‘You came back! Why? A woman like you!! To a place like this?? Why?” Those of you who don’t know that line should be ashamed. It’s a riff on Eli Wallach’s demise as the bandit chief in “The Magnificent Seven”. Well, Marilyn came back today and there’s no reason to ask why. She’s home after almost two nerve wracking weeks at Beth Israel’s Cardiac Care Unit in Boston. Marilyn gladly relinquished her status as the patient with the most seniority in her unit. Marilyn had almost become a fixture for families visiting other patients. She would wave as they passed her room. Some say Marilyn is now a legend after her stint that included a bypass, a valve replacement, a pacemaker implant and inflation of collapsed lungs. To insure her iconic status, Marilyn sustained a muscle injury in her right shoulder, her “good” shoulder. The shoulder of the hand used to send emphatic gestures to her husband.

Marilyn’s return home today came as a surprise to some of us. It was thought she needed several days in a physical therapy facility to strengthen her body after almost two weeks of immobility. Marilyn pulled a wonder woman on us by regaining mobility dramatically over the weekend. A physical therapist made it official after examining Marilyn today. Visiting families looked sad as Marilyn left Beth Israel Hospital. Who would replace the iconic patient in room 606?

The mood here at “The Kachingerosa” brightened considerably with Marilyn’s return. We had to “gate” the four furry kids to allow Marilyn to enter the house, carefully make her way up the stairs and into the living room where she settled into her favorite spot on our love seat, a smile mixed with groans of pain and pleasure. She scanned the room carefully like a stranger returning to a place of her dreams.

The two terriers, Bonnie (the Scottie and ring leader) and Nan, who sounds more like a pig than a dog were allowed to spend time with Marilyn. Nan is Marilyn’s dog. I think you could see the joy in Nan’s eyes. Dogs have a sense about their people, especially when they are hurt or healing. So, the normally playful terriers were very gentle with Marilyn.

The first evening home is going slowly for Marilyn. She’s trying to catch up on some of her favorite TV shows. But she’s still in pain and has breathing problems as she tries to relax. Marilyn still has a long way to go. There will be visiting nurses, follow up appointments with specialists and a very limited program of activities for the next few weeks. But Marilyn is home and our family is whole again.

Stay In The Car and Other Classic Lines – Marilyn Armstrong

In the spirit of clichés that pop out of the mouths of Our Heroes with alarming frequency, despite the fact that they have become standing jokes for the audience (apparently nobody mentioned this to the script writers), our personal favorite in this house is “Stay in the car.”

On the NBC TV series “Chuck.” it’s a gag line. Unfortunately, on most shows it is supposed to be real dialogue  and not cause hilarity … but it does. Every time.

I checked on Subzin, a movie database that lets you enter a piece of dialogue, then reports in how many and in the specific movies where you’ll find it. According to Subzin, “Stay in the car”  can be found in 356 phrases from 296 movies and series. Yet, they continue to use it.

Lethal Weapon 2: (1989)

uses the line a lot.

Then, there’s  Last Action Hero (1993), my favorite Arnold Schwarznegger movie in which the line is understood to be a cliché , which is more than you can say for most of the places you will hear it:

But don’t feel that this is confined to modern movies. High Sierra, with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino, 1941 used the line too.
Speaking of Humph, there’s one great line in Treasure of the Sierra Madres that has become, by its utter perfection, a cliché or maybe … a laugh line?
And again, from Blazing Saddles (1974), a movie so quotable that we can recite the entire dialogue as we watch:
And then there is:
Ah, so many clichés. So little time. And then … they all walk away …

Neighbors and Old Friends – Marilyn Armstrong

Friends come in many sizes and shapes. Horses, dogs, cats and other warm fuzzy creatures give our lives texture and joy … and old things holding memories of other times and places … these too become friends, holding our memories and reminding us of the lives we have lived and things we have done.

Old Number 2 is one of Uxbridge‘s oldest fire trucks. Long out of service, he still has his own place, standing through the years and seasons in a field across from the post office. He’s become my old friend, put out to pasture but like me, remembering his glory days.

Old Number 2 in summer … with some special effects just because.

Seasons come and go, but Number 2 waits patiently. I visit him. He has many stories to tell and I listen so he will be less lonely and know no everyone has forgotten him.

Horses in the pasture, friendly and hoping for snack, an apple or a carrot maybe …

Retired now, she grazes in a pleasant pasture in the company of her friends and the goats in the adjacent pasture. Do they share their memories?

With a shake of her mane, the pony companion enjoys the autumn weather with an old pal.

Still beautiful, she poses with her good side, elegant in her peaceful paddock.

It’s a fine day to be a horse. Or a human.

Tinker, one of our two PBGVs romps now at the Bridge, but here, her big black nose pokes through the picket fence of our front yard. Just saying hello!

Tinker’s big black nose — a perfect nose for such a hound as this Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen hound nose — pokes through our pickets. She’s gone to the Bridge, but lives on in our hearts and her tooth marks remain forever embedded in our furniture, shoes, remote controls and paranoid nightmares of destruction.

Griffin, our big boy PBGV died last winter, as did Tinker. He was my personal cuddle puppy, full of joy and humor. He always made me laugh and the more I laughed, the more he would act the clown. Never has a dog enjoyed making people laugh more than Griffin. A marathon barker, entertainer par excellence, he was the best.

Many of our fur children have gone to the bridge, but they are never forgotten. More of them  on other days, I promise.

One autumn day, in a rare family project, we made a couple of friends of our own … classic New England symbols of Autumn and the harvest. We made them from yard sale clothing, two bales of hay, and their painted faces on old pillow cases were created by Kaity and Stefania … at that brief period as they were transitioning from girls to young women.

Some friends we made ourselves to celebrate the harvest and the season, sitting on a bench, backed by flowering bushes and shaded by oaks.

Finally, we meet the farmer’s old truck. He stands in a field around the corner, behind the fire station … an old friend put out to pasture, holding too many fond memories to send him to a junk yard. Instead, he stands ever waiting if he should  be called back to duty.

Just this, no more, all within a mile of home. It IS home.


The title of today’s blog should be a hint. I’ll get to it in a minute. Marilyn asked me to bring her clothing, her lap top and myself — in that order. Oh, yes, make sure there’s clean underwear in the clothing bag. Didn’t your mother warn you about going anywhere without clean under wear??  Marilyn sounded relatively upbeat when we chatted on the phone this morning before I left home. I should know better by now. I really should.

By the time I walked into Marilyn’s room at Beth Israel Hospital’s Cardiac Care Unit, things had changed. She wasn’t upbeat anymore. She was in pain. Lots of pain! Marilyn’s right shoulder, her “good” shoulder was the source of the pain. She said she thought she might need Tommy John surgery. Somehow during the past few days, she was jostled around and her right shoulder took a beating. She said it hurt more than her tender left shoulder where surgeons had gone in to implant her pacemaker. Trying to fend off the pain, Marilyn’s breathing became sporadic, exacerbating her situation. A nurse was summoned and a painkiller was administered. It took awhile for the pain to subside and Marilyn’s breathing to become more even. The pain was still clearly etched across her face although she tried not make any loud sounds. I just held her hand, feeling essentially helpless. There wasn’t much I could say that wouldn’t sound like mindless babble.

Finally, Marilyn looked up at me, a smile slowly replacing the grimaces. She patted my hand and softly said, “I love you”. “I love you, too,” I replied. “I love you three,” she countered. Always having the last word. Time crept along slowly. We didn’t say much. I think that was good. Later, a staffer came in to take X-rays of Marilyn’s lungs. There’s still concern about pneumonia. A half hour later, another staffer came in to discuss decisions surrounding which physical therapy facility Marilyn will be going to in one or two or three days. Hopefully, we’ll be meeting with administrators tomorrow to make that decision. Marilyn is anxious to get to PT and begin strengthening her body. She’s bored and restless. But she is still weak!!

The laughs came as Marilyn was trying to make a dinner choice. She read aloud from the hospital menu, making faces as she described each meal. One item caught her eye. The meatballs! She’d had the meatballs a few days ago and there were okay. Matter of fact, she had EIGHT meatballs the first time. They were tiny, Marilyn emphasized, but okay. The only problem was that when Marilyn ordered meatballs again they cut the serving to FOUR small servings. I suggested she go for broke. Take no prisoners. demand EIGHT meatballs!! I left before dinner arrived, wanting to avoid the possible high drama if Marilyn’s meatball demands were not met.

I called Marilyn just awhile ago after finishing my dinner here at home. She sounded upbeat. Maybe chipper. I paused before asking the dangerous question. “How many meatballs did you get??” A short pause. I sighed deeply. “Honey, I got EIGHT meatballs!!”, Marilyn exclaimed. “Wow!!!,” I rejoiced. “You’re on a roll now,” I congratulated Marilyn. She laughed. A nice long laugh. I promised to call later in the evening to make sure all was okay.

A Gaggle of Geese – Marilyn Armstrong

On a pond on a sunny summer’s day, on a shiny pond on Cape Cod, a gaggle of Canada geese came to visit.

The Five Second Rule

A few curious thoughts by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Admit it.  You have probably invoked the five second rule many times in your life.  Maybe you tend to do it when no one else is around, but you do it nonetheless.  No matter what some in society may say, you can not help yourself.  You may think it just a little bit evil, but you do it anyway.  You may even do it openly, not caring what others may think.  Don’t worry.  They do it too.

In case you are one of the few who have not heard about it and have not followed the widely disputed practice, the “Five Second Rule” is the belief that if you drop some food on the floor, it is alright to eat if you pick it up right away, say in five seconds.  While common sense may speak to you against such a practice, science seems to be coming down in favor of what once was folklore or an “old wives’ tale.”  A recent study seems to suggest that a few seconds on the floor does not matter much.  Your wet gummy bears are not likely to pick up much in the way of bacteria if you pick them up right away.the special

Unbelievably, dropping food on your carpet seems to pick up less bacteria than dropping it on your tile or linoleum floor.  Of course, if you own a dog or a cat the food item may pick up some animal hair or dander you might not want to pop in your mouth.  No matter how clean Fido looks to you, all that rolling around on the floor is not good for your dropped food.  Also, you have to consider that Fido might beat you to the item, in which case your dog has the treat you lost and let’s face it.  Your dog never seems to get sick after eating food off the floor.

While I would not care to eat off my floors, considering what I know, I may be less reluctant elsewhere.  You may have heard that Aunt Matilda’s house was so clean you could eat off the floors.  That may literally be true, although I do not think I would try that on a dare.  Still, it is good to know that your odds of puking later are greatly diminished according to modern-day science, if your food is not down there too long.

Who funds this type of study, you may wonder?  Who cares?  This particular science is extremely important when you consider the amount of people who drop food on the floor, then pop it in their mouths.  Isn’t it time we got the answer to the age-old question, “Does the five second rule really exist?”  Now we know, until the next study comes along to debunk this whole thing, and you know that will eventually happen.

Life itself also has a rule like the Five Second Rule.  It goes like this, the longer you are down, the more likely you are to pick up dirt.  When you fall down, get knocked down, get tripped up or whatever it is that causes you to land on your butt or your face, it is best if you get right back up and get going.  The world just does not look as good when you have fallen to the floor.

No scientific study is needed here.  Hopefully common sense will tell you, the quicker you get up and clean yourself off the better it is for you.  If it has been a particularly bad day, it can be hard to convince yourself to get off the ground.  You may wish to wallow in whatever is down there.  Just like the food in the study, more is likely to jump on you if you stay put.  It is the nature of life.

There is one more thing to consider while we are invoking scientific studies.  It is a known fact that if you fall and stay down, you will look like a dropped treat to people-eating Cyclops.  In that case one of them is likely to scoop you up and pop you in his mouth.  Another thing to know from the most recent study is that Cyclops have a long time, a 5 day rule perhaps.  In that case, wallowing in the muck with one of Fido’s playmates is likely to do you in.  Being chomped on by Cyclops is far worse than eating candy off the floor.  You have been warned.


Time flies when you’re having fun. Let’s attribute that line to Marilyn who’s now almost a week and a half into her stay at Beth Israel Hospital’s Cardiac Care Unit. The fun includes a bypass, valve replacement, pacemaker implant and inflation of collapsed lungs. Today, there was another infection scare but tests came back negative. A day after our friends Ross and Mary Mitchell came to the rescue volunteering to pay for physical therapy rejected by Marilyn’s health insurance, Marilyn was in good spirits but weak and very pale. She was dehydrated.

Cherrie Welburn and I noticed Marilyn’s condition the moment we arrived around midday. Why didn’t anyone else, we wondered. Cherrie scurried around outside, talking to nurses and other staff members about Marilyn’s condition. I think she heard something about it being a weekend and there were fewer staffers on duty. I’m just a layperson but I find that puzzling in a hospital. Are patients less important on weekends?? Cherrie and I swapped off helping Marilyn walk to the bathroom, made sure she kept drinking water during our visit and promised to call frequently tonight, nagging her about drinking water. Marilyn seemed to perk up. She checked her tablet, scanning last night’s blog about the unexpected generosity of the Mitchells and the impressive number of comments from people damning health insurers and lauding the kindness of our friends.

Marilyn, again, complimented me on my blogging efforts. High praise from Caesar, indeed!! Cherrie, Marilyn and I discussed the days ahead. Marilyn likely will remain at Beth Israel until Tuesday at least until we decide on a satisfactory physical therapy facility. Marilyn noticed that Cherrie and I were a little wobbly on our feet and suggested that we head home to rest a little.

The drive home actually was the most interesting part of the day. It included impressive construction detours around “hospital city” that had changed in two or three hours. I switched into my Boston driver mode, skillfully out matching cabbies, texting motorists surely headed to their maker and touristas confused by everything. It had a classic demolition derby feel to it.

The final leg of our drive on the Mass Pike west and onto Rt. 146 included a pelting rain and an increasingly dense fog. I felt the juices flow. I was Steve McQueen. Despite my idiocy, we arrived home safely. Cherrie has gone back to her home in Hadley to deal with a bunch of her own family crises. I’ll miss her. She’s kept me sane. She’ll be back as soon as possible. Meantime, I’ll be flying solo, keeping the faith with my fair lady.

Blackstone Valley Roads – Marilyn Armstrong

These are places I pass as I go to and from the various routine errands and activities of life.  They aren’t special places … or rather, they aren’t places that I have to seek out because they are along the roads I use every day.

Built in 1779, this originally housed a forge and was the shop of a blacksmith. In the 1800s, it became a shoemaker’s shop and now stands empty on the corner of Chestnut Street, a road that runs from North Street to Route 140 in Upton.

Door to the Forge House.

It’s easy to stop noticing what’s right in front of you. It’s always there, so you don’t realize that it’s special. Then, because I’ve taken my camera, my vision changes. I notice things that are more usually background to the world in which I live.

In front of the drive in restaurant where you can get the best clam puffs … if you don’t mind a bit of accompanying heartburn … they grow sunflowers. There were honeybees on the flowers, a good sign since honeybees have come a bit scarce.

They are called sunflowers and deservedly so. Like the sunshine itself, the shine brightly and turn to the sky.

And I realize that they are indeed special or would be to others and ought to be for me, too. That’s one of the greatest boons I get from photography, that it makes me notice the things around me that otherwise just pass by along the roads I travel.

Along the road, many bushes and flowers, wild and cultivated bloom.

The pods of some wildflower about to spread itself by the wind.

These are all local roads, on the way to the doctor, on the way to the grocery, coming back from the place I sometimes purchase a scratch ticket.

The general store is on Route 16 just after you leave Mendon and enter Uxbridge. They also make great sandwiches.

These old mill buildings now house business and condos. Despite efforts to preserve them, many have disappeared, mostly due to fires. The last mill that burned lasted a full three weeks … with every firefighter in the valley working to put it out. Most firefighters are volunteers since the towns in the valley can’t afford to maintain full crews. These people come when called, work for no pay and in fact, lose money while missing their normal employment. Without them, we’d be in serious trouble.

These are the ordinary roads of the Blackstone Valley in the summer.

It’s Not Your Equipment … It’s a Lack of Documentation! – Marilyn Armstrong

Maybe I should just give up, but I spent my career writing material to help folks use complicated equipment and sometimes very obscure software.

I should probably start by mentioning that I’ve fought this battle for long years … and was utterly defeated. About 7 or 8 years ago, high-tech companies, in a money crunch and driven by that bottom line that seems to be the only thing that matters anymore, began to eliminate technical writers. Entire departments were dismantled and eliminated. Jobs disappeared and what remained paid so badly it was insulting.

A decision had been made at the corporate level: YOU don’t need documentation. No matter how complicated or expensive the equipment or software you purchase may be, don’t need documentation. Companies provide the minimum the law requires or they can get away with. Quality is no object nor usability. Information is limited to basic stuff like how to install a battery and if you are lucky, where the compartment is.

I was a technical writer for about 75% of my career, the rest being divided between journalism, editing, promotions and advertising. But mostly, I wrote documentation and I though my work mattered. Probably naive, but I believe that if I documented a system, it should be well written, clear, organized, and useful., When a user needed to find something, it would be in the book and in the online help. It would be easy to find. I carefully avoided using mysterious search parameters that could be deduced via a psychic link to my brain. If you knew what you wanted, I made it easy for you to find it.

I was proud of my work. I still believe the fundamental goal of documentation is to make complicated things simple. Not necessarily easy because sometimes, the product was not easy to use, but that didn’t mean that it had to be hard to understand. My documentation was good for another reason: I used the product and tested what I wrote to make sure it was true. This testing makes the difference between a pile useless gibberish and a manual.

Thus, when you get something that appears to be documentation, stop and read it. Appearances are deceiving. Most “manuals”  are generated, not written, and never checked for accuracy or usability. Such “manuals” are as likely to increase your confusion as provide illumination.

I bought a PEN EP3 camera from Olympus. Seven months and hundreds of photographs later, it remains one of the mysteries of my world. It takes wonderful pictures, and it has hundreds of functions. I haven’t the slightest idea how to find most functions and have no idea what to do with them if I could find them.

I grew up in a pre-digital world. I know F-stop, depth-of-field, shutter speed, aperture and focus, film speed and composition. I have a good eye. I’m no genius, but my pictures are pretty and I enjoy taking them.

He solves the problem the way most do: Automatic everything, then shoot.

New digital cameras have a vast and overwhelming array of functions, most of which you or I will never use or need. I believe they are there entirely to impress us with the super high tech-ness of the equipment. I doubt that even the designers — especially the designers — expects us to actually use them. Which is good, because I don’t know what they are supposed to do anyhow or why I would need them. Ansel Adams didn’t need them. Neither did Edward Weston. Neither do I. But, the more you pay for a camera, the more of these obscure functions you get and I figure that the least they owe me is an explanation of what these setting do and how to find them.

I’m not sure whether to curse or say thank you. Maybe if Olympus provided a manual that explained these options, I’d be grateful, but that is not happening.

I spent half our shooting time trying to find the menu to change the ISO.

This is true of cameras, but the lack of documentation on your computer is actually worse … much worse because most of us depend on our computers. We need them to work and we need to have some control over the environment in which we work. Configuration of our computers to suit our needs is not a minor detail: it’s the difference between having a tool that does what you need and one which is a burden … an enemy with which you do daily battle.

I spent all last night — until dawn — trying to figure out how to turn off the touchscreen functions of my monitor. Before Mac users jump in and point out that it’s because Windows doesn’t work, that’s irrelevant and untrue. Windows works fine. It’s just that the company doesn’t provide any written documentation. There is embedded information in the operating system, but much of it isn’t logically arranged. It’s rather like looking for your car keys after you’ve dropped them someplace you don’t normally put them. You know they’re in the house, but where? It could be years before you find them..

On a new computer, you typically get an “introductory” video and that’s pretty much it. I watched it. It showed me in exquisite detail how to do what I already knew how to do.

Operating systems are designed to be used the way the system’s developers expect you to use it. If you prefer a different setup, trouble starts. The only way to figure out how to do something differently is to keep querying the system and hope you’ll stumble on the right  key word — the word that will bring up the information you need. What is most frustrating is that you are sure it IS there, but whether or not you will ever find it is a different issue.

If you are sufficiently persistent and a bit lucky, you will eventually find a mystery menu after which you fix your problem in a few seconds.

Last night, I searched, searched again and again. It didn’t call Dell because I knew the support person wouldn’t know the answer either. They pretty much never do.

So I tried one word combination after another, recombining them in the hope that it would lead to a menu buried in the system. There had to be a way to deactivate touch input.

Around 5 in the morning, I found it. It took me less than 30 seconds to eliminate the problem that had been driving me nuts since I got the computer. Now, it’s a monitor. A great, high-definition, 23-inch monitor that’s a joy to work on and makes photo editing a pleasure. No more configuration by crawling insect. I am mistress of my virtual world at last!

A technical writers earns less than an entry-level developer. I understand the guys in India who provide telephone tech support work cheap, but I bet a tech writer would cost less than a network of telephone support no matter how cheaply they work.

Assuming you are under warranty and you can get through the voice mail  maze … and further assuming you get someone who understands the problem and don’t get blown off because software is not part of your warranty (Note: If someone can tell me how, without using software, you can determine if you have a hardware problem, I’d like to hear it) … Round and around you go.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Would it blow the budget to hire a competent technical writer to embed online help that will live on even after the warranty period is over? Wouldn’t it be nice to help users avoid needless aggravation and not wind up with angry, frustrated, exhausted, and homicidal customers whose problems remain unsolved?

Granting that many home users have a limited understanding of how their computers work and for them, it wouldn’t much matter what documentation you supply. Most problems result from insufficient understanding of a product or process. If you are talking about a novice user, perhaps more information wouldn’t help. But …

I’m not inexperienced and I still can’t find essential information I need to configure my monitor. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect a menu on the control panel that I could use to configure the monitor’s capabilities, not merely its resolution but any other functions it may have. Functions not available on a particular model could be grayed out. How about that?

There is nothing wrong with my computer that better organized and easier to find information would not solve..

Every issue I’ve had over the last 5 or 6 years was ultimately fixed with a few clicks of the mouse. The problem was never something broken. It was always lack of documentation.

That pisses me off. Because tech writers — even highly experienced ones — work pretty cheap. Users do need documentation, and not just for software and computers. We need documents that let us use our cameras and telephones and DVD players and all those other pricey little devices that we own and often, don’t know how to use. Online FAQs are insufficient.

This is an old battle I’ve already lost. I know it’s hopeless. I find it infuriating that I can barely figure out my telephone without customer support, so rather than spend time on the phone with customer service, I don’t use anything I can’t easily configure.

I had to buy a separate book on how to use Photoshop and another for my first camera. I was able to get some help from a fellow user of my new camera, but that only goes so far. For my PEN P3 camera, there IS no customer support nor any after market book. I depend, as Blanche DuBois said, “… on the kindness of strangers.”.

My camera will remain a mystery until someone writes a “Dummies” book for it. Hopefully I’ll still own the it when the book finally gets published.

It’s not fair. The reason they get away with it is because we let them. Think about it.

So how did I finally figure it out? The “monitor” menu should have been a gateway, but was useless. The only thing you can the “Monitor” menu lets you do is lower your screen’s resolution. That’s useless.

Finally, I typed: Touchscreen.

Up came something that I hadn’t considered. Flicks. Now, for me? That means the movies. Having never used it, I had no idea it had anything to do with the monitor or its touchscreen technology. Once I got to “Flicks,”, I started opening menus and voilà, there were two check boxes allowing me to toggle an option:

  • Enable finger as pointing device.
  • Do not allow finger as pointing device.

I un-checked the first one by checking the second. I clicked “Apply.” As the sun rose in the east, my problem was solved and I went to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream  … of murder, destruction and vengeance.

Combing the Archives

Some updates from a pinch-hitter, by Rich Paschall

While Marilyn is “out of office,” I have the opportunity to go back through the archives to repost some of Marilyn’s earliest works here on Serendipity.  Like the name of the blog suggests, you should find these to be a “pleasant surprise.”  If you have followed along from the very beginning, you will delight in seeing these posts again.  If you are a more recent follower, you will get to see some gems you have missed.

logitech sealed keyboardAs I am posting these with my login, there could have been some confusion with my name appearing at the bottom as “author.”  That seems to be part of the software and something I could not edit.  Therefore, I did something Marilyn would not do.  I added her name to the title.  She would naturally feel that you would know whose blog you are reading.  This is the only edit I have made in the reposts.  Marilyn will be back at her keyboard soon.

In the meantime, Garry will appropriately be playing the role of “reporter” to bring us updates on Marilyn’s progress at Beth Israel’s Cardiac Care Unit.  Although it is taking longer than had been hoped, Marilyn has finally been up and walking.  This certainly means I will be bumped soon from my temporary role as editor and back to Sunday contributor.  I will be pleased to be knocked off this chair by its owner.

I have added tags and categories to Garry’s posts when he is not looking.  Each of his posts carries the tag “Marilyn update.”  I have also tagged the reposts as “Best of Marilyn Armstrong,” but since it is all good, the tag seems a little strange to me.  I have already started using it, however, so I will keep right on with that plan.

There is no way I could explain how grateful I am that Marilyn has given me space here on Sundays for some short stories and totally random articles. She has been advisor, editor and illustrator of the writing I have submitted.  It provides me with an audience that I have not found on my own space.  So I am pleased to sit in the editor’s chair for a few days so that you may continue to have the work of Marilyn Armstrong each day.


“I’m coming home home tomorrow,” Marilyn chirped as we arrived to visit her today at Beth Israel’s Cardiac Care Unit. Cherrie Welburn and I looked at each other, our winter pale brown skin seemingly turning white in the flash of that moment.

Talk about mixed feelings!! Cherrie and I were happy that Marilyn would be coming home after 9 days and 5 surgeries. Surgeries that included a bypass, a valve replacement, a pacemaker implant and inflation of collapsed lungs.

But was Marilyn strong enough? She had only one day of physical therapy and was still clearly weak, in a fair amount of pain and had difficulty just walking from her bed to the nearby bathroom.

Only the previous day, we were told Marilyn’s stay would be extended until she had more physical therapy, was stronger and able to move around with more confidence and less pain. Apparently, those plans were nullified by a surgeon this morning who looked at Marilyn’s incisions and declared her fit to be released. Cherrie and I tried to hide our disbelief and anxiety. Marilyn’s health insurance would not pay for physical therapy. What to do??

More problematic, we thought we had more time to make “The Kachingerosa” cleaner and more recovering patient friendly for Marilyn. We had more than one day’s work even at an accelerated pace!! “No problem,” Cherrie and I told Marilyn. I think our noses were growing longer by the second.

We bid Marilyn goodbye after a two and a half hour visit and drove home in rainy rush hour traffic, brain-storming our mission impossible. We decided to divvy up the work,  doing what we could until fatigue ended our day which began at 6am. By the time we got home, Marilyn’s son, Owen had already finished a makeshift handicapped entrance to our front door. Kudos to Owen for his solo efforts, despite a bad back, getting it done in the pouring rain.

Cherrie and I were scoffing down our first meal of the day when Marilyn called just after 6pm. “I have news,” Marilyn declared. “I’m eating dinner,” I mumbled into the phone speaker. “I’ll call back,” Marilyn responded. “No, wait a minute, ” I shouted, almost choking on a mouth full of food. “I’m NOT coming home tomorrow,” Marilyn exclaimed. Cherrie and I stared at each other, our pale brown skin turning almost white again. Marilyn went on to explain the unbelievable. A last minute reprieve! Something you only see in movies and it always seems corny. As noted, Marilyn was only coming home tomorrow because her health insurance would NOT pay for badly needed physical therapy.

Our Deus Ex Machina appeared in the form of two old and dear friends, Ross and Mary Mitchell. We’ve known Ross since he was a baby faced teenager at our college radio station. Mary was Maid of Honor at our Wedding. Ross and Mary are now grandparents. They visited Marilyn this afternoon just after Cherrie and I left. Ross and Mary looked at Marilyn, quickly determined she wasn’t well enough to go home and declared they would pay for Marilyn’s physical therapy, covering ALL costs!!!!! THAT was Marilyn’s message. Cherrie and I were at a loss for words.

Half an hour later, we caught Ross and Mary by phone, just as they were going out to dinner. I tried — as did Cherrie — to find words beyond “thank you” and “we are so grateful”  — but this multi-Emmy award winning reporter could not find the words. Cherrie was crying. Ross and Mary said that’s what friends are for, that they considered it an honor to help us. I couldn’t manage anything more than a choked up “thank you” as we wrapped up the conversation.

A short time later, Marilyn called again saying she would probably be staying at Beth Israel over the weekend until a suitable physical therapy facility  is found.

As I picked at the remnants of dinner, Cherrie smiled saying, “Quite a day, what an unbelievable day!” I just looked at her and nodded, still not believing how this crazy day had ended.



Ogunquit, Maine: Sunrise, Sand, Rivers, Feathered and Other Friends – Marilyn Armstrong

Autumnal equinox in the northern latitudes. September. A week in Ogunquit, Maine. A tiny place but close to the beach and the river.

There are more people on the beach to see the dawn than I ever expected — there just for the peace and the beauty. Before the sun is up, the mist hangs on the sand.

Quiet this time of year. Most tourists are gone, now, so the streets aren’t crowded.

The moment there is a hint of sun, the mist disappears in a matter of seconds.

There is no more perfect time to be on the seashore of Maine than the very earliest part of Autumn.

Comes the sun …

If you are a photographer, you make take it as a sign that God loves you when having hauled your reluctant body out of bed while it’s still dark, then hike half a mile carrying all your gear to the beach while all the starving blood-sucking insects in the state gather to enjoy you as their breakfast buffet.

Suffer for your art? But you get a reward that is more than worth any and all of your efforts, because before you, as the mist burns away, a sunrise and a golden sun so breathtaking rises before you … and you are there and ready.

People of all ages walk along the water before dawn.

This is a day when your camera works perfectly, your batteries don’t run out, your lens is in perfect alignment, your eyes see and you capture exactly what you want to capture … and everything is in focus.

Then come the birds … terns, plovers, and gulls … Breakfast for the feathered residents.

Tiny plovers comfortably share the shore with one Great Black Backed Gull.

It doesn’t happen often. When it does, when it all comes together perfectly … then you must treasure it … savor it … and share it.

At times like these, it makes you remember why you started taking pictures in the first place.

The rising sun reflects on the sand as if it were polished glass.

That morning I discovered wet sand reflects light like a mirror. You can see the way the tide changes the shape of the sand along the shore.

The big seagull seems to be waiting for the sun to come up dissipating the last of the early mist.

The colors change from one second to the next.

Each moment is more beautiful than the one before it. Really, the entire time is probably no more than half an hour, but it’s a lifetime of beauty.

Then, final gold before full sunlight.

Later, I walked to the river and found this house. This is the Ogunquit River, just about a quarter of a mile before it joins the ocean. The house is virtually part of the river.

The only way I could find to get across the river to the house was by this “bridge,” really just a piece of wood across the rapids and falls. I declined to test it.

What happens in times of flood? Interesting place to build!

And finally, on my way back to our room, I found a hint of autumn near the beach in a small woodland area between the marsh and the shore.

Without Benefit of Clergy – Marilyn Armstrong

I was Jewish when I married Garry in a Lutheran Church. I said then … and I say now …  any God I am willing to worship doesn’t care what ritual you use, what language you speak, what color you are or whether you put cheese on your hamburger. I really DO believe that everyone has the right to live the life they want to live, to have or not have children. Spend whatever day you consider the Sabbath doing whatever you want: attend a church, synagogue, mosque or sleep late and read in bed.

Travel your path and be glad.

All prayers are good prayers. Goodness is goodness, whether you believe in God or not. Faith is a choice, decency is a requirement. You don’t need a church to know the difference between right and wrong. Some of the worst people I’ve known were ardent church goers and some of the best were skeptics or atheists. I’ll bet that God knows who is who and is not fooled by how often you attend church.

Garry and I were married in his church on Long Island because he had a strong emotional attachment to it and I didn’t have any particular attachment to any religious institution, though I had and still have a strong emotional attachment to Judaism as a philosophy and as a moral compass … and as an ethnic identity: Yiddishkeit, as it were.

When we renewed our vows the first time, it was in front of a notary, but the next renewal was under the sky in our backyard by a minister of the Christian Reform Church. Maybe we’ll do it again and who knows who will officiate? We intended to renew our vows again for our 20th anniversary, but I was sick that year and I had other things on my mind. Hopefully, we’ll both be available for 25th. That seems like a good number for another renewal.

Marriage is a contract between two adults. It doesn’t require benefit of clergy. Any religion is okay and no religion is okay too. Unless you live in a theocracy and thank God we do not … yet …you don’t need to believe in anything but your partner to get married.  I hate the theocratic trend this country is taking. I’m baffled as to how God and religion are suddenly the arbitrators of what constitutes a family.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness …”

That last part, that bit about pursuing happiness seems to have been lost. Pity about that because it  is not less important than anything else and may be the most important of all. What good is life and liberty if you can’t be happy too? Gay people, straight people, old people, young people … we should have the right to marry who we choose and be as happy as we can manage.

If we start defining the meaning of marriage, if we declare that marriage is sacred and exists entirely  for the creation of children, what about people who don’t want children? Are they the next group who won’t be allowed to marry? And people past the age of  baby making … can they no longer marry? For too many years in a lot of states, people of different races were forbidden to marry … was that okay? They said that it was God’s decree too. Funny how it’s always God’s plan … no individual ever seems to be responsible.

You can interpret “God’s teaching” however you like. If it was so clear what God wants of us, what was the point of all the theological discussion, debate, Biblical interpretation and everything else for the past few thousand years? What was that about?

The best and the worst things done on this earth have been done in the name of God, Allah, Yahweh … whoever, whatever. Horrors like the Holocaust, the Crusades and so much more … and God was always on the side of the every combatant. If I were God, I’d abandon the human race in disgust.

Gay, straight, or not entirely clear on the issue, marry if you want or not. Have a good life. Maybe you’ll be one of those couples that has a great relationship. Maybe you’ll wind up in the middle of a bitter divorce, but whatever you choose, it’s YOUR right to choose. I’ll never demand you live your life my way. Be happy.

I have no opinion on afterlife or not, reincarnation or not. I don’t know.  And neither do any of you. You can believe whatever you like but you don’t know anything for sure because God doesn’t talk to you or me. He (or She) does not confide his or her intentions to us. Moses was the last one he chatted with face to face and the world has turned a few times since then.

Enjoy this life. It’s the one you’ve got. Maybe you get another shot at it, maybe not. I think it behooves us all to live in the moment and let everyone else do the same!


Today was Marilyn’s 8th day at Beth Israel’s Cardiac Care Unit in Boston. It was also her most active since undergoing 5 surgeries including a bypass, valve replacement, pacemaker implant and inflation of collapsed lungs. Cherrie Welburn and I arrived just after lunch and Marilyn was in a fairly upbeat mood aside from some disgruntled comments about the food. Marilyn said her breathing was better than yesterday but that her pain level was still high with the smallest movement causing “discomfort”. Marilyn was about to experience some more physical challenges.

Mid afternoon and physical therapist Rory arrived. Rory was a very affable young woman and, attractive, I noticed. She outlined for Marilyn what her physical therapy program would be and WHY she would be doing the exercises. Marilyn nodded with a cynical aside glance at Cherrie and me. Marilyn has been fairly inactive for the past week and a day and her muscles need attention, shoulders to toes.

Over the next 40 minutes, Rory gently but persistently put Marilyn through a series of exercises with Marilyn flexing her right arm  (her left arm is very tender because of where the surgery was done to implant her pacemaker), she swung her legs up and down, and her feet left to right a number of times. The biggest test was ahead.

It was time for Marilyn to walk. Rory rehearsed the procedure – something we take for granted – several times. Finally, with obvious effort, Marilyn stood up and moved slowly ahead, using a walker with Rory’s help. Out of her room and into the hallway. It was very difficult for Marilyn. Rory repeatedly emphasized Marilyn needed to walk upright not slouched so that she could breath correctly. No easy task. Even with the walker and Rory’s help, Marilyn was having difficulty as she slowly moved down the hallway away from her room. Finally they stopped and Marilyn sat down to catch her breath. She and Rory talked quietly. I think it was a pep talk. A few minutes later, Marilyn got up and, with renewed effort, walked down the rest of the hallway at a faster place, her body upright.

Cherrie and I watched from the door of Marilyn’s room as she turned around and walked back towards us. Her pace was faster, a smile filled her face as we cheered her on. When she reached her room, Marilyn was still smiling as we gave her thumbs up for her effort. Inside her room, she slowly sat in a chair and took long breaths. A few minutes later, she declined Rory’s assistance, moving from the chair onto her bed, all by herself. Crank up the applause!! Marilyn was clearly fatigued by her walk but proud of her efforts. Cherrie and I could see Marilyn needed some rest but she wanted to chat and catch up. She briefly scanned her tablet, checking the blog I wrote last night and the impressive number of “hits” and comments. I gave her my best “Garry Armstrong – Star” look and she smiled broadly. It was time to order dinner now. Cherrie and a staffer took over as Marilyn scanned the menu hoping for something different. No such luck! That was our cue for today’s long Jewish goodbye.

Cherrie and I blew kisses to Marilyn as we left, telling her we hoped tomorrow would be an even better day.