HOT ONES AND COLD ONES – Marilyn Armstrong

A couple of years ago, I discovered my most popular post was black & white pictures of implements in my kitchen. Also well-favored were cute pictures of Bonnie and a 300-word piece on why I’d like to be called “Spike.”

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You can read my MOST popular ever piece here and try to figure out why for yourself.

Also, about once per year, other than my faithful friends, I have a whole new group of followers and a piece I’ve revived is new to them. Even I don’t remember everything I’ve written. It’s not that each item isn’t good, but they aren’t all that much better of different than the other 10,690 posts I’ve written.

The “biggest post” has gleaned more than 10,000 hits. It’s a complete puzzle since it’s not topical, not especially well researched or passionate. If you can figure out why everyone wants to read about why my blood type is B+. I’d like to know.

What do these posts have in common? Let’s analyze them a bit. The pictures are good, but this isn’t the first time I’ve published them. On previous occasions, no one found them particularly remarkable. I’m sure this means something, but what?

Coming home at sunset

Cute pictures of Bonnie? Well, you can’t argue with cute pet pictures, now can you? I mean … who doesn’t like kittens and puppies and adorable animals in general?

Finally, everyone has a name and everyone wishes it was something else. Now there’s a revelation.

Why are these three most popular posts more popular than other better pieces? What do they have in common, other than having been written and photographed by me? I can’t see anything special in any of them. Well, maybe the swan.

I have no idea. I can publish the same piece three times under slightly different names. It will be ignored twice, but be almost viral the third time.

My most popular photograph. It’s a good picture, but is it the best?

There’s no accounting for taste. Also, no accounting for when people feel like reading and the other times when no one bothers to read anything and my stats fall through the floor. To keep myself from getting crazy, I have stopped trying to figure it out.

I take pictures of what I see in a world grown much smaller in recent months. This piece may get a great response or fall flat. If something does poorly, I run it again later. Often, it’s a big hit on a different day because … well … who knows? Full moon? Wind from the north?

Do you know? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone really knows. We just do what we love and hope the rest will follow.

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR – RICH PASCHALL

The Class of South Pacific, by Rich Paschall

Most of your high school and college graduates will not have the pleasure of hearing the typical graduation speeches this year.  Students are usually listening to them in wonder, perhaps even shock at some odd notion.  It seems like a peculiar thing to say to high school or college graduates, and yet we say it all the time.

“These are the best years of your life,” a guest speaker may exclaim.  Some may narrow it down to tell students, “You will look back on this as the best year of your life.”  The best year?

It was a long time ago, and I can not recall specifically what I heard at my various graduations, but I am pretty sure the idea was sold to me somewhere.  “How can this be?” graduates may ask themselves.  “What about the next 60 years?  You mean to say, ‘this is it’?”

Are these youthful years the best years of our lives?  Is this where we had the best times, best friends, best dances and concerts and music and well, everything?  The answer is a surprising yes, and no.

graduation

When I was in the third year of high school I learned that DePaul Academy would be closing and we would all be shipped off to another area high school.  To be perfectly honest, I did not like this a bit.  Despite the tough discipline of my school and the fear of 4th year Latin, I wanted to go to a similar environment.  However, the school where I applied to go to for 4th year would not take any incoming seniors.  So off I went where they sent me, bound to make the best of it.

There were a few familiar faces at the new school, some were transfers like me and some I knew from grade school.  There were also new experiences. There were dances and plays.  They had a fine arts department (something lacking at the all-boys academy) and teachers who seemed to care about you as well as your studies.  I took drama, not fourth-year Latin.  I came, I saw, I took something else.

The social activities meant more opportunities to make friends.  The interaction was an education itself.  Soon there was a group of us that hung together a lot, and some of us still do.

The most remarkable part of this transition was the “Senior Class Play.”  Yes, so many students wanted to take part, it was just for seniors, as in 17 and 18-year-old students.  I got the nerve to audition.  I have no idea what I sang.  Everybody was in the show so it did not matter that a hundred of us showed up.  We were going to do South Pacific.  I was rather unaware of it.

I’m in this group, front row just left of center.

Aside from learning the art of theater (Project, Enunciate, Articulate, Stand up straight), I learned about the classic story of war, hate, prejudice and, of course, love.  Learning to play our parts was important.  We were commanded to be professional in everything.  We also learned a story that held a dramatic lesson in life.

When the movie starring Mitzi Gaynor, Rosanno Brazzi, and Ray Waltson was re-released, we ran off to see it.  In subsequent years, we saw several community theater productions as well as professional versions of the classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical.  We grew to love the theater and the lessons that such musicals could bring to us.  We learned why fine arts were so important in the schools.

So we were fortunate. We had a positive experience and a good education.  We learned our lessons in the halls as well as the classroom, and in the gym which was also our auditorium.  We signed one another’s yearbooks and held on to them like they were made of gold.  But was it the best year of my life?  If so, what about all the intervening years?

It is an interesting paradox that you can not adequately explain to an 18-year-old graduate.  Yes, it was the best year up to that point, and it will always remain so.  Nothing can ever take away those memories, so hopefully, they are all positive.  Those lessons of love and life will influence everything from that point on.

While you are busy making new memories, a career, a family perhaps, and new friends, they will all be measured against “the best year of your life,” whether it is at 18 or 21.  Some friends may be better, some lessons may be better, some experiences may be better, but they will all be measured against those moments in youth when you discovered who you were and where you were going.  The quality of future friendships must stand up to those already at hand.
If you have a South Pacific in your memory bank, you will tell people all across the (hopefully) many generations that come through your life how this was a great experience.  You may say it was the best time ever.  If your younger friend looks sorry that your best times were so far back, remind him to enjoy what he has because it will be the springboard to everything else.  It will be his touchstone.

Every spring, without fail for these many decades, the change of seasons hits me like some great coming of age story.  My imagination calls up images of Bali Hai and I hear echoes of “There Is Nothing Like A Dame” in the distance.  I once again feel “Younger Than Springtime” and every night is “Some Enchanted Evening.”  Whenever I look back to the Class of South Pacific, I can also look forward to a lot of “Happy Talk” for everyone who will listen.

GIVING UP, NOT IN – Marilyn Armstrong

I almost quit any number of times. I didn’t smoke a lot. Less than a pack a day and eventually I got it down to five or six a day and sometimes less. The problem with cigarettes is that one day, for no special reason, you realize you smoked an entire pack. You just sort of forgot you had quit.

In my long and checkered professional career, I had many bosses. One of them had, in a former life, been addicted to heroin. It wasn’t a secret. We all knew because he told us. I had the feeling he was proud of having kicked drugs and was now the owner of a software development company. I asked him how he did it, how he got free of his addiction.

“You know,” he said, “It really wasn’t as hard as you might think. Mostly, I had to get away from the people, from other junkies, and the world of drugs. After I stopped hanging out with those people, getting off drugs was relatively easy. It’s the culture that pulls you in even more than the drugs.”

“I wish,” he continued, a touch of wistfulness in his voice, “It was as easy to kick cigarettes. When you hang out with junkies, you know it’s illegal. You sneak around. You are careful. But cigarettes? No problem. They’re legal. Grab a buddy and go for a smoke. It’s a social thing.

“You don’t hear heroin addicts saying to each other ‘Hey, anyone want to go out back and shoot up?’ but you can stop by another smoker’s desk and say … ‘Hey, want to go have a butt?’

“I’ve had a much harder time quitting smoking than I had quitting heroin. Much harder,” he said and reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. He did soon thereafter, quit. He decided having kicked narcotics, he could kick cigarettes too. So he did.

I was a smoker myself, then. I had been trying to quit for years. I’d quit, then I’d be somewhere where other smokers worked. I’d get sucked into it. It wasn’t the physical addiction that lured me. I understood how bad it was for my health, disastrous to my budget and getting more costly each day. It made my clothing and hair smell like a dirty ashtray. It was the social connection that got me. Hanging out with other smokers. The rhythm of smoking. I’d write, then take a break, grab a smoke. It was part of my process.

I was never as heavy a smoker other people I knew. I lit many more cigarettes than I smoked. But I enjoyed smoking. I liked the smell of fresh tobacco. I liked standing outside on a crisp night, watching my smoke curl up and away into the sky.

I did a lot of my thinking on cigarette breaks. When I was writing, if I was stuck, I’d have a smoke. By the time I was halfway through it, I’d know what I was going to do and how I would do it.

Smoking-Burning-CigaretteIt took me years of quitting, backsliding, and quitting again before it finally “stuck.” Years before the smell of tobacco brought back memories without triggering a desire to smoke.

I am sure today, after more than ten years if I were to smoke one cigarette, I’d be a smoker. Again. It’s not unlike being an alcoholic. One drink and you’re a drunk again.

It’s not because I’m physically addicted. After all these years of not smoking, I’m obviously not addicted to nicotine, if I ever was. Yet on some level, I will always be addicted to cigarettes.

It would probably be easier to quit now since most offices are smoke-free. That being said, it’s not that I don’t want a cigarette. I just don’t smoke.

SUMMER FRIENDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently wrote a blog about old friends; people who knew you when you were a lot younger and who shared a part of your life that doesn’t exist anymore. That got me thinking. Why do some people become ‘old friends’ and others drop by the wayside? Why do some people stick with you over decades while others drift away?

I believe that most people start out as situational friends. You meet and become friends because you’re sharing an activity or a stage of life. Examples are people you work with and parents whose kids go to school with and/or are friends with your kids. Also, people you meet through hobbies, like at a golf or tennis club, a knitting circle, a book club, etc.

What makes some of those friendships ‘take’ and become permanent? I have no idea. Many friendships seem to end when the shared activity stops – you change jobs, your kids graduate or find new friends, you leave the club, whatever. I’ve had so many friends like this it blows my mind. I’ve often wondered why we lost touch. Why was it that that particular person or couple slipped away? We were so close!

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But some friends do stay with you and ripen into wonderful ‘old friends’. I’ve never been able to tell which friendships will last and which won’t. In the mid-late 1980’s I was redecorating my house from top to bottom. I spent two years working closely with my decorator and we became friends. At around the same time, my daughter became friends with a girl in her kindergarten class and I became friends with her Mom (and Dad as well – we also socialized as couples). Those friendships lasted all the way through high school – 12 years. Who am I still close with 30 years later? The decorator. The Mom still lives five minutes away from me and we haven’t even talked in years and years. The decorator moved out-of-state more than 10 years ago but we’re still the dearest of friends.

For many years, Tom and I had a group of friends who shared a dock with us at the marina where our boat lives. We were crazy close. We traveled together with our boats, partied all summer, and had gotten together regularly over the winter. Gradually, boats left the marina, people moved away and most of them disappeared from our lives. Only one friend remains out of at least six or eight couples. I was heartbroken that the ‘gang’ dispersed into the ether.

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I think friendships like these end because of some odd combination of laziness and busyness. When you no longer share that situational ‘bond’, you’re not thrown together. You have to make more of an effort to see each other. Obviously, if you haven’t developed a strong emotional connection that transcends your ‘situation’, that won’t happen.

Also, people are busy. Between work, family, and other friends, time is at a premium. If you’re not at the top of someone’s ‘priority list,’ you lose. The common ‘bond’ was what got you to the top of the list before. Now, unless you have a personal bond or you forge a new one that shoots you to the front of the line – you’re toast. You just don’t fit into the new reality of your former friends’ lives.

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I have to admit, I’m hypersensitive. I take it at least a little bit personally whenever someone drops out of my life. But, I don’t lose sleep over it either. I’ve learned making and keeping friends has as much to do with timing as anything else. Like romantic relationships, some things are not meant to be. Fortunately for me, many wonderful friendships have blossomed, lasted, and enrich my life today.

Now that we have encountered a world with a plague we never imagined possible, I suspect there will be more losses of friends and groups of friends. There will be people who don’t want to go out. I have heard that is beginning to happen to people my age in other places. I’m hoping we are not among them.

MY BAD NEWS BUNKER IS OUT OF SPACE – Marilyn Armstrong

Every morning, I get up and hope that there is something positive in the news today. Something that will give me hope. Not another soppy story of all the great people helping other people because those stories are true, but have little to do with us and our lives. I admire the carers and wish I were one of them. Maybe then I could feel as if I was doing something useful in this terrible world.

I want to hear about something that — to put it bluntly — might help us. Help get our lives functioning again. Offer to deliver groceries, lower fuel rates.  or car insurance. Someone in this town offering to help people who are physically unable to do it all for themselves anymore.


I have yet to see anything positive. Maybe there are heroes elsewhere, but none of them seem to live in Worcester County. It’s just bad news, start to finish and frankly, it’s depressing. I really want to see something positive. I want to see our government do ONE GOOD THING. Together. As if we are all “One nation, with or without God.”


Is it possible the Trump really is the antiChrist? It’s as if he took office and ever since, every day since, has been working day and night to take whatever was part of the American dream, stomp it flat, shoot it dead, and finally, flush it down the toilet.


Why does he not care about this country he is leading? Why is so unconcerned with how many of us have died or are likely to die? Is power THAT important to any living soul? Was he truly born without a soul or even a basic understanding of right and wrong? I think Stalin had warmer feelings for his people than Trump has for his.

I only read one article and I didn’t finish it. It was the 202, the daily summary of events from The Washington Post. Here are some bullet points from it.


  • More than 40 million Americans have filed claims for jobless benefits in the past 10 weeks, including 2.1 million new claims last week, according to Labor Department data released this morning.
  • Trump tweeted this morning to acknowledge the grim milestone, but his public schedule this week contains no special commemoration, no moment of silence and no collective sharing of grief.
  • Trump is poised to sign an executive order today that could roll back the immunity that tech giants have for the content on their sites.
  • With no evidence, Trump has suggested five times – this month alone – that individuals and entities may have committed treason against the United States.
  • Attorney General Bill Barr, who career prosecutors say has politicized the Justice Department for Trump’s benefit, continues his push to investigate the president’s investigators.
  • Meanwhile, another Trump tweet plunged Congress into chaos – and thwarted the renewal of vital authorities needed by law enforcement to keep tabs on potential spies and terrorists. 
  • Trump has also, almost single-handedly, transformed the simple act of wearing a facial covering into the latest battle in the culture wars, dividing his own party in the process.
  • Some businesses around the country are now kicking out customers who wear face masks.
  • Quote of the day: “There’s no stigma attached to wearing a mask,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a polio survivor who is up for reelection. (Politico)
  • Civil unrest is a real danger. The second night of protests over the death of George Floyd turned deadly.
  • Police chiefs around the nation responded with disgust to the news of Floyd’s death, seeking to reassure their cities.
  • There’s a good chance the coronavirus will never go away.
  • Trump could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people by delaying citizenship ceremonies until after November.
  • The FDA temporarily loosened food labeling rules for the fifth time during the pandemic.
  • Millennials are the unluckiest generation.
  • Public schools face a fall with a lot more costs and a lot less funding.
  • Meanwhile, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she will force public schools to share their pandemic aid with private ones.

This is just about half the bullet points. There were too many more and I couldn’t finish the article. There was no room in my heart or brain for everything. No more room. So if you ask me “how old do you feel?” I think my answer is older than history, older than the planet, older than any person should ever feel. My bad-news-bunker is out of space.

It really is difficult to “have a good day” with the world’s catastrophes looming over you.

For me, the worst part of our ongoing catastrophe is that there is so little I can do about it … and how awful the world will be for our younger citizens.

HOW OLD DO YOU FEEL? ARE YOU AN ADULT YET? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #71

From Fandango:

“You’re probably familiar with the old expression, “You’re only as old as you feel.” Or maybe you’ve been told by someone at some point to “act your age.” Or perhaps you, yourself, when asked your age, have said, “Age is just a number.”

Well, that brings me to this week’s provocative question(s).”

Right now, I feel like at least 112, going on 150. Some days, I feel as young as 90.

Really, I’m 73 and this part is all about my body. I’ve had cancer twice and lost both breasts. I had ulcers and lost my stomach. Twice. I had my spine fused when I was 19 and since then, my S-1 (that’s the very bottom of your vertebrae on which the rest of your vertebrae purportedly rest) broke. The L3-4-5 vertebrae were fused and while the fusions are functional, they aren’t sturdy.

My DIL asked me what I was going to do about it. I had no answer. There isn’t anything to do. I’ve already had surgery. No quality surgeon will go near it. The entire spine, top to bottom is calcified. I’m not happy about the further breakage at the base because it has further limited movement.

I took Melanie’s advice and got a cane. It’s unnecessary in the house, but I think it might be useful outside, especially on uneven ground. Buying it was my version of optimism since we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’m hoping it will keep me from falling but given my ability to entangle myself in things, it might make it worse. I guess I’ll (eventually) find out.

But that’s all physical stuff. My brain is a whole different department. Aside from forgetting every third word in a given sentence, I’m pretty sharp. Under any other circumstances — like living in a nation with a proper government — I would say my brain hasn’t passed 40 yet, but since Trumpy-Door took office, I feel a lot older. I feel mentally tired like I’ve run a marathon only to discover that I’ve got another to run.

This isn’t going to be a relaxed retirement. This isn’t going to be chilling out into old age, enjoying the little things and each other. Financial stressors, worries about Garry as his age begins to slow him down. And wondering how my son will manage as he ages.

I’m confused, too. I thought we’d begun to make progress as I was going from child to woman and from woman to crone.


The Ancient Crone

by Anya Silverman – “The Crones Counsel, Celebrating Wise Women”:

ancient-croneThe mythological Crone comes to us from the mists of ancient times in the part of the world we now know as the Middle East, Greece, and the Balkans. Many people now believe that in the Paleolithic era (c.30,000 – 10,000 BCE) the goddess was revered as one all-encompassing mother goddess who controlled birth, death, and rebirth. As patriarchy began to arise after c.7000 BCE, this concept began to change as women themselves became increasingly under the dominion of men. The one mother goddess image was split into three aspects reflecting the stages of women’s lives – maiden, mother, and crone. The crone goddess represented the older woman aspect of a woman’s life.”


GROWING UP

When I was in my 20s, we had friends who were in their fifties. I asked them how — and when — they knew they had grown up. They said they would let me know when they figured it out.

I don’t know when it happened, but sometime during the past 20 years, I grew up. I am adulterated.

What age am I? Old, cynical, skeptical, and sad. A crone with a negative attitude and just a hint of optimism, safely stored in a closet.

THERE’S ALWAYS MORE GROWTH AHEAD

I’m not done, butI’m slowing down. It’s hard to move, difficult to get up in the morning. or fall asleep at night. I’d love to be around long enough to see the world moving forward and fixing the things wrong with it, but I don’t know that I have enough time. This isn’t going to be an overnight fix.

There is so much that needs to be done. I would like to be a part of it.

MAKING PRETZELS – Marilyn Armstrong

We like pretzels. One of the things I really miss is fresh warm pretzels, the kind we used to buy at the old mall in Auburn. I don’t know if the mall is open or will open. It was barely functioning before the COVID-19 shutdown. It’s an aging mall in a bad location, not convenient to any major road. Very hard to find, even when you’ve been there often.

Inside the mall

Their two lead stores were Macy’s and Sears and I’m not sure either of those will survive because both are currently in bankruptcy. What they had going for them was a kiosk where you could always get a new watch battery, a LensCrafters, plus another kiosk where they made warm pretzels while you waited. Oh so good.

I wanted pretzels and as it happened, I came across a recipe on a CBS site.

This is the recipe:

Homemade Soft Pretzel Ingredients

1-1/2 cups warm (110° to 115° F) water
1 tablespoon white sugar (Too much sugar — use half that amount)
1 package active dry yeast (2 ½ teaspoons)
22 ounces all-purpose flour, about 4 1/2 cups (1 cup = 8 ounces, so how can 4-1/2 cups = 22 ounces?)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (Don’t measure the salt. Just shake it onto the pretzels and don’t be shy about it)
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil or cooking spray (Cooking spray works better)
10 cups water for boiling the pretzels — not part of the recipe
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt (for topping) (Kosher salt)

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, sugar, and yeast, stirring gently to combine. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.
  2. Add the flour, salt, and butter. Use dough hooks and mix on low speed until combined. Increase to medium speed until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Take a big bowl and oil it. You can use an oil spray. There’s no reason to take it out of one bowl, put it in another, then put it into another bowl that you had to clean. Twice the work for no good reason.  Remove the dough, wipe out the bowl and then oil it with a little vegetable oil or cooking spray. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap,
  4. Cover the bowl and put it in a warm place for about an hour 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size (more or less).
  5. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper or a Silpat sheet. One big cookie sheet is plenty.
  6. Lightly brush with vegetable oil or lightly coat with cooking spray.
  7. Bring the water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
  8. Gently whisk egg yolk and water together and set aside.
  9. While the water heats up, turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled floured work surface. Oil your hands to keep the dough from sticking. Divide into 8 pieces, as many as seem reasonable.
  10. Roll out each piece of dough into a rope about 24” long. (Do whatever you want!)Make a U-shape with the dough rope, and holding the ends, cross them over each other and press on the bottom of the U to form the shape of a pretzel.
  11. Place on the prepared cookie pan.
  12. Lower the pretzels into the boiling water, one at a time, for about 30 seconds each, turning over with a slotted spoon about half-way through. Remove them from the water using a slotted spoon or spider, allowing excess water to drain off. NOTE: I put in three at a time which was fine.
  13. Brush each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk (I used a small paintbrush) and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes (it took closer to 20 minutes. Just keep an eye on them and you’ll know when they are done.
  14. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Despite the years I spent baking, I had forgotten how much work it is. I also forgot what a mess it makes. At least I had the sense to change my clothing before I started By the time I finished, it was obvious what I’d been doing. Though I’ve washed my hands repeatedly, I’ve still got dough under my nails.

I also, since there is no yeast in the stores, I used yeast I’ve had in the fridge since 2009. You wouldn’t think it would work, but it did.

I didn’t try for the classic pretzel shape. By the time I had gotten to that point, I was ready to nap on the kitchen floor. I just made them into a circle then twisted them. I got better at it as I worked.

I boiled the pretzels, baked the pretzels and we ate ALL the pretzels instead of dinner. Junk food makes a great dinner, especially when it’s your own junk food. I have to find a better recipe. Or maybe I just buy some pretzels, assuming someone is selling them.

Why did I pick the hottest day since last July to bake? All I wanted warm, soft pretzels. Desperation drove me.