AN EARLY VISIT – Garry Armstrong

It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.

That lends itself to our professional sports teams and our current financial dilemma. Our Boston Red Sox are almost officially eliminated from postseason play. The lamentations about the Bosox lengthy hangover from last year’s World Championship are filling up bars across Massachusetts. But sorrow is mixed with elation for the Brady Bunch aka the New England Patriots’ who opened THEIR world championship defense with a sound thumping of the Pittsburgh Steelers, always a worthy adversary.

Sports is our Rx as we try to deal with an insurance company that refuses to do the right thing. It’s an insurance company that’s had our very loyal business for 40 plus years and paid nary a cent to us. Our home has been battered by recent storms and two sides of the house could cave with the next storm. A storm due within hours. It’s a major league headache for Marilyn and me who, coincidentally, are battling a bug that leaves us wondering — who did we antagonize?

The house and health problems have prompted us to cancel two planned trips we’ve looked forward to with enthusiasm. It’s a bummer. We’re not feeling very sociable these days.  It reminds me of that old Kingston Trio song, “The Merry Minuet” about international social discord with the refrain “… and, we don’t like anybody very much.”

That’s the cue for today’s happening. The welcome sign outside our home has drawn precious few visitors — family or good friends — in the 19 years we’ve lived in picturesque Uxbridge. We almost feel like Lepers.

I was startled when Marilyn awakened me with news this morning that we had company coming — in FORTY minutes! I felt like yesterday’s garbage as I got my act together. Company?  We NEVER have company. Why TODAY? Gee Whiz!

Turns out that our visitors were one of the two families we had to cancel on because of our problems.

Garry and Karin MacMillan

Karin and her business associate lit up our house with amiable good cheer. Karin actually is a good friend of my “Baby Brother,” the noted Dr. Anton Armstrong, head of the illustrious St. Olaf’s Choir.

We’ve been swapping emails for weeks so Karin was up to speed on our problems. Despite our visit cancellation, Karin was determined to meet us and spread some cheer.

It was like sitting with old friends. We rambled on with cross conversations. I, as usual, held court with stories of my celebrity encounters. Our visitors didn’t seem bored so I kept jabbering with one eye on my watch and finally gave myself the hook — time to shut up and let the others share stories.

We laughed a lot. I was the target of some of the laughter but it was just fine. It was good to laugh, taking my mind off the headache, queasy stomach and other gifts from the stubborn bug. I was surprised about how much family stuff we shared. That’s a good indicator of relaxation with newly made friends. It doesn’t happen often with us.

We emphasized our gratitude for the visit. As mentioned, we don’t receive many social calls. You wonder if you’re a leper after extending invitations and no one shows up.

It’s been a special day. One of the last warm, sunny and perfectly golden days of summer. Our front yard has been manicured. It’ll never look better even with the furry kids staking out their territory. If we had smell-o-vision, you’d really appreciate how nice our yard looks.

It can’t obliterate our concern about the sides of the house which are in danger with the next storm on the horizon. An Insurance investigator recently documented the damage but bluntly told us not to expect much from the insurance company. We’ve reached out for help but everything is in limbo right now.  We feel very, very vulnerable. Senior citizens, surviving on social security and puny retirement funds.

For a few hours, on this day, we could laugh and relax – thanks to the kindness of strangers who now are definitely friends.

NOT THE BUCKET LIST – Rich Paschall

Things To Do, by Rich Paschall

Perhaps you have a “bucket list.” You know, things you must do before you “kick the bucket.” That is to say before you die. Such lists seem to be popular with middle-aged and older people. Younger people may not give this much thought, as they are more likely to believe there is plenty of time left to do things.

Domed stadium, natural grass, Miller Park

If you have a list, what do you have on it?  Do you want to visit all the MLB stadiums? NFL stadiums? NBA arenas? Do you want to climb mountains? Perhaps Mount Everest holds an allure. Perhaps you want to skydive or water ski.

Maybe you want to swim with the dolphins, or watch the humpbacked whales come out of the ocean? Perhaps you wish to travel. London? Paris? Rome? Far East? The Middle East? Do you want to go to the islands of the Caribbean or the South Pacific?

In London with a friend

It may not be too late to learn a language, take a wine tasing course or learn to paint (pictures, not houses).  Maybe you want to run a marathon. You could try for every state. Maybe you want to run with the bulls. I hope you are fast. Maybe you want to visit famous places close to home. You could travel to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls or the monuments of Washington, DC.

I guess if we thought about it enough, we could put down hundreds of ideas.  If you made a list, how would you prioritize them? Would you do the easiest to complete first, or start with the hardest? Time, health and financial resources could play into all of your decisions.

Grand Canyon

I don’t have a bucket list, nor do I feel the need to make one. I don’t wish to have a list of things I must accomplish. What if I didn’t finish them all? Was life a failure? What if I did finish them? Do I just wait around after that for the grim reaper?

Of course, there are things I would like to do. They are not bucket list items, just things I would like to accomplish if time and resources allow. I have eliminated the ambitious running around the country or around the world ideas. Anything that is too arduous is out.

Selestat, France

If you have any kind of chronic pain, you immediately cross items off the list as not worth the time and aggravation. If you have a plate and 8 screws in your spine, roller coasters and bungee jumping are not things you will consider if you still have your sanity. There are limitations to what the human body will put up with at certain stages of life.

This year I decided on something I should do that had crossed my mind before. There just was no more putting it off. The opportunity to get away was at hand and all I needed was the go-ahead from my destination hosts. When the arrangements were complete I was off to the destination that had moved to the top of my list of places to go. Uxbridge, MA!

Downtown Uxbridge

If you have been following SERENDIPITY for very long, then you have seen plenty of photos of Uxbridge from Marilyn and Garry Armstrong. Marilyn is our editor, photographer, publisher, sage and idea guru. I dropped in on SERENDIPITY in 2013 with a short story, and Marilyn has let me hang around ever since. I am here on Sundays and I sneak in an extra article from time to time on another day.

The interesting thing about the internet is you can contribute articles from anywhere. While Marilyn and Garry are outside the Boston area, I am in Chicago. You may be surprised to learn that prior to this year, we had never met. So Uxbridge became my destination of choice.

My hosts: Garry, Duke, Marilyn

We were going to tour the area and visit many of the spots I had seen before on the blog. The weather held other ideas for us. We were in the pattern of daily ran and spent much of the time indoors. As it turns out, that was just fine. We never ran out of things to talk about. After five and a half years of articles, comments and emails there were plenty of topics to discuss. It was just a couple of days before my trip in early June that I heard Marilyn’s voice for the first time. We were coordinating our arrangements by phone. In the days ahead, we had a lot of time to talk.

With a very small window of opportunity, we headed out to grab a few pictures. The rain held off for a few moments allowing us our touristy pictures. Then it was back inside to our regular greeters, the three dogs.

Cameras at the ready

Nighttime gave us the opportunity to view Westerns we had discussed back and forth in comments and emails. This included one of the Armstrongs’ favorites, Rustlers’ Rhapsody. It is an homage to the great B-movies of a bygone era. It’s a good cast and wacky entertainment. I will get the opportunity to see this send-up again and again as I was sent home with a copy.

It was the opportune moment to meet friends at the other side of the internet universe. I don’t know if I will ever make it back to Uxbridge, but it was on this year’s To Do List and it got done.

I make a careful distinction between things I want to do and a “bucket list.” I have no crazy ideas or personal challenges, just a desire to visit friends when I can. It does not matter where they are in the world. If I can make the trip, then it becomes the next adventure.

Check out this adventure’s photo gallery at Sunday Night Blog: A Visit To Uxbridge

BUT ANYONE COULD DO IT … Marilyn Armstrong

We all have friends who do stuff we can’t do.

They make a perfect pie crust and the filling is great, too. They build and refinish their furniture. They tune the car and rewire the basement on Saturday afternoon and still have time to make dinner for company.

You love them, with just a hint of hate because they can do it all and you can barely drag yourself out of bed, brush your hair, and have coffee before mid-afternoon.

They do a little painting, a bit of carving. Frame their own pictures. Repair anything that breaks. They are never worried about anything because they know exactly what to do.

apple pie

These are the woman who breezily raises two children after dad leaves while working full-time and never do they seem overwhelmed or even tired. The men build corporations, sell them, build another one — and don’t know why you can’t do the same.

It’s so easy.

They throw great dinner parties and the food is delicious. The dishes match or are charmingly casual yet coördinated to look casual in a fashion magazine sort of way. But you know they are supposed to look that way and no matter how hard you try, your version of “casual” just looks … well … casual.

Because that look takes work and an “eye.” It’s an art form.

stove and kitchen counter

When you ask about that wonderful pie crust, they say “Oh, it’s nothing. Just a bit of butter and flour. A bit of sugar. Cut everything up with a couple of butter knives, roll it out, and there you are.” If you are lucky, you get a demonstration and it does look easy.

You go home, get all the ingredients together and give it a try. Which results in an unusable lump of muck which ultimately, you toss in the trash.

After which you buy a pie crust or better yet, buy the whole pie. Because it isn’t so easy. Not for you, anyway.

Modest, humble people who do brilliant stuff about which they are completely offhand. They seem baffled why you would think any of it is a big deal. Apparently, it isn’t. To them.

To you, it would be a minor miracle if you could accomplish one little piece of it. Yet they will always say “But it’s so easy. Anyone could do it.”

Anyone except me. I can’t do it.

THE COMMUNITY EVENT – Rich Paschall

Do You Have The Time? by Rich Paschall

There are plenty of community organizations that will grab your time, if only you let them. They want you for a variety of tasks and the really organized organizers will stalk you if they think you will volunteer for something. They want you to stuff envelopes, sell tickets, make phone calls, sit at booths and sell things. They will have you directing traffic, ushering people, handing out programs. You can go to meetings, answer email, talk on the phone, spend hours of your precious time in pursuit of the organizational mission, whatever that might be.

But what if you do not have the time for this? After all, if you are part of a family crew, you may have to drive little Johnny or Suzy to soccer practice, karate lessons, football practice, baseball practice, cheerleading practice, dance class, piano lessons, drum and bugle corps, or basketball games. If they are young, it is pre-school or grade school or daycare or after school care. If they are older it is still sports, music, dances, proms, band, drama, speech and please, drop them at the corner so no one knows their mommy is still driving them around.

Of course, there are all the adult requirements too.  There are weddings and showers, wakes, and funerals. As we get older, there are more of the latter. There are dances and parties we don’t want to attend and family events for which you must make your famous __________ (insert dish name here). It all keeps us so very busy. How dare these “organizers” presume to prevail upon our valuable time?

Yet, these various events to which you are driving the beloved little ones (or not-so-little ones) are probably staffed by volunteers. Adults and a handful of older kids are taking tickets, selling refreshments, selling t-shirts, directing people around events. They are running for ice, and pop and cups and napkins. They are getting mustard and ketchup. They are making emergency runs to Costco or Sam’s Club so they do not run out of water or buns or napkins. In other words, they are making everything possible that you and little Johnny and Suzy are attending.

As a staff member at a community organization for a few years, and for a private school a few others, I know what it is like to have to run events, dependent on volunteers who may or may not show up. Fortunately, most are dedicated and in their places when the time comes.

Yes, that's me on the left, getting rained on for the cause.
Yes, that’s me on the left, getting rained on for the cause.

While some organizations pressure the parents of the children who participate to volunteer, many others are reliant on the goodwill of neighbors and friends.  Though many do not realize it, the events they attend throughout the year might not be there if there were no volunteers. In fact, some community organizations die for lack of volunteer spirit. A founder of one community organization here said many decades after the organization he began was up and running, that perhaps it should die if the community was not willing to come forward and support it. They, in fact, gave up some large events for lack of volunteers.

Here I could give you the “social contract” type speech. You know the one.  If you are part of the community, you must give up something in order to reap the benefits of community activities. That something you must give up is your time. I know that is hard to do in this day and age. After all, we must get home to check our Facebook and Twitter accounts. We must look at Instagram and Snapchat. We must check Messenger and Skype. Then there is Pinterest and YouTube, Vimeo and Vevo.

What enriches our lives is what we invest in. If we invest in our community and its events, then we are richer too. The volunteer spirit does not necessarily lead to dull and boring jobs. Instead, it can lead to knowing your neighbors. You could be learning about the organization to which you and your children participate. It can open new avenues to friendship in the community in which you live. It can give you an understanding of what it takes to make a community.

Hillary Clinton famously said “It Takes A Village,” from the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child.

In fact, it takes a community, a good community, to raise a child. The only way a community can be good and strong is with the volunteer spirit of its residents. Are you going to give up an occasional Saturday at some event or sports bar to aid your community, or will you just let someone else do it? If you choose the latter, then I remind you of the philanthropist who suggested that it might be better to let a community organization die, if the community was unwilling to support it.

A GRADUAL CONGREGATION – Marilyn Armstrong

It turns out, there are a lot of variations of congregate meaning “to get together, join together, group together, party hearty.”

With some fish, it also means collaboration to make baby fish. Or is that conjugation?

But there is no word which means “someone who congregates.” No congregator. Congregationalist? Congregationistic? Congruent?

 Way back when, in the days when I had energy, enthusiasm, and I liked most people, I was much more enthusiastic about “getting together.” I was considered sociable and I almost agreed with that.

I was never quite as sociable many thought. I was a party “edge person.” I would look for whoever was standing along at the edges of a party and engage them in conversation. I never like big groups of people in one place because you couldn’t have a conversation with anyone when everyone was trying to talk.

I made exceptions when I gave the party because if it was my party, I didn’t expect to engage in conversation. Party giving was more about flitting about and making sure everyone else was having a good time. I gave a few good parties through the decades (generations?), but mostly, I preferred having a friend or two or three — and a great conversation about everything.

Remember conversations that lasted until dawn? We covered philosophy, government, the meaning of life. Travel to the stars, reincarnation and the best books we’d read lately. No one was bored or left out.

Later, people got old. Died. Drifted into a world of their own, moved to senior housing “somewhere near their kids” which was always hundreds of miles from us. Others simply drifted.

What we had previously held in common — work — it was no longer relevant after we all had stopped working.

Those of us with functional marriages who really liked our partners have been lucky. Singleness is fine when you are active enough to travel and gadabout, but these days, it’s an abiding joy to have a partner whose hand you can hold while you watch old movies, cuddled by dogs with cold noses.

We’ve been talking lately about how few friends we have remaining. This isn’t unusual at our age. People leave and don’t come back. Many others don’t like traveling. Or driving any distance. More don’t like going to places with which they are unfamiliar. Everyone like their own bed.

If you have pets, it gets increasingly difficult to find someone to take care of them, especially as your pets get old, too.

We still have friends. They are old friends. Friends forever. Who knew the people we knew and share memories of the times through which we’ve lived. Have common political and philosophical beliefs — and hopefully enjoy the same movies.

So let us congregate to our greater enjoyment! Or try, anyhow.

SORRY ABOUT THE FRIENDSHIP THING – Marilyn Armstrong

So, you ask, why can’t we be friends?

There are so many reasons. For one thing, you live on the other side of the world and we don’t even have a bus or a taxi in this town. You know how long it takes to get there by airplane? More than 18 hours … and that’s a direct flight. Oh, wait, there is no direct flight. You’ve got to stop somewhere. Take your pick of continents.

Another reason? You wouldn’t really like me. Count on it.

Photo Garry Armstrong

Even if I like you, more than likely, you won’t return the feeling. I talk too much. My tongue is sharp. If you say dumb things, I will snort derisively. I will not take you seriously if you don’t know any history and don’t read books.

If you take photographs with trash cans in the background, I will not admire them, even if the subject is your beloved grandchild. She/he would look better — I personally guarantee it — without the trash cans. Unless you are making some kind of artistic statement about grandchildren and trash, and I sincerely hope you are not.

I am not everyone’s cuppa tea. Sometimes, I’m not even my own cuppa tea. Actually, I’m not all that fond of tea, except for green tea ordered with Japanese food.

This probably makes me a bad person. Coffee anyone?

GOATS, CATS, AND ROCKING CHAIRS – Marilyn Armstrong

Out yesterday at the farms by the river. Taking pictures. Garry took a bunch too, as did Ben.

We have three views of the same scenes. Using three different cameras.

Ben has the Pen-F and I am SO envious. Garry has my former FZ-300 and I have the new FZ-1000.

These are a few of mine. More to come!

One beautiful cat! They had so many kittens, but we escaped unscathed.
Old Rockers in a barn loft
Ben, the friend