Which Comes First?

“Dear Abby’s” advice column or the New York Times crossword puzzle?

The puzzle definitely comes first.  At least for me.  “Dear Abby” just happens to be on the same page as the puzzle so, yes, I do read her column.  Especially when I’m stuck on a clue.

One day not long ago, Abby was responding to a reader who is moving to a retirement community where she and her husband know no one.  The writer admits to not being great at small talk and wonders how she’ll make new friends.

Abby recommended her very own booklet called, something like: “How To Start Over.” It’s a mere $8.00 and my check is in the mail. How could I not want to read that?  It gets to the very core of moving someplace new. 

I can do the actual move bit.  Done it many times.  Hung the pictures.  Arranged the furniture.  Placed the lamps.  Shelved the books.  Sorted the closets.

But after the do-ing,  comes the be-ing.  That’s the hard part.  Certainly for me, as a self proclaimed, card carrying, introvert. And for some of Abby’s readers, apparently. 

I’m eager to see what Abby offers up.  She’s been around a while.  Seen a lot.  Done a lot.  She’s the go-to-woman for many people.  Asking for her advice is new to me.  But so is this move.  So, bring it on, Abby.  I’m checking my mailbox daily.

Image thanks to hoaxes.com

Breakfast Table Un-Conversations

Mostly, they’re just gentle mutterings as one reads his iPad, the other works a crossword puzzle. It’s music of a sort. Humming noises in the background.  A soft blur.

It’s all easy and expected.  Until last Saturday morning when one uttered the following:  “I was visited by smells last night.”

Then the world stops. There’s a palpable gasp.  As if the dead has been resurrected.  Which is exactly what those words mean.

The questions start.  Was it flowers or fruit?  How long did they last?  Were you sound asleep when they came to you?

The questioner already knows the answers but they need to be asked anyway.  For confirmation.  To make sure.  Why now, we wonder?  She’s been gone several years.  

She, for the uninitiated, or the forgetful, is my mother.  Dead now for over twenty years, she spent many of those years appearing to us in the night as “sweet smells.”  Sometimes fruity, sometimes floral. Strong, intense aromas that wafted over us, waking us from deep sleep. Never visiting both of us at the same time.  Ghosts don’t do that.  Don’t ask why.  The episodes always lasted between 15 and 30 seconds. Then they’d be gone.  Poof. Just like that.

The abnormal became the normal.  The peculiar, the accepted.   The why, the why-not. The events became shrug-worthy. Nothing more.

But now, after a hiatus of several years?

There’s a reason it’s happening again.  We just don’t know what it is. Yet.

Oh, The Things We Learn

This little blog is rapidly turning into Life on the Lagoon. There’s a lot going on out there and we appreciate every bit of it from the comfort of our porch.

And so, as we looked out on that little porch just yesterday, we were shocked to discover that someone had spilled white paint all over everything.  The railings, furniture, flooring, plants.  Nothing was left “unadorned.”  Was it a vandal?  A repairman in the wrong place?  The mister sleepwalking?  Paintbrush in hand?

Nope.  None of the above.  It was a new resident.  Just going about his daily behaviors.  His regular activities.  Tending to business.  Doing what comes naturally.

He’s built a room in a nearby pine tree.  One hundred and fifty feet above our house.  And with a clear gravitational drop to our porch.  He knows what to do, how to do it and he does it frequently.  So, look out below. Take your hat with you if dare step outside.

Unless, of course, you don’t mind being on the receiving end of the Osprey’s bodily eliminations.  Children wouldn’t beat around the bush.  They’d call it what it is:  Poop.  Osprey poop.  Which is white.  Which we learned about the hard way.

Is the Osprey a permanent resident or a renter?  A “snow bird”or a full-timer?  Is he just looking or has he made a down-payment on the nest?  He’s a beautiful specimen.  Admirable in flight or in repose.  A magnificent bird of prey. 

And, I’m sorry to say, I truly, deeply hope he goes away.  I know that sounds like a “not-in-my-backyard” kind of attitude.  And, in fact, it is just that.  I want to admire him from afar.  A far, far way away.  I’ll happily ooh and aah as I watch him gracefully and majestically soar off into the great beyond. 

With extensive liberties, a person could (sort of) be reminded of Bogie’s famous Casablanca sentiment: “Of all the pine trees in all the towns in all the world, he had to fly into ours.”

Be Careful What You Wish For

Or, in this case, what you whistle for.

Our family has a “family whistle.” It came, like a dowry, from The Mister’s family.  We used it to round up our children, and they, subsequently, to round up theirs.  Our great-grandchildren are too young to whistle but they know what it means.

It means, simply, to come home.  Those few shrill notes make it clear that you….whichever family member you might be…. better get home right now!

Just the other night, as the Mister and I sat on our second story porch, overlooking the lagoon with its teeming wildlife, we discovered that children aren’t the only creatures who respond to whistles.

Bubba, the big alligator, was having a bit of a swim, lazily swinging his tail, in no apparent hurry.  Until The Mister whistled the family whistle.

To our surprise….nay, shock…. Bubba perked up and swam, quickly, purposefully, in our direction.  Was it an aberration?

No.  It wasn’t.  That much has been made clear over the last few evenings.  Bubba is responding.  He stops in his tracks to determine where the sound’s coming from.  Will change directions if he needs to.  He swims up to the shore…..never nearer….and we have a few moments of mutual appreciation.  Then he goes merrily on his way. 

I think we’ll back out of this relationship, however.   We know all too well that alligators are not toys. Or pets. They can and will respond to noise and can and will turn feral in a heartbeat.

We enjoyed our brief and up-close lesson in alligator behavior.  We will, however, be more mindful of who or what we whistle for in the coming days.

Photo: Bubba on the bank (unprompted by whistle)

She Sells Seashells Down by the Seashore

Yeah, yeah, we all know she does and has done so for years, even though we still have trouble articulating it.  It’s old news.  But now, if she’s a savvy seashell seller, she will go shopping for a She Shed.

Said “She Shed” will surely give both seller and seashells shelter from sudden showers and will shield them from the sizzling sun.

Not being as au-courant about new things as perhaps I should be, I was not aware of the She Shed phenomenon until recently. They seem to come in all sizes, shapes and price ranges.  You put ‘em up, stash your she-stuff in ‘em, make ‘em fluffy and comfy and then you go in ‘em when you’re feeling blue and overwhelmed.  At least that’s the way they’re represented.

That all sounds good.  Fun.  Happy.  There are, however, some serious shortcomings.  Electricity and plumbing, for two.

Absent those necessary elements there is no she-shed in my foreseeable future. Perhaps there’s an easy solution for those somewhat sticky issues.  I wouldn’t know anything about that. In the meantime, I’ll just have to wait and she what happens.

Shed shot thanks to skinners_sheds.com

What To Do????

Make believe you’re the director of a non-profit organization.  You’re always on the prowl for money.  It’s what you do.  It’s what you have to do if you and your organization are going to survive.  That money’s not gonna raise itself.

Or will it?

That depends on the organization, of course.  What if it’s a little one, just trying to stay afloat from year to year?  No one’s going to write a check without being asked. Cajoled.  Begged.

But. 

If you’re a big deal museum, elite college, renowned center of excellence?  That’s a whole different ball of wax.  Donors line up, wanting to make contributions, getting their names on buildings, scholarships, hospital wings.   It’s an ego thing for the donor.  And a big catch for the recipient.

Or is it?

What happens when that money turns out to be tainted?  Ill-gotten? You accepted it. You agreed to it. Now, you’ve got egg on your face and your organization by association.  And everyone’s wringing their hands.  The gift you thought you’d never see turns out to be the one you wish you’d never seen.

So what to do?

Well, it seems that Harvard, that bastion of higher education esteemed by so many, took big bucks from Jeffrey Epstein.   Oops.

Harvard spent most of Epstein’s “gifts” before all the bad stuff  about him hit the fan.  The good news is that they have a good sized chunk of change left over and they are going to designate every penny of it to organizations that support victims of human trafficking and sexual assault.

Go Harvard.  Rah rah, Crimson. They did the right thing and plan to work with peer institutions on similar concerns.

They turned lemons into lemonade.  That’s what they did.

Image thanks to AmericanBanker.com

Aw, shucks.

Just when you think you’ve found common ground with new friends, it all falls apart.

We do, sadly, live in a divisive country.

We can talk around the elephant in the room, pretend it doesn’t exist, act like it doesn’t matter and then someone, innocently, serves up a tomato sandwich and all hell breaks loose.

With that simple act, the beast is unleashed.  

It immediately becomes clear that stark lines have been drawn.  Other opinions don’t matter.  Compromise is out of the question.  Change is NOT the order of the day.

Will the die-hard Ohio tomato-lover concede that the New Jersey tomato may have some redeeming values?  Probably not.

How about the North Carolina tomato versus the Maryland tomato?  Don’t go there.  It’ll get ugly.

The South Carolina tomato really doesn’t have skin in the game unless it’s a Dempsey tomato.  We can all agree on that.

At some point, the prickly issue of corn will inevitably enter the conversation.  When that happens, more wine should be poured or people should simply go home.

We are each firm in our beliefs that the produce of our past is still the best produce on earth.  Our mothers and fathers would have served us nothing less than the juiciest, tastiest, and closest-to-home grown fruits and vegetables.  Best not to question our heritage.

But with understanding and appreciation for those differences, we can all take a stroll down memory lane and friendships can move forward.

Writer’s last word:  Ohio tomatoes are, without a doubt, the best!

Image of vegetables thanks to WebMD.com

I wish I’d gone to jail.

Not because I’d committed a crime.  That’s not something I’d do.  Or ever wish I had.

I do, however, wish I had been arrested and sent to jail because I felt strongly enough about something to get in the way.  To protest.  To sit-in.  To stand-up.  To understand the power of one.  To be fiercely out-spoken in favor of, or against, something that was, at least in my mind, an injustice to others.  Or to the land.  Or to the air.

A small article in a college alumni magazine recently caught my attention.  The writer’s daughter had a serious accident many years ago, leaving her a paraplegic for life.  Not one to let that stand in her way, her daughter became an activist with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Her mother boasts that she went to jail 30 times.

Just once would be good in my mind.  But thirty times???  What a woman.  Imagine the differences she made.

I regret, and have for many years, that as I watched bulldozers raze the land across the street from our house, I didn’t just walk over there and get in their way.  I found out later, much too late, that they didn’t even have a permit for what they did.  I could have made a difference.  Just me.  Just one person.

And maybe, just maybe, if I had gotten lucky, really, really, lucky, I would have been hauled off to jail.

But hold on. As we know, it’s never too late and there’s certainly much to care deeply and passionately about these days. Maybe I’ll get a second chance after all.

Image by John Overmyer/Startribune.com

Boy, Did I Ever Get Lucky

See, I knew them……

Before they were elected “Best Documentary Directors” by the Sundance Film Festival in 2019.

Before MOMA put together a retrospective of their work.

Before Rotten Tomatoes gave them a 98% rating for their newest documentary.

Before they were both elected to the prestigious Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

They are Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar and their film American Factory premiered on Netflix on August 21, 2019.

Once upon a time, many years ago, they invited me into their world of independent filmmaking. Oh, the things I learned. The fun I had.

They introduced me to some of the most creative, dedicated and hardest working people one ever could imagine.

Most importantly, they became my good friends. And in spite of all these accolades, they are still the people they were before. They still live in the same house in the same small town in Ohio and they still leave their egos in the cutting room. Just like they did before.

I urge you and yours to watch this film. It’s an important piece of work.  But don’t take my word for it.  Go to Rotten Tomatoes and see what the experts think.

As an aside.  When you watch American Factory, and I hope you do, ask yourselves how in the world Julia and Steve, with their cameras in hand, were afforded access to so many important, personal and revealing stories.  It’s extraordinary.

Check in, check up, check out

We are incredibly fortunate to have good health care.  And we’re even luckier to have good health care providers.  Most of them have been part of our lives for 20 years or more.  We’re not just on a first name basis; we exchange hugs and family stories.  That easy manner is a balm for a hypochondriac like me.

Same with nurses and receptionists. Good to have them on your side. Anything to get the frayed nerves settled down.

But now we have robotic, computerized check-in machines.  By the time the machine has electronically recognized me, agreed that I have a proper driver’s license, am sufficiently insured to cover the high cost of medicine, has accepted the fact that I have moved, have a new address and telephone number and am still the person I say I am, I am wrecked.   Demoralized.  Nauseated.  Woozy.  I have heart palpitations and sweaty palms.  My toes and fingers tingle and I feel faint.

In other words, I need a doctor.  And not just the one I had an appointment with.

Actually, I just need a person.  Someone to smile at me when I walk in the door, say my name, welcome me, check me in and say those lovely (if not always truthful) words: “Doctor will be with you shortly.”

Image thanks to the Reliant Medical Group

I Play Bridge

Yes, I do and have done so longer than nearly anyone I know.  I learned at my parents’ table.  At a very early age.  Long before I could even hold 13 cards in one hand.  And I’ve enjoyed the game for all these years.

The fact that I play bridge doesn’t make me a bridge player.  That title is reserved for those who take the game seriously.   Actually, I also take the game seriously.  I’m seriously committed to it as just that:  a game. To be played.

My favorite bridge table includes the sounds of ice cubes over a gin and tonic or two, the crunch of cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches and and much, much laughter.

It’s just not in me to deny the fun, the randomness of the cards.  In my mind, every deal is a present, a gift to open and enjoy.   A bit like a basket of fancifully dyed Easter eggs or a double-layered box of Whitman Sampler chocolates.

Cards are a great excuse to spend time together, share stories between deals and let the world pass us by. We like to say that bridge sharpens our minds. It also deepens friendships, if given a chance.

If you agree, then come on over, put a quarter in the pot, throw out the rule book, cut for deal and we’ll have fun.  I promise.

Back to School Time

It’s that time of year.

The promise of some nippy mornings just around the corner. The excitement of new beginnings. And, especially, the ritual of back to school shopping.

New clothes.  Fresh sneakers.  And paper goods.  Lots and lots of paper goods.

That was always the best for me. The paper goods.  New notebooks.  Three ring binders.  Colored tabs for all your classes….English, math, science, home economics. A package of colored paper, too.

Then there were the writing implements.  Pretty pens.  Pencils.  Yellow, number 2….a dozen or more.  We had a (manual, of course) pencil sharpener bolted on the door to the basement.  I loved it when it got all jammed up with shavings and could be emptied.  So simple and so satisfying.

Back to School shopping is a rite of passage.  Plus, everything always smells so good.  Fresh, new, fun. 

Then, a man with an AK 47 walks in and shatters my reverie….

Moving from my computer to my television, just this very minute, I learn with enormous shock and grief, that there’s yet another shooting – in our hometown of Dayton, Ohio.   In the historic district.  Right around the corner from our old beloved brownstone.

Talk about today’s reality and future shock…

Funerals

                                     

We attended one earlier this week. 

She was a good friend. She had established a code…. a way of life….that so many admired and valued. Even though she’d recently shown signs of failing, we, who knew her, hoped she’d pull through.

It wasn’t an easy decline.  We’d watched over the last couple of years as she struggled against the tide. She wasn’t young but we thought she had staying power.  That she’d beat the odds.

And so it was with great sadness that we witnessed her demise, this past Wednesday, in Washington, D.C.

Many of you knew her, too. Her name was Civility. 

The Mister and I join her sisters, Respect and Grace, in mourning her death. She will be sorely missed.

                     

image thanks to nearsay.com

Class Notes

I attended an all-girls high school.  It’s a small school and I always look forward to the alumnae magazine and its class notes.  Catch up on what everyone’s been doing.

I like to start at the back with the young graduates.  They’re so full of hope, energy and enthusiasm.  As you’d expect, they report weddings, babies, and exciting jobs.   Their zest for life jumps off the pages.  I wish I knew some of them.

Then I skip to the part of the magazine where the “old guard” speak of lives well lived.   Many have lost husbands and children but they keep on keeping on.  They’re true inspirations.  I wish I knew some of them, too.

In between the old and the new is, of course, the middle.

On those pages, we read accounts of extensive world travel, brilliant children and grandchildren, successes beyond the imaginable, published books, global recognition, grand achievements and so on.  There are also stories of extreme difficulties which have been overcome by hard work and perseverance. I find myself impressed, if not just a little…no, make that a whole lot…..daunted, by what so many have done.

Nowhere is there an entry that resembles defeat or regret.  Who would bother to report they’ve been on Prozac for twenty years and it still hasn’t kicked in?  Not moi.

I usually put the magazine down, a bit dispiritedly, pour a little wine and try to console myself.  But this time I discovered a balm for my soul in the midst of the highs and lows.  It was an entry from the class of ’77.

Those two class secretaries, who have the job of recruiting news from their colleagues, have decided that too much bad news can be tough and too much good news may feel false.  So what to do? 

They’ve creatively decided to send notes to their classmates with thoughtful questions asking for thoughtful responses.  To quote them: “We’ll get to know each other again.”  They’ll publish their replies in the next alumnae magazine.

Bravo to them for reinventing an old and slightly squeaky wheel. I can hardly wait to get to know their classmates.

Finnegan. Please begin again.

So much began with Finnegan, the cat.  He unknowingly facilitated our relationship with the historic house on the May River and our happy years there.  I’d say he was the ”catalyst” for all that but it’s a bit too punny.  Even for me.

Finnegan was plucked from the old house because one member of his original family was seriously allergic to him.  Word went out that he needed a new home.  Our son and his family adopted him.  He thrives in their midst.  Some might say that he over-thrives.  Finnegan is, well, shall we say, fat.  Quite fat.  Adorably, deliciously so.

As the Mister and I move out of the old house, our son and his family are moving in.  Finny is going home.  We hope he’ll enjoy the cool river breezes and fishy marsh smells.  Just like he did.  Once upon a time.

But now this.  Finnegan is sick.  Too sick to recover.  He won’t make the trip back to his original haunt.  His family must let him go where he won’t be in pain.

So, Finnegan won’t begin again.  At least in the corporal sense.  But I’d put money on his ghost showing up.  That old house doesn’t forget anything or anybody.  Especially a cat who was, and now we can say it, the catalyst for so many happy times.

Finnegan.  Rest in peace.  You were loved.