Wednesday, September 27, 2017


I grew up watching soap operas (now called daytime dramas), mainly because my mother was hooked on one called Search for Tomorrow. Back in the 1950s, she, wearing her crisp cotton housedress and apron, would drop whatever she was doing and rush to sit in front of the TV the minute her favorite soap opera popped on.

In those days, Search for Tomorrow’s heroine, Joanne, a middle-class housewife who also wore crisp cotton housedresses (and her hair in a bun), did a lot of crying into lace-edged hankies as the ever-present organ music played in the background.

And what made poor Joanne so upset? It usually was her wayward daughter, Patty, who did such unforgivable things as flunk math at school or stay out 20 minutes past her curfew.

“That Patty is such a brat!” my mother, shaking her head in disgust, would say after each show. “If I were Joanne, I would ship her off to boarding school!”

I’m pretty sure there were other reasons for Joanne’s daily flood of tears. For one thing, she and her husband were forced to sleep in twin beds (thanks to the strict television censorship back then), which probably would be enough to depress anyone.

I really enjoyed watching soap operas back in the 1950s and ‘60s because the characters had normal lives and normal everyday problems to which just about everyone could relate. But over the years, the soaps evolved so much, they soon bore no resemblance whatsoever to any life that could be considered even remotely normal.

If Search for Tomorrow were to premiere today, Joanne would have a name like “Skylark” and be a former CIA agent with three ex-husbands, two current lovers (one of whom is half her age and used to date her daughter), and six children, each fathered by a different mystery man - at least one of whom is an alien from another planet.

Joanne’s wayward daughter Patty probably would be a neurosurgeon named Rasputina, who has multiple personalities and a child who hates her so much, she runs off to live with a cult leader she met online and ends up in a remote cabin in some town with a made-up soap-opera name like “Evergreenville.” Soap operas, after all, are famous for naming towns after trees and adding “ville” to the end of them.

Years ago, if you missed an episode or two of a soap opera, it was no big deal. That’s because back then, a day in the life of a soap-opera character lasted about 95 days in real life. If you tuned in to an episode in July and then didn’t watch the show again until Christmas, you still could pick up the plot pretty much where you’d left off.

Nowadays, however, soap-opera story lines move so swiftly, if a character has a baby (adopts a baby, steals a baby, finds an abandoned baby) on Monday, it’s a safe bet the baby will be shaving by Friday.

I realize that modern soap operas are supposed to reflect the changing times, but I can’t help but wonder how many of us actually live in a town where every available bachelor looks like a male model and is either a doctor, lawyer, police officer or a detective?

Frankly, over the years, the more I watched soap operas, the more annoyed I became with certain things about them. For example, the characters’ lack of morning breath. I don’t know anyone who can wake up out of a dead sleep in the morning and roll over and talk nose to nose with his sweetie without making her eyes water. And miraculously, the sweetie always awakens in full makeup, complete with false eyelashes, and her hair looking as if she just stepped out of a beauty salon. The woman must sleep sitting up. If I ever wore false eyelashes to bed, no doubt they would fall off during the night and stick to me somewhere else, like under my nose, and I’d wake up looking like Hitler.

Another thing that always annoyed me was the characters’ unknown children who always seemed to pop up during the program’s ratings slumps. These children ranged in age from less than one year to over 30, depending on what the main character needed at the time. Whenever a long-lost child was going to be added to the plot, a typical conversation would go something like this:

“Why, Dr. Hunkyman, I’ve been working for you for three years now, and I had no idea you had a 25-year-old son!”

“Neither did I, Delilah, until his mother, a woman I met way back when I was suffering from amnesia after a train wreck in Mapleville, texted me last week and told me about him. I can’t wait for you to meet him. After all, you’re both about the same age and I know how lonely you’ve been since your husband died tragically in that volcano eruption in Tobongo. Perhaps this is fate.”

Alas, when my favorite soap opera, All my Children, got canceled after I’d faithfully been watching it for about 112 years, I was so crushed, I vowed never to watch another soap again, and switched over to reality talk-shows like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich. The other day on Maury’s show, a young woman was having five guys take paternity tests so she could determine which one had fathered her baby.

Sounds like a good soap-opera plot to me.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017


When I got my newest dog, Wynter, a young Rottweiler, from the NH SPCA a few months ago, the questionnaire that came with her, filled out by her previous owner, was more than impressive. In fact, the answers to all of the questions made her sound like the reincarnation of Lassie…a regular angel with fur.

According to the questionnaire, the dog could do everything but cook my breakfast. It said she was housebroken, didn’t bark unnecessarily, had been through obedience training, knew all of the basic commands (e.g. “heel,” “stay” and “leave it”), and loved to ride in cars and be walked on a leash. It also said that while out on her walks, she didn’t pay attention to anyone or anything else – she just merrily walked along and minded her own business.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune, finding not only a fully trained well-behaved dog, but also one that was the specific breed I was searching for. It had to be fate, I told myself.

Well, all I can say is if Wynter’s previous owner were Pinnochio, whose nose grew whenever he told a lie, her nose would be the size of a giant redwood.  Nothing she wrote on that questionnaire was the truth, with the exception of Wynter being a dog…and a Rottweiler.

Even worse, Wynter has a severe case of ADD. She simply will not pay attention. Whenever I try to train her, she looks up at the ceiling, over at the walls, down at the floor – everywhere but at me. If I were trying to teach the kitchen table how to lie down, I’d have the same response. No, actually, I think the kitchen table probably would do better.

It took months, along with infinite patience, but I managed to teach Wynter how to sit, lie down, give her paw, and go potty outside instead of on the living-room rug. However, the word “stay” is not in her realm of comprehension, and I doubt it ever will be. In fact, in retrospect, I should have named her Velcro, because I can’t make a move without her clinging to me. Even when I go to the bathroom, she whines outside the door. So the only way she'll ever "stay" anywhere is if I'm standing right next to her.

But the one area where I have not been able to make even the slightest bit of progress is teaching Wynter how to walk on a leash. So far, taking her for a walk has been like playing Russian roulette – because I never know when I’m about to die.

For one thing, she chases cars.  The minute she sees a car in the distance, she freezes in place, lowers her head, stares at the oncoming car and growls. When the car gets closer to us, she lunges, barking and snarling at it. I have to hold on to the leash with all my strength to prevent her from getting loose and becoming a hood ornament. And twice in the past six months, my knees have become intimately acquainted with the asphalt on my road, thanks to Wynter.

If people walk or jog by us, she shows only mild interest, but add a dog to one of those people and she becomes Psycho Dog, ready to kill, with even more of the aforementioned lunging and growling. If a squirrel or chipmunk runs in front of us, however, Wynter couldn’t care less.

Which has convinced me the dog is, well…very weird.

I love to go for long walks, especially with a dog by my side to keep me company. But Wynter has forced me to take my walks at strange hours, like 5:30 in the morning or 9:00 at night, when there is very little traffic or very few people out walking their dogs in my neighborhood. I’m beginning to forget what humans look like.

So I decided it might be to my benefit to look into hiring a professional to train Wynter how to calmly walk on a leash. I emailed several, telling them I would prefer them to come here, mainly because Wynter hates riding in the car (another thing her previous owner lied about). Apparently Wynter was allowed to sit in the front seat when riding, but I make her stay in the back seat. This results in barking, whining and carrying on because she’s unhappy in the back. I used to enjoy listening to music while driving. Now, the music is drowned out by a chorus of "Arrrr-ooohs!" in various octaves.

Most of the dog trainers who replied to my email wanted an average of $90 per hour to train Wynter. Knowing how severe her ADD is, I figured leash training probably will take a minimum of about 150 hours…and require me to mortgage my house. So I searched for some other options.

First, I bought what’s called a Gentle Leader leash, which has a piece that wraps around the dog’s nose. The description said dogs always follow their noses, so pulling on the Gentle Leader would pull the dog’s nose away from oncoming vehicles or anything else that was distracting.

It sounded good, in theory. But when I tried it out on Wynter, she made it blatantly clear that her nose wanted to follow passing cars – and no nose-aiming device was going to prevent it. When I yanked her nose away from the cars, she defiantly yanked it right back.

“Bring a pocket full of treats on your walk,” one dog-obedience website advised. “Then distract your dog with treats when a car or person approaches.”

So I tried it. All I can say is even if I’d been wearing a shirt made entirely out of pork chops, I couldn’t have distracted Wynter once she zoned in on an oncoming vehicle.

“Get a shock collar and zap your dog whenever it starts to chase a car,” another website said. “The dog will get the message pretty quickly.”

I knew I didn’t want to electrocute my dog, so that wasn’t an option, but I did find a remote-control collar that used a high-pitched sound and vibration (like a cell phone set on “vibrate”) to distract the dog. I thought it might be a good idea to buy it and try it, especially since it was only $23 – probably about $10,000 cheaper than hiring a trainer.

When the collar arrived, I was eager to charge it and then try it out on Wynter. It had settings on it that went from 0-100 in intensity. Not knowing where to set it for Wynter, I decided to test it out on myself first. The vibration didn’t hurt at all, even on the highest setting, so I kept it set on 100. Then I tried out the sound option on the collar. It sounded like a cross between a police siren and a bad female opera-singer.

I put the collar on Wynter, grabbed the remote control, and we left for our test walk. Within seconds, a pickup truck came heading toward us. Wynter immediately stopped walking, stood in her usual spread-legged stance, lowered her head and growled as she focused all of her attention on the approaching truck. I pressed the vibrate button on the remote and said, “No!” in a firm tone. She jumped, momentarily startled by the buzzing. Then she went right back to focusing on the vehicle. The second time I pressed the button, she turned and gave me a “press it again and die!” look, then completely ignored it. The “sound” button had even less of an effect.

By the time the truck went past us, Wynter was in her usual form – leaping, growling and barking at it, as if she were protecting me from Godzilla…on wheels.

Two cars later, after trying the collar again both times and getting the same lack of results, I finally gave up and headed home.

So now my walks with Wynter are limited to walking her up and down my 410-foot driveway. It’s boring, but it’s exercise, especially if we walk the length of it 12 or 13 times a day. And most important of all, it’s safe...unless UPS decides to bring me a package.

Meanwhile, I have a $23 vibrating collar just sitting here.

 I think I might track down Wynter’s former owner, the one who filled out her questionnaire, and make her wear it.

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Monday, September 11, 2017


I’m the first to admit I tend to procrastinate when it comes to making appointments for things like eye exams or dental check-ups. For one thing, I hate having my eyes dilated. I also don’t like anyone digging between my teeth. Every time the dental hygienist comes at me with the explorer, which is the instrument that looks like a metal pick, I have visions of my fillings being popped out of my teeth. Considering the fact they cost me the equivalent of a new car, the thought of losing any of them frightens me.

I still can remember when my husband had to nag me to go get my eyes checked.

"My eyes are fine," I assured him, choosing to ignore the fact that my nose usually ended up covered with newsprint whenever I tried to read the paper because I had to hold it so close to my face.

I finally gave in, however, and headed to the optometrist’s office. 

"I hope I do well on this exam," I told the doctor as I sat in the examining chair. "I have to get my driver's license renewed this month and I don't want to flunk the eye test."

She told me to read the smallest line I could comfortably see on the eye chart.  I read all of the letters correctly except one.  It was a D.  I took a wild guess and called it an O.

"You missed it by one letter," the doctor said. "You're going to need distance glasses to pass your driver's test."

"Noooo!" I protested. "Let me try again!"

She shook her head and laughed. "You strike me as someone who has a good memory. You've probably already memorized that line. So I'm switching to a numbers chart."

I managed to make it all the way through the appropriate line of numbers. I was ready to break out the champagne…until the doctor burst my bubble.

"You squinted through the whole thing," she said. "You looked as if you were staring into direct sunlight!  That's cheating. Now read it without squinting."

I couldn't even see the wall, never mind the chart.

After she finished the exam, I heard only two things – "bifocals" and "dilate your pupils."  Neither one sounded very appealing.

"I'm going to put some drops into your eyes to dilate your pupils so I can take a closer look," the doctor said. "Then I'll have you sit out in the waiting room for a few minutes to allow the drops to work. I'll give you some dark glasses to wear so the light won't hurt your eyes."

She administered the drops and then said, "Whoa! You really dilated fast…and big! I think you need only about one-third of a drop!"

I glanced at my eyes in the mirror as I left the room.  I looked like an owl.

And if things weren't already bad enough, the dilated exam later revealed the start of a cataract in my right eye.

"It's really, really tiny," the doctor assured me when she saw the look of panic on my face. "And your vision is still 20/20 with glasses, so it's nothing to worry about. It may never grow any larger."

I wanted to believe her, but already I was envisioning the King Kong of all cataracts bulging out of my eyeball within a few days.

While I was waiting for my new bifocals to be made, I decided to take advantage of a lingerie sale in a store next door.  My pupils still were so dilated, not only was I seeing three of everything, every lightbulb seemed like 10,000 watts.  So I put on the dark glasses and felt my way over to the store.

"Buy one bra, get the second for half-price," the sign said.  Or at least that's what I thought it said.  I practically had to lie on top of it to read it, everything was so fuzzy.

After looking through a rack of bras, I realized that seeing triple had its disadvantages.  I didn't know whether I was looking at D cups or DDD cups. I finally had to ask the sales clerk for help.

When I explained to her why I couldn't see the tags, she laughed and said, "Been there, done that!"

"How long does this torture usually last?" I asked.

"Oh, only about an hour…or two."

That was an hour or two too long to suit me. My head was starting to hurt and the triple vision was making me feel queasy.  I was afraid I might have to grab one of the DDD bras and throw up in one of the cups.

To my disappointment, my eyes didn’t return to normal for over six hours. After hour number two had passed, I decided to call my husband to come drive me home – and to bring someone with him to drive my car. There was no way I was going to get behind the wheel while seeing three lines in the middle of the road, or six headlights on each oncoming car.

So recently, when I went for an eye exam, I was prepared. I made a note to tell the optometrist to use only a small amount of the dilating drops. I brought dark glasses with me that were so large and dark, they covered half my face and made me look like the Lone Ranger when I wore them. I also made the appointment early in the day so I could take more time to allow the effects of everything to wear off.

To my surprise, my preparations turned out to be unnecessary.

“We have a new state-of-the-art camera that takes pictures of the back of your eye,” the technician informed me. “You won’t need to have your eyes dilated.”

I breezed through the exam with no problem – and no triple vision afterwards. It was great.

Now, if someone will invent a way for teeth to be cleaned without having to dig at them, I’ll be one very happy lady.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Every Tuesday night, I eagerly look forward to watching “America’s Got Talent” on TV. I enjoy living vicariously through the contestants on the show…particularly those who have been blessed with beautiful singing voices.

Ever since I was very young, when the only song I knew at the time was “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” I have longed to be a singer. The only problem was whenever I attempted to belt out a tune, my neighbors thought their outdoor cats were being tortured.

I blame my mother for my lack of dulcet tones whenever I sing, because I inherited her voice. She never denied that she probably was the world’s worst singer. In fact, she used to say she could sing an entire song and not hit even one note correctly. And back when she was in grade school and the class had to sing during events such as Christmas pageants, her teachers would tell her to lip-sync and just pretend to be singing.

When I was growing up, my mother often used her singing as a form of punishment.

“Time for bed now,” she would say to me.

“But I’m not tired!” I’d whine. “I don’t want to go to bed!”

“If you don’t go to bed right now, I’ll sing to you,” she’d threaten.

At that point, I would do a running swan-dive into my bed.

I must confess, however, I’ve always been in denial about my own singing ability (or lack thereof) and actually convinced myself I was destined to be the next Streisand. The truth is, if I were facing a firing squad and they told me if I sang for them and pleased them, I’d be granted a stay of execution, the moment I opened my mouth and released the first note, they would shoot me full of holes just to shut me up.

And I’m pretty sure it would be considered self-defense.

Still, I grew up dreaming about becoming a famous singer. When I was sixteen, I even saved up for a guitar, learned how to play a few chords and then formed a three-girl band called The Triple Gears. Whenever we gathered in my basement to rehearse, my parents would receive phone calls from concerned neighbors asking if someone in our house needed help.

Needless to say, The Triple Gears never were asked to entertain anywhere.

I did study ballet for 10 years and discovered I was a fairly talented dancer. I even performed in the local production of Swan Lake. So when a talent show with excellent prizes was holding auditions in town, I announced to my parents that I wanted to go try out for it.

“That’s great!” my mother said, looking pleased. “Have you decided which dance you’re going to do?”

I frowned at her. “Dance? I’m going to sing!”

Her expression clearly told me she thought I was suffering from severe delusions.

Luckily, I wasn’t brave enough to try out for the talent show alone, so I asked my friend, Dee, who happened to be an excellent singer, to come with me. We ended up singing a Beatles song together, and her voice drowned out my flat one, so we actually made it into the talent show. When I came home and excitedly announced the good news to my parents, they honestly thought I was joking.

“Were the judges…elderly?” my mother asked.

“And hearing impaired?” my dad added.

“No! Dee and I honestly sounded great!”

“Dee sang with you?” my mom asked.

I nodded.

“Oh, then that explains it,” my parents said in unison.

Dee and I had fun participating in the talent show, but we didn’t win. We didn’t even place in the top ten. In retrospect, I think if I had just moved my lips and let Dee do all of the singing, we might have had a fighting chance.

Nowadays, the only time I sing is when I’m in the car. I crank up the radio and sing with gusto to my favorite songs.

And when I hear myself, I’m still convinced I could be the next Streisand.

I just wish that when I take my two dogs for a ride with me, they’d stop whining and pawing at their ears when I sing.

It can be very distracting.

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