Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 assessment

It's a sunny and unseasonably warm day.  I thought it would be an inspiring kind of day, perfect for life assessment.  But first, I decided to jog outdoors.  The weather has been so frigidly cold and icy during recent weeks that I had been using my indoor treadmill.  I prefer jogging outdoors, or so I thought.  There were hoards of people in the park outside of my house.  Since it's winter, the bushes and trees are barren, and there is no way to avoid being seen.  I did not want to be looked at today, and I was angry, so much that I shortened my jog considerably.

The main topic which comes to my mind when thinking of the year 2010 is, of course, the death of my sister.  In fact, I can hardly think of anything else.  When 2010 began, I did not know her days were numbered.  She had cancer but it was thought to have been in remission.  I was fortunate to have been able to visit her in Boston several times in 2010.  I will never forget her gaunt figure standing at the door of her apartment, watching me being driven away from my final visit with her.  Standing there, watching people leave, was not something she did.  It was out of character.  I knew that she "knew", and now I "knew".   Would I have done or said anything differently had I known before I left?

Things were pretty dramatic at work as well.  In my field, there are many, many more qualified applicants than there are jobs, and the few jobs that exist are disappearing due to economic conditions and changing social priorities.  Things definitely went south at my workplace, and I was politically involved making the changes happen, even though it meant severe pay cuts.  Over the past few months we've all tried to adjust to the changes, and it has been challenging if not profoundly depressing.  I have to remind myself that I'm lucky to have ever been employed at all in this outrageously competitive field.

The Child is 13 and has been very busy distancing himself from me.  Over the past year I have mourned our past relationship, including the long ago phase when he begged me to marry him.  I have begun preparing myself for the time just around the corner when he will leave home.  (Last night, though, I was ready for that to happen.  He vomited all over the bathroom and I had to clean it up.)

I had an interesting dream last night.  I very rarely remember my dreams, and when I do they seem to be disturbing ones, like the one last month in which my car was broken into and dismantled.  But last night's dream was heavenly.  I was busy working 2 jobs, both of which are in my field (which is actually going to be true next week) but I was also actively seeking a new house.  My realtor played one of the leading roles in this dream; in fact, I was in his house for part of the dream.  There were several gorgeous houses in my coveted neighborhood which I was considering buying.  It was a very happy dream.

Maybe it was a 2011 premonition, hard though it is to believe.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Betty is back AGAIN

I admit that it's harder to blog now because one of my favorite blogging buddies has quit blogging and doesn't read my blog anymore.  Bloggers like to have an audience. 

Anyway, I've decided to try to post regularly, even if I don't have much to say.  Lately I have felt that I don't have enough time to do everything (or anything).  My house has become chaotic again and everything seems more or less out of control.  It's baffling, because there's no apparent reason.

It's safe to say that whirlingbetty is in a state of lack of clarity.

For now, I will write about my Irish ancestors.  An ex-boyfriend is now visiting Ireland, and although we had been out of contact for over a year, I suddenly called him and left a message out of the blue last week.  In response, he sent me an email, saying he had just decided that day to call me, and right after that he checked his stateside messages and found out I had just called him.  He is now in the land of my ancestors - the exact part of Ireland, the desolate, lonely, hauntingly beautiful northern Atlantic coast, from which my dear Gram emigrated as a teenager.

This is what I wrote to the ex-boyfriend:

You are near where my relatives, the Conways (originally from Normandy) who lived in Co. Sligo, Mayo and Donegal.  I believe they owned land in Mayo.  My great-grandmother was Mary O'Donnell Conway (born in Co. Mayo and married to John Conway).  There is a big tombstone in Carrownteane Cemetary, in the village of the same name, in the township of Dromard, Co. Sligo.  My great-grandmother is buried there along with her son Anthony.  She died of a broken heart the day after he died of stomach cancer.  Let me know if you happen upon their tombstone which my gram helped pay for even though she had emigrated.

Someday I must visit that place.  I can see it vividly in my mind; it seems to be part of my nature.  I wish Gram had been able to talk about it.  Although she was very open about everything else (we even shared Playgirl magazines when I was a teen) she would not talk about Ireland.



Sunday, December 12, 2010

betty is back

Weekend Fun: Squirrel in Toilet (VIDEO)I
I'm not sure what kind of animal this is, but I think it's cute.  This photo accompanied an online article about a woman in Oklahoma who found a squirrel in her toilet and called 911.  I've always liked squirrels.

The neighbors and the people who frequent the park in front of my house undoubtedly take note of the fact that I feed squirrels.  Since I have the misfortune of living in a very uptight neighborhood, I reckon the neighbors are appalled.  One of them actually gathered the courage to confront me a couple of years ago.  He wanted to know why I would want to attract rodents to my house.  Since they were enjoying their shelled peanuts outdoors, not in my living room, I wasn't sure what he meant.  Did he really think that I was responsible for the presence of squirrels in the area?  Really?  Who knew that I possessed god-like powers to create and distribute wildlife??  

I was born liking animals.  When I was around 8 years old, my parents came home from an after-dinner walk one evening bearing a dream-come-true for a child of my ilk: a BABY SQUIRREL!  I cannot describe the ecstasy I experienced as I researched squirrel nourishment and began mothering the dear animal.  I used a medicine dropper to nurse the baby and even managed to get some slow-cooked steel-cut oatmeal into him.  Rascal was indescribably cute and nothing pleased me more than contributing to his sustenance.  

As is so often the case, ecstasy morphed into devastation.  Early one evening the doorbell rang.  I was busy feeding Rascal, so I ignored it.  A few moments later, my father appeared with a neighbor boy, Phillip, a hapless child who was not particularly favored among local kids.  My father spoke some of the most awful words I ever heard:  "Phillip says that this squirrel is his.  It fell out of the tree in front of his house and it had escaped when I found it.  You have to give him back his squirrel."    

To this day I remember the look on that squirrel's face as he was taken out of my hands by my father and handed to Phillip.  So I never got over squirrels.  I will always have a soft spot for them.  And if the neighbors don't like it, well....

Last summer I had a major victory.  I got one of the squirrels to eat out of my hand.  (Those of you who know squirrels at all will realize how unusual that is.  Chipmunks are so greedy and bold that they easily approach humans for handouts, but not squirrels.) 
You would expect a squirrel to take the treat like an untrained dog- with a quick, grabbing gesture, borderline dangerous.  Nope.  The squirrel was gentle as could be, once she managed to talk her reluctant body into inching close enough to me.  She calmly took the nut in her mouth and settled down to eat it gratefully - ecstasy for both of us.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had enjoyed an augmentation of my at-home wildlife viewing.  Five times over the past few days I have seen deer outside of my house.  Mind you, I live within city limits of the 15th largest U.S. city.  Deer are not expected visitors in my neighborhood, although I do live on a park with a wooded ravine.

This morning it's snowing heavily.  I would not have seen the deer running past my window if my dog, perched in his window seat, had not begun barking ferociously.  Predictably, a large, very fast dog OFF-LEASH was in hot pursuit.  

It bothers me to no end that this city lacks a leash law, unlike every other U.S. city that I know of.  The off-leash dogs are a constant presence around my house because I live on a park which is extremely popular among dog fanatics.  The dogs have terrorized and bitten my son and killed our beloved Chihuahua.  They chase squirrels, birds, chipmunks, ground hogs and now deer.  

I still like dogs, as evidenced by the fact that I own one.  However, I am less than thrilled with the dog OWNERS around here, who somehow justify owning dogs which they think require acres of free space to run in, at the expense of people and wildlife trying to enjoy the park (or their own residence in my case).  I think that those dog owners are out of touch with reality.  If they really do own dogs which require that amount of freedom and exercise, then the owners are irresponsible to be harboring the dogs within city limits.  

Someday this city might wake up and enact a leash law.   Then what will those dog owners do?!  (I can tell you what they'll do.  They'll keep on doing what they're now doing, knowing full well that the city's police force is stretched too thin to deal with off-leash dogs!)


Monday, November 01, 2010

Fall without the colors

The fall colors are disappointing here this year due to lack of rain, apparently.  This view outside of my house this morning is about as colorful as it gets this year.

Yesterday I heard a choir singing Brother James' Air.  It was a trigger taking me back to my childhood.  I was probably around 11 years old when I was chosen to sing in a children's choir with kids from all over New York State.  We sang Brother James' Air.  I remember that song and all the others in great detail.  Unlike most children's choirs, we sang in 4 part harmony rather than all singing the same line, and I can still hear it clearly in my head.  (We must have rehearsed a lot!)

However, I was not at all happy about being selected for that choir.  I didn't like being told what to do in general and specifically, I didn't like to sing!  (I wanted to play a woodwind instrument.)  I resented being part of that choir, even though my school music teacher treated it as a huge honor.

I had to travel to a faraway location somewhere in New York State for the ordeal.  My mother had packed me a brown bag lunch, and in it she had placed some really great candy from a shop in Manhattan, her favorite shopping destination.  The taste of that candy lingers to this day, and it was the highlight of the event.  I was a shy child and had nobody to talk to the whole time.  There was nobody else from my school. 

During the dress rehearsal I was horrified when kids started fainting.  I'm not sure if they were nervous or hot from the bright lights, or unstable on the risers we were standing on, but the young singers were dropping like flies.  I was terrified that they'd start throwing up.  By the end of the dress rehearsal, very few kids were still standing and singing.  I am glad to say that I was one of them. 

In retrospect, I see that the candy wasn't the only notable aspect.  I think it's pretty amazing that the music, every last detail of it including Latin texts, stayed with me all these years.


Yesterday my iPod Touch was pronounced dead by The Child and myself after repeated attempts at resuscitation..  Anyone who has an iPod Touch knows that they're expensive, and I was not at all happy.  I also had a lot of music on it which I used for jogging.  The loss of my iPod Touch also meant the cessation of my exercise routine.  The whole deal was depressing, since I really don't like being out of shape.  I debated with myself as to whether or not I'd be willing to jog using my iPhone to provide musical entertainment.  Since I had ruined a previous mp3 player by tripping and falling on a rocky surface while jogging with it, I decided against putting my phone at risk.

This morning I decided to have another go at the iPod Touch.  The only reason I have succeeded repeatedly in fixing my various electronic gadgets, including computer, is due to my obsessive persistence.  For reasons I cannot explain, my iPod Touch is now happily recharging, having been brought back to life by my persistence.


There were many 12 and 13 year old boys in my house this weekend.  The Child is unlike me in so many ways.  He seems to be popular.  (I never was and never shall be.)  It's hard to tell where that comes from.  I guess upbringing may be a part of it.  The Child was brought up believing in his own value.  I was not. 

Most single parents probably feel guilty the way I do for not providing their child(ren) with a 2 parent family.  In my case, the problem is exacerbated by the lack of any support system whatsoever.  My closest relative lives 600 miles away, and The Child is truly not known by any extended family including grandparents.  (My father is his only living grandparent, and my father has shown no interest whatsoever in his only grandson.) 

Yet somehow The Child has developed a social ability far surpassing mine.  Maybe it's genetic; maybe it's due to the fantastic, carefully selected babysitters I've hired over the years who have taught him how to get along with people.  I'm just glad that the child can enjoy the popularity which always eluded me.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010


This post goes with my last one which I just wrote a few hours ago.  In the last post, I was irrelevant; now I'm relevant.  Here's how.

I didn't get much sleep last night- it was just a few short hours ago that I posted (about being irrelevant)  before going to bed.  When my alarm went off at 6am, I was not amused.  I ignored it longer than usual. 

The Child has to be on his school bus before 7am, which I think is rather ridiculous, but the school board never consulted with me......The Child is most definitely NOT a morning person, so I have little choice but to drive the lifeless child to his bus stop half a mile from our house to increase my odds of getting him on that bus.

Unbelievably, he sleeps in the car as I drive the half mile to the bus stop and since he's already asleep, I don't awaken him until the bus is actually in sight.  (It's pitch black outside at that hour!)  This morning was no different from the usual routine up to this point.

I always get out of the car and walk with The Child to the door of the bus.  He's in 7th  grade now, and it may seem a bit, shall we say, overprotective?  The other mothers do not accompany their boys to the bus- they remain seated in their SUVs and mini vans.  I have wondered if it bothers The Child that I do that.  He never says anything, so I persist, even though last week I found myself wondering why I do it.  What do I think I'm protecting him from?

Well, today I found out.  As we exited the car and started crossing the street to the bus stop, a car came careening around the corner, heading directly toward The Child who, although upright and walking, was still partially asleep.  I miraculously came to life and shoved The Child as hard as I could out of the speeding car's path.  Heart racing, I yelled at the driver,  "S-L-O-W  D-O-W-N !!!!!!" before picking The Child up off the ground and guiding him to the bus.

Everybody who witnessed this event was speechless.  Had The Child been unaccompanied by his hovering mother, the result would have been tragic.

As Annie said in her comment on my last post, even though my caring sister is gone, my relevance is not.  Lesson learned.



Most likely, balance will always elude me.  This month, I'm lucky if I focus on 2 things each day (jogging and work) instead of one (work).  And that's seems to be as good as it gets.  Somehow, when my sister died last month, my life derailed as far as organization and domestic responsibility.  I suppose the unplanned trip to Boston to deliver her eulogy threw things off, and I never recovered.

Most of the time I keep busy, enough that I "forget" she's gone.  But it hit last week.  There was big news at work, and my reflex was to inform my sister, the only person in my family who had any interest whatsoever in my life.  When it hit me that she was no longer there for me to send press releases, news articles and videos to, I broke down.

I have lost relevance.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Dinah Washington & Max Richter-This bitter earth - On the nature of dayl...

a trying time

I have not told many people where I live that my sister died.  I can't stand constant reminders.  I have to remain functional, and if I'm constantly being reminded, functioning may not happen.

I just flew back home after her funeral (if indeed this is home, but that's another post).  It is proving difficult for me to return to "normal."

Many people showed up for the wake and funeral.  My sister's 2 daughters who live there in Boston are very well supported. And why wouldn't they be?  They're young, attractive, smart and successful.  One is married to a great guy and the other is in a committed relationship, and beyond that, they have a wide circle of friends, some of whom traveled hundreds of miles to attend the funeral.

Although I didn't really dwell on it much, I was shocked whenever anyone came up to me to say they were sorry for my loss.  I am so accustomed to handling everything alone, and besides, I felt that my sister's daughters trumped her sister.  I considered myself insignificant, as usual.  So when I was acknowledged, I was...well....baffled, thinking that the person speaking to me must be daft.

My sister's third daughter lives in Vertaizon, France with her fantastic French husband and 3 young bilingual children, and they all attended the funeral.  Even that daughter had friends attending from other states, even though she's been living all over the globe during her adult life.

My sister is much older than I, and I grew up with her daughters.  The way things worked out, I was almost like another daughter of hers, especially once our mother died.

The funeral was unusual, led by nobody in particular since she had not been religious.  I spoke about her values, as expressed in her many emails to me, and the significance of hummingbirds for my sister and I over the past summer.  I talked about the 2 female hummingbirds which we had referred to as "the sisters" and I described the one last acrobatic air show they performed for me the day my sister died.  The people at the funeral seemed very touched by the hummingbirds story.

It was sad on many levels.  The experience made me realize how isolated I've been.  Boston is fairly close to where we all grew up in New York, so many people drove up from there.  I wish I didn't have to live so far away where my job is located.  Once The Child came into my life, the friends I thought I had kind of slipped away, since I was no longer foot loose and fancy free.  The Child has friends at school, so thank heavens he's not as isolated as I am. 

When it came time for me to leave, the niece's husband from France and the niece's husband from Boston fought over who'd drive me to the airport!  My sister must have somehow made that happen, because she always knew I felt alone.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

my sister

I started feeling weird yesterday afternoon, for no apparent reason.  It seemed as though my world had changed somehow.  The Child had 3 friends for an overnight, so there was plenty of chaos to distract me from this odd feeling.  When I went to bed I couldn't read the way I normally do.  I just sat there thinking, planning to read but never getting to it, and then finally drifting off.

I was awakened by the phone call, the one I never wanted.  My sister has passed away.

It's funny how you're still expected to function.  You still have to take the dog out, even though the world you're taking him out in has suddenly transformed.  You still have to be the adult in charge of 4 early adolescent boys, even though you're in shock.  You still have to drive to Tim Horton's for the promised donuts, even though you no longer have a sister.

A block from my house on the way to Tim Horton's, it started to hit me just how much things had changed.  I remembered that one of my sister's first jobs was waitressing at Dunkin' Donuts.   I sobbed, unable to see the road I was driving on, as I recalled how much she liked coffee, and how she was such a popular waitress because of her winning personality.  I realized that everything I do now is going to remind me of my sister in some way.  The very act of driving my car set off the memory of the bond we shared in disliking driving.  (She had taken the bold step of quitting driving years ago, which is possible in a city like Boston.) 

Why is it that I thought she'd live forever despite the cancer that took her over?

During the last months of her life, we had become closer than we'd ever been before.  Even after she became bedridden, I wrote her emails daily which were printed out for her to read.

My last visit to Boston to see her was last month.  It was a chaotic visit in which I had to do a lot of busywork like installing software on her computer and scanning old photos for her and tracking down oxicodone from Dana Farber Cancer Hospital.  I didn't have any time to just sit there and talk, with her responding by writing since her voice was taken by the cancer.  The night before I left, we did the unthinkable: she got herself all dolled up and I took her to a concert.  (She hadn't been leaving her apartment at all.)  I was scared to death that she was going to fall or faint or something traumatic.  But she loved it.

When I left Boston the next morning, she came to her door and stood there, watching me leave.  That bothered me a lot, because it wasn't her style, especially in her weakened state.  I was afraid that she thought it was the last time she was ever going to see me.

I was told that she asked, by mouthing the words, if I was there shortly before she died.  I wish I had been.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"The sisters"

The hummingbirds are still here, as evidenced by the above photo taken today. But not for long; soon they'll embark on their annual journey to South America for the winter.  These days, whenever I see one I am more aware of the fleeting nature of their time here, and of life in general.  In fact, I associate them with my sister who also loves hummingbirds. 

My sister loves hummingbirds so much that she asked a quilter to make her this quilt, which hangs over her bed:

I wish I could claim that I made that quilt for her, but I lack the talent required for such an endeavor. Since I happen to know several people who collect quilts and one who is an antique quilt dealer, I've seen an inordinate number of quilts in my lifetime.  None have impressed me like this one.

This summer, two female hummingbirds have been dominating my feeders.  I refer to them as "the sisters."  They seem inseparable, and share acrobatic ability. They remind me of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels the way they synchronize their flight patterns.  And sometimes they dovetail, as if performing an air ballet.  Whenever a third hummer joins them, the two sisters fly in tandem with the third weaving in and out of their pattern. 

When my sister was still mobile enough to be able to get to her computer, I sent her photos of "the sisters" regularly.  She loved them, and I have used our mutual interest in hummingbirds to try to cheer her up this past summer, as her health declined dramatically.  Since the end of August she has been unable to get out of bed, and the person who prints out her emails for her asked me to stop sending photos because they were impractical to print.  (I know I still have the option of getting prints made and mailing them to her, but I'm spoiled by the luxury of being able to share the thrill with her instantaneously.)

I still send my sister at least one email each day, which someone prints for her to read.  I describe the antics of "the sisters" knowing that she has seen enough photos of them to be able to imagine the sights.  I have told her that I don't want them to leave.  I am sure the symbolism is not lost on her.


Monday, September 06, 2010

Was this my business?

I live in an area where loose dogs are an ever-present problem.  I moved into this house on the park when The Child was 4 years old, and one of the first events that occurred here was for a large dog to run onto my property and scare the bejesus out of The Child.  Later that summer, The Child, who was bending over to observe a snake in the grass, was bitten on the back of his leg by an off leash dog.  Not long after that, our first dog, a loving little Chihuahua named Chiwee, was killed right in front of our house by another dog.

It's no surprise, then, that I have a problem with off-leash dogs who are not being controlled by their owners.  It bothers me to no end that this city lacks a leash law, and for a while I tried to fight city hall on that issue.  I got nowhere fast, because the dog owners are a very passionate, vocal and well-organized group.  (Mind you, I am a dog owner myself, but I believe that dog owners are responsible for controlling their dogs to the extent that other people can freely enjoy the park and their own residential property.)

A few days ago from inside my house I heard a loud ruckus in the park.  I heard screaming and barking, and I figured there had been yet another incident involving out of control dogs.  I ran outside, and sure enough, I found out that a 4 year old girl had been jumped on by a large Boxer.  I know enough about dogs to know that the Boxer is not a vicious breed, but the fact remained that the dog had terrified the girl and her female caretakers.  A verbal fight was in progress when I arrived on the scene.

There were 2 adult female dog owners and 3 large off leash dogs.  The dog owners were laughing at the upset child and women, which I thought a very strange response.  I jumped in to defend the women with the 4-year-old.  We were all screaming.  I told the women with the child to call the police and asked the owners to stay put until the authorities arrived.  Of course they began walking away very quickly.

Fortunately, the 4-year-old was with 3 adult women, so I advised 2 of them to follow the dog owners, and they kept in touch with us by cell phone so that we could guide the police.  The police called animal control, and the dog owners were dealt with effectively, which is highly unusual since offending dog owners usually escape before they can be caught.  Even though there is no leash law, it is not lawful for dogs to jump on people they don't know, and it turned out that the dogs were unlicensed as well.  The dogs remain with their owners, but maybe, just maybe, they'll think of other people next time they venture out to the park.

If the story ended there, I suppose it would be fairly clear that I acted responsibly and reasonably.  But it didn't.  I made a sign to post at the entrance to the park right outside of my house. The sign refereed to the state revised code which requires that dog owners be in control of their dogs at all times, with the leash being the most effective tool to achieve that end. I listed the offenses which had occurred in the park which were examples of dogs NOT being controlled. The sign was businesslike and unemotional, and looked as if it might have been official, posted by the city or the parks department.

From inside my house I could see people standing in front of the sign of it to read it.  The next day, I was sitting on my patio reading the newspaper when 2 women arrived at the park entrance and started setting up obedience training equipment so that they could work with their dogs.  I didn't particularly want to hear their conversation, but I did.  The women started reading my sign, and then began laughing.  One remarked to the other, "Dogs killing other dogs!" while they both had a good laugh.

I sat there fuming, no longer able to focus on my newspaper.  Finally I marched over to where the women were rehearsing their dog moves, and said, "Excuse me, but I overheard you laughing at the sign over there.  I happen to have owned a dog who was killed by another dog, right here in the park, in front of my house, and I don't understand why you consider that to be funny."

The women obviously were uncomfortable with confrontation and they ignored me as if they couldn't hear me.  So I repeated it, louder.  They continued to ignore me, while I became more exasperated and ended up telling them that I didn't understand them.  (I had already told them that the sign didn't apply to them, since they were clearly taking steps to control their dogs.)  It was pointless; I walked away.

It was then that I decided that the dog fight wasn't worth fighting anymore.  I didn't feel right about being so aggressive, and even though the dog owners who laughed at the Boxer scaring the heck out of a group of people were caught, there are dozens of dog owners who think nothing of letting their dogs ruin the park experience for other people. I have spent years trying to convince dog owners that they are being inconsiderate.  The primary result is nothing but a rise in my own blood pressure. I give up. And I wonder if it was really my business in the first place.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Birthday week

Some people spend a week or longer celebrating their birthdays.  A friend from work spent the entire month of January celebrating his birthday this year, complete with a party full of out-of-state guests.  Well, this is my birthday week and I'm not exactly celebrating.

My sister, whom I visited in Boston earlier this month, is drawing her final breaths.  Her cancer seemed to flare up right after I left Boston, and she is not expected to make it through the week.

I still send her a couple of emails each day, but I don't know if she's able to read them.  I received what is undoubtedly the last email that I'll ever receive from her on Monday. 

She started asking me what I wanted for my birthday weeks ago, and all I could think of was that she had far bigger problems than what to get me for my birthday.  I never really answered.

Today a box arrived at my door from Boston, with my niece's return address.  My birthday is Saturday, but I couldn't wait to see if there was anything in the box from my sister, so I opened it.

It's not totally clear, but I think there's a card from her.  I don't recognize the handwriting on the envelope, but I know she has become very weak.  She wouldn't want me to open it until Saturday, so I won't.  There are wrapped presents in the box, and I think 2 of them are from my sister.

She sent me a gift for my birthday 2 years ago.  She had just been diagnosed with cancer of the tongue, and I couldn't bring myself to open the present for several months.  It was too precious.  It was from my sister, whose future was now in jeopardy.

Heaven knows when I'll open the gifts which just arrived.  I've already opened my last email from her.  The thought of opening my last gift from my sister turns my stomach inside out.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Home again

Most of the people I know go on vacations, at least once a year.  I, on the other hand, go out of town only for stressful reasons, either job-related or illness-or-death-in-the-family-related.  No wonder I don't like traveling!  If I associated travel with fun and relaxation, things would be different.

I just returned from visiting my sister in Boston.  I was surprised to find her much the same as she was during my visit last March.  Her latest CT scan brought disappointing news of spreading cancer.  But really, I couldn't tell.  She seems to be amazingly accepting of her condition of being unable to speak, eat, drink, swallow or breath except through a tracheotomy. 

My nieces (her daughters) who also live in Boston were on vacation (a real vacation, in Provincetown) so I was there to take care of my sister.  The reason it was stressful is because I was not sure what I'd do in an emergency.  I had no car (and didn't want to drive in a strange city, especially one notorious for its traffic) and knew nobody.  But at first, it seemed like a piece of cake.  Sis was acting fine, albeit sleepy, and I thought I'd have a pleasant visit with her. 

Then she dropped the bomb.  When she was at Dana Farber, the famous cancer hospital in Boston, for her appointment a few days earlier, she was supposed to get some prescriptions filled.  Long story short, her daughter talked her into waiting to get the prescriptions filled some other day, which I can't really explain seeing as how the daughters were preparing to leave town. 

Now, Sis wanted me to fill the prescriptions.  She was unwilling/unable to leave her apartment, so I'd have to try to do it for her.  Having had no experience with this sort of thing, I had no idea what to expect, except for an inexplicable sense of foreboding as I set out on foot for the nearest CVS. 

Because Sis normally fills her prescriptions at Dana Farber, CVS had no history with her.  I handed over all of her IDs, prescriptions, insurance cards, and even her CVS card, hoping they'd be able to sort through it all and produce the desired results. 

And sort they did, for a while, and then 3 of the pharmacy employees huddled, with each in turn shooting a furtive glance my way, as if trying to assess whether I was law-abiding.  Eventually the bravest of the trio, the male, strolled back to the counter where I stood.

"Er....this prescription for Oxicodone is the largest amount we've ever seen.  We would never carry this amount, and no pharmacy in Massachusetts is going to have this amount in stock.  Because it's a narcotic, it's going to be really difficult to obtain this enormous amount."

"Do you have any in stock?"

"We have a small fraction of the amount on the prescription."

I took a break to begin texting my sister to see what she wanted (remember- she can't speak).  Did she want me to fill the prescription here, bringing back just a fraction of the full amount of the prescription, thereby forfeiting the rest of the amount?  Or did she want me to have them order it?  Could she get by until Tuesday?  She was indecisive, so I asked the pharmacists to call other pharmacies to see if any had the amount needed, even though they swore that it was futile.

I understand that Oxicodone is addictive, and that's probably why she seemed quite unwilling to take the tiny amount which CVS had in stock.  I never did get her to admit just exactly how much Oxicodone she had left.

Fast forward to Tuesday.  I called CVS at the agreed upon time to make sure the Oxicodone was in.  It wasn't.  This was very bad news, since Sis had stretched out her stash to get by until the Tuesday shipment arrived.  But CVS assured me that it would be in on Wednesday.

It wasn't!  They had no idea when it would be in, since it was "back ordered by the manufacturer, and we did warn you that narcotics are very difficult to obtain...."

By this time my brother had arrived  from San Francisco where he lives, and he had a car to use in Boston.  We had no choice but to try to drive to Dana Farber to fill the prescription. 

I navigated using the GPS on my phone.  We made it to the vicinity of Dana Farber without too much trouble, although the traffic was indeed daunting.  It was not an easy, direct route, and it was a considerable distance from Sis's apartment.  Although we found the vicinity, the hospital itself eluded us and we had to ask for directions several times. 

When we finally made it to the main entrance, I convinced the valet attendant that we were in the midst of an emergency,.and that I had to run into the hospital on a critical errand while my brother sat in the car out front.  Fortunately, he decided not to argue with me and I ran inside where the information lady directed me to the pharmacy. 

The ordeal was far from over.  Once I made it to the pharmacy, I waited in the "pick-up" line.  When I finally made my way to the window after waiting in line 20 minutes I was told that I should have been in the "drop-off" line.  (My frazzled brain had told me that I had already dropped off the *&?^% prescription several days earlier!  And in my defense, CVS had called Dana Farber to set this up, so it really was logical for me to be in the "pick-up" line.)

When it was finally my turn at the "drop-off" window, I was told that this prescription would be filled in an hour.  AN HOUR???!!  I nearly burst into tears as I explained that this was a dire emergency which I had been dealing with during my entire time in Boston, and my sister couldn't wait any longer for her medicine, and my brother from San Francisco was parked illegally waiting for this drug so desperately needed. 

The pharmacist said it would be 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, I had begun receiving angry texts from Sis.  She wanted to know why I flew halfway across the country to see her and then spent all my time away.  She texted, "I don't understand.  I thought you were going to Dana Farber.  What on earth is taking you so long???!!!"

My phone was overheated from being used as a GPS.  It was so hot I could hardly hold it- I half expected to see smoke rising from it.  And now I know that using the GPS function uses up a cell phone battery really quickly.  By the time I finally exited Dana Farber with the huge bottles of Oxicodone, my battery was so low that my GPS was only partially functional.  It took us a really long time to get back to my sister.  We nearly ended up in the state of Vermont, which is nowhere near where she lives.

When we finally delivered the goods, Sis disclosed that she had a new problem.  While we were gone, she had managed to totally screw up her PC.  (She wrote that she was dusting the keyboard when it happened.)  Her monitor was completely disabled.  Sis presented this information to me because I had spent every waking moment during my visit (when I wasn't dealing with her prescriptions) dealing with her computer.  Her daughter (who is close to my age) had set up her computer for her, but had trouble installing Adobe.  So I installed Adobe, after lots and lots of fussing and fiddling.  Then she had software she wanted installed for scanning.  It also proved to be troublesome, but I kept after it until it was installed.  Then she wanted me to scan her entire collection of photographs, beginning with unknown ancestors and ending with now.  So now Sis wanted me to fix her broken monitor, after the harrowing day in the maze which is Boston. 

Had she not been sick, I would have used a few choice words at that point, but under the circumstances, I thought it best to spend my last few moments of my time in Boston fixing her monitor.  Those of you who have had the experience know how frustrating it is to try to figure out what to do with a black screen.  The owner's manual was no help.  I did everything I could think of, including unplugging the entire system a few times, and eventually the monitor came back to life.

I was glad to be able to leave her with a fully functional PC with files backed up and a boatload of Oxicodone.  I hope she can get by without me for a while.


Friday, August 06, 2010

Life lesson

A long time ago my sister mailed me a card. Crafter that she is, usually she makes her own cards, but this one was store bought.  The front featured a print of a painting of two woman sitting across from each other in the outdoor seating area of a European-looking coffee shop or cafe.  I really liked that card, and for a long time I had it on display on my living room shelf. 

I kept thinking that someday, she and I would be those two women, solving life's problems over coffee in a really cool cafe like the one pictured on the card she sent me.

We always assume people will be always available, especially sister-types, who always are.  But life got the better of me, and instead of focusing on making that coffee card scenario come true, I focused on my everyday trivias and worries associated with being a single parent of a rather demanding child, who was demanding because of my spoiling.

The other day I was going through the one last remaining stack of papers that I hadn't tackled when I recently overhauled my house.  I found a notebook I had been using as a diary when The Child was a toddler.  I read with interest my written rant about how upset I was that my sister had moved to Boston and our phone sessions had been pretty much cut off by her new and inevitable focus on her adult daughter whose house she had just moved into.  The lack of privacy meant that even if we did talk, it wasn't like it used to be.

Ever since the child entered my life, it has been at times difficult to find people to talk to.  My former (and all single, like me) friends all slipped away, one by one, as they discovered that now lacked the luxury of any time to myself.  I had no family within 600 miles, but at least for a while, I did have that phone contact with my sister.

In fact, she had moved to Boston because of me.  Over the phone she had told me repeatedly how unhappy she was living in our hometown, and I encouraged her to just leave.  I remember how shocked I was when, after she had moved, she told me that she had done it because I had encouraged her to.  I do remember giving her explicit instructions on how to make it happen.  My life experience, however, has been that people never listen to what I advise.  I never really expected her to listen to her much younger sister!

She lived with her daughter for a while, and I had little contact with her.  Then one day her daughter called me and said that it was too much for her and her husband to have my sister there, and she was trying to figure out a way to break the news to my sister.  Long story short, my sister moved into her own apartment, reluctantly.  It was hard for me to talk to her there, because she only had a cell phone, and our conversations were now being cut short by dropped calls.

She had enjoyed living with her daughter, and I knew she was devastated to have to leave.  Perhaps she felt rejected. 

Then, about a year after the move, I received the news that she had a cancerous tumor on her tongue.  Surgery was planned, then canceled, then she received chemo and radiation, and was told that the cancer was gone.  Phew.

A few months later she called to say that the tumor had returned.  She underwent surgery for 14 hours which included tongue reconstruction and neck lymph node removal.  She had to learn to talk again, and she called my on my last birthday.

It was the last time I heard her voice.  The tumor grew down her throat into her vocal chords and into her trachea.  Unable to breathe, she was airlifted to a surgical hospital in Boston where she received a tracheotomy.  She already had a food tube, so since then, she has been unable to talk, eat, drink, swallow, or breathe except through  the tracheotomy.  This has been her permanent state for months, and it is understood that her condition will never improve.  She continued to receive chemo to keep the tumor at bay, but during her recent CT scan it was discovered that her tumor is now growing around the tracheotomy, making breathing ever more challenging and her future precarious.

I'm flying to Boston tomorrow before dawn to see my sister.  For some reason, that card with the coffee shop picture has been on my mind today.  That coffee date I had imagined for so long with my sister in a little cafe like the one on her card is never going to happen.  Let that be a lesson to us all.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010


This is the "after" shot.  If only I had a "before" shot so that my upset would be understandable.  Simply stated, the "before" shot would have shown nothing but plant life.  The vehicles and the street would not have been at all visible in the "before" photo.

This is a view from my property, from the driveway looking towards the street, away from the park.  I know that I am a mismatch for my neighbors.  This is a very uptight, clean-shaven neighborhood.  Each bush is trimmed to utter perfection, along with each blade of grass.  (Mercifully, my property hosts no grass, although it did when I moved in.)

My neighbors all happen to be retired.  Plant control is apparently an appealing undertaking for them.  One day shortly after I moved in, I was surprised, upon glancing out the window, to see an elderly  man traipsing through my greenery spraying an unidentified liquid out of a tank.

I ran outside, asking him rather excitedly what he was doing.  After recovering from being startled, he stammered that he was spraying the poison ivy.  Now, I'm as allergic to poison ivy as the next guy, but I spat,"Well, I don't use toxins on my property, indoors or out!"

The neighbors are still telling that story, with as much sense of awed disbelief as the day it happened nine years ago.  At least the squirrels and chipmunks here seem to think highly of me.  I've had handymen comment that they've never before seen such friendly wildlife.  (Herbicides do not create friendly wildlife!)

Getting back to the photo: it shows the results of many hours of labor by my retired neighbors.  The woman next door, who obviously has the proverbial abundance of time on her hands, became obsessed with the notion that plants underneath the lower branches of the blue spruce (which is somewhat visible on the right in the photo) were going to bring about the untimely demise of the tree. 

Mind you, the woman is neither a horticulturist nor an arborist, yet she felt somehow qualified to make that determination.  Not only that, but she managed to convince a host of neighbors of her theory.  She had asked me if I would mind if she pruned the plants behind my house, which were visible from her house (not from mine).  Of course I didn't mind.  But I should have recalled the saying "Give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile!"

I was distracted.  I was preparing to bid on a foreclosed house in the neighborhood I DO belong in (which happens to be outrageously expensive, thus the sheriff's sale was my best option.)  I didn't notice the gradual eroding of my plantscape brought about by the efforts of my neighbors.

And by the time I did notice, they had made such a huge dent that finishing was the only option.  In fact, in an act of complete and utter selling out, I actually helped them.  Last Friday, the day I was supposed to be buying my way into the long-coveted downtown neighborhood, I was home when the neighbors were hacking away my plantlife.  (They weren't properly removing the plants by digging out their roots!)  I went outside to investigate, and what could I do?  I couldn't ask them to stop, because it had become a half-finished excavation site.  I had no choice but to help hack, cut and bag.

The Child tore himself away from his computer long enough to come outside and witness the eye-popping event.  He pulled me aside and whispered, "Mother!  Why are you HELPING these people destroy our landscaping?"

I had no answer.  But I did mange to tell them that I wasn't too thrilled about the fact that my house is now visible from the street (whereas before, it was obscured by plantlife).  One of the men, the one who exerts the least effort to hide his disapproval of me, shot back, "That house was a prime target for break-ins!!!"

My response was, "The truth of the matter is that this house has never been broken into since the day it was built in 1962.  The criminals around here must be incredibly inept!"

He kept hacking in silence.


Saturday, July 17, 2010


In case anyone is wondering, things did not go my way.  "My" house was withdrawn from the sheriff's auction.  I'm doing the best I can to recover, but it's not easy.

Thank you for all of the support and positive thoughts.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Think of me on Friday

Whirlingbetty is back!  I have not been blogging lately because I have been spending every waking moment (except when I'm at work) organizing, purging, and cleaning my house.  That may not sound like a big deal, but it is for me.  I've been a lifelong slob, a fact which was only barely masked by recent (over the past few years) efforts to sweep the mess under the rug.

I've always had a sort of vague dream of getting my act together regarding my physical environment, but I never really believed it would happen.  In this dream, I knew what possessions I owned and where they were located.  There was no excess- I only owned what I needed.  My paperwork was so clearly organized that anyone could come into my house and know everything there is to know about me and my affairs.

Suddenly, without warning, I began.the process.  This was 2 months ago, so I'm not exactly sure, but I think the first thing I accomplished was to organize a kitchen drawer (after tossing out most of its contents).  From there I moved to a cupboard, and then another.  I started to obsess over purging, either by giving things away or tossing junk into the trash or recycling bin.

I was on a roll. Then, seemingly as a reward for my efforts, the Victorian house downtown which I wanted to buy at a foreclosure auction in March suddenly became available again after having been withdrawn from the March sale.  The new sale date is this Friday, July 16. 

When I learned about my renewed chance to buy the Victorian house, my efforts to get my current house in order took on new meaning.  Now I thought of it as preparing to move, to show my house for sale, and for clearing the way for new things in my life.
Here's an example of one room's before and after shots:

Most remarkable, though, is the basement, which used to be my dumping ground for anything I didn't know what to do with but couldn't be bothered to figure out.  Every last inch of it is now organized and cleaned:

Every day over the past 2 months I sorted, examined, purged, cleaned.  I didn't know if I'd ever finish, but this Friday, July 16 was my goal.  It appears that I'm going to reach my goal, since I'm now putting the finishing touches on my organizing.  The house looks so different with all of the junk gone.  One last batch of give-ways will be picked up by a charity on Thursday.

Each Friday I have attended the sheriff's sales in which houses in foreclosure are auctioned off.  I had to learn how to bid by observing how it's done!  It's very daunting.  But I think I understand how things work and the degree of effort and risk involved in foreclosure purchases.

Yesterday I went to take one last look at  the house I'll be bidding on (if I don't faint during the auction).  Here's the ultra cool front:

 And this is the view through the back gate looking into the backyard, which I find equally charming:

My longtime readers know how many years I've been trying to find a way to live in this downtown pedestrian neighborhood.  This time, I've done everything humanly possible to make it happen as far as setting up the right conditions.  I'm all ready for moving, for starting a new life, for selling my current house, and I'm prepared to bid on my dream house!   Wish me luck on Friday (July 16) at around 9:15am EST!!


Monday, June 21, 2010

Still in upheaval

A few weeks ago I suddenly became determined to organize my house and get rid of anything unnecessary.  Almost every day since then I have worked on that project.  Yesterday, for example,  I spent all day organizing those records that everybody has to keep for a certain number of years.  The files I ended up with look suspiciously slim.  Have I gone overboard?

I had consulted the internet beforehand.  Some items, like statements from bank accounts, should be kept "a year or indefinitely" according to the website I ended up on.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but there's a big difference between a year and indefinitely.  I opted for the year.  Why?  Because I'm sick of stuff, including paper stuff.  And what's the worst thing that's going to happen to me if  I'm caught not owning a piece of paper from 10 years ago?  Good heavens. 

Apparently our society has not gone paperless at all.  I have a workplace retirement account which gives big fat quarterly statements (fat with paper, not with money!) which I receive at work, whether I want them or not.  On another account which I'm in control of, I went online to see if I could reduce the paper influx.  Then I caught myself, remembering I that I might be applying for a mortgage soon, if things go my way.  I found a website explaining what's needed to apply, and found out that some mortgage companies will not accept statements printed off the internet- they insist on real, old-fashioned paper statements- the kind I just hauled to the recycling bins yesterday.  Uh-oh.

Ironically, this project originally started with pure intentions.  I just wanted to be organized and efficient.  Then I learned that the last house I tried to buy downtown has been slated for sale again in July at a sheriff's auction.  So the project's purpose morphed into "clearing out space to make room for change in my life" (not to mention the practical aspect of making moving easier).  And now I may have disposed of the very paperwork I needed to apply for the mortgage!  That's no small matter, since mortgage companies are now regarding any applicant with grave suspicion in the wake of the housing/mortgage crisis.

I'm going to keep on purging.  The mortgage company can receive up-to-the-minute information about me and my finances on the internet, whether they want to admit that or not.  I know they love to see their customers jump through hoops, but I think it's more important for me to jump through my own hoops right now.


Friday, June 11, 2010

a second chance, maybe

Those who "know" me are aware of my desire to live in a downtown neighborhood where it is possible to live without driving a car.  I believe that oil addiction will soon change life as we know it, and society will reverse its trend of the past century.  Instead of spreading out to the suburbs, humanity will scurry back to the city core, giving up the extreme luxury of personal motor vehicles for much more healthy and sustainable mass transit, walking and biking. 

I love the idea of walking to the grocery store or farmer's market to buy fresh local produce.  I want to walk or bike to work.  How nice it would be to be able to attend the many downtown festivals, entertainment options and events without worrying about finding and paying for parking!   (How many times have I tried to attend events downtown and given up after not being able to park the car?)

The urban neighborhoods are expensive to live in, but three months ago I was informed of a rare opportunity- a Victorian house near downtown which was in foreclosure and being sold at the Sheriff's auction.  I was all set to bid on the house on the date of the auction when suddenly the house was withdrawn. 

After getting over the disappointment, I decided to examine myself in the house I am currently living in.  Did I appear to be on the verge of moving on to a new lifestyle?  No.  Instead, I appeared bogged down by accumulation of unnecessary, meaningless items- anchors preventing my ship from sailing.

I set out to change that.  I wanted to be light and flexible, ready to move with the flow of whatever opportunity might present itself.  I started the purging process, and tried not to be impeded by the nagging sense that my efforts fell short of perfection.

Imagine my shock when 2 days ago I went online to check out the status of upcoming Sheriff's auctions and found that the house I wanted has been added to the list of houses to be auctioned in mid July. 

Did this happen because I took the steps of preparing for change?  Well, we've all witnessed evidence of the laws of the universe, whether we know it or not.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Field trip

The last day of school for The Child's 6th grade class was also the day of the highly anticipated field trip to the city zoo.  The chaperoning parents, myself included,  were instructed to meet the students and teachers at the zoo.  I wondered how that would work.....the day before the field trip, I had been in the vicinity of the zoo for a work-related project.  I saw hundreds of school buses entering the zoo!  How on earth would I be able to find The Child amongst thousands of swarming children???

When I arrived at the zoo on the day of the field trip, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the zoo was prepared.  (They had done this before, apparently....)  There was a huge tent set up with a sign in front indicating that this was the meeting area for chaperones.  I asked the woman in charge how I would find The Child's school, and she said that they announced each incoming school.  Wow!

I noticed a huge board listing the schools which were sending students that day. There were around 200 schools on the list.  No buses had arrived yet (I showed up early to increase my odds of finding The Child) so I took a seat and watched the goings-on.  The woman in charge told an impatient parent that the buses were usually late- very late, and we might have to sit there for an hour and a half waiting for them.  I had brought a book, so I started reading.

Glancing up from the book, I saw 2 yellow buses approaching. The woman in charge shouted, "Here we go!"  as she started walking toward the buses, which were allowed to pull up to the zoo entrance.  She checked with the first adult off the first bus, and walked back to the tent, yelling the name of The Child's middle school.  I couldn't believe his was the first school to arrive.

Within moments I was being told by The Child that he and his friends "didn't need to be chaperoned" and he'd see me later.  This zoo is the size of a small city, so I wasn't counting on seeing him anytime soon.  The school allowed the 6th graders to roam unattended, with the only rule being that they had to be with an adult to enter the gift shops.

I had anticipated this brush-off, so I wasn't terribly devastated as I took off on my own.  I had never been to the zoo alone before, and I enjoyed the freedom of deciding how to spend my time there.  Had I been with a group of kids, I may not have entered into the conversations with zoo workers that I ended up having.

I spent a couple of hours in the Australia exhibit.  The birds were amazing, and their keeper filled me in on some fascinating details.  This is the largest pigeon in the world (which doesn't look like any pigeon I've seen before):

Most of my time was spent at the koala exhibit.  They were actually awake, which only happens for a couple of hours total per day.  They were also being fed eucalyptus, but they couldn't have cared less. 

I envied the koala keepers.

 I stayed until the koalas were asleep.

This koala encounter made my day.  I had never seen koalas with open eyes before!

I recovered from all of this excitement in the food court with my book.  The food court was filled with people, many of whom seemed to be screaming for no obvious reason.  Suddenly in the midst of the chaos I spied The Child holding court at a table about a tenth of a mile from mine.  I waved.  I think he was actually glad to see me because his group wanted to enter a gift shop, so I was for once a welcome sight.

We shopped, and most of the kids bought a souvenir.  The Child picked a panda mask to match the shirt he was wearing:

It wasn't quite time to leave yet, and I wanted to rush to the polar bear exhibit which was rather far away.  The child and his buddies had already been there, but one volunteered to show me the way.  We jogged through the North American exhibit, past the rides, and beyond the petting zoo.  After a glance at the Arctic foxes, we found a polar bear posing as if he knew we had little time:

Rushing back to the zoo entrance, I stopped to photograph a wayward flamingo strutting his stuff:  ( I don't know how he escaped from the flamingo exhibit!)

When we arrived back at the zoo entrance, the 6th graders were gathering to walk to the buses:

I really didn't do any chaperoning to speak of, but I did have a memorable day at the zoo.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Betty is irritable

Maybe it's the heat.  Maybe it's the fact that I'm once again attempting the dreaded deed- getting my house in order.  Or maybe it's the combination of the heat and the dreaded deed, with no air conditioning on top of it all.

First, the air conditioning.   It seems so extravagant to turn it on during the month of May!  Good heavens- I grew up without air conditioning at all!  Why should I now need it to survive the month of May?  Something seems not quite right about that.

There's more.  Two summers ago, my central air went kaput, and the service technician warned me that although he was temporarily able to render it functional, it was on its last legs.  So I'm on borrowed time.  Having scarcely recovered from my two recent purchases of a washer and a chain saw posing as a hedge trimmer,  I am far from ready to take on another major expense.  If I don't use the central air, I won't lose it, right?

It seems as though I have spent a good deal of my adult life attempting to get my house in order, literally.  I am not a pack rat exactly, and I'm not a hoarder exactly, yet I exhibit traits of each.   I tend to accumulate, mostly due to laziness.  I don't bother to examine what I'm bringing in, what I'm keeping, what I'm not putting in its proper place, or whether or not each item even has a proper place.  The result is a higher degree of chaos than anyone would be comfortable with.

I present this issue as though I think that cleaning a house is a once-in-a-lifetime proposition.  I think that once I've cleaned my house, I ought to be off the hook.  Forevermore.  During my development I somehow failed to grasp the principles of household maintenance.

Whenever I tackle the house problem, I create a bigger mess than what originally existed.  Below, for example, I have totally organized the drawers and cupboards of my kitchen/dining area.  That's great for the drawers and cupboards:

but bad for the rest of the space:

 After several days, many hours and much irritability, I did end up with a better looking house than before:

Yet a nagging issue remains.  It's not good enough.  It's not perfect.  I have kept a few items which I know, deep down inside, that I should have gotten rid of.  This, for example, has no place in my life:

What does a grown woman need with a dinosaur habitat key chain?  Seriously.  It doesn't even have sentimental value, since I have no idea where it came from!  Yet I can't part with it.  Why?

Those nagging items are ruining any sense of accomplishment.  I may as well have left the mess, because I am so disturbed now by the lack of perfection.  When chaos prevailed, I had no worries.

Betty remains irritable.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The flip side of yesterday

My house is situated on a public park.  A hedge forms the boundary between my property and the park- a very healthy, thriving hedge.  My next door neighbor had always loaned me a battery powered hedge trimmer to keep the hedges in check.  I have never been very domestic, so it was fairly amazing that he was able to teach me how to use the tool to tame the bushes.  He was known to occasionally do some of my pruning himself.

Last summer my neighbor died.  He was like a father to me, and now that he's gone the neighborhood is a lot less appealing to me.  It's hollow and lifeless without my energetic, ever-present, talkative neighbor.  His widow still owns the house, but she's been in Florida since September.  Before she left, I asked to buy her husband's hedge trimmers.  She said no- she thought she might need them.  (I have never seen her lift a finger outdoors.  She hires a maintenance crew to do her yardwork now that her husband is gone.)   I believe that her late husband would have wanted me to have his hedge trimmers, but I had to accept the rejection and move on.

Moving on meant first consulting with online hedge trimmer reviews.  I found a Black and Decker tool with high ratings which happened to be 50% off at  It arrived 2 days later.

OK.  What I sought was a hedge trimmer.  What I got was a veritable chain saw.  (That could explain why even at 50% off, it was still pricier than I expected.)  I was immediately scared of it.  This machine was nothing like my neighbor's very tame and manageable tool.

I laid the machine down in the living room and cowered.  It took me 2 solid days to muster the courage to even read the owner's manual.  When I did, I was horrified.  I was warned over and over that the use of my new machine was likely to result in my death unless I followed very specific instructions, and even then I was in grave danger.  The battery alone could kill me, which was not surprising considering its appearance:

Why, my neighbor's tool's battery was never even exposed!  His entire hedge trimmer fit onto a charging base, and the killer battery was never even visible!  WHAT had I gotten myself into?!

The next day I decided that enough was enough.  How many people had died from trimming hedges?  (I actually searched for the statistics.)  I dressed in long pants, long sleeves, gloves, goggles, face mask and the "properly stable footwear" which the owner's manual had insisted upon, and boldly marched into my driveway with The Machine.

By this time I had memorized the 66-page owner's manual.  I knew exactly how to start it.  It didn't start.  I tried again.  And again.  Nothing.  This is the tool which Consumer Reports had recommended, and it wouldn't start.  (Yes, I had inserted the Killer Battery, after charging it for 11 hours.)

Truth be known, I was relieved.  I was unlikely to be killed by a hedge trimmer/chain saw which would not turn on!  Maybe my neighbor was watching over me.....

I tend to be persistent, even when failure works to my advantage.  I persisted, and eventually discovered that I had not been pressing hard enough on the "on" switch prior to pressing on the appropriately named "trigger."

When The Machine finally came to life in my hands, I nearly dropped it!  The rave reviews had never mentioned how heavy The Machine was, especially for lifting up in the air to cut the 5-6 feet tall hedges I was dealing with!

I had prepared the bushes by attaching a string to ensure straight, even cutting.  (This tip was straight out of the 66-page owner's manual.)

Although the experience was indeed traumatic, my hedges are now manicured.  This was the view last night as I stood in the park, looking toward my house:

And I lived to tell the tale.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fitting in (or not)

This week I have been more focused than usual on the landscaping around my house.  I generally go for the wild look, much to the consternation of my neighbors.  To give perspective on that, here's my next door neighbor's landscaping:
(I had to crop this photo to cut out my wild branches hanging over their property.)

Now, here's my landscaping:

Voila la difference!  I think it's funny, but the neighbors are not quite so light-hearted about it.  One of them went so far as to tell me, in a manner which I'm sure he considered polite, that I don't belong here.........

I'm sure they're frustrated that they have no legal recourse.  If I had grass, they could report me to the city if it grew beyond a certain length.  But the first thing I did when I moved in here was to get rid of the grass so that ground covering ivy could take over.
Ground cover is environmentally friendly, and in my opinion a heck of a lot more aesthetic than fussy old grass.

Obviously I have a lot more going on than mere ground cover- all of the bushes and trees have taken on a certain devil-may-care appearance as well
The only time this is in any way problematic is when pizza is delivered. The house is not visible from the street, so it's necessary to stand out in the middle of the street to flag down the pizza man.

The neighbors did find a way to punish me.  Each Christmas Eve, they gather together to set up luminaries lining the streets of the neighborhood.  There are no sidewalks here; they line up the candles along the curb.

The luminaries come to a dramatic halt at my property line.  The first Christmas Eve I lived here, the neighbors were outside busily setting up the luminaries when I came home from work.  I asked them why they were not illuminating my property, and was told that it was because of my ground cover!  Seriously!  That was a tough one to explain to The Child, who was then 4 years old, since I couldn't make sense of it myself.

If only the neighbors understood that defiance is a favorite indulgence of mine.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

from the NY Times

Recently I discovered an author, Dominique Browning, whose nonfiction writing I find fascinating.  She used to work for Condé Nast but ended up unemployed after the magazine she edited, Home and Garden, suddenly ceased to exist.  I remember perusing that classy magazine (not to be confused with the more mainstream Better Homes and Gardens) a few years ago.  Browning is also a blogger at  

Below I have pasted a fun 20 questions type interview of Browning which just appeared in The New York Times.   It discloses a lot about Browning as well as the uber cool NY lifestyle (although I never thought about the fact that NY lacks hummingbirds):


Dominique Browning Is Worried She’ll See Something But Be Too Mortified to Say Something

Dominique Browning Is Worried She’ll See Something But Be Too 
Mortified to Say Something
Photo: Cloe Poisson, The Hartford Courant
Name: Dominique Browning
Age: 54
Neighborhood: Upper West Side
Occupation: Author; blogger at; columnist at the Environmental Defense Fund website, former House & Garden editor. She’ll be reading from and signing her book Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas, & Found Happiness at Borders in Scarsdale at 7 p.m. this evening and and at Barnes & Noble Upper East Side tomorrow.
Who's your favorite New Yorker, living or dead, real or fictional?
Mrs. Manson Mingott in Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence. She never left her bedroom, but she ruled New York.
What's the best meal you've eaten in New York?
PB&J white-bread sandwiches for breakfast at a Columbus Avenue diner tarted up with shiny metal walls, after 5 a.m. spins through Central Park — this was in the late seventies, before I hung up my roller skates.
In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job?
I type, fast.
Would you live here on a $35,000 salary?
Done it before and can do it again. I’m taking down my roller skates. But this time around I have to subsidize myself. Or find a husband.
What's the last thing you saw on Broadway?
Sherri Rene Scott in Everyday Rapture — she is brilliantly, endearingly witty and wise.
Do you give money to panhandlers?
Women and children first.
What's your drink?
I’ve simplified: Jack Daniel's, ice.
How often do you prepare your own meals?
Too often, but I usually eat the ingredients before I get around to the actual recipe.
What's your favorite medication?
I’m reverse-wired; Ambien keeps me up all night and then some. I yearn for general anesthesia.
What's hanging above your sofa?
The music of J.S. Bach. Memories. And empty thought bubbles, like in cartoon strips.
How much is too much to spend on a haircut?
I’m trying to grow my hair long enough to braid, so I can avoid the whole issue.
When's bedtime?
Not soon enough.
Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square?
You mean, before Condé Nast or after Condé Nast? Uh, let me think …
What do you think of Donald Trump?
He should consider spending less money on the haircut …
What do you hate most about living in New York?
No hummingbirds; friends who drop you when you no longer have an editorial budget; the constant anxiety that I will see something about which I will be too mortified to say something.
Who is your mortal enemy?
Please: enemies! They don’t make ’em like they used to. Now they all have the same name: ANONYMOUS.
When's the last time you drove a car?
How has the Wall Street crash affected you?
I have joined the barter economy.
Times, Post, or Daily News?
First, Joe Romm’s Climate Progress blog. Then the Times.
Where do you go to be alone?
I seem to have developed a knack for finding solitude anywhere.
What makes someone a New Yorker?
Mastering the Art of Ambivalence: endless whining and complaining, but never quite calling it quits.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Finally, after hours of trauma, the washing machine situation has been resolved.  Repairman #1, who would have charged $19.99 for the service call, regardless of outcome, told me over the phone that the machine was kaput, and he couldn't show up to confirm that until Tuesday.   I considered just buying another machine, but decided that I really had to know for sure that the machine (it was only 9  years old!) couldn't be fixed.

I belong to Angie's List, which by now is fairly well known nationwide.  Customers pay for access to Angie's reviews of service providers in the customers' area.  I decided to seek Repairman #2 who might be able to show up sooner than Tuesday to give me some answers.  Sure enough, I found another Repairman, one who showed up a few minutes ago, charging $69.99 for the service call.  (I'm just now figuring out that patience pays, or impatience costs.)

Repairman #2 confirmed that the washing machine was indeed dead beyond resuscitation.  (Repairs would cost more than the cost of a new washer, which I find shocking and disturbing.)  I fought back tears as i wrote out the check for $69.99.

The Child thought that I should physically shop for a new washer.  Really????  In this day and age, who actually shows up at a brick and mortar???  I went online, spent an hour, and ended up with what I think is an economical and reliable washing machine.  It will be delivered and installed on Wednesday, and the deceased will receive a proper burial, all free of charge.

I hereby put this matter to rest.