Friday, December 26, 2014

MY YEAR OF CREATIVE GIFT-GIVING



 
It seems as if every Christmas season it becomes more and more difficult to think of unique and clever gifts to buy for my friends and relatives. I usually spend countless hours leafing through catalogs or searching through online stores, and then walking 20 miles through malls, only to end up empty-handed.
 
I can remember one year, however, when every gift I gave was one-of-a-kind, unique, and a potential family heirloom. It was the year I enrolled in a ceramics class.  I made steins with dogs on them, coffee mugs with unicorns on them, and for my uncle, the jokester, I even made a set of ceramic turtles that, when flipped over, were anatomically correct. I spent a good deal of time painstakingly painting those anatomical parts in fine detail.
 
Little did I know, however, that my uncle would open my gift in front of a priest, who had stopped by to bless his house for Christmas.
 
Anyway, my passion for ceramics began quite unexpectedly. My cousin’s husband, Dave, whose hobby was making furniture, gifted my husband and me with a beautiful, handmade solid-pine coffee table. It was crafted from a single slab of wood that must have weighed 50 pounds. And into that slab, Dave had hand carved a chessboard. His wife then had stained each square in alternating shades of light and dark walnut.
 
My husband and I didn't know the first thing about chess, but we loved that table.  So at the risk of herniating a few disks, we lugged it into the house and carefully positioned it in front of our sofa.  Then, because it looked kind of naked, I set a basket of silk flowers right in the middle of the chessboard.
 
For some reason, that bothered people.
 
"What on earth are flowers doing on a chessboard?" One of our friends asked us when we showed him the table. "You should have a nice chess set on there to enhance it, not hide it!"
 
"I wouldn't even know how to set up a chess set," I told him. "I don't know a rookie from a prawn."
 
He rolled his eyes. "That's a rook and pawn.  I thought everyone knew how to play chess.  Heck, I learned when I was about seven!"
 
I raised my chin indignantly. "I don't have the time or patience for chess.  If I wanted to spend hours sitting and staring at someone, waiting for him to make a move, I'd just stare at my husband snoring in his recliner!"
 
Still, I couldn't shake our friend's words.  I began to think he might be right. Maybe it was an insult to the chess players of the world for me to conceal a beautiful chessboard beneath a basket of flowers.  So, reluctantly I set out to buy a “pretty” chess set.
 
I never realized just how many different shapes and sizes of chess sets there were (probably because I couldn't have cared less about them before that day).  I found cheap plastic ones and fancy pewter ones.  I also found some unusual sets, such as one with Mickey and Minnie Mouse on horseback, and another with monkeys dressed in armor.  I must have looked at 100 different sets, but nothing seemed just right for my coffee table.  The fact I had only $19.36 to spend probably didn't help matters much, either.
 
A few days later, when I happened to mention my futile chess-set search to my friend Linda, her eyes brightened. "I've just started teaching a ceramics class!" she said. "I have my own kiln and everything.  And I have a beautiful chess set you can make for only about $20.  The best part is you can stain it in the exact shades to match your coffee table."
 
Fool that I was, I figured that making a chess set simply involved painting a bunch of pieces and then having Linda fire them in the kiln.  I was wrong.  The first night of ceramics class, she set an army of soft clay figures in front of me, then handed me a knife-like tool and a bowl of water.  "Here, start cleaning them," she said.
 
I eyed the pieces. "They really don't look all that dirty.  What do you want me to do with this water? Dunk them in it and give them a bath?”
 
She laughed. "No, you have to take the knife and scrape off all the seams that were made when the pieces came out of the molds.  Then you wet your finger and smooth down the clay, so there are no bumps or ridges visible anywhere."
 
Before me sat 32 chess pieces.  Sixteen of them were little guys holding swords or those long-handled axes that knights in armor used to carry.  I knew I had my work cut out for me.  I picked up the knife and set to work.  Within five minutes, I had hacked off two heads and three swords.
 
"No problem," Linda said brightly. "Just put the broken pieces back where they belong, and then with a wet finger, smooth the clay back over the cracks to fill them in.  The wet clay will act like cement to reattach them."
 
I wasn't all that great at repositioning heads and swords, so my pawns ended up looking as if they'd fought a few battles...and lost.  It took me about a month to get all of those pieces cleaned.  Believe me, I was so excited when Linda finally said they were ready for the kiln, I nearly threw a party to celebrate.  My happiness was short-lived, however, when I realized I still had to stain my precious little chess army.
 
I found stains in shades of walnut to match my coffee table, then I daintily applied them to every little sword and ax; every tiny eyeball and nose. When I was finished, the pieces looked as if they were made of wood instead of fragile, breakable ceramic.
 
I have to admit the chess set looked stunning on the coffee table...even though I set up all of the pieces in the wrong positions. This, I might add, was long before anyone had home computers or access to the Internet, so I couldn’t just look up “chess” and see illustrations of the game.
 
Not surprisingly, our friend, the chess player, noticed the pieces weren't set up correctly the minute he set foot in the door. "The queen doesn't go there!  And why on earth do you have the rooks right next to each other?"
 
1973 - THE YEAR OF THE CHESS SET
"Because they looked prettier that way," I said.
 
"Here, let me fix them for you," he offered. "Then maybe I can teach you a little about the game."
 
He reached for the queen, and when he did, his arm hit a couple of the pawns (the little guys with the swords).  In a flash, the whole row of them toppled over as if they were dominoes. When they finally stopped falling, the table was littered with tiny disembodied ceramic heads and axes. It took me a week to glue them back together.
 
That’s when my dog decided to play with her ball and fling it into the air. I don’t suppose I have to tell you where it landed. Let’s just say that if she had been bowling, she’d have gotten a strike.
 
You know, after that, the coffee table really did look nice with a big doily covering the chessboard and a basket of flowers on top of it. 
 
                                                                      #  #  #
 
 
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Saturday, December 20, 2014

LOSING POWER WAS THE LEAST OF MY PROBLEMS


I have the feeling that most people’s Thanksgiving Day meal this year wasn’t the perfectly cooked feast they had imagined – not when their only source of heat was a candle.

Thanks to the storm, I lost power from Wednesday night through Saturday, but it wasn’t a problem for me because two years ago I had an automatic generator system installed.

I remember when I first decided to buy the system and everyone told me I was wasting my money because I’d probably never use it. They, however, didn’t realize that where I live, if a chickadee lands on one of the power lines or someone walks by and sneezes, I lose power. In fact, in the 21 months since I’ve had the generator system, I’ve already used it six times.

But even though losing power wasn’t a big issue for me during the Thanksgiving storm, I ended up having to deal with a lot of other problems.

First of all, the day before the storm, I was rinsing off the dinner dishes when my feet suddenly felt wet. I looked down and saw a huge puddle on the floor. The water was coming from the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink. I searched for the source and although I’m not a plumber, I was pretty sure when I spotted a drainpipe that no longer was connected to anything and was wobbling back and forth, that it wasn’t a good thing. The pipe looked as if it had decided to pack up and move to another location.

The next day, Wednesday, the storm hit and I lost power, which, as I said, wasn’t a problem, but I also lost my home phone, which was. That’s because the cell-phone reception at my house is about as good as using two cans and a string to make calls.

 The moment the power went out, the smoke detector in the basement started to chirp. It also, to my surprise, talked. A nasally female voice kept repeating in a monotone, “Low battery.”

My eight smoke detectors are wired together and also have a backup battery in each one. They are like those old-fashioned strings of Christmas lights where if one light goes out, they all are affected. So if one detector’s battery is weak, there’s no way to tell which one is the culprit without checking every detector. For some reason, whenever there is a power failure, I inevitably end up being tortured by the “curse of the chirp.”

Anyway, each time the voice in the basement said, “Low battery,” my dogs rushed to the floor vents and growled down into them. They apparently thought a female prowler was lurking downstairs.  So, after listening to three hours of growling, I went downstairs and pulled the detector’s battery in an attempt to make the voice (and my dogs) shut up. Removing the battery, however, caused all of the other smoke detectors to begin chirping in sympathy for their deceased buddy.

I spent the next hour balancing on a chair and changing every battery in every detector…that is, except for the one out in the garage, which I, a sufferer of severe ladder phobia, couldn’t reach (I’m pretty sure even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar couldn’t reach that one). So the chirping continued. Frustrated, I decided to put the battery back into the basement detector. I figured hearing, “low battery” and chirping only in the basement was better than being serenaded by a chorus of chirping upstairs, especially right above my head while I was trying to sleep.

Two more days of chirping passed. By then I was ready to take a big drink of tap water. Perhaps I should explain here that back when my house was being built, the water in my well tested ten times the allowable limits for arsenic. I had to have a fancy reverse-osmosis water filtration system installed before the house could pass inspection. The filtration system, however, isn’t hooked up to my generator, so the arsenic doesn’t get filtered out during power failures.

 Also, by Friday, my driveway, which is over 400 feet long, still hadn’t been plowed. I didn’t know if my plow guy was lying face down in a snow bank somewhere or if he’d just forgotten about me. So I grabbed my cell phone and went outside, hoping I might be able to get a signal so I could call him.

After doing everything but hanging by my heels from a tree limb, I finally was able to get a weak signal. I quickly dialed my plow guy.

“Sorry, but you’ll have to find someone else,” he said. “Both of my trucks broke down.”

“But I have very limited phone use,” I said, feeling panicky. “I can’t start calling a bunch of potential plowers. Can’t you recommend someone?”

“Nobody I know will travel all the way up to your place.”

I hung up, certain I’d have to wait until the spring thaw to ever get out of my driveway again. Meanwhile, the basement smoke detector kept talking and chirping, and the dogs kept growling.

Seeing that the voice in the detector was female, I decided to give her a nickname. I called her “Pita,” which stood for “pain in the…” (well, you get the idea).  I kept telling myself to just hang in there and be patient because Pita would be quiet when the power came back on.

Once again, I’d figured wrong. When the power finally did return, the chirping and talking not only didn’t stop, they sounded even louder and stronger.

But being the cheapskate I am, and having just received a property-tax bill that nearly caused me to need a defibrillator, I decided not to call an electrician until Monday so I wouldn’t have to pay extra for weekend rates. By Monday, my lack of sleep had caused bags so big to form underneath my eyes, I looked as if I had two donut-halves glued onto my cheekbones.

The electrician arrived on Monday morning and informed me that my pal Pita was defective and had to be replaced. A mere $165 later, the house finally was blissfully silent.

I also found a landscaper/excavator from Deerfield to plow my driveway for $75.

So in the course of only five days, I needed a plumber, electrician, phone repairman, landscaper...and a second mortgage. The only thing missing was a roofer.

And now that I’ve said that, I’ll probably wake up shivering some morning soon and look up to see snow falling through a big hole in my bedroom ceiling.
 
                                                                                          #  #  #


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Friday, December 12, 2014

MY OLD BOOM BOX LIVES AGAIN!


Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated with tape recorders. I can remember back when I was about 15 and decided to form a band. I’d written a song and learned how to play two chords on the guitar, then taught the song to my friends Sue and Dee. Even though we sounded pretty much like a trio of wild geese when we sang, we were positive we were ready to make a demo tape to send out to record producers.

Back then, reel-to-reel tape recorders were just becoming all the rage. The only problem was, they were expensive, costing hundreds of dollars. I was so determined, however, to get a recorder for my band’s demo tape, I started to save my pennies for a $600 one I’d seen in Radio Shack. 

My father finally took pity on me, probably because he figured I’d be ready for Medicare by the time I saved up enough money, and surprised my band by renting a recorder for us.  I suspect it was because he figured if we finally recorded the song, we no longer would be spending two hours every day practicing it…and then his ears could stop bleeding.

The minute I touched that tape recorder, I was hooked. I loved being able to hear my own voice, tape my favorite songs and even act out skits like on the old radio shows. I nearly cried when my father had to return my precious machine to the rental place.

Over the next few years, I owned several tape recorders: a huge reel-to-reel that weighed about 50 pounds, a small reel-to-reel about the size of a box of chocolates, and finally, a cassette recorder. The cassette recorder was in the form of a big boom box, as they were called back then. It had a built-in radio and a cassette recorder and player. When the six D-cell batteries were in it, it weighed about as much as a small car.

I loved that boom box. I would spend hours recording songs from the radio or playing records and singing along with them on tape. While I was singing, I was certain I sounded as good as the next Streisand or Cher, but when I later listened to my best efforts, I was certain someone had stolen my original cassette and replaced it with a tape of cattle being branded.

Two weeks ago, I was looking for my storage chest of Christmas decorations down in the basement when I came across my old boom box behind a stack of boxes. I hadn’t seen it in years, and was disappointed it hadn’t aged well. It was dirty, rusty, the antenna was missing, the buttons on the recorder were bent and wouldn’t push down, and the batteries in it all were severely corroded.

A flood of memories came back to me and I found myself wishing I could use that old boom box again. But my common sense told me the only place it was going to get any use would be in the bottom of a trash bin.

A few days later, I happened to be driving through Pembroke Village when I saw a store called Bobby Dee’s Records. In the window was a sign that said they repaired audio equipment. My thoughts immediately turned to my beloved boom box. Even though I figured the repair guy probably would point at it and laugh hysterically, I decided I had nothing to lose by asking if, by some miracle, it could be fixed. The next day, I, lugging the boom box, walked into the store.

“Is there any hope at all for this?” I asked the man who greeted me. He turned out to be Bobby Dee.

He took the boom box from me and checked a few things on it.

“This is a great model,” he said. “One of the best ever made for sound quality.”

“I know,” I said. “I’ve owned others since this one, but nothing compares. Do you think it can be saved?”

“Well, it’s in pretty rough shape,” he said. “But I can tell you really care about it. So I’m sure we can fix it up as good as new. Maybe even better than new.”

I was both shocked and thrilled. He said he’d call me when it was ready.

Peter, Bobby and my boom box
I expected not to hear from him for at least a month, considering the sad condition of the recorder, but he called a day later to tell me it was all set.

When I walked into the store, Bobby told me to have a seat and close my eyes.  I did, and he put the boom box on my lap. When I opened my eyes, I was speechless, which was pretty unusual for me. It looked like a new machine – polished, shiny, a new antenna, a new cord, and when I pressed the buttons on it, they all pushed easily.

“Pete did all of the work,” Bobby said. “He really does a great job…he’s a perfectionist.”

Pete approached and I could see the look of pride on his face as he explained everything he’d done to the boom box, from cleaning it to finding an antenna for it, and replacing the old, worn-out belt.

That night, I dug out some of my old cassette tapes and listened to them. The sound quality of my boom box was even better than it had been when it was brand new. I tried recording a few songs from my computer, and it taped them perfectly.

A couple days later, I woke up feeling terrible. My throat hurt, my neck was sore and my voice was hoarse. I groaned, certain I was coming down with either a bad cold or the flu, or maybe even something like strep throat. I went back to bed in an attempt to fight it off.

When I woke up later that day, I felt much better, and that’s when the cause of my sore throat dawned on me. I burst out laughing.

I’d spent the night before playing with my boom box, just like old times, taping myself as I sang along with a variety of songs. My solo concert had lasted over two hours, and then I’d had a good laugh listening to myself on tape.

My “flu” turned out to be nothing more than a bad case of voice strain.

I blame Mariah Carey, Janis Joplin and Michael Bolton. No mortal human my age ever should attempt to sing along with them and try to reach those high notes.

 

 


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Friday, December 5, 2014

IT'S THE FLU SEASON AGAIN


It seems that no matter where I turn lately, people are talking about the flu. It's on TV, in the newspapers, and seems to be the main topic of conversation at every place from the supermarket checkout line to the ladies’ room at the movie theater. It's enough to make me want to douse myself with hand sanitizer and then curl up like a bear and hibernate until spring.

As far as coming down with the flu goes, I don't know which scares me the most – having to suffer the terrible symptoms of the illness…or having only my dogs here to take care of me if I get sick.

The last time I had the flu was over 30 years ago. But I remember it as if it were yesterday. And let me just say I'm the first one to admit I make a terrible patient. When I get the cold or the flu, I transform into Grouchy Gertie.

I started off the day feeling fine. I spent most of it Christmas shopping at the mall, sipping hot chocolate in the food court and enjoying all of the mall’s festive decorations.  On the way home, I decided to stop at the local supermarket to pick up something for dinner.

By the time I reached the checkout counter, I felt as if I'd been trampled by a herd of stampeding cattle.  My head was pounding, my joints were aching, my face was burning and my teeth were chattering.  I drove straight home and crawled into bed.

The next morning my temperature was 103, yet I felt as if someone had shoveled ice cubes into my underwear. I barely could lift my aching head off the pillow. The worst part was I’d had a flu shot a few weeks before. If the shot was supposed to protect people from seven different strains of the flu, I suspected I was the lucky one who’d managed to catch strain number eight, a rare one carried by something like arctic snow fleas.

As I lay there, moaning and groaning, my husband appeared at the foot of the bed.

"Can I get you anything?" he asked.

"Hot tea," I managed to croak, even though I knew that trying to boil water might be a real challenge for someone who’d touched the stove only five times during our entire marriage.

"How about for lunch?" he asked.

"Chicken soup," I said. "It cures everything."

"Do we have any chicken soup?" he asked.

"No, you'll have to go to the store and buy some."

The look on his face was one of sheer panic.  If there was one thing my husband was terrible at, it was grocery shopping.  Whenever I wrote out a grocery list for him, I had to describe every item in so much detail, you'd think I was writing a college thesis about food.  Even then, it still wasn’t enough to ensure he’d come home with the right product.

"I told you to buy Campbell's Chunky clam chowder!" I recalled saying to him one time as I pulled a can of Snow's clam chowder out of the shopping bag. "You need milk to make Snow's!  We don't have any milk! And even if we did, I’m lactose intolerant! I wrote everything down for you. How could you get it wrong?"

"You didn't tell me the color of label!" he'd said, his tone accusing. "The color of the label is a very important piece of information, you know!"

So when he finally brought me a bowl of steaming chicken soup during my bout of the flu, I was hesitant to try it…and with good reason. I mean, in the past, he'd served me condensed soup he'd heated straight out of the can without even adding any water to it.  It resembled a bowl of yellow toothpaste.

The soup looked and smelled good, but it had these little black things that looked like beetles in it I didn’t recognize. When I tasted them, they were chewy and flavorless.

"Honey!" I called out to my husband. 

He appeared in the bedroom doorway within seconds.

"What kind of chicken soup is this?" I asked him.

He shrugged. "Why?  Don't you like it?"

"I'd like it better if I knew exactly what I was eating," I said. "You don't happen to have the can it came in, do you?"

“I’m not sure.” He left the room and I could hear him rummaging through the trash container in the kitchen. He returned with the soup can.  The label said it was chicken soup with wild rice. I’d never eaten wild rice before, but after that soup, I was pretty sure I’d prefer my rice to be more domesticated.

In my husband’s defense, he really did try to make me feel better, which I realize was a nearly impossible feat. He made tea for me that looked like black coffee, and when I complained, he made another cup that looked as if it had been siphoned from an aquarium that was in desperate need of a good cleaning. He also served me a plate of something that resembled little black corn curls. He later informed me it was “extra crispy” bacon. Even the dogs rejected it.

Miraculously, I survived that bout of the flu, and I haven't had it again since, knock on wood. But now that my husband is gone, I’m worried if I do get sick, I’ll have to fend for myself. And even I don't want to have me for a patient.

You know, now that I think about it, maybe my husband really wasn't such a bad nurse after all.


 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I'M NOT CUT OUT TO WRITE THRILLERS


 
It has taken me nine months and over a dozen rewrites, but my novel, “Heed the Predictor,” a thriller, finally is finished…I think.

Looking back, I don’t know what ever possessed me, a humor writer, to attempt to write a thriller.  I mean, I had no clue whatsoever how to go about writing one. I had a plot idea in my head, but putting that idea into words that actually made sense and perfectly flowed turned out to be as challenging as trying to teach my dogs how to ballet dance.

About three months ago, I finished the book, sent it to the publisher and then waited for my proof copy. When the proof finally arrived, I thought it looked great, especially the eerie cover of a woman’s face in the shadows. Smiling, I grabbed a cup of tea and sat down to read my masterpiece. I didn’t think I’d find any mistakes or typos in it because I had so carefully checked and rechecked every page before I’d sent the manuscript to the publisher.

To my shock, there were so many mistakes, I began to suspect they were breeding and multiplying as I read, just to irritate me.

For example, on one page I’d written, “He walked over to the table and took a seat facing her.”

On the very next page I wrote, “Don’t just stand there,” she said, “Have a seat.”

And then, I wrote, “Meg’s green eyes locked with his blue ones.”  But a few pages later, “His hazel eyes narrowed.”

The guy must have been part chameleon.

I also wasn’t pleased with the deaths in my book. As much as I tried, I couldn’t make them scary.  For one thing, I had my characters die in very weird and unusual, even comical, ways.  I couldn’t help it, my sense of humor kept bullying me and taking control, no matter how much I wanted the deaths to be worthy of the best Stephen King novel.

Finally, I made it through the proof copy and submitted the corrected version of my manuscript to the publisher. Then I waited for another proof. When it arrived, I decided not to read it myself. Instead, I gave it to my friend Nancy to proofread.

She read it rapidly and got right back to me.

“So what did you think of my thriller?” I asked her.

“Well, for one thing, it’s not really thrilling,” she said. “Your sense of humor kept popping up and ruining things. And the first two chapters seemed a little too rushed.”

Her husband, who also read the book, said, “I loved the surprise ending!  I didn’t even guess how the story was going to end until the fourth to the last page!”

The fourth to the last page? My surprise ending was supposed to remain a surprise until the very last sentence!

So once again, I sat down to rewrite the book. I made my first two chapters move more slowly by adding more descriptions, explanations and dialogue. Then I attempted to make the deaths in the book seem more tense and frightening. I added racing hearts, beads of perspiration and shortness of breath, which actually made my murder victims sound more like victims of cardiac arrest than homicide. And I changed the pages leading up to my surprise ending to make certain no one would be able to guess it until the book’s final paragraph.

By the time I was through, I’d unintentionally increased my manuscript by 10,000 words.  I had no idea if that was a good thing or a big mistake. I mean, I was afraid that by adding so much to the plot, I’d turned the book into the equivalent of a giant sleeping pill.

I also decided, after doing some serious thinking, to add a few mild curse words to the dialogue. It just didn’t sound right for a maniacal killer to be saying things like, “Oh shucks!” and “gosh darn it!” in the heat of anger.

Again, I waited for another proof copy to arrive. By then, I’d accumulated enough proof books to fuel a fire in a woodstove all winter. And once again, I started reading the book, even though I was so sick of it, I’d have preferred to be doing anything else, like getting my underarms waxed.

The more I read, the more I hated everything about the book. There was something I wanted to change on every page. So I did. That’s when I realized I couldn’t be objective any more – that even if I read my book another hundred times, I’d still change it a hundred times and not be satisfied with it.

So the book finally has been published the way it is – good, bad or otherwise. And I didn’t remove the humor from it, so I suppose it can be called a “campy thriller.”

But I’ve decided never to read it again…because I know if I do, I’ll be tempted to kill off every single character in the book…purely out of spite.

 
BOOKS TO BENEFIT THE SPCA

I have been asked if my humor book, “There’s a Tick in my Underwear!” is still available for purchase. I also have been asked about my latest book, “Heed the Predictor.” Both books currently are available at Barnes and Noble and through Amazon.com or Smashwords.com. But if you would like a personally autographed copy of either book, they can be purchased directly from me. I, as I did last year, will donate a portion of the proceeds to the SPCA, so the animals also can have a happy Christmas.  Send $10 for each book ordered, which includes shipping (USA only. If you order more than one book at the same time, each additional book is only $8.50), to me at: PO Box 585, Suncook, NH 03275-0585.  Or you can send payment to me through Paypal,, where I am registered as sillysally@att.net. When specifying a name for the personal autograph, please be sure to print clearly. Thank you!

 

 

Friday, November 21, 2014

STARLIGHT, THE STAR'S NOT RIGHT!


Last December, I came up with the idea of having a giant lighted star erected behind my house, not only because it would be a Christmas decoration that probably could be seen in three counties, but also because I wanted it to be a tribute to my late husband.

A contractor and his crew arrived with what looked like a pile of lumber in the back of the truck, and within an hour, transformed it into the star of my dreams…over 20 feet tall. They assured me it would withstand gale-force winds without falling over.

The star stood tall and illuminated the night sky, much to my delight. Sometimes I even drove down to the main road, from where it was the most visible, just to stare at it.

Then, one morning, after a particularly windy night, I woke up to find my precious star lying in a heap on the ground. I ran out in my pajamas to assess the damage. The star looked as if it had been attacked by a pack of crazed beavers. Splintered wood and broken bulbs were strewn everywhere. I was devastated.

So the remnants of the star ended up stored in my garage. And that’s where I figured they would remain, because I couldn’t afford to hire someone to come piece them back together again. I had to accept the fact I suddenly owned the Humpty Dumpty of Christmas stars.

But a couple weeks ago, all of that changed, thanks to my friends Leo, Paul and Nancy.

Leo, a retired handyman, offered to repair the star, while Paul and Nancy volunteered to help me erect it again.

I jumped at the offer. Leo set to work patching and reassembling the star, which he spread out in my driveway.  When it was all in one piece again, I, with a bag of bulbs, set to work replacing all of the broken ones.  I also used a handful of twist ties to hold the bulbs in place on the star’s frame, so they would line up in perfect symmetry.

The morning we decided to erect the star was cold and misty. My three friends promptly showed up for the star-raising. I, however, delayed the event because I saw a couple bulbs that weren’t in precise alignment.

“No one is going to be able to tell if one bulb is out of line when they’re looking at it from a mile away!” Leo, growing impatient – and damp – said, rolling his eyes. “You’re too darned fussy!”

“I have to make certain everything is perfect before we put it up,” I said. “Because once the star is erected, it will over 20 feet high, and I won’t be able to reach the bulbs!”

“Knowing you, you’ll probably rent a cherry picker!” Leo said.

Finally, the four of us decided the star was ready to be carried back to its original spot behind the house.  That’s when we realized just how heavy it was.

Nancy and I were on one side, and we barely could lift it off the ground.

“My hip is killing me,” Nancy groaned.

“My back was hurting,” I said, “but now I think it’s gone completely numb!”

As we carried the star from the driveway, we realized it was too big to fit through the narrow passageway the led to the back of the house. As a result, poor Paul had to walk through the Outback – bushes, thorns, poison ivy – with his end of the star, while Nancy and I nearly wiped out the motion-sensor light on the garage with our end. Leo (a.k.a. “Hercules”), however, handled an entire side by himself, without any problem. Finally, we reached our destination.

We set down the star on the ground and stood staring at each other.

“Did anyone mark the exact spot where the star used to be?” Paul, picking an assortment of leaves and twigs off his jacket, asked, directing the question at me. 

“Um, no,” I said. “I only know the general vicinity.”

Thus began a lengthy discussion about the best spot to erect the star for maximum visibility. 

“How about right there?” Leo suggested, pointing.

“No, there’s a big tree in the way,” I answered.

 “Well, let’s cut it down, then!” he said.

“It’s not on my land,” I answered.

Finally, we all agreed on the perfect spot, and with a lot of grunting and shoving, managed to get the huge star standing upright.

“Good!” Leo said, grabbing some stakes and a hammer. “Now, help me anchor this thing to the ground so even if a tornado comes by, it won’t fall over! I don’t ever want to have to go through this again!”

The finished product was a marvel to behold, towering high above us…and sturdy enough to use as a jungle gym.  I couldn’t wait until dark to light it and check it out from the road below.

That night, I drove down to Deerfield Road to admire our efforts.

Several trees were blocking the star, making it look more like only half a star. And even that portion could be seen only when I was heading up the road, not down.  It was obvious we’d erected the star in the wrong spot. I was crushed. I also dreaded having to break the news to Paul and Nancy…and most of all, to Leo.

“You think we can move the star by ourselves?” I asked Paul and Nancy.

“No…we really need four people,” they said. 

I was afraid they’d say that.

Unfortunately, Leo called the next day to ask how the star looked after dark.

“Um…” I hesitated, trying to gather my courage, “it has to be moved about five feet over. It’s not visible from the road.”

I then held the phone away from my ear as I braced myself for his reaction.

“Well, let me know when Paul and Nancy want to move it and we’ll do it,” he said calmly. 

So a few days later, once again in the rain, we moved the star, which wasn’t easy, considering Leo had staked it to the ground so solidly, it could have withstood a major earthquake. I actually was scared to drive down to look at it that night.  I figured if it still couldn’t be seen, I’d just leave it right where it was and give up. But to my relief, the star was perfect – clearly visible from all angles.

I plan to light it the day after Thanksgiving for the Christmas season. So if you are driving up Deerfield Road in Allenstown, go 1.6 miles past the Bear Brook State Park tollbooth and then start looking to your left.  You’ll see the product of all of our hard work.

But if something is blocking it or you have any problem seeing it…I don’t think I want to know about it.


Friday, November 14, 2014

I WON'T GET RICH MAKING CRAFTS!



I was thinking about participating in a craft fair or two this holiday season.

My mom and I used to have a great time making craft items for fairs during every season. We’d spend countless hours creating Easter bunnies and eggs, Valentine bears, Halloween witches, Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas angels. I think we even made something for Saint Swithin’s Day. You name the holiday and we had it covered.

We always tried to come up with innovative, original ideas so our crafts would stand out from all of the others at the fairs. Some of our creations were big successes, while others were…well, pretty dismal failures.

Among my successes were reindeer made of clothespins; plaques decorated with dried beans, corn and spices; ceramic-tile magnets with people’s names written in calligraphy on them; cats made from the little wooden spoons that come with ice-cream cups; and lollipop holders that said, “Thank you for not smoking.”

My failures included plastic lids with scenes painted on them; jewelry made of soda-can pop-top rings; potholders decorated with puff paint; clay turkeys, and wooden frogs with glittery peace symbols on their bellies.

But if there was one thing I learned, it was that being a craftswoman wasn’t going to make me rich. If I had to charge for every hour I spent working on my craft items, the clothespin reindeer would have been $175 each.

Boxes I hand-beaded, one bead at a time!
Even worse, sometimes spending hours on a craft resulted in not making any money at all. I remember the time my mom and I bought this craft glue on sale that turned out to be about as sticky as plain water. I used it when decorating a wooden box with tiny colored beads, sticking on one bead at a time with a toothpick to create an intricate pattern. When I finally finished, about 12 hours and 2000 beads later, I picked up the box to admire it, and all of the beads fell off. To this day, I’m still finding them in the cracks in the floor.

My mom also had problems. She once made some Christmas decorations using dog biscuits. Her dog got into the first batch and ate all of the biscuits, including the glitter and ribbons. So Mom hid the next batch out in the garage. When she opened the box at the craft fair, the biscuits were nothing but piles of powder. Some kind of grain-eating beetles had made a feast of them.  

Bugs seemed to love my mom’s crafts, for some reason. She made these cute little cats from woolen yarn, only to have moths attack them. The poor cats ended up looking as if they’d been blasted with buckshot.

There were times I thought my mom purposely came up with craft ideas that inevitably would send us out on excursions that involved machetes and pith helmets. There was the time she had an idea to make turkeys from pinecones. So off we went into the woods to search for pinecones – of three different sizes. Until then, I’d never realized just how many different varieties of thorn bushes grew in New Hampshire.

Then she wanted to make candleholders out of birch logs, so back into the woods we went, looking for fallen birch-tree limbs. That’s when I discovered that fallen limbs usually have surprises living underneath them. I became intimately acquainted with everything from centipedes to grub worms. I spent more time flinging the wood and screaming than I did collecting it.

But the worst excursion of all was when Mom wanted cat-o-nine tails for yet another craft project. The next thing I knew, we were wading through a swampy area that was so dark and creepy looking, I expected the Creature from the Black Lagoon to pop out at any minute.

After my mom passed away and I was cleaning her things out of her house, I found several big boxes of her crafts. So I brought them home and stored them next to my craft items in the basement.

A couple weeks ago, after I started thinking about selling some of our crafts at a Christmas fair, I ventured down into the basement to search through our masterpieces.

I knew my basement was damp, even with two dehumidifiers down there, but obviously the dampness turned out to be a bigger problem than I’d expected. The dried beans on my plaques were swollen and soggy. The red felt on my mom’s Santas had bled into their white beards and turned them pink. And the sealed candy canes they were holding looked like taffy. The alphabet-noodle pasta I’d used to spell out words on some of my plaques had become “al dente” enough to be served with marinara sauce. The cat-o-nine tails had puffed up and split open, and the stenciled cards I’d made were permanently stuck to their envelopes.

So I’ve decided to forget about any craft fairs this year, mainly because I don’t have 2,000 extra hours to make all new stuff to sell.

Fish I made from dimes and pennies
But on the bright side, if there ever is a famine, I know where I can find a stash of pasta, beans, liquefied candy canes and powdered dog cookies.

 


 

Friday, November 7, 2014

THERE'S NO MORE DENYING IT...I'M OFFICIALLY OLD!


Well, it finally happened this Halloween – I officially became a senior citizen.

I realize there are differences of opinion when it comes to defining the true age of a “senior.” Some stores and organizations consider it to be 55.  Others offer a discount when you’re 62. And the worst is AARP. I remember when I turned 50 and they sent me a membership card.  Just looking at it gave me a panic attack.

But 65 is the no-doubt-about-it “you’re definitely a senior citizen now” age.  I guess it’s because it has something to do with getting that golden ticket – the Medicare card.

I received a lot of reminders of my advancing age on my birthday this year. There were the cards that said things like, “You know you’re old when the candles cost more than your birthday cake” or “You know you’re old when you and your teeth no longer sleep together.”

And there were the usual jokes about the only men in my life being Ben Gay, Arthur-itis and Charlie Horse

I also received a few gag gifts. One was a statue of an elderly woman with everything on her body pointing south. She had one hand on her hip and her body wiggled back and forth (kind of like those old-fashioned hula-dancer statues people used to put on their car dashboards). On the base, it said, “I’m still hot!  But now it comes in flashes.”

Another gift was a box that said “Senior Survival Kit” on the lid. It contained a tube of denture adhesive, a magnifying glass, antacid tablets, aspirin, wrinkle cream, laxative, hemorrhoid ointment and a pair of socks that said “left” and “right” on them.

One of my friends gave me a book that listed information about the year I was born.  The average cost of a house back then was $7,450.  Gas was 17 cents per gallon, a postage stamp was three cents, a loaf of bread was 14 cents, and a new car was about $1,400. Truman was the president and the 45-rpm record was just invented. Argyle socks were the latest fashion trend. Believe me, I felt older than dirt after reading that.

I have to confess, however, that when it comes to my age, I’m still in denial. I live in jeans, dye my hair and wear it long, and still dare to do things like ride on roller coasters and go zip-lining. But reality has a way of reminding me I’m not twenty-one any more…especially when it comes to my mail.

I can remember when the mail-order catalogs I received were from places like Victoria’s Secret, Frederick’s of Hollywood and The Beauty Boutique. Now they come from places that sell hearing aids, back braces, life insurance, liver-spot remover and motorized wheelchairs.  I can get up in the morning feeling like a 30-year-old, but after I read my mail, I feel as if should be picking out my headstone.

On the bright side, I don’t have that “little old lady” voice yet.  I was on the phone with a customer-service guy the other day and he happened to mention he was in his 30s.  I told him I had underwear older than him and he laughed and said, “Yeah, right! I can tell by your voice you’re only about 35.”

I wanted to adopt him.

So I figure I can stay young if my only contact with people is by telephone.

Being seen in person, however, is another story. I can remember one year when I went to this Halloween haunted house. There were two volunteers stationed at the door who shouted a number between 1-4 before each person went inside. I finally asked one of the employees why.

“Well,” he said, “we do it to warn the actors inside what ages the people coming in are, so they can adjust their level of scariness accordingly.  A number one is a young child, number two is a teen, number three is an adult, and number four is a senior citizen.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” I said.

When it was my turn to go inside, one of the guys at the door shouted,  “Four plus! Maybe even five!”  I was seriously tempted to clobber him.

But my friends have been trying to point out all of the benefits of being in my “golden” years. They reminded me I can get into state parks free of charge and I can get discounts at stores and movie theaters, among other places.  And, of course, there is Medicare.

Benefits or not, I fully intend to continue to be in denial about my age for as long as possible.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I feel a sudden urge to go take a nap.

 

 

 

Friday, October 31, 2014

IF IT'S RAINING, THERE'S NO GAMING!


I spent four hours on the phone the other morning. I probably would have spent even longer if my phone's battery hadn't died.

It all started when I got really annoyed at the satellite dish that provides my access to the Internet. For some reason, every time it rains, even a fine mist, I lose my connection. Each time it happens, I tell myself I should call the provider and find out if anything can be done about it, but I never get around to it.

The other night, however, was the final straw.  I was playing one of my favorite online games, “Letter Rip,” which involves making words from random letters. The game is fairly easy at first, giving you two minutes to find only 10 words. But then it gets progressively more difficult with each round. In round 25, for example, you have only two minutes to find 36 words.

Well, I was up to level 52 and heading for my all-time highest score, when all of a sudden it started to rain. The next thing I knew, I lost the connection and the game ended, right in the middle of a word. Thank goodness my dogs couldn’t understand any of the “words” I uttered at that moment.

So the next morning I was on the phone to the satellite-dish company.

“Sorry, we can’t help you ,” the guy said. “You’re a wholesaler.”

“I’m a what?” I asked, wondering what the heck he was talking about. I mean, there certainly was nothing “wholesale” about my monthly bill.

“You’re a wholesaler,” he repeated. “You took out a package deal with your TV’s satellite provider, didn’t you? So they’re the ones who have to help you.”

I hung up and called my TV’s satellite provider.

“Sorry, we don’t have any technical support for Internet problems,” the woman said. “And besides that, we don’t deal with that particular provider any more anyway. They’re going out of business.”

I hung up and sat there wondering what the heck I was supposed to do, especially if my Internet provider actually was going out of business. I had visions of myself climbing up on the roof and using a wire coat hanger and some aluminum foil to fashion a makeshift antenna, like back in the old days.

So I called the Internet satellite company again. I didn’t care if I was a wholesaler, retailer or any other kind of “ailer,” I figured it was their equipment so they should be responsible for fixing it. I was fed up with having to check the weather report to determine when or if I could use my computer.

“There is no sense in repairing equipment that will be obsolete in only a few months,” yet another customer-service guy said to me. “The best thing for you to do right now is cancel your current account and sign up for our new service. It’s much faster, fully updated and the rain won’t affect your connection.”

The minute he said rain wouldn’t affect my connection, I was ready to sign up for whatever he was offering. But before I made any hasty decisions, I said, “So now tell me the bad news. How much is this going to cost me?”

I’ve been around long enough to know that when something is new and updated, so is the bill.

“That all depends on which package you choose,” he said. He then proceeded to describe each one of them – in endless detail. He talked about megabytes and gigabytes and probably mosquito bites, for all I knew, because I tuned him out after only about five minutes. He could have been speaking in ancient Babylonian and I’d have understood him just about as clearly.

“I’ll take the cheapest package you have,” I finally said.

“The economy package? I really think you should upgrade to the next level,” he said, which I’d pretty much anticipated. “With the economy package, you’re allowed only so many hours online each month. Granted, from midnight until 5 a.m., you have unlimited usage, but that’s not convenient for most people.”

Maybe it wasn’t convenient for most “normal” people, but I’m not normal, and I’m also a night owl, so the package was perfect for me. I told him I’d take it.

“Fine. I’ll connect you to our sales department.”

The man who answered said he was pleased I’d decided to switch my provider.

“Well, you didn’t give me much choice,” I muttered.

“So, now let me tell you about all of our packages,” he said.

I groaned. “No, thanks, I’ve already heard it all, and I’ve picked one.”

“But the rules state that I have to read all of the options to you first,” he said. “So let’s go through them again.”

Before I could protest, he launched into the same previously endless descriptions of gigabytes and megabytes. Meanwhile, my phone was starting to beep, telling me the battery was dying. I began to pray it would.

“I’ll take the economy package!” I finally blurted out, interrupting him. “My battery is dying!”

Fortunately, he stopped his mandatory rambling and set up the installation appointment for Saturday morning.

So early last Saturday, the technician arrived to install my new satellite dish.  I actually felt sorry for the poor guy. The minute he climbed onto my garage roof, a swarm of bees greeted him.

Sympathetic soul that I was, I shouted up at him, “If you’re going to fall off the roof, try not to fall into the back yard. My rottweilers are out there and will go straight for your jugular!”

He gave me a wide-eyed look, then cautiously peered over the edge of the roof…and into four big eyes staring up at him.

“That’s scary,” he said. “I think I’d rather deal with the bees.”

In between swatting at bees, he managed to put up the dish. He then asked me to show him where the previous dish’s cable was located in the basement.

I said, “You really want me to take you down into the basement from hell?”

I call it that because of the problems I’ve had with the foundation constantly sprouting cracks.

His eyebrows rose and he hesitated to follow me. “Why?” he asked. “Is that where you hide the bodies of the people your dogs have attacked?”

I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing.

So I now have my new satellite dish. The way the technicians talked, I thought I’d be getting online with lightning speed. Unfortunately, the word “speed” does not currently apply to anything dealing with my computer. I think whatever lightning they were referring to is in desperate need of recharging.

But the true test will be when it rains. 

I’m tempted to roll out the hose and spray water on the dish just to see what happens…but I wouldn’t want to annoy the bees.