Friday, February 27, 2015

I SHOULD LEARN TO THINK BEFORE I ACT



I’m famous for often doing things before I take the time to really think about them beforehand, and then I inevitably end up regretting my decision.

The other night was no exception. 

I was checking my email when this news item popped up about something called the SRT test. It said it was a simple test people age 50-80 could do at home to determine how long they would live, and it involved simply sitting and standing.  Curious, I decided to check it out.

When I entered the website, it immediately began to run a video that demonstrated the test. A woman who looked like a fashion model (or someone desperately in need of decent meal) was shown standing with her legs crossed and her arms straight out in front of her.

“Now all you have to do,” she said,  “is keep your body straight, and while bending only your knees, sit on the floor.”

One moment she was standing, and the next, in just one smooth motion, she was sitting cross-legged on the floor, her arms still straight out in front of her.

“If you can do this without having to use your hands or without stumbling, give yourself 5 points,” she said. “If you had to use your hand, arm or other body parts to brace yourself, minus a point for each part you used.”

She then went on to demonstrate the procedure to get up. Still sitting cross-legged with her arms straight out in front of her, she used the outer sides of her feet to push herself up to a standing position. Once again, she moved so smoothly, not even one lock of her perfectly coiffed hair fell out of place.

“If you are able to stand without using your hands to push you up,” she said, “give yourself another 5 points.  And that’s all there is to the test!  Simple! If you scored a perfect 10, you’re in optimal health. If you scored less than 3, however, statistics have shown you’ll probably be dead within 6 years.”

To be honest, I thought the whole thing seemed completely ridiculous, especially the part about dying within 6 years.  I mean, I’d never even heard of the test before, so for all I knew, it could have been in existence for over 20 years. Therefore, if I had taken it 20 years ago and flunked it, I’d have been dead for at least 14 years already. And then there was the test itself. What was it supposed to prove? Someone with bad knees obviously wouldn’t be able to pass it, but that wouldn’t mean the poor guy was on death’s doorstop, would it?

So without pausing to think, as usual, I decided to try the test for myself, mainly because my curiosity was driving me crazy.

I stood on the rug (to cushion my fall in case I lost my balance) in the middle of the living room, then crossed my legs and held my arms straight out in front of me. Slowly, I bent my knees, lowering my body to the floor. When I was within a few inches of my goal, I started to lose my balance, so I had to use my hand to brace myself.

“Not too bad,” I thought. “I got 4 points.”

If there’s one thing I should know not to do in my house, it’s get down on the floor. In my dogs’ eyes, anything on the floor is something to play with…even if it’s human. Within seconds, I had two rottweilers pouncing on me and knocking me over backwards. I began to wonder if the test offered point adjustments for interference.

I shooed the dogs away and then concentrated on the next part of the test – standing without using my hands. I sat there in my cross-legged position, thrust my arms out in front of me, dug the sides of my feet into the rug and tried to stand. Nothing happened.

I leaned forward, stretching my arms farther out in front of me. Still nothing. My butt felt as if it weighed 300 pounds. I knew that unless a crane magically appeared, there was no way I was going to get up off the floor. Still, I continued to try. I grunted so much, I sounded like a hog at feeding time. I finally surrendered and used my hands, my knees, and even one of the dogs for leverage before I was able to stand again. By then, I think I owed points to the test.

Frustrated, I was determined to get a better score. Not wanting any four-legged interference this time, I locked myself in the bedroom and tried the test there.

Not only were my results even worse, when I tried to stand from the cross-legged position, I pulled a muscle in the back of my thigh and ended up with the world’s worst Charley horse. And my knees made sounds like someone in high heels walking across bubble wrap.

Two days later, I still was limping…and begging Charley to come get his horse.

But now I think I’m better able to understand why the video said if you flunk the test you probably should go shopping for a headstone.

Trying to pass the darned test is what kills you.
 
                                                                                        
                                                                                          #  #  #
 


AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM, BARNES & NOBLE, AND SMASHWORDS.COM

Friday, February 20, 2015

IT'S HARD TO FIND A WINTER COAT IN FEBRUARY!


I own two winter coats. One is the one I wear when I’m going to a public place, like the mall or a restaurant. The other is a hooded  jacket I wear when I walk the dogs. Needless to say, the walking-the-dogs jacket has a lot less style and lot more warmth. When I wear it, I look about as shapely as the Michelin Man…but it keeps me toasty.

The other day, as I was about to walk the dogs, I put on my warm jacket and shoved my usual must-haves into the pockets: cell phone, keys, pepper spray, dog treats, tissues, a mini flashlight…and one by one, they landed on the floor. I took off the jacket and checked the pockets. When I stuck my hand into the left one, my fingers came out through the hem.

I wasn’t surprised. Over the past 10 years, I’d been noticing the shreds in the jacket’s lining, the holes in the pockets, and the zipper that got stuck more often than it zipped (due to the aforementioned shredded lining getting caught in it). But I tried to ignore the signs of impending doom. I was hoping the jacket somehow would miraculously heal itself, kind of like a wounded animal.

Considering the fact I can’t even thread a needle, I decided the time had come to buy a new warm winter jacket – one with pockets that actually were still attached to it. So I reluctantly went shopping.

Too soon I discovered that February really isn’t a good time to shop for warm clothing. Even though the outdoor temperature was cold enough to give a polar bear a bad case of the goosebumps, the clothing displays in most of the stores featured Bermuda shorts, halter tops and lightweight spring jackets. Any winter coats still available were clumped together on “sale” racks and looked as if they had been Christmas returns – probably because, judging from most of the styles, the people who’d received them as gifts had been too embarrassed to be seen wearing them in public.

And when I finally did find a jacket that met my criteria – long, past the hips, with a warm lining and a detachable hood – it was size XS, which meant that even if I could manage to squeeze any of my body parts into it, the length of the sleeves would end up somewhere around my elbows.

Discouraged, I came home and seriously tried to repair my old jacket. The results were so crooked, bunched up and hideous looking, the only place I’d ever wear the jacket would be in the middle of woods…after dark.  Even then, nocturnal wild animals probably would point at it and laugh.

Anyway, the other day my dogs and I took a ride to K-Mart because I wanted to buy an insulated cookie sheet. My oven has this bad habit of burning the bottoms of cookies to charcoal stage after only five minutes, while the tops of the cookies are still raw. But if I use an insulated sheet, the cookies come out golden on both the tops and the bottoms. I’d bought one earlier at K-Mart and liked it so much, I decided to buy another one.

When I entered the store, I happened to see a couple racks of ladies’ winter coats up ahead to the right, so for the heck of it, I checked them out.

There, among the seemingly endless leather jackets and unlined woolen coats, I spotted the perfect jacket. It was long, thick, soft, and was lined with a black, fleecy material. Even the hood and sleeves were fully lined for extra warmth. I tried on the jacket without even checking the size. To my disbelief, it fit perfectly.

I finally looked at the tag. The jacket was from the Jaclyn Smith (the former Charlie’s Angel) collection and was described as being “faux shearling.”  It also was $129.99.  That immediately kicked it up to a “going out to dinner” jacket, not a “walk the drooling and fur-shedding dogs” one.  It didn’t matter anyway. At that price, I couldn’t even afford the hood.

That’s when I noticed a big “SALE” sign on the rack.  I took off the jacket and rushed over to a clerk for a price check.

It was only $48. I nearly did a happy dance in the aisle.

Clutching the bag with my newly purchased jacket in it, I headed out to the car. I climbed in and set down the bag on the front seat.

Almost immediately, the dogs went crazy. Raven stuck her head between the seats and attacked the bag, grabbing it and trying to drag into the back seat. I had to tear it away from her.

When I got home, I checked the jacket’s materials listed on the label. I thought maybe the dogs had attacked it because it might contain real shearling instead of the “faux” variety – or maybe some kind of recycled animal fur.

The label listed only one material for the coat. And as far as I know, there is no animal called “100 percent polyester.”

Out of curiosity, I held up the jacket to see what the dogs would do once it was out of the bag. They growled at it.

So now I have a nice warm, new jacket…but I’m afraid to wear it. I have the feeling it may end up shredded with the pockets ripped off, just like my old jacket…only this time it won’t be from natural causes

But if I ever have to buy another winter coat, I figure July might be a good month to go shopping for one.
 
                                                                                         
                                                                                             #  #  #


AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM, BARNES & NOBLE, AND SMASHWORDS.COM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, February 13, 2015

I PREFER MY PEACE AND QUIET


 
Every time I mention to someone that I’m tired of shoveling snow or mowing my lawn, I hear, “Maybe it’s time you sold your house and moved into a condo or an apartment.”

It does sound tempting not to have to worry about any type of yard work again, but the truth is, I enjoy my privacy…and especially the peace and quiet.

I grew up in a tenement building on Manchester’s West Side. We lived on the bottom floor, and it seemed as if every few months, the tenants above us would move out and new ones would move in.

There was the couple from Canada who enjoyed dancing something called the French quadrille.  Every Saturday night, another couple would visit them and the dancing would begin. I had no idea what a quadrille was, but it involved a lot of stomping.

My parents and I would sit in the living room and try to watch TV while the old chandelier on the ceiling overhead would swing back and forth. I missed half of my favorite Saturday night TV shows because I was too busy looking up, waiting for the chandelier to come crashing down on my head. My father, on the other hand, said he was waiting for the leg of one of the quadrille dancers to come through the ceiling.

Then there was the couple who had a dog, which they left alone in their apartment while they worked all day. The dog howled the entire time they were gone – first softly, like whimpering, and then louder and in higher octaves as the day progressed. By late afternoon, he sounded something like a wounded coyote.

Whenever someone would call us, all they’d hear on the other end of the phone was, “Arroooooooh!  Arroooooooh!” We actually had to shout above the howling to be heard. To this day, out of habit, I still shout whenever I answer the phone.

The most amusing, however, were the newlyweds who moved in. When they argued, which was frequently, they would yell at each other, and we could hear every word as clearly as if they were sitting in our apartment. Most of their arguments were so ridiculous, we’d sit there struggling not to laugh out loud.

One night, for example, they were arguing about the husband’s handkerchiefs.

“They are disgusting!  I refuse to wash them!” the wife shouted at him. “Use tissues from now on!”

“Tissues are for sissies!” he shouted back. “Manly hands like mine poke right through them!”

“Then use a whole handful of tissues at once!”

Another time, they argued about her cooking.

“You haven’t touched any of your tuna casserole,” she snapped at him. “I thought you loved my tuna casserole!”

“That was when we were single and I was trying to be polite,” he said. “Now that we’re married, I can tell you the truth. Even the cat would bury this stuff!”

“You’re heartless!” she cried, bursting into tears. “I’m never going to cook for you again!”

“Praise the Lord!” he shouted back. “I won’t have to spend half my paycheck on Rolaids any more!”

That was another drawback of living directly below them. We often could smell what the wife was cooking for dinner.  And believe me, it smelled like everything from skunk to burnt rubber. When Christmas rolled around, my father joked he was going to buy the husband a sympathy card and a year’s supply of antacid.

And finally, a grouchy elderly couple moved in. They were quiet, but complained about everything. If I played out in the yard with my friends and we giggled too much, they complained. If my parents and I watched TV late at night, they complained. They even complained when my mother sang while hanging clothes out on the clothesline because they said she couldn’t carry a tune (actually, they were right about that, but my mother was highly insulted).

To be honest, now that I’m about the same age as those grouchy elderly people were, if I moved into a condo or an apartment and had to live with noisy people above me or next door, I’d probably be grumpy and do a lot of complaining, too. That’s because the older I get, the less patience I have.  I think I’m even beginning to understand why John Wesley Hardin once shot a man for snoring.

So for the sake of all condo and apartment dwellers, I’m going to try to stay in my house for as long as possible.

I’m pretty sure they’ll thank me for it.

                                                                             #  #  #
 
 
 
AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM, BARNES & NOBLE, AND SMASHWORDS.COM


 

Friday, February 6, 2015

LIVING IN THE WILD KINGDOM HAS ITS DRAWBACKS




When I moved out to the middle of the woods, I knew I would have to share my nearly eight acres of land with critters of all shapes and sizes. Thus far, I have done my best to get along with them, but there are a few that seem determined to force me, the intruder on their turf, to move back to the city.

The first resident I met was a deer. One minute, I was hanging a “no hunting” sign on a tree at the edge of my driveway, and the next, I was lying on the ground with my face in the dirt. A deer had come running out of the woods as if she were being chased by the devil himself…and I didn’t have time to jump out of her way. I was tempted to take down the “no hunting” sign and burn it. Since then, however, the deer (I named her “Deerdra”) and I have become good friends. She hangs around my yard all the time (if you are hunter who lives in my neighborhood, please ignore what I just wrote).

Then there was the coyote that fell in love with my dog, Raven. He started coming around when he was young, and would sit by the fence and stare with lovesick eyes at Raven. And at night, when Raven was in the house, he would sit by the fence and howl. I named him “Cody the Coyote.”  Well, Cody grew bigger and bigger – bigger than any coyote I’d ever seen. I finally took a photo of him and showed it to a wildlife expert.

“He’s part wolf,” the expert said. “That’s why he’s so large. But, believe it or not, that also makes him more docile.”
CODY, NEAR MY FENCE

 
That probably would explain why several times when I went out to feed the birds, Cody was just sitting there watching me, not the least bit spooked by me (probably because he was picturing me smothered in gravy).

One critter I still feel bad about was a little red squirrel that had no tail. I called him “Piglet” because without his tail, he looked just like a guinea pig. Piglet came to my bird feeder every morning without fail, and I enjoyed watching his antics.

But then came the day when a big hawk also took interest in Piglet’s antics and swooped down on him. In a flash, Piglet was gone.  I still miss the little guy.

Over the years, I have seen turkeys, deer, a bear, foxes, a bobcat, porcupines, raccoons, fishers, squirrels, chipmunks and skunks on my land, and I’ve managed to get along well with all of them…well, with the exception of the bobcat.

But there are certain critters that have cost me a lot of money and given me plenty of headaches over the years.

There were the mice that built a nest in my central air-conditioning unit and then lined it with wires they’d chewed from its innards. It cost me a small fortune to get the unit rewired.

But the constant problem I’ve had every year involves my furnace. It has a low-to-the-ground vent at the back of the house. The vent is wide open, not protected in any way, which I’ve always thought was strange – and an invitation for trouble. But three different heating technicians have told me that putting screening over the vent would cause the flow of air to be affected.

So every year, my furnace has conked out and the cause has been (in order of appearance) a hornets’ nest, a wasps’ nest, a nest of mice, and another hornets’ nest inside the air vent, clogging up the works. And every year I’ve had to hire a repairman to come clean out the offending intruders.

The other night, a little after midnight, I started to feel chilly, so I turned up the heat. Nothing happened. Two hours later, the temperature indoors had dropped to 60 degrees. My first thought was, “Great. I wonder what’s living in the furnace vent this time?”

But something was different this time. I could smell a faint odor of propane. I grabbed the phone and called the gas company.

“Try not to light anything, like your kitchen stove, until we get there,” I was advised. “And don’t do anything that might cause a spark. Someone will be right over.”

I understood those words to mean, “Don’t even breathe!  Any move you make could cause you and your house to be blown into orbit!”

Well, “someone will be right over” turned out to be about five hours later. By then, I could see my breath in the living room. And I’d been so afraid to cause a static-electricity spark, I’d sat like a statue on the sofa for the five hours. I was pretty sure I’d never be able to move again, due to either hypothermia or atrophied muscles.

The technician immediately checked for gas leaks and carbon monoxide in the house. He said everything seemed fine. He then concentrated on my furnace.

“There doesn’t seem to be any air getting into it, so it’s not lighting,” he said, as if he were telling me something I hadn’t heard at least once a year for the past four years.

“Check the outside vent,” I told him “There’s probably a family of wolverines living in it.”

He gave me a puzzled look, then headed outside to the back of the house.

Within a few minutes, he was back. “There was something clogging it,” he informed me.

I rolled my eyes. “What was it this time?”

“A giant ball of spider webs.”

I hadn’t been prepared for that answer. Immediately, every hideous radiation-mutated giant spider from the horror movies I’d seen as a kid came to mind.

“Did you find the spider or spiders that built it?” I was afraid to ask.

He shook his head. “Nope. Just the webs.”

The good news was I immediately had heat in the house again. The bad news was whatever built that ball of spider webs still was lurking somewhere in my heating system.

“Can’t I put something over that vent that will prevent anything else from crawling in there?” I asked the guy, even though I already knew what he was going to say. “I feel as if I have a motel sign hanging out there for every creature within a 10-mile radius.”

“No, you can’t put anything over it,” he said. “But, if you want, you can install two PVC pipes in place of the vent and screen the ends on those. It won’t look too pretty, though.”

I envisioned my house looking like a giant hot rod, with two exhaust pipes sticking out of the rear of it.

So, once again I had to spend money to get rid of unwanted residents.

But on the bright side, maybe from now on, the giant mutant spider will eat anything else that tries to move in.
 
 
                                                                                        #  #  #
 
 
 
AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM, BARNES & NOBLE, AND SMASHWORDS.COM