy lenses can be, and how tiresome it was to lug them around, even in my youth. Worse, I thought about all the shots I'd miss while I was busy changing lenses. (And, living on a dusty dirt road as I do, lens changing could be hazardous to the camera.) I've been using super-zoom digital cameras since 2000, and I'm spoiled.

In the end, I decided to scrap my DSLR plans and get the next generation of Panasonic bridge cameras when it comes out later this year. It has everything I want and will cost under $400. And I'm fairly certain it won't be my last one. I might even get a second camera this year, something different. Now that I've decided not to get the DSLR, I'm feeling positively affluent.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Angel is gone.

A few weeks ago I made an appointment to have Angel put to sleep. Making that call to the vet was devastating. I kept second-guessing myself, as I wasn't at all sure it was Angel's time. I asked Jill for a sign, and I got one: Leaving the house to keep the appointment, I walked down the porch steps--and Angel jumped off them in one leap. We turned around and went back in the house, and I canceled the appointment.

Then suddenly this past week--although in reality it's been a long process, and not sudden at all--I knew it was time. I have wanted so badly to be 100% sure Angel's quality of life was diminishing, and when she fell a couple of times this weekend, and turned for home in the middle of our walks, I was convinced. When I called the vet to make the appointment this morning, there was no second-guessing.

I told the vet Angel was a tough dog--unusual for a dog her size, especially a Briard, to live to be 16--and she proved me right. It took three shots instead of the usual one to put her down. It wasn't terrible, though, because she was heavily sedated and not conscious at that point.

I may have told the story before of how I got Angel, but I'll tell it again because I love it. My daughter Jill was a teenager, going somewhere with her best friend and her friend's father. They passed a puppy who had that frantic look of a dog that had been abandoned on the road. Coming by again later, Jill spotted the puppy sprawled on the ground. She had been hit, but not injured.

Since this was in the days before cell phones, Jill knocked on a door and asked the homeowner if she could use her phone to call her mother. The woman said she could use the phone, but added, "You mother isn't going to want to come pick up a dog." Jill said, "You don't know my mother." Like I said, I love this story.

My husband drove us to get the puppy, and on the way home she rested her beautiful head on my arm. From that moment, I knew she was my dog. But right now Jill is taking care of her again until I get there.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Soup Kitchen Vibe at the Art Gallery

I'm pictured above with Holly Chmil, who designed the beautiful postcard announcing my photo exhibit. It was taken at the opening reception.

The first to arrive Friday night was a pair of men well known in the city for showing up at every event that promises free refreshments. I encountered them last year when I emceed a poetry evening in the park. It was a covered-dish event, with everyone bringing food or drink to share. Everyone except these two locusts, who filled their plates immediately upon arrival and then sat down at a table, bending over the plates and shoveling in the food. I lost count of how many times they refilled those plates.

I was more amused than annoyed that night because a) we had plenty of food and b) the outdoor venue reduced our exposure to the men's smell. However, we had a limited amount of food at the reception on Friday, and the enclosed space, which had seemed large before the men's arrival, shrunk rapidly in direct proportion to how long they stayed.

This time they filled up their (small) plates and sat down to dig in. I stood a distance from them, mentally tapping my foot. They came back for seconds, sat down again, and resumed eating. I moved over to the food table and assumed a guarding stance. Several other people arrived, including a man named Prescott who told me the omnivorous pair drove an Audi.

"You're kidding." I said.

"Nope. It's parked right across the street. The dark green."

I turned and looked out the window, expecting to see an old clunker, if there is such a thing as an Audi clunker. But the dark green car across the street was a late-model vision. Son of a bitch!

One of the gourmands got up and shuffled over to the food table. I was ready for him. Snatching the paper plate out of his hand, I dropped it in the trash and said, "Thank you for coming."

"I'm getting some cookies," he said, and picked up a new plate.

Prescott found this hilarious. He called a friend on his cell and told her all about it. The gluttons didn't appear to notice. Prescott's friend must have given him an idea, because he hung up and approached the pair.

"Time for donations!" he announced. When they just stared at him, he explained, "This event is a fundraiser for homeless children . . . "

"And poor widows," I interrupted.

" . . . and poor widows," he added. "All attendees are expected to contribute something."

"No they're not," the cookie monster said, and popped something chocolatey into his mouth.

His partner came back for dessert, too.

Beginning to feel a little desperate, and more than a little irritated, I looked out the window again. "Oh, no!" I exclaimed. "Do we know who owns that Audi across the street? Smoke is coming out of it."

Prescott picked right up on this cue and flew into action, flinging open the door and running out to the sidewalk. "FIRE!!" he yelled.

One of the pair started to turn around, but the other stopped him. "He's kidding, he's kidding," he said.

It occurred to me that they must hear this sort of thing a lot. I'll have to think up something more convincing for the next time. We're planning another poetry reading in the park in August. Maybe we should advertise it as "Poetry, Music, and Really Bad-Tasting, Potentially Hazardous Food." Or, better yet, "An Evening of Culture for Fasters: Poetry, Music, and No Food or Drink Whatsoever."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Egg and I

(Does anyone remember that wonderful old book?)

I found several tiny (1/8" inch), perfectly round eggs on top of several small pots in which I had started seeds outdoors. At first I thought they were part of the potting mix--vermiculite or something like that. Then, because I've been battling so many destructive insects this summer, I squished a few. Then I had an attack of conscience: What if it was a spider egg? Or a beneficial insect? Or something CUTE?

I asked around, and went looking on the Internet. So far I *think* it's a snail egg. This would make sense because those pots were kept wet at all times. Snails are neither beneficial nor cute. They are also not spiders. So I feel better, at least for now. I'll keep watch and see what develops with the egg.

Of course, by the time something hatches from it, my maternal instinct will have kicked in and I'll be suffused with prolactin. Should a snail emerge from the egg, I will have no choice but to issue a whispered warning about the slug bait I have scattered all over the place. And the oat bran. And the soles of my feet, which tend to seek out slugs on the stone path.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Terry's Garden

On Saturday I drove up to New York State to be with my cousin Terry's husband and one of their daughters on garden tour day. Terry's beautiful garden, called "Terry's Passion," was featured on the tour, and people came by all afternoon. I took lots of pictures. Terry's flower beds, and Dave's wonderful vegetable and herb gardens are just a delightful place to be.

I can't say it was a bittersweet experience. It was just sweet.

If you'd like to see more pictures of Terry's beautiful gardens, you can find them here. Just click on any to enlarge, and to make them bigger still, click on All Sizes at the top of the picture.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Waterskiing at Sunset

My granddaughter took this picture of Chuck last night—with her phone! (Can someone tell me why Blogspot is now cutting off a third of horizontal [landscape] photos, turning them into vertical [portrait mode]?)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bright Fly (or whatever it's called)

I don't know their name, but they're no more than a quarter-inch long, and rather metallic looking. They land lightly on plants, and take off the same way. Awesome little body, yes? Love the colors!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Angel and Wolfy

(See below for pictures of Angel and Wolfy.)

After Jill died, I told her dog, Wolfy, the Husky-Shepherd she called her soulmate, that he wasn't permitted to go. I told him this many times. "Wanna snuggle?" I'd ask, using his favorite word. This suggestion would send him flying to the sofa to fling his 70 pounds on me. And in a little while, my fingers buried in his soft, thick fur, I'd remind him, "You're not allowed to die."

Wolfy evidently took my order to heart. He's 14 now, and his fur is still thick and soft. But arthritis, despite the two meds he takes (one ridiculously expensive), prevents him from flying to the sofa these days, or even gingerly clambering upon it. And since my arthritis prevents me from sitting on the floor, Wolfy isn't getting much snuggle time.

Wolfy is also on an anti-depressant. I'm one of those people who thinks the world (or at least the U.S.) is way over-medicated. But when your dog shows every sign of sadness and anxiety, and you can't lie down with him anymore, what do you do? Amitriptyline is what I did. But after more than a month, I can't see that it's done any good.

I get home from work at 10:00 p.m., give the dogs their pills, and feed them. Sometimes Wolfy won't eat, but usually he does. Then, as I start winding down, he gets anxious. He pants and follows me. When I head upstairs to bed after midnight, he pushes his nose into the door opening. Stairs are an impossibility for him now, and he knows that. But he doesn't want to let me go.

I look at the clock when I turn out my light, because I know it'll be less than ten minutes before I turn it back on again and head downstairs. Wolfy's night pattern these days is to go to the pantry, where he wedges himself into a tight space that he can't back out of, and cries. In the process, he breaks things. He has removed the shelf from my kitchen cart, and a door from an old wardrobe. He's split open a 5-lb. bag of flour and a 10-lb. bag of rice. He upended my two aloe plants. All of this makes a lot of noise, but I've learned to wait until he cries. That's my signal to go down and help him out of whatever corner he's gotten himself into.

Often, we repeat the above several times. Last week I was sweeping rice off the pantry floor at 2:30 a.m. One night I tried sleeping on the sofa, but that seemed to upset him more. I'm guessing my presence on the sofa made him want to jump up and join me.

Have I mentioned that Wolfy is semi-incontinent? So is Angel. She's 16.

Angel is also strongly connected to Jill, who found her 16 years ago, hit (but not hurt) on a road. I thought the puppy was the Collie-Shepherd of my dreams, and named her Angel because I decided she'd been sent to see me through menopause. But she quickly lost her Collie-Shepherd look, and grew into a Briard. I had never heard of this breed until I ran across it in a book, and said, "Look! There's Angel!" She has the Briard personality (suspicious of strangers and highly protective of me) and memory (really excellent), but she must be a mix, though. Hybrid vigor would explain why Angel has lived far beyond most Briards.

She has a touch of arthritis, but nothing like Wolfy's. She's profoundly deaf, and her water intake and output would indicate that her kidney's aren't functioning all that well. She has started barking at night. For a while it was every night, but now it's only some nights. She also barks to wake me up in the morning, no matter what time I got to sleep the night before. She displays occasional signs of what they call "doggie dementia," but not to any great degree. At 16, in many ways she's not all that far removed from the puppy who rested her head on my arm the day we brought her home, and declared herself my dog.

She has, however, lost most of her house training. Sometimes I wonder how she feels about this. Both dogs have been in this state for quite some time. Years. At first I found it exhausting and stressful. Then I got used to living with plastic and paper on the floor all over the place. I learned to take the dogs out twice as often. I got into a routine with toilet paper, paper towels, wood floor cleaner, and daily mopping. I stopped inviting people over.

Now I seem to be in a third phase: I find it exhausting and stressful. I'm sure my sleep deprivation plays a role in this, but I am so weary of the drudgery.....and of smelling Dog Infirmary every time I walk into the house. It's spring, and my iris are in bloom. I want to invite people over to sit on my porch and have a drink. I want to be able to sleep the night through and come downstairs in the morning without wondering how much of a mess is waiting for me. I want my house back. I want my life back. But I don't want to forsake my dogs. Or lose them.

When Joe and I moved to the old farm 30+ years ago, we made it our mission to adopt as many animals as we could reasonable care for. At our peak we had five dogs and 12 cats at one time. (The 11 horses weren't adopted, so I didn't count those.) In all those years, I've never been without more than one dog and cat. There have been many "final decisions," and each of those decisions was horribly painful. Oddly, they seemed to get harder, not easier, with each animal.

Certainly I'm facing the hardest ones now. Not one animal, but two. And while an inner voice is saying (and at times screaming) "It's time," the fact is, my dogs aren't sick. Wolfy has night anxiety, true, but Angel loves her dinner, loves her walks. There is no misery to put them out of. The only misery is mine.

"You're not allowed to die," I told Wolfy, and I meant it. It seems inconceivable to me that I could even contemplate something so in violation of this heartfelt order. But sometimes I do. And then sometimes I don't.



Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's in a Name (of an iris)?

Those of us who grow iris want varieties that appeal to us visually. One might say that's the whole point. But they all have names, and those names can have an appeal all their own. Or, conversely, they can be a big turn-off.

Most of the iris in my garden have names that mean something to me, however obliquely. A good example of this is the very small order I put in (to BlueJ Iris) yesterday. I hadn't planned to order this year, and was pretty determined to stick to that. But then I noticed some room in the front of one bed that the shorter Intermediate Beardeds would fill so nicely. And then I started thinking about other reasons to add to my iris collection.....

I ordered Terryton to honor my dear cousin Terry, whom we lost late last year. The name reminds me of her, of course, but so does the coloring. Terry was a strawberry blonde.

Crazy For You is for my 16-year-old dog, Angel. Again, not only the name, but the liberal use of grey in the coloration, as Angel is a grey Briard mix.

Sings So Softly for my daughter Gillian, who died on Memorial Day eight years ago. I have many irises named for Jill.

Stairway to Heaven for her Husky-Shepherd, Wolfy, who will join his beloved owner at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Bedtime Story for this story, which brought me a much-needed check this year and which people (amazingly) still continue to read.

Thunder Spirit for another dog. His name was Thunder, and he was my first German Shepherd. Gone more than 30 years ago now, but never forgotten.

Good and True is for all the positive things in my life.

Yes, you might say that I slipped off the wagon by placing this order. But I don't feel the regret I remember from my days of eating Sara Lee brownies (a very long time ago!). I woke up this morning happy that these will grow in my garden.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Airbrushing and the Women's Movement

I came upon a rather dramatic and glamorous photographic portrait of Michelle Obama on the Internet the other day, and after I admired it I took a second look. I'm not sure, but I think it was airbrushed. It's a little hard to tell with Michelle because she's not exactly a mass of wrinkles. But I wouldn't be surprised if even she had been Photoshopped. It seems to be the rule rather than the exception these days.

My awareness of the prevalence of airbrushing started with a media flap about a heavily retouched shot of Faith Hill. Faith Hill! Faith Hill isn't someone who needs a lot of physical improvements. But the before-and-after pictures said it all: Someone had deemed it necessary to airbrush her face, trim her waist, even slim her back. I thought it was sick, and in fact it turned out to be contagious. Pandemic, even.

I don't think witness to the early days of the women's movement could have foreseen that we (and I use this term loosely) would one day inject botulism into our foreheads to paralyze the muscles so we could no longer frown. (How is Botox different from Scarlett O'Hara's corset-induced 18" waist, by the way?) Wasn't there a lot of talk about aging gracefully, and with strength? Why, then, do most of the ads for anti-aging cosmetics feature 20-something (airbrushed) models? And while I'm at it, why do ads for mascara show photos of models wearing false eyelashes? What ever happened to truth in advertising?

Most of those airbrushed faces lose their appeal along with their laugh lines. Who wants to look as though their skin has turned to plastic? Speaking of plastic, and loss of appeal, what's with the plastic surgery going on? Do you know of anyone who has actually been improved by these procedures? I look at the aging Hollywood population, with their overblown, drooping lips and tight, pulled back eyes, and I wonder what they see when they look in the mirror. I myself see a 19-year-old half the time, so I guess I just answered my own question.

I think it's a silly trend, all of it, and a tad disappointing. We've gone from burning our bras to squeezing into Spanx. To each his/her own, I guess, but when it comes to digitally imposing youth upon a face, I hope they'll leave my Michelle alone.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Why I Drive a Gas Guzzler (or two)

I'm a single person with two 8-cylinder vehicles.

I dislike waste of any kind, I'm frugal, and I try to be a conscientious consumer in all areas. But I have an SUV (Toyota 4Runner) and a big sedan (1992 Chevy Caprice--my beloved "cop car"). I drive one in winter and the other in spring, summer, and fall. The Caprice does surprisingly well on gas for its size and power: 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. But it still probably qualifies as a gas guzzler.

I'm not defending my ownership of these cars, but I'd like to explain. I spent my first 26 years in NYC, and in all that time never knew anyone who was hurt or killed in a car accident. I drove a cute little Fiat Spyder convertible. When I moved here to the country, I was shocked at the number of automobile fatalities that occurred on a regular basis. I read about them in the paper and saw them on the TV news, and later, as a reporter, I wrote about them.

This area has a lot of young drivers. We also have a lot of drinking drivers. Combine that with winding, hilly (in some cases mountainous) rural roads, and treacherous winter conditions (plus clueless summer vacationers), and you can see why driving is a dangerous activity around here. A reporter I worked with was killed just a few years ago. On her way to work before 8:00 a.m. on a road I travel all the time, her gas-efficient car was hit by a truck driven by a young man who had already had an alcohol-related accident an hour before.

Even if I felt I could afford to go car shopping at this point (which I don't feel I can), I'd be very reluctant to give up all the metal that serves as a buffer between me and the drunks, the reckless, and the trees.

You won't find me burning gasoline frivolously. I commute 25 miles (each way) to work, and constantly juggle my schedule to combine errands. I like to drive well enough, but by the end of the week I've had enough of it and am more than happy to stay home.

And that's my report from the old farm, where one vehicle is parked alongside the ice house, and the other sits under a pear tree.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The "New" Frugality

A hot topic in the news lately is America's new frugality. All of a sudden, people are shopping in thrift stores, eating out less often, paying attention to their thermostats, and growing their own vegetables.

Do you know what this means? It means for the first time in my life I've become a trend-setter!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Conversation

"It doesn't seem fair," I said this morning as I lopped the root off a perfectly formed beet. "You put on all this beautiful growth, and then I come along and eat you."

I cut the tops off and picked through them, setting aside the younger ones. Then I reached again for the knife. "But then, if I didn't eat you, what would you do anyway?"

"I would grow new roots," the beet said. "Long ones. Lateral ones. I would explore new avenues in the soil. You have no idea what's under there. I would become larger and even more beautiful. I would reach my full potential. And then I would produce seed. Seed! You should know what that's like. I would have the pleasure of watching my seeds sprout and grow. Eventually I would turn woody and stiff, but at the end I would be surrounded by the new generation I produced."

My hand, which had paused in mid-air from surprise, came down again from force of habit.

"Do you realize you just cut me in half?" the beet asked a little disjointedly.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Matters of Death and Life

A few months ago I almost choked to death. Really, it was serious. I was alone,and I had the full realization that I was about to die. I still marvel that I was able to save myself (quite by accident).

You'd think that one would have some sort of epiphany after an experience like that. It would suddenly become clear that death can come at any time, and therefore all of us have a finite and unknown number of years (or months, or minutes) to go. In other words, Holy Moly! Life can turn on a dime, so I'd better get moving.

However, nothing like that happened for me. I think it's because I've realized since I was nine years old that life can turn on a dime. When you've known that much unexpected loss—my mom when I was a child, my daughter almost eight years ago, my husband's ten-year decline before his death three years ago, my healthiest cousin last year—you live with this knowledge all the time. It hangs over you . . . somewhat like following a path at the base of a mountain, passing sign after sign that read FALLING ROCK ZONE.

Well, that certainly sounds negative! Really, it isn't quite like that because most of the knowledge is internal. It's not something I allow to come to the surface every day. But it's always there.

So choking didn't shake me awake, but something did. I don't know what it was exactly, but recently I became aware that I've been stalled for some time. I've been going through the motions, but not making any progress in life. I don't think I've reached the point where I'm too old to progress. My dad at my age bought himself a boat, took up the bicycle, and had himself a good time. His daughter seems to have turned into a screensucker. No TV for me, but I've been spending way too much time with my chin propped on my hand, staring at my computer monitor. (Two monitors, actually. At this computer, I have 44 inches of screen to suck.)

Again, for whatever reason, I was moved to take stock of this situation. It happened just before sleep one night, and I grabbed the first piece of paper I could find and wrote down four things worthy of my time and energy.

That's why on my night table right now sits a pink While You Were Out slip that reads,

Further at least one of these goals every day:

Home Improvement
Write a Book
Edit HCL's (my dad) Photos
Have Fun

I'm workin' on it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Community of House People

As it has been in so many other areas, I was a late bloomer when it came to decorating. After being absorbed in difficult family issues for ten years, during which time the condition of the house reflected my state of mind, seven years ago I was suddenly faced with remodeling and decorating projects requiring more energy and knowledge than I possessed.

I stumbled upon the GardenWeb Appliances Forum one evening while researching something (I forget what). From there I landed in other GardenWeb forums. When I found myself completely overwhelmed by the task of turning an unused junk room into a space that the contractor and his crew could turn into my new bedroom, the people at the home organization forum took me under their wing and taught me about baby steps. At the Kitchens, Flooring, Remodeling, and Bathrooms forums, I learned about my choices, how to choose from among them, and where to get the best prices.

To say I lacked decorating confidence would be a gross understatement. I'm still much more likely to ask for advice at the Home Decoration forum than offer it, but I've come a long way. Everyone there has been patient and oh, so helpful. Not only have I learned much from having my questions answered, but by reading other threads and looking at all the marvelous pictures brave souls have posted of their finished rooms or rooms in need, I've absorbed a great deal.

I'm still not a very good painter, but I can "talk a good ballgame" about eggshell vs. satin, cutting in, and Purdy (or maybe Corona!) brushes. My mantel and bookshelves are no longer crowded, and my pictures have been lowered to a better height. Most of all, I gained the confidence to try.

I'm so grateful for the Internet, and for the feeling of community it's given me—here as we blog, and on the good message boards where people share so freely. My house's journey has been quite a trip, and of course it's still a work in progress. But with the help of lot of invisible mentors, some day I just might do it proud.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Something Funny From Last Night

I spent the evening with my granddaughter last night, watching a movie (Role Models) and baking cream cheese cookies. Lizzie and I always make each other laugh when we’re together. Last night she was telling me how she Googled “Rainbow Colors” and great images showed up on the search. I was doing something in the kitchen and listening with half an ear. I heard her say, “This guy was gorgeous!” and I asked, “Is Rainbow Colors a singing group?”

Long-suffering sigh. “No, Grammy.”

“A TV show?”

“No o o o o ……. Grammy, I said, ‘This guy was gorgeous.'”

“Yeah, I know that’s what you said. So who’s the guy?”

“The SKY! The SKY! I Googled Rainbow Colors and got all these pictures of gorgeous sunrises and sunsets!”


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How I'm Helping the Economy

1. I shove my monthly financial statements in a file folder quickly, after only a cursory glance, thereby reducing my chances of having a costly (to my health insurance company) mental breakdown.

2. I got a job with a 45-minute commute each way, thereby incurring weekly gas fill-ups and increasing the wear and tear on my car, which will result in the need to replace it at some point. Detroit will be proud of me. Of course, I'll probably buy another Toyota, so there goes that benefit.

3. I did buy an American-made washing machine (Speed Queen) last week. But the bigger selling point was that it came with a 3-year warranty.

4. I bought a TV armoire that does not look good in its intended spot, so I'm giving it away. Therefore, we can count this expenditure as a generous donation to the furniture company. Let us ignore the fact that the armoire was made in Indonesia.

5. I also bought three made-in-India rugs. They look good in their intended spots.

6. I hired a contractor to create a laundry alcove for me. Since he is a future in-law and therefore a member of my extended family, he undercharged me and I underpaid him. But hey, every little bit helps, right?

7. I'm staying out of trouble, financial or otherwise.

What are you doing for the cause?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nightshades, Solanine, and Pain

I spent last weekend painting a small room: sanding, taping all the edges, and priming. Having lived with fibromyalgia and whatever autoimmune issue causes my joint pain for years, I knew I’d pay for all this bending and stretching, and I did. When I got out of bed Sunday morning, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to walk.

By Monday I started to feel better. My legs still hurt, but at least they functioned. At work Tuesday evening, though, I felt worse. I was puzzled, but fibromyalgia is a quirky thing, as are autoimmune conditions, and I just accepted that my recovery was going to take a while.

Tuesday night I developed a headache in my sleep. I rarely get headaches. I woke up Wednesday morning feeling awful: pounding head, pain all over, shooting nerve pains in various places, total brain fog. I felt poisoned.

Being poisoned is not new to me. I have a wicked reaction to solanine, the substance that forms under the skin of potatoes, and if I get too close to potatoes in their raw state it gets life-threatening. Potatoes belong to the nightshade family. The other nightshades—tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant—also contain solanine and cause problems for me as well, mostly in the form of joint pain. It has been exceedingly hard for me to stop acting like a passionate tomato gardener, and I still haven’t succeeded 100%. But I may after what I discovered this week.

Getting back to Wednesday, I managed to drag myself to work, driving the 25 miles without running over anyone (as far as I know). Fortunately, my tasks for that day involved sitting down for the most part. At 7:00 p.m. I heated up a mug of soup. As I took it out of the microwave and stirred, I eyed the vegetables. Okra had floated to the top. I hardly ever eat okra, but I had created a creole soup around it on Sunday and had been eating it every day since. I remembered what the plant looked like in my garden when I grew it years ago. Could okra conceivably be one of the nightshades, and somehow I’d missed this fact?

I Googled okra nightshade. No, okra wasn’t part of the nightshade family. But it contained solanine. That was startling enough, but my eye moved to the next line and stayed there. Another food that contains solanine is artichokes. The day before, Tuesday, I had cooked two artichokes. I ate one before I left to work, and I ate the other that night, when I got home. They were delicious. I love artichokes. I’ll never eat another.

I’ve been doing some reading on nightshades and solanine. Among the websites I checked out, this one explains that solanine is a powerful inhibitor of cholinesterase, an enzyme that originates in the brain and is responsible for flexibility of muscle movement.

It also talks a bit about Dr. Norman F. Childers, a former Professor of Horticulture at Rutgers, who observed livestock kneeling in pain from inflamed joints after consuming weeds containing solanine. This reinforced his own experience, as he knew first-hand the effects of nightshades on joints.

According to this website (which originates in the UK), Dr. Childers proved that the majority of people who ache, regardless of their diagnosis, have a sensitivity to nightshades.

So I'd been dosing myself with solanine for days. I expect it'll take a while for the effects to wear off. I wonder . . . how many flares have I had as a result of eating artichokes, the cause a mystery at the time? I’m passing along my experience this week on the chance that others may be unwittingly poisoning themselves, too.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Trees vs. Wind

Once upon a time, there was a lovely clump of maples at the side of the road. Out walking the dogs, I was sometimes a little edgy about the way it creaked in the wind, so I walked quickly under it. But I liked the way it looked.

On the road again

A few months ago, a strong wind brought down the entwined trunks on the left. We shared them with a neighbor for firewood.

Last week, wind screamed and roared all day. When I went out to my mailbox, it sounded as though an 18-wheeler was racing to run me down. I watched a tree come down in the woods, and when I reluctantly set out for work, I got about a quarter-mile down the road before I had to turn back because of another huge tree jackknifed across the road, and the power line spread out on the ground like a 100-foot snake.

The remainder of the maple clump came down—not on the shed, as we had feared, but directly into the crotch of a tall ash tree. The force of the hit split the ash vertically in half. When my son happened upon it the next day, the ash was still standing, the maple caught in it. He cut a wedge into the base of the ash and brought it down. A simple description of a dangerous job.

Here's a picture of the split:


The next photo is supposed to give you an idea of the immense height of the ash. I'm not sure it succeeds.


Here's the remains of the maple:


Assuming I had the strength and knowledge to accomplish it, I would have considered felling the ash to be a full month's work. But Joe got busy immediately, slicing up the maple for firewood.


Again, I would have quit right there, drifting off to make a pot of soup, write a book, or take to my bed with a stack of DVDs. But my son was back a day later, using a monster maul to split all the wood by hand. And now I have a lovely pile of firewood!


Friday, February 13, 2009

Dancing By the Light of the Moon

Painting on tin by my cousin Barbara of the two of us at age two. Notice my foot about to crush hers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Friday, February 06, 2009

Brenda Starr Would Be Proud

No, this has nothing to do with the news. But when I was a newspaper reporter I sometimes joked that Brenda Starr was my role model, and if I didn't always get the story I at least always got the photo.

I pass this stand of trees every day on my way to work. The snow is always pristine, and as I drive past in late afternoon, the shadows are long. They beg to be photographed.

I never seem to leave the house early enough to stop to take pictures, but on my day off last week I had the opportunity. The time was late morning, so the shadows weren't exactly where I wanted them, but I was in the right place even it was the wrong time, and I had a camera with me.

I pulled into a driveway and got out of the car, looking at the trees to figure out my best angle. While I stood there thinking artistic thoughts, some guy drove by at a high rate of speed, and his tires threw up a large quantity of dirty slush. It hit me in the side of the face, my hair, my jacket, and my jeans, and it splashed over the inside of my car door and leather upholstery.

My camera was spared, though, and I got off a bunch of shots. What we won't do for art. But we can't really say I braved dirty slush to get the picture I wanted. The truth is that if I'd known I was going to get slushed (as opposed to sloshed) at that spot, I would have seen to it that I was somewhere else that day.

I still want shots of those long, late-day shadows. And I'm gonna get 'em.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Self-Improvement 101

In the library this week I noticed that the cover story of one of our national magazines is 50 Things You Can Do to Make Your Life Better in 2009. Or something like that. Expecting an in-depth article to go with the headline that took up most of the magazine's cover, I was surprised to find a numbered list that fit on one page. Of course, some of the items on the list brought comments to mind. And a few questions.

#1 Bike to work. I have a 45-minute commute at 45 to 65 mph. I don't think so.

#3 Move to Vermont. I wonder what Indigo Bunting has to say about this.

#6 Get paid for good health. What does that mean?

#10 Add some obstacles to your jog. My what?

#14 Be a microblogger. What's a microblogger? Is that what I'm doing? I kind of like a variation: micrologger. Small person who harvests twigs.

#19 Learn to speak Russian. I'd have to make #20 Find someone to speak it with.

#20 Keep a simple diary. As opposed to a complicated diary? Or as opposed to, throw out a simple diary?

#23 Watch TV free online. And this makes our lives better how?

#24 Unscrew a bottle of wine. And then? And then??

#25 Build your own brand. Of what? Wine?

#28 Stow your money in a safer account. Oh, thanks. In order to move your money out of the stock market, for instance, you'd have to sell the current stock, thereby taking a loss. And if enough people follow this advice and sell, it'll pull the market down even further. Who wrote this list, anyway? And how much did they get paid for it?

#29 Try out your new home for a night. WTF???

#32 Eat your own spinach. As opposed to raiding your neighbor's garden?

#33 Line dry your laundry. Oh, cripes—I've been doing that since 2007, and it hasn't improved my life one iota.

#35 Don't drive distracted. What a concept!

#36 Help others and yourself. That's a tad broad, don't you think?

#37 Swap paper for screens. Why is it that the meaning of so many of these is lost on me?

#40 Try to hypermiledrive. See #37.

#42 Geotag your trip pics. See #37 and #40. But if it's gonna improve my life, I hope someone will explain it to me.

#45 Listen to Kind of Blue. Yes. I can do that. I can do that really well.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Salmonella - Such a Pretty Name

The current salmonella outbreak started me thinking about my experience with the bacteria 15 years ago. I got it from eating undercooked beef liver—my own fault.

I had gotten up at 4:00 a.m. to drive my son to meet a group that was taking a weekend hike on a mountain. When I got home I asked my daughter Jill if she was cold. She said, "If you're cold, maybe you have a fever. It's not cold in here." Boy, did I have a fever! Within a half hour I was shaking so much, teeth chattering, that I, who usually avoid doctors and hospitals, asked my DH to drive me to the ER.

I couldn't walk from the car to the entrance. In a bed in the ER, I was delirious, thinking my cat Nocci was on the bed with me. I couldn't open my eyes or communicate very well, but I could hear people around me. I know at one point my BP was 80/28. I don't know if it got any lower.

They did a culture and diagnosed me with salmonella. They started antibiotics. I was in the ER all day. They wanted to admit me to the hospital, but I insisted on going home late that night.

Without getting too graphic, I'll just say that salmonella is one very messy illness. The Dept. of Health called me the next day and said it's highly contagious, so I would have to clean up after myself. I could barely raise my head from the pillow. They told me the antibiotics the hospital had prescribed would do no good, but I kept taking them anyway. I think that was probably a good thing, as a raging infection like that could have spread into something unmanageable. It attacked my colon to the point where there was lots of blood.

I was in bed for more than two weeks, during which time I couldn't even imagine myself being well. Jill told me later that she feared I would never get better. I've had wicked cases of the flu ("Martian Death Flu"), but I have never been as sick as I was with salmonella.

Months later, I went back to the ER to thank the doctor for his good care, and he told me I had such a severe case that if I hadn't been so healthy going into it, I might not have survived.

I never ate liver again.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Answers to Inaugural Day Questions

1. I loved Michelle's yellow outfit. Yes, it was yellow—lemongrass, according to the designer.

2. No, it wasn't too dressy. What grander occasion could there be than your husband's inauguration? Well, yes, giving birth could be considered grander. But that occasion does not require new clothes.

3. Whoa, wait a minute. The swearing-in stumbles were Chief Justice Roberts' fault. Maybe between now and four years from now he'll work on his delivery. Or bring the book.

5. Of course I cried.

6. I'm one of those people who remember where they were when Martin Luther King died. So yes, I worry.

7. Waddya mean his speech was "bleak"? It was a great speech.

8. No, the stock market didn't fall 350 points because of his speech. It had something to do with banks. Again.

9. I do see similarities between the public's response to the Obamas and the popularity of Jack and Jackie Kennedy in the White House. Except the country was in vastly better shape then, and we didn't need hope as much as we needed a good looking First Couple with young children. I give equal marks to Jackie and Michelle for beauty, but Barack trumps Jack. And Malia trumps everybody.

10. I loved the ball gown.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Economy Dichotomy

I don't pretend to know much about economics, which explains why I rarely post on related issues. But the following has been nagging at me:

America has long been described as a nation of over-consumers. This has been talked about in the media for years. We (and don't take the "we" personally, please, because I don't necessarily include you and I certainly don't include me) shop for fun, for relaxation, for entertainment. We carry huge loads of consumer debt. Our roads are lined with overblown malls and shopping centers. We have a zillion varieties of toothpaste, electronics, and everything in between. A drive through some suburban areas would lead one to believe that all Americans do is shop and eat.

Surely this must be a factor in the current economic situation, yes? But now that stores are closing, corporations are being bailed out, and jobs are at a premium, Americans have stopped spending so much. They've pared down their driving habits, stopped eating out three times a week, stopped spending $5,000 on Christmas, plan to drive their perfectly good cars for a few more years, etc.

This is what the financial experts have been advising for years: Quit piling on credit card debt. Tighten your belts! But are the economists (and those individuals with certain opinions on the economy) happy about this? No. They say the economy must be stimulated. And that means we should be out there spending. Patronize those restaurants! Buy yourselves new cars! Bring your wallets to your local retailers!

Maybe I need to read Economics for Dummies, but I find this confusing. Does the answer to our economic problems lie somewhere between the two extremes?

I know one thing: Never in my life have I been more grateful to be frugal.

PS: The Bluejay (photo taken yesterday) is not completely unrelated to this post. Have you checked the price of bird seed lately?? But I've been feeding the birds here for 33 years (how many generations of birds is that?) and I'm not stopping.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I met Tasha ten years ago, when she and her husband and brother-in-law bought an old country inn and I was assigned to write a feature story about the business. The business was interesting, but the family was fascinating—she a dancer and musician, her husband an actor and writer, both smart and funny, both beautiful to look at, as were their four children. All so warm and welcoming that I felt an instant connection.

She told me she was named for Tasha Tudor, and showed me her garden filled with hollyhocks, so appropriate to the name. I took a picture of the whole family, complete with very large dog. When I heard yesterday that Tasha died of breast cancer on Sunday, I realized that although we saw each other many times in the years since then, I will always remember her best as she was in that picture, baby on her hip.

She was smiling, but then Tasha always smiled. Her obituary uses the word luminescence. It fits. I used the word luminous in my daughter Jill's obituary, and it fit there, too. Some people start out life radiant and stay that way. It's just my guess, but I suspect most of them don't live long lives. They don't need to. They are so evolved, accomplish so much, and touch so many lives in such a short time, that they naturally rise quickly to the next level. And when they do, they leave a profound impression on all they leave behind. Jill was like that, and Tasha was, too. She taught me about the vision board I wrote about below. She and her husband homeschooled their children, entertained their friends, and greatly improved the quality of the arts in our rural area. They did everything with such grace.

When Tasha was hospitalized last month, I wrote the following to her husband:

I want to tell you about a dream I had last week.

You and Tasha were riding bicycles—not current models, but older ones, maybe 1950s vintage. You were riding down a long country path, and as I watched you go, both of you held up letters. They spelled LOVE. You held the L, O, and E, which wasn’t easy to do since there were so many of them, and you were pedaling besides. Tasha held the V. It was very large and straight, and made of flowers. She held it high with both hands, and rode her bike triumphantly.

It was a good dream.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Getting Ready For Snow

I grew up in New York City, where an impending snowstorm meant that we had to . . . do very little. I suppose my dad got out his galoshes, those floppy black things he wore over his dress shoes to make the one-block trek to the subway station. And I know if the snow was deep enough he'd take pictures—quickly, before the soot fell on it. But in the city we didn't have weather-related chores. In fact, I didn't have chores at all, unless you count bed-making (and that only rarely).

But like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I'm not in New York City anymore. Tomorrow we're expecting 10" of snow, and that means today I will:

Set up the birds with lots of seed and suet.
Bring in firewood.
Feed Mickey, the barn cat, and change his litter. (Mickey is an indoor barn cat.)
Bring in more firewood.
Turn my car around, so it's facing the road, and cover the windshield.
Bring in the big bags of dog and cat food from the car.
Pile some firewood on the porch for good measure.
Secure the tarp covering the remaining firewood.

Although I'd like to bring Christmas boxes from the barn to the house so I can dismantle the tree, etc., one trip to the barn is enough. Rain fell on our last snowfall, saturating it. The result is 3" of pure ice covering the entire property. Even the cleats strapped on my boots are no match for this stuff. Extra wary of falling after my knee injury two years ago, I make my way around outside cautiously, and do as little of it as possible.

Around here, the newscasters joke that everyone must love French toast, because whenever a storm approaches the supermarkets fill with people buying eggs, milk, and bread. I do feel secure with a fridge full of soymilk, and a reasonable number of eggs. And it helps to be well stocked with paper products, from toilet paper to printer paper. Plus I make sure I have plenty of pet food and bird seed.

It's silly, really, because just about all of us will be out and about within a day or two of the storm. In fact, I'm supposed to return to work on Monday. But those white flakes turn us all into hunter-gatherers, if only for a day.

About halfway into my pre-storm to-do list I might think fondly on my days in a city apartment, where a blizzard might inspire my mom to do some baking—and give me the bowl of chocolate frosting to lick. But if I'm smart I'll remember that we parked our car on the street, where the city snowplows turned parked cars into igloos. Life, as I've often told my children, is a series of trade-offs.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Funny . . . and Sweet

Among my dad's photographs are some comic ones. He would set these up with his friends, sometimes in costume, usually forming a dramatic tableau. They can be pretty amusing, and occasionally puzzling.

This is my mother, hands down his favorite model. What does she represent here? A pregnant French hooker? Or am I way off base? What's your interpretation?

Funny or not, I know one thing: I love seeing my mom pregnant. With me.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Some Things Never Change

This is a picture of me (on the left) with my cousin Barbara. Barbara is a month older, but I've always had her on height. She's always had me on fashion sense.

I talked to Barbara this morning, as I often do. I had sent her a photo of the two of us in a stroller, and she said we were cute kids. I said, "Yeah, and now we're cute old hags."

Barbara and I don't stand on beds anymore. But we still have common interests, even if those interests no longer include zweiback. We still feel that good, strong family connection. We still like to cut and paste. And we still make each other laugh.