Friday, March 25, 2016


It seems as if every time I turn on the TV lately, there is a news report about some food product being recalled due to bacterial contamination from everything from salmonella and E. coli to listeria and a few other words I can’t spell or pronounce because they contain every letter of the alphabet in random order.  One NBC report said that approximately 76 million people per year suffer from foodborne illnesses.

That’s a heck of a lot of stomach cramps. 

One medical spokesperson on TV advised that if you want to reduce your odds of getting sick, you should cook all food to an inner temperature of at least 160 bacteria-killing degrees. Also, you should be certain never to leave any leftovers, especially dishes containing meat, poultry, fish, dairy or eggs, unrefrigerated for longer than two hours. 

After hearing that, I figured I should have been dead years ago. 

Back when I was in grammar school, I used to carry my lunch, usually tuna-salad or egg-salad sandwiches, in just a paper bag, not even a lunch box, which I shoved into my desk.  There was nothing to keep the sandwiches cold. And in May and June the classroom usually was about the temperature of the Sahara. 

My sandwiches just sat around from the time I left home at 7:30 in the morning until I finally ate them at noon – way beyond the recommended two-hour “safe” limit. My lunch should have been so full of live bacteria by the time I ate it, I’m surprised when I sat down in the cafeteria, the sandwiches didn’t leap out of the bag and dance across the table.  But I never got sick. 

Back then, I also drank eggnog, and when my mom baked cakes, I licked the cake batter from the beaters, not even caring (or aware) that both contained raw, and perhaps deadly, salmonella-infested eggs.  

Maybe ignorance was bliss, because once I started hearing about everything that could contaminate food, I became more and more paranoid. Even back when I first got married, I used to nag my husband about what he ate.

“Any pizza left?” he’d ask me.

“Yes, but it was left out on the table for two hours and five minutes, so it’s not safe to eat now. I’m going to toss it out.” 

Had I told him I’d just lost our life’s savings at the racetrack, he couldn’t have looked more upset.

“Toss out a perfectly good pizza?” he asked, clearly aghast. “When I was single, we’d leave pizza out on the counter overnight and then eat it cold for breakfast the next morning! It never bothered us.”

“Well, times have changed.  That same pizza probably would put you six feet under today!”

 “Well, yeah,” he muttered under his breath, “because it would be about 5 years old.”

 One newspaper article I read a while back still puzzles me, though.  It said that a group of people at some church picnic all got deathly ill from eating bruised tomatoes.

I’d never really considered tomatoes to be any sort of potential health threat before, but after I read that, I found myself carefully studying them for bruises. 

The problem was, I wasn’t even sure what a bruised tomato looked like.  Was it black and blue like a human bruise? Brown, like on a banana? I noticed a little indentation on a tomato in the supermarket one day, so I took it over to the produce clerk.

“Do you think this might be a dangerous bruise?” I asked him. “Or is it just a harmless dent?” 

The look he gave me told me the only thing he thought was dented was my head. 

I also became wary of fish and seafood after I saw a professional fisherman on TV who said fresh fish should have no odor whatsoever.

 “If fish has a fishy odor or even worse, it smells like ammonia, it’s old!” he said. “Don’t eat it!”

After that, I sniffed so many fish, I felt like an otter.  Whenever I ordered seafood in a restaurant, I’d immediately stick my nose in it…and thoroughly embarrass my husband.  

But the food that concerns me the most is chicken.  I blame a TV chef who was preparing chicken-cordon-bleu one night on his cooking show.

“After you handle raw chicken,” he said, “be sure to thoroughly wash your hands right away. Also, wash the counter, the dish you put the raw chicken on, and anything else that might have come in contact with it.  And then, wash everything all over again! You can’t be too careful with chicken!”

I love chicken. In fact, I eat boneless, skinless, organic chicken at least six times a week. However, I feel as if I should be wearing a Hazmat suit when I’m preparing it. And afterwards, I run around with a fistful of disinfectant wipes and wipe down everything that was within a five-foot radius of the raw chicken – including myself. 

Back when I was a kid, my dad used to take a whole, raw chicken, hold it up by the wings and make it dance on the kitchen counter. I would squeal with delight.

Now, I’d probably squeal with terror, imagining the chicken leaving a trail of a zillion potentially lethal bacteria across the counter.

All I can say is when I drive by a bunch of crows eating road-kill along the side of the road, I find myself wondering why they can eat stuff that’s been out in the hot sun for days, yet they don’t keel over afterwards. I also find myself wishing I could find out exactly what’s in crows’ digestive tracts that protects them from getting sick. Whatever is it is, I would love to manufacture it for humans to inject, so we’d never have to worry about getting sick from food again.

I’m pretty sure there are at least 76 million people who would be willing to pay me good money for it.

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Friday, March 18, 2016


It’s no secret that when it comes to hiring contractors, I have the world’s worst judgment. My friends even have told me that if they ever can’t decide whether or not to hire a guy, they’ll send him over to me. If I like him, then they’ll definitely hire someone else.

I can’t blame them for thinking that way. Take, for example, when I hired a contractor to build my house. The first guy managed to get the land cleared, then fell off his tractor and injured himself and couldn’t continue. The guy I hired to replace him started off fine, then began to show up only an hour a week, if that. And the third one quit after I told him I wanted a broom closet in the laundry room and he argued with me that I didn’t need one.

Then there was the guy I hired to paint my front porch and back deck. He asked for a $200 deposit so he could buy the paint. I never heard from him again.

So, understandably, when not one, but two huge tree limbs flattened my chain-link fence a few weeks ago, I nearly suffered a panic attack…because I knew I would have to hire a contractor to repair it.

The first fence company I called was a well-known one. The employee quickly arrived to assess the damage. He determined I’d need a little over 30 feet of fencing. The cost for materials would be $315 and the labor would be over $100 per hour. He also wanted $300 in advance.

An attorney once told me that with my past experience, I’d probably be wise never to give a down payment to any contractor again.

“If the business is a reputable one,” he said, “then they shouldn’t need any money up front to buy materials. They already should have established solid credit somewhere, like a hardware or home-improvement store.”

So I dug out an old phone book and looked for another fencing company. The first one that caught my eye, mainly because it started with the letter “A,” was A&C Fencing in Epsom, only a few miles from my house. I decided to call.

Tim, the person I spoke with on the phone, came right over, probably because I told him I needed the fence to keep the wild animals out and my two dogs in. The first thing he said to me was, “Whether you hire me or not, I think I should do some temporary repairs on your fence, just to make sure your dogs will be safe.”

Immediately, I was impressed.

Another thing he did was check the entire fence, not just the areas the tree limbs had crushed. He noticed where my dogs had chewed through the links. He noticed that two of the gates were lopsided. He noticed that most of the wires that were supposed to be anchoring the fencing to the bottom rails were missing.

With every new problem he pointed out, all I could hear was “cha-ching,” as visions of my money sprouting wings and flying away filled my head.

“I think I’ll just deal with the tree damage for now,” I said, trying to keep my cost at a minimum.

“Well, the fencing comes in 50-ft. rolls,” he said. “So why not use all of it and repair the other trouble spots at the same time? It’s still going to cost the same for materials, either way.”

He made a good point. And his estimate turned out to be less than half of the first guy’s. Even better, he charged a flat fee, not an hourly one, for labor, which included all of the additional repairs he’d pointed out. And he didn’t ask for a penny up front. I hired him on the spot.

“By the way, how did you get my number?” Tim asked me.

“In the phone book’s yellow pages,” I said.

His eyebrows rose and his mouth fell open. “People actually still use those?”

I’m pretty sure he thought that when I first moved to town, I was riding on the back of a stegosaurus.

A few days later, I looked out of my kitchen window and saw a man working on my fence. He had long black hair, high cheekbones and bronze-colored skin. There were no trucks or vehicles anywhere around, and I hadn’t even heard him arrive. I went outside and stared at him. He smiled and said he worked with Tim, who would be back shortly with more supplies.

Curious person that I am, I blurted out, “Are you a Native American?” Then was embarrassed I’d been so blunt.

“Full-blooded Apache,” he said, smiling.

“Gee, that’s pretty rare in these parts,” I said.

He nodded and said he’d met only a couple others in the area.

Intrigued, I ended up asking him questions about his heritage for over a half-hour. I wanted to know everything…from where he was born to how he’d wound up in NH. He politely answered every question, giving me his full attention. I finally figured I’d better let him get back to work before he had to finish the job while holding a flashlight in his mouth.

Tim returned and the two of them spent all afternoon working on my fence. They even buried rocks under my dogs’ favorite places to dig, put all new wires along the bottom rail, and removed and re-hung all four gates. I continued to be impressed – so impressed, I was getting a bruise where I kept pinching myself…to make certain I wasn’t dreaming.

Just as they finished the job, I was returning from taking Willow, my 114-lb. rottweiler, for a walk (because the yard was off limits to my dogs during the fence repair), when Tim came around the corner of the house. He spotted Willow and froze in place. I didn’t know at the time that he was terrified of large dogs.

Willow, who was on one of those long, retractable leashes, wagged and ran right up to him, then licked his hand.

Tim stood there as stiff as a statue, his eyes wide and his arms straight at his sides. Only his lips moved as he whispered, “Ohmigod, ohmigod! I’m going to die!”

Quickly, I pulled Willow back and Tim exhaled.

“Oh, that was fun,” he said, barely audibly, clasping his chest. “Dogs usually don’t like me. I think they sense I’m afraid of them.”

“Willow obviously likes you,” I said. Then before I could stop myself, added, chuckling, “But you kind of look as if you might need a change of underwear right about now!”

So I now have a sturdy new fence for a fraction of the cost I’d expected. Tim told me that if the dogs chew through it again or if anything at all happens to it, to call him and he’ll come right over to take care of it.

All I can say is my bruise is getting bigger…where I’m still pinching myself.

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Friday, March 11, 2016



 I can’t remember the last time I took an evening class. I think it was back in the late ‘60s, when I signed up for a typing class after I realized I’d gone all through high school without even seeing a typewriter, and I figured if I wanted to fulfill my aspirations to be a famous writer, it might be a good idea to learn how to type.

So a couple weeks ago when my sister-in-law sent me an email with information about a free class she thought I might be interested in, I was both surprised and intrigued. I also was confused…because I had no clue what the subject of the class – Zentangle – was.

The name conjured up images of everything from group yoga with people twisted together like a pile of pasta, to some type of intricate puzzle maze.  So I searched for Zentangle on my computer and discovered it’s an art form that creates beautiful images from repetitive patterns that “flow” from the hand – no thinking, no pre-planning, no copying an object or scene – just free-flowing drawing, one stroke at a time. This method, it said, transports the artist into a relaxed, calming, and even a meditative state.

Well, after the week I’d had, with two separate trees falling on my fence, a flop on my face while walking my dogs, and a gas leak in my kitchen, I was more than ready for something calming and meditative. So I decided I’d give this Zentangle thing a try.

The class was held on a weeknight at the Hooksett Library, a building high up on a hill I’d driven past over a zillion times. I’d never, however, actually driven up to the library.

The night of the class, I soon learned that trying to find the front door to the library in the dark wasn’t as simple as it had looked from down on the main road. The minute I turned onto the road up the hill to the building, my car seemed to be magnetically attracted to every “wrong way” sign in the vicinity. I think I might even have driven across someone’s lawn, but everything still was snow-covered back then, so I can’t be sure. I finally entered the library parking lot, but I honestly have no idea how I got there.

Once inside the library, I found myself in the midst of a maze of rooms, doors and staircases. I began to suspect the “tangle” in Zentangle actually applied to finding the class.

I must have looked as lost as I felt because two women walking by me stopped and asked, “Are you here for the Zentangle class?”  When I nodded, they said, “Follow us!”

Had it not been for them, I’m pretty sure I’d still be roaming around aimlessly somewhere in the library.

I finally made it to the class and actually found a seat at a table in the front row.

All I can say is it’s a good thing I did sit in front because Diane, the certified Zentangle instructor, turned out to be very soft-spoken. At first, I thought maybe it was just my hearing, because my ears aren’t as sharp as they used to be, but the lady seated next to me kept leaning over and asking me, “What did she say?” 

The poor woman was asking the wrong person. I mean, half the time, I couldn’t tell if the instructor was talking about “stress reduction” or “dress seduction.”

Diane explained that simple forms and shapes, such as circles, curves, straight lines and dots, were all that were needed to create Zentangle art. Symmetry, exact pattern duplication and ruler-straight lines were not a part of it. Everything in Zentangle was supposed to be natural, free-handed, flowing. To demonstrate, Diane said she was going to spend about 15 minutes drawing for us, using the Zentangle technique. She turned on some music – a soft, pan-flute tune – then, holding a black marker, stepped up to an easel and began to draw lines and circles.

As I watched her, the pattern emerging reminded me of a coloring book I’d recently bought called, “Zendalas.” The patterns in the coloring book had confused me because they were so uneven and asymmetrical. As I’d colored them, I’d honestly wondered if the artist had been guzzling wine while designing them. But suddenly, those uneven patterns were beginning to make sense to me. They must have been done in the same free-flowing method as Zentangle. So I asked Diane if Zentangle and Zendalas were based on the same techniques.

The minute the words came out of my mouth, I knew I’d made a huge mistake. I had disrupted the calm – interrupted the meditative state of the instructor. I had single-handedly turned Zentangle into Zen-mangle.

Diane crisply explained she would answer questions later because she didn’t want her concentration or her flow to be interrupted. 

I wanted to hide under the table, I felt so embarrassed. But then, something happened to ease my feelings of shame and guilt. Two seats down from me, a woman’s cell phone started to ring – a peppy little tune that didn’t blend well at all with the pan-flute music. I watched in empathy as she nervously fumbled to open her purse and turn off the phone, her face growing redder with every passing second. I hate to say it, but the longer it took her to silence her phone, the less embarrassed I felt about my own mistake.

Finally, we each were given paper tiles and black pens. Diane told us she was going to teach us how to use the crescent-moon pattern to create our own Zentangle design.  I carefully followed each step, hoping to make my tile a work of art worthy of being displayed in the Currier Gallery.

After we were finished, Diane told us to share our drawings with everyone else in the class. That’s when I noticed everyone else’s crescent moons had formed what looked like 3-D tunnels, while mine resembled a big spider web (which made me worry that my eyesight also was failing, right along with my hearing).

But I did have fun in the class, so when I got home, I was eager to try what I had learned – but on a larger scale. I grabbed a notebook and a black permanent-ink pen, sat down on the sofa, got comfy and then started to draw, allowing my pen to flow in circles as I relaxed and tried to achieve a meditative state.

Unfortunately, I relaxed a little too much. When I woke up an hour later, the spot on the paper where my pen had stopped when I dozed off had absorbed the ink and left a huge black blob.  I was pretty sure ink blobs weren’t part of the Zentangle method.

On the other hand, I think I might have created a new test for Rorschach.



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Friday, March 4, 2016



I’ve recently been trying to get some spring cleaning done. I’m talking about last year’s spring cleaning. You might say I’m running just a little behind.

I have found plenty of interesting things during my cleaning, like a stack of newspapers from 2006 and a book I wrote when I was 12.  And then there are the old photos. Boxes and boxes of old photos.

I enjoyed taking a trip down Memory Lane while looking at the photos, but one frustrating habit I’ve always had that detracted from my enjoyment was I never wrote any dates, names or places on the backs of the majority of them. This caused me to spend 15 minutes trying to figure out how old I was when I posed in the neon-pink swimsuit, or whose party it was where my uncle, looking extremely “happy,” was wearing a paper plate for a hat and holding up his dentures in one hand.

I’m sure, however, if my husband still were here, he could tell me when every photo was taken. He always was the Sherlock Holmes of photo identification.

“I can’t remember which dog this is a puppy photo of,” I said to him one night. “All of our Rottweilers looked the same when they were young. But I’ve narrowed this one down to either Sabre or Shadow.”

He studied the photo for only a few seconds, then handed it back to me. “That’s Shadow.”

 “How can you tell?” I asked.

“She’s sitting on the old vinyl floor. We had new flooring put in right before we got Sabre. Remember when you were trying to housebreak her at warp speed because you didn’t want her messing up the new floor? Every five minutes, you’d pick her up and come flying past me on your way to take her outside.”

It amazed me how something as simple as flooring could cause him to remember so much.

And even when clues in the photos weren’t quite as obvious, he’d use a magnifying glass to search for evidence

“This photo of you in the leather skirt and go-go boots definitely was taken in 1969,” he’d say, holding the photo up to his nose and peering at it through the magnifying glass.

“How can you be so sure?” I’d ask. “You didn’t even know me back then.”

“The car in the background. I can see the year on the license plate.”

Whenever I look through photos, I inevitably find several that were sent to me by friends and relatives who make me feel even guiltier about my lack of writing anything on mine.

For example, I flipped over a photo of my friend's little girl and on the back was neatly printed: "Kelsey, Christmas morning, 1998, at her grandparents’ house in Maine.  Age 6 years, 3 months and 14 days." I was surprised she didn’t add what the kid had eaten for breakfast or a list of the Christmas gifts she’d received.

The only thing printed on the backs of my photos is, "Paper by Kodak".

So one year, out of guilt, I wrote dates on a few of my old photos purely by using guesswork. At the time, I’d figured rough estimates were better than no dates at all.  And 500 years in the future, when archaeologists dig up my photos, at least they'll know in which century I was wearing a flowered mini-dress, platform shoes, and a hairstyle that looked like a replica of Mount St. Helens…during the eruption.

I found it nearly impossible, however, to date any of the photos I’d taken of my mother. The woman never seemed to age. The photos of her from 1975 looked the same as the ones from 1995. And the clothes she wore offered no clues. She didn’t follow the trends and wear things like bell-bottoms and mini-skirts, the way I did. She always wore tailored slacks and silky blouses, often with a blazer or jacket. I’m sure my husband would have been able to tell me the year every photo of her was taken, though – just by looking at the wallpaper in the background or counting how many gray hairs she had from one photo to the next.

I’ll never forget the time he found a photo of me on which I’d written an estimated date.

"I found this photo on the floor,” he said. "It’s of you, and you're wearing cut-off jeans and a T-shirt and you have really long hair. You wrote on the back that it was taken in 2000.  But I looked at it with my magnifying glass and found a calendar on the wall behind you that’s dated 1983.”

“Well, maybe it was just an old calendar,” I said, even though I’ve always been a meticulous calendar-changer on New Year’s Day every year.

He chuckled and shook his head. “Come on, you know you never looked that young or that slim in 2000!”

Shortly after that, his magnifying glass mysteriously disappeared.

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