I’LL FLY AWAY … By Marilyn Armstrong

When I was a lot younger — in my teens — America didn’t look all that wonderful to me. It was before abortion became legal. Vietnam was in high gear and my first husband and I were close to bankrupt from having my spine repaired.

When I went into the hospital, we had $20,000 in the bank which in the U.S. in 1965, was enough to buy a house and maybe a car, too. In fact, our first house cost $19,200 and our car cost under $1000.

The first house

When I staggered out of the hospital (I was there for five months), we had $10 in the bank and owed the hospital a couple of thousand dollars more. I asked my husband if we didn’t pay them back, would they find me and break my back again?

Our first house in Boston

We cashed in everything we had, sold anything that had any value. Mind you, we had insurance. Just not enough insurance. Two years later, Owen was born with two club feet. It cost us about $500 every week to treat his feet. By the time he was walking almost normally, we were thousands of dollars in debt and never recovered.

There we were, deep in the Vietnam war. We had a lot of friends over there, too. We were lucky. Most of our friends came home.

We were young. Passionate. Sure we could fix it, whatever “it” was. We also wondered if we could move to Australia, Canada or somewhere we could earn a living, but in the end, we stayed in the U.S. It was home. We never imagined it would be as bad as it is now, but it wasn’t all that great back then, either.

When Jeff and I split up late in 1979, I moved to Israel with Owen and it became my “other: home. I became a citizen but in the end, I came back to the U.S. Because I knew where “home” was and it wasn’t there.

House in summer

I have been back since the end of the 1980s. Things got better, worse, then better, worse, better — and now, simply awful. Until Netanyahu was re-elected in Israel yesterday, I had this underlying belief that at least I had another home to which I could flee — if fleeing was what we had to do.

It turns out that any place we might go to has its own issues, most of which are as bad (and surprisingly similar) as ours. They may lack our disgusting, lying president, but they are battling over immigration, health care, taxes, the climate. Their politicians are also liars. More polite than ours. Not less sleazy but they have better manners.

Meanwhile, climate change will affect the entire world. All the pointless arguments in the world are not going to change that reality.

Is there anywhere for us to go? Is there a safe place with sane leaders who would want us? I think not.

First of all, we are old and not rich. Most countries, if they are looking for immigrants, are looking for young, well-educated people who will contribute to their economy or older people who have money. Israel would take us because I’m a citizen, but their problems are serious; I don’t see them improving soon.

The home in Baka, Jerusalem

Effectively, there is nowhere for us to go.

I think in years to come there will be only two kinds of people in this world: those who hate immigrants and immigrants.

Everyone else will be hiding in a cave.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LITTLE VICTORIES – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, dinner was perfect. I cook dinner every night except for the few when we are away from home, order in, or actually go out to dinner. Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time pondering what to cook.

When we lived in Boston, we ate out. A lot. There were so many good places to eat, too. A lot of our choices took us down to the wharf where they had some great places for fish and lobster and clams. A lot of them were shorts and sandals kinds of places and some of these rather rough little restaurants had the best seafood you could imagine.

Dinner, anyone?

Then came The Big Dig. Between the construction which seemed to have closed every street in Boston and turned the usually difficult traffic into a calamity, those restaurants disappeared. Some of them reopened in other places in the city. They kept the same name, but they weren’t the same restaurants. They got fancy. All the effort that had previously gone into creating great food now went into dining room decor.

We left Boston. Of the many things we never imagined we’d miss was food.

The Blackstone Valley has its wonders. A beautiful place … with such pathetic restaurants. It must be something about we the people. Food is drab. No spices. Anything stronger than salt is regarded with deep suspicion, so bland is the name of the game. When anyone asks what we’ve got in the way of dining, I say “white bread and brown gravy.” But that’s not fair. A few places also make really good hamburgers.

We stopped going out to dinner except for very special occasions. I’m pretty sure there were better restaurants some years back, but they closed down. So we eat at home and periodically, we develop an intense boredom with food. It isn’t lack of appetite, though we don’t eat as much as we used to. It’s more that I can’t think of one more way to make chicken that doesn’t seem drab.

My goal in home food preparation is to keep feeding us without boring us into starvation.

Last night, I made “breakfast for dinner.” We don’t eat breakfast. We have coffee. I have an English muffin too. Garry just drinks a lot of coffee. Sandwiches suffice for lunch. This week, we’ve had chili, one of my standards. Sweet-and-sour chicken. Baked salmon. Shrimp with onions and peppers over rice. And frozen pizza.

I had cheese, bacon, and eggs in the fridge. Time to do something with them.

I make bacon in the microwave. Do not judge me. I do not like cleaning grease off half the kitchen after frying bacon, so I have developed a way of cooking it in the microwave that skips most of the grease and still turns out a pretty good platter. Timing has been the major issue, but last night I got it perfect. For 8 slices of bacon, two layers of paper towels on a platter (make sure it is small enough to rotate). Another double layer of towels on top of the raw bacon. Cook at full power for five minutes. Let it sit for a minute or two. Turn it back on for another 2-1/2 minutes at full power. Perfect and not all wrinkly. Chewy, but not raw. Everything was still hot when it got to the plate —  a small miracle in its own right.

Even the cheese omelets were perfect. I was still congratulating myself on dinner as we were going to bed.

This was a little victory, but still, a victory and all mine. A simple dinner in which each piece was as close to perfect as it could make it. Easy to clean up after, too. If I have to spend an hour cleaning up the mess, I feel a lot less victorious.

It’s the small things, you know? Big things can be overwhelming. These days, in a time when there is far too much “big stuff” blowing in the wind, my world is complete if dinner is perfect. Small victories help keep the wheels of life rolling smoothly.

A FEW MORE SHOWER INSTALLATION PICTURES – Marilyn Armstrong

I hardly ever find a use for my wide-angle lens, but this was perfect. The bathroom is very narrow, so I got a few extra shots using my 12-mm Olympus lens. It gets much better color than the Panasonic lens does and I think also a sharper finish, too.

The room, well-lit

You can see a little more of the way the whole interior of the shower looks, too.

Plenty of room for our “stuff.”

It’s quite spacious since it takes up all the space that used to be used by the full-sized tub. Also, the seat is kind of pebbly, so it isn’t slippery. Very comfortable to sit on.

It’s comfortable. And so nice and clean!

BATHROOM REDO AND THE BUSYNESS OF LIFE – Marilyn Armstrong

Have I mentioned we’ve been a little bit busy?

We have indeed been a little bit busy and more than a little pressed for time. Everything seems to happen at the same time. For me, all my medical stuff happens in March.

Installing plumbing
The bathtub is already gone.

For reasons I don’t entirely understand, most of my major surgeries have occurred in March which is why I’ve spent so many birthdays in the hospital. It’s also why I have so many physical work-ups in March.

Putting in the glass doors

I suppose in a way it’s good. I get everything sorted out in a month or maybe six weeks and with a little luck, I don’t have to think about it again for another six months or a year. But the period of time makes life pretty hectic and the older we get, the harder these hectic periods are for us. I get tired quickly and these days, Garry wears out fast too.

Utility wall and shower
Bench end

Add to that all the changes I’ve been making in sorting out our utilities and this major change in the house … and there are more to come. I’ve still got to get the chimney repaired before it falls down.

Bench end with sink and window
As much of the room as I could fit into the picture!

Did I mention that someone apparently took a baseball bat to our mailbox? And our across-the-street neighbor’s mailbox too? And our around the block neighbor’s mailbox too? Apparently, that’s what bored teenage boys do in rural neighborhoods in winter when there’s absolutely nothing to do. So we can’t get mail delivered until we get a new mailbox and post — which we can’t do until the ground melts and the snow is gone. Which is going to be a few more days, assuming we don’t get any more freezes.

Winter makes everything somehow busier. The plowing and the shoveling and the expense of paying the plow which is huge for our small budget.

Another view of the bathroom. Looks pretty good!

And everything will settle down in another month or so I fondly believe. Meanwhile, here are some pictures. I’ll try to get some better ones with a wide-angle lens tomorrow assuming we have reasonable light.

It’s supposed to rain. Or maybe not.

AN OUTGOING TIDE WITH AN UNDERTOW – Marilyn Armstrong

It has been a tough couple of weeks, which is weird because there isn’t any specific crisis going on. I’m trying to get a grip on all the seemingly small things that feel like they are crowding in on me and pulling me down.

Our income is fixed. This means our income will never go up. It will stay the same until we die. Meanwhile, prices keep rising. We aren’t in a wildly inflationary period, but even so, I’m glad we don’t eat much. And I’m very glad my medications are generic. Every week, the same money buys a little less than it did the week before. Just a little bit.

I’m fighting an outgoing tide and an undertow.

Atlantic shore

I’m having trouble focusing. I want to pull a pillow over my head and vanish for a while. Unfortunately, that’s not possible. So I’m swimming like mad, but the tide’s going out while the undertow is pulling with it.

The breakers are pounding me on the head.

I nearly drowned in an outgoing tide and an undertow. It was in Herzliya, Israel. Unbelievably, It was also more than 30 years ago. I was swimming as hard as I could — which isn’t all that powerful. I can swim, but I have no kind of power in my stroke. So, I was making no headway. None.

I finally saved my life by just grabbing a lungful of air whenever I could and letting the waves push me onto the sand.

Maybe that’s what I need to do now. Except I have a feeling it worked out better in the Mediterranean than it would with life.

VARIETY IS MY SPICE FOR LIFE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Variety

I like going to the same places over and over again, but I also like adding new places to which I’ve never been.

I like white and dark humans and all the shades in-between. I respect every religion unless they are trying to kill me, and after 50 or so years, I even forgive that. After growing up with my father, I’m not afraid of anyone. Surviving him tore the fear away.

The furniture in my house goes beyond eclectic into fully random. Oddly, it works. It’s an interesting house. You never know what you will find.

The colors are mostly muted so they don’t offend anyone and anyway, no one ever comes over so if it doesn’t bother us, who else would it bother? The dogs are colorblind.

Bonnie and living room

I will order the same thing in the same restaurant for years until one day, I decide to try something different. Sometimes, that becomes my new favorite. Sometimes, I realize why I didn’t try it before.

On the other hand, I’m very careful about changing services and utilities. Like electricity or veterinarians or doctors because however bad they are,  the “new kid in town” can often turn out to be a lot worse than you imagined possible.

Atop the shelves in the living room.

I shop at little old Hannaford not because it’s the biggest or best grocery in town, but because I’m comfortable there. And it’s at least a mile closer to home than any other grocery.

I haven’t found a new hairdresser since the guy, then the woman to whom I went to for a total of 30 years retired. The new ones never seem to give me what I want. So mostly, I don’t cut my hair. When I do, I am as often as not the one doing the cutting.

Bonnie and sofa with too many cushions

There has been a lot of variety in my schooling, my work (I changed jobs often) and this is my third marriage — which has lasted at least a decade longer than the other two combined. When you get it right, stick with it.

This morning we actually had a conversation about trying to make the sofa more comfortable for the dogs. We don’t sit on it. It’s the dogs’ bed and on those rare occasions when we have company, we vacuum it, put on a clean cover and it’s fine for guests.

But there are a lot of cushions on it. I pointed out that we don’t really have to worry about the cushions because we don’t sit on the sofa and have never used any of the cushions. They are there because the dogs enjoy knocking them off and Garry enjoys dropping a pile of cushions on top of any dog that’s sleeping soundly. It’s our version of barking while they sleep.

We’ll just keep the cushions and occasionally, wash the covers to get the dog hair off.

Variety is fun but so is continuity. I think we all need a balance of both to have a life that runs reasonably smoothly.

SHOWERS, FLOWERS AND SAFETY! – Marilyn Armstrong

Blame it all on Mrs. Angloswiss. She and Marcel finally gave into reality and ordered an updated bath/shower arrangement. With a seat and hand grips and all the good stuff. And easier to clean, I would vouch.

I got really depressed about it because there are many days when I don’t shower because I’m afraid I’ll fall. Stepping over the high edge of the bath is more than my balance is ready for — so I skip it.

This the color we are getting and this is close to what we are getting, though our room is set up differently.

Garry and I have fallen in the shower. Not at the same time, but we’ve both fallen at least once. So far, no one was seriously hurt which is to say that no bones were broken. Although I smashed a finger that took a year to heal, that was a minor thing.

All that being said, it’s a matter of time until one of us takes a serious fall and gets badly broken.

The corner thing holder

Our shower is not as horrible as it could be, but it’s 50 years old and shows it. We replaced the sink a few months ago. The toilet needs a new valve. The old one is so corroded to the pipe you can’t open or close it. If something overflows, we can’t turn the water off. A bit nerve-wracking.

We couldn’t afford a whole bathroom renovation. It’s just much too much money to even think about … but … sometimes, you get lucky.

Garry had a long career on television. We always hope someone will think his recommendation will be good for the product because Garry wouldn’t do it unless he was really impressed. He has this reputation for honesty.

The magic worked! I am happy because this is a good company. The owner is a woman, a designer, fully credentialed. She lives locally and has more than 8,000 local installations for our reference. All the workers are her own employers — no sub-contracting.

I like these products very much. I like where they are made (the U.S.A.), how they are installed, and how easy they are to care for.

Even with a significant discount, we can’t do the whole bathroom. The price for that’s kind of huge. But we are doing it, piece by piece. If only we could afford bigger pieces.

We installed a new sink in April and a new shower-head a couple of months ago. The toilet is in good shape except for needing a new valve. The floor is … well … the old floor. It is exactly like the kitchen floor. More to the point, it is the same floor, but not as worn out. And grubbier because while I can rev myself up to scrub the kitchen floor, by the time I’m done with that, I’m just plain done.

The really important part and the piece which involves our health and safety is the bathtub and shower, so that’s what we will do. It’s not a freebie, but we got a really good deal … AND Garry gets to be a star.

The cameras will roll and he will tell them how fantastic our bathroom is and I’m sure it will be fantastic. He will smile and we will have a safe, clean walk-in shower. With grab bars, places to hold the shampoo and body wash, wash clothes and other stuff. Good-bye old scrubbed-out tub and porous grouted tiles.

Jennifer Bylo, owner and designer for Baystate Kitchen and Bath Remodeling

A non-porous shower with smooth walls, built-in mold resistance. All we’ll need to do will be a quick wash and a rinse. Just the idea of such ease of cleaning is overwhelming. We’ve been working harder and harder at getting the grout in the shower clean, but it’s old and porous and over the years, the mold has been taking over the corners and our backs are not up to crouching in the corners and scrubbing. And apparently, no matter how much we scrub, it won’t ever be really clean again. Porosity from years water.

Close. No cookie, but close.

It’ll be a month before they do the work which should be accomplished in just a single day. It will be right before my birthday so this will be my MOST expensive birthday present but to be fair, Garry owns the room and only lets me in when he is good and ready.

You folks out there can dream your dreams. Exotic vacations and the wonder of faraway places. But a bathroom that’s clean and safe?

Priceless.