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.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Betty is undone

                                                             Washer and Dryer clipart   

 Why should I become completely undone over a broken down washing machine?  At first I thought I had done something wrong- overloaded it, not shut the door right, made the mistake of using hot water on the previous load.  I fussed with it.  Nothing.  I got out the owner's manual.  Nothing.  I consulted the internet.  Nothing.  I called my appliance repairman, and even though it's after houtrs, he called me back.  With bad news.

The first bad news is that he's unavailable until 5 days from now!  The second bad news is that based upon my description of the problem (it drains but doesn't spin) he thinks the computer is shot.  Repairs would cost hundreds and he thinks I need a new washer.

This washer is less than 9 years old!!??  (It's not a Maytag.)  Why should it be broken?  It's never been abused or mistreated or even moved!  A NINE YEAR lifespan?? Really??

But as I sit here drying up my tears, I have to wonder why I am so upset.  Granted, I just researched new washer prices and that's enough to make a grown man cry.  But there's more to this.....

I am realizing that I don't want to do laundry.  I want my mother to do it.  I am tired of being the adult all the time.  I want someone to do my laundry.

Just now I had a flashback to one of the stressful times during my early parenthood.  I had just moved, and the woman who, with her husband and kid, had just moved out of the house I bought, saw how stressed I was from doing  everything alone.  She offered to do my laundry.  I thought it was odd, but I was so moved by the offer of help that eagerly accepted.  She took my laundry basket up the street to her brother's house and returned an hour later with clean, folded laundry which was still warm.

So laundry has become symbolic to me.  I associate it, when it is problematic, with a kind and rare offer of assistance.  Now I am again in laundry crisis, yet nobody is stepping forward with outstretched arms.

I also associate it with my mother.  Until she died, I didn't do laundry.  She did it.  Always.  Nurturers do laundry.  Bottom line.

With a sense of detached resignation, I began doing my own laundry, with great frequency once The Child entered the picture.  I bought the machine best equipped to cover my needs with efficiency, never suspecting that it would serve me for a mere NINE YEARS.  During the  NINE YEARS since I bought this latest washer I didn't think about it- I accepted my duty and performed it adequately.

Now I have come undone.  Where is my mother?  Where is the kind-hearted soul who did my laundry after I moved?

I want to be taken care of by someone other than myself.  It's been a long time.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

planning a speech

I am planning a speech.  Not a typical speech by any means, but a speech designed to make a point very clearly.  I call it a speech because I'm not interested in any response, even though it will only be directed at 2 people.  (There will be several other people present who will not be addressed in this speech.)

Two weeks from today I will be forced into a small group to perform a work-related task.  My 2 targets are part of this group.  The reason I wish to address them is because their behavior over the past few months has been very harmful to the organization we work for, as well as hurtful to me individually.  These 2 were the first people I met when I moved here to take this job, and I've had to work closely with them during my entire adult life.  They used to be my friends.  I can't function in the small group which begins meeting 2 weeks from today while acting as if nothing happened.

These guys should have known better.  They've worked in this field for a long time, and their unrealistic insistence upon digging in their heels when changes needed to be made just created animosity and tension.  They were thwarting me personally; I was elected to a position of leadership, and they opposed my every move, sometimes openly, sometimes covertly.  They spent as much energy trying to undermine me as I did trying to save our workplace from shutting down.

I don't like to be negative but as I said, I can't pretend that what happened didn't happen.  I plan to say that I am angry at them for defying me while I bent over backwards to serve my colleagues.  I plan to inform them that their behavior was damaging to the whole and to the individual (me).  I'll say how difficult it is for me to work closely with them again now that this has happened.  I plan to say that their behavior has far-reaching consequences, one of which is the loss of my friendship, trust and respect.

I wish the speech didn't have to happen, but it does.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday thoughts

I never used to think that there was anything negative or undesirable about being emotional, or having an emotional reaction to something.  Then last week I read the following post from a spiritual teacher on twitter:
"The more emotional energy you give to situations, the more you stop your spiritual growth."
It took me a few days to take that in and try to process it.  I had always thought that emotions were to be honored and expressed, lest they fester and create illness in the body. 

During my childhood, my family expressed emotions- negative emotions.  Positive or loving emotions were apparently embarrassing or taboo.  Anger was equated with power, dominance and even intelligence.  It's no wonder that I developed the notion that emotions- negative emotions- were desirable.

Yet my adult observations have shown that emotions can interfere with communication and effectiveness, a concept I found expressed eloquently on Surgit's blog:

It is possible to speak truth in anger.
When so done, people tend to hear the anger and not the truth.
It is possible to speak truth in arrogance.
When so done, people tend to hear the arrogance
and not the truth.
It is possible to speak truth in deceitful ways.
When so done, people tend to sense the deceit
and take the truth for more deceit.
It is possible to speak truth in loving kindness.
When so done, people tend to hear the love and the truth...... 
                                                                                     -Jesa MacBeth
Clearly, this idea is worthy of  my attention.  My goal now is to figure out how to regulate the body to remain in a state of peaceful calm no matter what goes on around it, like the eye of a hurricane.

Wish me luck with that!


Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday thoughts

So far I have spent the day reading and ordering books and a CD on Amazon, following an early morning jog in the park.  It's rainy but not depressingly so.  As you might surmise, it's a day off from work.  Heaven knows what time I would have arisen this morning if my son didn't have to be driven to the bus stop at 6:55am.  I guess I should be grateful for his ridiculously early Middle School starting time, because when I think about it, morning is my favorite time of day, and I really don't want to sleep through it!. 

Just now, the red-bellied woodpecker hammered on the gutters above my front door.  That is his signal to let me know that he's available to receive a peanut.  I toss one up into the air above my front door, and he swoops down to catch the peanut mid-air.  People who have witnessed this interaction have been dumbfounded.  It took the woodpecker and I several years to perfect this act.

There's more to it.  Several other species have figured out our routine.  After the woodpecker flies away, I invariably see his shadow, a male cardinal, who is unable to catch peanuts midair but will gladly scoop one off the ground.  There is always a chipmunk standing at my front door who I'm sure has been debating whether or not to enter my house in search of my stash.  He will accept 4 or 5 nuts at a time which he is able to stash in his chubby cheeks.

And my dear squirrels are always hanging around hoping to catch sight of me.  They come running when the woodpecker knocks, knowing that the peanut lady shall appear.

It's nice to be popular.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

another one that got away

Over the past few months it's been difficult to find time for whirlingbetty, but now that my schedule is less hectic I'm back!

A month ago, my dream nearly came true.  Again.  I was all set to bid on a really cool Victorian house in my favorite neighborhood which is in the downtown area.  That neighborhood is really expensive, but the house in question was in foreclosure and was scheduled to be sold at a sheriff's auction in the county courthouse.

Look at those lions guarding the house of my dreams!   It had a huge front porch, with a flat roof on top of it so that it could actually be used as a  terrace off the second floor:
This house was in a great location- right across the street from a really great urban park, a block away from a grocery and drug store, and walking distance to work.  Perfect!

I know how it is with foreclosures.  It's risky to try to buy one, for many reasons.  You must brace yourself for a roller coaster ride, even if things go your way.

Things did not go my way.  The house which should have been mine was withdrawn from the sheriff's sale the day before it was to be auctioned off.  And there goes another house which was almost mine.