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.

DONE! Marilyn Armstrong

We are perpetually in a state of “it’ll get finished any day now.” Everything seems to be in process. Getting rid of the mice. Getting the car appraised — forget about actually repaired. The appraiser actually showed up today, two full weeks since I reported the accident.

But you should see it from the back!

“Wow,” he said. “Someone really smacked that corner.”

“Yes,” I said. “They did.”

“Did you get a picture?”

“I was in the store. I didn’t see anything. I have a lot of cameras, but they don’t help much when you aren’t there.”

He will get back to me. In a day or two. I’m not holding my breath.


Then Owen came today and put a second coat on the inside of the front door. We still need new  trim, outside and inside, but at long last, it’s fully painted. Just to really make my day, Owen also mowed the back lawn.

He said “Your back lawn looks like a wheat field.”

No kidding. You think?

Lawnmower and Owen – scything the wheat field!

It’s not elegant, but it’s something resembling flat and he got rid of a lot of the broken pieces of trees that fell during the big storms we’ve had. As far as the chimney goes, that’s not happening soon.

It’s not badly damaged and I’m out of money. Moreover, Garry’s surgery and rehab is going to take up a lot of the summer. But at least we are moving along. Forward into the future!

The last lilac

So now we have a painted front door! Imagine that! In and out, painted! We have nearly killed off or forced evacuation of thousands of mice. The ants are gone.

Did I mention the contractor came and replaced the front of the house and the window? And he did a great job. Neat, clean, perfect. Nice to get good work from a competent contractor. I would hire him again, if I ever actually have any money to hire anyone. Ever.

I like it so much, I feel i should get them ALL replaced. How I wish I could.

We still need to get the car repaired, but we’ll get there. One step at a time. One step, two steps, three steps and a frantic run to home base.



I don’t like to talk about pain. So many people are in pain and many are worse off than me. My problem is mine is constant and can’t be fixed. The repairs they did back in 1967 crumbled decades ago. No one is willing to go back in there. It’s messy.

It hurts, but so would a surgical replacement. Take your pick. Naturally growing pain or surgical pain. I think I’ll go with natural. Because the cut to my septum (to repair my heart) never healed (that would be the cartilage that didn’t glue itself together  — the bones are fine) hurts when I breathe, when I lift, and sometimes, it just hurts.

It’s movable. Sometimes I can press here and there and make it settle down for an hour or two. Again, nothing they can do for it except open me up, cut it loose and wire it tighter. Somehow, I don’t think that is going to make me feel better. I’m a bit resistant to more surgery. I can’t imagine why.

An awful lot of people tell me it’s all a lack of exercise. The exercise I get is cleaning. The house. Washing the floor. Vacuuming. Changing the covers on the sofas. Hefting my  10-pound PC 100 times a day from my lap to the side table. I have strong upper arms, but my wrists are fading.

Constant pain is tiring. I walk. I could get a wheel chair but there’s no ramp from up here to down where it would need it. The chairs are not good on grass and other “rough” surfaces, so it wouldn’t take me where I want to go.

As long as I have legs that get me moving, I’ll will have to use them.

Some stuff doesn’t improve, especially at this late stage, but if I’m lucky, it might not get worse.

Medication helps, but there’s only so much I can take. Prednisone helps a lot, but it’s dangerous. It lowers ones ability to heal from injury, even very minor injury. I have problems with that anyway because of the heart surgery. Prednisone would make me feel better temporarily, but it wouldn’t cure anything. Though I think I deserve a two-week Prednisone break at least annually. Like a vacation, you know?

There was a time when a shot in both hips and my spine would give me weeks — sometimes a month or two — of living normally. It was heavenly. The more often one gets the shots, the shorter the relief from them. Despite rumors, they wear off. Unless you are dealing with a temporary injury or irritation, one day, the pain is back.

I hate the disappointment of the shots wearing off. I feel like Charlie in “Flowers for Algernon.”

I could also take pain medications earlier in the day, but they make me drowsy — which I don’t like — and they also wear off. Addiction is not on my agenda this year.

Some problems don’t go away. I get tired of people telling me it’s all “mind over matter.” These days, it’s too much matter and not nearly enough mind.

About that bubble. If I could get a bubble to carry me around, wouldn’t that be cool? A traveling bubble. A trans-continental bubble. An up and down the stairs bubble.

We aren’t going to be Mr. and Mrs. Popularity like this, I’m afraid.

And here the final irony: the thing that hurts most is just standing around. Not working, digging, lifting or walking. Standing in one place, waiting. If I am moving, even slowly, I can make my body do it. But standing still and waiting is a killer.

That and miniature golf.

WHO ARE YOU CALLING A CUR? A LETTER TO WordPress – Marilyn Armstrong

Dear NP – Happiness Engineer at WordPress,

You know, when my responses dropped by 50% in February, I said “Oh, they’ll fix it. Surely it’s not just me …”

By the middle of March, having gone from getting an average 400-450 hits a day to barely hitting 300 on a good day, I wrote a very polite note and got an automated response — and nothing more. A week later, I wrote a sharper note … and got an automated response saying you were “working on it.”

Two weeks later, I tried again and this time was told “the problem was a lot bigger than it looked and please be patient.” By then, it was April and the bottom had fallen out of my site. Previously, until the turn of the year, everyone could reach me with just “Serendipity”

Because, you see, I was the first person to use the name. It was mine. Always. From February 2012, I had always gotten ALL my responses on that title and never had a problem — so don’t tell me this has always been a problem all along because that’s NOT TRUE.

All through April, I waited. I got an occasional note from this or that “happiness engineer” that you had fixed it, but it was NOT fixed. The only fix I could come up with was to change the title of my 6-year-old blog to meet whatever are your new standards — the ones you never told anyone about.

That’s another cool thing you do. You just change stuff and it doesn’t seem to occur to you that your changes make a difference to anyone. Apparently we are all just cogs in your wheel.

I got a little snarkier and was ignored.

So finally, I got really ANGRY and I YELLED at you. Oddly, that worked. It may not be the best way, but the best way, the reasonable way, totally failed to get anyone’s attention. If you want polite users, try politely responding to queries. It’s a two-way street.

I tried nice. I tried polite. I tried reasonable. I tried patience and you IGNORED me. Now — I’m yelling? Well gee, what a shock. What did you think was going to happen?

I’m very angry about having to change the name of my blog after six years. You allowed people to take the same title and I was told there could only be one of each name. I know because I was turned down for a bunch because they were already in use, so I assumed that other people had the same requirements as I did, but apparently, not true.

You just said ‘Oh what the heck” and let anyone take any name without regard for previous occupancy. Yeah, it got me really mad and it got a few followers mad. They pointed out it was unfair since I had always gone by that name. To force me change my title so kids who jump on board for a month of freeloading and don’t build a blog, but steal my title are more important to you than people like me.

It isn’t just me. There are a lot of us, hard-working determined bloggers. We are the people who keep you in business. We pay our fees. We do the work that makes a site meaningful. We keep users interested and coming back for more. They aren’t coming back for the high school kid who will post a dozen blogs and abandon the site because it’s too much like work. We are the ones who do the job you need done and you honor us exactly how? By persistently altering the format to make basic blogging increasingly difficult.

You never consult us about the changes you are making. You just make them and tell us we’ll love it, but we don’t. You take simple tasks and make them enormously more difficult.

No one notices when I popped past half a million and I’m sure when I pop past a million, you won’t notice that, either.

Now my site seems to working. Until the next exciting new change blows it up again. But mostly, it’s working because I CHANGED THE NAME OF MY SITE so I could have a place in the search engine. It’s a very long title and I hate having to use it. It will cut into who can find me. Alternatively, I could abandon you but I don’t think I have it in me to do this on Blogger. Six years and 700,000 posts — and 675,500 hits. That’s a lot of writing, photography, commenting. I’ve involved four more writers and the result was really heartening. And exciting.

It’s like a real newspaper now with all kinds of articles by people of widely varying backgrounds. People read us. A lot more people than I imagined possible.

I went to my husband’s reunion last week. I’s a reunion of the media TV-Radio-Newspaper reporters and photographers for the Boston market — and they actually knew me because of the blog. Much to my amazement, they read us — and that means they also read WordPress. Consider that your company has gotten more actual feedback and probably business from me than maybe any other blogger in New England.

So – I am important to you?

How exactly?

What do you do for me?

Did you protect my site and my title? Did you jump in and fix the problem which really IS your database. Something ugly happened and you need to fix it. I guarantee — it will get worse. That was my specialty for 40 year in the high-tech biz and lemme tell you, if your database crumbles, eventually the whole organization put itself out of business.

It’s easier than you think. I’ve watched it happen repeatedly through the years. I could draw you a long list of companies who were hot, hot, hot and are now gone, gone, gone. Your search engine and database are the backbone of your organization. If it doesn’t work, nothing works. Sales will drop, your business will fall off and someone smart and new will pop up and say “Hey, guys, c’mon over here … we’ll take care of you …” and we will go, because you didn’t take care of us. You just love telling us how well you care for us, but you don’t.

I know you are changing the format again, too. Rumors abound and I dread what new awful software you’re going to shove out your door. I’m still hanging in with the old stuff because the new one is dreadful. It’s very cute and fiddly — and hard to use. Writers don’t want fiddly. We just want to write.

We want the spacing (still can’t get the spacing right, can you … that disappeared long ago) to work. I’d like back the point system on selecting fonts. I’d like to be able to find a picture more than 2 years old. I’d like to be able to find my own posts from 5 years ago or even three. I’d like the old custom format back where I could actually choose a color and not have it change two weeks later because someone messed with it.

I’d like to be acknowledged for the hard work I’ve done. None of the people with whom I’ve been blogging for more than five years have gotten so much as an EMAIL indicating that they meant anything to anyone at all. Shame on your company. You treat your most loyal customers the worst and then you can’t imagine why we get so angry. The only reason we’ve stuck with you is because no one else has given us alternative.

Fear not. Someone eventually will. There’s always someone who will offer a choice. YOU were one of those people, way back when. You cared, until you got too big to be bothered.

Wouldn’t YOU be angry? Or aren’t you sufficiently invested in anything enough to care what happens to it?


Your not-nearly-as-faithful-as-she-used-to-be blogger

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
– Robert Hanlon

Marilyn Armstrong
Uxbridge, Massachusetts


Seven is the number of homes I’ve owned, alone or with a partner. I just added the 0.9 to mess with your heads. Or maybe my head. As if I haven’t been adequately messed with.

No matter what you do, say, think, or feel — all houses are money pits. They are.

If you buy a brand new house, you will discover you need gardens, gates, window coverings. A lawn, a patio. A deck. A better bath tub. The tiles in the kitchen will come up for air because they weren’t glued down properly and you need real tiles, not the plastic crap, in your bathroom. New isn’t.

Buying a used house is not unlike buying a used car, but without the guarantees. Yes, there are inspections, but somehow, no matter how many inspections you get, there are more things which go unnoticed than noticed. Payoffs? Sloppy work? Or they didn’t look inside the walls and see the shoddy wiring?

If you buy a not too old but not exactly new house, it will at the least need to be painted, inside and out. More garden work. Lawns. The driveway will be crumbling — and the garage is falling down. Roof slightly leaky too? The kitchen needs updating because all kitchens need updating. How about adding that extra bath upstairs?

Matthew, the house on Palo Alto Street – New York

If you buy a really old house — like one of those stunning Victorians or that gorgeous brick one down the road — after you stop congratulating yourself on what a treasure you’ve acquired, you will realize you need plumbing and the well needs work. The circuit box might have been fine when the only things the house needed were a few lamps, one black and white television, and a radio. Otherwise, the circuitry is older than Benjamin Franklin and his kite experiment.

At least one toilet doesn’t flush. The furnace is a coal conversion and probably would prefer a re-conversion back to coal. When you’re done with that, there are old windows, ancient floors, and the kitchen rehab that never got done. And of course, the gardens. Lawn. Fences.

The garage is still falling down. Three houses later and the garage is still falling down. Does it follow you from house to house? Or is it some kind of negative karma you will never escape?

This house is a lot older than new, but a lot newer than very old. I have lived in very old houses. I have lived in one new house. Most of the houses have ranged from “pretty old” to “old enough.” I know people who tried to fix up old Victorian houses. That is called “being poor forever.”

This house was thrown together in 1974. The builder was a moron who saved pennies on things like proper wiring and electricity, but installed two magnificent fireplaces … and left the house with cheap electric heat. This is New England. Electric heat? Seriously?

A previous owner replaced the electric heat with an oil heating plant 12 years before we moved in. We’ve been here 17 years, so the boiler is heading on 30 years and surprisingly, is still doing well. Or, as we say in the home owning biz, “so far, so good.”

We replaced the roof. Insulation. Two new circuit boards. A wood stove. French drains, a sump and a pump to deal with the flooding. We put up fencing. We replace all the sinks and toilets, but never got to the bathtubs or showers. Fifteen years later, all the toilets and sinks need replacing again and the bath and showers are 17 years older, but not better. I consider it a gross injustice having to replace the replacements. I figure installing a thing ought to be a once in a lifetime job.

We also replaced the entire front door assembly and that terrible set of sliding doors to the deck. The deck doors are fine, but the front door is rotting. Again. That would be three times. Maybe more to the point, it is still rotting and it’s half fixed. Thursday, I think we finish the fixing.

One of the horrible discoveries was that there are bugs in the rotting door. What did I expect to find there? Flowers? But that means I need an exterminator to make sure those bugs haven’t gone past the door and moved into the foundation. I am so ready to find a quiet, clean place to live where everything has been fixed.

Except where would we go? I don’t see Garry and I in a retirement community. I think Money Pit v. 7.0.9 is the last money pit for us.


It sounds like some funky dance from the 1960s, but we are “doing our front door.” Hiring a contractor. Repairing a door that shouldn’t be rotting out since we installed it merely 10 years ago. It should have been good to go for at least 25 years.

The price we pay for living in a wet, humid climate is basic. Things turn green, then rot. Even the vinyl siding on your house will turn green as summer lingers. You can hose it down and voilà, clean as new. Vinyl is a great product and I don’t think we’d still have a standing house had we not enveloped it in vinyl the year we moved in. That, and adding French drains, a sump and a pump. And a roof. I wish we’d had the money to fix the driveway, but the numbers they suggest for paving the driveway are ridiculous. It’s why so few people with long driveways have them properly paved.

June 2, 2017

Friday, if all goes well and we don’t get pouring rain, they will be here. They will replace all the siding around the door, take out the old doggy door and put in one of the new ones that work on some kind of electronic tag in the dogs’ collars — which means — we have to get them collars. All they usually wear are ratty bandannas and tick collars. This will be an interesting, new experience for them. The new door will keep out the bugs. The old one — which is at least 10 years old — no longer closes properly, so it lets in all the creepy things. It would help if they didn’t like laying in the hallway and sticking their heads out the door. Like driving, but without the heavy wind.

I find myself sounding just like my mother: “IN OR OUT! Don’t leave the door open.” This is followed by either “You’re letting all the heat out,” or “You’re letting all the bugs in.” Depending on the season, of course.

We haven’t done any major work around here for at least 10 years, but I’m hoping this will be a one day job. It isn’t, I know, the final word in door fixing. IF we had the money — and we don’t — we could replace the whole door section, but that would be at least twice or three times the cost of repairing the door. And I think this will last as long as we need it to last.

I like the guy. I wish I had more money because I bet he could fix a lot of what needs repair around this place.

Next life, we’ll be richer! Meanwhile, this job is set for Friday. If the weather holds, we’ll have an almost like-new door.