# OFF ON A TANGENT – Marilyn Armstrong

## FOWC with Fandango — Tangent

The tangent is a line that touches a curve or curved surface at a point, but if extended does not cross it. It’s also the line between the two arms of an equilateral triangle. How it came to also mean in common speech a completely different line of thought or action., or as we like to say, “a digression,” no one knows. I’m pretty sure most people have no idea what the word originally meant unless they are in fifth grade and learning the rudiments of geometry. I actually did very well in geometry — the only math course that didn’t lose me the first day in class. At least I could see what you might use it for. It was very useful when I was trying to measure the floor of my tepee.

A digression or tangent coming right up.

Tepees look round, but are more “egg-shaped.” It has to do with the positioning of poles. This is a bit of a measurement conundrum, so you have to visualize in segments and measure each, then add them together. You have to put a tepee on a deep layer of gravel to encourage drainage, but gravel is not comfortable. So one puts layers of coverings inside until it’s soft and cozy. I used an indoor-outdoor rug at the base and that piece needed to fit the tepee closely.

That is when everything I’d learned in geometry got used for the one and only time in my life, not counting sailing and figuring out how to configure the sail to the wind. One wet finger didn’t do it for me (second digression). Geometry let me figure out how big a rug I’d need before trimming. If you have enough money, you can buy all of this stuff, but we were shoe-stringing the project. Other than the canvas and instructions, it was a project of (for us) epic proportions.

More tepee construction

In a bigger tepee, (I would have liked a big one and could have gotten a huge one for free if I could acquire the poles), poles are not easy to come by. Buying them was not expensive, but trucking them across the U.S. from Washington to Massachusetts cost more than the entire project times five. Maybe more.

We don’t live in an area of lodge-pole pines. Our trees, while sturdy, are all whorls, kinks, and miscellaneous lumps. You don’t know how truly crooked a sapling is until you try to turn it into a lodge-pole. Moreover, for obvious reasons, the bigger the tepee, the bigger the poles need to be — and you also need a lot more poles. It was difficult enough finding 18 poles for a small tepee. 27 poles of twice the height? Not likely.

We never had a properly smooth tepee because oak and sassafras won’t produce straight poles, no matter how much you trim them. They stay lumpy. Moreover, we have no flat land and it turns out, you can’t build a tepee that is going to stand more than overnight without a flat piece of ground under it. If it’s a temporary overnight construction (say something to stay in while you’re hunting), you can slapdash it together, but if you want to live in it, flat ground is a mandate.

Thus we had to create a flat piece of ground. We built what (had it been surrounded on three sides with water), a peninsula of land poking into the woods off the back west corner of the yard. That’s where our land drops off from sloping and dives down about eight feet, then slopes for another few hundred feet, after which it drops off another dozen feet. After which there is a flat area.

But we could not get there on foot without felling a dozen or more big red oaks and bringing in a plow to create a path. Even inside the flat area, there was a mighty oak in its center which would have caused construction issues.

Owen designed our spit of land. Our construction crew — Owen and Garry — determined that a 12-foot teepee was about as much as they could manage. Owen designed it with old railroad ties (from an old railroad … there were a lot of them and those ties are as close to eternal as any wood product could be) as the walls. The guys then filled it with dirt and sand. It was then covered with a dump-truck full of gravel, all of which had to be hauled down one wheelbarrow at a time from the top of the driveway to the edge of the woods.

Owen and Garry grew very muscular that summer.

All of this was followed by painting (my job). I had grand plans but eventually settled on painting the door flap, with an exterior of a buffalo headdress and an interior that was all our hand-prints. I copied the design from pictures. It came out better than I expected.

From the rear of the teepee, the day is ending in mid Autumn.

I would have liked to paint the whole thing, but once it was up, it stood more than 18 feet high I designed an interior cover for insulation. By this point, I was on my own, but it was fun. I also built a fire pit and learned to get the fire blazing in under three minutes. When it’s mid-winter in New England, getting that fire roaring fast is important because after that, your hands are frozen and you can’t manage the matches. The fire was big for the 12-foot tepee but it was super cozy.

The tepee was completed and dedicated in October. For five years afterward, we had the coldest, snowiest winters anyone remembered. Many evenings I spent with a blazing fire, sitting by the open flap because the tepee sometimes (often) got a bit sauna-like Sitting in the doorway watching the snowfall with the fire behind me was everything for which I had hoped.

The tepee stood for six years, all year round, after which it came down because the poles began to rot. Also, a bobcat had moved in and had a litter of kittens there. She did not want to leave. Still, it was a great five years, pre-bobcat.

So now, you’ve gotten the tangent as geometry plus a tangent as a digression. In one post! And welcome to the tepee.

# TOTALLY UNHINGED – Marilyn Armstrong

#### FOWC with Fandango — Unhinged

I’m voting for Yang. Even if he isn’t the nominee, he’s my guy. Anyone who’ll give me magic mushrooms and enough money to live on? My man!

The laughing Flamingo?

Does everyone feel as if they fell into the rabbit hole and that last mushroom made them huge — or tiny. My plastic flamingo is running around the garden laughing at me. I need to drink something that will make me … real.

Because I too am unhinged!

# FOLLOW, FOLLOW, FOLLOW, FOLLOW – Marilyn Armstrong

Remember, those bricks weren’t always yellow!

# EVERY DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

#### FOWC with Fandango — Daily

There was a time … and not very long ago at that … when daily meant normal. Things that occurred on a daily basis were normal and we didn’t need to pay a lot of attention to them. These days, it’s a new crisis every day. Not a little crisis either. Major crises, Nearly end of the world crises. Stress and high blood pressure are the words of the year. Years. No matter how frightening yesterday was, we count on tomorrow being just as bad or worse.

The world

It used to be as you got older, mostly you complained about the music the kids were playing. These days, we wonder if we are going to have a world to live in. Is it going to blow up? Drown as the ice melts? Will there be any birds or lions or elephants left?We are moving from a natural world into a world so highly mechanized that I barely understand it. Maybe I don’t want to recognize it.

The silly daily dilly-dally of the earlier years has turned into the terror of nuclear war and loss of our entire democracy. For once, being old isn’t so bad. We won’t need to see it all happen. At least that’s a good thing, right?

# STAIRS AND STEPS- Marilyn Armstrong

#### FOWC with Fandango — Stairs

When we bought this house — 19 years ago — I figured there were only 12 stairs from the front door: six up and six down. We were moving from a three-story triplex in Boston, so a mere 12 steps didn’t seem like much. I could not imagine a time when I wouldn’t be able to climb six steps — or in a pinch, twelve with a landing int he middle.

Wooden steps from the deck to the backyard

Who knew? I have a stairlift for the top six, from the middle landing to where we live, bu the other six? “Haul away, men. She’s on her way.”

Garry now has to haul himself up by the handrail.

Scotties on the upper six stairs

Stairway to the river by the Mumford Dam

The problem is, I guess, that this is a hilly region, There are no flat areas and what few there are, are occupied by farms. That’s where our local fresh corn comes from. And the local grapes, cucumbers, and other produce.  Mostly these days, we seem to be breeding horses — saddle horses and huge Clydesdales and Percherons. Do we have any particular use for these gigantic (and beautiful) horses? No, not really, but they are glorious animals.

Four Clydesdales hooked to a dressy rig is a great entrance for a couple getting married., The saddle horses are owned by academies. If these places have flat areas, these are used as a ring for training riders and horses. Most places bring in bulldozers to flatten sections.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

We had to bring in a bulldozer to flatten our backyard. You can ask a lot more for houses if by some quirk it happens to be on flat ground at the top of a hill so water runs down and away from it.

We are in the middle of the hill. A long slide down the driveway from the road is our personal Bunny Slope. Thus our backyard is flat, but still needs a canal of its own so the water that collects at the base of the driveway can roll down to the woods.

From the read of the back lawn, there is a precipitous drop through some impressive boulders to a flat area at the bottom, after which the land rises again. Since the entire area is networked by bodies of water — rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and canals initially used by factories and spinning mills to move goods to the main canal or ultimately, the railroad.

The long drop from the Worcester hill into the hill-and-dale of the watershed means almost no houses can be build on flat land. Newer houses — like ours — are either split levels or Georgian-style brick buildings built into the hills. Like a split level before there were split levels.

Pretty much every house has stairs. The parks have long stairways because that’s what you can do on these rolling hills. This house is a raised ranch. The lower level has one area that is a real basement. The rest of the level includes a den with a fireplace, a big bedroom. a tiny bedroom now used as a closet, another unheated room for storage,  plus a bathroom with a shower, toilet, sink, and the washer, and dryer. What remains of the original garage is a work area.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

We find ourselves going up and down often. We store extra food on the shelves downstairs. A lot of items that come and go in the house — little table, pictures, wrapping paper, winter coats in the summer, summer clothing in the winter. The attic was never finished. It doesn’t have a complete floor and is full of loose fiberglass for insulation. We don’t go there since its pull-down wooden stairs feel dangerously creaky.

Take a walk along the banks of the Blackstone

Yet, when we moved in, I hopped up and down the stairs like they were nothing. I didn’t even mind the three-story townhouse in Boston, though I could tell a time would come when I wouldn’t be able to deal with it. By then we also had two dogs and a cat and I wanted a yard for the dogs. With a fence.

Just 12 steps, but sometimes, they feel like so many more.

# EITHER, OR, AND WHATEVER by Marilyn Armstrong

#### FOWC with Fandango — Either, Or, and Whatever

I don’t want to complain. Okay, I really do want to complain.

I was just beginning to feel a little optimistic about the house. We got the rotting door removed the side of the house. It’s a lot warmer without the draft. The front door has been insulated, finished and if we get it painted, it’ll be perfect. We put up a set of gutters which, with a little luck, will help our roof survive.

Home. With snow.

Lately, I’ve been hearing a banging sound and I could never figure out where it was coming from. I thought it was outside, that the drain pipes from the gutter were banging against the house.

It turned out to be the boiler. It was replaced was in 2009. Which turns out to have been 10 years ago. Ten years?

2009 was ten years ago? How did THAT happen? I calculated last night that our boiler was 12 years old when we bought this house in 2000. Which meant that our boiler is 31 years old. We’ve been pretty good about getting it serviced regularly. The parts we’ve replaced have all been parts that normally need replacement. Sort of like the boiler version of changing the oil, replacing brakes, tires, and windshield wipers.

Thirty-one years for this boiler is a lot. About 10 years longer than this system was supposed to work, since it was an inexpensive unit. While I was busy congratulating myself on having somehow, with the grace, love, and caring of friends, the boiler was quietly aging.

In addition to all the other indignities of getting old, you get to outlive your “stuff.” Your new roof gets old.

It’s not fair! I still maintain that one roof is the only roof you should ever need. You shouldn’t need three front doors or four hot water heaters. The shed shouldn’t rot. The Hollyhocks shouldn’t die. The well shouldn’t need major repairs. Having fixed the septic system, it should survive us.

Whatever deities you may worship, Murphy’s Law rules them all. How in the world can I save up five or six thousand dollars for a new boiler?

Okay. I’ve complained enough for one day. Maybe for an entire month or two. And there really is no way to live without central heating in this climate. I’d love to say we’re going to save up the money but there are still other things that need fixing. I guess something will work out.

Either this, that, or some other thing will happen. I have to believe. It’s the only option I have.

# INDULGE AND INDULGENCES – Marilyn Armstrong

#### Fandango’s Indulge & Indulgences

Oh, what a difference there is between these two similar words. You’d think “indulgences” would be the plural of “indulge” — except it isn’t. To indulge is to allow yourself or someone else to eat or have or use something special. Chocolate. Rare wine. Fancy clothing.

Indulgence is what you paid the medieval church to “pay off” one or more of your sins. It was a major issue in Luther’s 95 Theses:

“Analysis Of Martin Luther 95 Theses

The message of 95 Theses gave the summary and expressed the feelings of many of his peers already had about the corruption of Christ’s teachings. Luther illustrated the spiritual, material, and psychological truths behind abuses in the practice of buying and selling indulgences.”

It’s easy to see how the one word could morph into another, although I think it’s possible that it went in the other direction, that “indulgences” came first and “indulge” was a less charged version of the original term.

I indulge in cameras, computers, lenses and all the software that goes with the cameras and lenses and pictures. I originally “arting” as a painter. With oil paint. Probably because my mother worked with oils and I had spent a lot of years watching her work, so I had a few clues about how to use them.

I was not a great painter, but for some obscure reason, people really liked the pieces and one day, when I had stopped painting because I’d just had a baby and I couldn’t leave the easel standing because toddlers and easels are not a good mix. There were also dogs and cats and they were very good at tipping the easel over. Oil paint doesn’t come out of rugs or at least I never figured out high. Acrylics were just coming out, but they dried too fast for me. I needed time to go back and mess with an image.

That was when I realized that I didn’t own a single picture I’d painted. I had sold them. I tried to buy a couple back, but no one would sell me one. I doubt any of them still exist, either. I really didn’t know how to stretch a canvas properly, so I’m pretty sure the pictures all disintegrated through the past 50 years. Serves them right. I would have thought ONE person would have sold me ONE picture. Sheesh.

I never went back to painting because by then I had discovered photography. I loved photography and got pretty good at it almost immediately. Of course, cameras were so much simpler back in the 1960s. Film speed, shutter speed, Lens opening size (f-stop), focus. The rest was art.

Most cameras didn’t even have built-in light meters. I got really good at looking at the light and gauging how to set the camera. I couldn’t do that anymore. I’ve become so dependent on autofocus and electronic gauges, I’ve lost those instincts.

If I’m going to indulge in anything other than photographic stuff, it’ll be socks. I love socks. My feet have been cold since childhood and I’m so enjoying the pleasure of well-fitted wool socks.

Once upon a time, to indulge had a lot to do with horses, but my spine said no. You just can’t argue with your spine. You can try, but you never get the answers you are looking for. Mostly, you get pain and silence.

# SKULKING IN THE SHADOWS — Marilyn Armstrong

## FOWC with Fandango — Skulk

This is one of those words that sounds like what it means. Skulking in the shadows in the darkened alleys of Gotham. Bwa-ha-ha-ha! The man in the black coat and fedora gum-shoeing after him. And somewhere, a cop, an FBI agent, and private-eye are lurking, waiting for the moment of truth if there is any such thing.

Reindeer, sleigh, snow guy, and a path.

It’s a great, cold day here on the Atlantic coast. A good day for skulking. Even the birds seem rather sinister. I think I’m too tired to feel sinister. And we have an evening event. At least the hearings are over and I can go back to having a permanent nervous breakdown.

All the buds … and notice in front the one red segment. That too will flower.

Does anyone believe we are already supposedly “in the holiday spirit?” I’m not sure what that means anymore. I think it’s mostly about taking my tree from last year, plugging it in and making it ready to do its annual job as “tree of the holidays.”

Personally, before the subject comes up (again), I don’t care whether you say Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Good Chanuka, Felice Navidad, or Happy Kwanza. Or just “Hi, how are you?”

I do not care! It’s the thought that counts … and a fat envelope full of greenbacks wouldn’t hurt either.

# LET’S BE TWELVE AGAIN — Marilyn Armstrong

Someone asked me what I would do if I were twelve again. Twelve. A little too young to be a teenager, too old to be a ‘child.’ It’s the middle-age of childhood. There might be a few things I could do — or, more to the point — NOT do that might make old age feel less old. I could avoid those events where I broke my back, for example. Or maybe not. We all know that changing the past doesn’t usually work. Somehow, you either don’t exist at all, or whatever happens lands you back in the same place you were in anyway.

But I’m up for a try, as long as I don’t have to go back to school. Ever.

I’ve got all the diplomas I’ll ever need. I’m an adult. I get Social Security. Pensions. And never to be forgotten, Senior discounts. At 12 I had my full height and was a smart as I would ever be. I looked old for my age anyway.

Smarter. We reach our maximum intelligence in our early teens. It seems like a waste, but it isn’t really. That’s when we are collecting the knowledge that will enable us to decide what want to do with the rest of our lives. In this case, I already know.

I know what I want and I know how to get there.  I know what to avoid, which may be the most important part. It’s a perfect second life. With all the body parts still working and foreknowledge of what may come.

To the good part. A 12-year-old body you say? Before I broke my back. I get the chance to protect my spine and avoid the big issues I’m facing now.

There are some issues to be worked out. Young, growing bodies have needs. But in my head, I’m old and wily, so I know what to do. I have the body of a youngster, the brain of a senior. Oh, joy. This is the best of both worlds! Garry would be 17 — just about to go into the Marines. This wouldn’t be fun without him.

We will have legs that can run and minds that remember everything. But this time, without dysfunctional parents and all those stupid rules?

Bring it ON! I am so ready.

# LOBBY AND LOBBYING – Marilyn Armstrong

### FOWC with Fandango — Lobby

I grew up in a world where “lobby” was the big room in a hotel where you got the keys to your room.

Today lobbying is a definition of what’s wrong with the country.

# PRUDENT IS UNAMERICAN — Marilyn Armstrong

#### Prudent. Maybe like the Impeachment Hearings?

Prudent seems like a very strange word these days. Here we are — Garry and I — and the impeachment hearings are on the TV and we’re having little conversations about how people feel about this. I gathered, but last night’s “comedy” television that these hearings are getting gigantic ratings. Garry said he was sure that Trump would be very proud of this and I thought that was pretty funny.

I think this IS part of the space force!

I guess he moves on with his life in which I think he still wants another television show of his own (like who does he think would hire him?) explaining that he had the highest-rated television show of 2019. But if he’s not the President, I don’t think he’s going to get such great ratings.

I also learned last night that he was worried that naked pictures of him (Trump) would surface. Naked pictures of DJT? And the man who is our “president” is worried about naked pictures of his big fat self?

##### No, no, no.

I can barely stand to see whats-his-face fully clothed. The idea of all that blubber naked is beyond me on every level.

Prudent? Careful? Working within limits? Honest?

Sometimes these guys go on for five minutes and I look at Garry and say “Was there a question in there?” We have our own version of “Law and Order” going on here.

Prudent?

I don’t know how the reporters understand what’s being asked and answered. Do they?

# TOO MANY BIRDS! – Marilyn Armstrong

### FOWC with Fandango — Rely

Be careful what you wish for. I wanted more birds? I got more birds. I have new birds I do not recognize, or at least don’t recognize them as the usual local avians. There is a white one with a cockade that looks like a huge, overgrown Titmouse, but he’s the size — maybe even bigger — than the Blue Jays. He looks like a Gray Jay but might be an immature flycatcher. I rely on my bird books and the Audubon lists on the Internet, but so far, they have failed me.

The birds are moving as the weather moves, so it can be hard to ascertain if that bird now lives here or you’ve got the identity all wrong.

Everything except the finches have returned. There are no finches. They may still be nesting in Canada and I think I spotted a house finch the other day, but I didn’t get a good enough look at it. They may have been pushed out of the feeders by the squirrels or Blue Jays.

We are out of bird food. They ate 36 pounds of food in about a month and that is a LOT of bird food. We need to check out the feed and grain stores and see if we can come up with something they will eat that costs less. I can’t afford \$100 worth of birdseed in a month. That’s more than the dogs — including their medication — cost. And of course, there are the squirrels who eat at least half the food — if not more. I wanted birds? I got them!

Mom, he took the WHOLE FEEDER!

One little nuthatch

Two Tufted Titmice

More Titmice

Name that bird! The size of a Blue Jay with a very small crest in black or dark blue

Titmouse in early (very early!) sunset

# WINDOWS ON MY WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

#### FOWC with Fandango — Windows On My World

My big windows on the world all need cleaning. the ones in the back are easy because you can stand on the deck and just wash them, but the ones in front of the house are two stories up. The ground in front of them is soft and muddy from the constant rain and someone stole our two-story ladder. Eventually, they will become sunglasses … or I’ll have to hire someone to clean them. Not this year, though. Or next. Too many other things need doing.

I am in the middle of a mental muddle.

I have a big collection (not, fortunately, as big as it used to be!) of antique Asian art and hundreds of dolls from the 1930s through 1970s, all in pretty good shape. Some are still rather new, tags and all.

No one wants the pottery, which is heartbreaking. To me, these are pieces of the past. I hold one of these pieces and I can see the world in which they were born. I wonder how many hundreds — thousands? — of people have held them and in how many homes they were things of beauty. But unless I can find homes for them, these irreplaceable pieces will disappear from the world forever.

When you get to my age and the age of my friends, no one is collecting. Everyone is trying to find homes for things because we are suddenly sharply aware that we aren’t going to live forever and those pieces of porcelain aren’t going to live forever on the mantel or the shelves or cabinets. The idea of all of these things going to some big dumpster makes me a little bit sick.

Seriously: if you know someone who wants them, free, no strings, please let me know. I’ve run out of local places with room for them and my friends are my age and don’t want more of anything.

Does is really matter if the world has one more Han pot or Tang horse? I don’t know.

What about all the dolls of youth. Toys represent the world in which we live more than anything except maybe books. They show how we viewed children, especially girls and their roles in the world. I would love to know they will survive!

# The Swing

The swingset for grownups

I still want a swing set! I already have two of them, but I want one like I had in the playground as a youth!

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

Through the wooden glider

# CYNICAL? HAVE A CHAT WITH YOUR CABLE COMPANY! – Marilyn Armstrong

### FOWC with Fandango — Charter’s Best Cynic

I was having a normal day until I realized that for no particular reason, my cable company raised my rates another \$5. They are known for not having contracts. What that actually means is they can raise their rates whenever they want. They never lower them. We live in Uxbridge and we don’t have a choice about our cable service.

We have Charter or nobody. We can’t get any other company, not even the telephone company, to serve us. I’m sure someone got a not little extra gift from them to set us up with only one company and no competition or hope of competition.

In theory, we can get DirectTV, but this is a heavily wooded area, so almost no one has a clear patch of south-facing sky to use to receive the signal … and working — these days — with DirectTV might actually be worse than working with Charter/Spectrum (it’s really the same company using two names). I grant you it’s hard to imagine anything worse than Spectrum, but if anything is worse, DirectTV is probably it. And you have to go through AT&T to use them, so you get a double whammy.

Spectrum is very big on advertising how they don’t have any contracts. This makes it sound as if you have the choice to choose another company, but there IS no other company in the area. What it really means is they can raise their rates when they feel like it and we can’t do anything about it.

Great deal, isn’t it?

I remember when Charter strung their first wires on our street. I think I was one of the very first people to sign up with them. We have been loyal to them because we have no choice. Even so, after 19 years, you’d think they might actually care in some way that we are customers that have been with them a long time. But there are no discounts. I cut out cable TV about 8 months ago, so they raised the price of the cable itself to \$76 and doubled the cost of our telephone.

You’re welcome, Spectrum or Charter, or whoever/whatever you are. I can tell how much you care about us.

# A BLOGGING DIARY – Marilyn Armstrong

### FOWC with Fandango — Diary

Since I started seriously blogging, it has become a diary. It wasn’t meant to be, but because of it, I know when major and minor events occurred in my life. I can call up the time  — at least if it happened during the past 7 years — in my blog.

So much of the blog is made up of the things that have happened day to day in my world. Big things, little thing, barely anything — they all wind up on the pages of the blog. That’s why I’ve refused to let myself be locked into a particular style of blogging or a particular theme. It’s a big world and there’s a lot going on.

Two little titmice sitting in a feeder

In any case, I’ve never appreciated the idea or concept of being “locked-in” to anything. Ever. Even now, when physical movements are limited, at least my brain (such as it is) can roam free … and blogging has enabled me to do a lot more mental roaming than I ever thought possible!

A rather menacing Blue Jay!

I also feel I should mention that I’ve learned a lot. Not only by writing, but from the comments and conversations I’ve had. My world is bigger and I know so many more details of things that were previously just broad swathes of knowledge.

It’s a diary of what has been and it is also a diary of what I’ve learned.