Saturday, January 22, 2011


My husband’s birthday is next week, and for the first time in years I have no clue what to buy for him.

In the past, for just about every special occasion I can remember, I have bought him model-train stuff because model trains were his passion. As a result, he ended up with enough miniature buildings, people, animals, trees and vehicles to fill a real town.

Unfortunately, Barbie’s Dream House had more space in it to set up a model train layout than the place where we used to live. So everything train-related ended up being exiled to either our shed or storage unit.

When we finally moved into a larger house, however, I made certain my husband had a nice big room just for his trains, complete with a huge table to set them up on. I figured he’d be so excited to finally have a train room, something he’d whined about for years, he’d be setting up his trains and miniature campground, airport, amusement park and factories before we even unpacked.

Well, we’ve been in the new house 14 months now and all he’s done is set up a small circle of track, a bridge, and a train which, when he ran it, smashed into the supports of the aforementioned bridge and derailed. The train is still lying in a heap on the table.

“So what do you want for your birthday?” I asked him the other day.

“Well, there’s this miniature fire department I want for my train layout and also a hot-dog wagon. Oh, and I’ll also need a sidewalk to put the hot-dog wagon on.”

“You haven’t even set up the police station, movie theater or Kentucky Fried Chicken yet,” I said. “Why do you even want more train stuff?”

“Because my town needs a fire department and a hot-dog stand!” he said. “What kind of town doesn’t have those?”

To be honest, I’ve been wondering all along what kind of town possibly could have everything he’s gathered for his. I mean, he has a miniature replica of the White House, complete with tiny figures of the Obamas; a small facsimile of Mount Rushmore, a tiny nudist colony, a gold mine and even a herd of Indian elephants.

Visions of elephants stampeding and trampling nudists or gold miners, or even worse, the First Family, really have made me question his master plan.

Still, I would be thrilled to see him set up anything on his train table. I wouldn’t care if he had the elephants climbing Mount Rushmore or Obama dangling from Lincoln’s nose. Anything would be better than nothing.

I’m not the only one who’s impatient for my husband to start setting up his train layout. Every time my Aunt Doris comes to visit, she eagerly asks him, “Well? Have you done anything in the train room yet?”

When my husband says he hasn’t, she usually frowns and says, “I really want to see that town set up before I die, you know…and I’m in my 80s and not getting any younger, so you’d better hurry up!”

She called the other night and again asked if he’d set up anything. When I said no, she said, “Tell him I’m willing to accept anything – a tree, a shrub…anything! I’m getting desperate to see any progress at all!”

She’s not the only one who’s getting desperate. I have tried everything short of tossing my husband’s favorite food (bacon cheeseburgers) into that train room just to get him to go in there and stay for a while, but nothing has worked. You’d think the room was filled with toxic waste, the way he avoids it.

His excuses for not pursuing his hobby have ranged from “I’m too tired,” to “I’m not in the mood,” to “I don’t really know how to set up the trains so they won’t crash again.”

So I refuse to buy him anything train-oriented for his birthday – not until he actually shows some enthusiasm for the 10,000 train items he already has lying around gathering dust.

And if he doesn’t go into the room and start setting up his train layout soon, I think I just might end up taking matters into my own hands and doing it for him.

I wonder if the tiny little nudists might enjoy joining President Obama for a ride on a miniature roller coaster?

Saturday, January 15, 2011


I can barely move today. My arms feel like two sacks of wet cement, my bad knee is throbbing and my back feels as if will snap in half if I so much as sneeze. Why? Because I spent all day yesterday shoveling snow.

Fortunately, we hire someone to plow our airport runway of a driveway, which costs the equivalent of a couple weeks’ worth of groceries, otherwise, I’d start shoveling in January and not finish until July. But the “etcetera” shoveling is still my job.

One part of the etcetera shoveling, for example, is a path out to my bird feeder, which happens to be about 35 feet from the back door. And once I reach the feeder, I also shovel an area underneath it so I can throw down some food for my ground feeders – two gigantic ravens, two mourning doves, four crows and 97,000 squawking blue jays.

Last night, however, when the wind was howling, the temperatures were Siberian, and I was curled up on the sofa, sipping hot tea while wrapped in my Snuggie, the thought of shoveling a path to the bird feeder was the farthest thing from my mind.

That is, until my husband spoke.

“Your poor birds must be really cold and hungry tonight,” he said. “I heard that they have to shiver to keep warm and it burns up thousands of calories, so they need to make sure they eat at least twice their weight in food every day to make up for it.”

“Well, they’re going to just have to shiver for a while longer,” I said, taking a sip of tea. “I’m staying right here on the sofa.”

He gave me a look that made me feel as if I’d just committed a crime worthy of the death sentence. “Think of all those poor, shivering creatures depending on you to feed them. How would you like to be in their shoes?”

“Birds don’t wear shoes,” I muttered.

“Well, I hope you can live with yourself when you go out there tomorrow and see a bunch of stiff little bird feet sticking up out of the snow.”

I tried to ignore his words, but as the night wore on, I felt more and more guilty. It wasn’t as if I’d spent the day idle. Not at all. I’d spent it doing some more “etcetera” shoveling in the form of a path to our underground propane tank, mainly because my contract with the propane company specified that I had to keep the area clear at all times or face a firing squad.

Unburying the tank was nearly impossible, however, because the guy who’d plowed our driveway pushed all of the snow into a towering six-foot banking directly in front of the only access to it. It took me over an hour just to make a dent in the snow bank.

At one point, I actually felt kind of scared. I was standing there shoveling, with a six-foot wall of snow on each side of me, and the thought suddenly occurred to me that if those walls caved in and buried me, my husband, who was napping, probably wouldn’t find me again until the spring thaw. And knowing him, that’s probably when he’d first start realizing I was missing.

During my quest to reach the gas tank, I made a horrifying discovery. My rock wall, my precious rock wall that I’d spent all summer constructing, rock by rock, inch by inch, had been destroyed by the plow truck, and now was just a bunch of loose rocks peppering the snow bank. Even worse, the bright orange poles I’d staked in front of the wall to protect if from the plow, were sticking out of the banking like porcupine quills.

I came inside feeling really upset, which was the precise reason why I didn’t want to hear the word “shoveling” again for at least another 20 years.

But there I was at 10 p.m., with icicles hanging from my nostrils and my teeth chattering like castanets, shoveling a path to the bird feeder.

The snow was so deep, the area I shoveled for the ground feeders looked as if it were 20 feet below sea level. The poor birds were going to have to dive into the pit to get their food.

When my red-faced, wet-clothed body finally returned to the warmth of the house, I said to my husband, “You’d think that for all of the effort I put into feeding the birds, I’d attract something really special out there, like a cardinal or a purple finch…or a peacock!”

“Or a partridge in a pear tree?” he asked, chuckling.

The next morning, when I looked out the window at the feeder, I had to laugh. All I could see were birds swan-diving into “the pit” and disappearing. Now and then, one would jump up and down and I’d see the top of its head, or it would fly up like a fish jumping out of the ocean.

“Look! There’s a cardinal!” my husband said, pointing.

As I ran back to the window, he said, “Aw, you won’t see him now. He’s in the pit.”

I’ve always wanted to see a bright red cardinal (somewhere other than on a Christmas card) so I waited for the bird to emerge, but it never did. Determined, I grabbed my coat and went out there to check the pit myself. About 25 squawking blue jays flew up at me. I nearly needed CPR.

I glanced at the kitchen window. I could see my husband standing there, laughing.

I think I should pour syrup on him, roll him in birdseed and tie him to the tree where the feeder is.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


One of my friends, who’s a year older than I am, e-mailed me the other day and said one of her New Year’s resolutions is to become more fit, so she signed up for ballet classes.

All I can say is I admire her for her courage.

Back in my younger days, I studied ballet for 10 years at the Evelyn Howard Dance Studio, which was located on the second floor of the Manchester YMCA. Poor Miss Howard must have had the patience of a saint to put up with me.

In my very first ballet recital, I was a butterfly. I had to flap my arms a lot and dance around a girl named Susan, who was a rose. Susan was dainty and petite. I was, well…jumbo petite. Susan looked so cute in her little rosebud hat and rose-petal dress, neither of which could have fit over my big toe, I found myself wishing I were a big tough bumblebee instead of a butterfly so I could do some major damage to her petals.

But I faithfully showed up for class each week, trying my best to be graceful. Many recitals followed. I was a firefly with light-up wings, a pixie all in green satin, a Hawaiian dancer in glow-in-the-dark hot pink, and a cinnamon stick in pink and purple stripes.

But what I really longed to be was a dancer in a major ballet like Swan Lake. For one thing, the advanced ballerinas’ class, unlike my class, had a guy in it, Michael. Michael had long dark hair and was very fit. He lifted the ballerinas over his head as if they were made of feathers. I was 12 years old and really wanted to be lifted by Michael.

“But the ballerinas in that class are all on pointe,” Miss Howard said when I asked her if I could join the group and be in Swan Lake. When she saw my blank expression, she explained, “they wear toe shoes, not ballet slippers.”

“I can dance in toe shoes!” I said, defiantly, though I’d never even tried one on.

So Miss Howard let me give toe shoes a shot. I soon discovered the human body wasn’t built with feet that were meant to walk on the tips of their toes. And I had a few extra pounds to carry around on my poor toes, which didn’t help.

“You’re not a real ballerina until you’ve had a blister on every toe,” Miss Howard told me, smiling knowingly, when I complained about the pain. I was beginning to think that nothing, not even being lifted by Michael’s strong arms, was worth the torture of having lumpy, deformed toes for the rest of my life.

As I teetered around in my toe shoes, my legs bowed out so I could keep my balance, Miss Howard finally made a suggestion that saved my feet (and probably my dignity). “Why don’t I let you be in the ballet, but you can wear your ballet slippers instead of toe shoes?” she said. “As long as they are white, like the other girls’ toe shoes, when you’re onstage, no one will know the difference.”

I felt like kissing her feet, I was so grateful, but seeing she was a longtime toe dancer, I figured her feet probably were full of blisters.

Ballet classes were much easier after that, mainly because I didn’t have to worry about keeping my balance or hiding my pain, and could concentrate on perfecting the actual dance steps.

Soon, I actually became a part of the corps de ballet, which was a group of about 25 ballerinas…and Michael.

I even had the chance to talk to Michael during every class, which I enjoyed. He told me that his buddies teased him endlessly about studying ballet, but he was the one who had the last laugh. After all, he said, how many other guys could say they got to touch 25 girls wearing nothing but leotards every week?

He had a point.

Unfortunately, I never did get to perform in Swan Lake, but I did get to be a sylph (a mythological being of the air) in the ballet, “Les Sylphides,” with the corps de ballet and wear a flowing white dress and a crown of flowers.

Michael, who played the Poet, was one of the lead dancers in the ballet, and so was my cousin, Carla, who performed alone with Michael in the spotlight. They moved so gracefully together, I watched in envy as he lifted her over his head as if she were weightless.

Of course, my cousin couldn’t have hit 100 lbs. on the scale even if she were soaking wet and wearing a necklace made of rocks, but that was besides the point. I outweighed her by a good 40 pounds.

After my stage debut with the corps de ballet, I switched over to tap dancing, then to flamenco dancing. Clomping around and stomping my feet seemed more up my alley than trying to be a graceful swan.

There have been many times over the years when I’ve thought about studying ballet again and maybe fulfilling my dream of finally performing in Swan Lake. But then I hear my back creaking like a rusty old hinge and I change my mind.

“Maybe you can still be in Swan Lake,” my husband said the other day when I mentioned how my friend’s e-mail about taking ballet lessons had triggered memories of my past. “You can be something other than a swan, something less challenging…like a mosquito!”

No one likes a wise guy.