BETTER FIREWALLS FOR A BETTER LIFE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Firewall

We’ve got firewalls all over the place. Our modem, our router, Chrome, Microsoft are all busy protecting us. Theoretically, our ISP protects us, too. I think their idea of protecting us is to have such a bad service no one can get through, not even us. My phone blips out a dozen times a day and the computers die with regularity. If other people weren’t having the same problem, I’d think it was us, but I know it’s them.

If you call them, they will deny everything. Lying is a national sport.

Our many firewalls are obviously insufficient to protect us from anything.

I need protection. From life, politics, and the vast stupidity that is closing in around me.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Downtown Uxbridge, late winter

I need to be protected from $1000 hikes in taxes when my town does absolutely nothing for us. We don’t have buses or taxis or trains. We pay to have our trash hauled. We have our own well and septic system. No one prunes the trees or even sprays for mosquitoes which, as it turns out, is fine because it would probably kill the birds while leaving the mosquitoes. They also didn’t spray for gypsy moth caterpillars.

Basically, we are on our own. Pay the taxes and figure out how to survive. The one time I called emergency services because we’d gotten frozen into our driveway and couldn’t get out, they told us that was a real pity, but they couldn’t help us. They said their trucks don’t have snow tires so they couldn’t help us. If we died in our house, that would be a real pity too. Oops. I wonder if they’d pay for the funeral?

Down our snowy road – Photo: Garry Armstrong

So what am I paying for? So the town can waste money on some other stupid project? A townwide soccer team for kindergartners? We can’t get them to expand the library (who needs a library after all?) … or repair the sidewalks. Or even add a minibus so older people can get in and out of town.

Take a walk along the river. It’s the best part of living here.

So far, the only “famous” person to emerge from this town is William Howard Taft which is pretty dismal. Though I hear his ranking as a Chief Supreme Court Judge was better than his record as President. It is unlikely to be worse. He was a hard tryer, but a big failure. Not a bad description of Uxbridge, come to think of it. Except I don’t think we try all that hard.

I want protection from gigantic rises in the cost of oil to heat our house. I want them to fix the roads so that the repairs last more than the first month of winter.

I want to be firewalled from reality.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I want some of that money we pay to underwrite the cost of my drugs. I want the town to plow my driveway and clear away the monstrous piles of autumn leaves and other trash that accumulates. I want someone to come by and clean up the trash people throw from their car windows onto our “front lawn,” which is actually a lot of trees that need to be cut down.

I want them to collect the trash and not make us pay for it! You know. Like they do in other towns.

I want them to give us a senior discount on our taxes like most other towns offer.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

If they are going to leave us to decay here amidst the forest, I think they should stop charging us more and more for the privilege of being unable to afford to live here. I could understand it if they actually gave us something for our money, but they don’t. Oh, but they built a firehouse.

So if the place burns down, they’ll be sure to drop by with hoses. At least, in theory. There are no fire pumps along our road, so they better also bring tanks. Do we even have tanker trucks?

Some mornings, life is just too much with me.

NO SPENDTHRIFTING THIS YEAR – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Spendthrift

There was a time when “spendthrift” meant spending too much money for something that wasn’t necessary. This was when we were both working and earning good salaries. Summer vacations were when we really spent money.  Great restaurants, jewelry, clothing, hotels, airfare. We worked hard. We deserved it. We still work hard, for our age and we still deserve it.

Back deck Vineyard house. Did a lot of drinking back there. Eating. And reading. It used to have a huge rope hammock.

We did most of our summering on Martha’s Vineyard. We shared a house with a lot of other people — which made it sort of affordable. At the end of the season, everything went on sale, so I would buy all the Christmas presents in August on the Vineyard. People got interesting stuff.

Vineyard house – Originally part of the New York Yacht Club. The house where we stayed before it was restored.

Now we don’t go to the Vineyard — and we also don’t give much in the way of Christmas gifts, either. If someone really needs it, we can’t afford it. If we can afford it, they don’t need it.

Basically, these days, being a spendthrift would mean spending any money for anything unrelated to fixing the house. There’s no “fun money” lying around. Being a spendthrift was a lot more fun than being “house poor.” Although I dearly love our new bathroom, I wouldn’t object to a vacation, either.

I was a lot younger, too

I’d like to get some good graphics software for my MacBook Air, but all the good “full service” software that normally works on a Mac won’t work on this one. The MacBook Air is the lightest weight “real” computer made. It’s incredibly light. To make it so lightweight,  Mac removed a lot of stuff.  It weighs less than my more solid (older) 10-inch Kindle with its Bluetooth speaker. It also has a very small hard drive (half a gig SSD) and it feels kind of fragile. I’m very protective of it because I don’t think it would survive a serious fall onto a hard surface.

I wanted it so I could process photos while we were out of town. Without hauling the big Dell which weighs like a cinderblock. As it turns out, I can’t do it anyway. Either the hard drive is too small and the application won’t fit, or it doesn’t have the right graphics processor. Everything in the machine is rather miniature. It wouldn’t make much of a difference if it weren’t for photography. Photographs use a LOT of space.

I’ve been saved from myself. Most of what I want doesn’t exist.

Left: Bonnie, Right: Gibbs

Except for the vacation. I’d really like a long vacation. But we’ve got three dogs, two of whom are getting old. I’m not comfortable leaving them for long periods of time.

Never mind. We’ll save tons of money and enjoy that new shower!

ADULTING 101 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I read a fascinating article from Today, on Facebook. It was written by Meghan Holohan on March 29, 2019, and is titled “ ‘Adulting’ Class at Kentucky high school teaches crucial life skills.”

What a great concept! I’ve always thought high schools and colleges should offer life skills classes so kids aren’t left totally unprepared when they move into adulthood (that is if their parents don’t prepare them, which most don’t).

In the Kentucky school, ‘Adulting’ seminars were offered and the response was overwhelming and positive. Parents were as thrilled as the kids when the project started blowing up on the internet. Seniors could choose three out of eleven workshops to attend with the goal of gaining more general knowledge and specific skills needed to help them navigate their lives after high school.

The classes offered were awesome and totally practical. Some of them were: Dorm Room Cooking, How To Interact With the Police (I’m assuming it’s an inner city school), Healthy Relationships and Boundaries, It’s Money, Baby, i.e. Personal Finance, Writing a Resume and Cover Letter, Filling out an Application, Basics of Checking and Savings and When you Need to See A Doctor.

The first class to fill up was dorm room cooking. The Police were the second most popular and the third was Healthy Relationships. Apparently, a lot of young girls were not sure how and when to set boundaries in a relationship and what you should and should not expect — or accept — in a relationship. If you don’t see good relationships in your life, I guess you need to be taught what a good one looks like and how to get it. Very sad.

This school’s adulting classes are hopefully the start of a new trend. I looked online and found an adulting class for millennials that teaches them ‘survival’ skills like monthly budgeting and how to open a wine bottle with a cork. A library in Oregon offers “Adulting 101: Basic How-To’s for ages 16-25.”

Apparently, neither mainstream schools or parents are preparing kids to take on the world beyond home and high school.

I’ve read several conflicting explanations for why kids today seem so clueless when it comes to basic adulthood skills. Some blame it on the fact that so many kids continue to live at home through their 20’s, and even later. But one article pointed out that in the 1940s, people lived at home in even larger numbers and for even longer periods than recent generations. But those kids also did chores and were given adult responsibilities while at home, so making it in the real world was not a problem for them when the time came.

That points to late 20th-century parenting as the problem.

One author argues that both parents usually have to work crazy hours just to provide good lives for their families, so no one has time to teach life skills to their kids. Another author blames helicopter or snowplow parents who treat their kids like delicate, pampered snowflakes, do everything for them and expect nothing from them.

Another school of thought blames high schools, which used to teach skills like cooking, shop, and bookkeeping but now don’t. My husband had a great home economics class and learned how to cook as a teenager. He was the only boy in a class full of girls! Win, win!

Another author argues that every generation of young adults is equally ignorant of life skills and that most people learn them in the field, as adults. I had never cooked a thing until I reached law school and had my first apartment. Many kids don’t have their own checkbooks when they live with their parents and so they don’t learn how to manage one until they are living and working on their own.

I’m not sure which theory I believe, but I agree with the person who said that whatever the root causes of their egregious lack of ‘adult’ knowledge, the kids today should be commended for trying to learn what they realize they don’t know.

Hopefully, there will be a big spike in enrollment in the Adulting School that has opened, which offers classes in cooking, sewing, and basic conflict resolution. I know some adults who could use those classes. I know many career women who don’t know the first thing about cooking, except ordering out. I still can’t balance a checkbook.

Where do I sign up?

ANOTHER YEAR ON A FIXED INCOME- Marilyn Armstrong

We got our taxes done.

This used to be a big deal because we got so much money back at the end of the year. Then Reagan changed everything and we got back less than half we’d gotten in the past. Now, on a fixed income, we get pretty much the same thing every year.

This year we got a little more Federal, a little less State, but the result was essentially the same as last year.

Not a big deal, but it beats out nothing. It’s the only “lump” of money we get all year and I’m hoping it’ll be enough to get the chimney fixed.

I’m still a little punchy with the upcoming fix up to the bathroom and trying to snip whatever payments I can downward so that maybe we can get through this alive. Getting out of AT&T and into US Mobile brought $40/month back into our account. I’ve got a few almost finished accounts and when they are done, we’ll have another $100 maybe?

It’s the fixed income thing.

Prices go up, but income never goes up. We haven’t had crazy inflation, yet the price of food has been slowly rising. Heating oil has risen. Trash went down a little, but taxes went up too. And somehow, our “low-end” cable package keep crawling upward. A dollar here, two dollars there, another five in that corner.

We dumped cable and got “YouTubeTV” and haven’t looked back. Of course, we still have to keep paying Charter for Wi-Fi and somehow, the price of Wi-Fi is now more than our original cable bill was. Funny how that works.

We don’t get “big hits” of income change, either positive or negative — but over time, since we’ve been on a fixed income, it has eroded by 15%, give or take maybe another 5%. That’s with low inflation, mind you. If inflation rises faster, we will be in trouble.

There is nothing to be done about it … other than winning Mega Millions of course. I suppose we should buy a ticket. Just in case.

THE SHINBONE STAR – REBLOG By NATHANIEL R. “NAT” HELMS

TIME HEALS OLD WOUNDS . . . UNLESS THEY’VE TURNED GANGRENOUS

A self-imposed exile from the machinations of Donald Trump is a good thing. It is like spraying Febreze Clean Linen scent inside your skull until the rotten stench is completely covered. Two weeks wasn’t long enough to fully enjoy it, but it is a start.

A real exile from Trump means no cable news, newspapers, Facebook memes and rants, not answering taunts and jibes and no light-hearted political discussion with the neighbors.

Netflix is a good hiding place. A more extreme alternative is Devotional Hour with Sister Marie, the wizened old nun who provides solace on a local Catholic television show. Five minutes cured everything. Even with great alternatives available, actually weaning oneself off the Trumpian titty is like quitting smoking without a nicotine patch. His nefarious influence is everywhere.

Perhaps the most revealing thing about such an experience is discovering that people who must work every day to care for their kids, dogs, and homes don’t often give a tinker’s damn about politics. It takes a particularly powerful whiff of Trumplandian swamp gas for them to even notice all is still not well in Washington, D.C. They apparently leave all the angst for old retired people who won’t suffer too long no matter what happens.

Several other discoveries jumped out immediately. The Trumpian Wall saga has run its course across the emotional nerves of my neighbors. So have mass shootings, the endless litany of #MeToo sexual peccadilloes and reports about election campaigns so far in the future they are irrelevant. The baffling Mueller probe is seen in the same light as all the other probes getting shoved in people’s keisters in the name of New Age correctness.

My hardworking neighbors know that a Saudi journalist named Khashoggi was chopped into mincemeat by lackeys of some medieval Arab prince who won’t be touched; that war in Syria and Afghanistan may be over but don’t count on it; and that some big, bald-headed guy on TV when they arrived home Friday was in a pointless pissing match with the Democrats. None of it touched their lives.

What really pisses off Mr. and Mrs. Working America is finding out that they aren’t going to get the income tax refund they used to use to buy a little fun, the really unimaginative halftime show at the cliché’-rich Super Bowl and that the constantly rising price of food and gas never gets factored into those glowing reports about how rich America is.

Just ask a working mom who looks forward to taking the kids for a week at the beach that won’t happen this year because she didn’t get a useful tax refund. Ask the tradesman who tolerated his union dues going to Democrats, thinking their expanded presence in the House would improve his life. Instead, they are using his money to buy a bully pulpit to promote themselves without accomplishing much else.

Perhaps the most illuminating people to talk to are the mid-level government employees where I live that are wracked with doubt because they spent all their savings just to survive Trump’s 35-day government shutdown. They are imminently aware that another shutdown is still in the cards. They are equally certain that at some point a shutdown will wreck the economy the same way it already has wrecked their households.

The so-called Trumpian base, the badly informed working class folks who turn to anyone who offers them red meat, are confused and angered as well. They thought their lot would have improved by now, said one of my forsaken buddies while buying donuts. We’ve been punching holes in targets together for 30 years and he still can’t bring himself to say he might have been wrong about Trump.

My old buddy lives in a trailer court down the road. He lives there because he can’t afford a house. He can’t afford a house because he earns a $1,000 or more a week during the working season and still can’t save enough for the 20-percent down payment. Despite all the news stories about how the country has run out of skilled and unskilled labor, he doesn’t have a job.

His mobile home costs $780 a month plus utilities. His wife doesn’t work because they can’t afford daycare for his three kids. Being a union laborer doesn’t provide much work in the dead of winter, he said. Unemployed union laborers go on the extra board and draw $280 a week unemployment that they hope will last until the spring thaw. The only thing being a cherished veteran got him is a VA house loan and lip service. Meanwhile, Republicans who supported Trump in Missouri are again trying to introduce “right-to-work” laws because they think laborers like my friend are paid too much.

I learned a lesson from this experience. To move forward, the country must clear its head, put its feet back on the ground and wean itself off the milk of Trumpian discourse. Hate holds only bankrupt answers. Trump’s forte is lies. It is time for Democrats to go around him, under him, over him or through him, the way illegal aliens would get past his useless border wall.

The presumption that time heals all wounds is misplaced. Time only heals wounds that don’t turn gangrenous.

Democratic leaders need to spend less time blaming Trump’s egregious behavior for the country’s wounds and begin binding them instead.

GOOD MORNING FRIENDS, BIRDS, AND A SQUIRREL – Marilyn Armstrong

This is another one of those “lost days” for me. There seem to be more and more of them, like I’ve been saving them up. But the suitcase got too small and everything is bursting out and blowing all over the place.

We had a long summer of nothing much going on, preceded by a long slow winter and spring, suddenly, as summer rolled around … everything went wild and crazy. For us, that is. For someone else, probably not so much but we don’t move fast.

I never seem to have a whole day to just relax. Or even a  half a day.

Squabbling Juncos or a Junco and a Nuthatch. Hard to tell.
The reddest bird of all birds
The red one’s lady friend
Chickadee and Goldfinch
Early Squirrel

Tomorrow we get our taxes done. I’m hoping for the best and hopefully, we won’t have another government shut-down and we’ll actually get our refund. This year. Like … soon. Because we need an infusion of money.

Finances are running a bit thin. And did I mention that it’s gotten very cold again with sleet and snow and maybe freezing rain tomorrow? But not to worry because it will be 50 degrees by the weekend, at which point, it will all melt.

UXBRIDGE ON THE RITZ! – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Ritzy

Amidst the Sturm-und-Drang of life in our dinky little town, we suffer from what most forgotten towns suffer from.

We have nothing going for us.

Uxbridge has no work or hope of meaningful employment. There are no malls with big stores that hire people for living wages. No budget, sidewalks (except mid-town, which is one street (Main Street, of course). There are no streetlights, though we do have one traffic light. No public transportation. Not buses, trains, or trolleys or even a taxi. Someone said there’s an Uber driver somewhere, but I’ve never seen him or her.

On the street where we live.

There is no bookstore (we had one, but it went out of business). No greenhouses or nurseries. No places to buy clothing unless you count the Salvation Army (often the most fashionable offerings in the area). No quaint coffee shops (but lots of donuts).

It’s a mosaic because we don’t have any murals. But it’s an old one and it’s all about shearing and marketing wool.

We have some restaurants serving among the worst food you can imagine. We’ve got one really good (and ridiculously expensive) sushi joint we can no longer afford. We used to go there when it opened and prices were normal, but people discovered it and up went the prices — and they opened two more restaurants in other towns, too. There is one other Asian eating place — just over the Rhode Island border — which has sushi as well as pretty good and almost affordable Thai and Vietnamese food. It’s only a mile and a bit from home, so when we go out — rarely — that’s where we go.

Otherwise, the ‘American’ restaurants think garlic and black pepper are too spicy. It’s all brown gravy and white bread bland. We have a couple of Chinese restaurants that change owners regularly. New chefs start off with decent food, discover no one EATS decent food and promptly delete all spices from all foods.

I love Chinese food and fortunately, I know how to cook it, else I would be forced to drive fifty miles to someplace that recognizes the difference between Hunan, Mandarin, and Cantonese, et al.

Take a walk along the river

Our other local “restaurants” are pretty good at making burgers, fries, and serving cold beer. Mostly, beer.

The little white house with the big red tree

Three years ago, Massachusetts passed a bill allowing pot shops in the state. They have been wrangling over taxes and shmaxes and what about stoned drivers and is it moral? Meanwhile, the citizens have been getting downright irritable that we still didn’t have any way to buy any.

Between the “medical marijuana” bill we passed, we seem to have also said, “Aw, nuts, bring on the ‘just for fun’ dope, too.” We all own more land than we need around here. Mostly, the soil is too stony and rooty to grow normal crops. It’s truck farming. Cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries in June, and squash forever  … and a few places grow corn … and of course, dairy cows.

Plus lots and lots of apples. Orchards everywhere. We really do grow amazingly good apples and anything we don’t eat, the horses are happy to finish off for us. Did I mention horses? We grow big horses. Clydesdale and Percherons, each horse the size of a 10-ton truck, but gentle as a kitten. Just don’t step on my paw, please.

About three months ago, finally we opened our first two pot shops. one somewhere in a sleazy part of Boston and someplace not far from the crossing into Cape Cod — near Plymouth I think, but I could be wrong.

During the first two months, these two TINY little shops brought in more than 2-1/2 million dollars — each.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Suddenly, all the people who doubted pot was something we ought to have here in Massachusetts began to sing folk songs, buy bongs, and whistle a happy tune because — hey, that’s REAL MONEY. No kidding. Money in huge quantities. The only reason there wasn’t more money coming in was the shops kept running out of dope.

The Canal and river

No problem. Spring is coming.

Anyone with a piece of empty land is going into the hemp-growing business — or renting their land to someone who’ll do the growing and pay them to use the property.

Last night, on the local news, they announced the next two locations for the new pot shops. One will be in Pittsfield, the town in the Berkshires where no one wants to live, and … are you ready? Really ready?

UXBRIDGE.

No shit. There it was. On the map on the big television. Dead center of south-central Massachusetts and hyper-convenient to our neighboring border states of Connecticut and Rhode Island — where they don’t (yet) have “enjoy the munchies” dope.

UXBRIDGE.

I’m sure everyone was sitting and looking at the screen and saying “Where the hell is Uxbridge?” Nobody knows where we live. No one ever bothers to visit us because “Where the hell is Uxbridge?”

Well. Now we are someplace. You will come here to buy marijuana.

We’ll have a permanent traffic jam in front of Hannaford’s and every doughnut shop will be overrun by stoned people looking for stuff to eat. Dear lord! There will be no parking because who needed parking?

Our one lane, each direction Main Street will be full of expensive cars and stoned people who have hiked in from Boston and the Cape. We are actually only an hour and a bit from Cape Cod, but no one knows that … yet. Soon, they will know.

They will build coffee shops and bake pies. Someone will open a bakery. Stores will sell widgets no one needs that cost too much money. Maybe the price of our house will finally rise in value. Is it possible our taxes will drop?

Nah. Taxes never drop.

But more people might move in. We might get a trolley or a bus or a train stop. It could happen. And they could fix the sidewalks and put in some streetlights!

Uxbridge Commons

I’m dreaming of a stoned Christmas, unlike any I’ve ever known.

There was a time in my life when I dreamed of legal pot and at least I’ve lived to see that happen. And who’d have thought in UXBRIDGE?

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” She chortled in her joy.

Talk about ritzy.

RITZY has come to UXBRIDGE!