SMILING FACES, SOUR CHERRIES – Marilyn Armstrong

Bad days are like sour cherries. Even in a great batch of fruit, you hit some duds. As you munch, you’re going to get some berries that are overripe, sour, or bitter. You bite into them, make a face, and put them aside. You don’t eat them because they don’t taste good.

Life is like this. Day follows day. Some days suck.

The past couple of years have been difficult. Too many bad days, too many days of feeling helplessly enraged by events far beyond my control. Too much anger in me and in the air and all around. Too many prices going up while our incomes never change.

I suppose I could have smiled on through, but I didn’t want to, any more than I felt like eating sour cherries. I had a right to be angry and saw no reason to pretend otherwise.

Was I wrong?

I don’t think so. People who care about us will cut us some slack. Leave us emotional space to get over what’s bothering us and what’s more, they should. You’d do it for them, wouldn’t you?

The whole “stay positive” thing is out of control. If the proponents of permanent smiles are to be taken seriously, no one will ever frown again. No tears, no sadness, no anger. Ever. There will be one acceptable emotion. Happiness. We will all wear a Happy Face. Happy, happy, happy. No matter what. Has anyone read or seen The Stepford Wives?

Original 1960 George of the Jungle cartoon

So, what’s your problem? Losing your home to foreclosure? Got cancer? Heart Disease? No job? No prospects? Don’t be mad or sad. You’ll be fine. No matter what those doctors are saying, no matter that you don’t have a place to live. Or a life. Or a future.

According to the proponents of Happy Face, no problem is so big it can’t be overcome with a positive attitude and a bright smile. I’m betting most of the people who believe in Happy Face have never confronted an intractable problem. One day, their fake smiles will catch up with them. They will crash and burn. The corners of their mouths will turn down and their faces will shatter on impact.

I’m not suggesting we all walk around sneering, sulking, and grumpy, but we need to be allowed to express what we feel. Otherwise, life becomes a total fake.

GREAT TEACHERS: A VERY LONG DEFERRED THANK YOU – Marilyn Armstrong

In the course of my school days, I had a handful of great teachers to whom I will be eternally grateful. They taught me to learn, to love reading, to make up stories and write them down. To write non-fiction that was complete, accurate and unbiased. To find humor in physics. To love history, religion, archaeology, philosophy and the mysteries of our world.

They encouraged curiosity, imagination and creative thinking.

This is P.S, 35. It’s still there, but I’m not.

Mrs. Schiff, a 4th-grade teacher at P.S. 35. She suggested I write “diaries” of historical people and put myself into their worlds. Thank you. You encouraged me to write and find other worlds.

Dr. Silver, who taught English Literature and Linguistics at Jamaica High school. He forced me to parse sentences and respect punctuation and grammar while making me laugh. His doctorate in Linguistics helped him make our language intriguing, like a giant mystery to unravel. I’m still unraveling it.

Dr. Feiffer — my high school physics teacher — taught me, the least mathematically inclined student ever, could be fascinated by science. I never got together with numbers, but I learned to love science and I still do. The logic of it, the truth of it, the importance of it have stayed with me an entire lifetime.

Professor. Wekerle, head of Hofstra University’s Philosophy department. He believed in me. He taught phenomenology, History of Religion, Philosophy of Religion, but more importantly, saw through my bullshit. The first — and ONLY professor to give me a grade of D-/A+ … D- for content, A+ for style. He didn’t let me get away with anything. He made me fill in all those leaps of logic even though I whined vociferously that “everyone knows that stuff.”

Hofstra in 2014

Wekerle said “No, they don’t. You know it. Now tell them about it.” And I did and from that, I extracted a 40-year career.

I got what so much from these overworked and underpaid teachers who were dedicated to teaching dunderheads and wise-asses like me to think, write, research and love learning. Bless them all. The gifts they gave me were precious beyond words!

PEOPLE SAY THE NICEST THINGS! – Marilyn Armstrong

How often have you wondered whether you should say “thank you” or punch that person in the mouth? Insults I understand, but the compliments that really aren’t, baffle me. Is it personal ambivalence? Is it possible they don’t understand the difference between a compliment and meanness? Or, for that matter, an insult?

As a child, my mother comforted me with her classic lines. Somewhere in my head, I can still hear her. A lonely (probably odd) child, it took me a long time to find my social self. Mom would reassure me in her special way: “There’s someone for everyone,” she told me. “Even you.”

Then there was the clothing my mother made for me. It was gorgeous, fashionable. Far better quality than the other girls wore. The Mean Girls are nothing new and my schools were full of them. “Eww! Where did you get that ugly dress?” In later years, I realized their clothing was totally tacky, but at nine or ten, I didn’t get it.

As a young woman, I put on a lot of weight. Before I got rid of that hundred and fifty pounds, there were some great lines from friends who knew the perfect words to brighten my day: “You dress really nice for a fat girl” and “I don’t think of you as REALLY fat.” And let’s not forget “You are the first person of Jewish persuasion I’ve ever met.” Were they living in a fish tank or was it merely Uxbridge? Needless to say, Garry and I are THE integration for the town.

Later on, no longer fat, compliments have streamed in nonstop: “I thought you were a nun. Don’t you own anything that isn’t black?”

My all-time favorite came from the woman who was unsuccessful in marrying my first husband. Had he lived longer, she might have worn him down. She was baffled by my apparent popularity with men. “I’m very nice to them,” I said. “I make them feel special and loved.” There was more to it than that, but that was plenty. Snarkiest woman who ever trod the earth.

“I do that too,” she whined. (No, she didn’t.) “But,” she continued, getting ever more nasal, “How come they marry you?” I probably could have come up with a good line of my own.

Finally, the clincher. After I published my book, “It was much better than I expected.” What were you expecting?

Classic back-handed Compliments for every occasion:

“You look great, for your age.”

“I love your new hairstyle! It suits you so much better.”

“That’s such a difficult degree, I never thought you’d study that.”

“You look so good in photos, you always pose the same way.”

“That’s a wonderful photograph, you must have a really fancy camera.”

“I wish I could just let my kids watch TV all day like you do.”

“You have such a lovely smile, you don’t even notice the acne.”

In 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attempted to compliment Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (a woman) in a speech at Dhaka University on her terrorism policy.

“I am happy that Bangladesh Prime Minister, despite being a woman, has declared zero tolerance for terrorism,” Modi said.

It’s even better when it goes international.

WHEN BONES DON’T KNIT – Marilyn Armstrong

Yesterday morning, I dropped the mouse for the computer in the bedroom. I reached down to pick it up and a pain shot through my chest, down my arm and I yelped.

I had a lot of heart surgery more than five years ago. Most of it has healed well. The thing that hasn’t healed properly is my breastbone. Surgeons split it in half when they work on your heart. Normally, it will take between 2 and 6 months to knit into a single unit. Mine didn’t knit, so it’s still a two-piece breastbone. Healed, but not knitted and held together with steel wire. Apparently, no medical technology exists that can convince a bone to knit if it doesn’t want to.

Typically, this is a problem on joints that cannot be immobilized — ribs, breastbone, shoulders, spine. And, I should mention that when one of these is broken, you discover that every single other thing in your body is connected to it. So it has been for the past two days. Moving really hurts. But only at certain angles while using my right arm.

I’m a rightie. Of course.

It seems a little better today than yesterday, but it’s still crunching with each breath I take. I can hear it through my inner ear. Creepy.

Every doctor I talked to assured me — energetically — that it would heal in three months. When after three months, it hadn’t healed, they said “Definitely by six months.”

When more than a year had passed, they shrugged, pointed out that there’s nothing they know of that will make a bone knit if it doesn’t feel like knitting. Nope. No glue. The only thing they could do is open me up and rewire me. “Why, ” I asked, “Would that improve the quality of my life?”

My doctor — my personal physician — shrugged. “It wouldn’t. Personally, I wouldn’t do it.”

It’s more than five years later, heading rapidly into six years. My chest still crunches when I breathe and sometimes pops out of place when I lift something with my right arm. It sometimes makes breathing pretty unpleasant and my right shoulder doesn’t like me anymore.

Meanwhile, I’m held together by some pretty tough steel wire. Doctors always seem so sure what will happen after the surgery. Except in my experience and for a lot of other people, it doesn’t necessarily go that way. Nerves don’t “calm down.” Bones don’t knit. You are left with a lot of weird problems you were sure were going to be gone. If at least the major part of the surgery worked, then I suppose it’s better than where you were at the start. I always want to trust my doctors because they mean well, but they aren’t me. So these days, I understand just because they believed it when they said it doesn’t mean it will happen that way.

FEARLESS – Marilyn Armstrong

Just as pain warns our bodies that something is wrong, fear warns our brains to be cautious. Excessive or unreasoning fear can cripple us, make us unable to do anything at all. Phobias can eliminate some activities entirely.

75-MountainsStream-HP-1

If you are terrified of heights, sky-diving and mountain climbing are likely to be non-starters. If you are scared to death of insects, forget that jungle exploration trip down the Amazon!

But normal fear based on a sensible understanding of a situation keeps us from doing dumb stuff. From climbing that rickety ladder, from diving off the cliff into the rocky, shallow water below.

I think, in the context of my life, I have done many things others might have thought dangerous, but weren’t. All the dangerous things in my life were medical and happened to me, not because of me.

I can’t think of anything I would have done — that I wanted to do — but rejected because of fear. I pretty much did what I wanted. On the whole, it worked out fine. What didn’t work out?

I had terrible judgment about men until I finally got my head together. I was stupidly trusting of people and sadly, I think I still am stupidly trusting. These days, at least I try to do the research before I get ripped off. And, I’ve been excessively generous to people who did not deserve it.

Fear never entered the equation, but maybe it should have. My problems generally involved a failure to think things through. Being smart doesn’t mean you actually use your brains.

FIRST, FORGIVE YOURSELF AND THE REST WILL FOLLOW – Marilyn Armstrong

One Sunday in church, Pastor’s sermon was about forgiveness. He asked everyone in the church to stand up. Then he asked those who had any enemies to sit down. Everyone sat down but one very old woman.

“You have no enemies at all?” asked Pastor.

“Not a single one,” she answered, nodding her agreement.

“Please, come up here and tell everyone how you reached such a great age without having any enemies,” said Pastor. A deacon accompanied the elderly woman to the pulpit and everyone in church applauded as she slowly made her way up the steps. The pastor adjusted the microphone.

“You must have done a lot of forgiving,” said Pastor. “Please, tell us your secret.”

The old lady smiled beatifically.

“I outlived the bitches,” she said.


Life marches on. You get older and after a while, you realize all the people you used to obsess over, the people who hurt you, are gone. By the time you pass 70, a lot of people have disappeared from your life. Good ones you loved and the evil ones you hated. The sickly ones with bad hearts.

Chickens come home to roost.

Crazy drivers meet their maker on a dark highway. Heavy drinkers, smokers, drug users find a sad end. It turns out that hating them was a waste of energy. Cancer, heart attack, and other diseases weed out people, the best and the worst, remorselessly and without no regard for personal qualities. Meanwhile, the older generation passes away, one funeral at a time.

Roaring Dam: Photo: Garry Armstrong

Time makes most of the fears and worries of living less important. It turns out, forgiveness is not about repairing relationships so you can be friends again. It’s all about letting go. Passing all that negative crap to your “higher power,” whatever that means to you. Acknowledging that you can’t fix everything and you might as well stop trying.

Realizing it’s not your job to fix it. It never was. Everyone told you that … even your mother, but you weren’t listening.

Shit happens. Some of it — unfair and unforgivable — happens to you. You can make it the center of your world and spend your life brooding and obsessing over it. Or, you can decide you won’t be defined by the worst stuff that happened to you — or the worst stuff you’ve done.

I know people who had wonderful careers full of honor and respect who lost their jobs and promptly declared themselves failures as if the one negative event — getting let go — negated everything which had gone before.

I know men and women who were abused as children who still define themselves as victims — 50 or 60 years later. They can’t let it go. I think — and I could be entirely wrong — that they are waiting for the chance to tell “the bad people” how awful they were. Get it all off their chest once and for all. The problem is, it doesn’t happen in real life. That’s movie stuff. In real life, the bad guys stay bad, never apologize, never admit they were wrong, never own up to anything.

Best choice? Love yourself. If you feel good about you, you can be pretty happy no matter what life throws at you. It’s that simple — and that difficult. If you begin the process of forgiving, forgive yourself first.

Forgive yourself for the mistakes you made, for the bad choices, the stupid decisions, the asshole(s) you married, almost married, allowed to mess with your head.

 

The jobs you screwed up, shouldn’t have taken, should have taken (but didn’t). The opportunities you blew. The unfinished manuscripts still lying dusty in the box in the basement, the unpublished stories that never went to an editor. The times you were wrong and didn’t apologize. Your failures as a parent, the books you didn’t read. All the “shoulda coulda woulda” you’ve accumulated.

If you throw it all out, you won’t eliminate all your problems. The money you don’t have won’t suddenly show up in your bank account. Youth and health won’t return. But, you don’t have to haul the past with you into the future and you can enjoy what you do have without obsessing over what you missed.

The sooner you do it, the better. Life isn’t forever, even if you live entirely on salad and never miss a day of exercise.

With a little luck, you’ll outlive the bitches.

WALLOWING IN THE PAST – Marilyn Armstrong

An endless recitation of woes are giving me migraines. It’s not that I lack sympathy. More like I’m emotionally exhausted. So many people are stuck in a pit of youthful misery. Bad childhoods, terrifying ex-marriages or other horrible relationships. Or worse, they want to write. They need to write, but they can’t. The words won’t come.

So don’t write. It’s not as if you are legally obligated to be a writer. If it isn’t working out, give it up. Do something else. Anything else.

Don’t they want to move on?

Apparently not. The quagmire of despair has become a comfortable, homey place. So they set up a desk, computer, and light and there they stay. Some of these bloggers continue exploring the depths of their suffering for hundreds — thousands? — of posts. Many are closing in on Social Security yet are still suffering from childhood trauma. So much for time casting a rosy haze over the past. Even if you haven’t solved your problems, it doesn’t mean you can’t just let them go. There will be new tragedies down the road and plenty more misery to come. I can pretty much guarantee it.

There ought to be an official cutoff date at which point you are required to close the book on whatever dreadful experience life dealt you during your wretched childhood and ghastly former relationships. Or at least after the passage of one full lifetime, you should be required to find some other subject about which to write.

we are not our mistakes

Sometimes I think it’s because they’ve found an audience for their posts about suffering and it’s their fallback position. Can they really be enmeshed in the same memories after thirty or forty years have passed?

I know lots of people who were abused as children. Hell, I wrote a book about it and because of that, I had total strangers telling me their stories. I suppose I deserved it. If you write a book on the subject and people read it, you can’t blame them for thinking you might be interested.

Now, let’s add in all those who had abusive relationships as adults. Isn’t that everyone? Who hasn’t had a terrible relationship or three? I plead guilty on all charges, your honor.

It was my first husband (before you ask, he died) who strongly suggested I might want to move in a different direction.  Of course, this was before my second marriage, the one in which I managed to step in front of the same bullet I’d previously dodged.


NOTE TO SELF: No one is ever too old to behave like a moron.

You have to want to move on.

It takes time and work, but I’m glad I (finally) did it. There have been plenty of new traumas to cope with. I doubt I’d have survived if I hadn’t cleared the decks. I’m overloaded. I cannot read another angst-laden tale of abuse and trauma. I’m know how awful it can be. Been there. I support all efforts to free oneself from the lingering effects of the past — but I’ve got a few problems and plenty of personal angst. If I can, I’d rather make you laugh than cry.

Cardinal, well-fed!

For all of us, it’s time to stop defining ourselves as the worst things that happened to us. We are not what others did to us. We aren’t our mistakes. As much as we have suffered, surely we’ve also found at least a little bit of fun, joy, friends, and love.

Misery is like a piano falling on your head; happiness just creeps up on you. The result? Long after the people who hurt us have disappeared from our lives, they are still beating us up and the only one getting hurt is us.

Got any good jokes?

SORRY. IT’S MISSING – Marilyn Armstrong

In an endless attempt to clean up and store all the extra stuff in life, the final polish is to put it away permanently by finding a place for it which will be forever safe.


In the course of organizing my pictures, I lost this one. I have no idea how. I must have deleted it, but I didn’t do it on purpose.

Maybe while I was setting up a new computer and transferring files, this one fell between the chairs? Or got lost in some device, like maybe an ancient hard drive that no longer works. Or on an old DVD or floppy disk. Regardless, it is gone. I really liked it.

Path in the woods – A picture of a picture because I can’t find the original!

I have this picture because once upon a time, I printed this on canvas. I gave the picture away, but before I gave it away, I took a picture of the picture.

I lose things.

It’s not new. I have always had a habit of putting important items – papers, jewelry, lenses, cameras — in a safe place. Because, for some inexplicable reason, I have decided wherever it was, wasn’t safe enough. The problem is, wherever it previously was will be the place I remember it being. I will not remember the new, safer place I put it. If, indeed I put it anywhere and didn’t just put it down, go do something else, and forget about it completely.

The new, improved place to which I moved it is guaranteed to be a place I will never remember. It’s also possible I move things in my sleep. Yes, I sleepwalk. I know this because other people have seen me sleepwalking. Also, there are other things that only make sense if I did them in my sleep. No rational (or waking) explanation is possible.

The jewelry I found in the bottom of Garry’s underwear drawer? I’m pretty sure he didn’t put my necklace there. In any conscious state of mind, I would never put anything there, other than his underwear. Or, for that matter, the bundle of jewelry I discovered in the piano bench. Why would anyone put their jewelry in the piano bench? Even me?

The worst losses are accidental. I have something important in my hand. I need to do something else, so I put down. Temporarily. Life moves on. I meant to go back and deal with it, but I have a 15-second short-term memory, so if I put it down and don’t deal with it immediately, it could be in another universe.

The ONLY way I find this stuff is by retracing my steps. What rooms was I in? Could I have left it in Garry’s bathroom? My bathroom? Did I shove it in my camera bag? Which pants or jacket was I wearing? Have I washed it yet?

Occasionally, this results in finding the missing item. Mostly, it doesn’t, probably because the retracing was imperfect. And I forget about pockets. How many were there are and how much stuff you can shove into them.

Lost stuff can appear years later while I am hunting down something else that has gone missing. It can be a thrilling discovery … or it’s a duplicate of important papers I’ve already replaced.

A couple of friends of mine recently became widows. One of them strongly recommended I put our papers in order. Things like the deed to the house which I actually found by accident, so I know where it is. Garry doesn’t know where it is, but if I told him, he’d forget anyhow. Fifteen seconds isn’t nearly enough time. We have our birth certificates and our passports which will do in a pinch. I don’t have to worry about dealing with our fortune since there is none. In fact, it turns out all we will need — either of us — will be our birth certificates, social security cards, and a few passwords.

One sheet of paper in a manila envelope. I don’t even have to worry about the money needed to bury one or both of us because there is no burial money. Presumably, we WILL get buried, one way or the other. I think they have to do something with our corpses. Garry and I discussed this, then realized, “Why worry?” Garry is too old to buy life insurance (I think 75 is the cutoff) and I’m too sickly. For any price.

So we agreed to stop worrying about it. I figure the state has to do something with our bodies. I don’t think it’s legal to just leave us lying around and rotting. It might make an interesting TV show, though. Just a season or two. We could call it “What Should We Do With Mom?”

Too bad we aren’t allowed to be buried on our own property. We’ve more than enough room and our earth would be happy to have us. Meanwhile, I’m searching for that missing picture. Not all the time, but every time I’m in one of my storage drives. It may turn up, someday. Or not.

I’m pretty sure Garry has our birth certificates and passports. So we’re good to go, so to speak.

ONCE UPON A TIME, WE WROTE LETTERS – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry was saying he was taping an old movie, “A Letter to Three Wives.” He thought the whole concept of writing letters was kaput. No one writes letters anymore. We may dash off a note on a card, but a whole letter?

“When,” I asked Garry, “Was the last time you wrote a real letter.”

“When I wrote to you, in Israel?”

“Yup,” I said. “And the letters I wrote to you from Israel were the last personal letters I ever wrote.”

“Funny about that,” he said.

“Sure is,” I answered.

That was 1987.

FORTY LITTLE QUESTIONS – Marilyn Armstrong

Cheryl (aka, The Bag Lady) published a list of 40 questions labeled “odd things about me” that she received from her sister. 40 seems like a lot of questions, but they’re short and don’t require a whole lot of thought. Short works for me, so like Fandango, I figured I give them a try. I’ve got all this blog space coming up and my head seems rather empty of creative ideas. I added question 28. It seemed wrong to leave the list at 39.


1. Do you like blue cheese? Yes. But it’s an acquired taste. I like it on toast or crumbled in a salad.

2. Coke or Pepsi? Coke.

3. Do you own a gun? Nope.

4. What flavor of Kool-aid? Yuck.

5. Hot dogs? Garry loves them. I’ll eat them, but it’s not a favorite food.

6. Favorite TV show?Rake” was my favorite for a long time — and I’m still hoping they’ll put up one more year. At the moment? We are re-watching MidSomer Murders. But before that, Good Omens was really good — and before that? Lucifer. Whatever I’m binge-watching is probably my current favorite. 

7. Do you believe in ghosts? No.

8. What do you drink in the morning? Coffee.

9. Can you do a push-up? No. I’m afraid my heart will fall out.

10. Favorite jewelry? All my Native American jewelry. Especially earrings.

11. Favorite Hobby? Writing and photography. At this point, they are equal.

12. Do you have ADD? No, but I have lots of other cool chronic illnesses.

13. Do you wear glasses? Only when I need to see anything.

14. Favorite cartoon character? George of the Jungle.

Original 1960s George of the Jungle cartoon

15. Three things you did today? Ate, made dinner and listened to the thunder and the pelting rain mixed with sunshine. Weird weather.

16. Three drinks you drink regularly? Coffee, Coke, sports drinks, fruit juice.

17. Current movies? Haven’t been to the movies much and what I’ve seen hasn’t exactly overwhelmed me. Some of it’s not bad, but nothing seemed all that special.

18. Do you believe in magic? I wish. I’d like to believe, but I don’t.

19. Favorite place to be? Home.

20. How do you ring in the New Year? Watching the festivities at the Boston Hatch Shell and the fireworks. Kissing Garry while the dogs kiss us.

21. Travel? Where would you go? Paris, England (the parts I missed the first time), maybe the French wine country — then probably New Zealand. and, should I live that long, Australia.

Somewhere in Ireland

22. Name five people who will most likely read this? No doubt the same handful of people who read most of my stuff. There are obviously others, but I don’t know who they are.

23. Favorite movie? I have a long list: Casablanca, The Lion in Winter, Tombstone, A Mighty Wind … and so many others and almost anything made by Mel Brooks.

24. Favorite color? Deep blue at the moment, but it changes depending on my mood.

25. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets? No. They are slippery. The only time they were on the bed (not MY bed!), I fell out. As I said, slippery.

26. Can you whistle? No.

27. Where are you now? Home.

28. Where were you yesterday? Home.

29. Favorite food? Shrimp tempura.

30. Least favorite chore? Cleaning the toilets.

31. Best job you can think of? Best-selling novelist whose best-selling novel got sold to the movies for a buttload of money.

32. What’s in your pockets? Nothing. No pockets.

33. Last thing that made you laugh? Last night, rereading Terry Pratchett’s “Thud.”

34. Favorite animal? My dogs. But I’ve loved cats, horses, ferrets, and parrots, too.  

35. What’s your most recent injury? Lying wrongly while I slept — then having to get out of that position and stand up until all the parts fell back into place.

36. How many TV’s are in your house? Three, but the third one is leftover. Can’t get rid of it and refuse to pay to have it taken away.

37. Worst pain ever? Waking up after spine surgery. Followed by waking up after heart surgery.

38. Do you like to dance? Nope.

39. Are your parents still alive? No.

40. Do you enjoy camping? Only in a screened house and even then, I really hated the outhouse. I could deal with the rest of it. But now? I want hot water. A comfortable bed. And NO bugs.

LIVING IN TWO PLACES – Rich Paschall

A Tale of Two Cities, by Rich Paschall

A while back I saw this Daily Prompt question: “If you could split your time evenly between two places, and two places only, which would these be?”  Normally I am not a Daily Prompt kind of guy.  I am on the subscriber list, but usually by the time I read the email notice, it is a day or two later and I just delete.  This one sounded rather intriguing, so I stashed it away for later use.

St Petersburg bridgeWhat would you pick?  Would your home town be included?  Would your current residence be a choice?  Remember, in this scenario you can have any two cities.  Shall it be a northern city for summer and a warmer climate for winter?  I guess you can reverse that if you are in the Southern Hemisphere.  If you are close enough to the Equator, you have no need to move away from the cold.

Maybe you need somewhere exotic as one of your stops.  Fiji comes to my mind.  There must be somewhere in the South Pacific that is warm and inviting.  If you think we must be restricted to cities, then I will say that Nadi, Fiji has over 42,000 people so we will count it as a city rather than a village.  If your home is in Nadi, I guess you can still spend plenty of time on a beach on the other side of the island.

How about a European capital?  I have always found London inviting.  Author Samuel Johnson once famously stated, “…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”  I guess that could be said of many of the great cities of the world.  I found Rome, Paris and Brussels all to be interesting and vibrant cities.  I have not been to other European capital cities.  Perhaps our choice of two cities should include one unknown and one known.

If you have not been to the other side of the world from where you are, would you chose a city solely on the recommendation of others?   Would you do an internet search of other places, or strictly stay with what you know?

When my father retired and moved from the cold of the Midwest to Florida, I began to understand the attraction of what they called “snowbirds” in the South.  These were the people who kept their homes in the north, but spent the winters in the south.  I loved Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota and many of the Gulf cities.  I could see doing exactly that.  Perhaps your second city would be in another warm climate.  Arizona? Southern California? Hawaii?

Chicago Skyline

Chicago skyline from the museum campus

Actually, it did not take me long to settle on two spots.  When I eliminated the fantasies and considered what is most important, I knew the answers.  First would be Chicago.  It is a world-class city with world-class attractions.  It has major sports teams and fine stadiums, old and new.  It has theater and concert venues. The major shows and Rock and Roll acts make it here when they tour.  There is a lakefront that stretches the entire east side of the city, with open parkland, beaches and museums.

Al Capone does not live here.  We are not the murder capital of the country, we are not even in the top 10.  We do get a lot of publicity when there is crime.  Like every big city, we have big city problems.  I would say these problems are increased by the NRA suing the city over any attempt to keep guns away from gangs and criminals, but that is another column.  We have friendly people who celebrate diversity.

You may not have heard of my other choice.  I guess it is not really a city, but rather a small town of about 20,000 people.  It is in the beautiful Alsace region of France.  You will find small towns with ancient buildings sprinkled among the vineyards.  In the distance on top of some of the hills, you will find castles left from centuries ago.  If you say that this will not do, I must pick a larger “city,” I will move a short distance to the north and the lovely city of Strasbourg, capital of the European Union.

Selestat

Selestat, France

Why would I pick such completely different places on two different continents?  Why would I choose places that have  similar climates, where neither will escape the snow and cold?  How could I spend half a year in a big city and half in a small town which holds none of the major attractions?  The answer to me is quite simple.

The locale is no longer the most important consideration when deciding where to live.  At one time it may have been important.  When I am retired and tired of shoveling snow, maybe I would desire the warm weather locations.  Now it is about family and friends.  Aunts and cousins of various generations are here in Chicago.  Friends made recently and friends since childhood are here too.

In France is one of my best friends.  He spent a year here in 2009 and when he left we maintained our friendship through visits once or twice a year, here and in France.  When I go to France we always see things I have not seen before, so it is great adventure.  If he was somewhere else in France, then I would name that city instead.  Spending time with family and close friends, no matter where they reside, makes their locations the places I want to be.  For now my choices are Chicago, Illinois and Communauté de communes de Sélestat et environs.  Where are your two homes to be?

THE SECRET BUCKET LIST – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t have a bucket list. Until I saw the movie of the same name, the concept had never occurred to me. Most of the things I wanted to do, I’ve done. Except for the things no one can do …

That’s what’s on my secret list. The things I really want to do but I know aren’t real. But, in case they turn out to be real … here’s that list.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND US 1977 THE MOTHER SHIP CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND US 1977 THE MOTHER SHIP Date 1977. Photo by: Mary Evans/COLUMBIA PICTURES/EMI FILMS COLUMBIA PICTURES INDUSTRIES I/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection(10307178)

The Mother Ship — from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” 1977. Photo: Mary Evans – Columbia Pictures/EMI / Ronald Grant/Everett Collection (10307178)

WAITING FOR THE MOTHER SHIP

Since I first read a science fiction story, saw “Forbidden Planet” and “The Red Planet Mars,” I’ve been waiting for the big ship to come and take me away. I have slightly modified this so that they will come and take both of us away. To wherever they went in “Cocoon.” Where we become young again. And where we can leave the mortgage, bills, and problems behind. But we can bring the dogs and they can be young, too.

MEETING THE ANCIENT ONE

Somewhere out there in the dark of night, there is an ancient vampire. So old, he is nearly made of stone. He remembers Egypt, perhaps even ages before that. He will offer me eternity in exchange for living in eternal night. Will I accept? I’ve only gotten as far as the offer. I have yet to determine my answer. I’m still thinking about it.

DISCOVERING MY POWERS

Magic is real and I can do it. I just never realized it until one day, in the kitchen, while mixing up a batch of my internationally renowned chili, I accidentally conjured a spell of enormous, overwhelming power. No longer a sickly senior citizen on a fixed income, I could rule the world. I’ll settle for living in peace. At the very least, I can probably make enough money to pay the bills and have something left over.

Money or not, magic would be the greatest adventure of all, would it not?

wormhole

THE WORMHOLE

There it is, the time tunnel. It has been there the whole time and I never knew it. That’s the problem with having such a heavy bed. I can’t move it aside, so I didn’t see the wormhole. It’s a good one that will let me travel to other dimensions or any-when. Talk about adventure!

I promise not to try to change anything. I just want to go hang out in the past and watch. I’m sure Garry would be happy to join me. Does anyone have a couple of Babblefish they can spare?


While I’m waiting for these things to happen, I’m still hoping someone will invent a workable transporter. Because however unlikely it may be, nothing is entirely impossible.

LOSING OUR LEGACY – Rich Paschall

Traditions, RICH PASCHALL

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no?

The strength of many schools, churches and community organizations lies in its rituals and traditions.  They provide a constancy that is reassuring to students, members, and alumni.  While traditions may seem a bit crazy to some, to most they are cherished as part of their heritage.  Those who do not honor tradition are likely to incur the wrath of those who want to find comfort and solace in the reassurance that traditions may bring.

When traditions remain constant throughout the years, they begin to bring identity to organizations.  The school, recreation program, and community center become known for their special features and regular activities.  Identity leads to purpose and purpose leads to dedication and commitment.  Maintaining what you have been good at through the years is important to gathering loyalty.

And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you
in one word… Tradition.Fiddler 73

Consider the years you went to elementary school or high school.  If you should return to those institutions you are likely to ask if they have the same tournaments and games.  You may ask about the basketball, football or baseball teams.  You may want to know if the school still has the Arts Festival, Chorale and Band concerts.  You may be interested in whether the big annual show is still produced, even if you were not actually a part of the shows.  These were traditions and you want to know if they are still alive.

Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years.

Long lasting and enjoyable traditions will find support in parents and alumni.  Just as everyone wants to feel that they have a purpose and identity, they also want to see that their schools, parks and community organizations maintain an identity and purpose as well.

While some graduates may always feel that their years, their programs and participation were the best years of a school or organization, they will nonetheless support an organization with their word of mouth praises, and perhaps even their dollars, in order to keep the traditions alive.

Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.

It is true that some remain a part of their school or recreational program throughout their entire lives.  As students become young adults and then parents, they may feel it important to maintain a relationship to those places that were important to them when they were young.  They may even wish to send their children to these same schools and programs.  That is how strong the bond of tradition can be.

Not long ago, a former community resident passed away at the age of 90.  From the time I was a child at the local Boys Club until just a few years ago, this dedicated woman was always at the carnivals, festivals, and fund-raisers of all sorts.  It was her passion to be a part of the traditional events each year.  The value of her volunteer service cannot be calculated.  The importance of the traditions she helped to maintain was something beyond measure, to her and everyone who knew her.

Unfortunately, leadership comes along in the life of some schools and community groups who do not understand the importance of what they have.  They set about changing things for no other reason than change.  These types of people can quickly tear down what took generations to build.  A decade of bad leadership can wipe out a lifetime of good will and dedication.

When I returned to certain alumni events in recent years, I was disheartened to see the lack of concern for the past.  It is not that we were better than anyone else, but it is that we had an identity in our long cherished events.  For our school, it was the Fine Arts.  The Fine Arts meant nothing to recent leaders which was disheartening to many of us.

When you walk the halls of an old and venerable institution, you like to see the pictures, trophies, artwork and sayings of the past.  It is discouraging to know that the school song is unimportant, the traditions are gone and the leadership is oblivious to its importance.  When someone takes away your tradition and legacy, it is time to move on.

Tradition. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!

FINEST DAY OF THE WEEK, DEPENDING ON HOW YOU LOOK AT IT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Finest

Duke did not steal it. I blamed him, although he was noticeably unruffled by being blamed since he does not consider stealing small plastic objects he can chew as something shameful. It’s just delightfully crunchy. Pill bottles (empty), DVD covers, other miscellaneous containers — and two pairs of kitchen scissors plus Garry’s red mouse. I knew it was him. It had fang marks. Garry may chew, but he has no fangs, at least that I know about.


We had errands to run today. It’s May 2nd or (depending on the day) late winter. I put on my sweat pants, turtleneck sweater, wool socks, shoes, and my peacoat. I should have also worn a hat because — yes — it was raining.

How unusual.

Garry asked if I was ready to go, so I closed my computer, grabbed my little camera and tucked it into my bag and off we went. We had to sign papers at the insurance company, mail some stuff to the Town of Uxbridge (to prove we still live here), and go grocery shopping.

All of which we did. When we got home and I unpacked the groceries and put everything where it belonged, I called Owen to tell him to pick up his mail — and by then it was past the dog’s dinner time and a little past ours, too, I took out my computer and turned it on. I had a few bills to pay. Nothing big, which is why I had to pay them. It’s the little ones I forget.

But I couldn’t do anything because my mouse had vanished. Both Garry and I stared at The Duke who appeared to wonder what the problem was. He has previously stolen two pairs of kitchen scissors and had eaten Garry’s mouse. So who wouldn’t assume he’d also eaten mine? Any dog owner would have assumed the same thing, right?

With a flashlight, we examined the underside of all the furniture (dirt, all that dirt), the dog crate (where we had previously found both pairs of scissors and Garry’s mouse). Nothing.

The Duke

And then, looked at my end table where I keep the computer, my big external drive and about a dozen chargers for miscellaneous camera batteries. My little camera was sitting there, in its case.

But. I put my camera in my bag, lest there be a picture to take. IF my little camera was on the end table — what did I put in my bag?

Suddenly, I knew. It was my mouse.

Totally humiliated, I extracted my mouse, mumbled about getting REALLY old and moved on with life.

Out of the whole week — and it was one hell of a week — this was my finest day. It was perfect.  This was possibly the finest hour of my finest day. I had both of us crawling around the floor looking for the mouse that I’d put in my bag because I thought it was my camera. It looks nothing like my camera. It’s not in a case, for one thing. It weighs a few ounces while the camera is almost a pound.

Camera and mouse

My body did something completely different than my brain was perceiving. This worries me. How many other things am I doing that I don’t know I’m doing? Until they call me and tell me I didn’t pay the bill, I really don’t know.

You can’t make this stuff up. Even if you try. (And why would you try?)

My doctor says I am not sinking into dementia. I know because I asked him. I believe he replied by saying, “Not a chance!” As if I had was hoping for a cure from life and he was giving me the bad news with which I would have to cope.

The dog really did not do it. I done it. Myself.

Sorry, Duke. You did eat Garry’s mouse. You left DNA with the fang marks.

PET PEEVES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

  1. ONE PLY TOILET PAPER

Don’t people realize that you have to use twice as much one-ply as two-ply so you end up not saving any money? And that’s not taking the comfort factor into consideration.

My master bathroom toilet paper roll

2. OVER OR UNDER

On the subject of toilet paper, it’s OVER people! The patent application for the toilet paper holder shows the roll going over, not under.

My toilet paper decor in the powder room

3. WEATHER CHANGES

I’ve been checking the weather regularly and we’ve had an unseasonably warm spell. The one day I forget to check, the temperature dips 25 degrees and I freeze my buns off in my unsuitably light clothes!

 

  1. FOOD DISAPPOINTMENTS

Some days I wake up thinking about the cinnamon sugar croissant at my local bakery. It’s amazing! It’s one of the few things that can make me break my perpetual diet (I’m on Prednisone and gained ten pounds last year). I look forward to this sugary treat all the way to the store – and they’re out! I can taste the disappointment and it’s nothing like my beloved croissant.

This doesn’t look half as delicious as my favorite treat!

  1. SLEEPLESS AT DAWN

My dogs wake me around 6 AM to feed them. I stagger downstairs and go through their morning routine in a sleepy haze. I stumble back to bed and fall right back to sleep. Except when I don’t. There are days when, for some reason, I wake up completely somewhere between the bedroom and the kitchen. I am suddenly full of energy. This is a problem because I go to bed around 1 AM and I need more than five hours sleep to get through the day. So I lie awake thinking of things that agitate or depress me and just exacerbate the situation. Finally I’ll fall back to sleep, but that sleepless hour or two is SO annoying! Chronic insomnia must be unbearable.

  1. FORGETFULNESS

I’ve put a reminder on my phone that’s set to go off the same time every day to make sure I don’t forget to take my medicines in the morning. (I never seem to forget at night). I don’t forget often anymore, so I’ve gotten used to turning off the reminder each day after I’ve taken my meds. But now I’m so used to turning off the reminder, that I turned it off automatically the other day even when I hadn’t taken my meds.

I forgot to take my pills but I turned off the reminder anyway. On Autopilot. Something is wrong with this system – or is it just me?

  1. LAZY GUARD DOG

One of my dogs, Lexi, is my self-assigned protector. She sounds the alarm with loud barking whenever she sees or hears something outside of her definition of ‘ordinary’. Unfortunately, she’s also lazy. So when she’s on the bed with me and hears something ‘suspicious’ downstairs, she doesn’t go down to investigate or scare off the intruders. Instead, she leaps up and proceeds to scream in her high volume, piercing bark, directly into my ear!

If I go prematurely deaf, it won’t be due to the loud rock and roll of my youth – it will be all Lexi’s fault!

Lexi

PLEASE, JUST MAKE ME FEEL BETTER – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Health

I visited my favorite doctor last week. She is the only one of my original set of doctors I kept when I changed insurers. Despite her not being covered directly by my new insurance, she “gets me” in a way that only someone who has known you for a long time possibly can.

I hadn’t seen her in while — she was on vacation — so we had some catching up to do. We talked about me, her, life, getting older, and how things don’t feel like they did when we were young. Mostly, we discussed how important it is to feel better.

Anyone who has been sick for a long time knows what I mean when I say:


“I just want to feel better.”

There comes a moment in time when whatever is wrong with you has dragged on for what feels like an eternity. You can’t remember what it was like to feel good. You’ve done everything you are supposed to do yet still, you feel like crap.

Whether it’s cancer, recovering from surgery, anxiety, bipolarity, the pain of chronic illness — or any combination of the above plus all the other things I forgot to mention — there comes a day when all you want is to feel better.

You really don’t care how. Whatever it takes, whatever drugs, surgery, therapy, whatever. Please, make me feel better. I want a day without pain. Without anxiety, depression, or nausea. I want to feel normal, whatever normal is. Because I am not sure I remember “normal” anymore.

The problem is that feeling better isn’t considered a medical issue. As far as doctors are concerned, feeling better is your problem, not theirs. You can’t test for feeling better. You can’t plot it on a chart.

There is no medical value to how you feel. If you can’t put it on a chart or turn it into a statistic, it’s not real and not important.


To me, it’s the only important thing. Since feeling lousy isn’t an illness, feeling better isn’t a cure. If it isn’t a cure, the medical community isn’t all that interested.

Meanwhile, the doctor keeps telling you you’re fine. Except you don’t feel fine. You are tired, in pain, crabby, unable to sleep. Nauseated. Exasperated. Depressed. Fed up with everything.

Just three of my doctors believe feeling good is a legitimate medical goal. One is my primary care doctor, the next is my cardiologist and the final one is my shrink.

Her task is to help me feel better. “After all you’ve gone through,” she says, “that’s what I can do for you. I can help you feel more like you used to feel before all that horrible stuff happened.”

She understands. She gets it. I’m going to keep her. The hell with insurance.