BRICKS ON THE STOOP? – Marilyn Armstrong

A Slight Chance We’ll Need Some Major Chimney Repairs?

Only slight?

What was (I hoped) a slight chance that our home insurer would reject our claim to fix our chimney became a much more solid reality when I got an 8 am call this morning. They are coming tomorrow to take a look at the roof. I need them to do that anyway because someone needs to go up there and see what’s happening and it sure won’t be Garry or me. Or, for that matter, Owen, who is afraid of heights.

What were the odds that this would be the month the chimney started falling apart? Slight? More than slight? If I could actually see the chimney from anywhere on the property I might have a better grip on it, but sadly, I don’t.

So here is the story. You’ve all heard it — or some similar version of it — before, so you are welcome to sing along.

Life comes in waves. One year, everything is about dogs or cats. Or bugs and the trees. Another year is an automotive year, as one car leaves and we need to start again. One year was about furniture. All the old stuff left and the new stuff arrived.

And from the backyard …

One year was plumbing. Pipes broke. Toilets and sinks were replaced. And the basement flooded.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – In the blizzard

This is “the house is crumbling” year. Last summer, we put in a new front door. Which was a very big deal. We also replaced the water heater — which was a huge deal and a financial wipe out. Oh, and then there was the washing machine and installing the lift chair, two minor and one not so minor car accidents — without any injury to life or limb, but considerable pain and suffering financially.

This year, we attacked the ants and the mice (who knew there were so many?) and the bathroom, at least to the extent we could afford it (so much more needs doing (sigh) — including the shower outlet and the lighting. The builder came and replaced the window in the front of the house and a good piece of the whole front wall of the house too. Also, the new vacuum cleaner arrived today, but we’re too tired to take it out of the box.

A computer sort of died — and new computers arrived. During this period of change, I have spent more time talking to people in customer and technical services than most people spend in the better part of a lifetime. I breathed a sigh and thought: “Maybe now we can relax for a while.”

Until  I found the bricks.

One more payment, honey, and it’s all ours!

I was coming in the front door yesterday and I looked down and saw bricks.

Bricks? There are no bricks in this house. It’s wood (or something related to wood), vinyl siding, and asbestos tile. Except … the chimney is brick. A part of the chimney was laying on the stoop.

What were bricks from our chimney doing on the front step? “This cannot be good,” I said to myself.

It’s hard to see the chimney. Even if you back up all the way to the fence, you can’t see the whole thing. I went inside and pondered the meaning of storms, blizzards, and wind events. How we had three huge storms in a single week in March. How the trees broke — and many remain broken — and how the branches flew around in hurricane-level winds.

Then, I collected myself, realized there was no reason why we should be different than everyone else who is replacing pieces of chimneys and roofs and siding. You live in New England and deal with the storms, physically and architecturally. The only remaining issue is who will pay for the repairs? It would be nice if it were insurance, for which we pay big bucks annually, but usually, it’s us.

Footsteps — mine — from house to road

This was a damaging, rough winter. March alone was worth two normal winters. I thought we had miraculously escaped serious damage. Not.

The bottom line? Was it “officially” storm damage or will they deem it something that was due for repair anyway? When I talked to the guy at the insurance company, he asked me if anything else had gone wrong “up there.” Like I would know?

“I have absolutely no idea,” I assured him. “I’m 71 and my husband is 76 and neither of us is going up on the roof to look around. I’m pretty sure someone is going to have to go up there and see what happened. I know a big tree didn’t crash through the roof. I’d have noticed that. But did tiles blow off? And how much chimney is damaged? No idea.”

Oh the irony. We haven’t used our fireplaces for a long time because using the fireplaces raises heating costs. The heat from the fire turns off the thermostat. When the fire dies and the house gets cold enough to trigger the heat, it has to reheat the whole house.

We have terrific insulation and if we keep the house at a low, but even temperature — like about 68 — our heat costs half what it used to when we used fireplaces. It has been at least five years since we lit anything in either fireplace, so it is just one more piece of household money-pit irony that we need to fix chimneys we don’t use.

We got away with years of minimal repairs to the house. Mostly because we had no money. It’s amazing what you can live with when you’re broke. But we are in a bit better shape now — though by the time we’re through with this summer, I have a feeling we won’t be. Expensive summer just beginning.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I suppose it’s time to set it to rights, within the limits of what we can afford. I wish I thought insurance would pay for the chimney, but it’s unlikely. I suspect they already made the decision — and they haven’t even looked at it yet.

SEND IN THE CLOWNS – Garry Armstrong

“Send In The Clowns”, on its own merit, is a beautiful song from the show, “A Little Night Music.” Judy Collins’ cover has made it a popular favorite for decades. A Frank Sinatra version is especially poignant.

Jimmy Stewart (clown) and Charlton Heston in “The Greatest Show On Earth”

In the early 70’s, a seemingly more innocent period, I used “Send In The Clowns” as a musical wrap around a political TV piece. I was covering local Boston politics. A primary campaign. Those were the days of political and community icons like “Dapper,” “Fast Freddie,” Trixie, “Kevin From Heaven,” “Wacko,” and “Raybo.”

Those were influential folks, beloved by their constituents and bearers of much political clout. I was on “friendly”terms with most of these folks. There was less Sturm und drang between the media and politicians in those days. There was respect.

My piece was shot with silent black and white film.  We were still in the pre-video tape and digital days. I chose silent film over sound because I wanted the music to have more presence, less competition from people talking.

We used a montage of candidates faces, posters and campaign slogans. The lyrics of “Send In The Clowns” soared as the video zoomed in on campaign slogans and candidates kissing babies and pressing the flesh.

I anticipated a flurry of angry calls from campaign directors.  Nothing. Nada. One candidate, over happy hour drinks, praised the cleverness of my piece but said he would’ve preferred the Sinatra version of “Clowns”.

So much for being glib in those days.

Imagine using “Send In The Clowns” today.  For the coming mid-terms.  The  ’20 Presidential race. How would the “Clowns” lyrics fare over the screaming POTUS?  The ranting Rudy? The shouting Sean Hannity?

Should we intercut snippets of circus clowns with “breaking news” video and clips of all the President’s minions?  Don’t forget those shots of the President’s supporters, the “People,” with their “Jail Her” signs and the racist banners flying over political bonfires.

Send in the clowns?  Don’t bother. They’re already here.

SICK BODY, UNHAPPY MIND – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I think of myself as a strong, healthy person. When I think about it at all. I’ve had periods in my life when I wasn’t healthy, but that was way in the past. Healthy is my reality now. I’m not athletic, but I can do what I want, when I want to. At least I could until four months ago.

Suddenly I started getting stiffness and pain that would come and go randomly. Then the episodes started getting longer and the stiffness and pain were accompanied by weakness and fatigue. Now I get these several times a week at random times and for varying durations.

The weird part is that on days when I don’t have symptoms, I’m absolutely fine. Totally normal. No sign of any problem whatever. This is making me psychizophrenic.

I went to a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with Poly Rheumatic and Fibromyalgia. I’ve been put on medication. But apparently these conditions get better very slowly. I’ve read and been told that a year is not uncommon to suffer before you go back to normal.

I’m going for a second opinion.

But in the meantime, my life has been turned upside down. It’s hard to plan anything because I never know how I’ll feel on any given day or night.

Did I mention that I can’t take much Ibuprofen for the pain? And unfortunately, that is the only thing that helps me weather my episodes. I donated a kidney to my son so I have to be very protective of the one I have left. Anti-inflammatories, like Ibuprofen, are bad for the kidneys. So I can only use them very sparingly. This means that I’m screwed.

So I’m left in this nether world between healthy sometimes and debilitated the rest of the time. It’s doing a number on me psychologically. On bad days, I feel old and decrepit. No energy and no motivation. Then I bounce back to my chipper, active self. But even then, I know that my good health is not going to last long.

This experience has emphasized for me the interconnections between body and mind. When my body is healthy, my mind can stay upbeat and positive. When my body is struggling, so does my mind.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about people who live with chronic pain and/or discomfort from a wide variety of medical conditions. I have a new respect for people who manage to deal with permanent disabilities or illnesses and still manage to lead fulfilling lives and maintain positive attitudes. I’m not sure if I could do it. I’m struggling with sporadic issues I’ve had for only four months!

If this is going to go on for seven or eight more months, I’m going to have to put my big girl panties on and get my psych back in fighting mode. I’m going to have to power through the bad days and make the best of the good days. Do what I can when I can and accept what I can’t do when I can’t. This is my version of the serenity prayer. I hope it works for me.

STUPID ON THE NEWS – Marilyn Armstrong

The first day, a family at a Dutch safari park gets out of their car to get a better look at a bunch of cheetahs. The cheetahs act a bit threatening. In fact, one of them gets into the car, sits next to the driver, and sniffs around. Fortunately, the driver sat there quietly. No screaming, sudden movements. Nothing that told the cheetah he was “prey.”

After that, the rest of the family got back in the car. The family had a conference. Lord knows what they talked about, but next thing you know, they get back OUT of the car — carrying the baby — I’m assuming to get a selfie with the big cats.

This time, the cats said “Hmm. Lunch? Dinner?” and they started to circle. By now, Garry and I are rooting for the cats. This family is too stupid to be allowed to live. They are far better off feeding some of our rarest large cats.

Garry is still muttering about them getting back OUT of the car the second time. How stupid were these people? Even the news people looking at the video were baffled. This was really, exceptionally, wildly stupid.

A day late and today, it’s Mother’s Day. Lots of films of deadly car accidents. Apparently there’s a lot of drinking on Mother’s Day. “Is Mother’s Day a drinking day?” asks Garry.

“Every day is drinking day, ” I comment. Hard to argue the point there.

Up comes video of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano which is pouring lava, ash, and poisonous gas all over the place. Half the island has been evacuated … but they are still need to ask rental areas to please close down because there is a shortage of water.

That’s not one stupid person. That’s a lot of stupid people.

They are still renting vacation spaces? On Kilauea? Where lava is rolling down the street and there is a very good chance that there will be  massive steam explosion. That is the exact type of explosion that took out the island of Krakatoa. In case you didn’t know that.

So they are interviewing someone from the island and she says “I am beginning to worry that maybe I’m not safe.”

You are on an island on which a large, multi-faceted volcano is actively pouring out lava, poisonous gas, and possibly going to explode. Just like Krakatoa. Boom! Giant rocks spewing into the sky.

And she wants to know if she is safe.

I am here to tell you a basic, but critical fact: living on an island that is on top of an active volcano is not safe EVEN if there is currently no lava in the streets and no one is predicting poisonous gases or an explosion that might eliminate the island entirely. I understand that it is a lovely part of the world, but it’s an active volcano. Of course you aren’t safe.

Safe is a hilltop in my neighborhood. The weather may be dicey, but the ground isn’t going to move. Moreover, there is minimal likelihood of mudslides, tornadoes, full throttle hurricanes (not impossible, but unlikely) —  and no volcano has exploded in several million years.

That’s about as safe as it gets.

Allow me to reiterate:

1 – Do NOT get out of your car in the safari park.
2 – If you are lucky enough to survive doing it once, don’t do again.
3 – Don’t build your dream house on top of an active volcano or earthquake fault.
4 – Avoid building on a flood plain or in places frequently buried by mudslides. Or turned to ash by massive wildfires.

The world throws all kinds of stuff at us anyway, no matter how hard you try to be safe. Personally, I think you should NOT help it along.