WE MADE IT – Marilyn Armstrong

The first thought I had this morning was “The phone is ringing. Answer the phone.”

Getting to the phone from bed is a stretch and a twist. I could make it easier if I moved my Disney “Someday my Prince will come” lamp. But this would also make it more difficult to turn the lamp on and off. Since I use my lamp more often than I answer my phone, the phone stays put.

Regardless, answering a ringing phone from a dead sleep is one of my more acrobatic moves. Most times, when it rings early in the day, it is either a telemarketer or a doctor’s office reminding me about an appointment. This time, it was a friend from whom I was glad to hear.

“Hey, Rob!” I said. You’ve got to love Caller ID.

“I’m alive,” he said. He sounded great. Considering he had just had two heart valves replaced during the previous week, that’s not such a small thing. I was amazed, delighted and impressed he sounded so perky and clear-headed.

Rob goes way back into the early teenage years of my life. We met at the college radio station. He was 13. I was 17. I felt very superior since I was obviously four years more mature than he was.

He always had a baby face, full of freckles. He still does, though the hair has become mixed with gray. Our lives have continued to intersect throughout the decades. When he was 14, he got cancer. He was treated. Went into remission. Decided to skip college because he figured he was going to die young.


He taught himself computer programming and morphed into a software developer. He learned to fly. Bought a small plane. I got to fly it too, even though it was a pretend flight as “co-pilot.”

It was fun, scary, and made me realize I love to fly. As a passenger. No piloting for me, unless I can grow my own wings.

He went to live in Brussels. I went to live in Jerusalem. Both of us came back and got married. My first husband — with whom we were all friends because he ran the college radio station where we met died following a mismanaged mitral valve replacement. I was married to Garry by then, having met Garry at that same radio station.

No exaggeration. Everything started there.

First dawn of spring 2017

So you can see why everyone in our crowd is more than normally nervous about heart valve replacements, even though Jeff’s death was at least partly his fault though I think more the result of an arrogant doctor who failed to take fundamental precautions during post-operative care.

Hearing from Rob was heartening. He had two valves replaced, the mitral and the aortic. He had previously, some years back, had a coronary bypass, so he was a little cranky this surgery. He takes exceptionally good care of himself — and his wife, Mira, would personally fight back death with her bare hands. I wouldn’t mess with her.

We had talked several times about surgeons, hospitals, mechanical versus tissue valves. I explained why I preferred tissue. No blood thinners and with all the other medical issues I’ve got, who needs to deal with potential bleeding issues too? Rob is not exactly free of other medical problems, either. He’s got his original cancer lurking. He will never run out of things to worry about.

Nonetheless, he sounded terrific. Alert. Alive. He had made it. If you live around here and you need serious heart surgery, I highly recommend Beth Israel. They are terrific. If there’s such a thing as a great hospital experience, you will have it there. I don’t say this lightly, having been resident in pretty much every one of Boston’s highly-regarded facilities.

It was deeply reassuring to not lose another friend. Given how small our “herd” has become, we try to grow closer. Because now, we really know time isn’t forever.

We are a strange herd of oddballs — musicians, writers, artists, mathematicians and more. Long may we live.


FOWC with Fandango — Forgive

I didn’t sleep at all last night. I don’t mean I slept restlessly. I mean I was awake the entire night. It was a variety of physical issues. As soon as I got one problem settled down, another popped up.

There are nights like this. Fortunately, not often.

Back in the day, it didn’t bother me very much unless I had a particularly difficult day at work. I’m getting too old to go a whole night without sleep. I’ve got stuff to do. Maybe I can send Garry can pick up a few things and we can defer this for one more day? Pick up a pizza for dinner?

It’s a sunny day! Not a bird was in the sky!

It started when I got to bed very late. Why? Because I was trying to read and respond to blogs — at least to the blogs for the people I consider online friends. I didn’t get to everyone, but at least I managed to get a bunch of them done. Everything else? Deleted. It’s in the Reader. Maybe I’ll find a free hour. Maybe.

My body has shifted all its daytime stuff to the middle of the night. Lots of trips to the bathroom make it hard to settle down — and that’s not the only thing. Everyone else does that stuff during the day. Me? Middle of the night which sometimes makes deep sleep treacherous. I had a reminder list rolling through my head, too. Call the Senior Center to make an appointment to get taxes done. Their times fill up quickly because it’s a free service from the AARP, something I appreciate with all my heart. I have never been any good at doing taxes, not in my entire tax-paying life.

The bright window

And then my legs cramped. I wrapped them in heating pads and after an hour or so, they stopped trying to curl up in weird knots. It’s strange to watch them when they do that. The tendons stand out and the feet curl upwards. It means I’m not drinking enough stuff with electrolytes in it.

Whenever I felt sleepy, my body did something inconvenient and occasionally, painful. My chest, which is still loose and crunches when I move, was particularly crunchy last night. My acid reflux was refluxing like mad because I’ve been trying to take fewer antacids, but my gut doesn’t agree. I think it is never going to get on that bandwagon.

Flowering Christmas Cactus

That I didn’t get into bed until well after 2 in the morning probably didn’t help. If I stay up late enough, I wake up. I am most sleepy around 2 in the afternoon. After I overcome that drowsiness, I get more and more wakeful, so by midnight when Garry is toddling off to bed, I’m ready to party. Well, you know. Not really party hearty, but my version of partying which mostly involves computers and writing and processing photographs. At least after night falls, I stop taking pictures.

So day rolled around again and it’s a beautiful one. Relatively warm with sunshine and blue skies.  The coffee is brewing. I know in an hour, I’ll be ready to crash.

Somehow, night and day have flipped around and that circadian rhythm has gone totally askew. My body thinks night is for doing stuff and except for the 2pm sleepy time, I never seem quite ready for sleep. This didn’t bother me much when I was young. I slept very little and it was okay. I could handle a day’s work on three or four hours of sleep, but as the years have advanced, I need sleep or I’m a train wreck.

At least I figure I’ll sleep tonight. In the recliner and in bed. I think I have a solid 12 hours of sleep waiting for me. I sure hope so. Time to call the Senior Center. Well, not quite yet. in another half hour. Meanwhile, coffee anyone?


So I looked at last year’s stats and realized I did well, stat wise. And I also posted more than 600 MORE pieces than I did in any previous year. That explains a lot of why I feel so pressured.

I understand there seems to be some kind of race to see who can post the most. I got a bit swept up in it. Whereas I used to post three posts a day and thought that was pretty good, the ante went up. Now I’m back down to four and working on getting back to three or even two.

My day starts off late. I sleep late. Not as late as some people I know, but I’m not a dawn riser because I get to bed late, too. Unless I am not feeling well, I like hanging out in bed in the morning. This particular morning I was up early because I was thirsty.

I went to the kitchen to get something cold and wet. While I was there, I sent the dogs out. They went out. They came back in. I gave them a treat which made them were happy.

Two well-fed Chickadees

Since I was up anyway, I looked to see what animals were on my deck and it turned out, there was a squirrel convention in progress.

All those seeds we spilled on the deck? The squirrels were cleaning up. Good squirrels! No birds yet, just squirrels. I could have tried taking pictures, but I chose to go back to bed. I know. Very lame, but I was tired.

Really getting into his food

When I did get up, a few hours later, I realized we had a lot of birds on the deck. Flocks of Chickadees and the Titmouse were flying at the feeder, grabbing seeds and flying off. They were on the feeder, in the trees, on the table, on the deck, on the railing — and in both feeders. It was a relatively warm, sunny day and they were eating their hearts out.

I took pictures. Before I got to take the SD chip to the computer, a Red-Bellied Woodpecker needed photographing. He didn’t stay long because the Chickadees were not going two days without eating because the woodpeckers took over.

I took more pictures. Then I took out the chip and put a new one in … and then there were even more birds, so I took more pictures. At that point, my need for coffee overcame all other needs.

I downloaded all the picture — all 140 of them. I hadn’t even left the house. I never did get around to backing up December. I guess I’ll do that tomorrow. Garry has one of his “old media guys” get-togethers tomorrow, so while he’s schmoozing, I’ll back up my computer. Unless I wind up taking more pictures. I also have to remember to give the dogs their heartworm meds.

And go grocery shopping. Because I didn’t go today.

Junco, one of the walking birds

Somewhere in there, I’ll write something, if I have the time. If not, the world will have to cope with a little less of me.

It’s no wonder I don’t have any time to do anything but blog, run errands, and catch a few hours of sleep. There isn’t enough time to do anything else. I’m pretty sure there’s gotta be a better way.

On a positive note, taking pictures of birds has saved me from an endless preoccupation with the horrors of the world. Our government, the rest of the world’s horrors, the condition of the planet, and the likelihood we’ll wind up without a planet we can live in slightly more than a decade. There’s a lot of potential obsessing in that bundle and I’m grateful to have something else to do with my brain.

Nuthatch with Chickadee

Tonight on television they were selling burial insurance. It was a very pushy ad. For free, you can get a copy of “Things to Take Do Before You Kick The Bucket” or something like that. It’s free! It gives you lists of stuff you need to deal with so you can be buried. Garry laughed. I laughed. We’ll deal with it when it happens. I refuse to sit and write-up lists of what to do before I die so my dying will be neat and tidy.

I lived a messy life. I might as well die a messy death.

FLUMMOXED AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

Flummoxed by Life, Rain, and Dawgz

It’s a great literary word and I love what it means. To be completely (pardon the expression) bamboozled. Stunned. Lost in the complexity. Wandering mentally aimless. Made mentally woolly by the ghosts of the past.

”Naked and alone we came into exile,” Thomas Wolfe wrote. ”In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth. . . . Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?”

And then he said … and he repeated it throughout the book: “Lost, o lost. Ghost, come back again.” By which he was remembering his dead brother.

I read this book– all of his books, actually — when I was 14 and 15. Those were my serious reading years.  Wolfe really spoke to me. “Look Homeward, Angel” was nearly 1000 pages of poetry. I don’t think I’d get through the first chapter today. My taste for poetry has withered on its vine. Even so, a really good poem grabs me by the heart.

A beautiful poem isn’t just words. It’s a cry to your soul and all of “Look Homeward, Angel” was a soul’s cry.

Duke on a rainy day

The thing that makes me bring up a book I haven’t read for nearly 60 years was that the main character in all of Wolfe’s books — especially his three early ones — was permanently flummoxed. The world meant little to him. He was never clear on where the boundaries between real and ghostly began or ended.


That’s how I felt then and sometimes today. It’s not dementia. That’s when I can’t remember a perfectly simple word because it has flown my mental coop and I have to find it on Google (how could I survive without Google?) … or just write around it until later when the word just shows up. Like a lost kitten who was hiding under the bed, the word looks at me and says: “What’s your problem? I was just under the bed. Didn’t you look there?”

This morning it was raining so hard I thought there was a strong wind blowing. I looked outside and realized the trees were shaking from the weight of water falling on them.

Gibbs was never housebroken. He got here, doped out where shit went and proceeded to become housebroken. Unless it rains. None of our three dogs likes rain, but Gibbs truly loathes it.

Snow? Not a problem. Cold? No worries. Light rain? Can handle that.

You want ME to go out THERE?
You go out. I’m home until it stops.”

Gibbs had already left a load for me in the kitchen, right next to the trash can. He’s very neat that way and never goes for a rug or anything soft. I threw the dogs out. Gibbs lay down in front of the doggy door and went limp. I had to lift his front end, push it out the door, then lift his butt (which seems to be growing) and pushed it out, too. Then I locked the door while I cleaned the kitchen and gave them fresh water.

They stood in front of the house. Dripping. Looking at me. Daggers to my heart. I let them back in, went to the bathroom and came back. Gibbs had saved a pile to remind me he is a proud, stubborn terrier. Amazingly, he also looked guilty and has spent the rest of the morning giving me his best “sad-eyed” look.  He knows he has done wrong, but if it rains like this again, guilt will not change him. At 11-years-old, this is not a dog with a lot of “give” in his nature. Much love, but little flexibility.

I could have gotten up earlier and tossed them out. I was tired. The bed was warm. Excuses, excuses.

I wasn’t flummoxed. I was tired, warm, and cozy — the lethal “stay in bed” potion. Pushing reluctant dogs out a dog door wasn’t on my list of “things I wanted to do.”

Life keeps getting livelier and I don’t understand how two long-since retired people could get so godawful busy this late in life. Life never seems to go where we want it to do, though sometimes —  maybe even often — it does something more strange, but better.

RUINED BY RETIREMENT – Marilyn Armstrong

Not all bad dreams are nightmares. I have dreams which are bad because they’re too close to reality for psychic comfort.

First up in last night’s doubleheader, I dreamed I urgently needed a shower. Okay, fine, soon as I get up, I promised my unconscious. Sheesh. It’s not that bad … is it?

The next round of REM sleep informed me I couldn’t fit into my jeans. That got me so upset I vowed if it turned out to be true, I would end it all by jumping head first into the bathtub off my shower chair. If that didn’t work, I’d have to get a new pair of jeans.

I tried waking up, then going back to sleep. Maybe it would shake off the dreams … but it didn’t work.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Leaving me feeling grubby with unbearably tight blue jeans. Was worse yet to come?

I decided not to lie around waiting for an answer I might not like. Dragging my reluctant body from the comfortable bed, I went straight for the dresser and pulled out my jeans. Shucking my nightgown, I stepped into them and discovered — oh joy! — they fit perfectly.

I would have done a victory dance, but I first needed to give cookies to starving puppies, start the coffee, and hit the shower. Today, I’m going to wear those jeans until I remember if I’m just going to sit around the house, I might as well go for something loose and stretchy.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Vanity and fashion have lost their power over me. Instead, it’s easy-to-launder, resistant to dog hair, and comfortable. Every time. I still think about putting on make-up, just to prove I can make myself look nice if I try …  can’t think of a reason. Garry genuinely doesn’t care. Unless someone is taking pictures and I don’t have a camera in front of it, it seems pointless and anyway, I’d only have to wash it off later.

Retirement has ruined me. Yet somehow, I love it. Retirement is good that way.


Miss Bonnie

Our dogs are early risers. Even before Duke came into our lives, Bonnie liked to let me know that it was morning and she needed a snack. She could not do Duke’s leap over the gate, but she could fling her considerable bulk against the gate to the point where the walls would shake.

Gibbs of the Long Nose

After Duke got here, we moved up to a new level. Duke leaps the fence while Bonnie and Duke wait on the other side, huffing and snorting. Duke then hits the bedroom door with a full body slam. Garry can’t hear it — or says he can’t hear it. Regardless, I’m sure if Duke keeps pounding on it, the door’s going to fall down. It’s not much of a door and enough pounding from The Duke will not improve it.

The dogs’ first foray into getting me up is generally around 6 in the morning. Why? Because they hear me get up and go to the bathroom. I’ve been known to try and avoid flushing in the hopes that they won’t hear me and I can go back to bed … but they have really good hearing. So I get up, give them each a biscuit, glare at them, and stumble back to bed. Then I lay there being as quiet as I can, lest they take any movement as a sign of my impending lively entry into their world.

The Duke
Photo: Garry Armstrong

I drift back to sleep. At around 7, Duke hits the door for the second time. I get up, give them a very small biscuit and slink back to bed and generally get another hour, at which point the phone rings. That call would be (1) a pharmacy to tell us a prescription is ready, (2) a doctor to remind me that someone has an appointment three days from now in late afternoon, or (3) no one –my favorite call.

I sigh, wait for a hit on the door, get up, tell the dogs to shut up, they aren’t getting another biscuit and go back to bed. For one hour.


Duke is back.


I get up. I give them the smallest biscuit I can find and switch on the coffee. I’m know I’ll be back but at least when I get up in an hour, the coffee will be ready.

Life is better when the coffee is ready. Just saying.

The problem is that the dogs don’t stay up late watching old movies or reading books. While we are doing that, they are sound asleep. They only start to wake up when we get ready to go to bed. That’s when they leap into action because … you got it … IT’S BISCUIT TIME AGAIN!

They get one full-size big crunchy from Garry and then they get one small (but much tastier) one from me.

Garry is impressed at how Duke is fully engaged with him from the moment he opens the bedroom door and for every other minute of the remaining day. If he goes in for a shower, Duke will be sitting outside the door. Waiting. When Garry gets up to do anything, all three dogs follow him. Well, to be fair, they follow me, too. It’s a parade.


Maybe what we need to do is keep them awake all evening so they will sleep late too? The problem is, when they’ve decided to sack out, nothing wakes them up. Nothing. They go completely limp and respond only to food. If they are in full sack-out mode, they have been known to sleep through an occasional biscuit, too.

Something’s got to give. I suppose I can quit going to bed at all and simply nod off on the sofa. It would at least save our door from destruction. Then, they can do what they enjoy the rest of the time.

Which is to bite my feet. They really love doing that.


Alarm clocks are no longer a big thing in this house. There was time when every day — minus (maybe) Sunday was an alarm day. Garry didn’t need a clock. His head knew when he should get up, but I needed to at least set the clock, even if I woke up before it went off.

Frog has returned.

We got up. We didn’t whine about it either. It was one of Garry’s more lovable traits that if he had to get up, he just did it. He didn’t go into the rolling over and crying for mercy from on high because it was too early. He knew that when you had to get up, do it. No amount of begging would help.

The green, green of home. There are a few lily buds in there. No, really, there are.

For the last week, there have been “things to do” in the morning. People to see and call. Wait for so when they don’t show up, you can start trying to figure out what happened, then do it again.

We still have columbine, but it is finally fading.

The last time I had to do this — to meet the guy who is supposed to fix our front door — he neglected to arrive. It was also the day of James Comey’s Senate testimony. When the guy didn’t show up, I — at least — had another reason for getting myself moving. We rescheduled for today … and here I am.

Triumph is the day’s theme. It’s hard to find anything about which to feel genuinely triumphant, except maybe that this is the second day of bright sunshine in a region that has been starving for sun. I would have preferred a period of cooler weather before the real heat of summer hit, but you don’t get choices with weather. It does what it does and you are glad if it isn’t dropping a few feet of snow, blowing a gale, or doing a whole “torrential rain” thing.

Pink petunias

It’s going to be a hot one today, probably mid nineties. I’m trying to decide if I should turn on the air conditioning now, or wait until it gets truly unpleasant. There’s always the “save money on electricity and wait until you have no choice” versus the “do it now and keep the house cool from the start” option. I’m tempted to cool it down n the hopes of eliminating some of the ragweed that’s drifting through the air.

Orange hanging begonias on the back deck

While I was out yesterday, contemplating our lack of flowers, we got ourselves in gear in the latter part of the afternoon and went to the local nursery in Mendon for some flowers. No one had flowers in their garden, but the ragweed is in full bloom. Swell.

Usually, I can buy flowers in town. There’s a small flower shop. Not a nursery, but it sells beautiful plants on racks and on tables for a few months in the spring and later in the fall. I think they have a nursery outside of town. Not this year, though. Too cold, too rainy. And the stuff the grocery store is selling looks depressed and raggedy.

To be fair, the stuff at the nursery only looked a bit better. It hasn’t been a good year for the flowers. The complete lack of lilies and roses in my yard is a clear indicator of that. Maybe the flowers are politically depressed, too. I spent a good couple of hours yesterday taking some pictures and hoping to find some buds at least. A few lily buds, nothing noteworthy on the roses. And these are hedge roses. They always bloom. Always. It’s their thing. Blooming and growing the ugliest, sharpest, barbed-wire thorns on earth.

More orange begonias

Triumph is not the word of the day or the week or the year. There’s been nothing triumphant about 2017 in the U.S. It’s been a depressing grind, with ugly politics and ugly politicians. Too much rain, too much heat. Too much or too little of just about everything from the turning of the year to today.

I’m counting on the warm weather to somehow make it better. Owen is cutting the grass and I can smell it from here, that wonderful scent of green in the air. I’ve got two orange, hanging begonias out back. I wanted fuchsias, but they really wanted to offload these begonias — I must have looked like someone who could nurse an ailing plant back to life. They had caterpillars on them and I spent a miserable few minutes removing caterpillars, spraying poison, adding fertilizer, watering, and trying to make these sad plants perk up. They’re out on my back porch hooks. I may go back for at least one real fuchsia. A summer without them is like … well … a summer without fuchsias!