Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Now that we've had a cold snap in Florida – that is, now that it's in the sixties at night and only the eighties in the day (and with little humidity at that) – our windows are open. That means fresh air wafts through the rooms, stirring up fairy-light clumps of cat hair, which drift, carefree, until they tangle with others under the legs of the toy piano or line up together against the couch. That means I can sit in the library (shown above) and hear the furious and incessant squawking of a bird of some sort. With the windows closed, I might hear that, but it wouldn't catch my attention. Now it does, and it sounds almost like rusty machinery, which makes me think of Sarah Thee Campagna's robots (CyberCraftRobots.com), and I wonder what they sound like when they talk (not that they'd do it in front of humans – not yet).

There are other birds who sound more birdlike, chirping and tweeting, and it sounds like Spring again.

I can hear the little pond that Shreeram and Rebecca brought over to me. So far, I've only heard its tiny fountain splashing when I've been outside, but now the outside is in and I think I live in a Disney forest. Wait. Woods. A Disney woods. I believe "forests" are evil, and there's no evil here. It's all sweet breeze and cute squirrels, last-minute bees sipping at last-minute blooms.

And here's another thing. Sunday night, I was awakened at midnight by the sounds of lovemaking. It was my neighbors to the west. There's a tall fence and a lot of foliage between us and I almost never think of them. But now that the windows are open, I realize that we're only twelve, maybe fourteen feet apart.

First it was him, all rhythmic and grateful and urgent. Then it was her, high-pitched and yearning. I lay there expecting a denouement, but then it was him again, the same as before, only more so. It eventually ended, of course, and I could hear gasps and then quiet conversation and chuckles, and I felt happy for everyone – even myself. What a wonderful thing love is! And sex! Separately or together – how nice!

These people are my age, and I just turned sixty-one. She's fat and floozy-looking. I've only seen her in shorts caught up into a V between her legs, huge breasts fighting against a tight tank top, flip-flopping down the street calling for her white fluffy but matted dog. She herself has hair that's far too black. The guy across the street always yells at her for not safekeeping her dog, and she responds with a barroom growl. The husband is handsome in a broken, unhealthy sort of way, with the chronic cough of a smoker who quit too late.

But in the night, when it's cool and the windows are open, and the birds have settled and the fountain burbles, they sound young and in love and perfectly beautiful.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bowled Over

I've been on a tear this rainy Saturday. I've emptied two bank boxes full of papers, and put most of the contents into the recycle bin. The rest has gone into the filing cabinet.

I ran into letters from my late mother, which made me sob my little heart out. I found a missive from my favorite ex-True Love. He said – paraphrasing to protect the appalled – I was the person who'd cut the largest swath in his life, and he'd always be grateful to me. Right back atcha, babe!

Having cleared those boxes, I turned, in unprecedented zeal, to the giant, nine-drawer oak chest where I basically cram things when guests are arriving and I'm not ready – junk mail, magazines, books, odds and ends that belong in the studio but are always in the office. I emptied three of those drawers and then moved to the other side, in search of receipts for my taxes which will be done in time to prevent imprisonment, or so my accountant and best friend assures me. But first I had to move things out of the way, and one of those things was a huge plastic bowl.

If you worked the night shift with me at the Widget Factory, you'll remember those wonderful Rice Krispie® Treats I made. Well, it was in this very bowl that said sweets were born. It was the perfect size for swirling the cereal into the melted marshmallows and butter. Most recently, the bowl was holding two big plastic bags of beads, large and small, all colors, many shapes, shown above. It's also in this historic bowl that one of my cats peed.

Well, one of the reasons I was so set on cleaning this room was to find the source of the bad odor, so in that sense, it's been a very successful day.

But here's what gets me. If cats have such a fine sense of smell, why does their urine have to be so pungent? Can't they make their statements in a more subtle fashion? My god! the least twitch of a tail is a full paragraph in Feline Lingo! Cats are so graceful, so quiet, so mysterious, you'd think their communications would would follow suit. The teeniest poof of pee should be enough to get their point across.

On the other hand, who really knows what cats think? I assume they're marking their territory when they pee in the house, but maybe they're actually saying something like, "Aw, I'm too tired to walk all the way through the living room to the litter box, so I guess I'll just use this bowl. Hey! I wonder if I can make my pee get right into those heavy plastic, zippered bags? I'll bet I can!"

I brought the bowl and its piercing contents to the kitchen sink. Half a dozen loose beads had to slip down to the garbage disposal before I caught on. I plugged the trap and continued rinsing all those shiny orbs. Happily, most of them were still in necklace form, so it wasn't too bad. Those plastic bags may never be the same, though.

I got out the flashlight and peered into the garbage disposal. Now, when David installed the thing, he assured me that I couldn't lose my hand in there. He showed me the thick disks that spin and slice, and I could see the circle of holes through which the chopped gunk gets into Tampa Bay. He was trying to ease my discomfort about garbage disposals in general, but it didn't work. I saw Fargo. You can't fool me. Sure, that was a wood-chipper and this is for egg shells, but the principle's the same.

Still, I dug out the little pellets and then ran the disposal. It put forth a cacophony that made its normal clank and grind sound like chamber music. It took several tries, but I finally got all the bead bits out of there. They're drying, as seen above, but now I'm wondering if I should have given them to an artist friend before I wrote this blog. Maybe I'll distract her with Rice Krispie Treats.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


I engaged in a little four-year marriage when I was very young, and the only way I got through that last year was by devouring an entire paperback romance novel each day, accompanied by an excessive amount of Cheetos®. The books are so formulaic that the guidelines are actually written down, body part by body part, and available from, for instance, www.eharlequin.com.

I was avoiding my life in pre-Internet days, but I still knew the rules. A blond man and a brunette man would vie for the heart – et cetera – of our heroine. We orange-fingered readers would know within a couple chapters that the fair-haired man was up to no good. But wait. Maybe it was the dark fellow who was going to do her wrong. It got pretty tense, waiting to see if she'd choose correctly, and knowing, from the sweet experience of just yesterday, that she would make the right decision did not detract from the suspense, or from the subsequent relief.

But reading romance novels was a pleasure tainted with guilt. My mother was a librarian, for god's sake. There was a world map on our dining room wall, and a dictionary on the shelf. There was also a washer and dryer in this "dining room," lest you get the wrong idea, and seven chairs cluttered up against a table for four. Okay. Maybe it was meant to seat six, but it was always felt too small and, to this day, I'd really rather have a whole side to myself, thanks.

My point is that I was no more raised to read romance novels than to listen to country music, so if I ever actually enjoy either one, I feel bad about it. I feel as if I'm letting someone down – Mom, Dad, god, someone.

When I got divorced, I gave up romance novels, having lost the need to blot out the pain.

Nearly twenty years later, however, I had a co-worker who unabashedly enjoyed romances, and I realized that in my dirty little fling with that ilk, I'd never read one from the Queen Herself, Danielle Steel. So I bought one and started reading it.

I don't remember the details, but I do remember the page number. On page sixty, the blond guy said something that made me snort in derision. "There's no way he'd do that!" I tossed the book down in disgust and have never read another romance. However, that book – whatever it was – set a standard for me. I now give the author a sixty-page chance to prove herself. If I'm still heaving melodramatic sighs, rolling my eyes like a teenager, and talking out loud to the book at page sixty, I'm allowed to snap it shut and bring it to the thrift store.

So thank you, Danielle Steel, and happy sixty-fourth birthday. In a burst of meaningless coincidence, that four-year husband will also turn sixty-four – in exactly a week, as a matter of fact. Danielle has just published her ninety-seventh book. You heard me. Hell, most people don't even read that many in a lifetime. So good for her ... but I still don't like the genre.

However, there's a wonderful book with a major theme of writing romance novels, and the novel itself has romance in it, but it's not a romance novel. It's The Boyfriend School by Sarah Bird. It was out of print for a while, but it's back. Go read it. It's one of my favorites. I understand that's like the waitress saying, "Good choice! That's my favorite, too!" but I don't care. Go read it anyhow.

I don't know if you were with me when I praised Hannah's Dream, a novel by Diane Hammond, but the actual Diane Hammond commented on my blog. That was embarrassing and thrilling, and it made me a bit afraid of naming names. Even so, at the risk of conjuring her, I'm going to name a fourth writer, Joyce Carol Oates. She, like Danielle Steel, is prodigiously prolific. She also has three names which, for reasons known not even to myself, I always connect with romance writers. So I avoided her like, like ... like a romance writer.

But one day I picked up one of her books and behold! She's great. Dark. Bleak. Depressing, perhaps, but hey! she writes about my home area, non-city New York. I also love how she looks, which is irrelevant and enchanting. Her sentences are perfect. No blond guy ever says something in a book he wouldn't say in Real Life. And her stories don't require assistance from Cheetos.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Please Pass the Word

I think it's hilarious, in a non-funny sort of way, that we're told to use a different password for each account we have. Clearly, it was some twenty-five-year-old who thought that one up. Who can remember even three passwords? Not I, although I could have, years ago.

I had a file named PASSWORDS in my email for a while ... until I couldn't get into my email because I didn't have the password. Mister Google so seldom asks for it that I had simply forgotten it. Now it's all written down in the back pages of my desk calendar, except for the ones that are written down ... elsewhere. Probably.

A couple years ago, I got a letter from my bank. It said someone had been caught phishing in my account, and so I should change my password and, in fact, change the password of any other accounts that might have the same password. "Might," indeed. At that time, I used the same password for everything.

Now I have a different password for every account, and there are fifteen, at a quick glance. I voted for Gulfport for the Best of the Road competition from Rand McNally. There's a password I'll never use again. I'm voting for SHAMc – the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center – so they'll get a ton of money from Pepsi-Cola which, by the way, when its letters are rearranged, spells Episcopal. I pay my bills online, so there are all those passwords. So some I'll use again, and some I won't, but when I need them, I need them, so I have to keep track of them.

Today is my Uncle Eddie's birthday, except that he died on January 1 of this year, so it's no more his eighty-sixth birthday than yesterday was Lucille Ball's hundredth.

I know it's his birthday because Facebook said so. I went over to his Wall and behold! there are birthday greetings for him. One is from his great-nephew, who says Uncle Eddie has joined his late siblings, but another is from a Nicolazzo in Italy who may or may not be related, but who clearly doesn't know Uncle Eddie, um, transitioned.

A friend from my hometown in rural New York moved to an even more rural place in Montana, and he started dying of lung cancer. His wife got on his Facebook page and kept us abreast of his condition, and when he died, she posted it, and we all responded. It actually was touching. It was like being at the wake without having to take time off work and pay for a plane ticket to Montana, and a rental car, and a hotel room. Ah, yes, it was virtually like being there. Hm.

And so now I'm thinking that when we die, we not only live on in people's hearts and minds, but on Facebook, too. Unless your Last Will and Testament includes the pertinent passwords, your Wall will stand forever.

I'm not sure I want that, but on the other hand, it would be a sort of legacy, wouldn't it? I don't have children to carry on whatever dysfunction I'd have given them, so I'll have to settle for everything I've splatted onto the Internet. I have a blog with all my painted cars on it. That will just sit there, unchanging, while I'm off trying to learn to play the harp and walk with wings at the same time.

Now, I wouldn't necessarily want all the LOLs my Friends have posted on Facebook to remain with us forever, but my photo albums? Sure. Why not? I'd love for a great-great-great-niece to stumble upon the photos of mailboxes I've painted, and pine for the great-great-great-aunt she never had a chance to meet and love. One of my cousins posted a bunch of photos from the early fifties, of our parents (see above), and it's wonderful. We all get to leave comments and argue over who's who. It's almost like we're in the same room. Almost.

Facebook, Picasa, Flickr – these are all good ways to preserve photos, and everyone can see them (if they remember their passwords, of course), not just the one kid in the family who's the unofficial archivist, the one who has all the black album pages with fading snapshots and ballpoint captions, the one who has forgotten which was Aunt Erla and which was Grandma.

But surely all these cyber storage spaces will morph into something else, and then something else. Maybe Facebook will go bankrupt and all our shared daily profundity will disappear in the blink of an eye – along with the need for its password.

Dad is the man on the far left, top, and Mom's on the far left in the next row in pink. With a hat. And a shawl. Have mercy!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

To die, to sleep

No. I don't want to talk about Shakespeare, and I don't want you to think that sweet Benji, shown slumbering above, has died. I want to talk about death – not his – and not that I know much about it. There were two deaths important to me during my girlhood. One was a schoolmate's dad who had a heart attack at a wrestling match. His face was black when they carried him out. I went to the funeral home to see the body so I wouldn't have to remember that unnatural black face all my life.

It didn't work.

A couple years earlier, my cousin Susan's baby sister died a crib death. My sister, who was fourteen if I was thirteen, said she didn't think it was such a big deal that a baby had died. It's not like we knew her, right? I thought that was cold, even as I agreed. Now that I've fallen in love with kittens at the speed of a super hero, I do believe that the death of a baby is a big deal (and I know my sister does, too). But I didn't really believe it then.

But I don't want to talk about death in general. I want to talk about a specific kind of death.

I was at a stop light next to my friend Liz and she called over, "Did you hear about Mary Smith? She died in her sleep last Saturday!"

Whoa – she died in her sleep? The conversation seems to have to stop right there. There's nothing more to say. If she had died of cancer, we could have murmured things like Oh! I hadn't known! or I thought she looked ... bald ... last time I saw her or Man, I'm glad I quit smoking when I did! If she had died of a heart attack, we might have said Wow. She was so young! or Huh. She always seemed so healthy.

But when you die in your sleep, it's like you died of ... nothing.

"She died in her sleep."

"Yeah? What'd she die of?"

"Uh ... sleep?"

It's just too weird. You can't even talk about it.

And wouldn't you think a body would wake up in order to die? When I meditate (Transcendental Meditation™), I sometimes nod off, but then my body wakes me with a jerk. (I've awakened with a jerk more than once, but that's off topic.) The TM™ people tell me my body's releasing stress, but I think my body is trying to wake me up so I don't fall over and clunk my head on the cave floor and die before I've gone forth and populated the earth. So wouldn't my body wake me up so I could die? Why would I be allowed to just slip away like Little Nell who, after all, is merely literary? I mean, that's a pretty serious transition, isn't it? Whether there's an afterlife or not, I just can't imagine snoozing through such an event.

Do you think anyone's ever been born asleep? Really now. You're floating around in those life juices, just relaxing and dreaming, maybe humming to yourself like a cat purrs, smiling a bit every time you hear your mom's voice. Then that warm liquid suddenly whooshes away, to be replaced with pressure and squeezing as you're forced out of the lovely existence you've so enjoyed for your whole life and you finally plop out into a cold, drafty, noisy, bright world – and you're still dozing? You're napping?


And so I think there should be no dying while asleep, either. It's just not fair. It's not balanced. If birth is so traumatic, death should be traumatic, too. Maybe when we cross into death, instead of getting smacked on the butt to start our breathing, someone Over There slaps us in the face to stop our breathing, and then we start adjusting to whatever's going on in that place.

Even if it's no place.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Daddy's Little Boy ... er, Girl

I confess. This blog has nothing to do with Geri's 1993 Volkswagen EuroVan with Westfalia roof as pictured above. I wanted a photo, and she did just drive it home, so it's still new and exciting. I was able to put a dent in my fear of heights by sitting up on the roof to paint it.

But no. This blog is about giving boy names to girls because Dad Always Wanted A Boy. And gosh! Maybe Geri is one of those.

I was at Senior Stretches at The Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center Foundation, Inc. (whew!) with Jimi (89) last Tuesday. One woman asked Jimi what her real name is. It's Evelyn, but, yes, her father always wanted a boy. Jimi has a sister, Larry. Her real name is Lorraine, but who cares? Dad always wanted a boy, so everyone knows her as Larry.

Marion (in her 70s) gasped and said, "My name's Marion but it's spelled with an O, the way it's spelled for boys. My dad always wanted a boy, so he made my mother spell it that way."

Then Rae (mid-60s) joined in. She, too, was named after her dad because blah blah boy.

Sheesh. These women, from their very births, were told they were wrong. Their very gender was unacceptable. Maybe with sonogram's early gender detection, the men have more time to get used to the idea, so maybe fewer girls end up with boy names?

Nah. I don't think so. All we've done is open up some names to both genders. Jamie springs to mind. And there are those names like Madison that seem to have started out as gender-neutral. Why not Hamilton or Washington, if you're getting so presidential? I don't like those names. Those are like Synovus. Or Wachovia. Or Third Fifth (or is it Fifth Third?). They're fake, like vinyl wraps on cars, when you could have actual paint from an actual artist (ahem).

I looked up Wachovia, just so I could despise it more authentically, but it turns out that Moravian settlers named it after a place on the Danube River (and what's more romantic than that?), and it's near Bethabara, North Carolina, and my only sister's name is Beth and mine is Barbara, and so it's all coming together now!

Beth, in fact, is Beth Ann. I would love to have been Barbara Ann, if only because of those dreamy Beach Boys, but Mom didn't think it was right to have girls with the same middle name, and Beth Ann got here first, so I am Barbara Jean. Oh, Barbara Je-ee-een, ta-ake my splee-ee-en! Ya' got me rockin' and a-rollin' ...

One of my Desert Island Books is Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy. We move between an abused woman stuck in an insane asylum in the present to a gender-equal far-away future. In the future section, Piercy absolutely does away with gender-specific names. The people in the future – who go off into the wilderness as young teens and come out with names they've chosen themselves – are named Jackrabbit and Luciente and Bee. At first it bothered me, not knowing instantly if a new character was a man or a woman, but it ended up not really mattering. None of that society was divvied up according to gender. Babies were sort of test-tube babies (gasp!), and it took a trio of adults to get a baby going.

I read a mystery translated from Italian (if not from the Italian), and I found it very difficult to follow just because the names were so unfamiliar. And long. With so many vowels! Much as I want to shake my fist about genders and all, I probably really want something I can understand without having to think too long about it, or too far out of the bag, either.

I can't natter about names without mentioning my Aunt Ethel. She married my Uncle Pearl. Huckabone. You heard me.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bored of the Flies

On November 22, 2010, I had a plague of flies for a day. The kittens, at seven months, spent most of the day chasing the fat buzzing buggers from room to room. There were dozens of flying demons outside, too. I don't know what caused this event. I didn't see or smell any rotting creatures or compost. The flies mostly swarmed around the front of the house, which made coming and going a creepy event. At one point, several of them got between the screen and the window in my front door. I used a housewarming gift from our practical Flahoos – a fly swatter – to mash them while they were trapped.

Well, as you can see in this Glamour Shot, they're still trapped. It's true that the ensuing months have caused a certain shrinking of the mini-monsters, but their spirtless presence is starting to bore me. I'm no longer interested, in a vaguely scientific way, in their slow transition to dust. If I could figure out how the window works, I'd push them out.

I recently noticed that if I can't figure something out quickly – as in instantaneously – I simply won't do it. I give up. I have zero tenacity. Some unloving pseudo-friend sent an email to her "intelligent" friends, according to the Subject Line. What do these words have in common? asked the chirky email. Listed were banana, dresser, grammar, potato, and others. And no, the email cautioned, it's not that they have letter-doubles.

Normally, I would just click my tongue and frown, cursing the person who sent such nonsense. However, that email also suggested that I Give it another try and Look at each word carefully. I can't imagine what possessed me, but I actually followed the directions. I tried. And I figured it out, and now the friend who sent it is one of my very best friends.

So I suppose it's possible that I'll be able to decipher that window someday and scoop out those dusty cadavers.

Speaking of things that expire, did you know that Dawn dishwashing liquid expires? It does, at least if you're using it with the other secret ingredients that make up the bubble solution used by Sonny Fenwick for his Bubble Truck (www.bubbletruck.com). The Dawn has to be a particular kind of Dawn, which I used for a while. Last night, I brought home my favorite kind, the stuff that smells like lavender, so I can think I'm at a tony spa while I wash the dishes (uh huh). Because my dad's spirit lives on, I tipped the remains of the blue Dawn into the fresh purple Dawn and behold: blue is heavier than purple.

Speaking of colors, here's a yellow flower. I don't know what kind it is, but there's another plant like it nearby, and one about three feet tall twenty feet away. They'll produce a single yellow bloom, one at a time, at the very top. Thanks!

Speaking of flowers, here's a rather scraggly pot of hyacinths I bought at Publix the other day. I prefer purple, but those were really sad. This white one apparently is spending all its energy on fragrance, which creates throat-quivering nostalgia in me. Give it a day or two and that aroma will fill my whole house ... except that the weather is so fine that all the windows and half the doors are open, so the scent will whoosh outside with gentle spring gusts.

I don't know if spring has sprung here on the West Coast of Florida. I realized for the first time this year that I don't know what the defining symptom is, for spring. At home, in Western New York, it was when the snow stopped, not that we'd know exactly when that was. I don't know what it is here. When we turn on the air conditioning? (Please say no!) When there's no threat of another thirty-degree night?

What if the appearance of disembodied squirrel tails is a sign of spring? Nancy said she'd heard that hawks will snatch up a squirrel with their claws and then use their mighty beaks to snip off the tail, since there's no real nutrition in it. That would explain what happened here. There were no other squirrel bits about and none of the seven felines were wearing rodent-eating grins.

And really, I don't know if hawks have mighty beaks, but I do know if that if I'm referring to wing├ęd predators, mighty's got to be in there somewhere.

I'll show more pictures of Jean's car on my Car'toos blog (which you can reach from this page, I think, but don't rush over there; I probably won't have time today) , but for now, let's just all enjoy this one.

First I used black and blue paint on her silver car, which she asked for. I delivered it to her. She was unhappy with it. We weren't able to get together to talk about making her happy for more than a month, a month during which I steamed and stewed and thrashed – and lost confidence. Not everyone has fainted with pleasure when they take delivery of a car I've painted, but most of them really really like 'em. I engaged in all varieties of self-doubt and -castigation, but when Jean and I finally got together, she told me her solution: paint over the black and blue, lightly, with pink.

Wha–? That didn't sound right. But I did it and it actually looks very cool and Jean is now ecstatic. I learn something with every car, but this lesson was more abstract than just a technique or product. Jean offered me more money, since she agreed that I had given her what she asked for initially. But when I saw how happy she was with the car, I refused the extra money. I realized that while I won't work for free, I really value the person's satisfaction. I want you to like your car, not just put up with it, like I'm putting up with screened-in flies.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Whitman

A nineteen-year-old Quaker, Stephen F. Whitman, opened a confectionery shop (if not shoppe) in Philadelphia in 1842. Because of that, here I am, eating the first bon bon from my small Whitman's Sampler. I thought it was a chocolate-covered cherry. I don't like them, so I wanted to get it over with. It turned out to be filled with coconut, though. Yay!

It's Valentine's Day. Have you noticed? Sixty and single, it seems I've sort of forgotten about this day. I know there was a time, when I was young and juicy, when I really craved a Hallmark Valentine's Day. I wanted a boyfriend who was sophisticated enough – and rich enough – to give me the works: flowers, candy, a card so extravagant it would embarrass us all with its velvet and ribbons and embossed hearts and that one thin translucent sheet that protected those reckless, swirling words of eternal devotion.

Turns out those things don't require sophistication, although they do require more cash than perhaps ought to be spent. When I was thirty-five, I had such a boyfriend. A gold necklace may even have been involved. Whatever, it didn't thrill me like I thought it would, and I blame that on my father.

Dad, despite his solid Italian blood, didn't show any emotion besides rage until he was a grandpa, so giving his wife and kids a decent Valentine's Day involved collusive subterfuge. Dinner was usually eaten as fast as possible so we kids could get on with our lives – Scouts or Capture the Flag or skating (ice and otherwise) or reading or homework or whatever the season and various ages suggested. But on February 14, we didn't leave the table. We sat and waited for Dad to finish his meal. Finally, with a sheepish grin and a poorly executed stretch and yawn, he'd stand up. "I'm tired," he'd say. "I guess I'll go up for a nap."

And up he'd go, up our creaking stairs to his bedroom where we'd hear paper rattling. He'd clump back down the stairs and put the big flat brown paper bag next to his dinner plate. "Oh," he'd say, as innocent as bad acting would allow, "I forgot these!" And then he'd disappear up the stairs again.

Mom would open the bag and behold: five small Whitman's Samplers very much like the one next to my keyboard right now, complete with its bit-mapped rose. Oh wait. That's not bit-mapped. That's supposed to look like needlepoint, like a, um, sampler. Yes. There would be five small Whitman's Samplers and one big one for Mom. It's only this year that I paused to wonder if she shared hers with Dad, even though I've thought about Dad's Valentine's Day tradition for years.

I've wondered, for instance, how long he stayed upstairs after he dropped off the hearts. And I wonder what he felt when the year came when he only needed four small hearts because his firstborn – a son! – was off at college. I also wonder if he carried that tradition all the way through to his fifth child – a son! – who was (and remains) four years younger than the fourth child – a son!

Well, however that tradition started or ended, I know that it lives on with me. Even though I much prefer chocolate-covered orange peels from Schakolad (or lemon peels or ginger, if anyone's taking notes), I still want a Whitman's Sampler at Valentine's Day. And in the years when I want to share the love, that's what I give, too. But I always make sure Dad's third child – a girl! – gets one of her very own.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy Anniversary!

There's the best man, Dad's cousin Frank Butera,
then Dad (Mickele Edward Nicolazzo),
then Mom (Bertha Erma Huckabone – you heard me!),
and her maid of honor, her sister Gladys Huckabone.
The bridal party is standing left to right.

My parents would have celebrated sixty-three years of marriage today, had death not parted them fourteen years ago, when Dad died and Mom's Alzheimer's became screamingly apparent.

But let's pretend that Mom had remained her normal lively self for those last two years. Would she have celebrated the anniversary without her husband? I guess not. She surely would have noted the day. I still think it's awkward to talk about dead people. To say I loved my mother seems wrong, and yet to love someone who doesn't exist – at least not on this side of the Veil – seems if not wrong, at least ... ineffective.

Well, to say my parents would have celebrated is strange, too, but on their birthdays, I always count it up. Wow, I'll think, Dad would have been eighty-nine today. Yeah, well, he died at age seventy-four. Surely when I'm seventy-four, I won't think, Wow. Dad would have been a hundred and two today. Or will I?

But back to 1948.

Mom was a Baptist and Dad was a Roman Catholic, so they had to get married in a Catholic church, but she couldn't approach the altar. They were married somewhere else. The priest's office? A side chapel? A broom closet? I don't know. I'm pretty sure they had to sign a paper – or maybe it was only she – swearing to raise any kids Catholic. I wonder if she worried over that or just signed the damned thing. Seeing that my brother Jim was a premature baby, as many were in those pre-Pill days, I'm guessing she signed as quickly as possible.

And now, apparently, she's rotting in Hell, because while the first three of five children were baptized Catholic, none of them was raised that way. By the time my parents left this vale of tears, my Dad was a Bible-beating fundamentalist of some sort, a Brand X, or even Y, of Protestantism, and Mom was simply a smiling, compassionate agnostic.

But what an odd phrase is "rotting in Hell." The whole point of the afterlife is that we won't, after all, rot. What good is damning someone to Hell – or to Heaven, for that matter – if they're going to rot anyhow? Their punishment – or sparkly reward – will be too short, and I'm pretty sure we're promised ETERNITY here, whether it's a teeth-gnashing sort of eternity, or a harp-playing, sweetly swaying one.

Well, that settles that, then: Mom's not rotting in Hell. Whew.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Bean-Counter

Since it's been so cold, soup sounded like a fabulous supper, so I bought a 15-bean soup kit. It came with beans, a list of ingredients I'd have to add myself, and a tiny packet of Ham Flavor. That was absolutely the only type on the little label, and of course I accidentally dropped the thing into the boiling water.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First off, I needed a ham hock. I sincerely don't know what that is. I asked a woman near me at Publix and she said she thought they'd be with the smoked meats. Oh. I was standing in pork (as it were). Right. So I moved over to the smoked meats department and there was a worker. I asked him about ham hocks and, busy and frazzled though he was, he pointed to the right place. Alas, I couldn't imagine cooking such things and then ... eating them. Whatever they are – pig ankles? – they looked like rolled-down socks of fat. With skin.

Well, the soup kit said I could used smoked sausage, too, so I opted for that, for turkey sausage, in fact, because I still feel separate from birds, although I can already imagine the end of that.

A childhood fantasy was to marry a farmer and collect eggs each morning, because being a farmer was no more an option than not marrying at all. I'd be wearing a bonnet with ruffled edges and the eggs would be gathered in a wicker basket with a big curved handle. Despite this, and despite the fact that I think chickens, especially dark ones like Rhode Island Reds,* are the most gorgeous birds on earth, I'm terrified of chickens and, in fact, of all birds. I don't know if I saw Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds at precisely the wrong moment in my developing adolescent psyche or if I had a horrid experience with birds so traumatic that I've blocked it out, but I think birds are scary.

About fifteen years ago, though, I went to the Arbor Arts Festival at Boyd Hill Nature Park, and there was a petting zoo. There were a couple show chickens and some show ducks. You heard me: show chickens, show ducks. I wanted to hold a chicken, but I was afraid to. A sensitive teenage boy, the curator of this zoo, soothed and cooed me into accepting a huge hen into my arms – and possibly my heart. I discovered an amazing thing: chickens are warm like us, like us mammals. I always thought they'd be cold, like snakes. Even though I've owned snakes and have felt great affection for them, it must be said: snakes are cold, cold like aliens.

Still, as far as food is concerned, I can feel bad about eating pigs (even as I love their meat), so I think and fear the time is coming when I'll quit eating them altogether (much to the joy of Nonie's moms). But so far, even with that Arbor Arts experience, fowl remain guilt-free eating for me. Hence, the turkey sausage.

I went home with the soup kit, the sausage, the onion, and the canned tomatoes. I measured out the water and put it on the stove. I almost dumped the beans in when I realized that I didn't quite trust the label. Fifteen-bean soup. Really? Fifteen different varieties of bean? That sounds suspect, doesn't it? That's probably not fair, since I myself can only name a toddler's handful of beans: kidney, white kidney, navy, lentil, split pea, garbanzo. Well, maybe I wasn't so much suspicious as curious. In any case, I poked around in the pile of beans, separating the unique ones and, indeed, I found fifteen. When I read the label, I saw that the manufacturer listed seventeen varieties and said that "at least" fifteen of them were used. Huh.

The soup was and remains delicious, although next time I'll skip the packet of Ham Flavor. It doesn't make sense to mix all these healthy, authentic foods, and then to sprinkle them with ... "flavor."

This weather calls for baking, too, and so I baked some pumpkin-curry scones recently, with crystallized ginger. And then some banana-pecan muffins with a nice, crunchy cinnamon topping. Today I baked chocolate chip cookies but, though I eat them by a lumberjack's handful, I don't really like them. I never have. I'll give them to Mike if any are left by the time he shows up two hours from now.

I think baking is a way to feel productive without actually doing anything. It's also a way to recall my mother, who died in 1998, and whom I miss so much. And it's a fabulous way to sabotage my New Year's Weight-Loss Plan.

*This is absolutely the only breed of chicken I know.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Yes! No! Er ... yes?

I found some watches in the Signals catalog to give to Olga and me for Christmas. But gosh, the online comments about similar, cheaper watches were discouraging. It's impossible to reset the time. The battery only runs for a month. But the Customer Service Rep at Signals and I decided that the catalog's watches were more expensive and therefore higher quality. Also, I could always send them back. Also, they were made in Italy, the home of half my ancestors and much good design.

Well, Christmas came and went without the watches. I finally called. Signals had sent them, but they were probably languishing in a USPS warehouse. I was just about to ask for a credit, but Signals said it would send out another two promptly. It did. They arrived in clever little jars. Those Italians!

But you know what? I couldn't reset the time. The instructions – in more languages than I knew existed – said to "press" buttons on the back, but I pressed like crazy, with no result. I also poked but that began to seem dangerous, plus it remained useless.

I wrote to the manufacturer. A perky CSR wrote back, simply repeating the instructions from the card in the jar. She ended with, "Have a Thriving Thursday!" I'm not kidding. I wrote back and asked her to actually read my original email. She wrote back and told me to pull the watch out of the silicon (not silicone) strap, and send it to them. I wrote back and said no. She wrote back and said they're here to help, and to have a Whimsical Weekend. (Still not kidding.)

In the end, I'll return the jars of watches and Signals will refund everything, including the return shipping, so all is well. Still,
it's not like me to want something and then not want it and then want it again.

Or is it?

I signed up for St. Petersburg's amazing curb-side recycling pickup because ... well, because it was 2010, after all. They take all manner of office paper and junkmail and tag board, and any plastic at all if it's got a recycle number on it. When I lived in Gulfport, lo, these nine months ago, they didn't even pick up glass or any plastic except #1 and #2. So I should be happy, right?

Yes. But.

I had to have the bin out there by seven o'clock on Monday morning. I could do that right up until it got so cold. And if I put it out the night before, all my junkmail would fly away in the blustery winds we've been having. And, really, if I skip a week – because I really don't have that much stuff – I feel guilty because I'm pretty sure I'm the only recycler in a seven-block radius.

I got a notice from Waste Services of Florida, Inc., saying I owed $7.59. I had paid for a whole year, so what the heck? I called. It turned out that the year I paid for was 2011, but that I hadn't paid for October, November, or December of 2010. Well, that's just weird. The clerk said it appeared that no one had been told about that. So I did what any red-blooded American would do: I cancelled the service.

This painting was done by Angus Macaulay (http://www.angusmacaulaydesigns.com)
with my colors in mind. How wonderful! Cups by Meow Mix.

I've left my tub out there in the cold sand for two weeks now, and no one has picked it up. My orange plastic cups from Meow Mix are multiplying, though. And really, it was pretty convenient to just toss it all into that bin. The handful of workers would race out of the truck and separate it themselves. That's easy. (For me.)

I checked my bank account and saw that the money hadn't been refunded yet, so I called and – yes: I reinstated my service. I asked specifically if they'd throw rocks at my windows if I skipped a week and was assured they would not. Yay.

Have you ever swept a floor with a broom when there are kittens in the house? If you have, you know exactly how pointless that is. The kits think it's a new game. They love the scritching noise. They love the motion. They love jumping into the pile of cat hair and – let it be said now – Barbara hair and litter trackings and kibble crumbs that you've swept together. They roll in it like it's catnip, like they're six-year-olds in a Northern autumn pile
of leaves.

I told a friend about the wisps of cat hair that float up to the ceiling like elfin clouds in a miniature heaven when I'm sweeping. She said I should vacuum my wooden floors. Oh. But I gave my vacuum cleaner to Mike when I moved here. And the cats hate that noise. And I'd knock all manner of things down with the cord. So how about a carpet sweeper? Yes! That's the solution!
It's non-electric, just like my beloved clothes line, and will do
the trick.

I almost bought one from the Vermont Country Store catalog because I'm an idiot. Let me stop right here and say that I am all about shopping locally. I mean it. I don't even quite approve of cantaloupe right now. It's January. Even Florida doesn't have cantaloupe. It's just not right. I think you should buy your stuff from local artists (ahem) or at least local merchants. It's getting to be a habit to stop by the Gulfport Hardware Store before I check out to Home Depot.

Except that, well, gosh, online shopping is so much fun, isn't it? You're sitting there in your at-home clothes (or not). It could be six a.m. or midnight. Who cares? It's so very available, you know? And it's not like I'm using any gasoline, right?

So I found the model of carpet sweeper I wanted. Then I
checked other online sources and found that Lowe's has one for twenty bucks cheaper and no shipping if I pick it up. Please. This was clearly divine intervention from Saint Martha, patron saint
of maids.

It was ready for pickup on the twelfth, but when I showed up on the thirteenth, it wasn't there. New paperwork said it would be there on the nineteenth, but it showed up the next day. And guess what?

Yeah, it really doesn't clean that well. There are settings for
  • long pile
  • short pile
  • carpet tile
  • floor
And here's where this blog takes a sharp corner. Of course I was thinking about returning the inefficient carpet sweeper, but I'm a nut for details, and so I checked the sweeper before telling you about the settings. I wanted to get the words exact. I never would have remembered "carpet tile" on my own. I never heard of such a thing. It turns out the sweeper was set to short pile instead of floor. When I corrected that, it swept nicely. Yay! A return, a change of mind, a dithering averted!

Now, according to Levine and Jawer, this nation's premier astrologers, "Irrepressible Mars prances into [my] 5th House of Fun and Games to lighten [my] heart and brighten [my] spirit," on this very day. Therefore, I'll scrape around for an appropriate picture (or three) for this blog, and then go forth with a light heart and bright spirit. Whew! I'm really ready for some of that!

Here's a picture of Henry just because he's so cute.
With his sleeves rolled up he looks like a professor inside and
a git-r-done kind of man outside.