Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Eating Medicinally. Again.

"You eat medicinally!" a distant co-worker announced ten years ago, with the inflection of a scientist making an important but distasteful discovery.

He was right. I ate for the most basic of reasons: to fuel my body and improve my health. And, once I got past the carb cravings, I enjoyed eating that way. I liked my thinner self. I liked the way we can detect the sweetness in so many foods when we don't allow sugar to confuse our taste buds. Most of all, I liked knowing I was foiling the nasty combination of predispositions I'd inherited.

My family has a strong history of diabetes and heart disease. My paternal grandfather died of a heart attack at 61. My maternal grandmother died of a heart attack at 46. My theory—and I'll never be able to prove it—is that she had a tendency toward high triglycerides, and the German desserts she loved to bake were her undoing. I have the triglyceride problem, which can be a serious heart risk for women, and the only way to keep it in check is to severely limit carbohydrate consumption. They didn't know this, of course, in my grandmother's day.

I inherited something else, too: my dad's unusual fat-clearing (or, more accurately, fat retaining) gene. Well, I don't know if there's a specific gene for this, but it's the way I've always thought of it. Here's the story.

My father was 40 when I was born. He and my mom had met on the tennis courts, and he remained actively athletic until he was practically crippled by angina. This happened when I was quite young. I remember that he couldn't walk up a subway ramp without stopping to put a nitroglycerin tablet under his tongue. Any kind of exercise was out of the question. Back then nobody heard of cholesterol, but my dad's doctor was ahead of his time. He said saturated fat was the culprit, and advised my dad to give it up. All of it. No more cheese. No more ice cream, hot dogs, or juicy hamburgers. No more sausage. No more eggs. No more butter.

So he did. I grew up in a saturated-fat-free home, where polyunsaturated and cholesterol were household words. My dad stopped having angina pain, and was able to quit the nitroglycerin. He was able to start playing tennis again. He bought himself a bicycle, too. Over the years he found he could eat eggs without a problem. But if he ate fatty meat, or butter (this would usually happen at a restaurant), he would be in trouble the next day. Several times the resulting heart pains were strong enough to land him in the hospital.

For years he was told that it doesn't work like that. Cholesterol builds up gradually in the arteries; ingesting saturated fat doesn't clog them instantly. But in some people it can. A research study proved this a few years ago, but I had my own proof earlier than that.

It was about 20 years ago.....a cardiologist was preparing to perform a test in which my blood would be drawn and shaken in a test tube. When he shook the blood, he was appalled to find fat floating in it. He said he'd never seen anything like it. (And I think I just lost my more delicate readers.)

So. Whatever we want to call my father's odd fat metabolism, I share it. For that reason, and for the triglyceride issue, about 15 years ago I began eating medicinally. I got very strict with my diet, giving up saturated fats for one side of the family, and most carbohydrates for the other. It worked well for a good decade.

But at some point I started easing up on it. I was good about the fats, but I began allowing bread "if the restaurant is good and the bread is warm." Pasta once in a while. Some "whole grains," because they sound so healthy. That type of thing. But never, ever any sugar. And never ever any butter. Until the week before this Christmas.

My granddaughter and I had gotten together to bake cookies. I don't know what possessed me to taste them, but I did. I had just a few, but with cookies it doesn't take much. Cookies have got to be one of the most deliciously unhealthy things going. I had joked that our baking efforts were supporting the butter industry. And now some of that butter was coursing through my veins.

The next day I was standing in front of my washing machine, calmly folding laundry, when I experienced what felt like a dead-serious angina pain, traveling down the left side of my neck and into my chest. It was brief, but scary as hell. I've had little twinges where the arteries join the heart, but never anything like that. Being Harry's daughter, my first thought was, What did I eat? It took me a few minutes to remember the cookies of the day before. And then I remembered the goat cheese, of all things, from the day before that. Yes, I ate some of the goat cheese that a restaurant served with my lunch salad. I never do, but I did that day. Call it temporary insanity created by the merging of the Christmas season and my last day at work.

It was clear what had happened, and it was clear what I had to do. That day, three days before Christmas, I started eating medicinally. Again. As for all the foods I've had to turn down since then, I'll leave that to your imagination.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve makes me think of cookies......

.......and this year all my cookie recipes came from the Internet. I often get recipes online, and I look for ones that have lots of stars in their reviews. I don't know why I do that, because so many of the positive reviews are written by people who made so many changes to the original recipe that the review ends up being useless.

Consider this 5-star review of a recipe for bran muffins--regular old plain (but yummy) bran muffins. I'm shaking my head. :-)

I omitted the sugar and the raisins to form a batter that I could then half. One for a savory and one for a banana chocolate chip nut muffin. For the savory I added finely chopped boiled brocoli 1 1/2 cups, added 1/4 cup dried onion flakes, finely chopped sun dried tomatoes, 1 tbsp feta cheese, 1 tbsp romano, 4 tbsp shredded cheddar, and oregano. This is now one of my favorite breakfasts on the go. For the sweet I added 1 mashed banana 1/4 cup dark mini chocolate chips, 2 tbsp maple syrup, 1/2 cup combined chopped walnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds.

Merry Christmas, everyone!! Here's wishing you a year filled with fun and good health—and not a speck of broccoli in your bran muffins.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

This Time Six Years Ago.........

It's December, and we all know what that means. Rather than write about shopping, wrapping, mailing, decorating, and baking (which is all I can think about this month), I'm sharing something I ran across this morning. I wrote it at the end of my 2004 Christmas letter:

As I write this, two guys from my gas company are attempting to convert the new range from natural gas to LP. They’ve been attempting this for about two hours now. When they arrived they took one look at the stove and said they didn't have the right tool. It sounded like they needed some special screwdriver bit, so I got out the set I'd bought myself a couple of months ago and asked if one of those would do. One would.

But there were other obstacles, and the guy in charge opened the owner's manual to do his research…until I discovered that he was reading the one for the microwave. Now I'm sitting here writing to you, and they're hunched over the stove, saying things like, "If you lose that, we're dead." and "Now which one goes in here?" and "Oh, boy, do I hate engineering!" and "Which one is the big one?" and “We lost 30 minutes because you didn’t listen to me when I said I was right!” and “How’re we gonna figure this out?” and the worst: "I'm gonna stick a piece of paper in here" "I dunno...I don't like the idea of paper in the gas burner." It’s a remarkably good rendition of the Three Stooges, minus one.

A sense of humor is a great blessing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

These Are My "After" Pictures

I actually took these pictures an hour before a small party I gave last week, but I call them my "after" pictures because it took years to get my house to this point.

I'm not showing you any "before" pictures. At some point I realized that the state of my house almost always reflected the state of my mind. If that's true—and I think it is—my mind was in complete disarray for a long time. That's not hard to believe.

Adding to the emotional issues was The Remodel. Even the happiest people report difficulty surviving a remodel. The decisions! The intrusion! The mess! Although I have to say the mess didn't bother me. I already had a mess. I viewed the remodel as a way out of the mess. And it was. But for over a year we moved stuff from one room to another, clearing areas to be worked on, while I tried to keep the cats from escaping out doors that were left open for the contractor and his crew to go back and forth.

When it was all done I was still left with a living room full of things that didn't belong there, some of them rather large—like the bed that belonged in the guest room upstairs. I was also missing a few things. I had paid a furniture-maker in advance for the pieces I ordered. He delivered some, but not all, and was never heard from again.

It took a long time to sort through everything and put together a decent living space. My lack of decorating confidence certainly didn't help, and I don't know whether it's harder or easier to have to make all the decisions alone. (Shell White paint? Petal White? White Swan? Mirror here? Mirror too high? Too low? Eeek!) As I've said so many times, thank heavens for the Internet. In this case, thank heavens for the home forums at GardenWeb. I didn't always agree with the decorating, kitchen-designing mavens, but seeing photos of their homes, and reading their discussions, helped me clarify my thinking.

This year clutter started building up. Nothing like years past, but it was one more indication that I needed to do some evaluating. After a lot of thought I realized that the job I've held for two years was dragging me down. Not the job itself, which is pleasant and not demanding, but the isolation of being the only staff member present at night—and the nasty, mountainous, circuitous 45-minute drive home in the dark. I realized I had to move on, and I needed more contact with people.

So I took what felt like two bold steps: I gave notice at work, and I sent an invitation to a dozen or so friends, inviting them to come sing with me at my piano. This is something Jill and I used to organize at Christmas, but I hadn't hosted it—or done any other kind of entertaining—in over a decade. It turned out so well. It gave me the push I needed to get the house in shape for visitors, and the gathering itself was great fun.

Ah, chaos. I don't miss it. I have no doubt it will come creeping back to one degree or another, but I'm on guard and I have a plan. Starting in January or February, friends here to play games. And another songfest in spring, before I give up housekeeping once again to turn my attention to the garden.

Oh,'s one during-the-party pic. My kitchen is not yellow, BTW. (Not that I have anything against yellow kitchens!)

Sunday, November 07, 2010

So much traffic on those airwaves........

.......but we can't see it. My son can hear a lot of it, though. This weekend he talked to people in Greenland, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Italy, South Africa, Svalbard (in the Arctic, off Norway), the Canary Islands, Germany, Scotland, Cuba, Romania, Austria, and Greece. Gotta love ham radio!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thanks for the Push.

I went through my blog the other day, reading over many of the old posts, and found a number of comments urging me to exhibit my photos. Thanks to your encouragement, and that of other friends, I began showing my camera work last year, doing two exhibits. This year I've had three. The one running now opened on Friday, and we had a great time at the reception.

The show is at a beautiful shop selling amber jewelry from Poland (and online, too), by the way.

Oh, and check out the way they hung the oil-on-water pictures (and Lizzie's eye)!

My sincere thanks to those who urged me to "put it out there." (In a manner of speaking.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Elopers Have Been Partying!!

The bride's family threw a party (I guess we can call it a wedding reception) Saturday night for the beautiful couple who dared to elope in August. It was a wonderful gathering—and now I can officially think of my son as a Married Man. (Yikes!)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Annie has been organizing!

This is Annie. It hasn't been easy persuading her and her son Pogo to be indoors full-time (after all, they started out in my neighbor's barn), but we've been doing pretty well since spring.

Maybe Annie's been a little bored in the house. Or perhaps she has strong organizational instincts. But whatever the reason, she has been on a mission that good housekeepers (and others, like me) can appreciate. She has searched the house for Wolfy's leftover dog toys and carted them one by one upstairs, depositing them outside my bedroom door. Wolfy was a big dog, and some of these toys seem awfully heavy and/or awkward for a small cat, but Annie managed somehow. Then a few days later she gathered up all the cat toys and set them together just inside the front door.

With her mission accomplished, I figured she could use something new to occupy her, so yesterday I bought one of those laser lights for cats ($4 at Walmart). What a big success!! I can see both my cats are going to be well exercised (for a change).

Now if only someone could interest me in running back and forth and around in circles after a laser light.....

Monday, October 04, 2010

Fifteen two, four, six.........

If that title means anything at all to you, you've played cribbage. My dad was taught to play cribbage by a hospital roommate many decades ago, and that was the start of countless games between the two of us. We loved our cribbage games so much that one year I bought him a giant cribbage board, four feet long. Because he lived in Florida, mud-daubing wasps filled up all the holes. But I cleaned them out, and I still have the board somewhere. I should find it and hang it up.

This week I discovered online cribbage, playing against the computer. Believe me, it is not as much fun as playing with Harry. But I was surprised at how quickly the game came back to me, considering it's probably been close to 20 years since I've played. And I learned something else. There's a certain lingo attached to cribbage, and after I played a few rounds with the computer I began to remember it. It felt good to speak it aloud.

"See one, play one."
"Fifteen four is all I score."

I don't know why cards are so much fun. How we found hilarity in sitting at a table staring at them and adding up points, I have no idea. But we did. The banter was fast and funny, our laughter frequent.

My dad loved playing cards. If we had a group, we played knock rummy. If it was just the two of us, we played cribbage, honeymoon bridge, or some variation on rummy. And you had to play for money with my father. Not a lot of money, but some coins had to exchange hands at the end of the evening. Said coins usually ended up in his hand.

My daughter Jill was the only one of my kids to inherit the card gene. She and I played several different games, but it is our hilarious double-solitaire battles I remember best. No money was involved, but you'd think we were playing for megabucks the way our hands slammed those cards down to beat the other to the center. Like her grandfather, she usually beat me.

Playing against a computer really can't compare. No matter how many qualities one tries to attribute to one's opponent, it's just a hunk of metal. And the charming British accent of the recorded scorekeeper fails to save the experience from being so quiet. Maybe this is why I find myself saying out loud all those expressions my dad taught me so long ago.

"Fifteen two is all I do."

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Old Stones, Old Lives

I've been spending a lot of time in old cemeteries, photographing gravestones as a volunteer for FindAGrave. I went to this one, in the photograph, yesterday. Here I found a stone that read George, son of Charles and Mary Daniels, born Mar. 25, 1845


in the Narrows of Lackawaxen on Friday the 11th day of October 1861 his body was found in the Delaware River at Cars Rock on Sunday Oct. the 20, 1861. Aged 16 years, 7 mo. & 14 days.

I couldn't read all of the bottom inscription, but I made out the following, and I think we understand, without words, the rest.

From the beautiful world tis lived for parents and children
. . . . . to part . . . .
O may we meet . . . .
Where parting shall be no more

I have long accepted, if not exactly embraced, the premise that we live until we fulfill whatever it is we're supposed to accomplish on this earth, but the more trips I make to old cemeteries, the harder it is to hang on to that concept. In the 19th Century, so many died so young. Childbirth back then was risky business; you see the evidence of that on the gravestones of all the young wives. And the children! An epidemic would sweep through an area and take a good percentage of the young with it.

Some of the tales told on the gravestones are heartbreaking, like the family who, in 1878, lost a son named Earley, not quite two years old, on May 24; a nine-year-old daughter, Ann, on May 28; and on June 4 little Samuel who had turned four nine days earlier. Then, seven years later, they lost two-and-a-half-year-old Dessie.

The parents of George, above, might have breathed a little easier having gotten their son to the ripe old age of 16—until the unthinkable happened, and he drowned.

I remind myself that the 19th Century doesn't have a monopoly on tragedy. Those multiple deaths could be happening right now in other parts of the world. And it was unthinkable when a friend's son (and good friend of my daughter Gillian's) drowned in Lake Champlain two years ago—on the same day he was his sister's Man of Honor at her wedding.

I guess it's not for us to know what purpose anyone's life might have served, or be serving still. We can only assume that Samuel and Dessie and the rest got it right. And hope that in the end we will have gotten it right, too.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

What do you make of coincidence?

I often say I don't believe in coincidence. That is, when two things happen, seemingly coincidentally, I usually attribute some sort of significance to it. There's a message in there somewhere.

Well, I haven't figured out the most recent message I received, but it was impossible not to notice it.

At work yesterday I filled a request to send out a number of books. One of them was Gangrene and Glory, a history of medical care during the Civil War. I thought that sounded interesting, and although I had no time to sit down with it, I opened the book at random before I scanned the bar code. It opened to an account of General Stonewall Jackson, mortally wounded, being examined by his physician, Dr. Hunter McGuire.

It was rather fascinating, but I didn't have time to read on. So I scanned the book and packed it up with the others. Then I got my salad out of the fridge and grabbed a copy of The New Yorker to read while I ate.

I opened the magazine, and the first thing I read was a letter to the editor by the great-great grandson of Dr. Hunter McGuire. The letter was about the death of General Stonewall Jackson.

How often do I think of Stonewall Jackson? Do I ever think about Stonewall Jackson?

I do now.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Eleven In¢hes!

A lot of considerate folks have been leaving comments on my blog concerning peni$ enlargement. Perhaps this explains the size of the beans I've been harvesting this year.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bean Excitement!

Over the years I've devised some pretty feeble methods of growing pole beans. I guess the most memorable was my Rube Goldberg-like nest of tomato cages, which had to be tethered to the house and a radio tower. Last year's effort, a curtain of beans, was prettier, but the yield was almost non-existent.

This year I have nailed it (almost literally)!! Checking out a message thread entitled "Show Me Your Trellis" on GardenWeb, I saw the bean support of my dreams: a 16-ft. cattle panel (I had never heard of a cattle panel) bent to make an 8-ft. tall arch. The base was secured with posts driven into the ground. The whole thing cost less than $35. The bean arch met all my criteria for the perfect support; it was homemade, easy, permanent, and cheap. I was in love.

I borrowed my son's pick-up and set out in search of a cattle panel, which turned out to be surprisingly easy to find. It was only slightly more difficult to persuade my son to set it up for me. ("Homemade" and "easy" are relative terms.) Once he did, I planted my beans: Kentucky Wonders, which my family has always loved, and Fortex, which the bean people on GardenWeb rave about all the time.

It was exciting to see the seedlings emerge, and even more fun when they got tall enough to start climbing. I can walk under the arch, and I'm so looking forward to reaching up to pick handfuls of beans.

I chose the terrace to set it up because (so far) deer don't walk there. Apparently a woodchuck does, though . . . the lettuce I planted in a big bin got eaten the other night. Also growing in containers on the terrace are cucumbers and beets. Oh, and two containers of pole beans, which are climbing up my son's radio tower. When I thinned the plants growing by the arch, I couldn't bear to throw away those thinnings. They had tried so hard to produce their beautiful, strong root systems. (Can you tell I anthropomorphize everything?)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Intentionally Bad Poem

This morning I was reminded of a poem I wrote for a Bad Poetry challenge issued by my online writing group a number of years ago. Whenever I run across it, I still laugh.

To My Soulmate

When I saw you walk into the room
Well it wasn’t the room I was in or anything
But it was like through the hallway, you know,
That I saw you,
And I knew.
I just knew.
My heart it like opened.
And you walked in.
Just like how you walked into the room.
Not the room I was in,
But the other room.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Blacker-Than-Black Humor

One day a couple of years ago I called the veterinarian's office:

Hello, I’m calling to inquire about cremation options . . .

Aha! Amazingly, you’ve got the right person. I do the cremations. I don’t usually answer the phone, but the girls aren't at the desk (where do you suppose they could be? it's not lunch time) and I was standing nearby, filling out some forms, so here I am.

Oh. Well, perhaps you can give me some information. I have two elderly dogs . . .

You know, I have two Afghan hounds, Liberace and Barbra. They were from the same litter, and they are both 12 years old. But one of them acts much younger than the other. It's really amazing to watch. Like the other day Liberace . . .

Right. My dogs are 13 and 15, and I was wondering . . .

I’m sure if you’re calling about two dogs you love, you’ll want their ashes back.

Well, yes, that’s what I was . . .

Then you won’t want the Group Cremation. That’s with . . . a group. I offer what I call a Semi-Private cremation, with one dog at the back of the chamber and one in front. It’s not guaranteed to be “pure,” if you know what I mean. Depends a lot on the size of the dog. How much do your dogs weigh?

Um . . . they’re fairly large—about 65 to 70 pounds.

Hmmm…….yes, I think you’ll want to go with the Private Cremation. For that, we charge $195 . . . no, $160 . . . no, $140.

Okay. Well, thank you very much. I’ll be . . .

I also want to offer you something else. I don't offer this to just anyone, mostly because most people don’t want it, but you have a nice voice and maybe you will. If you like, I’ll be glad to show you the equipment and the process, start to finish. How does that sound?

No!! I mean, no, thanks. Add me to the list of people who turn down your offer, but thanks anyway.

Well, I’m in this business because I feel I’m doing something for the pets. I wouldn’t stay in this job if I felt otherwise. I’m sensitive to it, you know what I mean? I want you to know you’re doing the right thing for your dogs. I don’t know if you have any loved ones who have been cremated . . .

Um . . . yes?

Well, I’ve seen crematoriums for humans that aren’t up to my standards.


I heard that a local funeral home is going to be offering pet cremation. I was going to call them about offering my services, but I don’t know if they even have an oven yet . . .

I really have to go. Thanks so much for the information.

Alrighty then. I hope we don’t see you any time soon! (chuckle, chuckle)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Light Upstairs

A lot of people who live in my area go to bed early. I know this because I drive home from work in the dark every night, and I see a lot of dark houses. They could be empty, I suppose, but I don't think we have that many weekenders—or at least not that many weekenders who don't put their house lights on a timer.

If I'm very tired, the dark houses have a certain appeal . . . I envision everyone asleep, no one needing to do anything or be anywhere. They're all in what my mother called "Bunkyland." They went to Bunkyland, and I've got my foot on the gas pedal and my hands on the wheel. My eyes strain to see deer at the edges of the dark, winding road.

The occasional house is all lit up. I'm convinced these are happy homes. Nothing bad can happen in all that golden light. Don't tell me the lights are on because someone's being chased through the house with a baseball bat. I just know the family members are moving from room to room, offering food to one another, sharing a joke, perhaps singing a song. These are the Irish and Italian families I idealized in my youth, the ones who spent all their time with their arms draped over each other's shoulders, singing, laughing, and eating. That was my made-up version of a perfect life: singing, laughing, and eating. I guess it still is.

But the houses I'm most drawn to on my late drive home are the ones with a single light upstairs. Only one person is still awake, and he or she will soon turn off the light. Once again, it's the yellow light that pulls me in; blue lights from TV screens don't count.

Although the shades are drawn, I can tell you what those rooms look like. They are sparsely furnished, with very little in the way of decoration, but they invite sleep. A braided oval rug lies at the side of the bed. The bedclothes are always white, and the beds are always soft. The occupant may be reading in bed, or seated at a small desk, perhaps writing a letter in the fashion of Rebecca de Winter, but at night, and in far more modest surroundings.

As I get closer to home, the percentage of dark houses rises. The hour is later, of course, but also I am surrounded by farmers who get up very early in the morning. For a while I was leaving my house dark as well, using a flashlight to walk from the car to the porch and into the house. I was unwilling to face the receiving line of moths that always show up this time of year in the presence of light. But after a home invasion took place on my road last month, I've been leaving both porch lights on plus a lamp in the living room.

One of these nights, when I've closed things up and only my bedside lamp is lit, I'm going to slip down the stairs and out the door. I'll navigate the porch steps, pass the old well and the flower beds, and walk out to the road. From my position in front of the house I'll look up at the yellow glow of my bedroom window with its drawn shade and tell myself the light is mine to do with as I wish. What I will probably wish is to turn it off and go to sleep.

My sheets aren't white, by the way. But my bed is soft.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What do I do with my car?

This evening I was reading a delightful blog having to do, more or less, with parking spaces, and thinking I haven't worried about where to park my car since I left NYC years ago. Then I realized I have a parking issue coming up next month.

I'm having an in-and-out minor surgical procedure done, and it's the in and the out that's presenting a problem. I have to be there at 6:00 a.m. I live an hour from the hospital, and no way will I ask someone to drive me in at that hour. Why I've been asked to come in so early is beyond me. I think the surgery is scheduled for 10:00. What do they plan to do with me for four hours? Maybe it's a clinical trial . . . maybe they want to find out how long it takes my back to start hurting on their new gurney. Maybe they want to see how low my blood sugar can go. Or maybe things are a little slow early in the morning, and I'm their entertainment.

Anyway, I'm arriving in my own car, and I'll park it at the hospital. But I can't leave it there. Nor can I leave under my own steam. The hospital won't discharge a surgical patient, even when it's minor surgery, without a designated driver. The driver has to show up in the flesh; you can't try to pull the old "My driver's waiting outside with the engine running" flim-flam.

So Lizzie will probably come and get me, and we'll go home in her car, and . . . well, you see my problem. I'm thinking this is one of those things that someone under 20 could solve in no time. Lizzie is 19. My current plan is to put it in her lap and forget about it for now. Maybe I'll start thinking about it next month. I didn't agree with everything Scarlett O'Hara did, but sometimes the girl made sense.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Sign in the Old Well

Sorry if my title sounds like a Nancy Drew book. Maybe that's why I like it . . . Nancy was my constant companion when I was little, and when Gillian was in first grade her teacher would let her read Nancy Drew books at the back of the classroom while the rest of the class had their first reading lessons.

I wrote the following in 2004:

For the past three years—more than three years, actually—I hadn’t the heart to do any gardening. Gardening was such a shared activity in our family. Even if all hands didn’t pitch in, there was a shared spirit, a mutual appreciation for the blue blaze of a delphinium in the sun, or a bowl mounded high with tiny perfect yellow crookneck squash. Joe taught me how to grow a garden, and Jill and I put our heads together over the seed catalogs every year. Then I was the one left to do everything, and for a long time I did nothing.

Jill loved that I planted our old well with flowers every spring. The well is a round opening about two feet in diameter, surrounded by a slab of rock. Filled with flowers, it was always a bright spot under the Winesap apple tree in front of the porch. When I stopped planting it, weeds took over quickly. It depressed me to look at it, but there it was, in sight whenever I left the house, and when I came back.

Last year a plant I recognized sprung up at the far edge of the slab. It came literally out of nowhere, as I hadn’t planted one like it in more than a dozen years, and never in that area. I mowed around the single plant, and it grew and bloomed. At the end of the season it fell over onto the well, seeding it. This spring, the well was transformed. Gone were all the weeds. In their place was a profusion of blue and white flowers: forget-me-nots. They were so clearly from Jill. She would never have to ask me not to forget her. Instead, I think she was saying, Don’t forget the joy we once took in this. You can still love growing things. We can still love them together.


In the six years since I wrote the above, the forget-me-nots have proliferated, showing up all over the property. I took this picture of the well last month. One of my favorite sights a couple of years ago was about 100 feet down the road, where a ring of forget-me-nots encircled a sweet-rocket plant.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A Nature Tale

Yesterday I spotted baby robins in the nest above my car, and took some pictures of them. They were so cute, with their mouths wide open, just waiting for their parents to come along and drop something in. They looked so trusting, although I suppose trust, at least as we know it, wasn't part of the picture. Like the parent robins, who react to the sight of the interior of the babies' mouths by inserting worm, the tiny birds were operating on instinct.

Apparently something else was operating on instinct, too, because when I went to my car this morning I found the nest on the ground, the babies gone. Poor little things. All I could hope was that they died quickly.

Snake? Raccoon? Hawk? It doesn't much matter, because there's nothing I can do to prevent it from happening again. Next time will arrive and proceed on schedule, whether or not I'm aware of it. And I hope I'm not. I hope it happens deep in the woods, although robins probably don't nest there. So in that case I hope it happens on the property of my neighbor, who wouldn't know a robin from an ostrich.

"Nature is cruel." We hear that all the time. We forget that we have a place in nature. Human nature can be cruel, too. Sometimes our nests are destroyed. And sometimes someone goes and finds a nice sturdy ladder, manages to carry it without tripping, and makes an effort to put things back where they're supposed to be, as best she can.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Honeysuckle From Heaven

In the nine years that Gillian’s been gone, I’ve been blessed with many signs from her. In the beginning, especially, they were frequent and dramatic. I’m surprised I haven’t written more about them here. I didn’t take them for granted, exactly, but it’s only now that I fully realize the magnitude of the gifts I’ve been given. Jill, in spirit every bit as loving and creative as she was on this earth, has shown me miracles.

Most of the signs have involved animals or plants. In one of Dr. Michael Newton’s books (the second one, I think—Destiny of Souls) I read how some souls are taught how to create plant matter. It’s possible the book also contains information about souls’ communication through animals, but I may never get to that part. His books meant so much to me that so far I've left them unfinished.

One day in June, less than a month after Jill died, I was washing dishes at the kitchen window overlooking the backyard. Years earlier, I had ambitious plans for part of that yard. I’d planted a white rose, Sir Thomas Lipton, that was supposed to be the start of a garden. I got distracted with other things before designing the rest of it, and the garden never materialized. In fact, after my failed attempts to clear the area, most of it reverted to a wild tangle of blackberries and grape vines. Sir Thomas bloomed for a number of years before harsh winters took their toll. Eventually the rose bush died.

That June day I looked up from the dishes in the sink and saw a cloud of white at the far left side of the yard. Could it be the rose? Impossible! I dried my hands and walked slowly to the back door, afraid that if I went outside I’d find the rose bush as dead and bare as ever. But the white flowers were still there when I stepped out into the sun, and they were still there when I picked my way through the weeds to get closer.

The rose bush was covered in blooms, brilliant and fragrant. But another scent was even stronger. Blanketing the rose was honeysuckle. Thick, dense honeysuckle vines where none had grown before. Not ever, in the 25 years I’d lived here.

You have to understand that from the time we moved here, I knew the name of every plant that grew on this property, domestic or wild. Never had I seen honeysuckle. It’s not something I would have forgotten, either. Honeysuckle had special meaning for me.

My mother, raised in what was then rural New Jersey, longed for a garden. Floral abundance didn’t exist in New York City, where I grew up. We spoke of “a house in the country” the way people today talk about winning the lottery. It was our ultimate dream.

It’s hard to imagine nature walks along 32nd Avenue in Queens, but that’s how I think of the walks I took with my mom when I was little. In the shade under a railroad trestle, she found a wildflower—the tiniest thing, surely overlooked by everyone except a woman who was pulled as if by magnet to anything green and growing. She opened my eyes to the detail in ivy climbing on brick buildings. She revealed the heavy, sweet scent of the seemingly insignificant flowers that were part of the hedge around our apartment house. But the plant I associate most closely with my mother is honeysuckle.

We came upon it on our way to visit a friend one morning. I was probably around six years old. As we neared the end of a block of row houses with tiny fenced-in yards, my mother stopped abruptly.

“Oh!” she said. On one of the fences grew a vine that had spilled over the top. It was covered with clusters of pale, delicate, oddly-shaped flowers, their scent carrying to where we stood. My mom leaned in to inhale their perfume, touching her face to the thin, tubular flowers. I did the same.

“It’s honeysuckle,” she said softly. She gently separated a flower from its base and showed me how to suck the nectar from it.

A few years later she was gone, dying suddenly from breathing chlorinated hydrocarbons while cleaning a rug. And almost 50 years after that I was given the gift of roses and honeysuckle.

Was Jill saying, “I’m with your Mommy now”? Or “I was your Mommy”? I don’t think it matters. Either one would be fine. Either one was wonderful.

The rose never came back after that. In fact, the entire bush disappeared. But the honeysuckle has thrived. I just took the above picture. This spring the honeysuckle is so prolific that its scent is unmistakable 100 feet away, and around a corner of the house. Heady. Gorgeous. Strong. Miraculous.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

My Very First Computer

Back when our children were young, my dear friend Lisa and I wrote frequent long letters to each other. We saved them, and once a year we mailed mailed them back. The result—in my case four file folders bulging with letters—is a diary of sorts. We did a smart thing, Lisa and I.

Of course, the letters don't always reflect smart things. Life, as we know, is a mix. The following is neither dumb nor smart, and it's not about child raising, marriage, or the endless weight loss/weight gain loop that was a continuing theme in my letters. It's about getting my first computer, which was the beautiful, ahead-of-its-time (but poorly marketed) Commodore Amiga. The Amiga had thousands of colors, but no hard drive. (My husband's first Dell, bought later, had a 40MB—yes, megabyte— hard drive and cost over $5,000). The disks I speak of were 3.5" floppies. Considering where we are today, I found my observations amusing, and thought you might, too. The letter is dated December 28, 1985.

I'm beginning to think I wasn't meant to get this computer. Naturally, I've been panting to use it ever since we opened it up Christmas morning. Joe put together the very nice computer desk Christmas night, and we were going to play with the machine the next day. I set about reading the (enormous) manual beforehand, and the first thing I found was an instruction to make a copy of every program disk before you use it, in case you manage to destroy it as it's running. In fact, the whole first part of the manual is full of warnings and cautions. It seems you can completely ruin your computer in any number of simple ways, such as turning it on within five seconds of turning it off (for real).

Anyway, I didn't have any blank disks on which to make copies, and of course they were unavailable locally, so I called a store and had them send me some (20 for $80.00 - on sale). Then I learned that the one piece of software I have in hand is copy protected; that is, I would not be able to copy it anyway. So I thought, great—we can get on with this and use the computer this weekend. Then I noticed that the package reads "joystick required." Nothing in my Amiga literature mentions a joystick, just a "mouse" (whatever that is).

So-o-o-o.......I called Sears and left a message to be given to Joe when he stopped there on the way home from New York: "Go to Weniger's and buy an Atari joystick." His reaction was, "My God—there's no getting away from her!"

He brought home the joystick and I thought we were finally All Set. Tonight I began the rather complex job of hooking up all the computer parts to each other, and I discovered two very discouraging things. One, an instruction that reads, " will have to buy a patch cord for this purpose," and the other the fact that Amiga mistakenly provided us with an extension cord instead of an audio cord with photo jacks. Eeeeek!! There seems to be no end to this, and I'm wondering if I should trade it in for a nice microwave. Actually, I could probably get eight microwaves for the price of this aggravating computer. Was it really properly named? I am going to start referring to the Amiga as the Mierda if this crap continues.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A Little Box of Tea

This morning I took down a small box of tea from the pantry shelf, and shook some of the black leaves into the metal mesh tea ball I use to steep loose tea. I made my tea and set aside the tea ball to use again tomorrow. That's not unusual at my house. What's unusual is that I've been keeping that little box of tea going for almost ten years.

My friend Gene brought me the tea when he came back from vacationing in Sri Lanka. Yes, this is a love story.

I love Kevin, too. Kevin and Gene and I worked together at a newspaper a decade ago when I was a reporter. Geno was the Layout Editor and Resident Photoshop Genius. When the Editor-in-Chief was on vacation and I was put in charge of the front page, Geno made it look as though I knew what I was doing. He kept me in Bob Dylan CDs. And he kept me laughing.

Kevin was the Sports Editor. He threw things at me. Oh, nothing that would give me a concussion or put my eye out. But like most of the sports-obsessed, Kevin regarded objects as things to score points with, usually by throwing. What he did for my reflexes was truly remarkable. Although my vision is poor and my peripheral vision outside my glasses just about nonexistent, I learned to snag things out of the air without turning my head or losing my place in the story I was typing.

Kevin kept me laughing, too. The level of banter in that office was incredible. We had the confidence and high spirits that comes from knowing we were all good at our jobs. In between one-liners, songs, visual gags, and long lunches together, we got an impressive amount of work done, and done well.

When my daughter Gillian died nine Memorial Days ago, I called Gene and he told Kevin. They both knew Jill. She had been in and out of the office; it was that kind of place. I forget how long I stayed home from work—three weeks, I think—but I remember thinking how different it would be when I went back. Gene and Kevin might interact the same as always, but I wouldn't be able to respond. I couldn't imagine myself laughing with them. I couldn't even imagine smiling.

My return was a blur. I can't tell you who said or did what, but I know my two favorite co-workers were wonderful. They were so careful with me, so sad for me, and at some point they realized, and helped me to realize, that while my loss was unimaginable, it hadn't stolen my sense of humor. As time went on, and my husband's condition grew worse, that office and those friends became a refuge for me, the banter (and yes, having things thrown at my head) a sanity saver.

They say you can't go home again, and I think that's often true. I left the newspaper to take care of my husband. Gene quit his job and moved away. He got married (I was there), and he and Stephanie are expecting a baby this year. Kevin still works for the paper, but the place has been remodeled and redecorated. The publisher has retired. Someone else sits at my old desk.

I still have their friendship, though. I see Kevin for lunch occasionally, and next month I'm going to Stephanie's baby shower. We have email, and we have Facebook. And I'm going to keep that little box of Sri Lankan tea going as long as I possibly can.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Last Ride

In early October, I wrote that Wolfy was doing reasonably well at 14. For a long time I wondered who would go first, Angel or Wolfy, and when it turned out to be Angel I wondered how Wolfy would do as an "only dog."

Pets give us so many things to wonder about. And when the pet is elderly, the wonderings are endless. Most of the questions center around their comfort, or lack thereof. At some point they stop being energetic, waggy, sometimes silly creatures, and we start wondering what they need. Is he uncomfortable? When does discomfort become pain? Is he okay with this med? This dose? Is he panting because he's hot? Anxious? Because he has to go out? Some other reason?

In recent months, this sort of thing got pretty dizzying. I mean for me, but also literally for Wolfy, as he reacted badly for a few days to a med change. Then we fell into a pleasant routine. The weather improved, and every morning I gave him his pills and then attached a 25' horse lunge line to Wolfy's collar and the other end to the back door knob. He loved sleeping outside--in the sun when it was chilly, and in the shade when it was not. He drank from his water dish occasionally, but he mostly slept until 2:00 p.m., when I brought him back in for more pills and a meal before I left for work. Then more pills when I got home seven hours later. His gait was poor, and occasionally I had to help him get up. But I thought as long as he ate his dinners and slept peacefully, we were okay. And for a while we were.

Then on Friday last week he suddenly didn't want to stay outside any longer. It was a big change. In the house, he slept less and panted more. Panted and panted, more and more. We added a fourth dose of pills, but it didn't seem to help. He was clearly in pain. I took a long look at the situation yesterday, Sunday, and decided I couldn't put him through one more day of this. I awoke this morning certain of my decision. That certainty remained through my shower and my tea, but stopped as soon as it was time to pick up the phone an call the vet. So hard. So hard.

A year earlier, I had made an appointment to have Angel put down, but when we left the house to head for the vets, she took the four porch steps in a single bound. We went back in the house, and I canceled the appointment. This morning when Wolfy and I left the house for one last walk, he fell down those steps. There would be no cancellation today.

He and I always walked to a certain spot on the road. This morning he wanted to walk further. We did, and it looked no different from the road before it--same plantain, same garlic mustard, same brambles--until I spotted a bright pink Sweet Rocket. Was this a sign? Was I supposed to see it and recognize that something beautiful could bloom and grow 800 feet from where I originally planted them 30 years ago? Was I supposed to know that Wolfy would bloom and grow--and run and wag--in his next place? I don't know.

When Jill adopted Wolfy from the shelter 13 years ago, he was so eager to get into her car that he hit his head on it. Today he required a lot of help to get into mine. He loved cheese, so I brought a plastic bag of cheddar pieces with us, intending to feed them to him all the way to the vet's. But he was in such distress that he didn't want any. The vet assured me that I was doing the right thing, but for once I didn't need that reassurance.

When Jill died, nine years ago this coming Friday, one of the first signs I had from her was her car. Suddenly, that model, that year, that color was everywhere. Before I realized it was a sign, I found it remarkable that a 1990 red Oldsmobile was the most popular car in the county. Since then, the car has shown up at difficult times, sometimes singly, sometimes in numbers. On the way to the vet's this afternoon, Wolfy and I were on a two-lane country road with a big dump truck coming toward us in the other lane. It wasn't a passing zone, but without warning I found myself facing a 1990 red Oldsmobile in my own lane. I think I smiled. That car made itself known in such a strong way, intruding on my weepy, blurry grief, literally entering my space. There was no way I could have missed it.

So I'll go home tonight, and for the first time in 42 years, no dog will be there to greet me. I don't know what that's going to be like. But I know without a doubt where our Wolfy is now, and who is with him.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Get off the goddam phone!!"

I said it so many times in the car yesterday.

To the woman in the S Class Mercedes who came this close to sideswiping me. She was probably scheduling her pedicure.

To the college students who ignored the nearby crosswalks. Evidently no one had taught them to Stop, Look, and Listen. No, wait—they were definitely listening. And talking. They were probably discussing who gave who the eye in the cafeteria, and why their Spanish teacher should be shot.

To the teenagers in the car with the blasting stereo. How can they possibly hear anything over the hip-hop?? Or maybe they weren't trying to hear. Maybe they were just talking.

To the hefty woman who wandered out of the dollar store and into my path. No doubt she was in a hurry to tell her BFF about the incredible bargains she just scored.

To the obese man who pinned the phone to his ear with a shoulder as he drove, steering with his left hand and gesturing with his right. Did he close the big deal? I, for one, hope not.

And there were more. Lots more. All this urgency is pretty amazing, when you think about it. I'm old enough to remember when people didn't have so many important phone calls that couldn't wait. I wonder what the traffic accident stats were back then . . . ?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

City Girl, Country Girl

Even though I will always consider myself to be a New Yorker (I put that in red because—what can I tell you?—it's special), I've known for some time that my transition to Country Girl was completed ages ago. If I'd had any doubts about that, they were dispelled last night.

I was supposed to meet my friend Lindsay at an art opening at 5:00. We both agreed we'd be there on the dot or only slightly after. I spent most of the day outside..... mowing around the barn, helping my son with the ongoing barn cleanout, and spraying poison ivy with him. On a trip in his pickup to fill up our gasoline cans, I looked in the truck mirror and said, "I hope I can make myself look a hell of a lot better by five o'clock." When we got home I begged off joining him for some fun brush hauling (his adjective, not mine) because I had to take a shower and get ready to go out.

So he went home, and I got clean. Ninety minutes later I was dressed, my hair was vastly improved, and I was sporting some badly-needed makeup. I added a favorite necklace, and I was ready to face the art world. The wind which had been blowing wildly all day, had picked up, and trees were whipping about. As I locked the front door behind me, I saw that the cover had blown off my wood pile.

The wood pile is huge, and the tarp that covers it is not easy to manage on a still day. There was no way I was going to attempt it in "town clothes," so I quickly decided to take care of it after I got home. I was already a little late, and wouldn't make it to the gallery at 5:00 on the dot or even a little after.

So I got in the car and headed up my road, turning onto Stove Pipe Hill. My big Caprice took the hill with ease as always, and I soon found myself at the top, our own version of "big sky country." It's a great view. At that moment, the sky was a surreal mix of black, grey, and white clouds, tumbling over each other, with odd peeks of blue. My first thought was, why didn't I bring a camera? I always bring a camera. My second thought was, it's gonna rain on my wood pile.

I didn't turn around right away. I drove on and pondered the situation. I called Lindsay on her cell, and left the completely useless message that I was undecided about what to do. Just before I reached the end of the road, I turned around in someone's driveway and went back home.

Fifteen minutes later, somewhat covered in an old jacket and wearing gloves, I wrestled with the tarp. For a while it seemed as though the wind would win. I would get it down in one area, but when I worked on another part the first section would blow off. I could feel spruce needles entering my shoes and occasional big splats of rain landing on my head. I had some words to say on the subject, and they were not pretty.

I finally got all of the tarp over all of the wood, and laid some newly-cut apple limbs on top to hold it down. Then I assessed my appearance. No dirt that I could see. Hands intact under the gloves. Spruce needles knocked out of the shoes. Still wearing makeup and necklace. Hair not worth thinking about in wind this gusty.

So I proceeded on to the art gallery, arriving at 6:15. Lindsay hadn't gotten there yet, as she and her date had made an unexpected stop involving his dog. (Lindsay's an artist, so I don't ask.) An hour later the three of us left to attend another opening. They invited me to go in his car. The wind still sounded like a freight train, and the temperature had dropped. I didn't have a jacket. Lindsay's date offered to go get his car so I wouldn't have to walk to it, but I said, "Thanks, but that's okay. I'm a country girl."

Friday, May 07, 2010

I hit a cat last night.

On the way home from work, about 9:30 p.m., in an unlit area, a cat darted into the road and under my car. I saw nothing but a flash of white out of the corner of my eye . . . I thought it might be a box. But I hit it hard, so I turned around and went back to make sure it wasn't animal. It was a cat, coiled into an impossible ball, her beautiful eyes open and staring at my car.

I thought she was dead, and honestly I'd feel better if she'd died. Years ago I hit a Doberman at 60 mph and was able to tell the owner that her dog died on impact and suffered not at all. But this poor cat . . . as I watched, she somehow struggled to her feet and staggered to the side of the road. A car approached her fast in the other lane, but I blinked my lights repeatedly and he slowed down.

The cat was near a driveway, so I pulled into it—and she immediately disappeared. Of course it was pitch black outside. There were three houses in the area. I went to all of them, trying without success to locate the cat's owner. In one house, a teenage boy said to me, "It was probably just a stray. Don't worry about it." I said, "I'm very worried about it, because I hit that cat hard and I'm afraid she's in terrible pain right now." He looked at me like I was nuts, and went back to his TV.

I don't blame myself for what happened, but I feel awful about it. I don't know why cats run out in front of (or under) cars like that. Maybe fear has something to do with it. Maybe this cat's worst fear came true.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

My Blue Heaven

A photographer in the middle of the country took some fascinating pictures he called "Music of the Spheres." I was captivated, and gave a lot of thought to how he might have achieved them. Finally I sent him an email. Was it a secret, I asked? He replied that he had his secrets, but this wasn't one of them. He sent instructions. I shot over 100 images, and ended up with five worth keeping. Mine look nothing like his. But I like them. So does he. Once again, I love the Internet.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Norman Cousins' Good Advice

I forget when I first wrote to him, or why. A long time ago I had a habit of writing letters to authors. Usually, they wrote back. Sometimes that developed into a correspondence, and that's what happened with Norman Cousins. It must have been in 1980s, because I had a newspaper column then, and he thought I was witty. And it was in that decade that I had symptoms of anxiety and underwent some heart tests, and that's what his advice was about.

Norman, who wrote Anatomy of an Illness and Head First, among others, explained to me that since the nervous system affects breathing and the heart, tension can skew the results of numerous tests. When I was scheduled to have a thallium scan heart test, he said I should use humor to lighten the atmosphere in the testing room, thereby reducing my stress levels.

I remember four or five grim-faced people bending over me as I lay on the table, attaching straps and devices of various kinds. I forget exactly what I said to them—something like, "You people would be nothing without Velcro"—no, I'm sure it wasn't that harsh. But it did involve Velcro, and it did make them laugh. And I laughed, and I aced the test.

All these years later, I applied it again when I had to go for a breathing test last week. The technician and I didn't exactly have an affectionate history. In fact, I considered insisting that I take the test elsewhere because I was sure just one look at her would cause my chest to tighten up. I was sure hers would, too, but her lungs didn't have to perform well under pressure.

Finally, I decided I could do it. I could be charming. I could win her over and lighten up the atmosphere in the room. You're probably expecting me to admit that I failed miserably. But no, I did it. I was chatty, she responded, and the atmosphere in the room was just fine. And not only did I ace the test, but I came away feeling a lot more positive about the technician.

Thanks, Norman.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sag Harbor, Boys, and The Kingston Trio

Many of the perfect memories of my youth are set in Sag Harbor. For those unfamiliar with the area, Sag Harbor is out on Long Island, in the vicinity of the Hamptons. My dad, who worked for an oil company, accumulated a lot of vacation time, and every summer we spent it all in a cottage on Noyack Bay. We would leave Queens at 6:00 a.m. (an unearthly hour, it seemed in those days) and make the long drive to Sag Harbor with our 7.5HP Evinrude outboard motor in the trunk of whatever car my father owned at the time. A big custom stick-shift Pontiac with a truck clutch comes to mind.

I had an awkward period that began at around age four and lasted ten years, but at 14 I was a fairly pretty girl. I had lost weight at last, and had long, thick hair the color of butter and just as shiny. Although I had no more fashion sense then than I do now, I remember I favored white shorts that year, and white sneakers, of course. It was a good look.

The summer I was 14, my childhood friend Pat joined us. We met Jim Shaw and Johnny Bechtel that summer. Pat and I were on shore--two blondes--and the boys pulled up in Jim's Penn Yan boat. So cute they were. They became a big part of our summer life, and, in Jim's case, beyond. Boats are why to this day I love the smell of gasoline. For the briefest moment it gives me that rush of pure teenage freedom layered with sun, water, gulls, and hermit crabs.

Pat and I both have an indelible memory of the time we climbed a road to the top of a cliff, and then ran down. We didn't run, exactly. All that was between the top of the cliff and the beach below was deep sand. I'll never forget the feeling of running in slow motion, each step sinking, sinking into the sand. And then we were at the edge of the water, thrilled at the experience.

Two girls in a boat, Pat and I had lots of adventures. Accidentally drifting too close to a gull's nest, we waved oars in the air to fend off the aggressive parents. We had ample opportunity to closely observe sand sharks, clam beds, eels, and fish of all kinds, including jellyfish. We walked where the sandpipers walked. We looked into the water to study the prehistoric-looking horseshoe crabs. We took the boat out at sunset to ride that golden path.

On the last day of one of these vacations, I was the only girl in the living room of one of the boys' homes. One of the others (there were quite a few by then) had discovered folk music. Raised on 1950s rock 'n roll, this was new to us. He put on a record, and we sat there listening to The Kingston Trio. Do today's teenagers ever sit quietly together, listening to new music? I hope they do. I remember sitting cross-legged. Nothing hurt aches or pains, no responsibilities, no to-do list, nowhere else I had to be. Is this what mindfulness is? What they call "living in the moment"? I remember looking with more than a little interest at Dave Guard on the album cover. I remember putting it down and gazing out the big picture window at the sun on the water, and being aware of my friends around me, and hearing the wonderful harmonies. Perfect harmonies. Perfect moment. Perfect memory.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Who named our bodies (of water)?

The Atlantic Ocean. The Mediterranean Sea. The big bodies of water are named like that: First the word the, then the assigned name, then the category.

The Mississippi River. Same deal with rivers.

But when we get to lakes, everything changes. Lake Huron. Lake Como. Lake Wallenpaupack. (What? You never heard of Lake Wallenpaupack? Accent on the the third syllable.) With lakes, we have the category first, then the name. No the.

Moving down to ponds, we have another change. Caleb Pond. Walden Pond. Back to reversing the name and the category, but again, no the.

Where I live, the creeks have names. Middle Creek. Cooper's Creek. Oops—that's in Australia. No matter. Creeks same as ponds. do you suppose this naming system came about? I have no idea.

I was pondering this in the car today. I have a rather long commute to work. Sometimes I need to think about something other than deadlines, plumbing problems in the house, and my ever-lengthening To Do list.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Living Green. Or Yellow.

I read in Newsweek this week (or maybe it was Time, or The Atlantic) about the toll pharmaceuticals are taking on our water supply. (Over)medicated America is tossing leftover pills into our landfills, flushing them down the toilet, and peeing them into our septic systems. I knew some of this already, but the latest word on the subject was pretty alarming.

Since I don't take any meds on a regular basis, my urine is above reproach. But I know over the years lots of pills have gone from my house to landfills. The article said communities are setting up drop-off sites where residents can safely dispose of unwanted pharmaceuticals. Like the hazardous waste drop-off site I've been eagerly anticipating for years, this is not likely to happen in my community.

My dog Wolfy takes an arthritis pill every day. Actually, it's a piece of an arthritis pill. He started out with a half pill, but that was reduced to a quarter pill. Since the pill is small to begin with, and my eyes are not improving with age, it can be a challenge to cut the pills accurately. And once they're cut, the pieces are quite tiny.

This afternoon I shook out of his pill bottle a piece that was too big for a quarter and too small for a half. To make it the right size, I chopped a piece off. I set aside the piece I'd give to Wolfy, and picked the remaining piece up. I stood there, holding it. Now what? I shouldn't flush it or put it in the trash, and I couldn't very well cart it off to our non-existent disposal site. I stood there a while longer, thinking. No good ideas came to me.

In the end I dropped the piece of pill into a zip-loc sandwich bag, and put that in the trash. It seemed like the chicken's way out.

What would Susan Sarandon have done?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Then, Easter Now

I was raised a Lutheran in a Catholic neighborhood in Queens. On Easter, the two religious seemed to meld into one big fashion statement. My friends and I followed the strict tenets of the city that gave the world the song "Easter Parade." Each of us left the house Easter Sunday wearing a new dress, a new spring coat in a pastel shade, matching shoes (patent leather or pastel) and bag, white gloves, and a hat.

The hats were usually made of white straw, often with a pastel ribbon. Or ribbons. Or flowers. Or lace. Whatever the style, one thing remained constant: We never wore the hat again. It was also unlikely that we ever wore the coat again. We certainly didn't wear the gloves again. The dress and shoes (and maybe the bag) might to to a party at some point, but the rest of the outfit stayed in the closet after Easter.

We wore the outfit to church, and then we hung around on the sidewalk in our Easter clothes. We did this all afternoon. My dad often took pictures. Then we went back home and ate a lot of chocolate.

Religions can be such curious phenomena. At what point did fashion become allied with the resurrection of Jesus? Is it a symbolic hat equals new life?

By the time my children came along, my concept of Easter had changed. My husband and I didn't go to church, and pastel spring coats just didn't fit in on the old farm. We colored eggs and did Easter crafts, and I filled baskets with little gifts in lieu of candy. My mother sent Easter outfits for them every year, and the girls enjoyed wearing pretty dresses as they hunted for Easter eggs in the front yard.

Now that they're grown, I'd probably ignore Easter if left to my own devices. But fortunately, today I wasn't. My daughter Suzanne's brother-in-law and his partner invited me to their Easter dinner. This is a Slavic Catholic celebration, different from the Irish and Italian Catholics of my childhood. Today's gorgeous table was decorated with Pysanky eggs in various sizes.

There were other differences, too. I wore beige pants, yellow shoes, and a linen top in spring colors. My 19-year-old granddaughter wore a strapless swirl dress in pink and white. The men wore shorts. In the house, most were barefoot. At one point my son-in-law ran home (literally ran, through the woods) to don a dry suit (it's like a wet suit, only dry) and go water skiing in 40 degree water.

But some things never change. After a delicious traditional Easter dinner, we sat in the living room surrounding a spread of desserts: Apple Crisp, Lemon Lush, Banana Bread, and something else. Mounds of pretzels surrounded a fondue pot of bubbling chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

Happy Easter, everyone.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Why I Love the Internet, Part......oh, I forget.

I'm sure I've reported many examples of why I love the Internet. This is probably Part VIII. Or Part LXXXVIII.

Anyway, another example happened this week. A couple of years ago I got involved in a discussion of old silver on an antiques forum, and inquired if it was possible to date souvenir spoons. I posted lots of pictures of spoons from my grandmother's collection. She picked up spoons in her travels as an opera singer.

Today, a Ph.D. candidate researching tourism in Arizona was very excited to find one of those photos. The picture confirmed for him that Casa Grande Ruins souvenir spoons were in fact sold in 1891. He wrote to thank me.

The world was so much bigger when I was a child. I like it better this way.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I love the way children think.

" . . . and the princess was delighted," I read to Gillian when she was three. I paused.

"Do you know what delighted means?" I asked.

She nodded confidently. "It means dark."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Asleep in the Snow

This looks cruel, but really, it isn't. The vet explained Wolfy's reluctance to come indoors: "He's a Husky." Yes, Huskies like the cold. But I also think the snow cools his inflamed hips better than his pricey medications. I managed to get him inside after I took this picture because his coat was starting to ice up.

Suffice it to say Wolfy doesn't appreciate the woodstove nearly as much as I do.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Art of Memorization

I wrote this 14 years ago. The memory is still vivid......

The Art of Memorization

He is your last baby, I told myself,
Put this where you can find it again.
He was four months old. The hour was midnight.
The dogs were asleep. The baby nursed.

I held him in my left arm, cradling his head
with my right hand. Snow fell outside.
New milk trickled across my stomach.
He is my last baby, my last baby.

My son is seventeen now, and shaves.
He bench presses two hundred pounds and above.
His language flies from high-tech to hard-core.
His car roars, his guitar screams.

But I took that moment to impress forever
an hour of infancy into my brain.
Seventeen-year-old senses come alive,
smelling my nursling, hearing him swallow.

I feel the silk of his baby neck,
and my palm against his diapered back.
My kiss on his head is as real as the grin
I’ll be lucky to get in passing tonight.

To prepare for my quiet retirement, for the longing
for amplifiers turned up high and rumbling
dual exhausts in the drive, I practice
now the art of recording time.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

To Pay or Not to Pay?

Blame my frugal nature (which is a blessing, I tell you, a blessing!), but I have an aversion to websites that charge a fee. For me, the sole exception is Flickr, which I enjoy and don't mind paying for. Oh, and I paid for GardenWeb for several years before it was free.

Several times a week, notifies me that another of my classmates from William Cullen Bryant High School has visited my profile and signed my guestbook. According to Classmates, 72 people have signed that book. In order to find out who they are, I'd have to pay a monthly fee. At best, I'm only mildly curious, mostly because I remember only two names (and one additional face) from my graduating class. Most of my friends went to Catholic school.

A few years ago, one of my brilliant cousins set us up with our family tree on Geni. Since then, I've added many names, dates, and photos. It's a neat site. And it's free. At least I thought it was free. This week I learned that one can upgrade to a Pro account for $5/month. Why would one want to? Well, one (like me) might like to access another family tree if it happens that a relative is sitting on a branch of it.

That's what Geni emailed to tell me this week. They said my grandfather, George Campbell, had shown up on someone else's family tree. I was rather excited to hear this. All I know about George Campbell is that he was born in Scotland, lived in Hartford, CT, was married to Margaret, fathered Alice, Maggie, and Anna, as well as a slew of sons, and was a servant. With Campbell being such a common name, and my genealogy skills being on the skimpy side, I thought that was all I'd ever know about George. That is, until I got the email from Geni.

If I wanted to see George's other relatives, Geni said, all I had to do was sign up for a Pro account. They offered me a free 14-day trial if I'd fork over my credit card number. Oh, and by the way, my great-great-uncle Samuel Gluckstein was also on someone else's family tree. Samuel didn't tempt me all that much. Thanks to the Glucksteins' founding of the Lyons Tea Co. in England, I knew quite a bit about that branch of the family. But George...... father of Alice, the opera singer whom I so strongly resemble (if not in looks, in many other ways)......I got out my credit card.

As soon as I signed up for the Pro account, I clicked on George. Turns out the other guy's George was born in 1942. He has a bunch of kids, none of whom are named Anna, Maggie, or Alice. He's still living.

I canceled my 14-day free trial immediately. I hope Geni agrees that it's canceled. I hope they'll burn my credit card number. I hope they'll slink off and leave me to enjoy Geni the way I always have: without the hype, and for free.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I Can See (the Olympics)!!

I haven't been able to get NBC on my TV since the changeover to digital. I missed being able to watch Jeopardy, but since I work evenings and wouldn't be able to see it most of the time anyway, I wasn't too distressed by this. But I wanted to see some of the Olympics, so I emailed the Chief Engineer of our NBC affiliate and asked for his advice.

He sent back a lengthy email, of which I understood almost nothing. It was all highly technical, and included a long list of what he called "extra information." He wanted to know precisely where I lived, in case a cable line or radio station might be interfering with my reception.

Before responding, I forwarded the email to my son. Within minutes, I received an email back. Joey said, "They moved their operating frequency from Channel 28 to 11, or down about 350MHz, which tripled the wavelength of the signal being transmitted."

The part I understood was ".....from Channel 28 to 11." I picked up the remote, pressed the number 1 button twice, and was delighted to see NBC come in perfectly clear. As they probably say at the U.N., there's nothing like a good translation.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

How I'm Doing (with my goals)

In December, 2008, I wrote about my vision board. In choosing pictures to add to it, my intention was to spur action on my part. In brief, I wanted to:

Keep a neater house. Invite friends over more. Write more. Get paid more for writing. Make more progress processing my dad's old photographs. Hook rugs. Sing.

The vision board didn't last long. Well, it's still semi-intact, actually, but last summer I temporarily leaned a very large art pad against it, and it's still there, covering the vision board completely. I guess I should call it an envision board. But perhaps the act of creating it had an effect. Because when I look at those goals I realize I'm doing pretty well.

My house isn't perfect, and will never be perfect. But I've achieved a consistent level of relative neatness and cleanliness that surpasses all previous efforts.

I had guests here after Christmas, so I suppose I can say that's a start. I have plans to invite more soon. Really.

I'm definitely writing more. And I'm writing the sorts of things that have the potential to bring in more money. Time will tell, but I'm doing my part. Now the editors and publishers will have to do theirs.

I've made more progress with my dad's photos, and was on a roll when I got a new computer and then a new operating system, both of which screwed up my ability to use my scanner. But that will get straightened out eventually.

I got back to rug hooking! I say that with enthusiasm because I really love hooking and am surprised I stayed away from it so long. I finished the table mat I wrote about in March 2008, and am now working on a chair seat I designed in Mickey's memory. I'm so happy to be doing this. (One of the first chair seats I made is pictured above.)

And yes, I've been singing again. Determined to push myself out of my comfort zone, I volunteered to sing the 1955 pop song, "Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby" for a friend's 80th birthday party. It didn't happen (long story), but it will, a little belatedly, when I sing it for him here, at my piano, soon. To prepare, I sang every day. For a while, with my determination at a fever pitch, that was the only song I sang. But I've branched out, turning to many of my old jazz and standards song books and even buying myself a new (and pricey) one for Christmas: a 1200-song fake book.

My vision board also contained a picture of a new Mercedes and a 1996 Chevy Caprice. (What can I say? I'm a car person.) Oh, and a wheelbarrow full of money. (A shallow car person.) I'm no closer to acquiring these things. But all things considered I still say I'm doing pretty well.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mickey Lives On in a Bedtime Story

The bedtime story is nothing new; I wrote it more than a decade ago. But it was inspired by Mickey and his sister Minnie, and I'm happy that it's still available for reading on the Internet. I had to misspell Mickey's name for gender neutrality, but he won't mind.

Two Grey Cats

Tonight I happened upon this little quiz related to the story. Will merchandising follow? Mickey and Minnie t-shirts, perhaps? Or maybe Mickey and Minnie dolls. Soft, eminently huggable dolls, with a resonant purr.....

Two Grey Cats Quiz

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kitten Update

The kitten hasn't been seen since Tuesday night. I hope this means she has a home. A good home.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Heaven-Sent Kitten?

I should start by telling you that years ago we found a stray cat that was emaciated and terribly sick. My son named her Mystic. I was the one who cared for her most of the time, and she thought the sun rose and set on me. Mystic slowly regained her health and grew into a long-haired "luxury cat," as my DH put it. She was a black & white tuxedo cat. We sometimes called her "Miss Tickle," and we adored her. One night she slipped out of the house in the dark as I let a dog out. I didn't see her leave, and she drowned in our swimming pool. We all took it very hard.

A year later my daughter Jill announced that I needed another long-haired black & white cat, and she found me the next best thing: a long-haired black kitten. We named him Princeton, a.k.a. "Prince Tony," and he lived for 12 years.

Anyway, as you know we lost Mickey last week. My son suggested I might like a kitten, but I said not yet. For one thing, I'd like to minimize the vet bills for a while. For another, I'd like to wait until Wolfy passes on. He's 14. Meanwhile, I wouldn't mind some peaceful time to enjoy Wolfy and my two cats, Pogo and Annie.

So that brings us to tonight, when a man came into the library where I work, and said there was a cat outside, trying to get in. I looked, and it was a kitten—not tiny, but not grown—and it was trying hard to open the glass door. And guess what.......she was a black & white tuxedo cat with a bushy tail, a sure sign she'll be long haired, or semi-long haired.

I thought about her all evening. I couldn't bring her into the library, where she could easily disappear, but I did go out and pet her (so soft—except for those needle claws). I finally, and reluctantly, decided that if she was still there at 9:00 when I left, I'd take her with me. But she wasn't there.

Tomorrow I'm going to put a cat carrier in my car, along with some food. If she's still around, I'll pick her up and try to find out if she has an owner. I doubt it, because I think I saw her on the campus, curled up at the side of a road, before Christmas.

I'm so ambivalent about this. My reasons for not wanting another cat right now still stand. But the possibility that Jill picked this one out for me seems very strong, and too compelling to ignore. We'll see......

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mickey is gone.

This is such a shock for me, as I know it will be those of you who know I've had an injured cat sequestered in the downstairs bathroom for two months. Mickey was 15. In mid-November he had a chunk of his leg removed by what the vet guessed was a rat. Home care involved soaking his leg four times a day at first, and what turned out to be four series of antibiotics. He had to wear a cone collar to prevent him from reinfecting the wound by licking. We made six visits to the vet.

It was a long haul, but Mickey was doing wonderfully well. The whole family was excited to see him get close to complete healing. He finished his antibiotics, and we stopped the soaks this week. I weighed him yesterday, and was happy to find he'd gained another pound, up to 11.5 pounds.

We had a nice routine going where I would take his collar off in the morning (or twice a day on days I didn't have to go to work) and then hold him and pet him for a while before feeding him. He loved this, and so did I. He had this great habit of rubbing his face against mine, hard. Purr, purr....

We did that this morning, and everything was fine. It was still fine later when I changed his litter and cleaned the floor. But at 2:00 p.m. I heard him cry out. I opened the door and found him panting and salivating, unable to walk. I called the vet immediately, and they said it sounded like he'd thrown a blood clot.

I took him right in. The vet said if a cat throws a clot, it's likely to lodge in the artery that supplies blood to the hind legs. This is what happened to Mickey. He was paralyzed, and in great pain, and there was nothing we could do except end his pain.

The vet, who treated Mickey all along for his injury, felt so bad for both Mickey and me. She and I talked afterward for a long time. I told her that although I'm sorry Mickey had to suffer with his leg injury, I'm not sorry we had these two months of intensive contact. Before he was hurt, Mickey was a rather elusive indoor barn cat who had to be coaxed out of hiding. But he and I bonded strongly while I was caring for him. Although this makes it harder for me now, I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to get to know, and to deeply love, this wonderful cat.

I'm also so grateful that it happened while I was home. I had to leave for work at 1:00 p.m. two days this week, and at 2:00 yesterday. I was planning to leave today at 3:00. If this had happened to him even one hour later, I would have been out of the house until 10:00 p.m. and Mickey would have suffered all that time.

On the drive to the vet I hoped he could be saved, but I told him if I had to let him go Jill would be there to meet him, and she would take good care of him. I said I would join them someday, and when I did I would take him in my arms and feel his face rub on mine, hard. Meanwhile, I will remember that feeling always.

Thursday, Thursday

It's only 9:15 a.m., and my day is getting more annoying with each shift of the digital clock.

The two bags of canned goods I bought last night and left on the dining table when I went to bed are still there. (Yeah, I know I live by myself, so of course they're still there. But it's still annoying.)

Wolfy's been panting and nudging me ever since I got up. I filled his water dish, took him outside, and gave him treats. But I haven't managed to divert him from nudge mode.

My right hand, which took took a lot of hits from the cold recently, looks and feels like a leper's. (Well, sure—I have no idea what it feels like to be a leper. But maybe my hand does.)

Dog turds await my attention in the snow. Enough said?

I got up an hour early today to scan some of my dad's negatives, a process I started last year. But I can't seem to get the scanner to do what it's supposed to do. No doubt my new computer factors into this problem somehow, but I don't know how. So here I sit with a stack of negatives on my desk, the scanner blinking its taunting blue eye.

Mickey is feeling better. This is wonderful. But during the night he apparently kicked cat litter all over the bathroom, and then washed his feet in his water dish. This is not wonderful.

Is there a reason why I can't get a fire going in the woodstove this morning? Impatience, maybe?

If one more person emails me to tell me how much they loved Avatar, I'm going to block them from Outlook.

I know what I need.

I need someone to cross my yard tapping a white-tipped cane, or rolling in a wheelchair, or walking behind a hearse, to show me what an absolutely splendid day I'm having.

Or maybe I just figured it out.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The A Word (and no, it's not adultury)

I bought myself a new sewing machine for Christmas. I already had one, given to me by my husband in 1975. It cost $400, a tidy sum in those days, and was the top of the Kenmore line at the time. It still works well, but it's so bloody heavy! Like all sewing machines of that vintage, it's made entirely of metal. I used it a lot for years, making the kids' clothes when they were little, and making curtains, etc. But more recently on the occasions when I've gotten the urge to sew, the thought of lugging that machine down the stairs has erased my creative impulses.

So I bought a new machine last month. Like many of today's vintage, this one is made of plastic. I'm not a big fan of plastic, but the machine is delightful to look at and has an excellent reputation. And it's light! Hoist with one hand light. "Wow--is there really a sewing machine in this box?" light.

I thought by now I'd be sewing. But I discovered that when the urge to sew strikes, it isn't only the thought of the heavy machine that squelches it; it's also the thought of climbing the stairs to go get it.

I go up and down stairs all the time at work. But there's something about being alone—even though I often say I probably do better living along than most people, given all the practice I got as an only child—that makes me feel my age and beyond. This is especially true when I've been away from civilization for a stretch of time. Tomorrow I go back to work after 25 days off.

When my mother-in-law was the age I am now, she looked at me imploringly and said, "It's hell getting old." I was 33 at the time, so I told her what I thought she wanted to hear: "Oh, you're not old, Mom!"

The truth was, she had aged dramatically over the course of a decade. When I first met her, she was a stunning woman with a beautiful face and a tall, elegant body that carried her expensive clothes well. Ten years later, she'd had back surgery, and didn't move around much. She lived in a big house in the desert, and had a lot of time to think about her aches and pains.

I had two little children, and not much time to think about my mother-in-law's ailments. It wasn't that I didn't care; it was that I did. It's not pleasant watching someone you love deteriorate. I remember the first time I saw my adored father shuffle like an old man. My initial reaction wasn't sympathy; it was more like irritation. What was he doing walking like that? This was my dad—my tennis-playing, bicycle-riding, marvelous natural athlete dad, the person who could make up any game if you put a ball in his hands. No matter that he was by then well into his eighties. He had never been old, and I didn't want him to start.

I plan to tell these things to my children someday (you think they read my blog? Ha!), to prepare them for their own feelings of irritation, of annoyance, to alleviate some of the guilt they are bound to feel, and also because I hope that being forewarned will enable them to summon patience when it is needed.

I often look back and wish I'd taken my mother-in-law's hand in both of mine. I wish I'd sat down next to her, and looked into those imploring eyes, and waited for her to tell me what she needed to say.

I guess it's a good thing I'm going back to work tomorrow.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Wolfy's Hanging in There

His Husky side still loves hanging out in the snow, even in bitter cold, and even though he's 14.

Saturday, January 02, 2010


I sat at my computer this morning (on my microfiber-upholstered chair), wearing a microfiber sweater, polyester fleece yoga pants, SmartWool socks (thanks to my daughter), and Lands' End fabric-and-suede zip-up Weatherly rubber-soled shoes (oh, and microfiber underwear, if you must know), and looked at a picture of a Civil War-era woman.

She was not unattractive, but looked a tad pained, I thought. This could be due to the necessity of holding a pose long enough for the film of those days to be exposed, but I think it must be at least partly due to her clothes. Everything looks so stiff! Those buttons must have been a real trial to do up. And everywhere she went, she had to haul around yards and yards of whatever, with more yards and yards of even stiffer whatever underneath. And way underneath you can be sure she wore a boned (as in real, once-living bones) corset to give her that nice waist. They didn't put much stock in breathing in those days.

Later this afternoon, I lay on my bed—mattress covered with memory foam and latex, cotton sateen sheets over that, then a down duvet topped with a down blanket, and me topped with the microfiber "minky" throw my granddaughter gave me for Christmas—and thought about that woman. She sat on a small, straight-back wooden chair. Her feet were probably crammed into something stiff and pointed. Yes, I know . . . not so different from today's fashionable shoes. But at least today we have a choice. One hundred and fifty years ago, what did people do for soft??

I love soft. I dress fairly casually for work, but even so, when I get home at night I can't wait to change into something soft. Fleece is my friend. I have a throw on the loveseat, and another in my car for winter. I have great affection for my bed and its airy mounds of down. On coldest nights I sleep in cashmere, courtesy of the Salvation Army. Did you know that cashmere sweaters come out of the washer and dryer marvelously fluffy? Try it—with the $2 variety you find at a thrift shop.

So I'm thinking our Civil War ancestors had down pillows (or feathers, more likely), but for the most part their clothing scratched, poked, pinched, and strangled them. It's no wonder the North and South turned on one another; they were probably perpetually irritated. And just maybe the South resented the North for its cooler, and therefore more comfortable temperatures. It isn't as though southerners were able to wear shorts in summer.

We've had the Iron Age and all that . . . maybe we're living in the Microfiber Age. The Age of Soft. And isn't that a pleasure.