Monday, December 19, 2011

The Gift of the Magi - with twists

Do you know the O. Henry story, The Gift of the Magi? It’s a love story. Jim’s most treasured possession was a gold watch that had been his father’s and grandfather’s. Delia’s most treasured possession was her beautiful hair reaching down below her knees. They were very poor. To buy a Christmas gift for his love, Jim sold his watch to buy combs for her hair. Delia sold her hair to buy Jim a platinum chain for his watch.
When John asked what I wanted for Christmas this year, I told him I wanted blinds for the picture windows at the back of the living room and dining room. This was asking a lot. Architects like bare windows, that whole uncluttered look. He whined. He argued. 

“Why, all of a sudden after fifteen years, do you want blinds?” “Arrghh!” “Boo.” “Hiss.” Yes, he really said all those things.
I mentioned living in a fishbowl. I mentioned the neighbors on the block behind us seeing everything we did, not that we did anything interesting (the fishbowl inhibits interesting). I mentioned Boogie Men hiding in our yard. I mentioned not liking those two big black squares in the dark of night. I mentioned all the heat escaping out those cold glass panes. I mentioned that this was something I had mentioned for fifteen years.
But I knew I was losing. As backup present, I told him a new sweater would be nice.
Then, last Thursday night, I came home from my book club. Lo on yonder windows - BLINDS! When it was the last thing he wanted, he gave me blinds. He must really love me.

I've been swooning over how wonderful the blinds are all weekend, and he mumbles, "grrrr" and "arrgh".
When he was laid off from the architectural firm five-years ago, the rebel in him started gooing and greasing back his soft dark hair. He’s been going around slicked up like a hit man on The Sopranos ever since. I don’t like it. I miss his old hair. I’ve told him so - many times. He doesn’t listen.
Last Friday morning, while he was in the shower, I went into the cupboard and took his hair goop. I hid it under the dirty clothes in the laundry basket. He’s gone without his Aveda Phomollient for four days now. And looking pretty cute, I must say. 

This morning, I finished dressing and was standing near the end of the bed when he came out of the shower. He pushed me back on the bed, pinned my arms and squished me. I couldn’t breath. 

I yelled, “Help, help, I can’t breath.”
“Where did you hide my F-ing phomollient,” he demanded.
I laughed, and gasped, “I can’t breath.”
“I’m not letting you up, till you tell me,” he said.
“I forget, I’m old. I forget where I put F-ing stuff.”
More squishing happened. The man takes my breathe away.

"Okay, Okay," I said. "it's in the laundry basket that you took down the basement."

I guess he didn’t feel like going down the basement, because he left the house with his hair un-slicked.
So, now I’m going to get out the wrapping paper. I’ll giving him something I really don't want him to have. I'm giving him his f-ing phomollient for Christmas, and some other stuff too. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

No Writing When Writing

I haven’t written a blog post since Labor Day. 

Throngs of readers are standing on my porch begging me to write something. They crush into each other like hungry people in a bread line, or teenage girls waiting for tickets to a Justin Bieber concert. The crowd is growing, and so thick and deep that some are standing in the street. I’m afraid someone will get run over. They're chanting; write a blog, write a blog.
Really? Of course not. Two people asked if I was still writing the blog, and incase you were wondering too, here’s the story:

On August 9th, I started writing a memoir about the last two years of my mother and grandmother’s lives. All of my obsessive behavior patterns jumped into fifth gear. Forget dusting. Forget cooking. Forget entering piles of receipts into Quicken. Forget painting. Write the book. Read the writing. Write some more. 
Ignore John when he walks in the door and kisses my cheek. Guilty? Not very. I did kiss him before he left. Curiously, he finds me ever so much more interesting when I ignore him.
On October 10th, two months later, the book was finished. 150 pages. 

I gave it to family members, and two close friends who didn’t know the story already. As they read, I read it again. And again. Changes. Edit. Correct spelling. Add some here. Remember more stories to add. 
Read it again and again. Write. Edit. 
Ann doesn’t like my mother, hates the beginning. Joy teaches me grammar that I should already know, but don't. She puts smiley faces on the parts she likes. My daughter, Sue should have been a copy editor...she is GOOD. Bonnie tells me that I didn’t mention the shark she drew on the tablecloth at Thanksgiving. John reads it and reminds me of more things I’d forgotten, and places where I’ve exaggerated.
I read it again. Oh, my god, it is really bad. Really boring. Why did I do this?
I read it again. It is awesome. Diane Rehm will have me on her radio show on NPR. Ten weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list. Maybe they'll make a movie.
I write more. 180 pages. Edit. Don’t like it. Love it. Worry it. Get sick of it. Hate it.
When I can’t sleep the book fills my head at night, crowding out possible dreams about gorilla suits and forgetting my locker number in high school. I wake up and word arrangements clutter my cereal bowl and paragraphs pour from the coffee pot into my cup. 
Maybe by January it’ll be a real book that I can mail to an agent. Maybe.
In the mean time, it's getting cold out. If you must stand on my porch, I'll bring you a cup of coffee. Do you take cream and sweetener?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Memorial to the Trees

We are still without power. Fourth day. Mommy Nature came through our neighborhood and lifted ancient trees throwing root balls and sections of sidewalk up onto lawns and across streets. She threw other trees over power lines and into houses.
Crowds of neighbors stand in clumps, talking. They wear shorts and t-shirts. If they were all in black it would be like witnessing a crowded funeral home during visitation hours. The bodies of beloved trees laid out across their lawns. There is sorrow.
We walked the block taking pictures so I could show you, memorializing the trees. We pass people walking. Their faces grim, hurting. “Hi, how are you?” “Sad.” There is sorrow.
In “The Wild Trees” Richard Preston writes about a named redwood, Telperion, that fell in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It's root mass was about 30 feet in the air. It's trunk 16 feet in diameter. It was longer than a football field. People brought it flowers and laid them beside it’s prostrate trunk. 
I think it was a thousand year old tree. Think what it had lived through. Some of the trees that came down in our neighborhood could have been a hundred years old. Acorns in 1911.

Big old trees clean the air. They keep us alive. We should honor them.

The tree is cut up but the roof is smashed

This neighbor lost 15 trees

This pine is draped across two yards.

Today there were 5 new telephone poles at the side of Ridge Road,
that tells me that we will be without power still longer.  

When we take our morning walks down these shady streets, now the sun will break through and scorch the sidewalks and blister the hostas and other shade loving plants in the gardens.
Kim (my pal since we were seven) told me that she wasn’t home when the storm hit, but her neighbor said that the temperature dropped 20 degrees and the sky turned pea green. Then the hail crashed against the windows. Note: This is third hand information.
Just last week my daughter, Sue and I were saying how lucky we were to live here In Southeast Michigan. We have never had a hurricane wash across the land. Earthquakes? There have been tremors only twice in my memory. We have never had 120 degree weather, although, it got pretty damn hot in July as evidenced by a past post. And tornadoes are actually pretty rare here.
Last year other old trees were toppled in the same area that received the most damage this weekend. Lynn, my immunologist’s nurse, lives a couple blocks away. Her son’s car was flattened by a falling tree in last years storm. Once again her block has been drastically pruned.

But what about places with much more damage than we have? What about the flooded towns and washed out roads in Vermont and all along the Eastern coast?
House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, said in the wake of Hurricane Irene, that any aid should require equal cuts in spending. You know he’s aiming his gun at Social Security and Medicare. In other words the bribe is “We’ll create disasters for old people, before we’ll help with disaster relief from Irene”. He has since recanted his taped interview, and says he never said what he actually said on tape.
What ever happened to “Compassionate Conservatives”? I guess that was just a slogan they don’t use anymore.

Since posting, I've learned that insurance DOES NOT cover fallen trees. It only covers the car or house that gets whacked. The city as applied for disaster relief.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Saturday night we were 45 minutes away from home enjoying a wonderful dinner with our friends Alex and Diane Shirshun. Delicious risotto, chicken with mushrooms, zucchini, corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes and a delicious salad. We ate on their screened porch looking out over a calm zen-like  garden to the lake beyond. 
We were eating ice cream when the thunder and lightning started. The sky went wild with flashes. White lines slammed through the black sky and the mirroring lake flashed white.
As we drove home the angry sky seemed calmer. A few bolts here and there. Some rain. Not terrible. Not what I was expecting.
And finally we were almost home, we turned down our street into blackness. No street lights. No neighbors TV’s coloring their windows. Branches crunched under our tires. We came into our house. Blind people feeling our way through the hall to the basement stairs where we keep two camping lanterns I bought when we used to do art fairs. 
We are without power. 

Sunday afternoon my son Jim came over with his brand new generator, and Bonnie brought a full carafe of hot coffee. Coffee, Yes! I kissed her. They help me move food to the basement freezer and ancient second refrigerator, where it will be easier to plug in the long extension cord from the generator.
As we go down the stairs into the dark basement I lead the way with the lanterns. And when we come back up I switch off the light switch on the wall. We all keep flicking switches when we leave a room. Habits. We are used to having power.
“The Power of the Pen” they say, but I write on the computer. My Mac Book has just 16% of it’s battery power left. The little icon has turned red. I’ve never seen it red before. I have to write fast. Without power I have no internet. I will have to go out to someplace with WIFI to post this story.
On this Labor Day Holiday the power company people are hard at work, no day off. And every tree company in the county has men at work cleaning up the fallen trees. 
Tomorrow I will write another post. There is more, tomorrow is the sad stuff.
And don’t worry, I’m not going to inundate you. Tomorrow’s story. Then you get at least a couple weeks reprieve.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Slamming the URD

I’m in the rubber room. Gray rubber. I feel the knife in my right hand. A fine chef’s knife. Perfectly balanced handle, weighty in my hand, blade shiny with a sharp edge. I raise my arm high over my head and feel the anger in me rise as I slam the knife across the room. Tip to handle it rolls through the air. Whew, whew, whew, the knife whistles as it flies.

Then a voice says, “Are you up? Let’s walk. It’s cooler this morning.” 

What? Hell no, I’m not up. I’m in a rubber room with a knife, so watch it buddy.

I get out of bed, obedient as a 50’s “Mad Men” wife, and as pissed off as a 70’s feminist.

I dress. Can’t breathe, suck two puffs from the inhaler I rarely use. Grab my water bottle and plug up my ears with ipod buds. He’s standing on the porch. Patiently waiting. 

“We could leave the front door opened with the screen locked and go out the back door, so some cool air comes inside,” I say. Mad Men ignores me. He shuts the storm door and locks it behind us. 

It’s been too hot. I feel cranky all the time. We have a window air conditioner in the bedroom. Fans blowing three feet away help in the other rooms. I can hide down the basement but the humidity has started to trail me. I can go to the store. Somerset Mall is almost too cold. We’ve done our morning walk there a few times. 

I haven't been doing anything meaningful. I was looking forward to summer when I could have the window open so the oil painting fumes wouldn’t kill me. But it's too hot. I thought I’d have the garden in shape. But it's too hot. Our yard is frying. 

On our walk there are lots of beige and brown lawns. Here and there is an oasis of lush green that makes you want to roll in the grass and make summer angels. I think about the water bills and wasting water. We have watered too, yet our lawn is still heading toward the color of the ground in a current war zone. I could get cranky about that too.

The heat makes my gut scream and cry and stomp its little feet inside me. Sue, my daughter, says the heat does this to her too. We have wonky bellies.

Last night was almost cool enough to play Scrabble on the screened back porch. I was still too hot, irritable. The fireflies weren’t entertaining. I had bad letters. The board was bad. Where can you fit in a good word? Finally, I attached my U R D to a T. 

Mad Men reached for the Oxford dictionary, which we picked because it has all the common dirty words, you know, the really bad ones that George Carlin liked. 

“What! You’re looking up TURD?” 

“I just want to make sure it’s legal.”

“Legal!” With that I picked my URD off the board and threw it at him. Hit him smack in the heart.

“I pass!” I screamed. “It’s your turn. Take your damn turn.”

After that I think he threw the game. I won. But does it count if you win by losing it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


There's a warm breeze blowing across the porch of our 100 year old Wisconsin farmhouse. I look across the dirt road at the barn slowly collapsing under the weight of old age. The boys (John and his brother Walt) talk about ways of helping it out of it's misery. 

At this point are you wondering if the barn is going to be an analogy for the country falling out of favor with our creditors by not raising the debt limit. The traditions of always paying our national debt being risked by political posturing?

And did you notice I mentioned Wisconsin? I could be planning on telling you about the dozens of signs all over town for a Democrat running for Congress. We are about an hour north of Madison. I could tell about our fantasy last winter of marching and waving our posters (but we're old and it was too cold out).

Or maybe this is a story about personal aging, of each year having your major supports buckling. Knee knobs and hip girders snapping, so that your whole structure collapses. Hmmm. This could lead to a story about medicare. 

Maybe it'll be a story about Jack Kevorkian and putting the dying out of their misery.

Or maybe, just maybe, it's about the barn. This time, instead of my political harping at the end, I thought I'd get it over at the beginning. 

I'm on vacation, after all. Time to shed normality and relax. Do something different. 

Different? Huh. Let's see, I brought along two large tubs of painting supplies. Oils, which I haven't touched (sounds like home). We brought Scrabble which we play on summer nights on the screened porch at home. We cook. We eat. We sleep. And, yes, we brought our pillows.

And of course, I brought my computer. Right now John is at the kitchen table designing a bathroom on his laptop for a client. Katie's in the dining room on her laptop doing her job as a nurse reviewer. Walt is in the living room refining the new blog he's setting up. I'm in a sunny room off the dining room. I don't know what this room would be called. And you know what I'm doing. 

Last night I helped Walt set up a blog that we'll use to try to sell 265 acres of land. We'll still have 172 acres with the farmhouse, a gorgeous lake, fields leased to a farmer and the falling down barn. This is the beautiful place John and his two brothers inherited from their father several years ago.

So, vacation? I'm the same. The things I do are pretty much the same. Although Saturday Katie and I went to a flea market, something I don't normally do. Along with all the treasures and junk we saw there were a couple goodies I'm bringing home. 

But mainly it is a visual vacation. What I see here is very different than what I see in the Detroit suburbs.  In the evening we sit at a round table in the yard (with a fly biting our ankles) as we watch a herd of deer in the corn field. From the top of the hill we can look out over the pristine lake. We've seen a bald eagle and wild turkeys. 

And from the porch we mourn the death of a lovely old barn.

To see Walt's new blog click here:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wet Dreams

Here’s the scene. California sometime in the mid 60’s. My first husband named John was in the Air Force. We were renting a little house in Vacaville. You drove out of town, through a trailer park, then came to the orchard. There were three houses in the orchard; ours, the landlords (Gerry and Vern), and a tiny cottage right next to a dried up creek where Eunice and Bill lived. 
Gerry and Vern were grandparents. Gerry babysat for her new grandbaby. She was potty training him. He was three months old. My own babies were one and a half, and two and a half years old, and I was potty training them too. We had differing philosophies on training our little watering cans.
Vern worked as a prison guard at the California Medical Facility (the prison for the criminally insane). He was a sweet, gentle man, who’d rather be tending his orchard. My babies and I loved Vern. He was grandpa.
Gerry was tough. She totted a gun. A rifle. A bunch of big brown fat birds had been marauding our shared garden, so Gerry shot one that was snacking on tomatoes. Gerry said it tasted like chicken. Later we learned that some peacocks had escaped from a nearby farm. 
That year there was rare serious flooding north of us. We heard on the news that the flooding was so bad that rattle snakes were moving south. Water was rising.The normally dry creek was over-flowing next to Eunice and Bill’s little cottage. Gerry shot a snake that didn’t have a rattle.
Water kept rising. I was terrified. We went to bed one night and I wanted the babies in bed with us. Terrible fear. What if? What if? My first husband named John tried consoling me. “Don’t worry,” he said. “The flooding is far far north of us.” 
But what if? What if? 
I was starting to irritate him.
In the night all color is drained out by darkness. Fear bloats in the dark. Then morning arrives with bright blues, yellows and whites that make the fears feel silly. I slept fine, but John had spent the night reaching down to check the floor, expecting to find it wet.
The bad floods never reached us.
Now my second husband named John and I watch the news. Flooding. Flooding all over the place. Terrible flooding all along the Mississippi. Flooding locally. 
Water filled my daughter’s back yard, came in the door with her when she entered her house. In the bloated dark of night, I couldn’t sleep, thinking of sandbagging her back door. I need bags of manure for the garden. Could we manure-bag to protect her house from the waters? 
But then the rain stopped and suddenly it was 90 degrees in May.
I picked broccoli from my garden two weeks ago, the raspberries are already budding out. The poppies are blooming. When the poppies bloomed my grandmother used to say, “Well, summer’s over,” which made my mother and I laugh. Poppies bloomed in mid to late June. Summer was just beginning. It’s June 2nd.
Chicago is taking measures for a future expected to be hotter and wetter. They’re converting alleys to have permeable surfaces to absorb water. They’re air-conditioning more buildings.
“Global warming threatens the world’s security and existence,” this comes from the Vatican. Surprise. Surprise. I rarely agree with the Vatican. 
"Archbishop Celestino Migliore, apostolic nuncio of the Holy See’s permanent mission to the U.N., stressed that the scientific evidence for global warming and mankind’s role in the increase of greenhouse gasses “becomes ever more unimpeachable” and its effects already impacting the world community.”
Meanwhile, back at the farm, or back in the cities and suburbs, some folks deny that man has anything to do with climate change. If we didn’t do it, then we don’t have to do anything about fixing it, right? “I didn’t spill the milk, I’m not cleaning it up.” “Just leave me alone, unregulated.” “I can't let down my shareholders.” “Let me put my profits in Swiss accounts or the campaign funds of some cooperative politicians.” 

It's easy to criticize the other guys. 

Me, personally, what can I do? Conserve. Use less. Drive less. Buy local. Don't waste water. Don't put toxins in the air. 

Oh, geez, am I getting preachy? Sorry.
But, I would like to know what’s happening to all those people along the Mississippi. How are they managing? Is the muck shoveled from their kitchens?
Instead the news tells me that Sarah Palin is on a bus tour and, oh yeah, having a dinner with Donald Trump.
So how’s that workin’ out for ya.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Slay the Beast

The first ten days were spent in the critical care unit with a bacterial infection chewing on my lungs. Breathing was painful. Coughing incessant. Pneumonia. 

Kristen was ten. On a visit she painted my fingernails ten different colors. Some had stars.

There was a painting of a garden on the wall across from my hospital bed. An eighteenth  century couple strolled along the path, then they sat on a bench. She wore a gown perhaps made of drapes. He looked for all the world like Rhett Butler. Walking. Moving. Sitting. Standing. They were so real. And then they were gone. The hallucinations were over. I was coming back. 

The consensus was that I would live. I was slowing getting better. When I knew for sure that Scarlet and Rhett had never been in that painting, that in fact, no one had ever been in that painting of a garden, I couldn't bare to look at it anymore. 

I was moved to a new room, away from the painting of a garden, and the loud-mouthed son of the dying woman in the bed beside me. Now I had a room by myself and a TV high on the wall. People moved about on the screen. Really. Not figments of fever.

I was still wired up. An IV wore out the veins in my left hand, then my arm, then there was an excruciating attempt to put it in my foot. Monitors made zigzag lines above my head. Trapped by wires with no strength to hold a book, I stared at the television.

The Today show. Katie and Matt. A picture of a Tower in New York burning. A plane had crashed into it. A terrible accident. When a second plane hit the other tower, we knew it was no accident. I saw dark specks against the blue sky. No, not specks. People jumping. Not to save themselves, but choosing to die from flight rather than fire.

Over and over for days, I watched the planes hit the towers. A constant loop of tragedy. Sometimes I just looked at my colorful fingernails.

Nearly ten years later, I am alive. There are scars on my right lung and scars on my memory bank. The vision of smoke and crumbling buildings will always be there. 

On the night of Kristen's twentieth birthday, President Obama announced that the beast was dead. 

The master of vile, the calculator of mayhem, is dead. He didn't spend years living in a cave. He had a comfy compound where he could plan the next killing spree. 

Years ago I heard Sherwin Wine give a lecture to my liberal crowd. I don't remember his words, but the gist was that we are naive to think that there should never be wars. There is evil in the world and we can not stand by doing nothing. We can't stand by while the Hitler's out there gas innocent people. 

I am a bleeding heart liberal. I am against the death penalty. I'm not fond of wars, but agree with Sherwin Wine. And I am glad we have killed Osama Bin Laden.


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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Papa, Taxes and the Scary Monkey

Around the middle of April I often think of my grandfather with admiration. I want to share him with you.
Papa sold high quality little houses to G.I.’s returning from WWII. There were hundreds of returning soldiers and hundreds of nice houses to sell to them.
My grandparents moved out of Detroit and into the suburbs (Beverly Hills) in the late forty’s. Papa was rich. They built a mansion. It was a actually a two bedroom cape cod, about 1400 square feet, but considered a mansion according to my grandmother’s siblings. He drove a beige Cadillac. It was a fat, pompous car.
For the record, I wasn’t close to Papa. The main thing we had in common was not liking each other. His beef: I had too much of my grandmother’s attention. My beef: he never held me on his knee.

Maybe it was the monkey incident that broke us?
At a huge family gathering when I was quite little, maybe three, Papa gave me a stuffed monkey. Gave is the wrong word. He waggled it right in front of my face. I wasn't expecting it. Just a moment before, everything had felt so safe, and then this mean monster monkey lunged at me. I screamed in terror. I screamed until I had the hiccups. I screamed until I couldn't catch my breath. 

In 1951 my Republican Papa gave all the family members "I Like IKE" buttons. I loved having a button. I wore it proudly. However, our Detroit neighborhood was all school teachers, policemen and factory workers. I was a political outcast until I hid my button. But I liked IKE, or anyway I liked the button and really, it was the best slogan ever written.
I remember Papa crying while watching anything on TV about an orphans. His own father had died when he was five and his mother soon after. His uncle George grudgingly became guardian to Papa and his younger brother. George P. Codd was mayor of Detroit for a year. He was a circuit court judge for 13 years and a United States Representative for two years. 

Uncle George was all those important things. But more significantly, he must have aspired to be a Dickens character. He was cruel to his sister’s two young boys. Cruel to the point that Papa couldn't speak of his childhood. His release was sniffing, coughing, and hiding his dripping, red eyes over any orphan on television.
When April 15th came around, Papa would say how lucky he was. He made a lot of money and he paid a lot in taxes. Keep in mind that in the fifties the rates were much higher than now. He was proud that he had a big tax bill. Not everyone made enough to have a big tax bill. He was privileged.

In one fell swoop every April, he contributed to the building of roads and bridges. He paid for children to have teachers and schools. He helped the poor and less privileged. He paid for returning soldiers care in V.A. hospitals. Public libraries and municipal buildings with beautiful murals came from the tax money he sent the IRS. He could do so much for society simply by paying the taxes he owed. 

He was honored to be able to contribute to the country he loved. And this is why I remember him with pride at tax time.
The New York Times published an expose about General Electric making $26 Billion in PROFIT in this country in the last five years. They paid nothing in taxes. 


They have a tax department of 975 employees who spend half their time “looking to exploit opportunities to reduce tax.” And due to their diligence, G.E. claimed a 4.1 billion net tax profit from the IRS during that time.

Do you think that G.E.’s trucks use interstate highways, or cross some bridges getting their products to their markets? Do you think they want to hire people who are well educated? Do you think they’ll ever need a policeman or a fireman? 

Do you think they should get the scary monkey? 
Maybe they should cry until they get the hiccups.
Maybe they should hiccup up some money.