Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In Which I Am Impressed By The Level Of Some People's Commitment To The Holiday

Winner!  It's hard to top this yard for its authenticity, scope, and overall design. It's too bad that realty company Berkshire Hathaway had to destroy sight-line continuity with its sign, but hey--that's business. And you know what President Calvin Coolidge (famous dead guy said), "The business of America is business."

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fear Factor

Today on my walk I played a little game in honor of all of the Halloween decorations. I called it "Which Yard Is The Scariest 2014?" (It was a long walk because not only did I need to oust a Severe Case Of The Crabbies, but I also needed to go to the drugstore. I took, therefore, a circuitous route which gave me a nice three miler or so.)

Anyway, I took some photos, and here are the two Finalists.

Number One:

I'm impressed.  That thing is like fifteen feet tall.  Along with the inflatable Christmas Eeyore, it may be the only yard inflatable I will ever sanction in my neighborhood.  It's scary, yo.  But get ready; here is Entry 

Number Two:

Holy crap.  Do you see what I see?  That's about thirty bags of mulch that need to be spread!  Talk about Scary!  The chills that went up my spine when I saw that...brrrrr.  Not to mention the sick feeling in my gut just thinking about the smell and the stains on my hands, my socks, my arms, and whatever else came in contact with that stuff.  We won't even talk about what it would do to Rick's back.

Yikes.  I think we have a winner.

candycorn monster pic

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Oddments And Doodads And Road, Oh My!

In lieu of a lobotomy, let's see if an offload of brain litter might help me get rid of some of the Distraction and Scatter that I feel in my head lately. Honestly, I can't even read a book anymore, and it is with Great Sadness and Terrible Alarm that I confide that to you. Naturally, I'm going to pin all of it on that handy Scapegoat, The Menopause, even though technically, I'm probably done with it. But humour me and let's Go With It, shall we?

Oh, thank you.

~*~THERE'S A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE. Rick and I were on the way to our Dinner Date (!), and my omnipresent GPS suddenly displayed, ever so helpfully, this:

O-Kay,  I am grateful, however, that this selfsame GPS never had a bout of The Menopause like this as it navigated me past Washington, D.C. (ugh, the Capital Beltway!) or through The Traveler's Oasis (how I hate the Breezewood exchange on the PA Turnpike!). Or any other routes I have driven, so I will forgive it this minor Episode.  (For the record, Road had a name, and we were, in fact actually ON it, not askew between the river and ... whatever.)  Yikes.

~*~HOW SOON WE FORGET. So, I chopped all of my hair off in a fit of boredom and faux bravado. Oh, yes I did--all of it. I have one of those spiky pixy dos and I am now thoroughly disenchanted with it, but oh well. It's not that I dislike it, exactly, but it's a case of "Okay, I did that, so...can it be over now?" Why I didn't read all of my old posts from the last time I cut off my hair, I really don't know. What I should have done is asked my mother, who came right out and told me just a few months ago, when I cut my hair like this

that she didn't like it. I think her exact words were, "Nance! You cut your hair! Why? I guess I just liked it better the other way." For the record, this time, with the pixy, she keeps staring at it and saying, "It's very attractive." I think word got back to her about the last time.
(P.S. Mariska is still on My List.)

~*~WHAT'S IN A NAME? Oh, everything when it comes to my Fantasy Basketball Team. Previously, it has been named the West Egg Gatsbys and then, after a tragically mediocre draft, I renamed it the Puppycats. This year, I'm in mourning after losing Paul George of the Indiana Pacers to a horrific injury (Seriously, don't even watch it when you Google it unless you have a very strong stomach.) during the summer league. I'm trying to decide whether to go back to the original name, keep Puppycats, or get a new name. Last year, I named one of Sam's fantasy football teams The Fluffy Bunnies. He went on to be the most fearsome, most dominant team in the league and won the championship. Imagine the men sitting at home, setting their lineups and saying, "Damn, the Fluffy Bunnies are kicking ass, and I have to play them this week" or "You got the Fluffy Bunnies this week, Craig? Good Luck!" or "I hate those effing Fluffy Bunnies!"

~*~HEY, GREAT JOB! My Maryland buddy Leanne, fabric hoarder and quilter extraordinaire, recently received this confirmation of her shipment of fabric from the Missouri Star Quilt Company. I don't sew at all, but I might drop them a line just to express my admiration for their Wonderfulness. Or to ask for a job. Here, read:

Thanks for your order at the Missouri Star Quilt Company!

We just want to let you know that your quilting supplies have been meticulously gathered, placed on a red velvet pillow, and delicately escorted by 25 of our finest employees to our shipping department. Our master shipper has dutifully performed his craft, lovingly packing your order in the finest materials known to man.

Our team gathered to give your package the proper send-off it deserved. Tears of joy were shed, speeches were given, and there was even a farewell cake. Following the festivities, the whole group, led by our local high school marching band playing the song Leaving on a Jet Plane, ushered your order through downtown Hamilton, Missouri. No, we don't own a Jet Plane, but your package was placed in the care of a roguishly handsome man who is riding in a majestic horse-drawn carriage which is on its way to your home as you read this.

Although the products you've ordered will be sorely missed here at MSQC, we are overjoyed that they have found a good home. Take care of them, treasure them, and when you make something beautiful with them, make sure you share it with us on facebook, twitter, or just send us an email; we love to see what you make!

*Note: the above is a slight dramatization of what actually happened with your order, but seriously, we did ship it, and here is the tracking info:

Holy crap. I want so much to meet that person, that one employee who is making his/her job so much more awesome than it has to be. That person right there is A Difference Maker.

~*~FOLLOW THAT CAR. I'm not a bumper sticker person; I wouldn't put one on my car unless it was an election year and I wanted to make a very specific statement politically. I do enjoy, however, other people's statements on the back of their cars, and I'm entertained by so many of them. Today I was actually moved by one that I saw. I had been listening to NPR's guest, who was giving a very dismal assessment of things in the Middle East, and suddenly, this car pulled ahead of me in the next lane.

I wanted very, very much to believe it, but at the very least, it reminded me that while there are chaos and ugliness in the world, and violence and brutality, so, too are there paintings and literature, sculpture and architecture, poetry and music.  I took a deep breath and changed the station to something lighter and poppier, feeling a twinge of gratitude for the woman in the black Honda Accord.  (Coincidentally, 90.3 is NEO's NPR affiliate station.)  She was, for me, A Difference Maker.

thanks to Leanne for the shipment email

Friday, October 03, 2014

In Which I Am Tired Of Being Inundated By Pharmaceuticals Which Want Me To Ask My Doctor About Them

For quite some time now, the Dept. has been without cable television. Aside from the occasional jonesing for MSNBC or CNN every now and then, (and okay, maybe some Top Chef or Project Runway, but only if it's Old School), we honestly Do Not Miss It. We are very content Cord Cutters, the growing breed without cable and satellite television services who watch network TV, stream select shows from our computers using an HDMI hookup, and, in our case, have a Roku box and Jared's Netflix password.

One of the things I'm continually amused by is the carefully selected advertising on some of the over-the-air networks. It's clear that they have studied their audience demographics, and that they are targeting them like the bullseye on a dart board. My favourite example of this is a network called MeTV, one which shows reruns of old popular shows that were huge faves in their day. Here's a typical lineup of their primetime: MASH, The Andy Griffith Show, Hogan's Heroes, Gilligan's Island, Welcome Back Kotter, Perry Mason. (Rick and I watch MASH during dinner every night. It replaces Seinfeld, which was our choice during the Heydays Of Cable.)

During MASH Rick and I are offered a variety of medications, information on life insurance and reverse mortgages, and several medical devices including catheters, back braces, and of course the medical alert system for when we've fallen and can't get up. Oh, and the walk-in bathtub. But the amount of prescription medications we are urged to "talk to (y)our doctor about" is ridiculous. And lately, I've noticed that it's not just on The Old People's Network. It's all over the networks, and it's all over primetime.

Obviously, the pharmaceutical companies wouldn't advertise on television unless such advertising worked. It's like negative political campaign ads: people say they hate them, but their effectiveness is undeniable; they work. And so do prescription drug ads. That's why they are so ubiquitous. The US federal ban on direct to consumer (DTC) advertising for prescription medications was lifted in 1997. But do you remember there being so many ads on television in, say, 2005 as there are now for medicines?

And the names of these meds are fascinating. Januvia, Latuda--I think I may have had them in class. Eliquis--wasn't that the name of a car not too terribly long ago, maybe the Mercury Eliquis? And Linzess--sounds more like a chocolate or maybe a fabric, or even a feminine hygiene product. But I digress.

I'm irritated by so many facets of this: Advertising, in many ways, creates demand. One health writer noted in her article this February that "70 percent of adults and 25 percent of children are on at least one prescription drug" in this country. For adults the most-prescribed medication is an antidepressant. For children, an ADHD med. (It's noteworthy--and a relief--that I've yet to see any adverts for ADHD meds on TV, at least in my area; the vast majority of commercials seem to be for male sexual performance drugs. I'm struggling to think of any ads for children's prescription medications at all.)

A second feature that irritates me is that we, the health consumers, end up paying in time and money for these slick little commercials in which men sidle up to their wives and get feely, or the grey-faced woman looks disinterested and hopeless. It drives up the cost of a pill which the drug companies are already providing samples of--along with free lunches, doodads, and other perks--to our doctors while we sit idly out in the waiting rooms as the reps take up a patient time slot. And I'm sure I'm not alone in having had to wait as long as an hour to see one of my doctors. (Back when I used to go and see them. Don't start.)

Oh, and one more: stop telling me to "ask my doctor about" this pill when I don't have Erectile Dysfunction, Low Testosterone, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Clinical Depression, or Overactive Bladder, or really, any of the conditions treated by the medicines being hawked at me. So much of this advertising has absolutely nothing to do with me, period.  It's interesting that there are few to no commercials for drugs that battle hypertension, diabetes, or heart-related conditions. (I don't have those, either, but I'm willing to bet that more people do.) Probably the majority of those drugs are now available in generic form, and don't generate much profit for drug companies anymore.

Pharmaceutical companies spend good money in Research and Development, and I've benefited immensely in the area of migraine therapies. I don't expect any business to do business for free. I know it costs a staggering amount to get a new drug to market: according to Forbes, it's 5 billion dollars. It's hardly a dilemma--cut the advertising budget and save a bit by not putting the commercials on television, but sacrifice that revenue stream (Every $1.00 spent advertising prescription drugs is estimated to increase their retail sales by $4.20.). It is, however, quite telling that the US and only one other country--New Zealand--allow DTC pharmaceutical advertising.  Are we getting it wrong?

Geeze. I sound old and curmudgeonly talking about this, don't I? Am I going to start bitching about Kids Today or That Rap Music or Being On A Fixed Income? Should I take back the cute new boots I just got?

(I don't think so either. There's a zipper.  In the back.)

Do let's chat all this up in Comments.  Am I just having an Old Lady Moment?

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Somewhere, An Amish Lady Knows Victoria's Secret

Last weekend was the fall garage sale held at my brother's lakehouse. Thankfully, the weather was sunny and delightful as we hawked our strange collection of stuff. I was still basking in the blisses of my previous triumphs: my two bought breadmakers, my purchased punchbowl, that set of bedroom drapes and bedskirt, finally gone after five sales! Bobby and I decided we were in a Giving Mood, a Blowout Mentality. Our patrons didn't know it, but no offer would be rejected. We were getting rid of everything, and everything could be had for a song.

"I've got plenty of bags, too," my brother informed me, showing me an impressive array, including many pink striped Victoria's Secret shopping bags. His daughter is a devoted client, and he is a fanatic Reducer, Reuser, and Recycler. Immediately, a plan--no, A Plan--hatched in my brain. "I love those," I said, "and I say we reserve them for the Amish women only."

"Absolutely we will," he said, serious and resolute. "Without a doubt."

I cannot express to you the Joy that I felt each time I tucked away the Amish women's little purchases into those gaudy bags and watched them walk away with them over their arms. Most of the ladies, I swear, moved with a little jauntier step, making the pink bag swing or bounce against their skirts. The contrasts were overwhelming. Not only were the colours startling--that brilliant hot pink against the black, navy, or strange washed-out purply black, but the very idea of one of The Plain People, in muslin bonnet and heavy black shoes, carrying a sexy lingerie bag...the irony was gorgeous. And that's without considering the contents, which varied from several pairs of dark socks to a softball to a wallet. Oh, and cans of Pepsi.

Bobby sells cold beverages to supplement his garage sale...sales...from a small dorm refrigerator, and he makes a tidy profit.  Sales of bottled water, cans of Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and the occasional pouch of Capri Sun fruit punch are usually brisk, especially in the spring.  For some reason, the Amish, usually the women, are big fans of The Pepsi.

One small, hawknosed woman, her back humpish and her overall appearance dumpy, spent quite some time among our tables while her husband sat in the buggy parked out front. It was pulled by a gallant-looking black horse that would have been far more suited to a romance novel cover than standing there shitting all over the road in Ashland County, Ohio, at a garage sale. After holding up several items from the men's table to her husband for his consideration, she finally got a brief nod. She hurried over to us with her purchase.

My brother immediately drew out a pink striped bag while I shook out the teeshirt she had chosen, preparing to fold it. We exchanged glances and fought our involuntary smiles. It was a Blue Moon beer teeshirt. "And one Pepsi. I almost forgot," the woman said, her voice heavily accented in their Pennsylvania Dutch/German dialect. She carefully counted out four quarters for the entire sale, and I handed her the bag. As she walked away, I desperately tried to discreetly take a photograph, but was thwarted yet again. After holding it closely in front of her, she stowed the bag in the back of the buggy, and as her husband flicked the reins, she trudged alongside while he rode on to the next sale. I couldn't even grab a picture of the bag in the back of the buggy; it's inappropriate to take a picture of the Amish without their consent, and they eschew photographs. It is Vanity; it is not Plain.

"Do you see that? He's making her walk alongside!" St. Patsy could not contain her irritation nor her fascination with the scene we were witnessing. Bobby and I were generally philosophical. "Mom," I said, "he's probably not making her. The next sale is right next door. What's the point of getting up in the buggy only to get right down again? Besides, it's the culture. It's only a big deal to you, not to her."

"He's taking her shopping. He's even driving! What more do you want?" my brother joked. Oblivious to his intended humour, my mother shot him a look that conveyed equal parts disappointment and disgust, and packed enough disdain to curl upper lips across the entire Midwest. Thankfully, the couple rounded the bend and we could all, all of us, move on.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bus Stop

For the past few weeks, I've been watching the same sad drama unfold outside my living room window every morning at about 8:30 AM. It's not that I sit and wait for it; I'm already in my big armchair, reading the newspaper and having my second cup of coffee. Or, if Piper has decided it's Time, I'm having a Snuggle with a huge orange marmalade cat, rendering any movement at all completely impossible. (More than once, I've mistakenly played an Unintentional Word in Words With Friends; it doesn't always work out advantageously.)

But I digress.

At 8:30 in the morning on Mondays through Fridays, a school bus pulls up to the house two doors down, and the sound of a child crying and wailing begins. Soon, a little boy of about six appears, backpack on his back. Sometimes his mother carries him; other times he slowly walks, rubbing his eyes or his head with one hand while holding his mom's hand with the other. It's crying only--no words, no complaints--just a steady bawling which reaches a higher pitch as soon as the doors whoosh open. Each day, the little boy and his mom have been greeted by a cheery, merry bus aide. She calls out his name--it sounds like it might be Charlie? Marty? Barney?--and asks how he's doing. Is he ready for school today? She carefully takes his hand and helps him to walk up the steps to the bus. She won't carry him; he has to walk himself. The doors close, and the bus lumbers away.

The first time this drama unfolded, I initially focused on the little one, naturally. My heart broke for him. He clutched at his mother; he looked so tiny and his backpack looked so large. He's so afraid! I thought. And he has to go on that big huge bus! That poor baby. What if he cries the whole way there? What if someone is mean to him? Then I looked at his mother, who lingered at the end of the driveway, watching and waving, then standing there, hands clasped at her chest. How awful for her! To know that her baby is so sad and so upset, and to be unable to do anything but watch. I remembered my own guilt: I couldn't take my own kids to school on their first day because it was always the first day of school for me, too. I would always spend odd moments of the day wondering. So much of raising children is Heartbreak!

In the ensuing days, the tears have not subsided when the bus comes. Each day, the mother brings the little boy to the bus, still crying. The bubbly aide tries her hardest to jolly him up, but nothing has worked thus far. "He's a little crabby today," said the mother yesterday through the wailing. I wondered why she bothered to say anything. Maybe, though, he does stop crying on the bus at some point. Certainly he would at school. I'm not entirely certain, however; today as I was gathering my mail, the bus dropped him off. He was crying.

All of this is in stark contrast to the other little boy three doors down from me the other way who used to get picked up by a van for his school. A happy-go-lucky sort of kid, he was very hyperactive and didn't seem to have any sort of concerns about going off to school at all. As a matter of fact, one morning as he was leaving, he yelled loudly, "So long, suckas!"

A performance that was never, at least to my knowledge, repeated.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Nine Story

Nine is a number I am not fond of, to be honest. 

When I was earning my living as a bank teller, the only good thing about Nine was that if I did not balance at the end of the day, and the amount I was off was divisible by Nine, I could start looking for a transposition. Transposition errors are always divisible by nine. Try it; it works.

When I was Nine, I got really sick. After I didn't get any better, my parents took me to the emergency room where they eventually learned that my appendix was ready to rupture, possibly minutes away from spreading poison throughout my entire body. My father, a normally very swarthy Croatian man with a barrel chest and strong arms, turned white right in front of me as I watched the doctors explain to him and my mother in the busy hallway that I needed surgery immediately.

The surgeon told my parents that my appendix burst as soon as he touched it. Consequently, I have two scars: a long, ugly gash for the appendectomy, and then a small one directly below it for the drains that pulled out the ugly greenish-brown fluid that I watched fill up a receptacle on the side of my bed. I hated those tubes. They kept me in bed and they meant that for the first few days of my seemingly endless stay, I was NPO, or allowed nothing by mouth. I was constantly thirsty and constantly hungry.  To this day I cannot stand the smell of A & D Ointment because that's what they kept putting on my lips to keep them from cracking while I was NPO.

The year was 1969, and it was April. The children's ward was full of Hong Kong flu cases, and there was also a girl with a full-body cast from her neck to her knees. She had been a hit-and-run victim, and she was my first roommate. She went home two days after I got there. Then I got Rosemary Jake.

I really have no idea why Rosemary was in the hospital, and I don't remember anything being wrong with her. That is, I don't recall any IVs or a cast or anything. But Rosemary was my roommate--I think--for pretty much the rest of my stay, and I was in there for about two weeks.

Rosemary was about the same age as me, but she was teeny tiny with thin arms and legs and a head full of braids. Her skin was the color of coffee, and her face was all eyes. Those eyes were so wide and so dark and they looked as if they could not possibly wait to understand every single thing you were saying. She was very devout--a Catholic--and her mother listened to her prayers sometimes when she visited.

Mrs. Jake braided Rosemary's hair almost every day. My mother did the same to me, except that I had only two braids, one on each side. If my mother brought ribbon, she made sure to tie a few bows onto Rosemary's braids. As the days began to wear on, I began to get gifts from people, and I shared them with Rosemary. One gift was a set of rub-on tattoos called "Funny Freckles." She was charmed by the little pink flowers and red strawberries that appeared on her skin with just a few strokes of a tongue depressor over the transfer.

We watched the movie "King of Kings" together, and we hoped we would be home for Easter. Sometimes, late in the evening, she would get a visitor who made her so happy. I can't remember if it was her uncle or her brother, but he was definitely a character. Named Buster, he wore a long, sweeping duster-type coat and a fedora-style hat. He would walk in on pointed-toe shoes and call her "Rosie." She would smile brilliantly, sit up in bed, and talk and talk. She would promise to rest, but keep up with her schoolwork. It was clear to me that they loved each other.

Rosemary and I were still in our room at Easter, and it was a terrible day. We each got a little basket with a token toy, but we weren't home. Worse, I had spiked a fever; my incisions had not been attended to according to doctor's orders and I was again full of infection. My stay had just gotten longer.

I did finally go home, of course, and not too much longer after that it was my birthday. I was to have a party, and I asked if we could invite Rosemary. I have no idea how my parents contacted Mrs. Jake, but they did and if we could provide transportation, Rosemary was allowed to come.

There are only a couple of things I remember about her house. One was that she lived in a very different part of town than we did, and in a brick house that was big but old and tired-looking. The second one is that it had a sagging trellis on one side with a climbing rosebush on it. Much later, I went down that street again, and those roses were a deep, blood red.

I remember presenting Rosemary--who was dressed in a red plaid dress with red bows all over her braids--as if she were a celebrity to the rest of my friends at my party. Because, to me, she was. She had been my comrade-in-arms, my fellow in suffering, my hospital friend and now, here she was! Here! I have no idea--no recollection--how she was received at my party or if she had a good time. It was such a long time ago.

In the intervening years, life was a challenge for Rosemary, who not only had several of her own children to raise, but because of the sudden death of her sister, was raising several nieces and nephews as well. All this, plus working and trying to take college classes, stretched her resources. Our family often put together some boxes of clothes and things to help out.

That birthday party in 1969 was the last time I saw Rosemary until my father's funeral in the summer of 2000. My brother, who had been the liaison with Rosemary's burgeoning family through his job with the city, took me over to her. "Oh, Rosemary," I said as I hugged her once again, "how wonderful that you're here."

Rosemary didn't look teeny tiny and awestruck anymore. Mostly, she looked tired and...experienced. Like she had seen way too much of life and would like to close her eyes for a while. But she also looked compassionate and kind. I would have loved to have spent some time with Rosemary, but not that day. And she had other commitments as well. And again, our lives have diverged into the years ahead. I have not seen her since, and it's been fourteen years.

To be honest, I have not thought of Rosemary very often, and I'm sure she has not thought of me.  Our lives always were very different.  We lived on the other side of town, but it may as well have been the other side of the world.

Sometimes a person can cross the stage, play her scene, and exit again without changing significantly the course of the play, even if her performance is memorable.  In a life this can happen over and over again.  In the playbill of Memory, during a very difficult year, Rosemary's name is gilded.



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