Friday, August 30, 2013


Most of the time I act and feel younger than my age, but last weekend was an exception. That’s when I learned that when you’re really tired, it’s probably not such a good idea to hang around with much younger, more energetic people.

Just before midnight on Friday night, my two dogs were playing, pouncing on each other and having a great time. Well, to make a long story short, Raven ended up with a severe neck injury and a trip to the emergency animal hospital, where she wouldn’t let anyone who even resembled a vet come within 20 feet of her. She made the dog in the movie “Cujo” seem like Lassie in comparison. Needless to say, it was a long, stressful and exhausting ordeal.

By the time I got back home, the sun was up. I finally crawled into bed at around 8 a.m. 

Unfortunately, that also happened to be the day I’d promised a friend of mine I’d finally be over to visit her at the summer cottage she and her husband recently purchased, located on a lake only about 20 minutes from my house. She had been inviting me for weeks, so I’d told her I’d be there about 2:00.

I crawled out of bed only three hours after I’d climbed into it and felt as if I’d just run a marathon – on my knees. I momentarily considered calling my friend and canceling the visit, but then thought I still should go, even if just for a short while. Besides that, I really wanted to see the cottage.  She’d told me about the great view from their deck, so I had visions of myself, a cold beverage in hand, relaxing in a lounge chair on it and watching the boats go by. After the stressful night I’d had, it sounded heavenly.

I arrived at the cottage and my friend, who was out on her deck, called down to me, “Hi!  Come on up!”

The only thing that stood between us was a staircase that was so steep and tall, I expected to see the Statue of Liberty’s torch when I reached the top. By the time I made it up to the deck, I was puffing like a locomotive and begging for oxygen. I collapsed into one of the chairs.

On the plus side, from that height, the view of the lake was incredible. I could see all the way to the other side. There was a nice breeze and plenty of shade, so I was ready to relax and enjoy the scenery. Appropriately, the name of the cottage was “Serenity,” which I desperately needed.

“So,” my friend – my much younger friend – cheerfully said, “what do you want to do first? How about kayaking!”

I just stared at her. “Kayaking? Doesn’t that involve using a paddle – and my arms?”

“Yeah, it’s great exercise!” she said.

The way I was feeling, exercise was a four-letter word. “I don’t think so,” I said. “I’m really tired.”

“Well, then how about going out in the pedal boat?”

“Would I have to pedal it?” I asked, hoping she would do all of the pedaling, so I could just sit back in the boat and relax.

She nodded. “You have to pedal it to move it.”

“I really don’t have the energy,” I said.

“Then how about a walk around the lake?  There’s a nice trail that circles it.”

“How long is the trail?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s pretty short. Only about two miles.”

  To me, at that point, even two feet seemed like the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.  In fact, I was wondering how I was going to make it back down the stairs I’d just climbed up to the deck. Curling myself into a ball and rolling down them seemed like a pretty good option.

“Do you have any activities that don’t involve so much…activity?” I asked. “I had only three hours of sleep and really need about five hours more before I can even think about moving any part of my body.”

“Well, then let me give you a tour of the inside of the cottage,” she said.

I was pretty sure I could handle that, so I followed her inside. The cottage was really nice – cozy and rustic, with a lot of wood and wide-plank flooring.

“And there’s a loft way up there,” she said, pointing toward the high ceiling. “For additional sleeping space.”

I didn’t see a ladder or any stairs leading up to the loft. “How do you get up there?” I asked, looking for a Tarzan-like rope swing.

“Over there,” she said, smiling. She pointed to a wall that had a bunch of strategically placed rocks sticking out of it. “It’s a rock-climbing wall! It’s good exercise!”

I envisioned myself hanging by my fingernails and toenails from the rocks as I tried to hoist my Titanic-sized butt up there. I couldn’t help but wonder how someone sleeping in that loft would make it down the wall in the dark to use the bathroom – especially if there was a really urgent need to “go.”

So I hate to admit it, but I definitely was a party pooper that afternoon. I sat on the deck, sipped bottled water and watched other people kayaking and swimming.  And just watching them made me tired. Meanwhile, every 20 minutes or so, my friend would look at me and ask, her voice filled with hope, “Are you sure you don’t want to go kayaking? It’s really nice out on the water.”

“Not today,” I kept telling her. “But I promise I’ll go the next time I’m here.”

She smiled and said she’d hold me to that promise.

I’m thinking I probably should buy a bunch of flotation devices to wrap around myself before I even get anywhere near a kayak – mainly because if I fall out, my particular method of swimming involves frantically dog-paddling for about 15 feet and then sinking like a brick.

And that’s on a good day.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


On July 18, a week after I had an automatic generator system installed in my house, my neighborhood experienced a 12-hour power failure.

When the power went out, I sat there, holding my breath, waiting to see if the generator would do what it was supposed to do. Within a few short seconds, I heard a click, and everything started to run again – the TV, my computer, the fridge. I was excited. All of the hassle and expense of having the generator installed had been worth it – except maybe for my lawn, which still looks as if a meteor shower struck it, thanks to 110-foot-long trench that had to be dug for the gas line.

After the power came back on at about 3:00 in the morning, and the generator shut off, the smoke detectors began to chirp. There are eight in my house, all wired together, with battery back-ups, so when one has something wrong with it, the rest get sympathy pains and also start chirping, taking turns. The exception is the detector in the basement, which talks. So instead of chirping, it shouts, “Low battery!  Low battery!” in a robot-like, very nasally female voice.

Believe me, trying to sleep with, “Chirp!  Chirp!  Low battery! Low battery!” filling the house every 40 seconds (I counted), was worse than any torture imaginable. Grumbling, I finally climbed out of bed, dug my battery tester out of the junk drawer and went from detector to detector, checking each battery.  They all tested fine.

“Chirp!  Chirp!  Low battery!  Low battery!”

That’s when I remembered the detector out in the garage. I had completely overlooked that one.

So there I was, in my pajamas at 4:00 in the morning, out in the garage, staring up at the detector which was beyond my reach even when I stood on the highest thing I am willing to stand on – a kitchen chair. I eyed the aluminum ladder in the garage and debated whether or not I had the courage to climb it. The first problem, however, was what to lean it against, seeing that the detector is located on a beam in the very center of the garage.

I came up with the brilliant idea of moving my car and leaning the ladder against that.

Slowly I climbed up one rung, then two, then three.  By the fourth one, I was becoming lightheaded. I reached up to open the detector to check the battery. That’s when the ladder started to slide sideways and I lost my balance. Fortunately, I landed on my feet – with the entire smoke detector in my hand.

I stared at the wires hanging out of it. “This can’t be good,” I muttered.

For the next four hours, I sat listening to “Chirp! Chirp! Low battery! Low battery!” I was tempted to call an electrician, but I knew I'd probably be charged triple if I woke up the I waited.

Not only was I on the verge of losing what little sanity I had left, the dogs, because they have sensitive ears, whined and drooled every time they heard the chirps. I had to follow them around with a mop.

I swear, if I’d have had a gun, all of the detectors would have looked like Swiss cheese. Finally, at 8:00 a.m., I called an electrician and begged for help.

“Well, it will cost you $79 just for someone to come out there,” the guy said. “And then it’s $90 an hour. Oh, and tell me the brand of the detector you broke, so we can replace it.  Does that sound OK to you?”

“Fine,” I said.

By then, I would have donated a kidney to the guy, just to get the detectors to shut up.

The electrician arrived in less than hour and immediately replaced the detector in the garage. The chirping continued. He removed the detector in the laundry room. The chirping continued. He removed the detectors in the three bedrooms, my office and the hallway.

“Chirp!  Chirp!  Low battery! Low battery!”

“All of that chirping makes me feel like strangling a bird,” I said to him.

He laughed. Finally, he went down to the basement. The detector down there is different – it’s for carbon monoxide. He pushed the red button on it. The chirping stopped.

“You just needed to press the reset button on this one after the power failure,” he said.

I glared at him. “You’re telling me I stayed awake all night testing batteries, nearly breaking my neck, wiping up drool, being driven crazy by chirping, and destroying the detector in the garage...and all I had to do was press a crummy reset button?”

“Yep!  That will be $215.”

I swear, I’m seriously considering moving into an apartment.








Sunday, August 4, 2013


A couple Saturdays ago, I heard there was going to be a big Native-American powwow in Warner, and I really wanted to go. The trouble was, because it was a last-minute decision, it was too late to invite anyone to go with me, so I had to decide whether or not I had the courage to go alone.

Finally I told myself the time had come to put on my big-girl panties and be brave. I headed to the powwow.

When I pulled onto Route 89 and saw that the speed limit was 65, I nearly panicked. The last time I drove that fast was back in 1995 when I ate some bad haddock and had to find a restroom.

So there I was on Route 89, my hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel, and my speed exactly 65 mph – and cars were zooming past me as if I were riding a tricycle.

I finally made it to the powwow and gave myself an imaginary pat on the back. I was alive, the car was in one piece and I hadn’t gotten lost. I considered those to be huge achievements.

I pulled into the lot and an attendant greeted me. “We’re out of parking spaces,” he said. My heart sank.

“So what do I do now?” I asked him.

“You can park in the flea-market parking lot,” he said. “Go straight out that way, take a right, then take a left, go about a mile, and it’s right there.”

I just stared at him. “You’re telling me I have to walk a mile in 90-degree heat? Two miles, if you count that I have to walk back there, too?”

He nodded. “Sorry.”

Feeling defeated, I headed out the way he had directed me. There, directly in front of me on the right, about 10 feet from the entrance to the powwow, a car suddenly pulled out of a prime parking spot. It was if it magically had been delivered to me. The only problem was, it involved parallel parking. I’d never parallel parked in my life.

Back when I got my driver’s license in Concord, parallel parking was not required as part of the driver’s exam. So I never bothered to learn. As I sat at the powwow, staring at that parking space, the only available space for a mile, I silently cursed my driver’s-ed teacher for not insisting that I learn to parallel park.

Still, I wasn’t about to give up that space. I was determined to park in it – hopefully, with my bumpers and those of the other cars near it, still intact. It took me about 25 tries, but I finally made it – a little crooked, but passable. By then, I’d worked up such a sweat, I looked as if I’d just come out of the shower.

I walked the short distance to the admission table and paid my entrance fee. Unbeknownst to me, I also was supposed to grab a brochure from a stack on the table so I could learn, among other things, proper powwow etiquette. 

One rule in the brochure stated that to call the Native Americans’ ornate garments a “costume” was an insult because they weren’t costumes, they were sacred regalia, often handed down through generations. Another rule said it was discourteous to take any photographs without first asking permission. So, because I never saw the brochure, there I was, randomly snapping photos and getting a lot of stern looks. Finally a Native American woman came up to me and explained the photography rule. I said, “Oh, I’m really sorry – their costumes are just so beautiful I couldn’t resist!” Needless to say, I don’t think I earned any points with her.

I did end up having a great time, though, and I met a lot of very interesting people. And there were craft booths offering everything from bear grease to real wolf-tooth earrings. One man tried to sell me a basket made from what he said was a very large bull’s scrotum. I told him it really didn’t match my d├ęcor.

At another booth, samples of different teas made from roots, bark, and other assorted plant life, were being handed out in thimble-sized cups. When I approached the booth, three men, potential customers, were standing there, each holding one of the tiny cups, and each looking as if they couldn’t decide whether or not to drink them.

“Smell this!” One of them said to me when I stood next to him. He thrust the cup under my nose.

“It smells like iodine,” I told him. “Are you going to try it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what’s the worst that can happen if you drink it?” I asked him.

“I could die.”

I laughed. Then I said to him, “I heard that these teas make men really virile.”

He downed it in one gulp. The face he made afterwards, however, was anything but virile looking.

On the serious side, something one of the Native American dancers, a Wampanoag, told me stuck with me all day, and really made me think. He said that while he was dancing in the circle, people tossed money at him. He said he had a fist full of bills – three $5 bills and the rest, single dollars. He was having difficulty holding on to them while dancing, so another Native American he knew from previous powwows, who was sitting on the sidelines, offered to hold the money for him until his dance was over.

“When he gave me back my money,” he said to me, “Only the $1 bills were there, not the $5’s.”

“Did you confront him about it?” I asked him.

He shook his head. “No.  He must need the money more than I do. But the next time he greets me, I may not honor him with a response.”

His calmness surprised me. I thought about how I would have reacted in the same situation. I not only would have confronted the guy about my money, I probably would have gone searching for a tomahawk in one of the craft booths beforehand.

So I learned a lot that day.  I learned how to parallel park. I learned that I shouldn’t call Native American garments “costumes,” and that certain teas made from bark smell like iodine. I learned that some bulls have basket-sized scrotums, and that bear “grease” turns to bear “oil” in the hot sun.

But most of all, I learned that some people, when wronged, calmly turn the other cheek instead of getting angry or upset.

I think that was the most important lesson of all.