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.

ROMANCING THE THRONE AND ITS ROOM – Garry Armstrong

What’s the most important room in the house for men?

Many would say it’s the living room. It’s got the television and the important remotes to find the “game.”

That’s not true for all guys. One of the first things I look for when visiting is the bathroom. How quickly can it be accessed? This is probably what Wolf Blitzer checks first in his “Situation Room.” Breaking news waits until Wolf is sure the bathroom is near and everything is working.

It’s not for nothing that for men, the bathroom is known as “The Throne Room.” Many of our most important decisions are made in that room as we conduct “business.” We practice speeches, mentally edit stories, and dig into our brains for new ideas.

Time flies by quickly while seated on the throne. As we are making life-altering decisions, seconds, minutes and hours fly by like rogue asteroids in outer space.

As a kid, my Dad would frequently yell, “What the hell are you doing in there? Are you rediscovering America?”

Actually, what Dad said wasn’t so out-of-line. We had one bathroom for five people: mom, dad, and the three boys. The first one in the bathroom ruled the world through the hot water fogged environment. I recall stepping out of the bathroom and fog with my Dad curtly observing, “Well what do we have, the new King of the World?” I’m taking dramatic license, but I’m not that far off, either.

My bachelor pad in Boston’s East End was perfect, for a bachelor. One bathroom. One person. No one yelling at me, no one banging on the door shouting profanities. Top of the World, Ma!

Early in our marriage, Marilyn and I occupied a Beacon Hill apartment. Swanky, right? But we only had one bathroom. I called dibs when we settled in. I was the glamorous TV reporter who had to look perfect before heading to work. Marilyn somehow staved off crises as I primped in front of the foggy mirror.

Fast forward to 2000 and we moved into our present digs. A one family house with 2 and a half baths. I quickly called dibs on the big bathroom as Marilyn shot me a look that could’ve killed.

(Note: If it could have killed with one look, how come I still only get 
to use the room when The Man is finished, huh?)

19 years later, in retirement and the throne room is still a subject of conjecture. It’s still “How long are you gonna be in the bathroom, Garry?”  I scowl. You can’t put a clock on throne room stuff.

The Throne room is about to undergo a facelift. It’s old. It needs help.

We’re not exactly in a financial position to glamorize the bathroom but it’s not pretty we’re looking for. We aren’t getting any younger or sprier and hiking over the tub is tricky for me, scary for Marilyn.

The tub is hazardous for both of us. As senior citizens, we have to be careful about getting in and out without slipping and doing serious damage to our fragile bodies. I’ve already done a tumble and fall into the tub. It wasn’t pretty.

Garry at Manchaug

I was trying to get into my jeans without support. It never was a problem before. Now, I was reminded that I’m an old fart who needs to prop against a wall or sit down while doing something as simple as putting on your pants. I vividly recall my head banging on the tub as I fell. There was nothing to grab. I saw more stars than there are in heaven.

In our “meet and greet” session with a bathroom designer/consultant, we discussed our needs, our very slim budget — and the upgrades we needed. We carefully looked at the ancient toilet, the grimy and faded floor, the additions needed for the tub. It would include hand grips, up-to-date shower fixtures plus a glass door to replace the curtains that reek of mold despite our diligent efforts to keep things clean.

We looked at different models with money the major concern. This is something we needed. Clean, simple, easy to get in and out of.

The sign in our bathroom! It’s from 40-years ago but could have been printed yesterday. Or tomorrow.

After some tense moments to learn whether we could seal the payment deal, we were told “YES.” We could move ahead with plans to give the Throne Room the look and respect it deserves.

Smiles all around.

Garry and designer and owner of Baystate Kitchen and Bath Remodeling

There will be “before and after” pics to share. Meantime, plans for our new look throne room have us smiling – almost as happy as our celebration of the Patriots’ latest Superbowl win.

Hey, maybe Tom Brady may visit us now.


There’s more to this story, but we are still waiting for more pictures. You might say this is the surprise part of the story. Somehow, no matter how bad things get, something good happens. And something good really happened!

LOSING YOUR JOB WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND – Marilyn Armstrong

A lot of people figure that everyone “retires” on their own terms in their proper time. That hasn’t been true in our world. Certainly not in Garry and my world. Garry lost his job because the company he worked for decided to move on without “the old guy.” I lost my job because my bosses son needed one.

Many of the people I know were “laid off” which feels exactly the same as getting fired, except there’s no legal reason for it. They just feel like doing it. In Garry’s case, it was clearly age-related. In mine, it was just smarmy.

I’ve known at least half a dozen people who got forced out of jobs they’d held for as long as 40 years. They had no preparations for retirement, no significant saving, and no plans. They all figured they’d work until they hit the official “date” … but it didn’t turn out like that. Not even close.


All the awards you want … but no pension you can live on.


Garry, after 31 years at channel 7, was shown the door in literally five minutes. When he came home, he looked like he’d been bludgeoned. I should mention that Owen lost his job during the same week. It was a hell of a week.

I hadn’t been at that job for very long, but the boss had me “showing the kid” how to do the job. Sneaky. I was in my 60s. There wasn’t another job waiting for me and I was ill.

For two years, we lived on what Garry got as his union payout. No medical insurance — and I kept getting sicker. He was miserable too. He was terribly depressed and demoralized — while I was wondering if I was going to die.

He went to rehab. I found a doctor who would treat me for free and actually invented a surgery to “fix” me because I was very broken. We had no money. To keep afloat for those two years before Garry got his pension and I got disability, we refinanced the house multiple times which bloated the mortgage payment to an impressive amount we couldn’t pay. There was the HARP Program — which Obama started. The problem? The bank didn’t have to let you into the program. Great program, but all you could do was beg. Weird, right?

I had been negotiating with them for months. When finally I got cancer in both breasts, I called and said, “Well, now I have cancer. Can we please get into the program?” I think I actually shamed a banker because a couple of months later, our mortgage payment dropped by $1000 a month. That was the beginning of survival.

I found a doctor who treated me for free. A hospital that never asked for payment. A bank program that cut our mortgage in half. Finally, Garry started getting Social Security and his (very small) pensions … and I finally got Social Security Disability. We went from having no money (blessings on food banks everywhere) to almost being able to make it through a month.

I remember the day when we no longer needed the food bank. It was a small, but meaningful triumph.

Garry stopped drinking. I didn’t die.

These days, when I hear how people are melting down over getting laid off from their jobs and basically losing everything. I’m sympathetic … but mostly, I figure they’ll get over it. Not immediately. Eventually.

You have to get over it. It’s a terrible time. We went for two years without any income. None. Zero. Nothing. Whatever little we had put away disappeared. Somehow, we survived and damned if I know how. I got any help I could from anyone who gave help. I don’t even know how I did it.  We are both alive — and we still have the house. At some point, Mass Health (our version of Medicaid) kicked in. It was the idea on which Obama built his medical plan.

It was designed by our Republican governor. That’s one of many reasons it baffles me that the GOP has been so against it. It was their program.

When this was taken, I weighed 93 pounds. An XXS was too big for me. I wore a size zero and it was loose. It was not an attractive look.

Most people don’t get to retire like in the movies, with or without the gold watch. We get ditched, usually around age 59, typically 6 months before pensions fully vest.

For all of you who got dumped because you got “too old,” yes it was illegal to let you go. It’s call ageism, but it’s done all the time. You can sue, but unless you’ve got money to live on while you sue, by the time you get paid off — and you will get paid off — you’ll be up to your lip in debt.

Did we have mental meltdowns? Sure we did. That’s why Garry needed rehab. I would have been more melted down, but I was trying to save my life and it was sheer luck I bumped into a doctor who introduced me to another doctor who took me in. I was days from my demise by then.

I developed a sort of yellow-green complexion. Which was also not very attractive

If you have had a life calamity and everything gets taken away, it will take a couple of years before you pull yourself together. It’s not just your finances that take a hit. Your soul gets maimed. Your self-esteem goes down the tubes.

When anti-medical care legislators say “no one dies from lack of medical care,” that’s bullshit. Lots of people die without care. They don’t get written up because they aren’t in the hospital or seeing a doctor. They just die. Kids, old people, and all the others in the middle.

Why am I talking about this?

Because those of us who had this terrible disaster overwhelm us need to know we aren’t alone. It wasn’t just us. It’s lots and lots of people many of whom used to be solidly middle class before their world collapsed.

So try to remember one thing:


It gets better. Somehow, some way, it gets better.


WELCOME TO MY HUMBLE HOME – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP FRIDAY: HOSPITALITY

You are welcome. All of you. Everyone. People and dogs and birds and squirrels and cats and puppies. Hell, bring the coyotes and a few raccoons.

Home

No one ever comes to this house except my son and granddaughter. No one. In the almost 30 years we’ve been married, once my brother passed away, not a single family member has come to visit. It’s weird. Our friend Ben had the same problem. It took him 30 years to get his sisters to visit … and when they did, it was total chaos.

Be careful what you wish for.

So, no one comes here. Maybe it’s the dogs? They are hairy and they bark. Maybe it’s the barking. They are loud. And hairy.

So consider this an official invitation. We have plenty of room including a guest room with a brand new queen-size bed and a dining room and everything. And the dogs usually stop barking after a while. It’s just their way of saying “HI Y’ALL!” Loudly.

As for the hair, think of it as a condiment. It goes with everything.

WHAT DID YOU DO LAST NIGHT? – Marilyn Armstrong

The heat went out. Again. Third or fourth time since the temperature started its plunge past zero. This was going to be the coldest night of the year to date so of course, the boiler went out. I called the company — and the guy who fixes stuff was supposed to call back and let me know when he would get here.

He didn’t.

Sometime around eight, I realized it wasn’t chilly. It was cold. I looked at the thermostat and it read 59 degrees. The heat was set at 67. Bit of a drop, there. I went downstairs and it was even colder.

Today, toasty warm!

I pressed the red button on the front of the boiler and it whooshed into that delicious little roar we love to hear in the winter. Then it got a lot quieter as the flame went out. After which, the chilly silence of a non-working boiler.

Two weeks ago, we had them here to fix the identical problem. I had delicately suggested that the “new” igniter might not be working but maybe no one heard me and anyway, why would a new igniter not work? It was new, right?

In the middle of July, the service fellow was here and tuned up the boiler. He replaced the igniter, which was reasonable. The heating system is not a child bride anymore. It needs regular servicing. But since that replacement, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it stops. Normally, I press that red button (it’s really the only thing I know how to do on a boiler) and it restarts.

It’s okay, at least for a while. Other times, it just stops and won’t restart. We’ve got almost 3/4 of a tank of fuel, so that’s not the problem.

By now, it was 9:30. We’ve been working with this same company since we moved to the valley, 19 years ago. The contract includes 24-hour service because it gets very cold here and no one can survive long without a heating system. They always get back to us in a few minutes, at least to tell us when to expect the fixer. This time, the phone did not ring.

By 10:45, I was getting worried and cold. The dogs didn’t care. Let’s hear it for fur coats! I got really ON that phone call. They seemed a bit at a loss and they said they really WERE trying to get hold of the guy.

“Have you lost him?” I asked. Can you lose your service guy? He’s a pretty big guy.

Maybe the truck broke down. Maybe the cell phone battery punked out. Maybe there’d been an accident. These are dependable people and this was most unlike their usual way of operating.

Finally, I got a call back from the woman who owns the place (she just inherited it from her father)  and she said: “He fell asleep. Didn’t hear the phone. I told him to not explain, just get in the truck and GO.”

Last night? Cold toes, but warm quilts!

It took almost an hour an a half. Where does he live? Not in the valley. You’d have to travel the length of the valley two or three times to need that much time, so he must live north or even further into the empty lands than us.

At 11:45, I called again. Mainly, what I didn’t want was to be sitting and shivering by the telephone waiting for someone who would never arrive. It turned out, he was on our street and in less than five minutes, full of apologies, there he was. I told him I didn’t care what happened. All that mattered was that he was here. He’d made it, praise be.

Please, sir, make the boiler work!

Shit happens. People oversleep, get lost, lose the phones, drink too much. I don’t care what happened. I’m just glad when they arrive.

I told him my personal theory that the newly replaced igniter was the problem. “I don’t know anything about boilers except where to push the red button, but I know when I fix the computer and everything stops working, I have to do it again because something went wrong. I’m betting the igniter is bad. Until it got replaced, we didn’t have a problem. Mid-July, someone replaced it and nothing has worked right since .”

The igniter was bad. He replaced it. Heat arose. Sometimes, parts arrive already broken, direct from the factory. It has happened with cars, with the house, with the computers. It just happens. It’s not supposed to happen, but it does.

This was another “I don’t care” moments for me. How the igniter went bad? Not my problem. All I want it that the new one works and I don’t discover I need a new heating system. Heaven forfend from such a grim possibility!

Three goldfinches. Lunchtime!

Then, after he hung around another half hour to make sure it was going to continue to work, he packed up and went home. I had already hauled a second down comforter upstairs because I was pretty sure we would need extra insulation this evening.

The dogs still didn’t care.

Today, the house is all toasty. Oh, blessed be the service people who fix our broken homes, even if they do sleep through the phone call for the first three hours.

A STONE FROG SUNDIAL ON THE DECK: A SQUARE FOR BECKYB #5 – Marilyn Armstrong

STONE FROG SUNDIAL – #5
A New Square for Becky B

Our stone frog sits on a sundial. He has been sitting there for 18 years and looks a little worse for wear. But he’s a stony fellow, so he’ll survive!