Wednesday, December 31, 2008


She was the wife of my mother's dear friend Dick from childhood. Somehow the two couples from New Jersey ended up living in the same apartment house in Queens. They were close friends, and when I was small we were in and out of each other's apartments. I adored Margie, and Dick, too. Eventually I'll come across a photo of the two of them, and I'll post it.

Margie was as warm and fun loving as she looks in this picture. She and Dick gave me a lot of attention. They were a big part of my life when I was little. Dick was my first piano teacher. Margie was a Type I diabetic, and the muscles in her arms had begun to atrophy. Every night, my prayers included, " . . . and make Margie's arms better." She and Dick weren't able to have the children they wanted, but eventually she and Dick bought a house in New Jersey and adopted two school-age sisters. Soon after, complications from Margie's diabetes made it impossible for her to care for them, and they had to give the girls back. It was a hard decision. Margie didn't live long after that. I believe Dick stayed in touch with the girls, though. I'll see if I can find out the rest of that story.

Here's a coincidence . . . except, as you know, I don't believe in coincidence. I was studying this picture of Margie the other day, and thinking how good it was to bring her to life in my memory after all these years, and how I would introduce her to my friends online. Later in the day I drove to a meeting, an audio book playing in my car stereo. In the story, a man drives up to a house and notes that it looks very much like the house where he grew up, in Closter, New Jersey. Closter, New Jersey? I thought. Where have I heard of Closter, New Jersey? Then I remembered: When Margie and Dick left Queens, they moved to Closter. I hadn't heard of it since.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Barbara Joan

She was my first cousin, but so much older than I that I'm not even sure we ever met. I think we must have, and probably more than once, but I don't have a clear memory of it.

Would this be her First Communion picture? She looks too old, but it would explain the clothes. I'm not even sure what religion she was. Her grandmother was a Catholic convert, but only temporarily. Perhaps this took place during the Catholic phase.

I do know that her mother was a celebrated beauty, but unhappy—as celebrated beauties often are. And her father had money but little else. When I look at Barbara Joan's face in this picture, I wonder if she's looking into her future. She died when I was a child, of something that wasn't talked about. I have my suspicions, though. Let's just say if Roe v. Wade had taken place decades earlier, Barbara Joan might have lived past age 20.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Envisioning Success

For a brief time this year, I was a member of a group that formed to discuss and implement the Law of Attraction. One of our activities was to make vision boards. I had never heard of a vision board until then, but I was intrigued by the premise. A vision board is a visual representation of things you hope to accomplish, or things you hope will enter your life. I also love to cut and paste, so I brought that enthusiasm to the vision board project.

My board has a number of pictures on it: Smiling people gathered around a kitchen island represent the entertaining I want to do. A photo of a gorgeous stone fireplace reminds me that I have a gorgeous stone fireplace, and if I put forth some effort my house can have that same warm, welcoming look. A photo of my own dining table, perfectly clear (the table, not the photo, although the photo is clear, too), reminds me that if I put forth some effort (there's that word again) I can keep it that way, along with the rest of the house.

A picture of a Mercedes convertible represents the Mercedes I've wanted ever since I was 14. Another picture shows a 1996 Chevy Caprice. I want one of those, too. The picture of a woman wheeling a wheelbarrow overflowing with money needs no explanation. A photo of a hooked table mat I designed reminds me a) that I love rug hooking and shouldn't abandon it, and b) to finish projects that I start. And finally, a photo of my grandfather, an opera singer, reminds me to keep music in my life and use my voice occasionally.

On top of all this, I pasted some words: YOU CAN DO IT, SWEETHEART!!! This bit of encouragement dates back to the 1960s, when I tried water skiing for the first time. We had to use a deep-water start, and although my husband got up on the first try, I wasn't so lucky—or skilled. Over and over, I wiped out before I could stand up. Joe suggested we try again another time, but I didn't want to leave the water until I'd succeeded. As the sun got lower in the sky, a stranger on the shore called out in a strong New York accent, "You can do it, sweetheart!" I can hear him still.

That day, I did get up and ski before the sun set. These days, exactly what is it that Sweetheart is supposed to do? Keep a neater house. Invite friends over more. Write more. Get paid more for writing. Make more progress processing my dad's old photographs. (It's not on the vision board, but it needs to be done.) Hook rugs. Sing.

Yesterday, I found a strip of paper on the floor. I picked it up and read two words: YOU CAN. The vision board now reads, "DO IT, SWEETHEART!!!" I don't think this was accidental. I guess it's time for Sweetheart to Do It. Sometimes we need a cheering section, and sometimes we do better with a direct order.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Why Do I Like Indigo Bunting??

I just read Indigo Bunting's "Girl" post, and the earlier one that I missed the first time around, and realize that aside from some editing skills (hers more pronounced than mine) we have nothing in common.

For starters, I have an overabundance of maternal instinct. I gave birth to three children, and wish I had five. Or maybe seven. Seven is a nice number. I have two dogs and three cats, and that is minimal compared to how many we used to have.

I like makeup, and I love my hair. I sew and bake and hook rugs. I like to cook, especially for other people. I'm a passionate gardener. (I'm not a good housekeeper, but we don't talk about that.)

Thanks to being largely raised by a single dad, I have plenty of boy genes to go with my girl genes. I achieved fame in high school via my ability to throw perfect, long, spiral football passes. A little later, I lightened numerous wallets by betting that I could beat people (all guys) at bar shuffleboard. I played volleyball until my joints got too old to handle it. When I was young, I wanted to grow up to be a woman like Carole Lombard: equally at home in a flannel shirt and jeans or a slinky black gown.

Anyway, getting back to our friend IB, accessories don't do a thing for me. I do like jewelry, but necklaces are my hands-down favorite. I have only one watch. After all my gold and gemstone jewelry was stolen, I started collecting silver and natural stones—jasper, agate, fossils. One does not find these at estate sales. EBay is my store of choice.

I would never ever pay more than 40 bucks (on sale, on clearance, or online, but 40 bucks nevertheless) for a handbag. I cringe at the thought.

Yet, I enjoy IB's blog. A lot. I've always enjoyed it. And I'm always happy to see her comments on mine. Maybe people don't need common ground to like one another. Or maybe the common ground is broader—things like being smart, being funny, being kind. Indigo Bunting is all of these.

Now that I think about it, my beloved daughter Suzanne thinks she's nothing at all like me. I disagree with that assessment, but there are certain areas in which we have no overlap whatsoever. For instance, she skis. She went sky diving, and wouldn't mind doing it again. And probably right at this moment she's out riding around on a snowmobile. I have but one word for all these things: Oy.

Cheers, IB!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Would Be More Fun If . . .

. . . we didn't have to drive.

Here's the current weather bulletin for my area:

Snow Will Overspread The Region Between 7 PM And 10 PM This Evening. Snow... Moderate At Times Will Continue Past Midnight Before Mixing With And Changing To Sleet And Freezing Rain In The Pre Dawn Hours Of Wednesday.

I work from 4:00 to 9:00. So, if this forecast turns out to be accurate, I'll be undertaking the mountainous, winding, 45-minute (on a good day) drive home in the middle of it. It's not that I'm worried about deep snow; this storm doesn't sound like it's going to amount to a lot. But some of the slipperiest driving conditions I've experienced have involved a very small amount of wet snow. And then, of course, there's ice.

This is yet another reason why I wish I'd become a best-selling author. A reclusive best-selling author.

I wonder if J. D. Salinger was nervous about winter driving. And I wonder why the National Weather Service types its bulletins with initial caps.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Maybe Some Christmas Music . . .

. . . would remind me that there's more to life this month than working evenings and trying to get enough sleep.

With a fond nod to Quiet Stars, my old song blog, here are a few good ones.

Renee Fleming sings Panis Angelicus. (Don't let anyone tell you it's not a Christmas song.)

The White Christmas of my childhood.

All I Want For Christmas is You. Go, Mariah!

Diana Krall sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. No visuals with this one, but who needs them when you have sound like this?

The Priests rehearse O Holy Night

Herbie Hancock and Corinne Bailey Rae doing Joni Mitchell's River

Baby, It's Cold Outside, by James Taylor and Natalie Cole.

Please Come Home For Christmas. Bon Jovi and Cindy Crawford?? Good song, although I'll bet the video isn't his wife's favorite.

A very scaled-down version of Panis Angelicus, featuring Pavarotti and Sting. One can never have too much Panis Angelicus. In fact, you could say that when it comes to Panis, bigger is better.

Monday, December 08, 2008

One Good Cat Story . . .

(thank you, Helen) deserves another. Although I have many good cat stories of my own (stay tuned), this one comes from a friend in Florida—a woman, now in her eighties, who lives next door to the house that used to be my parents'.

Felicia and her late husband, Sam, took a car trip to Virginia a decade ago, stopping at a motel in North Carolina. On their way out to dinner that night, they came upon a cat walking down the street on his hind legs. He was emaciated, and covered with grease and dirt. He walked up to them as if he knew them—which, as it turned out, he probably did.

They bought some cat food on their way back to the motel, and fed him that night. The next morning they were back on the road, but they talked about him all the way to Virginia. Once they arrived, they called the motel in NC and asked the manager to feed the cat and keep him there. They would pick him up on the way home.

And that's what they did. Back in Florida, the cat—now named George—went directly to the vet. When he emerged with a clean bill of health and a clean coat, he grew into a gorgeous Persian.

Here's where the story gets fuzzy. Felicia said he grew into a gorgeous calico Persian. Calicos are females. Only females, as far as I know.

But I seem to remember that Nancy Drew had a girlfriend named George . . .

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Question: Delete or Not Delete?

The issue of hate ignorant mail discussed below raises the question of whether or not to delete obvious hate-mongering when it arrives in our Inbox.

I'm torn about this. On the one hand, my instinct for self-preservation urges me to delete. Deleting would keep my blood pressure on an even keel. I could probably say the same for my blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides, and thyroid hormones. Out of sight is out of mind. If I don't see their revolting diatribes, they're not sending them.

On the other other hand, my instinct for self-preservation urges me to read them. Even a quick skim through the lies and sickening illustrations may skew the results of my blood tests, but if I don't know about these things, how can I counter them? And if no one counters them, they will proliferate unchecked. If we never think about them, don't we become part of the problem?

So I read. And then I try to breathe.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Hate Ignorant Mail

Maybe it's because I didn't get enough sleep last night, but an email I received this morning thoroughly pissed me off. It was sent by a religious acquaintance to a slew of her religious friends (how I got on the list I've no idea), telling everyone not to buy the USPS's Eid stamp.

It comes complete with a long list of atrocities committed by Muslims, and says in part, "How ironic is this? They don't even believe in Christ, and they're getting their own Christmas stamp . . . " How stupid is that? It's not a Christmas stamp, it's an Eid stamp, you dumbass.

Worse, I think, is this part: "To use this stamp would be a slap in the face to all those AMERICANS who died at the hands of those whom this stamp honors."

So . . . if you believe this email, the USPS has created a stamp to honor terrorists.

Any hope of laughing this off was extinguished by her next email, which arrived two minutes later. This one was a Power Point presentation on remembering the Holocaust. I have strong feelings about the Holocaust and absolutely want it to be remembered--but not by sending around emails containing very large, extremely graphic photographs of the piles of the dead, along with "patriotic" propaganda.

Accompanying the photos was an old lie. The slide show contains the "information" that the United Kingdom has banned teaching about the Holocaust in schools to avoid offending Muslims. That story's been around for years. I sent her a link to the article on the subject, and to her credit she passed along the correction to everyone on her list.

Speaking of lists, I took her off my Christmas card list. Yeah, she got credit for making that correction, but it wasn't enough to justify mailing her a card. Although I might have felt differently if I'd had an Eid stamp to put on it.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Memorizing the Ordinary

I try to memorize the ordinary. A mother easily remembers the highs and lows of family life. A baby’s first smile, first steps…the bout with colic that lasted six weeks…we remember those things. We remember Scout awards, the Honor Roll, and—if she tells us—our daughter’s first crush. But in between the Christmases and the birthdays, the sprained ankles and the chicken pox, are long strings, year after year, of ordinary days filled with ordinary things.

On a February night in 1979 I sat nursing my four-month-old son. We were in the living room, the only ones awake in our old farmhouse. The clock struck midnight. I looked down at him. “He is your last baby,” I told myself. “Put this where you can find it again.”

I held my son in my left arm, cradling his head with my right hand. Snow fell outside. New milk trickled across my stomach. I felt the silk of his baby neck, and his soft hair under my lips as I kissed his head. I listened to him swallow.

Years later I resurrected that memory. The baby of the family, well fed for 17 years, was six feet tall and bench-pressing 200+ pounds. His language flew from high-tech to hard core. In his room, an amplifier was pushed to its limits, along with his siblings’ patience. Dual exhausts rumbled in the driveway.

But I’d taken a moment to impress forever an hour of infancy into my brain. That kiss on his head was as real to me as the grin I was lucky to get in passing 17 years later.

Today, in my quiet retirement from child-rearing, when the hum of the dishwasher and the gentle jingle of the dog’s collar are the only sounds I’m likely to hear on a fall evening in this old house, I close my eyes and listen hard for the sound of a vintage Camaro peeling into the driveway, and the thunderous bass of a massive, vibrating subwoofer.

I grew up in my father’s darkroom, relying on photographs to capture memories. And they often do. But when I look through the pictures I took of my children, it isn’t the lovely portraits that pull me back again and again. It’s the candids that caught them in mid-laugh or mid-leap—just doing whatever it is we do on an ordinary day…which often isn’t very much, but which can mean everything.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Circuitous Route to My Blog

A friend recently wrote on her blog, Women Over 50, about the search words people had used that brought them to her blog. She found some pretty sexy stuff, which I guess is what happens when you have the word "women" in the title of your blog. (You know how we are.)

I couldn't figure out how to bring up the blog stats for Sweet Rocket (do they exist?), so I took a look at my 40-words-a-day blog, Forty Thieves. Think about it: Forty. Thieves. What search terms would bring up the blog? Middle age crisis car? Safe-cracking instructions? Not exactly.

Here's a sampling:

Bath Fitter. A remarkable number of people clicked on my blog after searching for Bath Fitter. Apparently they weren't in a tearing hurry to get their bath fitted.

Forty Thieves Ali Baba. They must have been terribly disappointed.

She gets her kicks on Route. Any route will do?

Contractor from hell. Yup, I can sense the anger in those clicks.

Marjorie Holmes. How nice. I hope this reader was pleased with what I wrote about Marjorie.

1970s wardrobe. Well, he (she?) didn't find it on that click.

Very long nails. Hmmmm . . . . maybe this is the closest I got to sexy stuff.

Librarian from hell. How many people deal with them?

Lamaz instructor. First rule of giving birth: Learn to spell Lamaze.

Bath Fitter problem. Who knew my blog was going to become a haven for people with faulty bathtubs?

Mammography textbook. I hope this wasn't a DIY endeavor.

What is Lamaze instructor. Ah . . . a Jeopardy fan!

Jackie Kennedy. Harry Belafonte. Stavros. Who's Stavros?

Butches. Butches? What butches? I didn't write about butches. I don't think I wrote about butches. I hope I didn't write about butches.

The Forty Thieves gang in Harlem. More potential for disappointment.

Big boobs. I know—you're saying, "Isn't this sexy stuff??" No. It isn't.

Left the priesthood. Left the priesthood, and landed at my blog. Cool.

Bath Fitter salesman. Bath Fitter pitch. Bath Fitter quote. Enough said.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Intimidation as a Marketing Tool

Remember the scene in "Pretty Woman" where Julia Roberts is sneered at (and worse) by the Rodeo Drive sales clerks? I'm sure that sort of thing goes on all over the place. Scranton is far from Beverly Hills in many ways, but I got sneered at in a day spa last week.

You'll be relieved to know that I wasn't dressed in thigh-high patent leather boots and a mini-skirt, and my hair wasn't three feet long, and my eyelids weren't peacock blue from lashes to brow. (Come to think of it, neither were Julia's.) I was dressed in a style best described as Decent Casual, which in my book is one step above jeans. I wasn't dressed expensively, because I never dress expensively. But my jacket was from Lands' End, and if the clerk had been so rude as to pull the neck of my shirt out to read the label, she would have seen Jones New York. (There would be no need to tell her that I bought it at Salvation Army.)

More to the point than my clothes, I think, was my demeanor. I was smiling, friendly, happy to be at the spa, where a friend was treating me to a massage. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think a cheerful, polite customer (or non-customer) deserves a sneer.

The person doing the sneering was a not-terribly-attractive woman with ugly hair and a middle European accent. I assume the accent is what landed her the job. I see this a lot. Somehow Americans got the idea that foreign accents are classy and intimidating. Want to staff your sales force with people who sound like they know more than the customers do? Hire some Brits. Want to make your spa clients feel inferior, perhaps to encourage big tips? (We've all seen it: people whose self-image inflates in direct proportion to the size of the tips they leave.) Put a Russian at the front desk.

As the sneeree, I was more amused than anything else, especially when my friend showed up and I told her the story, complete with accent. We had a good laugh. But it made me realize something. Since I do accents pretty well, I could have given Ugly Hair's right back to her. Next time I will. And won't that be fun.

Friday, November 21, 2008

My mom in jewelry

Another portrait of my mother taken by my dad.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

NYC Apartment, c. 1940

This must have been my parents' first apartment. If so, it was on Barrow Street, in the Village. See the painting between the windows? It's a watercolor, rather monochromatic and very soft, and today it hangs in my bedroom. Long before I saw this photo, I decided it would look good between two of my tall windows.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Those Tricky Interview Questions

I had a job interview today. My daughter warned me to be prepared for tricky interview questions, so I spent last evening reading up on them. I was ready to tell my prospective employers what kind of a car I'd like to be (if I had to be a car), who my role model is, and how my friends would probably describe me. In addition, I was prepared to describe my finest accomplishment (besides my children, of course), demur when asked about my previous boss's faults, and deflect any concerns that I might be overqualified.

I got to do none of those things. The interview was straightforward. Everything related to the job, and everything made perfect sense. How disappointing!

In the process of doing my research, I ran across this list of undesirable qualities in a job applicant.

* Too self-assured
* Too aggressive
* Too domineering
* Critical of previous companies and superiors
* Non-enthusiastic
* Cold
* Badly dressed
* Non-eye contact
* Too much talking
* Being unprepared
* Being late for interviews

Let's see if we can provide some examples, shall we?

* Too self-assured
"I knew you'd give me an interview, you sucker."

* Too aggressive
"I hope you don't mind if I share your chair."

* Too domineering
"Why yes--I always wear thigh-high boots and carry a whip. Stand up when I talk to you!"

* Critical of previous companies and superiors
"My last boss? Pond scum, I tell you!"

* Non-enthusiastic
"I'm sorry. I didn't hear a word you said. I was thinking about lunch."

* Cold
"No, you may not call me Susan."

* Badly dressed
"If you were up on current fashion trends, you'd know that lots of people wear jammies to work. May I have my bunny slippers back now, please?"

* Non-eye contact
"Mmmmm . . . what?"

* Too much talking
". . . so when I realized I'd be interviewed here I called my girlfriend to see if she wanted to do some shopping afterward, but she had to go to Middletown to visit her son at college because he ran out of money—apparently he has a gambling problem, which we think he inherited from his deadbeat father, who was only active as a parent for three years before he took off with a dental hygienist--who works just down the road, by the way. Do you know Dr. Flatko?"

* Being unprepared
"Very nice to meet you, Mr. Rockwell . . . excuse me? You're not Mr. Rockwell? Oh, sorry . . . Mr. Anderson? Oops--not him either?"

* Being late for interviews
"I did it again, huh? Trust me, I always want to be on time, but stuff happens, ya know? I'm sure you've been late, right?"

Good luck to all my fellow job hunters.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gone, and Forgotten

I don't know how cemeteries work. That is, who takes care of them? Yesterday I set out to find an old cemetery in a remote location inaccessible by car. I hiked up a long, steep hill (a very long hill . . . so long that I went up backwards part of the way—or maybe that says more about my lack of conditioning than the length of the hill) and was rewarded with the sight you see above. Despite the tangles of bushes and sapling trees, the place had a stately quality common to most old cemeteries. And peace, of course.

I was sorry to see that so many stones had almost disappeared into the ground. They'd sunk so low that their tips were buried under grass and leaves. I kept tripping over them. I was also sad to see that the remaining gravestones were so overgrown. They were erected to honor the memories of people who were loved, by family members who probably never imagined that 100 years later visitors would have to fight their way through brambles to read the inscriptions.

But read them I did, at least the 21 stones that were readable. And I photographed them, and uploaded the pictures to the FindAGrave database. As I've said more than once on this blog—and many more times elsewhere—gotta love the Internet.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Great Day

I'm gonna miss wearing my Obama buttons. They sparked conversations with all sorts of strangers. Like the cashier at the redneck butcher shop who was turning 18 in a few days and who said he was so happy to be able to cast his first vote for Obama. And the psychologist at a nearby table in restaurant where a friend and I were having lunch, who said, "Excuse me . . . I just wanted to say how glad I am to see the two of you wearing those buttons so proudly." And the somewhat elderly Home Depot clerk who said if Sarah Palin found herself assuming the presidency she would "excuse herself." Uh-huh . . .

I had a bunch of them (the buttons, that is). There was my favorite, BLONDES FOR OBAMA. And the one that looked like an album cover, JAZZ FOR BARACK OBAMA, with his profile in blue. I was qualified to wear REPUBLICANS FOR OBAMA because, well, I'm still on the books. And then there was my extra-large purple MICHELLE OBAMA button.

I'll miss them. But I'm resisting the impulse to order one that says I TOLD YOU SO YES WE DID.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Just Beautiful

My beautiful daughter and her beautiful family have a beautiful new house on a beautiful lake. This is simply the best word I could think of.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Now You See It . . .

. . . now you don't.

I was vacuuming a little while ago when I spotted a wasp walking on the living room floor. I picked up a piece of paper—a photograph of Jennie and her family, actually (hi, Jennie!)—and held it on the floor near him so he would walk onto it, which he did. Then I stepped outside and blew on him, thinking he would drop and land on one of the foxglove plants. That's what wasps tend to do this time of year.

Instead, my breath launched him into the air. He flew from the porch, past the Winesap apple tree, and over the hydrangea. I stood there, marveling at the miracle of flight, no less miraculous in its natural state than in a Pan Am jumbo jet, and ever so much more appealing. Isn't that something, I thought.

He flew past the green-and-brown remains of the flower garden, heading . . . well, we'll never know where he was headed, because after he passed the flower beds he flew into a truck.

I hope my vacuuming is more successful.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

My Favorite Son

I know . . . he's my only son. But on his birthday he deserves favorite status.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Little More Fiction

“Here we go,” Tanya said. “How about him? He walks with a certain air of confidence.”

My sister Tanya and I were making our way from the supermarket to our car, our hands full of groceries in ecologically-correct fabric bags. “Him” was pushing a cart ahead of us, just out of hearing. His walk did, in fact, border on swagger. His shoulders were broad in a grey tweed jacket, and I liked his hair. But . . .

“He has tiny feet,” I said.

Tanya leaned her head to the left. “Oh, yeah. They are tiny. We don’t like tiny feet.”

“Not on men, anyway,” I said. “Maybe we should loosen up a little on our criteria.”

“Mmmm . . . We do have a rather long list.”

“But every item is important,” I said. “Like the car.”

“The car is definitely important.”

I watched the man in the grey jacket head toward a group of cars not far from ours. “Oooh . . . oooh . . .” I poked Tanya. “If he gets into that S550, I’m gonna flag him down and tell him he has cute feet.”

“I’ll be right behind you,” Tanya said.

The guy stopped his cart one car short of the Mercedes and used his key to unlock the trunk of a large white sedan.

“Oh, crap,” Tanya said. “The Crown Vic.”

“With rust,” I said.

“With rust,” Tanya echoed.

Our pace slowed as we approached my car. “Another one down,” I said.

“How many is that now?” Tanya asked.

“I dunno . . . I’ve lost count.”

“Me, too.”

“Do you suppose we should start over?” I said, unlocking the trunk and placing groceries inside.

“Like making that guy number one?”

“Well, we could,” I said, opening the driver’s side door. “Or we could make the next guy number one. After we take a look at our criteria and maybe do a little updating.”

We both got in the car. “Yeah,” Tanya said. “A little updating sounds like a plan.”

And with that I started the engine of our late aunt’s 1988 Ford Festiva, and we drove away.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Little Fiction

I've started writing some flash fiction from a daily prompt on a writers' website. This morning's prompt was an unspeakable act.

On the Couch

Joy wasn’t somebody who made things up. I know this because she had been coming to me for years, ever since her husband, a Rock Hudson kind of guy with no effeminate traits to give him away, had left her for the male nurse who had been given the task of shaving him before his appendectomy.

Totally shocked, like so many wives in these cases, Joy needed someone to help her process this. Her sister, whom I had helped after her experience with large-group hypnosis had resulted in a weight gain and craving for cigarettes, recommended me. And so Joy became a regular occupant of my couch—sitting on it, of course, not lying down. Only one of my clients has ever chosen to lie on it, and that only lasted until he suggested that I join him.

So here she was on an ordinary Tuesday morning, sun streaming in the window behind her, telling me something that with anyone else would surely sound made up. It began in a normal enough fashion.

“I want to talk about something I experienced last night,” she said.

“Did you go out?” I asked.

“No, no . . . this happened in bed.”

“You were with someone?” I asked, surprised.

“No!” she practically shouted. And then in a calmer voice, “No, just let me explain. I have to figure out how to say this.”

I sat there in the silence, hoping she wasn’t going to tell me she’d just discovered masturbation at age 42.

She began again. “I wasn’t asleep yet, but I wasn’t quite awake.”

I wondered if I was allowed to talk now. I took a chance. “The hypnagogic state,” I said.

“Right, that’s it,” she said. “I forgot the term.”

She was quiet for another moment.

“Okay,” she said, “so I was lying there listening to the summer night sounds, feeling close to sleep, when I started hearing things.”

She paused, and I figured she was waiting for the obvious question. So I asked it. “What kind of things?”

“People’s voices,” she said. “Little snatches of conversation. As though I’d overheard them during the day without realizing it, and now they were playing back to me.”

“Do you think you did overhear them?”

“If I did, it wasn’t yesterday,” she said. “I was home all day because the kids had off from school. Anyway, I just lay there, listening to these voices—male and female, none of them familiar to me—and then I saw something.”

I waited, and then asked the obvious again: “What did you see?”

“That’s my point,” she said without impatience. “I don’t know what I saw.”

“Were your eyes open?”

“No, my eyes were closed. It was a vision. Or a snapshot of a dream.”

“Okay. Well, what can you tell me about it? What did it look like?”

“That’s the problem, Vera,” Joy said. “I can’t tell you a thing. You know how people have near-death experiences and come back to life and say they have no words to describe what they saw? And you think, ‘Don’t be silly . . . we have all the words for shape and height and color and everything else.’ And still they say they have no words to describe their experience? Well, that’s what I’m telling you about last night. I saw something, something that scared me. But I have no words to describe it. No words at all.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

October, From 120 Feet Up

My son climbed to the top of his 12-story ham radio tower this weekend and took pictures of fall foliage. This isn't our barn (ours isn't nearly as pretty), but I love the shot.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Someone Else's List

I found a list in an old book I bought at the library sale last week. A shopping list, I realize, is a rather intimate look into someone's life and thoughts. From now on I'll be more careful about where mine end up. Here's the list:

Go to Chinatown, it begins. Who puts “go to Chinatown” on a shopping list? That’s like saying, “Get a job.” Or “Try skydiving.” But maybe “go to Chinatown” is a navigational directive. Try saying it in a GPS voice: “Go tooo Chynatown.” Could be it’s like something on a Monopoly board. Go to Chinatown. Do not collect $200.

Call Rhode Island Historical Society. When? After we get to Chinatown? And what do I say when they answer?

Get Av. Fisher Tkts. TeKanawa and PDQ Bach. Well, that narrows the year down somewhat. Avery Fisher Hall got its name in 1973. Before that it was Philharmonic Hall. So this isn’t a terribly old list. Just an unusual one. (I, too, love Kiri Te Kanawa and Peter Schickele.)

Order Garden of Heavenly Delights. This could be anything. A work of music. A film. A selection of pastries from an uptown bakery.

Library: Lulu, MG, read new MG book. I’m not sure about Lulu, but I’m curious about MG. Who might s/he be? Any ideas?

Listen to F. von St. records. Frederica Von Stade, I assume. I liked her, too. Great voice, great face. I wonder if she still records. Probably not.

Check out Arne’s Love in a Village. I had to Google this one. “Love in a Village” is a play, but who is Arne? A cast member, perhaps? A friend of the list maker’s?

Check out Church Windows by Respighi. Uh-oh…..if she (or he) is checking out a piece of music, s/he probably means check it out of the library. That makes Arne, above, all the more mysterious.

Check out The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Another Google. It’s music. By Janacek.

Check out Berlioz Les Muits de Ete. More good taste in music.

Get new shoes at Capizio. Well, that settles the gender issue. Or does it??

See Places in the Heart. Okay, we’ve narrowed the year down to 1984. Twenty-four years ago.

Go to CDSS. Is this like, “Go to Chinatown”? What is CDSS? Did CVS used to be called CDSS? I don’t think so. CDSS . . . CDSS . . . Chinese Dim Sum Soupery? Probably not.

African Art at 3 places. Oh, fine. Tell us African art is here, but don’t tell us where it is. You’ll notice she didn’t say “Go to” African art at 3 places. Even the most intrepid list-maker eventually gets tired.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Reading in the Car With Annie

Late this afternoon I went outside to close the car trunk, and found myself drawn to the interior. Said interior was even messier than usual, with the dog's comforter still draped over the passenger seat. But the sun had disappeared behind thick clouds, and the wind was picking up, and the dog comforter looked cozy.

I opened the door and got in. I was right; the car was warm inside, and once I shut the door I was insulated from all sorts of things, including the shocking financial statement that had arrived in today's mail.

I picked up the book on the front seat and started reading. David Sedaris. I saw Annie moseying down the path from the house, and I opened the door for her. She jumped in without hesitation, and went right into rub-face-on-everything-especially-the-book mode. My laughter went back and forth from Annie to Sedaris. Eventually, she settled down on the dashboard.

We didn't stay long, but it was a pleasant interlude.......Annie, me, and David Sedaris in the cozy car, apples occasionally falling on the roof.

Monday, October 06, 2008

For Gillian (1975 - 2001)

The horses are gone now
What memories they leave
Whippoorwill Aurora: the first light
Streaks of gold in the barnyard

What memories they leave
The Whippoorwill Morgans
Streaks of gold in the barnyard
Bays glistening in late-day sun

The Whippoorwill Morgans:
Such strength, such heart
Bays glistening in late-day sun
Everything my daughter wanted

Such strength, such heart
In a lovely young girl
Everything I wanted for her
And the woman she became.

In a lovely young girl’s dream,
Her Morgans carried her,
And the woman she became,
Above fear, above pain.

Her Morgans carried her far.
What memories they leave
Above fear, above pain
The horses, gone now.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Cat Caper

This really made me laugh. I’ve been wondering where Pogo sleeps in the afternoon. He hasn’t been in his basket, and I haven’t seen him on the living room chair. Then yesterday I bent down to straighten out the dog bed by the fireplace, and found that it suddenly weighed a ton. Pogo had gotten inside it! The bed isn’t sewn together; I fastened it with Velcro. Somehow he opened it up and got in. Such an enterprising cat!

Just now when I went into the living room to turn on the light, I saw the dog bed moving. I’m glad I already knew why.

Friday, September 26, 2008

"Three Days at Yale" is online

A small bright spot in this difficult week was notification from Yankee magazine that my essay, "Three Days at Yale," chosen months ago to launch their new website feature, "Memories of New England," is finally online. You can find it here. No pressure. :-)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thank you.

Terry didn't make it. I learned in childhood how life can turn on a dime, but it's still hard to grasp sometimes.

When I saw her last month we were planning our annual fall lunch on the Delaware River. Here we are (Terry on the right) at last year's.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cats and Coloration

A friend asked me today if I've ever had an orange cat. She said she's found orange cats to be the most eccentric and "human" of all the cat colors. This is a topic for more than one column, but here's a start:

I had two orange cats in childhood and one more recently. Jingles was a Persian who died from a miscalculation made when she jumped onto a table and missed, hitting the edge and injuring her organs. Rusty was an orange tabby and my dear companion. We gave him away after my mother died. (That really shouldn’t have had to happen, but that’s another story.) Fortunately, he found a good home.

And then there was Grimmy, a semi-longhair who was chosen at the shelter by my daughter Gillian, who said he had a face like a lion. She named him after the cartoon character in "Mother Goose and Grimm." (Yup, we knew Grimm was a dog.) Grimmy was shy with strangers (like many orange cats, I’m told) and quite sensitive to our emotions. He was as soft as down, and very sweet.

I think there are big differences in cat coloration and personality. The ones who have seemed most “human” to me are the blacks. I’m particularly drawn to them, and to black & whites. One of the most remarkable cats we ever had was part black & white and part Siamese. Morgan was deeply connected to us, and his personality was unforgettable. If I ever see another like him, he’s coming home with me.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Anybody Have an Answer (or Two)?

I was subjected to TV political ads while sitting in a waiting room today, and the McCain ad running over and over claims that:

He battled Republicans and reformed Washington. She battled Republicans and reformed Alaska.

Huh?? When did McCain reform Washington? And if Washington is reformed, why is he now promising to change it?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

German Translation -- Ja, Right!

A gravestone I photographed yesterday had a German inscription on it. Because the stone was over 100 years old, it was difficult to read. I copied it down as best I could and asked a German lady online to translate it. It was lovely:

Here rests in peace
My beloved husband
Poem by his
Mourning wife

The woman who translated it said some of the German spellings were off, no doubt an error in copying.

Somebody suggested I try Babelfish. I've had less-than-perfect results from Babelfish, and once again it didn’t disappoint. Here’s Babelfish's version:


Have you ever read anything quite so touching?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Head-Spinning Medical Dialogue

I have an appointment for a nuclear stress test on Friday.

I asked the stress test appointment taker why I couldn't eat something before the test. "It’s because of the test," she said.

"I know, but why do they require me to fast before the test?"

"It’s the test preparation."

"I know, but why?"

"Because it’s part of the test preparation."

"I'm afraid you’re not answering my question. WHY is it part of the test preparation?"

"Because you’re getting an injection. When people get injections, they can’t eat."

This must be the same woman who told me there are two kinds of diabetes, the high blood sugar kind and the low blood sugar kind.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Harry's Photographs

Brace yourselves . . . I've started to scan and process my father's photographic work. What a wonderful continuum: Harry's daughter working on his images. I'm having such fun with this. He developed his own film and made his own prints, so when I scan a negative and get it on my monitor screen (and invert it to a positive), I see what he saw in his darkroom. I love this.

At first I thought I wouldn't do anything with pictures of people I don't recognize. But some of them are interesting in an historical sense—the way they dressed in the 1940s, the look of their surroundings—and some are funny. Of those, some are intentionally funny, like this one.

My dad like to set up humorous or dramatic scenes once in a while. At the piano is my family's lifelong friend, Dick Dubè. His drunken fan probably wasn't drunk (although you never know). I'm not sure who she was, but she played her part well. Click on the image for a closer look.

I may start a new blog for these photographs. Or maybe I'll just post them occasionally here.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Politics and Peace of Mind

I'm beginning to think the two are mutually exclusive. As I wrote to MM tonight, I had more peace of mind four years ago when I disliked both presidential candidates and didn't care who said what about either of them.

In the years before that, I usually liked one candidate well enough to vote for him, but I lost whatever party allegiance I had a long time ago, and I never felt excited. This year I'm excited.

When we're excited about something we tend to talk about it. In doing so, I've discovered that some of my friends and relatives—even ones I thought were particularly intelligent and well-informed—are complete idiots. Politics is like that. Now I understand why the subjects of politics and religion are verboten at dinner parties.

I hope when the elections are over my friend and relatives go back to being intelligent and well-informed. And I hope I go back to talking and thinking about other things. Benign things like losing weight and cleaning closets.

Meanwhile, I've discovered the coolest Web site. I'm gonna go order myself some Obama buttons.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Their wedding set the standard for all weddings to come—and all the weddings that came paled in comparison. It was big, it was elegant, it was happy. It was fun!

I remember the dancing (I danced a lot), I remember the food, and I remember my cousin Barry taking me for a ride in his European sports car. My dad took lots of pictures. He drove home in not the best condition to be driving anywhere. But this was before MADD, at a time when no one talked about drunk driving, or seemed to think about it much. And I was too young to drink, and too young to drive.

Fifty years later, I attended the 50th anniversary of the wedding. This time a DJ provided the music, not two bands. My cousin Larry wasn't there, and his sports car undoubtedly turned to rust a long time ago. My favorite dance partner from the wedding, my cousin Jennie's husband, died young. The Best Man is gone now, too. This time I didn't dance at all.

But the country-club setting was gorgeous, and among the 100 guests were many members of the wedding party. The food was Lucullan. I took lots of pictures. On my completely sober drive home, the GPS (borrowed from my son) steered me into a parking lot.

With all their friends and relatives surrounding them, the bride and groom danced with their granddaughters and with each other. Everyone was happy.

It was fun.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What Boomers Talk About, Part II

My dear friend Lisa and I had one of our marathon phone calls the other day, and one of the things we talked about was the delusions of our youth—specifically when we were young mothers. "My children will always be well-behaved," we said back then. We also said, "My children will never fight with their siblings" and "My children will sail through their teenage years without a problem."

This ranks right up there with "I'll never get arthritis."

Monday, August 25, 2008

What Boomers Talk About

The drummer at the jazz club was giving me directions to his next gig, and we started talking about a couple of cemeteries that were on the way. The bass player came by and asked if we were discussing a local restaurant. I said, "No, we're talking about cemeteries. It's the next topic of conversation after we finish talking about our colons."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Sky Yesterday

It was like this everywhere I went. Of course, I didn't go very far. These two pictures were taken 17 miles apart.

But it looks like fall, doesn't it? Nevertheless, I hope our fall is late and our spring early.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Mink Coat

Okay, first I'll confess that I bought a fur coat for myself once. I was 23 or 24, and I bought the coat at Saks Fifth Avenue or Bonwit Teller, I forget which. It wasn't mink; it was rabbit. But rabbit in a beautiful design, made in Greece. My in-laws were horrified that I had chosen such a lowly fur, and called from Bermuda to say so. But I loved it. I felt gorgeous and glamorous in it.

A few years later we had a country house and I learned about animal rights and animal activism. I could no longer bring myelf to wear fur. I had what I now know was the dumb idea of donating the coat to the local Humane Society for fundraising. The president of the Humane Society bought it for $20. Great.

In 1985 my mother-in-law died. She left her two newer fur coats to her daughter, and I inherited her mink. It was blonde mink and very lush. I wore it once. I had made plans with a British friend to attend a Christmas Eve caroling church service together, and when she showed up in a fur coat I thought, what the hell, and put on Mom's. I must say the two of us looked very prosperous.

After that I lost track of the coat. We hung it somewhere for safe keeping, but over the years I forgot where that was. I never thought about it, so it didn't matter. Just recently a friend spoke about the mink coat she inherited from her mother. I said, "I have my mother-in-law's, but I have no idea where it is."

Then this week my son decided to clean out an area of the barn we once used for storage. It hadn't received any attention in some time, and had sustained rodent damage. There was also way too much moisture in that room, my son said. "Some of the stuff was really gross," he told me, "and the worst was the coat." The coat? What coat? "A fur coat," he said, "covered with mold." He'd put it directly in the trash.

It's hard to imagine moldy mink. But it's also hard to imagine innocent animals being clubbed to death so women can look prosperous. One might think the image of Mom's coat thick with mold would make me feel sad for her. But if Mom is where I think she is—in a place where she now knows everything—she's planning to buy polar fleece in her next life.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I spoke with the second vet, the one who thought the first vet's diagnosis was wrong. She got the results of Princeton's blood work (read by a pathologist), and apparently the first vet was right. Princeton had lymphoma, in this case a cancer of the bone marrow, and he would have died of it no matter what medicines we did or didn't give him. So I guess I can stop wishing I'd done some other things differently, and envision him as Suzanne described to me: in happy kitty heaven right now, back to his old prince tony self.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Princeton is gone.

In 1996 I was in my parents' house on Princeton Road in Florida, taking apart their household after they died, when my daughter Gillian called to say she had found the perfect cat for me. One might say I didn't need a cat, since we already had quite a few. But Mystic, the lovely longhaired black & white cat I had nursed back to health after finding her, desperately ill, hiding in an abandoned washing machine, had drowned in our swimming pool a couple of years earlier, and Jill knew how traumatic that event had been for me. She decided I needed another longhaired cat in my life.

He was one of many kittens born in a horse barn where Jill took riding lessons. My daughter Suzanne drove up and got him, which must have taken some effort because he was fearful in the way of all feral kittens and not at all used to humans. He spent his first two weeks at home in my room, getting used to me. It forged a bond that will never be broken.

We called him Prince Tony as well as Princeton, and he answered to both. If I encountered him unexpectedly I'd say, "Prince Tony! My baby!" and he always responded with one of his original sounds. Princeton could be a handful, but when Jill heard me greet him that way she knew I was happy that she had brought us together.

The picture on top was taken recently, after he had lost a lot of weight and wasn't feeling well. The second photo is from his youth. He was a big cat with a magnificent coat. He was quite vocal, and would usually speak when spoken to. In recent months he would call my name (at least that's what I think he said) several times a night. I would rouse myself from sleep just enough to raise my hand, and he would put his face into it. I would pet his head, and then he'd go back to sleep.

This spring, when he was 12, he became very sick. The vet thought he had non-viral leukemia, and treated him for that. He got better with antibiotics and worse (I think) with prednisone. Last week another vet offered a different diagnosis: acute massive infection. She sent his blood to a pathologist, and I'll find out on Monday if they learned anything from it. She also ordered a strong antibiotic from a compounding pharmacy, but it didn't get here when we thought it would, and by this morning it was all too late.

He went through so much, and I wish I could take it all back because in the end it did nothing for him. If I had a second chance, I would handle his illness differently. But we rarely get second chances. I saw Jill's car twice on the way home from the vet's this morning—same model, same color, not so common anymore—and took it as a sign, though not a very dramatic one, that he was with her now. In any case, I know he is. I just wish he were with me. Prince Tony. My baby.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Cat Yawn

Yeah, I know it's out of focus. Way out of focus. But you see, Annie was at my feet in the garden, lying on wonderful weed-suppressing cardboard, when she looked up at me. And I looked down at her. And then she yawned. No time to focus.

Maybe this is a picture only a veterinary dentist would love. Or Annie's mother.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Short Photo Essay

House Wrens nested in this pottery birdhouse for years and years. Then they disappeared about ten years ago, and I put the birdhouse away. I happened upon it this spring and impulsively hung it back up. Within days, I heard the familiar (and wonderful) trill of a House Wren. So loud for such a small bird! Surely these were not the same ones who nested hear all those years ago. But something about this birdhouse obviously appeals to House Wrens.

The other day a papa (or mama) Wren sat in the Blue Spruce scolded me (over and over) for sitting on the porch and interrupting his mission: to feed the babies. I did get up and leave, but not before taking one more picture.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

'Tis the Season

'Tis the season to be outside with my camera every day, several times a day, starting after I walk the dogs in the morning, before the dew disappears. Love those photo ops of summer!!

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Who knew they looked like Darth Vader? And what's with the dent in his back?? (Click for a closer look.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

My Rube Goldberg Pole Beans

If you're old enough to know who Rube Goldberg was, when you see this picture you'll know why I used his name.

This year I planted a few vegetables on a dirt terrace along the side of my house. I chose it because it's off the deer's beaten path. When I said I wanted to grow Kentucky Wonder pole beans, my son offered to put up poles and fencing. But it turned out there wasn't enough room for poles and fencing plus squash plants.

So I devised the . . . um . . . interesting setup seen here. I hammered a piece of rebar into the ground and tied a circular tomato cage to it. Then I partially nested another cage into the first and tied that one down as well (using strips of cloth). Because the cages weren't close enough to the ground to snag the young plants, I tied on lengths of string so that they would hang down.

This caused some major head-shaking among people who saw it, but the beans climbed the string, and then the cages. All was well until last week, when a t-storm caused the beans and their support to pivot and list to starboard. I counteracted this by running string from the beans into my kitchen, going through the window and tying it to an iron pipe. That resulted in perfectly straight beans until yesterday morning, when I found that another t-storm had moved them once again. The string to the kitchen was now slack because they were listing to port.

So I ran another string out to my son's ham radio tower. I'll tell him to think of my green sisal as guy wires. To prevent us from walking into them at neck level, I hung strips of cloth. Contrary to what you might think, these white strips are not an attempt on my part to surrender to the beans.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Not-So-Fine Art of Texting

I hadn't texted in a while, but when my granddaughter sent me a message a few months ago I figured I knew how to reply. It's like riding a bicycle, right?

Not exactly. Imagine learning how to ride a bicycle and then trying to apply those skills to a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. What I didn't know was that my new cell phone had T9 text messaging. For those who don't know (and I still barely know it myself), T9 anticipates what you want to say and says it without requiring a lot of keying on your part. People under 18 love it. People between 18 and 25 probably love it, too. Some people between the ages of 25 and 45 probably think it's pretty cool at least some of the time. And then there are the rest of us.

Anyway, my granddaughter texted me to ask when I was going to pick her up. I don't remember the exact wording of my intended answer, but I do remember that it came out Demo nonononono. I thought I'd screwed it up, so I erased it and tried again. This time was worse: nnnon dfkawe lelamslelfn nonon. I know when to quit, so I hit send.

A minute later came my granddaughter's reply: You really need to work on this, Grammy.

I pretty much forgot about texting until today, when I received another message from my granddaughter: Is it hot out today? Let's see if you've improved any.

Still completely clueless about T9 (and any number of other things), I sat in my car in the Staples parking lot with the intention of slowly and carefully composing a reply. What I ended up with was Bacon cab cannon? It even put the question mark in for me. I sent it, and then I rolled up the window and laughed myself silly.

My 17-year-old texter par excellance wasted no time replying: Awesome! Just as I thought. Hahahahahah I love you.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Craigslist Shoppers Must Be a Sickly Bunch

Yes, Craigslist shoppers must indeed be in frail health.

The latest indication came when I listed a grain mill for sale for the second time. A woman emailed, saying she was interested in it and giving the name of her town. I emailed back, saying I would be driving through her town in a couple of days. No response. A couple of days later I emailed again: I'll be coming through your town around 7:00 p.m. Are you still interested in the grain mill? No response. This morning I received a brief emailed apology, saying she was sick.

The first time I listed the grain mill, another woman was strongly interested in buying it, but she, too, dropped out of email sight for a while, and then reappeared to say she was sick.

The man who wanted to meet me in another town to buy my lab glassware was unable to do it after all because he came down with something.

And then there was the couple who wanted directions to the property I was selling. They never showed up, but I found out later that they'd gotten sick together.

I picture these people reclining on their chaise longues, pale faced, weak, longing to mingle in the world of people who walk around and buy things. Kind of like Mimi in La Boheme. With a laptop.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Statin Drugs for 8-Year-Olds????

When I heard this on the news I was appalled. Healthy children, even overweight children with high cholesterol, do not have heart attacks. Why give them drugs in childhood to prevent something that the children themselves can prevent when they grow up? And their parents, rather than administering pills like mindless characters in a sci-fi book, should give their children a healthy lifestyle from the start.

Like every other drug out there, statins are not without side effects. I know several people (adults in their 50s and 60s) who had to come off them. They hope the damage done to their livers and muscles wasn't permanent. Damage done to a young, developing body would add a whole new level of worry.

Both sides of my family have a strong history of diabetes and fatal heart attacks. I watched my dad give up smoking and change his diet, reversing the heart disease that crippled him in his forties, and live to be ninety. I have to be strict about my own diet. I would never permit my child to be medicated in this way. Nor would I be crazy about the idea of having my two-year-olds tested.

We are an over-medicated, over-diagnosed society. Sadly, a large segment of the population seems to be content with this situation.

From the New York Times, here's what I'm talking about:

AMERICAN pediatricians are recommending wider cholesterol screening for children and more aggressive use of cholesterol-lowering drugs, starting as early as the age of eight, in hopes of preventing adult heart problems.

New guidelines issued yesterday by the American Academy of Pediatrics also call for children to be given low-fat milk after 12 months of age. The recommendations are certain to fuel a continuing debate about the use of prescription drugs in children and about the best approaches to ward off heart disease in adults.

But proponents say evidence is growing that the first signs of heart disease show up in childhood, and with 30% of US children overweight or obese, many doctors fear a rash of early-onset heart attacks and diabetes.

The academy estimates that 30 to 60% of children with high cholesterol are being missed under screening guidelines. For some children, cholesterol-lowering drugs, called statins, may be their best hope of lowering their risk of early heart attack, proponents say.

"We are in an epidemic," said Dr Jatinder Bhatia, a member of the academy's nutrition committee, which is making the recommendation, and professor and chief of neonatology at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. "The risk of giving statins at a lower age is less than the benefit."

Dr Bhatia said that while there is not "a whole lot" of data, research shows cholesterol-lowering drugs are safe for children. Surprisingly, the paper in the journal Pediatrics that explains the guidelines notes that average total cholesterol levels in children, as well as LDL and HDL cholesterol, have remained stable, while triglyceride levels have dropped, based on data from 1988 to 2000.

The recommendations call for cholesterol screening of children and adolescents, starting as early as two and no later than 10, if they come from families with a history of high cholesterol or heart attacks before the age of 55 for men and 65 for women.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Up at 4:00 a.m.

I was mistaken . . . we didn't get in the car at 6:00 a.m. to go to the hamfest. We set out at 5:15. I set the alarm for 4:00 and got up on time, but I still didn't have everything done by 5:15. The important stuff was finished, though: The sandwiches were packed and the directions were printed out.

We lucked out on the weather. Just sunny skies; none of the rain that was forecast. My son sold some stuff and bought some stuff, all ham related. In my trip around the grounds I found a pair of needle-hosed pliers ($3), a pair of olive drab Army issue wool mittens with a trigger grip ($1), and a wonderful multi-level piece of play equipment for cats—just perfect for J & L's two new kittens. The guy was asking $8 for it, but I got it for $6. I brought it back to our tailgate, where two people (including a three-year-old boy) tried to buy it from us. I hope Oscar and Emmy like it as well as humans seem to.

My son also bought me an adjustable wrench. And I was this close to buying (for $1) a VHS edition of "Hillary and Jackie." Fortunately, I remembered in time that I own the DVD. Surprising what you can find at a hamfest.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

It's Hamfest Time!!!

It may sound like a midwest pork event, but a hamfest has nothing to do with food. Hamfests are big (sometimes giant) flea markets for ham radio operators. As you can see by the photo above (taken this weekend in a tent), my son is a ham. I am his devoted companion on our annual treks to the hamfests. We have two to attend in July, and I'm really looking forward to them even though it means getting in the car at 6:00 a.m.

I'll be put in charge of selling while my son checks out the buying opportunities. Sometimes he buys to buy, and sometimes he buys to sell. And sometimes he ends up selling what he bought to buy. It's very complicated.

It's also a lot of fun, even for people like me who don't understand a word of the science behind amateur radio. Invariably, a few tables will be set up with items designed to attract spouses (or loyal mothers): usually used books and DVDs. I've also bought some interesting little tools at hamfests, and one of my all-time favorite flashlights.

I should also mention that hamfests are my excuse to eat bread. The food served at these events is usually not anything I'd want to eat, so I pack our own: egg salad sandwiches, sliced chicken sandwiches with mayo and southwestern mustard, red grapes.

Ah, bread. Just for hamfest day, I will not think about carbs and the scale. Is it any wonder I look forward to it?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Haircut from Hell

No, I'm not going to show it to you.

It's my own damn fault. I wasn't 100% happy with my last haircut (I admit I'm never 100% happy with my haircuts) so I was vulnerable when a friend told me about S. S was wonderful, she said. S was beyond wonderful. People came from all over to experience her wonderfulness. In fact, they traveled so far that she had to situate her salon near the Interstate. I had to put myself in S's hands. I wouldn't regret it.

Regret is too mild a term for what I feel. I suspect S has more than a touch of sadism in her makeup. And maybe those people who arrive via the Interstate have more than little masochism in theirs.

Okay, here's my haircut: Imagine Julie Andrews (I appreciate her charm, but hate her hair) crossed with Queen Elizabeth (I admire her . . . um . . . stamina, but hate her hair). And imagine that this person has always had her hair cut in an institutional setting. By a student. A student who is attempting to pass the course yet one more time after seven failures. A student who is in a bad mood because of this and because an outbreak of her genital herpes coincides with her third date with the cute guy who works in Laundry.

Just imagine that.

It's been five days and the urge to smash all my mirrors is just beginning to subside. And that only because I'm wearing a baseball cap.

Monday, June 23, 2008

My Garden in June

I feel the first stirrings of gardening energy in April. It peaks in May and June, begins to dissipate in July, further deteriorates in August, and by September all I can do is laugh at the articles that talk about all the fall cleanup I'm supposed to be doing. I'm beginning to see that the amount of energy I have for the garden corresponds directly to its appearance. Most perennials are at their best in May and June. The later bloomers shine in July and part of August, but by the end of summer the garden is generally looking kind of rusty—and my joints feel about the same way around that time.

The rose Abbaye de Cluny, photographed this morning, is at the top. Pink roses seem to dominate the second photo. I'm always surprised at how my pictures of this flower bed never ever look as good as it does in person. I suppose it's good that you can't see the couple of tomatoes growing in containers that I tucked in there. In another month lavender zinnias should be making a show.

In the third picture you can see my 15-year-old blue delphinium, some foxglove, a couple of spent iris, phlox waiting for mid-summer, and anchusa. What you can't see are five roses (four of them planted this year), monarda, shasta daisies, lupines, lots of iris that need to be divided, and way too much archangel.

I can't claim that I have toned arms, but thanks to gardening I have biceps that I didn't have last winter. And I think my garden has muscle, too.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I Barked at a Deer Yesterday

(Obviously, not the deer in the photo. No snow on the ground yesterday. At least not that I noticed.)

When our collie-shepherd, Caroline, was alive, we never saw deer near the house. Caroline had only three legs (thanks to an overzealous hunter) and no inclination whatsoever to chase deer, but evidently deer didn't know that. They kept a respectful distance, which was a real boon for our garden.

However, Caroline has been gone for several years now, and it didn't take the deer long to move on in. Yesterday I looked out the kitchen window and saw a large buck taking his lunch break at my plum tree. Munch, munch . . . I watched the baby plums disappear and thought about the roses, hosta, phlox, and sunflowers not far away.

Remembering the deer's response to Caroline, I opened up the back door and barked. It was a great bark—deep, aggressive, and nasty.

Nothing happened.

I took a deep breath and barked again—louder, longer, meaner.

This time I got his attention. He stopped eating and turned to face me.

And then he lifted his leg.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Inside a Delphinium

Those of you familiar with delphiniums (delphinia?) know that these individual flowers, each about 1" wide or less, grow on a tall spike. The overall effect is gorgeous, but so are the little blossoms by themselves. The center part is called the bee. And yes, the blue really is iridescent.

I'm so glad the delphinium survived yesterday's hailstorm. The rose pictured below didn't fare so well.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Everything's Coming Up Roses

Since Crystal said there were lots of flower pics on my blog, I thought I'd better post another one fast. Actually, there are lots, but they're buried in the blog in various places.

Suddenly, my yard is filled with the scent and sight of roses. Here's Prairie Princess, bred by the late Dr. Griffith Buck of Iowa. His mission was to produce beautiful, fragrant roses that would withstand harsh winters. He succeed beautifully.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

If you told me this was silk . . .

I'd believe you.

Iris Perfect Pitch in bud yesterday.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I'm off to see the wizard......

The wizard in this case is an orthopedic surgeon. Would you believe I'm having surgery—real, operating-room, anesthesia-required, fasting-beforehand surgery—because a careless move in the garden resulted in the tip of a rose thorn getting embedded in the back of my hand?

My regular doctor sent me to the orthopedist because the little invader (the thorn, not the physician) is sitting on a nerve and a tendon. I thought he (the orthopedist, not my regular doctor) would whip out a scalpel and maybe a little needle for a little Novocaine, but no, he said the operating room was necessary.

In the meantime, I got another tiny thorn tip stuck in the end of my index finger, same hand. Yes, I've been good about wearing gloves, but one cannot pluck caterpillars off rose bushes with anything other than a bare (and sometimes bleeding) hand. (See caterpillar above and note thorns!) I figure by the time I arrive for the surgery on Tuesday I'll have three or four more.

A busy surgeon is a happy surgeon.

If I've learned anything from Grey's Anatomy, it is that.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Long and Short of It

I learned shorthand when I was 19. I'm not 19 anymore. (Or even 20.) Back then they taught the Pitman method. Today Pitman is obsolete. Come to think of it, the more "modern" Gregg method is probably obsolete, too. Is shorthand even taught anymore?

Anyway, I haven't had much occasion to use shorthand over the years, even when working as a reporter. My little Olympus recorder, all of four inches long, hears everything I need to remember. But I had just barely started interviewing a woman the other day when my little Olympus recorder began blinking strange messages at me. Oblivious to my plight, the woman proceeded with her monologue as if nothing had happened. I had to recall some shorthand in a hurry.

I'm not sure how to grade my effort. I have to conclude that when using shorthand for the first time in decades, one must choose between speed and accuracy. Since my monologuette was rattling off facts without pausing for breath, I chose speed.

I covered a lot of notebook pages with the squiggles I learned at the Mary Byers School. But I discovered that translating them into a newspaper article presented a bit of a challenge. Do you have any idea what Presses for put good my you means?

Or how about this: Local man for all about direct up.

And my favorite: Getting to it some full I like thing there it.

I'm thinking of using one of these as a direct quote. I may have lost my ability to take notes in shorthand, but it's good to know I haven't lost my sense of mischief.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I Win! (a poem)

I Win!

I eat a grapefruit every day.
So does Martha Stewart.

I have blonde hair.
So does Martha Stewart.

I have dogs and cats.
So does Martha Stewart.

I grow flowers and vegetables.
So does Martha Stewart.

Martha Stewart married a Yalie.
So did I.

Martha Stewart needs a new hairdo.
So do I.

Martha Stewart is post-menopausal.
So am I.

Martha Stewart has a net worth of $638,000,000.
I have a granddaughter.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Insane Day, Weatherwise

It was hard to believe the date when I took the dogs out this morning. The air temperature was 41º with a wind chill in the 30s. The wind was fierce, and it felt for all the world like fall. I fully expected to see leaves blown off the trees, not apple blossom petals.

The sun came out, encouraging me to try to do some digging. With my Raynaud's Syndrome, I avoid working outside when it's this cold. But I'm expecting five rose bushes to arrive very soon, and I need five deep holes to plant them in. So I tucked a disposable body warmer into my waistband, put on a pair of gloves, pulled a fleece top over my long-sleeved shirt, and ventured out.

I got one hole mostly dug and came inside for a bit. I was gathering up trash when I heard a crack and a CRASH. I went outside to see what had happened, but discovered first that it was pouring rain. I quickly pushed my wheelbarrow under cover in the garage and then took a peek down the road. A huge tree—which turned out out to be two trees—had come down across the road. It was now impassable.

I called the Township Supervisors to come deal with the trees, and by then we were having a hailstorm. I looked out at the dime-sized balls of ice bouncing all over the deck, and thought, It's the 19th of May, for heaven's sake!

The hailstorm ended and the sun came out. It was a tossup what I needed to do first, dig or mow. I needed to mow (badly), but the grass was wet from the storm. I decided I'd mow as soon as the wind dried the grass. I got back to digging. About three shovelsful later, the sun disappeared and rain came down. I rushed the wheelbarrow back to the garage.

It was like that all afternoon. No exaggeration. Sun comes out. I put my gloves back on and retrieve the wheelbarrow. Digging commences. Rain starts. Get the wheelbarrow under cover. Rush back to the house. Start a chore. Sun comes out. I put my gloves back on. And so it went for hours. I don't know how many times that pattern was repeated. At 5:30 I gave up and put the wheelbarrow in the shed.

I have one-and-a-half holes dug. The grass, having spent most of the day sucking up rain, is growing.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Lusty Month of May

I remember Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere, singing this song in "Camelot." Easy for her, with her flowing skirts, flowing hair, and full-to-bursting breasts. Not to mention her Maypole. Do you know anyone who has a Maypole? Think of what AC Moore would charge for all those ribbons. Or maybe they're available cheap on eBay. But Guinevere didn't have to worry about such things. Queens just demand ribbons, and they appear—borne on a pillow carried by a lustful knight.

The month of May traditionally finds me in the garden. What man in his right mind would lust at the sight of me digging in the dirt in my grubbiest of grubbies with black-rimmed nails, stringy hair, and face smeared with sunscreen? I am breathing hard, but only because the weeds are stronger than I. As for my passion, it is soaking in a five-gallon bucket, awaiting the planting that will take place as soon as I finish digging a big enough hole.

But judging from the activity my son saw yesterday in the woods, and the noises we heard last evening, May is indeed a lusty month if you happen to be a turkey. Or a duck.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

So Much For Quitting My Rose Addiction

I thought at the very least I could take a year off from acquiring any more roses. I need to take better care of some of the ones I already have. I need to win a few wars with the weeds. I need to improve the soil. I need to work on the inside of my house!

But Saturday afternoon I opened up a thread on the Rose Forum about a Chamblee's order. And I read the stellar comments about Chamblee's. And I read someone's request for their website. So I gave her a link. And then I went to the website myself. And I saw all those wonderful Buck roses. And I remembered that last year I wanted to get more Bucks. And I thought about things like age and arthritis, and how it would be smart to put more roses in while I am still able to dig big holes (at least I hope I can still dig them), and how I want to plant as much as possible now so I can enjoy them sooner rather than later. And I thought about the fact that the next day was Mother's Day.

So I bought myself a Mother's Day gift: Quietness, Earth Song, and Aunt Honey.

Chamblee's prices were good, but the shipping cost more than the roses. That wasn't the case, however, with the Home Depot Website Sale, which I heard about on Tuesday. A selection of roses were half-price with FREE shipping! I ask you, how could I possibly resist??

I ordered two yellow roses: Sunsprite, a very fragrant floribunda everyone RAVES about, even gardeners in northern zones, and Strike It Rich, a new (2007) grandiflora, also very fragrant. This one grows tall and looks super vigorous. Whether it will look that way in my garden is anybody's guess, but at that price I'm more than willing to give it a shot.

I figure I deserve them because I've been a good mother. Most of the time. I think. At least my intentions were the best.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Look what my closeup lens spied!

He measured about 1.25" including his tail. So sweet! I love the skinny little "arms." These guys start out as tadpoles (aquatic), then grow to this Red Eft stage, living on land for two to three years before turning into a brownish aquatic form again. They live a long life—12 to 15 years. Jill and I always loved to see their soft little orange forms appear at the roadside in spring.

Again, click on the photo to see the larger size.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Who Knew Dandelions Were So Exotic?

Click on the photo to enlarge for more detail!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Don't Quote Me

The other day I read a newspaper article that quoted a friend of mine. The quote made it sound as though he didn't know where he lived. I couldn't believe my friend could have said something so stupid, so I asked him about it. No, he hadn't said anything even remotely like that. But there it was, between a pair of solid, reassuring quotation marks.

I used to see this all the time when I covered meetings alongside a reporter who was making a lot more money than I. She would sit there, playing solitaire on her laptop, and the next day file a story with quotes that bore no relationship to reality. As a reporter, it pissed me off. As a reader (and occasional reporter), it still does.

Back in the 1970s my husband's chemical company had an explosion. The press descended upon us. One article had me pointing to some white stuff on the ground and announcing it was hydrogen. Huh? Never happened. Never came close to happening.

Can we assume that the Big Guns of journalism don't do this? Can we trust the major newspapers (and, of course, the gazillion websites that are hustling to get the news to us instantly) to print accurate quotes and accurate everything else? Or should we question everything we read . . . even this?

Friday, May 02, 2008

For Rose People Only

Anyone else would be bored silly.

It wasn't a good winter for roses. I knew this (ice, thaw, ice, thaw, ice, more ice), but still I was unprepared for the number of dead canes I had to prune away. Some of the roses have very little left to them, and trying to create some shape isn't even a possibility. (Well, it isn't helped by the fact that I'm a rather unskilled pruner.)

For those concerned with hardiness, here's the rundown. Bear in mind that winter protection is a four-letter word at my house.

Scarlet Meidiland
They look good, actually, except for the one I planted last year, which has disappeared entirely.

I thought Robusta would live up to its name again this year, but I had to cut away about half the bush. What remains looks a tad spidery at the moment, but I expect that will change as it leafs out more.

Knock Out
Or is it Knockout? In either case, it always looks weird to me, as though it isn't sure whether to thrive or migrate south. No change from last year. Or the years before.

Roseraie de l'Hay
Sadly, this huge, indestructible rugosa was no match for the snowplow a few years ago, and will probably never fully recover. This spring I had to cut away about a third of what was left, which doesn't leave much.

The Rock Garden Roses
The fact that I've forgotten their names should tell you something about their performance. Let me think . . . oh, yeah, White Meidiland (the oldest and most reliable of the bunch), Baby Blanket (a shade of pink the exact color of a baby's blanket, when they appear, which isn't often), and Carefree Marvel, which is neither. In fairness, I don't think their lack of vigor is their fault. I blame the chipmunks, which dig tunnels under the rock garden, and I blame the weeds, which rock gardens specialize in, and I blame me. In the garden, it always comes down to the gardener.

The Rose Below the Rock Garden
This one has always been nameless. I acquired it 30 years ago from an old woman who grew up with it. She didn't know the name either. It's not a bush; it's a mass of skinny canes about 2-3 feet tall, blooming once a year with vivid red buds and loose semi-double dark pink blooms. I'm fond of it. The canes appear to propagate underground, with runners. I don't think the winter bothered it at all.

The Walmart Mistake
I have no idea what this is. It was supposed to be Sir Thomas Lipton, to replace the one I lost after many years. But it most definitely is not. It looks like a rose cane. Its leaves look like rose leaves. But so far, after three years, it still has not produced a rose. Maybe its out-of-the-way spot is to blame. On the other hand, its out-of-the-way spot is probably the reason why I haven't tossed it. People have this experience with Walmart (and other big stores) all the time. They aren't exactly my main rose supplier, but sometimes you can find great deals there (see Wildberry Breeze and Lady Elsie May, below) and sometimes I'm tempted by the adventure of the unknown.

Crimson Sky
This was new to me last year. In fact, it was new to everybody last year, having been introduced in 2007. I got it on sale at the end of the season, paying $3.99 or some other ridiculous amount. Good thing, too, because I'm not at all sure it's going to survive in my climate. The canes died back all the way. Two thick red shoots are showing from the base, and I just hope they're from Crimson Sky and not the rootstock. One good thing is that it's a climber. It may never get to climbing height in my zone, but if it grows well enough to produce some of its lush red blooms every year I'll be happy.

Gertrude Jekyll
I was shocked to see how much damage this rose suffered this year. My Gertie is well over 20 years old, and has survived the rollercoaster of my gardening life, waiting patiently for me in the weeds during the years when I could do nothing for her or any other plant. But she was hit hard this winter. Lot of plant left, though, so I'm not too worried.

Gertrude Jekyll No. 2
I think of this one as a male, though I have no idea why. I liked Gertie No. 1 so much that I acquired a second one a few years ago. No. 2 is a great deal shorter, at least so far, but equally good at producing pink roses in a form that's perfection and a scent that's beyond perfection. It suffered some winter kill, but not too much.

A stronger rosearian would have "shovel pruned" this Canadian Explorer rose years ago. "Puny" is a good word for its performance in my garden. But then in fall, when everything is long finished, it produces a second flush of startlingly red roses, and I know I'll never dig up the plant. Right now it's so small that it's hard to tell if it has any winter damage.

Dart's Dash
Not my favorite name for a rose, but what a wonderful shrub! A small rugosa with heavenly-scented blooms, it came through the winter with no damage whatsoever.

Blanc Double de Coubert
Planted last year, and apparently unfazed by northern winters.

Prairie Princess
A Griffith Buck rose that went crazy last year, producing one gangly way-too-long cane. Most of the cane seems to have survived winter, but it didn't survive my pruning shears, which cut it by more than half.

Cherries 'n' Cream
Another rose that should have been shovel pruned. The flowers are pretty, but their much-touted scent is nonexistent in my garden. And the plant is so spidery and unattractive. But it's the most expensive rose I ever bought (how dumb is that?). I don't know how well it survived the winter because I haven't looked yet.

Henry Nevard
Completely gone. Again, I blame the gardener, who dug it up by mistake last year.

Lady Elsie May
I was tempted to buy this floribunda a few years ago because my Aunt Elsie was the best gardener I've ever known, even if her middle name wasn't May. It was a good purchase. Love the color! Her original site proved to be too shady, so I moved it last year. It seems to be okay. Not too many dead canes.

Carefree Beauty
Another Buck rose. This one stunned me last year with its vigor and gorgeous blooms, and all indications are that it will do the same this year.

Distant Drums
Yet another Buck. Died to the ground this winter. A shoot or two is emerging, so we'll see. Its blooms are so extraordinary; I hope it survives, but I'm not overly optimistic.

The Nameless Buck Roses
Well, they do have names; I just don't remember what they are. They seem to be doing so-so in my garden.

Belinda's Dream
Died over the winter after being moved last year. :-(

Angel Face
Also gone. This was probably my fourth or fifth attempt to grow this gorgeous lavender rose that smells like raspberries. I'm not tempted to try again.

Betty Prior
Gone as well. My second attempt on this one, mostly because I can hear my late mother-in-law's voice saying, "Nothing outblooms a Betty Prior!"

Sharifa Asma
Barely surviving. I probably should give up on David Austin roses, but the pictures on his website and in his catalogs are soooo seductive! Plus Gertie is an Austin, and look how well she's done.

Wildberry Breeze
Can you think of a worse name for a rose? Maybe "Bat Droppings." Wildberry Breeze sounds like a wine cooler or a room deodorizer. But what a lovely little rugosa it is! No winter damage at all, and a mass of wonderfully scented, single blooms to look forward to. Maybe I should stick to rugosas.

William Baffin
I'm in love. I planted this guy last year, too late to see any blooms, but I have the feeling I'll be in for a treat this year. No winter damage at all.

John Cabot
I was pleasantly surprised to find this Canadian Explorer climber at the Farmer's Market last year. I didn't think I had a place for it, but of course I bought it anyway. Then I thought of the tall garden gate that Joe made many years ago. It's still in place, though no longer serving as a gate to anything. It will be beautiful covered in roses. And, from the looks of the plant after its first winter here, that may well happen.

Abraham Darby
Another Austin. Growing nicely for me (although not as large as I'd like) until this year, when it took quite a winter hit. I'm prepared to give Abe some TLC as he's one beautiful rose.

Abbaye de Cluny (pictured above)
This was a pure impulse buy, and not cheap. I think divine intervention was involved. I don't know if it was all that divine a decision for Abbaye, as she lost all her canes over the winter. I actually dug the plant up last week, but replanted when I saw shoots emerging. It seems to be doing okay. Again, TLC more than worth it. Can you imagine that this rose smells as good as it looks?

If you'd like to see or read about any of these roses, Rose HelpMeFind is a great resource.