DAILY PROMPT: BRAND NEW ME, STARTING TOMORROW!

Tomorrow is the first day of a brand new year. Tomorrow you get to become anyone in the world that you wish. Who are you? You can choose to be anyone, alive today or someone gone long ago. If you decide to stay “you” share your rationale.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us METAMORPHOSIS.

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Note: THIS IS IRONY. THIS IS TONGUE IN CHEEK. WARNING! TAKE WITH GRAINS OF SALT!

Tomorrow I won’t have arthritis in my spine and bursitis in my hips. My mitral valve will be young and sprightly. The cardiomyopathy will be a memory. My hair will be thick and healthy, my skin smooth and wrinkle free. Yes, it will be a new me. No more poverty, no more pain, no more bills we can’t pay.

Hosanna! It will be a fabulous day, a day of days and an unfettered future.

Hallelujah, bring on the trumpets!! Yay me!!

Me by Cherrie

BRAINWAVE: IT SEEMED LIKE A GREAT IDEA AT THE TIME

What’s the best idea you’ve ever had? Regale us with every detail of the idea — the idea itself, where it came to you, and the problem it solved.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us BRIGHT.

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BYE BYE 2013 – THANKS TO ALL MY FRIENDS!

As we approach the final days of 2013, I looked at the numbers for 2012 and 2013. It’s hardly a fair comparison. I only started blogging in February of 2012 and didn’t get serious about it until late summer. Moreover, November of 2012 was an amazing month for bloggers. Between Hurricane Sandy and the presidential election, the Internet was firing on all cylinders. Almost everyone was involved to some degree. I got my highest ever numbers that month. I’ll probably never get higher numbers, unless we have another set of overlapping events that rivets national attention on the media.

Overall, this has been a good year. Not a vast number of visitors each day, but faithful followers who really read, look and share. I know there are more out there who read the emails and don’t visit my home planet and others who use the Reader and thus don’t register in the statistics (why is that? Anyone know?) … but regardless, I’m satisfied. As Mercutio said “Tis enough. T’will serve.”

STATS 2012-2013

December isn’t finished yet, but it will be no better than the low-end of average. The holidays were slow on balance, at least for me. I wrote less too as I got busy with other things.  I’m beginning to cut down on the number of items I post each day. Not only can I not keep up that pace, but I was beginning to feel like a spammer. Time to ease back on the throttle.

I got 77,000+ hits this year and long since passed 100,000 total hits. When that happened, my internal pressure dropped. I had made my point, at least to myself. I had an audience. When I passed 1000 followers — and the number keeps growing to my amazement — I felt I’d arrived pretty much where I wanted to be. I have readers, people who regularly visit and like my work.

I’m better, too. Practice and all that, my photography and writing have improved. Writing is tighter, crisper, more to the point. And shorter, which makes it less daunting to write and read. I have a couple of co-editors — Rich Paschall and my husband Garry — to help carry this site forward and give it some variety and texture. Ideas and stories from someone who isn’t me. I’m hoping to find one more steady contributor, but I can take my time. To quote Michael Valentine Smith, “Waiting is.”

I never did have a specific point to make. I didn’t start blogging for some special reason or in support of a particular cause or viewpoint. I don’t think I could stick to one thing and do it every day. I’d get bored. I can’t even decorate a room in one consistent style. I once thought to satisfy my eclectic artistic sense, I would need a huge house or castle. I’d have to decorate each room in a different motif. Then it would be like The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. You could walk through the house and each room would represent an historical period with appropriate furnishings, architecture, art and artifacts. Wouldn’t that be awesome? It’s a nice thought, yes?

When I get down to reality, not merely do I not have that kind of money, but who would clean that museum? The dusting alone would require a small army. Nope. Just have to keep life smaller.

Thank you all for coming to read my stuff, look at my pictures. Your comments, feedback, votes of confidence have meant the world to me. You fuel me with ideas and it’s often in responding to your comments I know what I want to say. Without you, it would be a dull and disconnected life.

DANGEROUS BLACK TRASH BAGS

When Garry and I were first married and before we owned a home, we rented a tiny, adorable, over-priced apartment on Beacon Hill. Since it was on the ground floor, privacy decreed window coverings. I bought curtains and drapes for all the windows. The building dated back to the early 1800s. The ceilings were high, the windows tall.

The windows were the best feature of the apartment along with a fireplace in the living room and a beautiful marble bathroom. I could have lived without the other residents of the flat. Cockroaches. Who had apparently been there since Paul Revere made his ride. Big ones, the kind one addresses as “sir.” Regardless of sex.

Parking is a real issue on Beacon Hill. So is trash.

Parking is a real issue on Beacon Hill. So is trash. We lived up the street on the left, ground floor.

I put all the new curtains in a black trash bag and warned Garry — or thought I warned Garry — “This,” I said “is NOT trash. It’s our new drapes.” That’s what I thought I said. Regardless, it wasn’t what Garry heard.  We had just moved in and there was a lot of trash waiting for disposal, all in black trash bags. I’m sure you know the punchline.

By the time I realized the drapes had been taken to the curb, the scavengers of Beacon Hill had snagged them. Everybody on Beacon Hill, rich and poor alike, scavenges. While we were still moving in, people kept coming by trying to take our stuff. I’m not talking about poor homeless people. I mean The Neighbors. Several times I had to remove lamps and other items of furniture from their clenched fists.

The drapes were gone in a nanosecond. Still in their original wrappers, price tags attached. Whoever took them had to know they were not trash. In Roxbury, where we later lived — a poor, mostly black neighborhood — I’m sure they would have returned the drapes. They would have gone door to door until they found the right house. But Beacon Hillers have a different way of looking at things that reminds me of an old childhood chant “Finders keepers, losers weepers.”

I had to buy new drapes and the second set wasn’t as nice — or expensive — as the first. I’d used the money and couldn’t spend it twice.

Over the years, my penchant for storing stuff in black trash bags has cost us dearly. Christmas presents, out of season clothing, household items intended for the attic — have all vanished. Who done it? Me? Garry? One of the kids? It could be anyone. I’m inclined to blame the terriers. They are always sneaking around, up to no good.

As a family, we have a knee-jerk response to black trash bags. We throw them out. It could have been anyone. (I still suspect Bonnie, the Scottie.)

As the weather turned chilly, I decided to put our down comforter on the bed. It should have been easy enough to find, stored as it was in a big black trash bag. Except it had vanished. This is not an item one can easily overlook. A king-sized down comforter is big. Fluffy. It had considerable bulk, if not heft. This is not like looking for a piece of missing paper. This should have been easy to spot. And it should have been in the bedroom — but wasn’t.

I checked the closets and the attic. Nothing. No black trash bags. None at all.

When finally the dust settled (I really liked that comforter) and I had ordered a replacement from Kohl’s, I apologized to Garry for accusing him of perfidiously disposing of our bedding.

“I have to stop storing things in black trash bags. This isn’t working out,” I said. Garry readily agreed. I’m pretty sure he’s still pissed off at me. I can hardly blame him.

Do they make big bags like that in clear plastic? Just wondering.

I AM HOME – By Rich Paschall

A piece of home alone fiction by Rich Paschall

The alarm went off at 6 am as usual.  Instead of hitting the snooze bar, George turned off the alarm and got up.  It was Wednesday, trash collection day in the small Florida town.  He no longer had Ethel to push him out of bed so he had to muster the resolve to get up and take care of the chores.  Jack, the faithful terrier, got up as well and was running around George’s feet as he tried to go through his morning routine.  Terriers do not lack morning energy.

96-Rockers-NKAfter he got dressed and made his way to the kitchen, he started the coffee.  Ethel used to take care of this while George took care of the hyper active dog, but his wife of 40 years was gone now.  George had to make his own coffee.  George had to do all the chores.  George had to eat his meals alone.  This is not the retirement George had envisioned.

A little over two years earlier, George retired and moved from a big Midwestern city to a small town in a warm climate.  This was the retirement George always wanted.  He was no longer going to cut the grass.  There was an association for that.  He was not going to do major repairs because there was an association for that too.  And he certainly was never going to shovel snow again.  Before he moved south, he sold his snow blower, gave away his shovels and winter coats and vowed never to return north in the winter, if at all.

As the coffee was brewing, George set down a fresh bowl of water for a disinterested terrier.  Then he went to the kitchen door that led into the garage.  As he started down the two steps to garage level, he reached for the button that opened the garage door.  At that Jack came racing out the kitchen door and when the garage door was open just enough, he ran under it and onto the front lawn.  There he ran around in a circle for a couple of minutes before looking to see what George was doing.

George was busy dragging the plastic trash can down the driveway to the street where he parked it right next to his old-fashioned mail box.  After that he walked back to get the recycle bins.  One bin held old newspapers and magazines and the other had some cans and bottles.  He put one on top of the other and then maneuvered them on to a two-wheel “hand truck.”  They were too low and too heavy for George to drag down the drive way.  When this task was complete, George went back inside to get his American flag, which he promptly took down to the post that held his mail box.  On the side of the post he had affixed a flag pole holder so his flag could be seen as he came down the street.  George would never admit that it was a reminder of where his driveway began so he could find it easily when he returned from a drive, but that is why it was there.

“Come on, Jack,” George called and the dog raced half way to George and stopped.  It was a game and Jack expected George to play.  George was well aware of this game, every time George would move, the dog would race around in a circle and stop.  There he would wait for George to make another move and the race was on again.  George was too old for the game today and went into the garage and headed toward the kitchen door.  Jack watched carefully from the driveway.  When George hit the button to close the garage door, Jack raced inside.

On their return to the pale yellow kitchen, George put down a bowl of food for Jack.  Then he fixed some toast and took that, a cup of coffee and a newspaper he collected from the front porch and went to sit on the screened-in patio.  Jack came and laid down at his feet.  George liked reading the local news each morning.  Everything about small town America seemed exciting to him.  He read about civic improvements, about events at the library and about meetings at the town hall.  He read about the plans for the upcoming year and even the New Year’s party at a local hall.  George survived Christmas on his own and guessed he would not even be up at midnight on New Year’s Eve.  Without dear Ethel, he had no desire to stay up late.  While ringing in the New Year at a party might help bring back fond memories, they would also recall his dear wife who was gone too soon.  He was not sure he could bear that.

When the news had been devoured, George got up slowly and took his plate and coffee cup to the kitchen sink and placed them there.  He looked all around the room and could not decide on another thing to do so he thought he would go lay down awhile.  It was 10 am.  At that moment, the phone rang.

“Hello,” George said with a hint of surprise that anyone would call him.

“Hello George,” Ethel said softly.

Soon after George and Ethel moved to Florida, Ethel’s father had passed away.  He left her the big family house in rural Iowa.  It was the sort of house Ethel always wanted.  It had a big front porch where she could rock away the summer hours in her own rocking chair and a nice fireplace where she could get warm and read good books all winter.  George had no idea this is what Ethel had wanted for years, just as she had no idea he would take them to Florida on his retirement.  When she got the big Iowa house she announced to George she was moving there without him, and soon thereafter she was gone along with virtually every personal effect she could take.

Once every few months she called to see if George was OK, nothing more.

“Please come home, Ethel,” George said with a heavy dose of sadness in his voice.

“I am home,” she said and quietly hung up the phone.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD

I grew up in a semi-rural nook in the middle of Queens, New York. The city had surrounded us leaving a tiny enclave walking distance from the subway.

The house was more than a hundred years old. It had been changed by each family who had lived there, so much that I doubt the original builder would have recognized it. From its birth as a 4-room bungalow in the 1800s, by 1951 it had become a warren of hallways, staircases and odd rooms that could be hard to find.

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It sat at the top of a hill amidst the last remaining mature white oaks in New York city, the rest having fallen to make masts for tall ships. The shadows of the oaks were always over the house. Beautiful, huge and a bit ominous. Some of the branches were bigger than ordinary trees. I remember watching the oaks during storms, how the enormous trees swayed. I wondered if one would crash through the roof and crush me.

I was four when we moved into the house, five by summer. When the weather grew warm, I was told to go out and play. Like an unsocialized puppy, I had no experience with other children, except my baby sister and older brother and that didn’t count. Now, I discovered other little girls. What a shock! I had no idea what to do. It was like greeting aliens … except that I was the alien.

First contact took place on the sidewalk. We stood, three little girls, staring at each other. First on one foot, then the other, until I broke the silence with a brilliant witticism. “I live up there,” I said. I pointed to my house. “We just moved here. Who are you?” I was sure they had a private club into which I would not be invited. They were pretty — I was lumpy and awkward.

“I’m Liz,” said a pretty girl with green eyes. She looked like a china doll, with long straight hair. I wanted that hair. I hated mine, which was wild, curly and full of knots. She gestured. “I live there,” she pointed. The house was a red Dutch colonial. It had dark shutters and a sharply pitched roof.

A dark-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids was watching solemnly. “I’m Karen,” she said. “That’s my house,” she said, pointing at a tidy brick colonial with bright red geraniums in ornate cement pots on both sides of a long brick staircase. I’d never seen geraniums or masonry flower pots.

“Hello,” I said again, wondering what else I could say to keep them around for a while. I’d never had friends, but something told me I wanted some. We stood in the sunlight for a while, warily eyeing each other. I, a stranger. I shuffled from foot to foot.

Finally, I fired off my best shot. “I’ve got a big brother,” I announced. They were unimpressed. I was at a loss for additional repartee. More silence ensued.

“We’re going to Liz’s house for lemonade,” Karen said, finally. Liz nodded. They turned and went away. I wondered if we would meet again. I hadn’t the experience to know our future as friends was inevitable.

Summer lasted much longer back then than it does nowadays. By the time spring had metamorphosed into summer, I had become a probationary member of The Kids Who Lived On The Block. I did not know what went on in anyone else’s house. I imagined lights were bright and cheerful in other houses. No dark shadows. No sadness or pain except in my scary world where the scream of a child in pain was background noise, the sound of life going on as usual. Behind it, you could hear my mother pleading: “Please, the neighbors will hear!” As if that was the issue.

Across the street, Karen’s mother was drinking herself into a stupor every night. The only thing that kept Karen from a nightly beating was her father. He was a kindly older man who seemed to be from another world. As it turned out, he would soon go to another world. Before summer was ended, Karen’s father died of a heart attack and after that, she fought her battles alone.

Three friends

October 1952

In the old clapboard house where I thought Liz led a perfect life, battle raged. Liz’s father never earned enough money and their house was crumbling. It legally belonged to Liz’s grandmother. Nana was senile, incontinent and mean, but she owned the place. In lucid moments, she always reminded Liz’s dad the family lived there on her sufferance. Where I imagined a life full of peace and good will, there was neither.

A lovely neighborhood. Fine old homes shaded by tall oaks. Green lawns rolling down to quiet streets where we could play day or night. I’m sure the few travelers who strayed onto our street, envied us.

“How lucky these folks are,” they must have thought, seeing our grand old houses. “These people must be so happy.”

I have a picture in my album. It’s black and white, a bit faded. It shows us sitting in Liz’s back yard. I’m the tiny one in the middle. A little sad. Not quite smiling.

We envied each other, thought each better off than ourself. It would be long years before we learned each other’s secrets. By then, we’d be adults. Too late to give each other the comfort we’d needed as we grew up. Lonely in our big old houses, all those years ago.

WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE: JOY – A MOMENT – By Garry Armstrong

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Joy!  On a boat putting out to sea. Autumn, Hyannisport, Cape Cod. A beautiful day, a captured moment.

Olympus E-PL5 vs. Olympus E-PM2, a surprise

Another case of great minds thinking alike, albeit for slightly different reasons.

Update: The price on the E-PM2 dropped today by $75 … so I bought it. I just wish I could have gotten it with a lens I don’t already have twice over. But it cost the same for the camera body without any lens or with the lens, so okay. Now I have three 14-42mm Olympus lenses. Anyone need an extra? Swap?

New Update (December 27, 2013): The price dropped again a couple of days ago, down to an average of $365 on Amazon (body only, no lens) and other places, too … depending (bizarrely) on what color you pick. Weird colors can be $100 cheaper, as little as $275 and honestly, I don’t give a rat’s ass what color the camera is outside as like as it takes gorgeous pictures!!

CHRISTMAS – 2012 – AND THE NEWTOWN MASSACRE

Lest we forget – Just a little more than a year ago, there was a massacre of children in Newtown, Connecticut.

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I was shocked to realize that Monday is Christmas Eve. I admit that it’s pretty weird at this time of year to not know what day is Christmas, but I am a disaster in every possible way. Trying to do everything is not merely difficult, it’s impossible. I’m stretched thin enough to be transparent. I’m sure the massacre in Connecticut contributed hugely to my fugue state.

For about a week, we couldn’t even think about holidays. I’m not sure we were thinking about anything. Psychic overload. Plus, there are other issues, stuff I had to deal with that falls under my purview because the end of the year is not only a time for holidays, but the period when we wrap up the business of the old year and get everything in place for the next.

Unless the world ends later today, in which case all I can say is “oops.”

Christmas Cactus

I am changing health care insurance carriers as of January because I can’t afford the program I’ve been using, much as I like it. Changing medical insurance is always hard, but when you are older and have a variety of physical conditions and work with a lot of specialists, it gets wildly complicated and a bit scary.  Moreover, I have a project to which I committed last summer that has a hard deadline just after the New Year.

And at the beginning of last week, I realized my husband needs a new cell phone. It never crossed my mind that upgrading a mobile phone could entail endless hours of calls to AT&T and turn into a Cecil B. DeMille production with thousands of extras and a full orchestra. Getting the phone ate most of a week … and I fear it’s not over yet. We don’t actually have a phone yet. Anything could happen.

When I have a little time and am over the hump of holidays, I’ll tell you all about it. You can’t make this stuff up.

My deadline isn’t flexible. I’ve never missed a deadline and I won’t this time either. I will meet it or die trying. But it leaves Garry to take care of everything I haven’t already done. It’s nothing outside his capabilities … it’s just that he too had lost track of time.

When I told him Christmas Eve is Monday, he didn’t believe me. We had to stand in front of the calendar, proving beyond doubt that somewhere along the way, we lost a week.

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What happened to December? In all the years I can remember, I have never been so completely unready for the holidays as I am this year and what’s weird is that so many other people I know seems to be caught short.

My theory is that the Newtown Connecticut mass shooting affected many of us the same way. Vietnam vets started having flashbacks again. It made my husband remember too many similar things he had to cover during his years as a reporter … and had the same effect on his colleagues, both those still working and those now retired. For a while, it seemed somehow wrong … inappropriate … to be worrying about gifts and wrapping paper.

We didn’t feel festive. We didn’t even feel like we should feel festive. Between events outside our control and a lot of things that just came together to eat our time, Christmas seems to have appeared, popping up like a jack-in-the-box. Friends who normally go all out for the holidays haven’t even bought a tree, much less put it up or decorated their home and property. A strange Christmas, this one. Somehow, it has happened, though with less ceremony than usual.

While I spent the afternoon at the oncologist, my daughter-in-law and granddaughter put up and decorated the tree. They acquired wrapping paper and the appropriate stuff to go with it … ribbon and bows and tape and labels and all. Meals are planned, though groceries remain to be purchased.

In the middle of all of this, my two Christmas cacti are blooming. They, at least, are in tune with the season. The tree is lit. There won’t be wreathes this year because I forgot to buy them and now, it seems too late.

Next year I’ll try to make up for it. I did take pictures this morning to prove, despite obstacles, we shall have Christmas. We may not deck the halls, but it’s still Christmas.