Friday, August 29, 2014


The other day I was thinking about how each dog I’ve owned over the years has had some unique or unusual personality trait – some good, some bad, and some just downright weird.

The first dog that comes to mind in the “weird” category is Panda, a little black and white shih-tzu.  Panda had a habit that drove both my husband and me absolutely crazy. She liked to suck on rugs and blankets. 

At the time, we had wall-to-wall carpeting in just about every room. Panda would start at one end of the house and suck just about every inch of carpeting all the way down the hallway. She did this every day for three to four hours straight, and nothing I tried to distract her with helped. I could have dangled a roast in front of her nose and she still would have chosen to continue sucking. In retrospect, I probably should have named her Hoover.

Nights were even worse. Panda wanted to sleep with us, and if we refused, she’d cry outside the bedroom door all night. So inevitably we’d give in and let her in. She’d jump up onto the bed and immediately start sucking the blankets. Then the next morning, she’d hack up a lint ball the size of her head.

I asked the vet why Panda acted that way and how we could stop the habit. The vet said the dog obviously had been weaned too soon. That explanation might have made sense when she still was a puppy, but when she was about 12 and still doing it, well, it was just plain strange. The vet suggested we spray the carpet with bitter lemon. She said the taste of it was so bad, it would make Panda never want to put her mouth anywhere near carpeting again.

As it turned out, Panda learned to love bitter lemon.

Then there was Molly, the Doberman. I got Molly when she was eight weeks old from a breeder who lived out in the middle of the woods near Rochester. The first thing I noticed about the puppy was she had bumps all over her body.

“Oh, those are nothing,” the breeder told me with a wave of her hand when I asked about them. “They’re just puppy pimples. They’ll go away.”

When I took Molly to the vet for her first wellness exam, the vet immediately touched the bumps on her.

“Oh, those are just puppy pimples,” I told her.

The look the vet gave me clearly told me she thought I’d stopped at several bars on the way to clinic.

“Those are flea and tick bites,” she said. “I’ve never heard of puppy pimples!”

After Molly reached adulthood, something strange happened. Suddenly, every dog we came across tried to attack her. Whenever I took Molly for a walk, the poor dog usually would end up being bullied and pounced on, sometimes to the point of needing stitches.

And it didn’t matter how small the other dog was. One time, we passed a woman who was walking her pug. The pug took one look at Molly, tore the leash out of the owner’s hand and went straight for Molly’s jugular.  The woman just stood there, her mouth hanging open, and said, “I’ve never seen Pugsie (or whatever the dog’s name was) act like that before!”

It got to the point where Molly would see me getting out her leash for a walk and she’d run and hide. I guess I couldn’t blame her. I don’t think I’d have liked to go for walks, either, if it meant getting beaten up all the time.

Once again, I asked the vet for an explanation. “Molly’s getting a complex,” I told her. “Other dogs take one look at her and attack her, yet she gives them absolutely no reason to. I mean, she doesn’t even so much as glance at the other dogs.”

The vet was puzzled. She said maybe Molly was producing some kind of scent that incited aggression in other dogs and made her smell like a threat to them.

So I bought a can of doggie deodorant and sprayed her with it, hoping it would mask her attack-inducing scent. It didn’t help. Even worse, it attracted mosquitoes.

There were more unusual dogs over the years: Brandy, the Lhasa Apso that used to run around in circles out in the yard until he passed out from exhaustion; Sabre, the rottweiler that couldn’t swim and sank like a boulder, yet loved the water so much, she’d jump right into it (even off the end of a pier); Shadow, the rottweiler that absolutely refused to walk on shiny surfaces like tile or linoleum, and finally, my current two rottweilers, Willow and Raven.

This is how Willow sleeps!
I could write an entire book about those two. For example, Willow taught herself (and then generously shared her knowledge with Raven) how to open doors. And she greets people by head-butting their crotches. Willow will climb up stairs but will not, not under any circumstances, go down them – even if there are only two or three.

Raven growls at everything – the kitchen chairs, the lamp, the toilet – and for some unknown reason, is terrified of trash bags and the sound of drawers being opened. Also, every time she urinates, she buries it - like a cat. My yard has so many holes in it because of her, it resembles a land-mine field.

And that’s just for starters.


Friday, August 22, 2014


It surprises me how many people come up to me and tell me they have been reading this column for 30 or 40 years. I know it must seem like that many to a lot of people, but actually, this month marks the column’s 20th anniversary.

Back in 1994, when I was a correspondent for the Hooksett Banner newspaper, which actually was called the Suncook-Hooksett Banner in those days, all of the correspondents also had to write a weekly summary about community news and events that were happening in the towns they covered. My towns were Allenstown and Pembroke.

Every week, as I was writing about an upcoming church dinner or the elementary school’s spring concert, I’d try to sneak something completely out of character into the summary, just to see if anyone would notice it.

For example, I’d write something like, “And the guest speaker at the meeting will be Ann Smith, who will discuss quilting.” Then I would follow it with, “Is it just me, or does anyone else think the elderly female manager at the Family Dollar store makes you feel as if you’re committing a criminal offense whenever you try to return an item?”

That particular manager hasn’t worked at the store since the 1990s, thank goodness, but I can remember trying to return a blouse one time and even though it still had all of the tags on it, she insisted it was obvious I had worn it. Then she flung it at me and told me I couldn’t return it. 

Anyway, the flood of mail I received agreeing with me about her (one guy even told me she’d accused him of shoplifting and then had frisked him!) encouraged me to keep adding personal tidbits to my weekly summary.  I even once mentioned that most of the guys on the Pembroke police force had such great physiques, they looked as if they should be moonlighting as Chippendale dancers.

Finally, Jeff Rapsis, who was my editor at the time (and now is a co-owner of The Hippo newspaper) called me into his office. I was positive he was about to put an abrupt end to my unsolicited comments.

“I have the feeling you’re getting bored writing about local events,” he said.

“Well, it’s been 20 years now,” I said. “So I’ve been trying to liven up things a bit.”

“I’ve noticed,” he said, laughing, which I took as an encouraging sign.

“You know what I think?” he asked. “I think your real desire is to write humor. I think it’s your true passion.”

“Actually I haven’t really thought much about writing humor,” I said.

“Well, I definitely want you to think about it,” he said. “In fact, I’ve been thinking you should try writing a humor column about your daily life. We could call it something simple like, ‘My Life.’”

I remember thinking it was just about the blandest title I’d ever heard.

To be honest, I was scared to death.  After all, the thought of writing a weekly column and putting myself “out there” for everyone to see was pretty intimidating. And what, I wondered, would happen if I gave the readers my best material and no one thought it was funny? Would the newspaper hand me my walking papers?  If I failed, would my only association with the paper after that be when I used as a blanket because I was jobless and had to sleep on a park bench?

And so, back in August of 1994, my column was born. When I first started writing it, I had a seemingly endless mental library of topics and crazy experiences to write about. But now, nearly 1,000 columns later, there’s hardly a subject I haven’t touched. You name it and it probably has made an appearance in my column – everything from hairballs and hair dye to senior proms and senior citizens. Twenty years ago it used to take me only five minutes to think of a subject to write about. Now it takes me five days.

But I have loved, and I know I will continue to love, every minute of it. I have met so many wonderful people because of my column, I can’t imagine my life without them.  And I’m constantly amazed at the variety of people who follow my weekly antics – everyone from priests and professors to my junior-high English teacher. And they range in age from 12 to 95.

I’m hoping to still be writing my column for another 20 years. By then, I’ll probably be discussing things like hernia trusses and Metamucil or how I’m constantly losing things like my keys…and my teeth.

But as long as I don’t lose my sense of humor, I think I’ll do just fine.


Friday, August 15, 2014


There is a new disaster movie out called, “Into the Storm,” which supposedly simulates what would happen if the world’s strongest winds, something like over 300 m.p.h., ever were to hit the earth.

The special effects in the previews I’ve seen look amazing, but everyone is saying that in order to get the full experience, the movie has to be seen in IMAX.

I have not had good luck with IMAX (an acronym for “Image Maximum”) in the past. I remember back in the 1970s when my husband and I went to a nearly new Disney World. One of the attractions was something similar to IMAX – a new concept in movie watching, where the screen curved all around you and made you feel as if you actually were a part of the movie rather than just watching it.

There were no seats in the Disney World version. We had to stand behind rows of railings. I had no idea why…until the movie began. The minute I found myself feeling as if I were flying, with the people below me the size of ants, I had a death grip on that railing. But the worst part was the ocean voyage. As the waves went up and down, up and down, so did my stomach. I ended up clamping my eyes shut through most of the “unique experience.”  I also found myself wishing I hadn’t indulged in so many of the Mickey-Mouse shaped ice-cream bars beforehand.

A few years later, I tried the IMAX experience again – this time at Canobie Lake Park. My husband and I went there with our neighbors, Florence and Tewy.  Florence opted not to go into the theater, so the three of us did. In retrospect, I have no idea why I did. I mean, my experience at Disney World should have taught me a lesson. Maybe I wanted to prove to myself that Disney World was just a fluke and I would fully enjoy it this time.

The set-up was the same. We had to stand behind railings. As I watched the screen, I could feel my stomach immediately begin to protest. There was the plane doing loops, the racecar making hairpin turns, the rocket launching into space, or whatever. I’d shut my eyes by then, so they could have been showing what is was like to be blasted out of a cannon, for all I knew.

When the show was over, I looked at my husband and Tewy. My husband was smiling and saying, “That was great!”  Tewy, however, had beads of perspiration on his forehead and even through his dark suntan, looked pale.

“I don’t feel so good,” he said.

When we exited and Florence saw what Tewy and I looked like, she smiled and said, “That’s why you couldn’t get me into that place!”

I thought my IMAX days were over until the Cinemagic movie theater opened in Hooksett. Not only did it have an IMAX screen, it also offered 3-D IMAX, something I’d never even thought about before (nor had I cared to).  My husband, however, was as excited as a little kid on Christmas morning.

“Imagine IMAX in 3-D!” he said. “I mean, 3-D is great on its own, but on an IMAX screen, it should be awesome!”

The look I gave him told him the only thing that would be awesome if I saw such a movie would be if I managed to make it through the experience without needing a barf bag.

I don’t know how, but he succeeded in talking me into seeing “Beowulf” in IMAX 3-D.

To this day, whenever I even hear the words IMAX and 3-D in the same sentence, I have to sit down and put my head between my knees.

At first, the movie was thrilling to me. I mean, I’d never seen such incredible 3-D effects. My memories of 3-D movies prior to that were of something that involved wearing cheap cellophane glasses with one red side and one blue side, only to see blurry images that looked a little 3-D-ish at best.

But “Beowulf” was incredible. Swords came thrusting out of the screen at me. They seemed so real, I actually ducked. Hands reached out of the screen to seemingly grab me. Even flames shot out at the theater seats. I sat there in awe, thoroughly enjoying the experience.

And then came the flying creatures and the ocean voyage scenes, with swooping, diving and huge ocean waves rising and falling. My head started to spin and my stomach began to cruelly remind me of everything I’d eaten in the past two days.

I removed the 3-D glasses, thinking that might help. It didn’t. The figures looked blurry without the glasses, and made me feel even more queasy.

The problem was, I really wanted to see what happened in the movie. The plot was exciting, a real nail-biter. So I decided to try to keep a stiff upper lip – mind over matter – and watch it.  That turned out to be one of the worst mistakes I’d ever made. By the time the movie ended, I honestly couldn’t even stand. The walls were spinning, my knees were shaking, my eyes couldn’t focus and my head felt as if someone had stuffed it with molten lava.

Three hours later, I still couldn’t walk a straight line. My husband, sympathetic soul that he was, teased me about it for years.

I looked up my IMAX “problem” on the Internet and learned I wasn’t alone. It said it has something to do with some people’s eye movements not being able to keep up with the action on the screen, therefore causing motion sickness.

So I guess I have slow eyeballs. That doesn’t surprise me. After all, I’m slow at everything else.

One of my friends and I went to Cinemagic a few weeks ago. When we bought our tickets, she said, “You know, if I were here alone, I’d be seeing this movie in IMAX instead of just on the regular screen. I love IMAX!”

I’m wondering if there is some kind of personal trainer I can hire who can teach me how to speed up my eyes.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


I recently had a problem in my basement and wasn’t certain if I should call a heating specialist, a plumber or an exorcist.

It seemed as if every time it rained, water would come in through the furnace, run down the front of it and then form a pond on the basement floor. I figured there had to be a leak somewhere where the water was getting in, but the question was, was it a leaky pipe, a crack in the furnace or, even worse, a crack in the foundation? I had no clue. All I did know was I had to get rid of the water down there…along with the spiders doing the backstroke.

So I called one of my neighbors, who’s a plumbing/heating/cooling specialist and asked if he might be able to come over and check out my furnace. My luck, he was away on vacation. But he said he planned be back in the area for a short while on either Monday or Tuesday and would drop over then.

I waited until Thursday, then gave up and called one of the plumbing companies that heavily advertises on local TV.

“Is your problem plumbing, heating or air-conditioning?” the woman who answered asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

“No,” she said, chuckling, “you have to pick one so I can send the appropriate technician.”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, where is the water coming from?” she asked.

“The furnace.”

“Then you have forced hot-water heat?”

“No, just hot air.”

“But that means there isn’t any water going through it.”

“Oh, there’s definitely water going through it…and it’s coming out into my basement.”

“Are you sure there’s not a pipe leaking above it somewhere?” she persisted.

“I’m not sure about anything. But I think it might be rain water.”

She laughed. “Hmmm. Now I don’t know whether to send a plumber or a heating/cooling tech.”

“Just send anybody,” I said. “At least it’ll be a start.”

A guy named Josh – a heating/cooling specialist – promptly arrived. All I can say is I immediately pitied the poor guy.  I pity any repairman who has to enter my house.

I led him down to the basement (a.k.a. the chamber of horrors) and showed him where the water was coming in.  He immediately set to work checking everything.

“When’s the last time you cleaned your filter?” he asked me.

I shrugged. “I don’t remember. I have a really hard time trying to put it back in, so I try not to take it out.”

He removed the filter and, to my surprise, it was relatively clean. My dogs shed eleven months out of the year, so I’d expected it to look like a shag carpet.

Josh examined a few more things, then said, “It’s your central air-conditioning. The condensate line is really plugged. The condensation has nowhere to go, builds up and is backing up into the furnace.”

“That’s weird that the line got all plugged up,” I said. “I have a water filtration system here, and all my water is pure. There’s no gunk in it.”

In retrospect, I’m surprised he didn’t roll his eyes.

“Um, it’s not water from your well coming out of your air-conditioner, it’s water from the air – condensation. So it’s not going through your filtering system.”

I felt pretty dumb at that moment.

Anyway, he installed a bigger line to prevent future clogs, and this one, unlike the old one, is see-through.

“Now you’ll actually be able to see if there’s a clog,” he said. “And if you do see one, just flip these open (he opened what looked like two little trap doors) and stick this brush down in there and clean it out.” He held up a miniature version of something that resembled what a chimney-sweep might use. “You shouldn’t have any problems from now on that you can’t handle yourself.”

“You really don’t know me at all, do you?” I just had to say.

He showed me the old line he’d removed, which had what looked like a blob of chocolate pudding in it. I had no clue how it got in there, but if, as he said, the only water that went through that line was from the air, then I figured I probably should start wearing a protective face mask whenever I go outside.

He turned on the air-conditioner and tested the pressure. Everything checked out fine.

“Anything else you need while I’m here?” he asked.

The poor guy should have known better than to ask me that. I ended up having him check everything from my propane line to my generator. I honestly can say he was one of the most patient repairmen I’ve ever met. Even when he tried to pat my dog, Raven, and she nearly removed a couple of his fingers (Raven hates men), he still smiled and was pleasant.

My bill came to $265, but I think it was worth it. I mean, there’s no more water on my basement floor, and if the line ever clogs up again, I can take care of it myself.

I think.








Friday, August 1, 2014


I took a trip down Memory Lane the other day, only to discover this particular “lane” had turned into a super-highway.

All of my doctors are affiliated with Concord Hospital, so it’s rare that I set foot in any other hospital. But a couple weeks ago, my surrogate uncle was a patient at Catholic Medical Center (CMC) in Manchester, so I decided to go visit him.

I hadn’t been anywhere near that hospital in years, so I had no idea what to expect. As I headed over to Manchester’s West Side, my mind drifted back to the early 1970s, when I’d had surgery at CMC – back when it still was called Notre Dame Hospital and the majority of the nurses were nuns.

The hospital wasn’t very large back then – only one brick building – and there was no parking area to speak of.  Visiting hours ended strictly at 8 p.m., preceded by warnings over an intercom telling visitors they had only five minutes to leave. Fortunately, when I had my surgery, my room was on the ground floor, so my visitors would leave at 8 p.m. and then go stand outside on the grass and continue talking to me through the open window.

And back then, all of the nurses – those who weren’t nuns, that is – wore caps. The different styles of the caps, I was told, indicated which nursing school the nurses had attended.  I guess each school had its own distinct cap, kind of like a sports uniform.  For some reason, most of my nurses wore strange little caps that looked like upside-down cupcake papers with a ruffle around the edge.  I’m not certain which nursing school they hailed from, but they definitely stood out.

I hadn’t known it beforehand, but on Sunday mornings, the hospital played religious music over the intercom system. When I woke up that first Sunday morning after my surgery and heard what sounded like a choir of angels right above my head, it took me a few minutes to realize I hadn’t died and gone to heaven.

And later that same day, I’d awakened from my nap to see a nun sitting by my bed and praying.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, looking concerned.

“Pretty good,” I said, wondering if she knew something I didn’t.

“My sister recently had exactly the same thing you have,” she said.

“Really? Is she okay?”

“No, she died.”

Let’s just say the nun’s bedside manner didn’t exactly inspire a great deal of cheer or optimism. And if that weren’t bad enough, she asked me about my marital status.

“I’m engaged to be married,” I told her.

“Oh? Are you both Catholic?” she asked.

“No. I’m Russian Orthodox and he’s Irish Protestant.”

“Dear me,” she said, shaking her head, “that will never work. A Russian and an Irishman? And two different religions? You’re doomed to fail. You should break off the engagement now, before it’s too late.”

From that point on, I referred to her as Sister Pessimistic.

The most embarrassing moment after my surgery occurred when another nurse came into my room and announced, “I’m here to give you a suppository.”

I looked up to see a girl named Bette I’d gone to high school with. I didn’t know which was worse – having a girl I’d sat beside in English class give me a suppository, or requesting a different nurse and ending up with Sister Pessimistic, who’d probably tell me her brother had suffered a slow and painful death after getting a suppository.

I opted for Bette.

Anyway, two weeks ago, when I finally approached CMC to visit my uncle, my mouth fell open. The place had become a miniature city. There were new traffic lanes, traffic lights, parking areas, buildings. I felt overwhelmed just looking at it.

By the time I parked the car, hiked up the hill to the street and waited to cross it, then found the main building and the information desk, I felt as if I’d run a marathon. The fact it was about 110 degrees in the shade that day didn’t help.

“I’m here to see my uncle,” I gasped at the woman at the desk. “This place sure has changed! I haven’t been here since it was Notre Dame Hospital and filled with nuns.”

She chuckled, “That’s definitely a long time ago.”  She looked up my uncle’s room number and told me how to get there. I found him without any problem.

While I was there, I noticed that none of the nurses were wearing anything on their heads. I was kind of disappointed because I’d been hoping to see one of those cupcake-wrapper caps again. I also didn’t see any nuns.

Still, all through the visit, I couldn’t help thinking that Sister Pessimistic, who’d probably be about 110 years old now, still was lurking somewhere in the hospital…and she’d leap out from behind a curtain and say to me, “You look hot and out of breath! My cousin looked exactly the same way you do just before he dropped dead!”

I’m pleased to say that my uncle received excellent care at the hospital and now is home and doing well.

And the last time I checked, I also still was breathing.

Knock on wood.