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.