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.

SIZE IS RELATIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

Photo Challenge – Size Matters!

Everything is relative. When we moved into this house — Garry and I — it was perfect. I didn’t know about the tons of snow that would need to be cleared off the driveway or the water that would rush down the driveway and try to pool in the basement.

I never imagined 12-stairs would prove too much for me and Garry never thought pushing the trash up to the street would be life-threatening. I didn’t count on heart problems, cancer, or having yet one more vertebra (S1) disintegrate.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Our house in winter

Mostly, we didn’t think we would get old, cranky, or poor. We were working. We assumed we’d continue working for years to come.

Well, sometimes, it all turns sideways. Garry lost his job because they decided he was too old. I got too sick to work. Owen’s job blew up on 9/11 and never came back. The kids came to live with us, which made the house too small. Ten years later, they left, so now the house is too big and we’re a lot older and poorer.

Big, small … it’s all a matter of one’s position in the universe. I’ve heard people who live in mansions complain it’s not big enough and then, later, I’ve heard the same people complain it’s too much and who needs so much house?

Definitely a door!

The van was just barely big enough when everyone lived here and now our little Renegade is absolutely perfect (but I wish it had a bigger glove box). The deck was too small, but now it’s perfect.

If it would just stop RAINING for a while. We need a dry spell! Preferably, without killer mosquitoes.

NO CRYING IN THE NEST – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Nest

A woman, younger than me, has no children and asks: “What is ’empty nest syndrome?’ What does it mean?”

I gave it a bit of thought. After all, my nest is empty except for two terriers and the handsome husband.

The empty nest is one in which the children have grown up and moved out. They have independent lives. These newly made adults have left the family nest and assumed the mantle of adult responsibility.  Isn’t that what we wanted all along?

Swan family all lined up

My mother’s life did not revolve around me, though I kept her pretty busy for a long time. She was a dutiful mother insofar as she did the right stuff. She fed us, though this was her least shining achievement. She clothed us … and to this day I wish I’d better appreciated the clothing she made for me. I was just too young, awkward, and afraid someone might notice I was dressed “differently” from the other kids. Big mistake.

The whole family!

She talked to me about adult things in an adult way. She gave me tons of books and if I look around, I probably still own more than half of them. These weren’t the books my friends and schoolmates read. They were grown-up literature. Sometimes, I had to ask her what it meant because if anything, she overestimated my understanding of the larger world. When I was ready to go, she was proud of me for taking the leap.

It freed her to paint and sculpt and travel. To read, go to the theater, spend time with her sisters. Not cook and clean all the time. Make her own clothing instead of mine. She was glad my brother and I were independent and built lives.

I doubt she suffered from any kind of empty nest issues.

Nor did I. Of course, my son and his family kept coming back. For years, I yearned for an empty nest. Having finally achieved it, do I miss the patter of little feet? Or, for that matter, the thunder of big ones?

Flocks of Goldfinch

I miss the thunder more. Is there something wrong with enjoying the company of adult children more than little kids? I really enjoy having real conversations with grownups who look like me. Even if we disagree, I’m delighted they have opinions. That they are part of a bigger world and standing on their own feet.

Maybe the difference is that so many women seem to prefer babies to adults. They don’t want independent children who don’t need them. Some parents urgently need to be needed.

Children need nurturing, but they don’t need it all the time and they definitely don’t need it for their entire lives. After some point, their drive for separateness should overwhelm the need for nurturing. The drive to be independent should become dominant. I have always thought it’s our obligation as parents to help our kids achieve adulthood because we won’t be here forever. They will need to go on without us.

An empty nest is when you don’t need to do a load of laundry every day. Where the sink isn’t always full. You can park your car where you want it.

Photo: Ben Taylor

Extra rooms revert to your use, even if you use them as closets for all the stuff you collected. If you have a life of your own, interests of your own. There’s no such thing as an empty nest. It’s a time when your kids have achieved maturity. It’s when the work you did to raise them right pays off.

Adult children are great. If you still need to nurture, get pets. Adopt dogs and cats and ferrets and parrots. They will always need you.

If you do it right, your kids will always love you, but not always need you.

ABOUT THE HOUSE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — House

These days, when I hear the word “house” my brain flicks into “fix-me” mode.

On television commercials, people always have plenty of money to hire “pros” to fix whatever needs repair. I hope they get better service than we’ve gotten.

For the rest of us, finances get a bit thin as repairs pile up. All of those television people are more concerned about finding the time to find a contractor then they are about how much the job will cost.

They live on a different planet than I do. Because even when we were both working, we had to be careful about how much anything would cost and whether or not we could pay for it.

So here’s my wish list.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

A house in which the pipes never corrode or clog. Where the electricity doesn’t blow if you turn on the hairdryer at the same time as the microwave. Where the modem never needs rebooting and the price of electricity goes down. Where any item you ever purchase lasts forever and the price of heating oil is always low.

Where snow is moderate and melts before noon and the wind blows the dead leaves off the driveway.

Windows never sag. Mice don’t move in and try to take over. Ants don’t invade. Doors never rot. The lawn, mowed once, stays mowed and the garden, once weeded never needs a redo. Where a roof lasts for the life of the house, as do all the windows and doors.

And above all, never let the well run dry or lightning strike the pump.

COMFORTABLE – BI-WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Bi-Weekly Photo Challenge – Comfort

Our house, while crumbling around the edges, is very comfortable. Years ago, we gave up fashion and went for soft furniture on which we can keep our (swelling) ankles up. The dogs like it too.

Comfort on the deck

It is not fashionable. It wasn’t fashionable 20 years ago and we are not fashionable either, so it works. The dogs don’t know about fashion. As long as they can find a soft spot on which to sleep, life is good.

Comfortable dogs
It’s a rough life, but someone’s got to live it.
Bonnie and living room
Too many cushions
Photo: Garry Armstrong
Cold toes, but warm quilts!

I’LL FLY AWAY … By Marilyn Armstrong

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

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

The first house

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

Our first house in Boston

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

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

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

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

House in summer

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

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

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

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

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

The home in Baka, Jerusalem

Effectively, there is nowhere for us to go.

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

Everyone else will be hiding in a cave.

BATHROOM REDO AND THE BUSYNESS OF LIFE – Marilyn Armstrong

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

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

Installing plumbing
The bathtub is already gone.

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

Putting in the glass doors

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

Utility wall and shower
Bench end

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

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

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

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

Another view of the bathroom. Looks pretty good!

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

It’s supposed to rain. Or maybe not.