LOCAL NEWS FROM UXBRIDGE! – Marilyn Armstrong

So what have I been doing with myself? It certainly hasn’t been creative writing or photography. Mostly, it has been medical. Yesterday, I spent the day with the valve specialist and got the best news of the month. My heart is doing well, exceptionally well considering how bad it was when they worked on it five years ago.  It’s pumping, the valve is working like a new valve should. My bypass is open and moving and the pacemaker is working fine.

I wanted to know why I am so exhausted and he said whatever it is, it’s NOT your heart because that’s fine. Which brings me back to arthritis and my spine. It’s the same old story which, I guess, will never end. I frequently need to remind myself that no matter how miserable my busted spine and arthritis make me feel, they are not going to kill me. Also, the rest of the exhaustion probably is the fibromyalgia which is acting up for no known reason.

That’s the thing about fibro. There’s never a reason why it does what it does. There are no tests for it, no medication that works. You can’t even get a proper diagnosis because there isn’t any except the intuition of your doctor. There’s a definite link between arthritis and fibro … as well as rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus. But what the link is, exactly, no one knows.

It’s hard to diagnose and essentially impossible to treat. Nothing seems to make it better, but a lot of stuff can make it worse.

To keep myself functional, I’ve been trying to get more sleep, to not push myself when I’m already tired … and keep my feet up because the swelling in my feet and ankles is apparently a side-effect of one of the blood pressure medications I take. And no, I can’t change medications because these are working really well and when the meds are working, you don’t change them so your ankles will look better.

I did want to know if there was any chance I could get a more modern pacemaker. Mind you, they have not improved the functionality of the pacemaker. They are still exactly the same. What they are improving are the cases, making them thinner, non-magnetic and more appropriate for a woman’s body. Mine is so big I can feel the wires.

But changing pacemakers isn’t a minor thing. It’s a life-endangering issue, so unless it stops working, I keep this one. With this one — which is magnetic — I can’t have an MRI. I hope I don’t need one!

Despite the downers, most of the news is good. Mainly, my heart is working and my son is lucky he didn’t inherit it.

Other stuff? We’re now in the pricing new gutters for the house. The ones we have were improperly installed and have never worked. I’ve known that for more than 15 years, but it never occurred to me that a lot of the rot on the house is because of those non-working gutters.

LeafGuard wanted more than $7000 for new ones. $7000? Seriously?

The actual real-life prices are closer to $1100 to $1400, which I think we can manage. The back door will have to wait for warm weather to come around again, but if I can get the gutters up before winter, we might be saved from the giant ice dams of winter and a lot less rot!

Our house, some snow, and the fence …

If you live in a warm climate, you might not know that one of those big ice dams can weigh hundreds of pounds. If one clunks you on the head, you might not wake up. We had a friend die of a falling ice dam and he was born and raised around here, so he knew better. There’s something irresistible about trying to knock down those ice dams. It’s stupid and damages your roof, but people still do it.

I’m still trying to decide whether or not to change insurance providers. Tufts, the most popular (with good reason) has none of our doctors in its plan, so they are out. That leaves Blue Cross (which we have) or HarvardPilgrim. Both are good. Blue Cross is a little bit less money but offers fewer other “advantages. Harvard Pilgrim pays you for more of your tooth stuff and also for eyeglasses. Also, they actually will pay for inhalers.

But if I change plans, we get into trying to move my medical records. This ought not to be such a big deal, but because every hospital and medical group has its own plan and its own software and doesn’t mesh with anything else. When you’ve had a lot of surgery and transplants and all that stuff, you wind up with pounds of records. I have a crate full of my medical records which I keep in the car because who know who will want to see them? And there’s a lot of stuff NOT in there, too. All the information from when I lived in Israel and before that, in New York (before computers, too). So much stuff, I don’t remember a lot of it.

I’m thinking about it. Not an easy decision.

Meanwhile …

On one side of our loveseat, there are three tables. One holds a very small lamp that’s almost always on. The middle one used to be part of my bedroom set, but moved to the living room when it didn’t fit in the bedroom. It’s really ugly, one handle is missing, and it’s covered with bills that need paying, others that need filing, miscellaneous odds and ends for which I have no “home” –my extra eyeglasses and all the paperwork for medical plans I am fully intending to read. Any day now.

The final table is empty. That’s where I put my computer. I have a lapdesk to work on, but when I move the computer, that is its home. It’s an old piece and if I refinished it, it might actually be quite nice, but right now, it’s just old and worn out.

To find an affordable table that’s 48 inches long, about 16 or 17 inches deep and standard table height has turned out to be a challenge. I think I’ll wait until spring and do yard sales when everyone is trying to get rid of their old stuff.

For reasons I find incomprehensible, everyone is selling “retro” television platforms that are exactly the right size. The problem is, these were ugly when they first came out. I’m betting they’ve been warehoused since the mid-fifties and someone said: “Hey, let’s make some more money, call them “retro” and sell them now. Retro is very “in” these days, right?” They are truly unattractive.

If that’s my choice, what I’ve got is already unattractive — and I own it, so it’s free. If ugly is what is available, I guess that’s the way it’ll be. These are the days when I wish I had some carpentry skills. I could just build a box of the right size, throw a cover over it and VOILA!

Maybe a few wooden crates?

MY OLD NEIGHBORHOOD – Marilyn Armstrong

I grew up in a semi-rural nook in the middle of Queens, New York. The city had surrounded us leaving a tiny enclave walking distance from the subway.

The house was more than a hundred years old. It had been changed by each family who had lived there, so much that I doubt the original builder would have recognized it. From its birth as a 4-room bungalow in the 1800s, by 1951 it had become a warren of hallways, staircases and odd rooms that could be hard to find.

96-Holliswood1954

It sat at the top of a hill amidst the last remaining mature white oaks in New York, the rest having fallen to make masts for tall ships. The shadows of the oaks were always over the house. Beautiful, huge and a bit ominous. Some of the branches were bigger than ordinary trees. I remember watching the oaks during storms, how the enormous trees swayed. I wondered if one would crash through the roof and crush me.

I was four when we moved into the house, five by summer. When the weather grew warm, I was told to go out and play. Like an unsocialized puppy, I had no experience with other children, except my baby sister and older brother and that didn’t count. Now, I discovered other little girls. What a shock! I had no idea what to do. It was like greeting aliens … except that I was the alien.

First contact took place on the sidewalk. We stood, three little girls, staring at each other. First on one foot, then the other, until I broke the silence with a brilliant witticism. “I live up there,” I said. I pointed to my house. “We just moved here. Who are you?” I was sure they had a private club into which I would not be invited. They were pretty — I was lumpy and awkward.

Oak woods

“I’m Liz,” said a pretty girl with green eyes. She looked like a china doll, with long straight hair. I wanted that hair. I hated mine, which was wild, curly and full of knots. She gestured. “I live there,” she pointed. The house was a red Dutch colonial. It had dark shutters and a sharply pitched roof.

A dark-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids was watching solemnly. “I’m Karen,” she said. “That’s my house,” she said, pointing at a tidy brick colonial with bright red geraniums in ornate cement pots on both sides of a long brick staircase. I’d never seen geraniums or masonry flower pots.

“Hello,” I said again, wondering what else I could say to keep them around for a while. I’d never had friends, but something told me I wanted some. We stood in the sunlight for a while, warily eyeing each other. I, a stranger. I shuffled from foot to foot.

Finally, I fired off my best shot. “I’ve got a big brother,” I announced. They were unimpressed. I was at a loss for additional repartee. More silence ensued.

“We’re going to Liz’s house for lemonade,” Karen said, finally. Liz nodded. They turned and went away. I wondered if we would meet again. I hadn’t the experience to know our future as friends were inevitable.

Summer lasted much longer back then than it does nowadays. By the time spring had metamorphosed into summer, I had become a probationary member of The Kids Who Lived On The Block. I did not know what went on in anyone else’s house. I imagined the lights were bright and cheerful in other houses. No dark shadows. No sadness or pain except in my scary world where the scream of a child in pain was background noise, the sound of life going on as usual. Behind it, you could hear my mother pleading: “Please, the neighbors will hear!” As if that was the issue.

Across the street, Karen’s mother was drinking herself into a stupor every night. The only thing that kept Karen from a nightly beating was her father. He was a kindly older man who seemed to be from another world. As it turned out, he would soon go to another world. Before summer was ended, Karen’s father died of a heart attack and after that, she fought her battles alone.

Three friends

October 1952

In the old clapboard house where I thought Liz led a perfect life, battles raged. Liz’s father never earned enough money and their house was crumbling. It legally belonged to Liz’s grandmother. Nana was senile, incontinent and mean, but she owned the place. In lucid moments, she always reminded Liz’s dad the family lived there on her sufferance. Where I imagined a life full of peace and goodwill, there was neither.

A lovely neighborhood. Fine old homes shaded by tall oaks. Green lawns rolling down to quiet streets where we could play day or night. I’m sure the few travelers who strayed onto our street, envied us.

“How lucky these folks are,” they must have thought, seeing our grand old houses. “These people must be so happy.”

I have a picture in my album. It’s black and white, a bit faded. It shows us sitting in Liz’s back yard. I’m the tiny one in the middle. A little sad. Not quite smiling.

We envied each other, thought each better off than ourselves. It would be long years before we learned each other’s secrets. By then, we’d be adults. Too late to give each other the comfort we’d needed as we grew up. Lonely in our big old houses, all those years ago.

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!