Sunday, December 29, 2013

MY NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS FOR 2014


 

For the past few years, I have not made any New Year’s resolutions because I figured they were just a waste of my time. I mean, usually by January 3rd, I’ve already broken all of them. But this year, I have renewed determination and optimism. I not only am going to make a list of resolutions, I am going to do everything in my power to succeed in keeping them…at least until January 4th.So far, my list is as follows:
·         I will stop eating my dessert before my meals.
I got into the habit of eating my dessert before dinner way back when I was a kid because I was afraid I’d be too full after my meal. At the time, I had to be sneaky about it because if my mom caught me, she’d scold me. After I got married, I thought I’d be free to indulge, but my husband also scolded me when he’d see me inhaling a box of chocolates only 20 minutes before dinner. But now that I’m alone, I can eat a whole cake before dinner and the only ones who will notice are my dogs (only because they want me to share it with them). I really need to make this resolution, however, before my stomach flab gets caught in my jeans zipper again.
·         I will read my newspapers when I get them.
I subscribe to two daily newspapers. The problem is, I’m usually too busy to read them, so I stack them in the corner until I can get to them. Last count, the stack was about five feet high. It used to drive my husband crazy, because I’d sit down and read a bunch of papers all at once, and then say, “Oh, no! John, our former neighbor, passed away! His obituary is in here!” 
“That’s terrible!” my husband would respond. “When is the funeral?”
“Four months ago.”
·         I will stop spoiling the birds, squirrels and my dogs.
Last week, I spent $142 on groceries. Out of that, $40 actually was for food for myself. The rest was for the animals. I have to admit that when it comes to feeding the wild birds and squirrels, I may go just a teensy bit overboard. For example, I bought them sunflower hearts, peanut-butter cookies, mixed nuts, cheese popcorn, blueberry bagels, raisin bread, graham crackers and snickerdoodles.  And I came very close to buying them a Christmas fruitcake. You’d think I was trying to turn my bird feeder into a five-star restaurant. And for the dogs, I bought enough chews, cookies, pig ears, sticks and rawhide bones to feed an entire kennel. If I switched to a big bag of cheap birdseed and a five-pound sack of economy dog biscuits, I probably could save enough money to celebrate next New Year’s Day in Tahiti.
·         I will try to learn to pump my own gas.
My brain is still living in the era when people pulled into a gas station and the attendant rushed out, pumped gas for them, washed the windshield and even gave them a free gift, like a drinking glass or a coffee mug. So I have stubbornly refused to pump my own gas. It just doesn’t make sense to me that back when gas was only 35 cents a gallon, gas-station attendants were doing everything but performing show tunes for patrons, and now that gas is way over $3 per gallon, we’re expected to get out of our cars and stand there and get frostbite while we pump our own gas. This is why I drive 34 miles out of my way every week to get gas at a full-serve station. My friends, however, laugh at me and shake their heads whenever I mention it. So maybe, just maybe, seeing there is a self-service station only about 6 miles from my house, I just might give in and pump my own gas. But if I do, I expect a reward for my efforts (like a free glass or a coffee mug).
·         I will try to get to bed before sunrise.
I live a backwards life. I go to bed at 8 in the morning and get up at 3 in the afternoon. I’ve always been a night owl, but now I have advanced to an all-night owl. I eat dinner at midnight. I eat breakfast at 4 in the afternoon. And when people invite me to “do lunch,” I think of it as 8 pm. I have tried in the past to switch back to what other people consider “normal” hours, but all I did was learn that I’m not normal. Still, I am making a resolution to try again. So if you see me with bags the size of suitcases underneath my eyes, you’ll know why.
·         I will stop wasting money on anti-aging products.
The time has come for me to realize that the only thing that will take years off my life and make me look young again is if someone invents a time machine that actually works. I have so many anti-aging products stuffed into my bathroom cabinets, the wood on the doors actually looks new again. My face, however, still is sporting more wrinkles than an unmade bed. And my neck is so saggy, it’s a wonder I wasn’t shot during turkey-hunting season. But I resolve to learn to accept the fact that wrinkles and sagging are a natural part of aging – unless, that is, I win Powerball and can afford cosmetic surgery.
·         I will be braver about driving at night.
It seems that the older I get, the less I like to drive after dark. And seeing that I don’t get out of bed until late afternoon, it’s a problem during the winter months.  My biggest fear is driving on the road to my house. It has more curves than Marilyn Monroe’s body and has no breakdown lane or anywhere to pull over if my car breaks down. And more times than I can count, deer have darted across the road right in front of me. As a result, the minute it gets dark out, I grip the steering wheel so tightly, my hands go numb. And I slow down to about 30 mph. This usually results in the car behind me getting so close (probably in an attempt to nudge me along) it looks as if the driver is sitting in my back seat.
·         And last of all, I will stop spending hours playing the computer game, “Letter Rip.”
I figure if I quit playing the game, I’ll finally have time to read my stack of 300 newspapers – and find out that the leather coat I’ve been drooling over for ages but couldn’t afford, finally went on sale for half-price…back in September.



 

 

Monday, December 23, 2013

I'M WINNING THE BATTLE BUT LOSING THE WAR


About three months ago, I declared war. Since then, it’s been an uphill battle, but I think I’m finally gaining on the enemy.

It all started when I bought a box of dog biscuits on sale.  When I got home, I opened the box, gave a biscuit to each dog, then closed the box and put it into the cabinet underneath my kitchen island. Little did I know at the time that something diabolical was lurking inside that box.

Shortly thereafter, I began to notice these tiny blackish-brown bugs, smaller than a sesame seed, appearing here and there in my kitchen. They looked hard-shelled, but they squished really easily. Just one touch and they would flatten. They also moved very slowly, which made them easy prey. So I took great pleasure in smacking them.

As the days passed, the little black bugs increased in numbers. I had no idea where they were coming from or what they were, but I was getting aggravated. They were in my dogs’ dishes. They were in my kitchen sink. They were on the stove.

I went to the computer and searched for “annoying kitchen bugs.”  Within minutes, up popped a photo of some little black bugs that looked exactly like mine. In fact, I suspected that the ones in my house had posed for the photo before they headed to my place.

The information about the photo said they were grain beetles – harmless to humans but harmful to grain products. In other words, all of the foods that gluten-intolerant people have to avoid are the ones these little buggers love. Their favorite treat, according to the article?  Dog biscuits!

I raced to the cabinet under the kitchen island and took out the box of dog biscuits. Then I spread out a couple paper towels and poured out the biscuits onto them. Two of the biscuits, the ones at the very bottom of the box, had so many holes in them, I could see daylight through them. And popping their pointed little heads out of the holes were dozens of the tiny black bugs! 

I dumped everything into a Zip-Loc plastic bag, then put that bag into another bag and took it directly out to the trash barrel. I was satisfied that my war with the bugs was over – that I had found the source of the problem and had eliminated it.

But the bugs continued to appear. And they obviously were desperately searching for a dog-biscuit substitute to sate their ravenous little appetites. I found them in the cupboards, in the dogs’ dishes, and even in the cookie jar. So I tossed out all of the food and bought a new supply.  Then I bought a bunch of plastic containers with airtight lids and put the food into those.

“Let’s see you get into these!” I cackled at the bugs as I stacked the containers in the cupboard.

I cackled even louder as I put my vacuum cleaner on turbo-suck and vacuumed every nook and cranny in the house. 

For about a week afterwards, my house was blissfully free of the little black pests. I began to feel overly confident, thinking I’d won the war.

But one night a couple weeks ago, I made myself a sandwich, set it down on the island and went to pour myself a glass of juice.  When I returned and reached for the sandwich, it looked as if it had coarsely ground black pepper sprinkled all over it.

The only problem was the pepper had legs.

I checked the cabinet underneath the island and there, way in the back corner was one small piece of a dog biscuit that must have fallen out of the box before I’d tossed it out. Judging from all of the holes in it, it obviously had become a grain-beetle motel.

I threw out the biscuit, but kept four of the beetles, which I put, along with a new piece of biscuit, into a sealed plastic bag, and then set it aside. I figured I might learn something about the bugs’ habits that would help me form a strategic plan of attack to end the invasion.
 

Within a short time, there were over 100 bugs in that bag, and the biscuit had been turned into powder. The pests were breeding like miniature rabbits and eating like horses. I panicked.

“I have them in my house, too,” my friend Emily told me when I complained to her about my uninvited guests. “Get some kitchen-moth traps at the hardware store. They’ll really help.”

“But they’re beetles, not moths,” I said.

“It’ll still work,” she assured me.

The moth trap turned out to be nothing more than sticky paper with a piece of “bait” in the middle. I got home and laid out the sticky paper on the kitchen island. I also added a small piece of cookie to the center of the paper, just in case the moth bait didn’t appeal to the beetles.

As I stood watching, two beetles immediately approached the sticky paper. They crawled onto it, and although they appeared to be struggling, one slow step at a time they made it to the bait. After a while, they left, walked back across the sticky paper and onto the island – where I smacked them into pancakes.

I figured the sticky paper must have been ancient and had lost its “oomph,” so I tested it with my fingers. It took me 20 minutes to unstick myself. My only conclusion was the dumb beetles didn’t weigh enough to stick to the paper.

“Well, just be patient,” one of my friends jokingly said. “If they keep eating your sandwiches, they’ll eventually get fat enough to stick!”

As she laughed at her own comment, I was thinking I should give the bugs her address and tell them she owned a dog-biscuit factory.

I think, however, I’m finally winning the battle. By keeping all of my foods sealed tighter than Fort Knox, and by vacuuming twice a day and making sure no crumbs of any kind are left lying around after I cook something or feed the dogs, the bug sightings have dwindled down to maybe only one or two a day. I figure the ones I’m seeing now are just starving stragglers that soon will kick the bucket.

And with my luck, one of them probably is pregnant.
 
 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I BECAME AN OFFICIAL SCUM BAG


 
 
My friend Pat works at Post 79 in Manchester, so when she suggested I take part in the post’s trivia contest on December 1, I laughed.

“Trust me, you’ll have fun!” she said. “We start at 2 sharp. I’ll look for you!”

So, against my better judgment, I went. I arrived just as the contest was beginning. Pat rushed over to me, gave me a brief hug and said, ‘Quick! Your team is over here! Take a seat!”

She introduced me to the three men at the table, but the introductions were so fast, I didn’t remember any of their names. I did, however, remember the name of their team…The Scum Bags. So I officially became a Scum Bag that afternoon.

Each round consisted of 10 questions, for which each team had to write down the answers. A numbered sheet of paper and a pen were thrust at me. I became the designated writer.

I discovered that each man on my team had a different category of expertise. One was a sports expert (thank goodness, because I know as much about sports as I do about building a space station). Another favored science and history questions (again, thank goodness). When they asked me about my particular area of expertise, I had to stop and think. I finally decided it was music and entertainment.

A quizmaster began to read the questions. We breezed through the first few and then came to one that stumped us.

“On which day of the week was the 9-11 disaster?” the quizmaster asked.

“It definitely was a Monday!” one guy on my team said. “My wife was supposed to take a flight that day and it was canceled.”

“I think it was a Tuesday,” another teammate said. “For some reason, Tuesday sticks in my mind.”

“No, I think it was a Monday,” the third guy said.

All three of them then turned to look at me.  All I could remember was it was a weekday because my husband had called me from work and woke me up. But seeing that two of my teammates had said Monday, that’s what I wrote.

It turned out be a Tuesday.

Then came the question, “Heather Whitestone was the first Miss America to have a handicap. What was it?”

“She was Italian!” someone shouted out, laughing.

I, however, knew for a fact that Heather was hearing impaired.

“Are you sure she wasn’t blind?” one of my teammates asked. “I think I remember that she was blind.”

“No, trust me,” I said. “She was hearing impaired.”

I turned out to be right. My teammates all smiled at me. I was gaining their trust.

“At what event in Stephen King’s ‘Carrie,’ did the main character have blood dumped on her?” the quizmaster then asked.

“The prom!” one of my teammates boomed, laughing.

The three of us turned to glare at him.

His eyes widened. “You mean I’m right?” He looked genuinely shocked. “I was only joking!”

 “Well, you just gave everyone else the answer!” the guy across from me said.

The next question was, “What is the acronym meaning not to make things overly complicated?”

One of my teammates sitting across from me stared at me. “You’re a writer,” he said. “What’s an acronym?”

“Initials of something that spell out a word, like NATO,” I said.

“Oh!” the guy next to me whispered, his tone suddenly excited. “The answer is KISS!”

‘Kiss?” another teammate asked, looking at him as if he’d just grown a second head.

“Yeah, it means ‘keep it simple, stupid’!”

He turned out to be right.

We then were given a list of pairs of companies and had to circle which one came first: Burger King or Wendy’s? Toyota or Honda? Coke or Pepsi? We got most of them correct – except we thought Honda had come before Toyota.

There also was a sheet of TV stars’ photos. We had to give the name of the TV character each was portraying in the photo.  The first photo was of Mr. T.

“Write down Mr. T!” my guys told me.

I shook my head.

“But that’s who he is!” they said in unison.

“No. His character in this photo is B.A. Baracus from the A-Team.”

They just stared at me.

“Trust me?” I asked.

I could tell they probably didn’t. I wrote down B.A. Baracus anyway.  I breathed a sigh of relief when it turned out to be the right answer.

Miraculously, The Scum Bags were crowned the trivia champs, but only by a couple of points. We each won a gift bag of prizes.

I left there feeling smarter than I’d felt in a long time. Heck, I even learned that Brett Favre was the only quarterback in history who ever defeated all 32 NFL franchises.

Can’t beat that.
#  #  #

 

JOE’S CHRISTMAS STAR

Joe, my husband of 41 years, passed away last December 15th.  He always enjoyed looking up at the stars, so in his memory this Christmas season, I decided to have a giant, lighted star constructed in his memory. My friend Kim’s husband, Dick, who owns Boddie Construction, built the star for me in my back yard last week. It stands about 20 feet high and can be seen for miles. So if you happen to be driving up Deerfield Road in Allenstown, go about 1.6 miles past the Bear Brook State Park toll booth and start looking to your left. You will see a lone star shining in the distance. That’s Joe’s star. Rest in peace, Joe.


 

 

 

 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

MY SATELLITE COMPANY IS PUNISHING ME


Back in 1998, when I bought my first computer, the way I got online was to hook it up to a telephone line. This was called a “dial-up” connection.

The problem with dial-up was it took forever to get online. When I got up in the morning, I’d hit “connect” on the computer, then go take a shower, eat breakfast, walk the dogs, do the newspaper crossword puzzle and reorganize my underwear drawer. Right about then, the computer finally would connect me to the Internet.

I can remember downloading computer programs that gave an estimate of the amount of time the download would take to complete. It was something like, “High-speed Internet – 10 minutes. Dial-up connection – 17 hours.”

“I want to get high-speed Internet!” I’d frequently whine to my husband. “One day you’ll walk into my office and find me covered in cobwebs because I had to wait so long to download a program using dial-up.”

“Dial-up is just fine,” he’d answer. “You don’t run a business or anything, so what’s your hurry? The computer eventually gets you where you want to go. Besides that, high-speed Internet is much more expensive than dial-up.”

“Well, it would be nice to wish someone a happy birthday and not have the message get there two days too late!”

He shrugged. “Then just send the birthday greeting two days earlier.”

When we moved in 2009, the first thing I decided to do was switch over to high-speed Internet. Just about every house on my road had theirs through the same cable company, so I gave the company a call. A representative was sent over to check out my property.

“Yeah, we can connect you,” the guy said. “But you’re going to have to pay for over a mile of cable. That’ll come to about $20,000 to install.”

After I nearly needed a whiff of smelling salts, I told the guy I wouldn’t pay $20,000 for a cable connection even if a group of half-naked male bodybuilders arrived to install it ($10,000 maybe, but not $20,000).

When I complained to my husband about the cable, he said, “Well, I guess you’re stuck with dial-up then. You’ll just have to learn to live with it.”

But I soon discovered there was one other option – high-speed satellite. I checked into it. The price was right and the guy guaranteed it would connect my computer to the Internet so fast, the breeze would part my hair.

The difference with the satellite hook-up was amazing. When I turned on the computer, I’d be connected in the blink of an eye. And when I downloaded a program, it was finished within minutes. I was able to do 20 times the amount of work I’d previously been able to do in the same amount of time.

Two weeks ago, I spent the day online browsing for Christmas-gift ideas. I must have “visited” 50 stores. Then I downloaded some music videos and a Christmas movie to watch.

When I turned on my computer the next day, it had slowed back down to a crawl.

“You have 35 unread emails,” the screen said.

Three hours later, all 35 finally appeared. Normally, it would have taken less than one minute.

“This can’t be happening!” I muttered. “I have high-speed Internet!” I began to suspect I was trapped in some sort of time warp that had transported me back to 1998.

I tried everything to speed up my computer. I cleaned out all of the unnecessary junk I’d stored in it. I restored the hard drive to a previous date. I had my virus-protection program scan for problems.

Still, the computer crawled.  So I hooked up my other computer to the satellite connection. It was even slower than my main computer.

That left me only one other option – something I usually resort to only in a dire emergency because the mere thought of it gives me stomach cramps. I called technical support at the satellite-dish company.

“Hmmm,” the agent said as he checked my account. “I see here that you are registering a 99-percent usage on your computer. We want you to keep your usage at around 70 percent.  So we have reverted you back to dial-up speed until your usage drops back down to the recommended level.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “You mean you’re punishing me for using my computer too much? But I’m a writer!  I can’t waste my time sitting around for hours, waiting to get online!  I have deadlines!”

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s our policy.”

“But nobody ever told me I had a limit! I’ve been with your company for four years now and this is the first time this has ever happened!”

I was pretty upset when I hung up, mainly because I knew I’d have to ration my computer usage so I could drop back down to the required 70-percent level. No more Christmas shopping online. No more downloading my favorite songs or movies. No more clicking on videos that showed things like tap-dancing dogs or people daring each other to eat a tablespoon of cinnamon (note: for those of you who aren’t aware, it’s impossible to eat a tablespoon of cinnamon because it dries up your saliva and makes you violently choke and spew out cinnamon in a manner similar to that of an active volcano).

The next night, one of the managers from the satellite-dish company called to tell me he’d decided to restore my service to high speed.

“You mean I’m not on punishment any more?” I asked.

“Just remember I’m making an exception only this one time,” he said. “Next time, you’ll have to wait it out.”

I thanked him and immediately rushed to my computer. When I got online within a few seconds, I was so excited, I nearly kissed the screen. Then I proceeded to do all of the things I hadn’t been able to do during my punishment. I ordered Christmas gifts, downloaded Christmas carols, watched a couple movies and chatted online with friends.

And now my computer is back to running slower than a sloth on tranquilizers. I’m pretty sure I’ve been put on the satellite company’s “naughty” list again.

I’m thinking that maybe if I sell my car, get a couple jobs and rent out a room in my house, I can raise the $20,000 to switch over to cable.

 

 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A SAD FAREWELL TO "GOOD STUFF, CHEAP!"


 
I was crushed to read that Building 19 filed for bankruptcy earlier this month and would be liquidating all of its merchandise.

Some of my favorite times were spent rummaging through the piles of sale items in the Manchester store, even way back when it was located in the former Mammoth Mills building. The store was known for selling many less-than-perfect items at drastically discounted prices. Its slogan was, “Good Stuff, Cheap!”

Most of my Star Wars collection and my husband’s trading-card collection were purchased at Building 19 over the years.

I can remember chuckling at some of the items in the store, however. One day I happened to spot a rack of pretty flannel nightgowns that were priced so low, I thought there had to be some mistake. I soon discovered why they were so cheap. When I took one off the rack and held it up, I saw that the entire hem was burned off.  In fact, all of the nightgowns were in the same condition. That’s because the store often purchased merchandise at fire sales.

In the late 1980s, I worked a mystery shopper, where I was assigned to go to different stores and restaurants and then fill out reports about my experiences. I was delighted when I was assigned to shop at all of the Building 19 stores in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. I mean, imagine actually being paid to go shopping in my favorite store?  It was my dream job.

All of the stores I’d mystery shopped prior to Building 19 had specific forms to fill out, but Jerry Ellis, the founder of Building 19, insisted upon first-person essays. He wanted to read stories – honest narratives – not forms.  He also wanted me to interact with a clerk in every department of each store, and then make a purchase so I could evaluate the cashiers.

What usually ended up happening was I’d spend more money than I earned. My two favorite departments in Building 19 were office/stationery and toys. I always came out of the store with my arms so loaded with bags of stickers, stationery, books, dolls, action figures and Star Wars spaceships, I barely could carry them.  Then, at the end of the week I’d wonder why I didn’t have enough money to pay my bills.

I also loved to browse in the Building 19 samples department, which featured exclusive fashions by famous designers. I can remember drooling over the dresses, most of which were so small (because they had been worn by fashion models) that even if I’d lived on nothing but celery sticks and water for a month, I still couldn’t have squeezed my big toe into any of them.

And I got a kick out of the store’s weekly newspaper ads, which were drawn in cartoon form and usually had silly captions. One swimsuit ad, for example, showed a cartoon of a woman wearing a bikini and posing in knee-deep water, while sharks wearing inner tubes circled her.  Several times, however, the ads caused controversy or offended people, such as when the store advertised a sale on men’s “wife beater” shirts, or it printed an ad backwards especially for people with dyslexia.

The store also offered free coffee to its shoppers. I hate to say it, but the coffee was about as appealing as swamp water and featured, according to the sign, “real fake cream.” I think the store realized how bad its coffee was because there often were signs near it that said things like, “Don’t complain about our coffee! Someday, you’ll be old and weak, too!”

About 20 years ago, the store held a contest that offered a cash prize for the best shopper-created Building 19 video commercial. Not only would the winner receive a cash prize, his or her commercial actually would be aired on TV.

I decided I had nothing to lose by trying, so one night, while my husband was sound asleep, I grabbed my video camera and set it up on a tripod. Then I searched through the house and found a variety of merchandise I’d purchased at Building 19 and set it out on the kitchen table. I had no real plan or script in mind, I just turned on the camera, got behind the table and started talking.

“It was the day before payday,” I said to the camera, “and you know how that is! I was pretty broke. Still, I went to Building 19, just to browse, and I ended up buying all of this stuff!” I made a dramatic sweep of my hand to indicate my haul, which included everything from a sweater, teapot and shoes to a stack of books and a blanket. Back then, Building 19 accepted only cash, no credit cards, which was why I emphasized being broke.

Then I continued, “The next day, I got paid and went shopping at a big-name department store. And for the same amount of money I spent at Building 19, I was able to buy this!”  I held up a pair of cheap-looking knit gloves, frowned at them and tossed them over my shoulder.

That was the whole commercial. I packed it up and sent it off to the contest the next day without another thought…and without telling anyone.

No one was more shocked than I was to learn that my commercial had made the finals.  The finalists’ commercials then were shown on a public-access station in Massachusetts (which, unfortunately, I couldn’t get here) and viewers were asked to vote for their favorite.

For reasons I still can’t fathom, my commercial won. I received a nice check, and my commercial was aired on TV.  I thoroughly enjoyed my 15 minutes of fame.

But I had to laugh at an unexpected prize I also received – a bottle of Building 19’s  “Chateau de Cheapeau” champagne. It said on the label, “Vintage: Thursday. An ideal accompaniment to partridge, pheasant, rack of lamb, Ring Dings, Twinkies and Moon Pies.  After drinking, stay away from open flame.”

Yep, I’ll really miss Building 19 because it holds so many fond memories.

But I still have that sealed bottle of Chateau de Cheapeau champagne as a souvenir.

And I just might open it someday, even though it probably will taste like flat vinegar.

 

 

 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

MY CLOCKS ARE PLOTTING AGAINST ME


 

Ever since I turned my clocks back, I’ve been having problems adjusting to the time change.

I know it’s only an hour, but for some reason, that hour seems to purposely be trying to make my life even more stressful than it already is.

The first day after the time change, for example, I woke up at 3:00 in the afternoon. It already was getting so dark out, I thought it was 3:00 in the morning, so I went back to sleep for another four hours. When I finally got up, I couldn’t figure out if I should be making breakfast or dinner. It wasn’t until I turned on the TV and saw evening programs that I realized I’d slept through the entire day.

And then there were the clocks I had to reset.  My friends in New York own over 20 clocks, so they don’t bother resetting them. They said that in a few months, all of their clocks will be back to the correct time again anyway, so why bother?

I hate to admit it, but I can understand their logic. I have only six clocks, and even those gave me a headache on the night of the time change. The first was the kitchen clock. I took it down from the wall, set it an hour back, then popped a new battery into it and hung it on the wall. Five minutes later, the hands still were on the same numbers. So I took down the clock again to check it out. As long as the clock was lying flat on the table, it worked fine. But the minute I hung it on the wall, it stopped dead. This went on for about 20 minutes – me, taking down the clock and then putting it back up again, and the clock, freezing at that exact time, as if it suddenly had developed a sheetrock phobia. I finally got so fed up, I dug out another clock from the back of my closet and hung up that one instead.

So now I have a really old, ugly clock on the kitchen wall (which is why it was hidden in the back of the closet in the first place), but at least it works.

Then I had to reset the clock in the bathroom. The clock has a small round face surrounded by a bathtub-shaped resin background. Every year, I dread taking down that clock because when I try to hang it again, I have to align these two little holes on the back corners of it with two nails on the wall. And every year, the nails either move or get loose when I take down the clock, so they no longer line up with the holes. 

This year, as usual, after I changed the battery and set the time on the bathroom clock, the battle began. I did everything but stand on my head and I still couldn’t line up those darned holes. And sliding the clock up and down the wall so many times during my failed attempts, caused scratches on the wall that made it look as if it had lost a battle with a really ticked-off cat.

Just as I was ready to wave the white flag, the clock came apart in two pieces in my hands. I groaned, certain that all of my jostling had broken it.

Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered (after owning the dumb clock for over three aggravating years and through six time changes), that the round part of the clock had popped out of its bathtub backing because it had been made that way for easier access.  The whole thing never had to be taken down from the wall after all.

Instead of being relieved that my hole-aligning days were over, I was so upset I’d scratched up my wall for nothing, I was ready to give the clock a Titanic-style “bon voyage” in Bear Brook.  And its buddy, the temperamental kitchen clock, was going to be its traveling companion.

I haven’t even attempted to switch my car’s clock yet. The last time I did, I accidentally messed up the radio and CD player so badly, when I turned on the radio, the bass came booming out with such force, I actually could see the windows vibrating. And the radio stations automatically kept changing every five seconds…until I realized, two days later, the “scan” button was stuck.

Wall clocks aren’t the only problem I’ve been dealing with since the time change. I’ve also had to deal with my dogs’ internal time clocks. Dogs can’t glance up at a clock and say, “Oh, it’s not 6:00 a.m. yet, so we’ll have to wait for our breakfast!” No, their internal clocks are now telling them at 5:00 a.m. that it’s time for breakfast. And the pups don’t care if I’m sleeping at the time. Two ham-sized rottweiler paws keep swatting at my head until I wake up.

My daily walk also has been affected. I usually like to walk just before supper, but now it’s pitch dark at that hour. I was out walking Raven the other night when a bright light suddenly appeared directly in front of us. I made the mistake of looking directly at it, and nearly burned out my corneas.

When the light got closer, I heard a voice say, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to blind you!”

It was one of my neighbors, walking her dog. She was wearing a headband with a light on the front of it – kind of like a coal miner’s light.

 “I just looked into the woods while wearing this,” she said, “and it reflected two big eyes staring back at me!”

I was ready to turn around and run straight back home when she added, “I’m pretty sure it was “Are you positive it wasn’t something worse…like Bigfoot or a werewolf?” I asked.

Her light was so bright, however, I was positive she’d clearly be able to see any creatures lurking in the woods – even if they were standing on the Canadian border.

I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to deal with any time-related devices has become so complicated, I’m just going to ignore them from now on and learn to use my instincts, the way my dogs use theirs, to tell me what time it is.

This, of course, means I might be eating dinner at 5:00 in the morning.

 

 

 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

MARACAS AND TITANIUM TOOTSIES




While I was out walking last week, I kept hearing a rattling noise coming from my feet. Every time I took a step, it sounded as if I had maracas attached to my shoes. Even my dog kept staring at them. She probably thought she was about to be attacked by a rattlesnake.

When I got home, I checked my shoes. They’re a running shoe that has what looks like a hollow plastic tube wrapped around the backs of the heels. Well, the shoes were so worn out, there were holes in the tubes, and gravel had gotten into them. Every time I walked, the gravel bounced around inside the plastic.

I figured the time finally had come to buy some new running shoes – or to join a mariachi band and shake my feet.

 I thought I’d simply go to the Internet and enter the brand and model number of my current shoes and order a new pair. Unfortunately, the style was so old, it wasn’t even being manufactured any more.

So I headed to a store that sells athletic footwear.  The minute I started reading the shoe boxes, I felt as if I had entered some alternate universe. Back when I was a kid, whenever I needed a pair of sneakers (tennis shoes), Mom bought me either Keds or PF Flyers. There wasn’t a whole lot of decision making involved, other than the color.

But now I was facing a sea of shoes with names like Air Pegasus, Wave Prophecy, Gel Runner, Power Grid, BioWeb and Titanium Tootsies (OK, maybe I made up that last one). They all sounded like something Captain Kirk might wear on Star Trek.

The fact that I have one weird foot makes buying shoes a real challenge for me. Not only does my right ankle pronate (cave in to the left) when I walk, I have a bunion so big on that foot, I’ve actually christened it “Benny.” Because of Benny, I am more comfortable wearing men’s shoes, which can cause some real style issues, especially when I want to wear a cocktail dress. Fortunately, when it comes to running shoes, men’s and women’s styles are pretty similar.

A clerk soon approached and asked if I needed help. The completely lost expression on my face must have tipped him off. I told him I wanted some sturdy running shoes that would prevent me from pronating.

He stared blankly at me. “Prevent you from what?” he asked.

“Walking on the inside of my foot.”

He nodded. “The women’s shoes are right over here.”

“I wear men’s,” I said. When he again just stared at me, I added, “Have you ever seen the movie where Cinderella’s stepsisters are trying to squeeze their size-11 feet into a size-3 glass slipper so they can marry the prince? Well, that’s how I look when I try to wear women’s shoes.”

Judging from the guy’s expression, I was pretty sure he thought he was way too macho to ever have watched Cinderella.

Until then, I’d never realized that trying on shoes was so physically demanding. I mean, I had to take them out of the box, remove the wadded-up tissue paper stuffed inside the toes, then figure out how to untie the creative knots in the laces – many of which looked as if they’d been replicated from a macramé pattern. And every time I slipped my foot into a shoe, I had to bend over to lace it up and then stand and walk on it to test it.

So after trying on about 30 pairs of shoes, I felt as if I’d spent six hours in the gym.

The problem was, there was something wrong with every shoe. One pinched my big toe. Another rubbed my heel. And just about all of them did nothing for my pronation. When I finally did find one that seemed passable, it was too big, and wasn’t made in a smaller size. I left there without buying a thing.

I waited a few days before I went shoe shopping again. This time, I was more prepared. I’d done some research on my computer about the brands and styles that were best for pronation, and wrote them down. Armed with my list, I went to the mall, Sears, two sporting-goods stores and a department store, the majority of which carried none of the shoes on my list. Still, I tried on over 50 pairs.

Once again I came home without buying any footwear. But my back was so sore after bending over to lace up so many shoes, I didn’t feel like going for my daily walk anyway.

Out of desperation, I checked Ebay to see if someone might be auctioning off a pair of running shoes in the brand and style of my ancient ones. I couldn’t believe my eyes when three pairs popped up…and one miraculously was in my size. I immediately placed a bid and won.

The only drawback was the shoes were described as “gently used.” With my luck, the guy who wore them suffered from a bad case of athlete’s foot or some rare, toe-eating fungus.

I’ll take my chances.
 
 

Monday, October 28, 2013

I'VE NEVER BEEN VERY ORGANIZED


Not a week passes when I don’t hear from readers suggesting that I put my columns into book form.

Well, considering I’ve written nearly 1,000 columns and each one is a minimum of four typewritten pages, just lifting such a book would all but guarantee a hernia, and it probably would cost about $250 per copy. So a couple weeks ago, seeing that the holiday season rapidly is approaching, I came up with the idea of putting some of my previous holiday-themed columns into a book and calling it, “Happy Holidays!  Now Hand me my Tranquilizers!”

Then I searched for the columns.

I’ve never been a very organized person, and my hunt for my past columns only served to verify that fact. As I searched, I began to feel as if I were on a scavenger hunt. I found columns stored on floppy disks and CDs. I found columns that had been cut out of the newspaper and pasted into scrapbooks or just tossed into a plastic bin. I even found columns that were so old, they still were in their original form – typed on paper using an actual typewriter.

Unfortunately, I soon learned there was no order to any of the columns. One box contained columns only from 1998 and 2003. I had no idea where the other five years were. And one of the scrapbooks skipped from 2004 to 2008.

But the floppy disks gave me the most trouble. Either they wouldn’t play at all, or they displayed an error in formatting. The computer kept asking me if I wanted to re-format them. In the past, I learned the hard way that in computer talk, re-formatting a disk means the computer, cackling with maniacal glee, attacks the disk and erases everything on it, then spits it out.

Finally, after looking through so many columns, my eyeballs felt as if I’d popped them out and rolled them in ground glass, I found about 20 with holiday themes. They had titles like, “Gift Swap Flop,” “Out of Luck Potluck,” “Season’s Eatings,” and “The Christmas Candle Scandal.”  I selected 17 of them for my book.

I didn’t use the other three because they were just too outdated. I mean, one of them described my frantic search for a robe for my mother-in-law, and how I’d driven to 10 stores during a blizzard and nearly ran out of gas and died of hypothermia in the process. I may as well have written I’d driven a covered wagon to the mall. I mean, computers have dramatically changed shopping. If I were looking for that same robe today, I’d grab a cup of tea, relax on my sofa, and go online and search for it there.

After finding the columns I wanted to use, I set to work designing the book’s cover. I figured it was about time I put my art lessons to good use, so I dug out my sketching pencils and colored markers. I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted on the cover – a tired-looking woman with her hair in curlers, slouching in an easy chair, her feet surrounded by a pile of Christmas wrapping paper, and maybe some ribbon dangling from her hand.

All I can say is my vision was much easier to imagine than it was to draw. The woman’s head ended up looking like a butternut squash. And when I tried to slouch her body in the chair, I couldn’t get her feet in the right position. She ended up looking as if she were a contortionist…or she’d been in some horribly disfiguring accident.  And her feet weren’t the only ones that were lopsided. The chair’s feet I drew looked as if they were part of a Picasso painting.

I erased my sketch paper so many times, I finally wore a hole right through it. By then, I was so tired, I figured all I had to do was pop some curlers in my hair and take a photo of myself for the cover of the book and I’d be all set. The only problem was I didn’t want to frighten away any potential book buyers.

Finally, a couple days later, I managed to come up with a drawing for the cover that I thought looked passable. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but I was satisfied with it. To be honest, I was so fed up with the darned cover by then, I would have derived a lot of pleasure from hanging it on the wall and tossing darts at the woman’s baggy-eyed face.

I organized the columns for the book, typed them into my computer, wrote out a table of contents and then proofread everything. Finally, I was ready. I submitted the book and the cover to Amazon.com for publishing and then waited for the editors’ approval or rejection.

The next day, I received an email saying there was a problem. I was afraid to read it.

“You also need a back cover,” the email informed me.

I’m pretty sure I groaned out loud. I’d had so much trouble designing the front cover, I’d completely forgotten (perhaps intentionally) that the book needed a back one.

For the sake of my sanity, I decided to make the back cover as simple as possible. I looked for a pattern in green to slap on it. I found one that resembled indoor-outdoor carpeting and scanned that. Then I wrote a brief synopsis on the cover and resubmitted the whole thing to Amazon.

I’m pleased to say the book finally has been published and looks much better in print than I’d anticipated. Even the front cover looks fairly professional (if you don’t examine it too closely). And it’s a good stocking-stuffer size, too – only 78 pages. So I’m happy.

Now, I think I’ll start searching for my Valentine’s Day columns.

 

MY BOOKS & THE NH SPCA


With the holiday season approaching, many readers who don’t have computers and therefore, can’t order my books online, have been sending letters and postcards asking if I still have copies of “There’s a Tick in my Underwear” available. Yes, I do. Anyone who would like an autographed copy can send $10 (which includes shipping) to me at: PO Box 585, Suncook, NH 03275-0585. If you would like the book personally autographed, be sure to include the person’s name, and please print clearly.

Also, if you would like an autographed copy of the “Happy Holidays” book I discussed in this column, you can order it online in either print form or electronic form at Amazon.com or directly from me for $6 ($3.50 plus $2.50 for shipping). If you order more than one book from me at the same time, the cost is $3.50 per book and only $3.50 for shipping the entire order, not per book, so you’ll save quite a bit on postage.

Seeing that I love animals so much, I am going to donate a percentage of my books’ proceeds to the NH chapter of the SPCA and hopefully help make this a happier holiday season for some “kids” of the furry, four-legged variety.

Thank you for all of your support!

 

 

 

 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

EVIL TROLLS LIVE UNDER MY DRIVEWAY


I’m feeling really excited this week because after six years, the Driveway from Hell finally is going to be paved. My driveway has been a proverbial thorn in my side ever since the first day it was created, back in 2007. I have never liked it, and obviously, it’s never been too fond of me, either, because all it’s ever done is cause me grief. I swear there is a family of evil trolls living underneath it.

For one thing, it never was supposed to exist. When I first checked out the land, all 7.5 acres of it, as a prospective place to build a house, it had a dirt, weed-covered driveway leading from a nice cul-de-sac with several houses nearby. The driveway ended in an area of the land that already had been cleared – a perfect spot for our future house.

It wasn’t until after my husband and I bought the land that we learned we couldn’t get a driveway permit for the existing driveway. The town informed us that the only place we’d be permitted to put a driveway would be on the far side of the property, in the middle of nowhere on a private road.

I still can remember standing at the “permitted” spot and staring at nothing but thick woods crammed with giant, towering trees, and wondering how on earth I ever was going to put a driveway through there. Images of Tarzan, carrying a machete and swinging through the trees, came to mind.

I ended up hiring a contractor and a surveyor and they set to work. Four months and nearly $20,000 later, I had a driveway – all 400 feet of it.  The darned thing was so long, it looked as if it should have had a tollbooth at the end of it.

 The contractor then decided to line the new driveway with truckloads of crushed rock. The rocks were pretty big and sharp-edged. Walking on them was like walking over a landslide. And trying to plow the driveway after a snowstorm also was a disaster, because most of the rocks ended up on my front lawn. By the end of the year, I was so fed up, I called in another contractor to get rid of the rocks and put down gravel.

The gravel driveway was much smoother underfoot, but it still made a mess when it was plowed. Instead of chunks of rock landing on my lawn, the plow spewed gravel everywhere, including on my front porch. After the spring thaw, I raked up over 40 buckets of gravel from the lawn. And even then, when I mowed the grass, the mower kept kicking up gravel and pelting me with it.

I also had a difficult time adjusting to such a long driveway. Where we used to live, I could run out in my nightgown to get the mail. But with a 400-ft. driveway, it was more like a hike. I had to put on my jogging outfit and running shoes just to make it down to the mailbox. The same with taking out the trash. By the time I wheeled the barrels to the end of the driveway, especially through all of the gravel, I nearly needed CPR.

And the cost of hiring someone to plow the driveway was astronomical. One month, when we had four snowstorms, I nearly had to mortgage the house to pay the guy.

The gravel finally irritated me to the point where I decided to replace it with something else – some kind of mixture of dirt and recycled bits of asphalt. The asphalt in the dirt was supposed to help pack it down and make it more solid.

It looked good and seemed solid, but I soon learned it caused another problem I hadn’t had with the chunks of rock or the gravel. Rain transformed the driveway into a 400-ft. strip of mud. When I walked down to get the mail, the mud would suck the shoes right off my feet. And every time a truck drove up the driveway, it left huge tire-track ruts that never flattened out. The driveway ended up looking like a topographical map of the Himalayas.

The year before last, when we had a bad snowstorm in October, the ground wasn’t yet frozen, so when the plow came to clear my driveway, I ended up with a mountain of mud in the middle of my front lawn. I’m not exaggerating, the pile was taller than I was, and a whole lot wider. While other people were shoveling snow, I was shoveling mud. And the dogs and I tracked so much of it into the house, I could have sprinkled seeds on the floors and grown a crop of corn.

The only reason why I’d never had the driveway paved was because the guy who built it told me it would cost over $20,000 because the driveway was so long. But over time, I came to realize that with the money I’d already spent on the rocks, gravel and dirt, I probably could have paid for enough asphalt to pave my entire neighborhood.

So this year I finally got brave and called several paving companies for estimates, even though I was pretty sure I’d need a defibrillator when I heard the cost. I was shocked to learn it was about half of what I’d anticipated. I even blurted out to one of the pavers when he quoted his price, “Is that all?”

“Boy, I rarely hear that!” he said, shaking his head and chuckling. “I can charge you more, if it will make you happy.”

Last week, the pavers I hired arrived to prepare my driveway for paving. They smoothed it and packed it down, evened it out and leveled it. A good portion of the job was done with some piece of heavy equipment that vibrated the ground. It also vibrated the house. By the end of the day, every picture on my walls was crooked, my kitchen drawers all had popped open, and I was reaching for the Dramamine.

But any day now, I finally will have a nice, smooth asphalted driveway. I can’t wait.

Hopefully, the evil trolls that live underneath it won’t poke up their ugly heads and crack it.

 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

LOBSTER BISQUE AND THE FLYING WALLENDAS


The last time I went to a fair, attractions included the world’s largest steer, which weighed over two tons; a house made from a hollowed-out giant redwood tree, a caged animal referred to as the Missing Link, and a performance by the falsetto singer, Tiny Tim (who passed away in 1996).  And it rained so hard that night, even my bra ended up full of water.

So when my friends Paul and Nancy invited me to go to the Deerfield Fair last Thursday, I eagerly accepted the invitation. I figured it had been much too long since I’d been.

Knowing my luck, however, I anticipated that the weather that day would include a downpour so torrential, the animals at the fair would be lining up in pairs and searching for Noah. Luckily, the weather cooperated and it was a bright, sunny, slightly breezy day.

Two things struck me the minute we entered the fairgrounds – the area was huge, much bigger than I’d remembered…and hillier, and everything smelled like fried food.

I soon discovered why. The fair was overflowing with fried stuff for sale – fried dough, French fries, fried onion rings and even chocolate-covered bacon. I felt myself breaking out in zits just walking past the food booths.

Paul and Nancy said one of their friends was supposed to have a booth featuring lobsters, so we searched for it. We finally spotted a booth selling lobster bisque, so Paul walked over and asked the guy if his friend might be in charge of it.

The man smiled at him. “If I say yes, will you buy some of my bisque?”

Paul only laughed. The guy, however, was persistent. He filled a tiny cup with bisque and told Paul to try it. “Once you sample it, you’ll be hooked,” he said.

Paul, brave soul that he was, handed the cup to Nancy. She stared at it for a moment and then took a sip as everyone stared at her, watching her expression.

The only way to describe her reaction would be…confused.

“Does this have pumpkin in it?” she asked.

The guy in the booth looked as if she’d just asked him if he’d dumped ground-up ants into it. “No,” he said, frowning.

When the three of us walked away without buying any bisque, they guy clearly looked offended. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that even if I were stranded on a tropical island and had nothing to eat but lobsters, I’d probably starve to death because I dislike them so much. I mean, after all, their nickname is “cockroach of the sea.” 

The act the three of us were eager to see was the world-famous Flying Wallendas. We took our seats in the bleachers and stared up at the high wire, about 30 feet overhead, with no net underneath. The thought kept running through my head that just one wrong move and one of the Wallendas could end up doing a nosedive onto the grass, but obviously that’s what they wanted the audience to think – to add to the thrill of their performance.

The Wallendas did not disappoint.  Their act was filled with thrills and daredevil stunts. I mean, how often do you see a 12-year-old girl dangling by just her toes, 30 feet above the ground?

However, I found myself repeatedly staring at Alex Wallenda. I swear the guy had a smile that could melt a polar ice cap. It didn’t matter that he was young enough to be my grandson, every time he smiled in the direction of our seats, I felt as if I were suffering from a post-menopausal hot flash. Of course, it might have been a post-menopausal hot flash, but that’s beside the point.

Following the performance, the Wallendas announced that they would be giving out free postcards and autographs. I headed straight for Alex, as Paul and Nancy smiled in amusement at me. The two people in line ahead of me shook hands with Alex and told him how great his act was, and he smiled and chatted with them. I stood there thinking I was going to do the same.

When it was my turn to get an autograph, Alex, now only inches away, looked directly at me, flashed that dazzling smile of his and said, “Hi!”

For the first time in my life, I couldn’t utter a word. I just silently stood there, my eyes fixed on that smile, and didn’t make a single sound. It was as if someone had glued my lips together. The next thing I knew, I was walking away, an autographed postcard in my hand, and wondering, “What the heck just happened?”

All I can say is Alex Wallenda should patent his smile as a lethal weapon.

Paul, Nancy and I managed to visit just about every exhibit at the fair. I saw birds that looked as if they were wearing fur coats; a baby chick hatching; a star made out of license plates; a butternut squash the length of a baseball bat; and a carrot that could have fed an army of rabbits. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

But after six hours, my feet and back began to beg me for mercy. So I told Paul and Nancy I was ready to go. I noticed as we were leaving, they had their hands stamped so they could return.

Sure enough, I received an email from them the next morning telling me they’d returned to the fair that night and saw some other acts, including a Beatles tribute band. I’m a huge fan of the Beatles, and would have loved to have seen the show.

Unfortunately, at the very moment they were performing, I was snoring on the sofa.

I have the sneaking suspicion I just might be getting old.