Saturday, September 27, 2014


After years of living in a house that had no garage, and spending most of the winters hacking through ice so thick on my car it looked like an iceberg sitting in the middle of the driveway, I vowed that the next house I lived in would have a garage.

So five years ago, when we built our current house, I finally got my wish – a 2.5-car garage with automatic doors.

The automatic doors, however, were my husband’s idea.

“You don’t want to pull up to the garage in the middle of a blizzard and then have to get out in the cold to open a heavy garage door, do you?” my husband had said. “With automatic doors, you just sit in the warmth of your car and press the button on the remote, and the door opens – you know, like ‘open sesame’ in Ali Baba.”

“But what if I drive my car halfway into the garage and the door comes crashing down on top of it?” I’d asked him, not completely sold on the automatic door idea.

“That won’t happen,” he said. “The doors have sensors, so when something is under them as they are coming down, they’ll go right back up again to prevent any damage.”

So I agreed and the automatic doors were installed.  There were two ways to open them. One was a doorbell-like button for each door, inside the garage on the wall next to the house door. So the minute I came out of the house, I could push a button to open either garage door. Then there were the “his and hers” remote controls – a separate one for each door, which my husband and I each carried in our cars.

There never were any problems with the doors…that is, until this year.

First of all, on my side of the garage, water started leaking under the door whenever it rained. One night, it rained and then the temperatures dropped below freezing. When I came out of the house the next morning and pushed the button to open the door, I heard a noise that sounded like a meat grinder with a fork stuck in it, and the door didn’t budge. That’s when I realized it was frozen to the ground. I pushed the button to stop it just in time to save the motor from suffering a painful, premature death.

Then, my dog, Willow, learned that as the garage door was closing and was about three inches from the floor, if she stuck her paw under it, the sensor would open it again, and she could dash out while it still was too low to the ground for me to get underneath it to go chase her.

The first time Willow did it, I was stunned, mainly because the vet once told me, “Sorry to say this, but your dog will never be a rocket scientist.”

I was convinced Willow’s stunt had been just a fluke, so once again, just to test her, I let her out into the garage just as the door was almost fully closed. She ran right over to it, stuck her paw under it, it rose and she escaped. So now she’s not allowed in the garage unless the doors are fully down.

But recently something happened with the doors that actually had me so spooked, I was afraid to go out to the garage at all. Since my husband passed away two years ago and I sold his van, his side of the garage has been empty, so I rarely have any need to open that door.

Two weeks ago, when I went out there, however, I noticed the door on his side was wide open. I couldn’t figure out how it had opened because someone would have had to come inside the garage to push the button by the house door – or have access to my husband’s remote, which was in the house.

Three more times, the same thing happened. I went out to the garage and the door on my husband’s side was open. I started to wonder if I’d said or done anything really embarrassing and he was haunting me for it, trying to send me a subtle message.

The other night, as I was getting ready to go to bed, I stuffed a few things into my purse and put it away. Suddenly, I heard the garage door open.

I grabbed my dog, Raven (a.k.a. “Jaws”), and took her with me to check the garage. I had no idea what I’d find out there, but I prayed Raven would be bigger and meaner than whatever it was. I expected to see a bear leaning against my car…or a burglar with a crowbar he’d used to pry open the door.

But there was nothing unusual out there. Confused, I closed the door.

I began to think about a crime show I’d seen on TV where a burglar explained that certain garage-door remotes will open a variety of doors, so he’d drive through neighborhoods late at night and press his remote until a door opened. Then he’d rob the place.

Let’s just say I didn’t sleep much that night.

The next day, I had to go to the bank, so I grabbed my purse and went out to the garage. Just as I opened the house door, I saw the garage door on my husband’s side rising right before my eyes.

There was only one explanation, I thought. It had to be a short circuit. I decided I’d better call an electrician when I got back from the bank. I climbed into my car and tossed my purse onto the seat. Once again the garage door on my husband’s side moved.

That’s when the solution to the mystery finally dawned on me. The night before the door began its spell of randomly opening and closing, I’d gone out with friends, who picked me up. I’m in the habit of entering and leaving the house through the garage door on my side, but the remote for that door was clipped onto the visor in my car, and I didn’t feel like removing it. So I grabbed my husband’s remote instead, thinking it didn’t matter which door it opened, as long as I was able to get into the garage when I returned home.

I shoved the remote into a little side pocket on my purse. And after using it to get in that night, I put it back into my purse and forgot about it.

So every time I touched or hit my purse on that side, I unknowingly activated the remote.

Funny, but since my discovery, the door hasn’t magically opened again.

But Willow “Houdini” Breslin is patiently waiting for the moment when it does, even if it’s only a couple inches.



Friday, September 19, 2014


Recently, although I’ve been in denial, I realized I have an addiction. Not only am I embarrassed to admit it, it’s costing me a lot of money. But the time has come, I’ve decided, to try to be strong, go through withdrawal and kick the habit.

I’m talking about playing with paper dolls.

I guess I’ve always been addicted to them. When I was a kid, I’d draw paper dolls on scraps of cardboard, then spend hours designing paper fashions for them. After that, I’d spend another hour or two cutting them out.  And whenever I managed to get extra money for my birthday or Christmas, I’d head straight to the nearest store that sold paper dolls and stock up on the professionally made ones.

When I became an adult, however, I switched over to Barbie coloring books, mainly because I was too lazy to cut out paper-doll clothes.

But about four months ago, as I was browsing in one of the Job Lot stores, I happened to see something called the Fashion Angels stylist kit that caught my eye. My heart actually began to race as I examined it more closely. It contained 20 paper “models” and 700 peel-and-stick fashions and accessories to stick on them. It featured everything from swimsuits, jeans, gowns and coats to earrings, purses and hats. And the best part was there was no cutting involved – just peeling and sticking. I practically left skid marks rushing up to the register to purchase the kit, which was $10.

When I got home and looked over the paper dolls and their fashions, I felt overwhelmed. There were too many choices. The first model, a blonde in only a bra and panties, stood there staring at me with her paper face, waiting for me to dress her. But I couldn’t make a decision. Did I want her to wear a skirt? Boots?  Fishnet stockings? Hoop earrings or dangling ones?  I was a wreck.

And once I did decide, there was no turning back. Unlike the paper dolls I’d had as a kid, these clothes couldn’t be used over again. Once I stuck the peel-and-stick fashions on the models, they couldn’t be unpeeled. They were there for life.

I soon learned that accuracy was a necessity. When I tried to put leggings on the first paper doll, my aim was a little off, so one side of her bare leg and hip were sticking out. I tried to peel off the leggings to reposition them, but tore the entire leg off the model. I was so upset, you’d think I’d just amputated a real leg. After all, I’d wasted a precious paper doll. I had only 19 left.

I got so involved in dressing the little paper models, I ended up finishing the entire kit in one sitting.  Even worse, I had at least 10 fashions and 15 pieces of jewelry left over. What kind of sadist, I wondered, would make a kit with enough clothing to dress 30 paper dolls, but give you only 20?  So the next day I headed back to Job Lot to buy more kits.

They were sold out.

Desperate, I headed over to Toys R Us.  There, I felt the full impact of my addiction. Not only did they have the Fashion Angels kit, they also had a Project Runway kit and a Barbie kit. I could feel adrenaline pumping through my veins as I stood there gazing glassy-eyed them, trying to decide which one to buy. I ended up buying all three – for a total of  $44.

Then I spent the next week peeling and sticking fashions for hours. And to my utter delight, one of the kits had a mistake in it. It contained 30 paper dolls instead of only 20!  I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

My world became a sea of paper clothing – tiny plaid mini-skirts, knee-high boots with silver buckles; halter tops, jeans with holes in the knees, denim jackets, slinky evening gowns. I did so much peeling and sticking, I wore down my fingernails to nubs.     

And when those kits were finished, I returned to Toys R Us and bought more…and then more after that.

Every time I bought a new batch, the clerk would say, “Would you like a gift receipt for these?” probably because she thought I was buying them for my non-existent grandchild.

Embarrassed, I’d always smile and say something like, “Yes, you know how fussy nine-year-olds can be nowadays!”

I hate to say it, but as long as Toys R Us kept restocking the fashion kits, I kept buying them, until I had amassed about 20 of each. After a while, however, seeing the same old fashions over and over again began to get boring, so I had to get creative. If there was a jumpsuit, I’d cut it in half and use the top for a blouse and the bottom for pants on another outfit. I did the same with dresses, and mixed and matched the pieces. I even cut up the little bracelets and turned them into earrings, and hacked the heels off high heels and transformed them into flats.

Finally, I received my debit-card statement from the bank and saw all of the purchases I’d made at Toys R Us.  I hadn’t realized, not until I saw the list (which was about the length of a roll of toilet paper), just how obsessed I’d become with peeling and sticking fashions.  I knew I had to quit cold turkey, before I ended up having to beg for food on street corners.

Everything went fine until a few days ago when I was in Job Lot in Concord. There, in the toy department, were three sets of the Fashion Angels staring at me, calling to me. And they cost $3 less each than at Toys R Us.

I bought all three, then asked the clerk if there were any more out back.

I’m thinking I probably should go online and look for a support group for paper-doll addicts…or the only clothes I’ll be able to afford for myself will be made out of paper.



Friday, September 12, 2014


This summer, I finally raised the white flag and admitted defeat. I’m talking about mowing my lawn.

I have 8,000 square feet of grass to mow, and until this summer, I was keeping up with it. But this year was different. It wasn’t my battery-operated lawnmower, which I bought two years ago, that bothered me – even though pushing it around, especially with the 32-lb. battery in it, felt physically similar to rolling a boulder uphill with my nose. And it wasn’t the fact that no matter how hard I tried or how fast I mowed, I never seemed to be able to finish the job in under four hours.

No, what made me finally throw in the towel was the hot weather.

I’ve never been a big fan of heat and humidity, which means I didn’t take after my father, who could have been strapped to a rotisserie over an open flame and still would have complained it wasn’t hot enough for him.

So mowing the lawn in 85-degree weather became a form of torture for me. No matter how much water I drank or how many times I splashed cool water on my face and neck, I still ended up perspiring every drop of fluid out of my body by the time the lawn was done. 

But the nights were the worst. After spending the day mowing and sweating, I’d always get leg cramps just as I was dozing off. I’m not talking about little twinges, I’m talking about something similar to labor pains in my calves. I’d scream, jump out of bed and dance around the bedroom in the dark, trying to loosen the knots. This usually involved bumping into furniture and uttering a lot of non-ladylike words.

So I finally decided I’d had enough. The time had come to hire someone to mow my lawn and take over my suffering.

I started out by calling professional landscapers.  The prices they quoted made me think it would be cheaper to call a paving company and have all of the grass covered in asphalt.  So I posted my dilemma on Facebook. By then, I was so frustrated, I might have sounded just a bit dramatic – like I was going to drop dead on the front lawn if I had to mow it one more time.

And that’s how I found Patrick – a 15-year-old looking for a summer job because he’s trying to save up for driver-education classes. He asked if I had a mower, and without thinking, I said yes, not even considering he might not appreciate having to push around my battery-operated, hernia-inducer. He then quoted his fee, which, to my relief, turned out to be at the lower end of my price range.

When Patrick first set eyes on my monstrosity of a lawnmower, complete with its even more monstrous battery, his eyes grew wide and I feared he was going to turn and bolt out of my driveway. But I showed him how to run it and he was off and mowing. A little over an hour later, he was done.

Not only had he mowed the lawn faster than I believed was humanly possible, I swear the kid had only one bead of sweat on his forehead. Heck, every time I mowed the lawn, I ended up looking as if I’d just gone for a swim in a pool of olive oil.

Then, without my even mentioning it, Patrick grabbed the weed whacker and began to trim everything. At that point, I honestly wanted to clone him.

And no matter what I asked him to do, he was fine with it. I could have asked him to kneel down and pull up every piece of crabgrass by hand, and he’d have said, “Sure, no problem,” and knelt.

Everything went smoothly until last week, on a really hot, humid day. I was sitting inside, in air-conditioned comfort, while poor Patrick was outside mowing. Suddenly, I didn’t hear the lawnmower running. I waited about five minutes, then went outside to check on things, praying I wouldn’t find him lying face down in the grass with the lawnmower on top of him.  But I didn’t see him – or the lawnmower – anywhere.

Puzzled, I headed into the garage. There stood Patrick, frowning at the lawnmower.

“Don’t tell me… you threw out your back pushing it around,” I said. “And now you need a chiropractor.”

He shook his head. “The mower just died on me. I can’t get it to run.”

He’d had the good sense to try the spare battery, which I keep charged at all times in case it’s needed. But that hadn’t worked, either. I tried poking a few things on the mower, even though I had absolutely no idea what I was poking. The mower didn’t even so much as cough.

Meanwhile, the grass in the back yard looked as if it had grown another two inches while we were standing there, just to mock us.

I slowly turned to look at my old lawnmower, which runs on electricity. The reason why I switched from it to a battery-powered mower was because I’d accidentally mowed over three extension cords with it. And the cord that did make it unscathed through a mowing session ended up covered with dog poop. Believe me, after rolling up a hundred feet of poop-covered extension cord, I vowed never to go near the electric mower again.

“Um, you could finish mowing with the electric mower, if you’d like,” I suggested to Patrick.

He stared at the machine as if it were some Medieval torture device. “You have to …plug it in?” he asked, his eyebrows arching.

“Yeah, and drag around a 100-ft. cord while you’re mowing.”

I could tell by his expression that he’d probably rather have been smeared with chocolate syrup and staked to a hill of fire ants, but true to form, he said, “Sure, no problem.”

I watched him mowing and I really felt sorry for him. Every few minutes he had to bend down and move the cord so he wouldn’t mow over it. Unfortunately, the fact I’d bought a “pretty green cord” for the mower probably didn’t make spotting it in the grass any easier for him. Also, every few minutes the cord tangled into something that looked similar to a sailor’s knot. He finally slung the cord over his shoulder and dragged it behind him, then switched shoulders whenever he changed direction.

By the time Patrick finished the job, he actually was sweating nearly as much as I usually did after mowing. Feeling guilty, I apologized for torturing him. His response was something that sounded like a grunt. He then said, “I think it might be a good idea if I bring over my own mower the next time.”

My first thought was, “Oh, no!  He might raise his price if he has to buy gas for his mower!”

So the other day I took my battery-powered mower over to Hank & Al’s lawnmower repair shop, which has been operating here in Allenstown since the pilgrims first landed at Plymouth Rock.

The look the guy gave my mower clearly told me he thought I’d probably be better off if I drove it up to the edge of a cliff and then gave it a good shove.

“Well, we specialize in gas-powered mowers,” he said. “So I don’t know if I can do much with this one. But I’ll check it over for loose connections and get back to you next week.”

I’ll be very upset if my mower can’t be fixed.

But I’m pretty sure Patrick will be celebrating.


Friday, September 5, 2014


Three weeks ago I woke up with a flat red spot on my nose. When I went to bed the night before, it wasn’t there. It just mysteriously appeared while I slept.

The spot was pretty weird looking, I thought. For one thing, it was shaped like a pentagon. It also burned. In fact, it felt as if I had a lit cigarette pressing against my nose.

I didn’t think too much about it. I slapped some antibiotic ointment on it and figured it would go away in a few days. A week later, however, it still was there. Even worse, it wasn’t flat any more, it was bumpy. And it still burned. The only thing that seemed to help was to put ice on my nose. I swear I saw steam rise from it when I did.

I also became obsessed with looking at my nose in the mirror, mainly because I was afraid the spot was going to burn a hole in my face. I must have picked up that mirror a dozen times in an hour. I even bought a magnifying mirror so I could see a larger-than-life image of my nose. Believe me, it wasn’t pretty. Enlarged, my pores looked like a topographical map of the moon’s surface.

By the second week, I’d decided I’d suffered long enough. Not only did I look like Rudolph’s ugly sister, I was getting frostbite from putting so much ice on my nose. So I checked with my insurance company for its approved list of dermatologists and phoned one for an appointment.

“Well,” the woman who answered said, “we can squeeze you in sometime at the end of November.”

“That’s three months away!” I said.

“I’m afraid so,” she said, “but we’re better than most of the other dermatologists in this area. They’re not booking anything before 2015. New Hampshire has a shortage of dermatologists…unless you’re in an area near the Massachusetts border.”

I figured I’d either be noseless or completely healed by November, so I didn’t make an appointment. Instead, I searched the Internet in an attempt to self-diagnose my mysterious spot. That was a huge mistake. The noses on there that looked similar to mine had been diagnosed with everything from poison oak to flesh-eating bacteria.

I waited another few days, hoping that whatever was on my nose would just go away on its own. It didn’t. So last weekend I finally got fed up and headed to a walk-in clinic. I wanted to find out once and for all what the alien spot was and hopefully get some long overdue relief.

When I walked into the clinic, the first thing I noticed was the waiting room was empty, which I thought that was unusual for a weekend. The woman at the desk greeted me and took my information, then told me I’d have to pay $150 up front before the doctor would see me. By then, I’d have been willing to sign over a kidney if it meant my nose would feel and look normal again.

The gray-haired doctor stood and stared at my nose for quite a while. He then moved closer and checked it with a magnifier of some sort. He also looked up my nose. Finally, he stood upright and said, “I have absolutely no idea what that is.”

My first thought was, “Well, at least the guy is honest.” My second was, “Does this mean I can get back my $150?”

“Maybe it’s a fungal infection,” he said. “Or maybe a bacterial infection. Or maybe it’s contact dermatitis – or cellullitis, or shingles. Or maybe it’s something…more serious.”

“That’s a lot of maybes,” I said. “No offense, but you’re not much help.”

“Sorry, I know,” he said. “Well, I guess I can prescribe a few medications you can try.”

“Are you talking about pills…or ointments?” I asked.

“Oral medication.”

“Um, I really don’t think I want to take anything internally and risk suffering from any nasty side effects unless we know exactly what we’re dealing with first.”

“OK, then,” he said. “Let’s try an ointment. I have an antibacterial, an antibiotic, an anti-fungal and an anti-inflammatory. Pick one.”

The look I gave him clearly told him I was wondering by then if he’d earned his medical degree from Acme Online Medical School.  I mean, from what I’d read on the Internet, if you treat a fungal infection with a hydrocortisone-based ointment, you could end up with a nose the size of zucchini.

You’re the doctor,” I said, even though I was having serious doubts by then. “Which one do you think I should try?”

He shrugged. “Either the antibacterial or the anti-fungal. I’d say the least effective of the four probably would be the antibiotic.”

 “Then give me the antibacterial. It sounds as if it can kill more stuff.”

He got the ointment, then said if the spot on my nose looked any worse over the next few days, to call him and he’d see about getting a dermatologist for me as soon as possible. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of doctor he’d be able to come up with on short notice – his cousin Floyd out back in the barn?

So I’m trying the antibacterial ointment. The doctor said to give it five days.

If the spot doesn’t look better by then, I’m seriously going to suspect it might be some kind of implanted signaling device for alien spacecraft.