Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Forgiveness Deferred

Dad in 1960

Phil and I got engaged at Christmas, 52 years ago. I was 21; Phil, 22. When Phil told my father that we wanted to get married, tears sprang up in my dad's eyes.

This reaction took me by surprise. Ours was never an easy relationship. I moved back in with him and my new stepmother when I was nine. I didn't like it when he drank.  He insisted that the few drinks  he had each day were not the problem. It was I who was the problem. One night, after he'd had more than a few, he told me he would have been far happier without a family. No worries, no demands. Just freedom to do as he pleased. 

I never bought the idea that his drinking was my fault. The town was awash in booze. Everyone drank. All the time. The adults in my parents' crowd didn't have that much time for their kids. They worked hard and went to parties or to the club on weekends. Kids were expected to go to school, get passable grades and stay out of trouble. Parents didn't want the police or untimely babies showing up at the house.

Dad was a respected lawyer and civic leader in our small town. People liked him. He was kind. One summer I filled in for his vacationing secretary. He had me type some overdue bills. He saw a bill for $40.00 on my desk.  "Don't bother sending this one, " he said, "I know they can't pay it." I loved him for that. 

He had a goofy sense of humor. When telling a joke, he'd often start laughing before he got to the punchline. Then there were the wild and silly games of "Mechanical Man" we played when he first married Mom. In our house, living room, dining room and kitchen formed a circle. Shrieking with laughter, Mom and I would dash through the house, trying to escape the clutches of the Mechanical Man who'd come after us, hands stretched out in front, humming and marching slowly and relentlessly. One time Mom and I slammed the door between the dining room and kitchen and raced into the living room. We could still hear him grinding away, but what was keeping him? We sneaked up from behind and found him stalled at the slammed door, marching in place and humming. As soon as he heard us, he executed a smart 180-degree turn and the chase was on.

So there's that. He could be warm and funny one day and cold and distant the next. The distance between us widened as I grew older. 

After Christmas break, Phil and I got on the train to go back to school. We left my dad standing on snowy platform. As the train pulled out, Phil said, "He really loves you, you know." 

And I loved him, but I never had another chance to tell him.  Before a month had passed, he died in a plane crash.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Gem from Last Year's Christmas Letter

Part of the fun of sending Christmas cards is re-reading last year's Christmas letters. Our friend, Bill, wrote about the Thanksgiving of 2012:

"I need to tell you about Thanksgiving Day this year. J (their daughter) always prepares the turkey. She was up and got the turkey in the oven and was feeling great about how things were going, so decided to set the table. She put a cloth on the table and eight dinner plates from the set she inherited from her Grandmother Eicholtz. As she walked away from the table, the cat came running past and jumped on the table. The cat missed, but caught onto the table cloth and pulled all the dishes to the floor, breaking all eight plates. Although it was a discontinued pattern, J was able to find the plates and has replaced all eight broken plates. And yes, the cat is still alive! "

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Way Too Much Information

Yesterday I had cataract surgery on the other eye at an out-patient surgical center. I was sedated, but conscious during the surgery. The first time, the topic between surgeon and anesthesiologist was football. I tuned them out. This time, the anesthesiologist was a chatty young extrovert who appeared to be 15 years old. As soon as we were in the operating room, he engaged the surgeon in conversation. I gathered that this was his first time working with the surgeon. Hoping, I guess, to get on his good side, he said, “It seems to me that being an eye surgeon has to be the most stressful of all the different kinds of surgery. You have to do this delicate work under this big magnifying glass.”  

“Yeah, well,” replied the surgeon. “It’s not that difficult, unless there’s a misadventure.”

The youngster went on, “I know what you mean. I am always anxious about administering epidurals. You have to do it at just the right moment, and if something slips . . .”   

I don’t remember saying anything, but the nurse later told me that I spoke up. I probably said, “I don’t want to hear this.” So the young man introduced a new topic. This time is was about people with Aspergers: how brilliant some of them are and how absolutely focused this one guy was, whom the anesthesiologist knew personally. Again, I couldn’t help paying attention, wondering where he was going with this topic. I listened attentively for a put-down, which never came. 

Back in the recovery room, I told the nurse that I thought the topics were inappropriate. I must have made the surgical center staff a little anxious, because the next thing I knew, the anesthesiologist was at my bedside, apologizing profusely for “upsetting” me. Like many males would have done, he hinted that perhaps I was too sensitive. Fortunately, he went no further in that direction!  I was more annoyed than anything else.  Medical personnel shouldn’t assume that the patient isn’t listening and taking it all in. In the pre-op talk, he’d even said that I would hear them talking and that I might or might not remember what was said. Well, I remembered. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Teller of Tall Tales

Our grandson has told some tall tales in his day.  Last Halloween, his teacher sent his parents a note: "This may be none of my business, but I think you should know that Andrew's been telling me that he can bring dead animals back to life by shocking them with electricity."  We didn't know what to think! Then we remembered that Andrew had been entranced with TV ads for the movie, Frankenweenie. He could hardly wait to see the movie that weekend with his parents. After his mom explained this to his teacher, the specter of ghoulish experimentation was laid to rest. 

This wasn't his first tall tale. In kindergarten, he told his class that his father worked at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, where he entertained the crowds by putting on a wet suit and swimming around in the big pool feeding the stingrays and nurse sharks.  The teacher checked out the story with his dad, just to make sure.

In first grade, his teacher asked him one morning why he was so sleepy. He volunteered that he had gone night-fishing with his grandfather. They didn't get home until midnight. Again, he must have been fairly convincing.

"You mean to tell me that your parents allowed your grandfather to take you fishing on a school night?"

"Yeah, Mom said it was OK."

"This is ridiculous! No wonder you're so tired. What was your mother thinking?"

Andrew probably shrugged. The teacher calmed down after she learned the truth.  Andrew told these two fish tales at his old school.  Soon the teachers probably got immune to his stories. Last year, he changed schools. New school, new opportunities for story-telling. He managed to stir things up. Just once. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

New Scam

From my guest blogger, the "Tree Hugger":

I got a phone call moments ago from "Windows support" saying they had 
noticed malicious software being down-loaded into my computer.

It was a woman with a foreign accent. I asked for a phone number where I could phone them back. She did give me an 800 number.

When I said, "Gee, that's funny. We don't have a Windows operating system," she hung up immediately. 

I looked up the 800 number she had given me. It apparently belongs to a Christian bookstore in Vancouver, British Columbia. It's probably not the number she was calling from. 

I'm hoping this note may spare someone from falling for a gimmick like this.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Do the Amish Celebrate Halloween?

Do the Amish celebrate Halloween? While individual Amish people do not dress up in costumes for Halloween or otherwise celebrate, several groups in Holmes and Knox Counties, Ohio, dress their horses up as cows for Halloween. These horses are on the way to the barn where they will be given apples and carrots to celebrate Halloween. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

At the Doctor's Office

I was reading the Washington Post in the waiting room when an extroverted oldster came in, pushing a walker. He more or less collapsed into a nearby chair. "How are you, Little Lady?" he boomed. "Just fine, thanks," I replied, turning my attention back to the paper.

 As soon as he was settled, he pushed a small, brown book my way. "Here's a free bible." 

 "No, thanks," I said. "I have one at home."

 "Well, this one you can take with you wherever you go."

 I came up with a lame excuse. "I have trouble with small print." 

 "Looks like you're having no trouble reading the small print in that newspaper," he cackled. He had me there. I returned to my reading. Picking up a copy of Travel and Leisure Magazine, he announced to everyone, "I got plenty of leisure, but I can't travel."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Reason I Jump

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with AutismThe Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Autism is a mystery. As the mother of an autistic child told me, "If you've seen one autistic child, you've seen ONE." Each is different. Although I read this book in the hopes of understanding our mildly autistic grandson better, it didn't help that much. At first glance, our grandson looks "neurotypical." However, his autism made kindergarten and the first three grades hell for him. Finally, his parents found a nearby public school with a program for autistic kids. He's doing better, but would rather play Minecraft all day every day than do his schoolwork. Naoki Higashida's autism bears little resemblance to our grandson's. For one thing, Naoki likes to write. He is, according to the book jacket, the author of several works of fiction and nonfiction. Still, both boys share a few traits. Hypersensitivity to sound is one. Zoning out is another. When I used to take our grandson to Occupational Therapy appointments, I'd see autistic kids who continually flapped their hands and made weird noises. I marveled at the way their mothers calmly tolerated all this. Had I read Naoki's book then, I would have gained some insight into the sensory problems that were driving the kids.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Year of the Snake

Yesterday our younger daughter called to say she'd found a "garter" snake in their bedroom. It had come in through an air vent. She e-mailed a picture to help her dad, or someone, identify it. Meanwhile the snake disappeared down the vent again. They were almost happy when he later reappeared in  the bedroom, because they didn't like to imagine him trapped in the vent. Tom captured the little guy and released him in the woods, where they hope he will be happy.  And stay. 

A naturalist we know in Knox County, OH thought he was a juvenile eastern ratsnake. They are notorious for getting into people's homes, she said.

Clarence, the elderly cat who lives full time in the bedroom, ignored the intruder. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


This Town: two parties and a funeral--plus, plenty of valet parking!--in America's gilded capitalThis Town: two parties and a funeral--plus, plenty of valet parking!--in America's gilded capital by Mark Leibovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I worked for the federal government for 25 years. One day we were told we were getting a new branch chief. Her introductory e-mail expressed her supposed joy at getting a chance to work with such a group of "dedicated professionals". A day later she sent another e-mail. She wouldn't be coming after all. Overnight, apparently, she'd received a better offer, or, as she termed it,  "another chance to excel."  Her attitude seems to typify what passes for "public service" amongst the operators in Washington these days. A government career is seen as a stepping stone to something bigger and better. The book was fast-paced, fun and annoying. Chief annoyance: no index. Leibovich excuses this omission on the grounds that it would make Washington's "players"  buy the book instead of picking it up at a bookstore, searching the index for their names, reading what the author says about them and replacing the book on the shelf. However, readers outside the Beltway need an index to keep track of the cast of characters. For instance, "Gibbs" is mentioned in the early pages. He is not identified as one of Obama's key advisers until later. Another annoyance is the gratuitous vulgarity. The worst example is at the bottom of page 329, where Leibovich uses an off-color high-schoolism to describe a casual conversation among a Representative and three Senators, one of which was MD's Ben Cardin. Totally uncalled for. (I would have been able to cite the page number sooner if I'd been able to look up Cardin in the index.)

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Strange Gift

This is a dog from the fifties. 

Mom's sister-in-law, Aunt MaryBelle, was known for sending weird gifts. For Christmas in 1952, she sent this ceramic dachshund to my dad. Mom and I puzzled over it for days. We finally decided it had to be a planter. But why would Aunt MaryBelle send my dad a planter?  He didn't know an African violet from a philodendron. 

Mom couldn't just hide the dog in the closet, because Uncle Cliff and Aunt MaryBelle visited several times a year.  So she gamely stuck a couple houseplants in it and displayed it prominently on the dining-room window sill with her other plants. When Aunt MaryBelle finally saw it, she laughed. This dog was intended for my dad's dresser, she explained. He was supposed to hang his rings on its tail, put his watch around its neck, and use the baskets for his keys and wallet.

Mom removed the plants and Dad pretended to use it for awhile. Then it quietly found its way to the closet. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Quirky Cabin

Our cabin in Knox County, OH has a few quirks. This is because we weren't around much during its construction. Things happened. Such as the installation of two totally out-of-reach electrical outlets.

See what I mean?

The cabin was built by an Amish man and his crew. Although the Amish electrician had no electricity in his own house, he made sure we had plenty of outlets in the cabin.  There's even an outlet inside a kitchen cabinet. Now that I can understand. But this? Apparently he took it upon himself to install a couple of spare outlets while the scaffolding was up. When we asked about them, he said, "Well, I thought you'd need them for Christmas lights." Guess it didn't occur to him that the scaffold would be long gone by then. 

About a month ago, my sister and her husband were staying at the cabin. The builder's crew--all Amish, of course-- came back one day to power-wash the exterior. Margaret and Russ were sweeping fireplace ashes into the chute, when part of the lid disappeared down the chute. They called us. We suggested they ask Roman, the foreman, about how to retrieve it.

Russ approached one of the men.  "Is Roman here?"
"Well, can I get in touch with him?"

He turned away. Russ heard him mutter, as if this should have been obvious, "He don't have a cell phone."

Monday, July 29, 2013

What Were We Waiting For?

Six years ago, after our Instamatic died, the Tree Hugger and I received a "Kodak Easy Share Zoom Digital Camera" for Christmas from our children. Procrastinators that we are, we never got around to trying it out until March 10, 2008, when we were en route to the Greater Baltimore Medical Center for the birth of our second grandson. Opening the box in the car, I found that we now had a camera with multiple buttons, a dial showing tiny pictures and the letters P, A, S and M, a lens that extended itself without being asked, a shiny circle with "OK" in the middle of it, surrounded by 4 arrows, and a window with mysterious symbols along the edge. This was no Instamatic. Thoroughly intimidated, I returned the camera to its box. We left it in the car when we got to the hospital.

The baby is now 5. We tried taking a few pictures in the years since his birth. Most turned out all right, because we used the camera only in its "Point-and-Shoot" mode.Yesterday, I finally said, "Enough." I sat down with the camera in one hand and the booklet in the other. I soon found out that the camera comes with an "optical zoom," allowing you to take close-ups merely by pressing the telephoto button. Our backyard Joe Pye Weed was full of butterflies, so I went out and took about a dozen pictures. Although most were no good, I came back in with one  "keeper"  and 15 mosquito bites. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Didn't It Rain, Children!

Ohio Haiku

Rainy nights and days
A green corn-forest so dense
Deer can hide in there.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Driven by Distraction

After my accident, I  said to myself, "I am not mad at you, but I am disappointed in you." I felt scared, sad and ashamed. I don't even like to think about it, much less talk about it, but I want to tell my story if it will keep even one person from making the same stupid mistake.

I wasn't really driving. I was parking our 2010 Subaru Forester outside my grandson's house. I should have put the car in "Park" and had the key in hand before I reached for a book on the floor of the passenger side. 

Then I noticed that the car was still inching forward. When I saw that the curbside mailbox was about to shear off the side mirror, I stepped on the brake. Only it wasn't the brake. The car shot forward, demolishing the mailbox, crashing through a 5-foot-tall magnolia, climbing the front steps of the house next door and coming to rest in the foyer.

The house has been vacant over a year. If there was ever a silver lining in the cloud of foreclosure, this has to be it.  The former owner used to run a daycare center in this house.

The accident happened on June 17th. The front axle is broken.  The hood and front doors got scratched and dented, and I got a scratch on my wrist. The body shop said 20 days, but I don't know if that's calendar days or business days. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013


This is Roscoe, our younger daughter's new dog. He's spending the night with us while his family is away.

Our extended family lost three dogs over the past ten months. The first was Sophie, who belonged to our younger daughter Becky, her husband, Tom and their son, Nate.  Sophie died unexpectedly in October. The second was Violet, who belonged to our older daughter Margaret, her husband, Michael and their son, Andrew. She died in November at age 15.  Last to go was Ramsey, who died in May. He also belonged to Becky, but lived with us, as I explained in an earlier post.

All this dying raised questions for five-year-old Nate. He's been asking his parents if people die too. His mother and father have been trying to explain.

The other day he announced, "I don't want to live to be 100."
"Why not?" his mother asked, surprised.
"It's too old. I don't want to be that old. How old was Grandma Dott?"
"She was 99."
"Well, that's too old."

Since Nate was just a baby when she died, he must have picked up the idea of "too old" from listening to what we adults have been saying whenever we talk about Grandma Dott's last few years.

Recently, Nate listened as his mother read a book to him in which objects fall overboard and sink. He asked, "Do people sink when they fall overboard?"

"Well, no, " his mother said. "People can swim."

Nate was silent for a moment as he remembered a frightening wave that swept over him and his mother last year at the beach. "The wave came and we went down. Another wave came and we went up. I was scared."

"Yes, I know you were."

"You made a mistake," he said sternly.  This wasn't the first time he'd told her that she'd made a mistake by taking him into the ocean that day.

"Yes, I know."

"I  am not mad at you, but I am disappointed in you," he said.

She laughed. This is something she and Tom would never say to him, so it's an expression he's picked it up somewhere else. Sounds like early 21st-century ParentSpeak to me.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Farewell to Our Darling

July 4, 1999-May 11, 2013
Ramsey always propped his head on the armrest of "his" chair

This is a letter to God from our daughter, Becky, about Ramsey. Although Ramsey belonged to Becky, he's been living with us since our grandson was born, five years ago. The tiny house already contained husband and wife, two large dogs and two cats when Nate arrived. By the time they moved to a larger house, Ramsey had developed arthritis. The steps were difficult for him, so he continued to live with us.

Dear God,

Yesterday afternoon, you may have noticed Ramsey Chase Fowler, a creature of uncommon beauty, as he passed through your gates (which we hope are not electric – he doesn’t do well with electric gates). Violet Rice, Sophie Fowler, and Arlo Chase, among others, would have been there to greet him.

If you missed Ramsey for some reason, I hope you will go look for him today. I promise you it will be worth it! You may be especially interested in his uncanny knack for bringing out the very best in people. Anyway, here are some tips on how to find him…

First of all, Ramsey will be as far as possible from any Arabbers* you might have with you, so don’t start there.

If you see a circle of angels, half kneeling, oooh-ing and ahh-ing, check to see what’s at the center. It’s probably Ramsey, his soft fur, velvety ears, and soulful gaze just discovered by adoring new companions.

You should also check for him in the kitchen, if you have something like that there, or beneath the dining room table. His love for us was nearly matched by his love for snacks. And as you’ll probably come to appreciate, Ramsey is a sublimely patient dog. He will wait as long as it takes.

Do you have any comfortable old chairs there, with wide seats and low armrests and yummy upholstery? If so, it’s a safe bet Ramsey will soon find his favorite among them. And from that point forward, it will be much, much easier to locate him at any given moment.

And finally, having come fully into his own before he left us, Ramsey may even be where the children play. With them, his sublime patience served again, slowly replacing his fear of their quick movements and high-pitched voices with gentle love.

Good luck in your search and know that if you see that a pillow is missing from your couch, you’re hot on his trail. And when you find our Ramsey, please make sure he knows how much we love him and will miss him. Most important, please, please let him on your lap and enjoy him, fulfilling his heart’s simple desire, for all eternity. Please take care of our Ramsey for us!

Thank you and Amen,

p.s. Also, if it’s not against the rules there, he’d love a good game of “pull” every now and then. 

*"Arabbers" are men who sell fresh produce on the streets of Baltimore from horse-drawn carts. Ramsey would get nervous if he encountered an arabber during a daytime walk, but the mere glimpse of the silhouette of a distant cart after sundown unhinged him. He would hightail it back to their rowhouse, dragging his mistress by his leash, as if they were being  pursued by a pack of wolves. 

Ramsey was either all or part pit-bull. Opinions varied. When he moved from Baltimore to Prince George's County, MD, where owning a pitbull is illegal, he was transformed into a "terrier mix" overnight. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Day of "Making Nice" and ARGO

Yesterday I was at church from early morning until late afternoon. Our brief Sunday morning choir practice began earlier than usual, at 9:15. After church, I helped set up Wyatt Hall for a funeral reception and attended the 2 PM funeral for a dear woman who actually practiced what we promise in our Baptismal Covenant--"to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself." I had known she was a retired librarian,  but had not known that her library was at Northern Virginia Community College, which would have entailed a one-way commute of nearly an hour. Co-workers and women she had encouraged to complete their educations traveled some distance on a beautiful April Sunday afternoon to say good-bye, but I am not surprised. Rebecca was a loving woman. 

The parishioners brought way too much food for the reception afterwards. At the end of the day, we boxed up the leftovers and took them to Reality House, a half-way house for folks in recovery, which is just down the street from us. "Thank you, Jesus!" said one of the residents as she helped carry the cut-up vegetables, tea sandwiches and cake into the house.

After acting more sociable than I actually am for more than eight hours, I was ready to turn off the phone and raise the drawbridge. That evening we--husband, pit-bull and cat-- watched ARGO, a thoroughly enjoyable cliff-hanger. "Get that plane up in the air!" I fretted, as the story moved toward its climax. Would the six American diplomats, who were impersonating Canadian film makers, manage to elude the clutches of the Iranians, who were holding the other American diplomats hostage after the embassy take-over in 1979? Glitches in the carefully-crafted escape plan kept popping up, escalating my anxiety. In addition to suspense, the film displayed an impressive array of engaging characters: fusty government bureaucrats, irreverent Hollywood types, and a brilliant CIA operative, a good guy for once. The success of his mission depended on winning the complete trust of all six Americans, which he appeared to do, with one persnickety exception.

Tory if you're reading this, I have a question for you. (Tory, who blogs at ioftenwonderwoman.blogspot.com, is from Toronto.) Ben Affleck, whose speciality as a CIA operative" was getting people out," put the six Americans through a crash course on their new Canadian identities, including correcting their accents. I expected him to work on the pronunciation of "about" or "house," but instead he cautioned the woman who was supposed to be from Toronto not to call it "ToronTO."   Natives call it  "Torono," he said. Tory, is this true?  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


One week ago today, I heard Mabel (Margaret and Michael's dog, who was at our house for doggie day care) barking like crazy. When I went to let her in, I saw a low-burning fire all along our back fence. It seemed to be in the neighbor's yard, which was filled with billowing white smoke. Next thing I know, the  fire looked like it was on our side of the fence, licking at the base of a tree. (It was! We were left with a patch of scorched ground and trees after the fire was out.) I called 911. Then I went outside. The fire department was already there. I wasn't the only one to dial 911.

The neighbor was already telling his story to the fire investigator. He claimed he'd started raking leaves after getting home from work and that the first he knew of the fire was when he heard it crackling. A case of spontaneous combustion, according to him. My first thought was that he'd been burning leaves and had lost control of the fire. He seemed to be suggesting that it started in both our yards simultaneously, but most of the burn was on his side of the fence. Actually, before I even came out of our house, I'd seen a big flare-up on his side of the fence near his pile of leaves. The fire investigator wasn't exactly buying his story. He took me aside and questioned me about mischievous kids, neighborhood vendettas, etc. Meanwhile, a Pauline Bunyan of a fire woman, with a huge ax, was chopping up a smoldering woodpile along the fence of a third neighbor.

Phil was away at the time. When he got home, he said he'd seen the neighbor burning stuff in his back yard five or six times recently. He says he complained to me about it, but I must have tuned him out. Otherwise, I would have told the fire investigator. The investigator had left his card, so Phil called him.  The house in question used to be a group home and we'd thought it still was, but the leaf-burner is apparently the new owner and has been living there since last summer. The fire investigator thanked Phil for the new information and said he'd go have a little chat with the neighbor about Rule # One: It is illegal to set an open fire in our county. In fact, the county had just issued a "red flag" alert that very day, which meant no fires of any kind due to dry conditions. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Introducing a VIF (Very Important Fish)


Why should one tiny component of Corporate America be allowed unlimited access to a fish that is so essential to the survival of the blue crab, the striped bass and the Chesapeake Bay itself? Early in 2013, the state of Virginia finally set a catch limit on Omega Protein, a company that has overfished the menhaden for decades in order to produce dietary supplements and animal feed. Of course Omega Protein plans to fight back with all it's got, but it looks like they've earned themselves a few powerful enemies, thanks to this excellent book.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Scared to Death at 2 AM

She was born in one of the poorest areas of Mexico.
She came to this country and cleans houses for a living.  She's no longer young.
I saw her yesterday. She was back at work, cheerfully cleaning a neighbor's house.

Two Friday nights ago, her friends took her to the emergency room because she was having severe abdominal pain and repeatedly vomiting. They were friends, not relatives, so they couldn't go with her to the examination/treatment cubicle. She was alone. The doctor treated her for flu. She was put on an IV and given something for the pain around 9 PM. She kept vomiting. The pain got worse. By 2 AM, the diagnosis changed to acute appendicitis. In fact, her appendix had ruptured. As she was being prepared for emergency surgery,  a hospital official asked, "If you die, what do you want us to do with your body?"

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Haiku, Take Two

The welcoming cat:
"Come in, sit down, have a drink,
Fat feathered friends."

Issa, an 18th century Japanese Buddhist priest and haiku master, tinkered with his haikus all the time, so I feel free to do the same. There's something I didn't quite like about "plump patio pals", which was yesterday's revision of "fat patio birds." "Feathered friends" is a cliche, but I'm done here.  The photo shows my inspiration, Georgina the cat, taking a time-out from being inspirational. She was caught napping in our new garden window prior to the installation of the shelf and plants.

Issa, by the way, is no relation to Darrell Issa, Republican congressman from California. Issa, the poet, wrote with humor about everyday life--cherry trees, plum blossoms, rain, snow, cats, crickets, fireflies, frogs and fleas. If you want to read Issa's haiku (in translation), visit http://haikuguy.com/issa/. You can also hear selected haiku read in Japanese.

P.S. to "Changing Our Tuner."  The new piano tuner came yesterday and left without tuning the piano. He said that it didn't need tuning! This is amazing, since it's been nearly two years since the last tuning. He said we could call him this summer. While it's wonderful to encounter such honesty, I just hope the small dog poop we discovered today by the front door had nothing to do with his early departure. I suspected its presence yesterday, but couldn't find it. 

Monday, February 25, 2013


The welcoming cat:
"Come in, sit down, have a drink,
Plump patio birds."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Changing Our Tuner

It's sad. I just called to make an appointment with the man who has tuned our piano for over 40 years. He told me about his chronic pain, tiredness, mobility problems and depression, difficulties he said were unrelated to his bout with cancer some years ago. He would really have liked nothing better than to tune our piano, but he had no choice but to refer me to a colleague. I've already left the new guy a voice-mail message, but I hope our friend can return to work one day.

I'll never forget the day when "Marty" opened his kit and spread his tools out on the floor. Wilbur, our pug, rocketed into the room to sniff at the tools. Marty looked both alarmed and annoyed. He started to say something, but then he remembered that the pesky pug was the customer's "baby."

"That dog is certainly --" he began, testily. He paused and searched for a kinder, gentler word.

"Curious," he finally said.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Grand Mart

Saturday we had lunch at Olive Garden. One of the men that hunts deer on our land in Ohio always sends us restaurant gift cards as a thank you. On the way home, we stopped at Grand Mart, Laurel's answer to Wegman's. Well, not really. It's a Korean-Hispanic partnership, with strange signs throughout the store and outlandish fruits and vegetables you've never heard of.  Phil, who can be very outgoing, often asks ladies from India or El Salvador, "What is this?" and "How do you cook it?"  Often the only reply he gets is "not speak English," but sometimes he's rewarded with advice and a recipe. 

Examples of signs/products:

At the fish counter:  Attn customer! After clean-up of fish, no return, no exchange.

Aisle-designating signs:

Person Hygiene
Toilt Tissue
Asian Noodel
Asian Power  (After visiting the aisle, I have no idea what this refers to.)

Products I haven't tried yet:

Corn Silk Tea
Vermont Curry Mix  "with apple and honey touch"

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ooooo! Discount!

This morning my husband suggested that gun owners be required to have insurance just as car owners are. Can't you just imagine the conversation between Flo and a potential customer?

Customer: Never killed anyone.

Flo: Oooooo! Discount!

Customer: Never had a gun go off accidentally.

Flo: Oooooo! Discount!

Customer: Lifelong member of the NRA.

Flo: Oooooo! Discount! Do you own more than one?

Customer: Sure do! Two hunting rifles, three assault weapons, a couple Glocks, a--

Flo: Oooooo! Multiple-gun discount!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Fool and Her Money May Soon Be Parted

Century Photo is up to its old tricks. It's too bad, too. It used to be a good company, but no longer. 

I ordered about $100 worth of photo pages and an album three weeks ago. All I have to show for it is an order confirmation number. Called them today. It's an old story. "Your stuff is on back order. It will take four to six weeks."  I ask you:  what kind of photo-page company runs out of photo pages? Does McDonald's run out of hamburgers?  This is ridiculous. I told the customer rep to cancel the order. This she was not authorized to do, but she gave me a L-O-N-G and complicated e-mail address for "Laura," the person so authorized. 

Why am I not surprised that Laura's surname was long and complicated? 
Why am I not surprised that the e-mail addressed to Laura bounced back? 
Why should it be so difficult to cancel an order, especially one that won't ship for four to six weeks? 

I am not at all happy that I entrusted my credit card number to Century Photo

I'd ordered photo pages and albums from Century Photo for over forty years with no problems. About two years ago, things started to get funny. I was charged for a recipe holder that was on back-order for months. Finally, a customer service rep admitted that it was not and never would be in stock. Eventually I got a refund, but it wasn't easy to wring it out of them.

I should have searched the Internet for "Century Photo Complaints" before placing the order this time.  I did that the other day, and oh boy!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Divorce Decree for Army Nurse

My husband found this old clipping among his mother's papers. The mother-in-law appears to have been my husband's mother's cousin. The newspaper notice dates from around 1900.

Mary P. Kerr, who served as a trained nurse in the army hospitals of Tampa and the South during the Spanish-American War, was granted a divorce by Judge Dellenbaugh yesterday from Albert A. Kerr on the grounds of gross neglect of duty.  Mrs. Kerr complained that her domestic unhappiness was directly due to her mother-in-law, whom her husband declared he preferred to her. She said that he told her to go and support herself as he wanted to work for his mother, who runs a grocery store. In her efforts to support herself, she became a nurse and went into the army hospital service at the outbreak of the war. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Twelfth Night

Yesterday was Twelfth Night, the finale to the Twelve Days of Christmas and the day to take down Christmas decorations.  

We didn't need more than an hour or so. We never made a big deal out of decorating and nowadays we do even less. Phil set aside about seven minutes before the start of the Redskins' playoff to take down the two strings of lights on the porch. I removed the artificial garland from the mantle,  the cards from the louvered doors, and the ornaments from the chandelier and the table-top tree. The tree went into the closet with the lights and tinsel still on it. I packed away the ceramic Victorian  house and the figures from the manger set.  I am LAZY. 

The tree holds fewer than two dozen ornaments, but each has a story. We have tiny photos of the two grandsons in their Baby's-First-Christmas ornaments. Other ornaments recall trips to the Outer Banks and Chincoteague, our grandson's passion for fishing, a Sunday School project, lifelong interests (old houses, Japanese culture) and pets we used to have. We have ornaments given to us by friends who've gone on. One of our neighbors was a man born in Japan in 1926. In heavily-accented English, he once confided that, as a teen-ager, he was "preparing to die for Emperor." You hardly know how to reply to something like that. He and his wife had a shaggy mutt named "Whiskers." When he heard that a friend's pet had died, he said to his dog, "Whiska, I'm glad you're still a little boy." So he loved his dog, but he also got a tremendous kick out of Cruella Deville, the fur-loving villain of One Hundred and One Dalmatians.  Years ago, we somehow acquired a tiny plastic statue of Cruella. Every Christmas I remember Tatsuo when I place her beside our snow-covered ceramic house.

The few fragile Christmas tree ornaments that manage to survive Christmas with Kids get passed down from generation to generation. I was surprised to hear our older daughter say, "I'm glad I have at least one of Grandma's ornaments." I know that Phil's mother had two treasured antique ornaments, a teapot and a coffeepot painted with flowers. She gave them to his sister.  The ornament our daughter was talking about is a cheap, shiny red reindeer with a missing hoof.  I don't know where it came from, but I'm pretty sure it didn't come from my mother-in-law. Who really knows? Many a trinket probably owes its origin as a treasured keepsake to faulty memories. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Practical Question

Our parents were divorced in January, 1947. Mother told me that Dad liked to give a holiday party each year. He asked her to help him give one last party during the Christmas season of 1946 and she agreed. After the party, she and my four-year-old sister, Barbara, were to leave for Coral Gables, FL.  I was to stay behind to finish first grade and join them when school was out. At least, that was the plan, but it never worked out that way. Not the joining-them-in-Florida part. 

I don't remember any tears or trauma. I was already used to living for long stretches of time with my paternal grandparents.  Anyway, I was more than a little afraid of Mother. She had a wicked temper. I was angry with her, too. One day, I found her crossword puzzle on the child-sized table in the kitchen where I ate breakfast. That table was often the scene of a power struggle. Mother would make me sit there until I finished my cereal. Grandmother (Mother's mother) said, "I'd drop in at 11 in the morning, and there you'd be, still sitting." Grandmother thought it was funny, but all I remember is the bowl of soggy cereal. Perhaps that's why I took a pencil that day and scribbled the puzzle black. Mother was furious. She spanked me. This is how parents handled insubordination in the forties. 

My sister and I seemed to accept the divorce calmly. Barbara did not know about the potential new stepfather waiting in Florida. Her one question, before she and Mother left Meadville, was: "But who will cut my meat?"