Monday, October 29, 2018


The other day I read an article I felt was a great incentive for losing weight – because it instantly made me want to quit eating. It said there are approximately 76 million cases of food poisoning and food-borne illnesses in America each year.

The article went on to list methods of prevention, such as never leaving food unrefrigerated for longer than two hours, and cooking food until its inner temperature reaches a minimum of 160 degrees.

All I can say is I’m pretty sure I should have been dead years ago.

Back when I was in grammar school, I used to carry tuna-salad sandwiches in my lunchbox, which I kept in my desk.  There was nothing in the lunchbox to keep the sandwiches cold, like an ice pack. 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. According to the article I just read, the tuna salad should have been so full of live bacteria by then, the sandwich could have jumped out of the lunchbox and danced across the lunch table. 

In my younger days, I also drank eggnog, and when my mother baked cakes, I licked the cake-batter bowl, not even knowing (or caring) that both contained raw, and perhaps salmonella-infested, eggs.

And I remember one summer when I visited Jill, a friend of mine who lived near London. We left her house at 7:00 one morning for a full day of sightseeing, and didn’t stop to rest until about 2:00 that afternoon.

“I’m starving,” I said to her as we plunked down on a park bench.

Jill smiled, reached into her handbag and pulled out two egg-salad sandwiches wrapped in plastic.  “I made these before we left this morning!”

It was the best egg-salad sandwich I’d ever eaten. And even though it had been sitting in the bottom of a purse for seven hours, it didn’t bother my stomach a bit.

Perhaps it’s because ignorance was bliss back then.

Nowadays, however, the subject of food poisoning has become so widespread, I find myself growing more and more paranoid about everything I eat. And in the process, I'm probably driving everyone crazy.

For example, I read that a group of people at some church picnic in another state all got deathly ill from eating bruised tomatoes.

I’d never really considered tomatoes to be any sort of health threat before, but after I read that, I found myself carefully studying them for bruises, even though I wasn’t even sure what a bruised tomato looked like.  I felt a little indentation on one in the supermarket the other day, so I took it over to the produce clerk.

“Is this just a harmless dent or do you think it might be a potentially life-threatening bruise?” I asked him.

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

And then there’s fish.  Fresh fish should have no odor whatsoever, according to an expert on TV.  “If fish has a fishy smell or even worse, it smells like ammonia, it’s old!” the guy said. “Don’t eat it!”

As a result, I have sniffed so many fish, I feel like an otter.

But the food that has me the most frightened is chicken.  I blame Chef Emeril Lagasse, who was cooking chicken on a TV show one night.

“When you handle chicken,” he said, “be sure to wash your hands right away. Also, wash the counter, the dish you put the raw chicken on, and anything that came within 10 feet of it!  And then wash everything all over again! You can’t be too careful with chicken! It can be full of deadly salmonella bacteria.”

Chicken always has been one of my favorite foods, but every time I’m about to cook it now, I feel as if I should be wearing a hazmat suit. And after I touch it, I am tempted hose myself down with Lysol. I’m always afraid I might miss cleaning a spot on the counter, and the chicken bacteria in that one spot will run rampant, rapidly breed and overtake the kitchen, kind of like a bacteria coup.

So just to be on the safe side, from now on, everything I put into my oven is going to be cooked at a bacteria-annihilating 550 degrees.

Maybe I should go check the batteries in my smoke detectors.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018


One of the TV news programs was celebrating its anniversary the other day, and several of the anchormen and reporters were reminiscing about their first day on the job - how nervous they’d been, and how many mistakes they’d made while reporting on some of their stories.  As I listened, I found myself thinking back to my first year as a correspondent for a weekly newspaper.

It was the summer of 1973, when what is now called Neighborhood News was then known as The Goffstown News/Banner-Bulletin Publications (which took me about a week to memorize).  

I was hired, sight unseen, over the telephone.  I didn’t have much writing experience, other than a few articles in my high-school newspaper, and I knew so little about photography, I once nearly blinded myself when I accidentally held the camera backwards and shot off the flash directly into my eyes.  Flash bulbs were about the size of light bulbs back then, so it’s a wonder I still have corneas.

“You’ll need to send us black-and-white Polaroid photos with your articles,” the woman who hired me said during that first phone conversation. “Then just mail us all of your stuff once a week.”

The only Polaroid camera I could afford was something called a Swinger.  It was small and took only wallet-sized photos that had to immediately be coated with a formaldehyde-smelling sealer to prevent the picture from fading away.  And after the photos were coated, they had a tendency to curl up as they dried, so I had to flatten them with a book.

My very first assignment was to interview a woman whose handcrafted ceramic stein had won a blue ribbon at a New England ceramics show.  Not only did the off-center, shaky photos I took make her stein look as if she’d downed about 12 martinis before she’d made it, when I sent it to the paper, I accidentally wrote on the caption, “Her first-prize stain” instead of stein.

My next assignment was to photograph the construction of three large greenhouses at a flower and garden center in town.  In order for my little camera to capture the full length of the greenhouses on film, I had to stand about a half-mile away from the place.  The end result was something that looked as if it had come with Barbie’s Dream House. 

At the time, the newspaper covered only “nice” news.  If some local official was caught betting the town’s funds on Galloping Gertie in the fifth race at Rockingham Park, my editor didn’t want to hear about it.  But if little Suzy Perkins won the potato-sack race at the grammar school’s annual field day, well, it was front-page news.

And I had a lot of trouble learning how to spell the name Margaretta Schneiderheinze, who was a prominent figure in the Order of the Eastern Star and its charitable work in the community, so she frequently (too frequently) was in the news.

Ever since I was a kid, from the first time I set eyes on Lois Lane on TV, I dreamed of being a reporter just like her. I pictured myself going on dangerous, exciting assignments where I’d end up dangling by my toenails from a cliff directly above a river full of hungry alligators and being rescued by Superman just in the nick of time. 

Instead, here I was, covering things like a get-acquainted tea social, a square-dancing demonstration and a poster contest.  Needless to say, the job wasn’t quite as daring as I’d imagined it would be.  Poor Superman would have been yawning into his cape.

And, as the weeks progressed, my photography became worse instead of better. But to my surprise (and ultimate embarrassment), no matter how terrible my photos were, the paper always printed them.  I had so many dark ones published, people began to think I specialized in silhouettes.  And there often was an unusual shadow in one corner of my photos.  It took me a while to figure out that the shadow wasn’t some mysterious apparition…it was just the edge of my finger in front of the lens.

Because I considered my work to be so terrible, I allowed three months to pass without getting a paycheck before I finally gathered the courage to mention it to someone at the newspaper.  Thus began a long series of, “Your check’s in the mail.”

But even without being paid for a while, I still stuck with the job because I knew it probably would be the closet I’d ever get to fulfilling my dream of becoming another Lois Lane.

As it turned out, over the years, as the newspaper’s owners changed hands a few times and the editors became progressively more adventurous, I finally got my wish and covered some really exciting stories.  In the process, I got trapped in a forest fire and was rescued by a firefighter who easily could have modeled shirtless for a  pin-up calendar. I was threatened by a satanic cult, assigned to take photos of a genuine ghostly spirit, was roughly shoved aside by one of Senator John Glenn’s bodyguards, and was hugged a little too hard by a boa constrictor.

You know, now that I look back, maybe covering those get-acquainted tea socials wasn’t quite so bad after all.

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Sunday, October 14, 2018


The wet and humid weather all summer, and the continued rainy weather this fall, have turned my basement into a den of dampness, despite the fact I have two dehumidifiers constantly running down there. Just about everything that’s stored in its dank depths is perpetually soggy and is beginning to smell like old sweat-socks laced with mildew.

Unfortunately, when my husband and I moved into this house nearly 10 years ago, we thought the basement would be the ideal place to store all of the stuff we, at that time, were paying to keep in storage units...three of them, to be exact, to the tune of about $350 per month. So moving everything into our new basement saved us a bundle.

Little did we know that the basement the contractor had guaranteed us was “as dry as the Sahara,” actually would turn out to be the Okefenokee in disguise.

So about a month ago, when I ventured down there, I decided to look through the boxes and notebooks of trading cards my late husband had collected over the years. I’m talking about more than 40 years...and over 900,000 cards.

The trading cards he always enjoyed collecting were the non-sport variety, so there wasn’t a baseball or a basketball to be seen on any of them. No, his collection featured everything from Star Wars and Superman cards to the Beatles and the Beverly Hillbillies.

And, to my horror, I discovered that many of them now are damp and beginning to warp and grow brown spots on them.

So I decided I’d better start selling them...and fast.  I had futuristic visions of a giant pile of paper pulp that once had been the cards, sitting like a mushy mountain in the middle of the basement floor.

The first box of about 500 cards I opened came out all stuck together in a big clump. My online research later informed me that collectors call those clumps of cards “bricks” because they are solidly stuck together like one. The Internet also offered ways in which to safely coax the cards apart with only minimal damage, if any. One guy said to shove the cards into the microwave. Another said to slam down the cards on a hard surface to loosen them. And then there was a suggestion to pry them apart with a butter knife.

I decided to leave the “bricks” for another time and instead concentrate on the cards stored in plastic pages in notebooks. Those were in much better condition, although they smelled terrible.

I spent the next three days pulling cards out of the plastic pages and allowing them to air out in the garage. Then I checked through them to see if there were any complete sets. I found two sets right away – Marvel Masterpieces and Marvel Universe, both of which featured characters from Marvel Comics (The Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, Spider-Man, etc.), and both of which contained over 100 cards each. 

I listed them on Ebay and sold one set for $60 and the other for $40. Suddenly I had a strong urge to spend a lot more time in the damp basement – even if it meant my skin was in danger of sprouting mushrooms.

I noticed that the same guy, Ron, had bought both of the sets. I figured he either was a big Marvel Comics fan...or a dealer.  As it turned out, he was a dealer – and he wasted no time contacting me about my cards.

“Do you have just the two sets you just sold or do you have more?” he wrote to ask me.

“I have close to a million trading cards,” I answered. “Are you interested in only the  Marvel ones?”

“No – I’m a dealer in Florida, so I’m interested in all of them. If you want to sell the entire collection, let me know what you have and I’ll make you an offer.”

I felt my pupils transform into the shape of dollar signs and heard a faint “cha-ching!” sound in my ears. I mean, this guy had just paid $100 for only two sets of my cards!  I barely dared to imagine what he’d be willing to pay for hundreds of thousands of cards. Finally, I thought, smiling, I was going to be rich! Visions of a first-class seat on a jet flight to Europe flashed through my mind.

“The only thing is,” Ron said, sticking a pin into my dream bubble, “I want to know the condition of each card. I don’t want to buy any creased, stained, torn or warped ones.”

I instantly thought of the “bricks” in the boxes in the basement and wondered how I was going to pry them apart without damaging any cards or losing precious money. 

“There’s no way I can look through nearly a million individual cards,” I said. “It would take me about 25 years.”

“Oh, I don’t expect you to sort through them all at once,” he said. “Just put together a few good sets at a time – like 20 or 30 - and I’ll buy them from you every month on a regular basis. That way, you can avoid Ebay’s fees and commissions, and you’ll save a lot of money. We’ll have an ongoing business arrangement, so to speak. It will be a win-win situation for both of us.”

Sounded good to me – like having a regular job. So I immediately set to work and tackled the notebooks. At least the cards in those weren’t in bricks, and I was eager to make some fast money from Ron.

I spent the entire week sorting through so many cards, I barely could move my fingers – or my neck, from looking down at all of the cards’ tiny numbers for so many hours. The 1960s-1970s trading cards were easy to make sets from because they consisted only of chronologically numbered cards. But in the later years, specialty cards (stickers, holograms, foil-embossed, autographs, etc.), which were randomly inserted in only a limited number of packs, also were added to the sets. So the specialty cards were much more valuable than the regular cards because they were difficult to find.

I managed, after about 30 hours of sorting, to put together 35 sets of cards, including most of the elusive specialty cards. One card I found was personally autographed by one of the artists from Marvel Comics, so I knew Ron, the dealer, would be drooling over that one.

I typed up a list of the cards and their condition and emailed them to him, then I anxiously awaited his offer. He wrote back a few hours later and said the sets on my list really weren’t worth very much, maybe only $5 each, so he wouldn’t want to pay more than $3 per set, seeing he had to make at least a small profit on them in his store.

He offered me $100 for the entire lot.

“And if you throw in the Marvel autograph card, too,” he added, “I’ll give you another $5. I also expect, because I’m buying so many cards from you, that you’ll be  paying for half of the shipping costs to send them to me.”

Never have I wanted to strangle someone with my bare hands more than I did at that moment. All I can say is it’s a good thing we weren’t standing face to face when he made me the offer or I’d probably be wearing an electronic ankle-bracelet right about now.

I told him his offer wasn’t even close to being worth all of my time and effort, and I’d never sell the cards to him for such a small amount.

He responded with, “Okay, then I guess that’s that!”

And I haven’t heard from him since.

But seeing I already had a bunch of card sets put together and graded, I decided to list a couple of them on Ebay. They sold for $34.95 each, over 10 times more than what Ron had offered me. I then listed the autograph card, which sold for $80.

I have found some measure of peace in knowing it probably was torture for Ron not get his greedy little paws on all of my cards. And I’m sure he saw the sets I recently listed on Ebay, but didn’t want to bid on them because it only would have verified just how cheap his offer to me truly was.

So, if I’m not seen in public for a while, it’s because I’ll be down in the basement, sorting through trading cards...and, if I still need some additional income, growing a crop of mushrooms.

#   #   #


Monday, October 8, 2018


It's funny how the best-laid plans always seem to have a way of going wrong.

Take, for example, my floors.

From the day construction first began on our new house back in early 2007, I knew I wanted wood-laminate flooring rather than hardwood.  The main reason was 220 pounds of Rottweilers running rampant in the house.  I had visions of hardwood with claw marks the size of canals embedded in them after only the first day.

Also, Rottweilers are chronic droolers, so I knew I needed a floor that could withstand constant slobbering.

I researched laminate flooring online and checked out the customers' feedback for each brand. I also went to building supply stores and got floor samples…which I then proceeded to attack.  I stomped on them, tap danced on them, scratched them with my car keys and rubbed them against concrete. I then poured water on them and let the water sit there overnight. The only brand that passed most of my tests was Armstrong laminate at about $3.50 a square foot.

So I decided I would buy Armstrong flooring, and I faithfully stuck with that decision…until the middle of 2009, when I realized that all of the construction delays, problems and added expenses our house-to-be had undergone had drastically reduced my flooring budget to only about $1.50 per square foot.  For that price, I figured I'd be lucky if I could afford a roll of second-hand linoleum.

So I returned to the building-supply store and brought home some floor samples within my price range.  Not one of them passed my torture test.  Not only did they stain and scratch, they peeled faster than a banana in a cage full of monkeys.

Needless to say, I was becoming discouraged.

So I checked out a few more web sites that sold flooring, and after searching through their products for about a half-hour, I found what I thought was the perfect wood-laminate flooring...Dream Home Nirvana Mountain Pine with the padding already attached, complete with a 25-year warranty.

The reviews from customers were so positive, they couldn't rave enough about the stuff.  If flooring could be nomimanted for sainthood, I seriously think they'd have done it. They described it as rich, realistic-looking and indestructible. They also said it camouflaged dirt and dog fur.

Just the part about the dog fur was enough to sell me on the product, but even better, it was only $1.59 per square foot.  Before I allowed myself to get too excited, however, I had to find out if a sample of the flooring could pass my rigorous testing. At that price, I honestly expected it to fall apart if I breathed on it.

To my delight, the sample looked just like a real pine plank, complete with knots and all.  I immediately began torturing it.  I put on high heels and stomped on it.  I rubbed it with fine sandpaper.  I dug my car key into it and dragged it across the sample.  I even did the overnight water test on it.

The next morning the sample still looked great.  So I bought over 1700 square feet of it.  

After it was installed, I stood there just staring in awe at it.  It was a masterpiece, a thing of beauty. It looked just like real wood. It was perfect, especially for the rustic farmhouse-style decor I wanted.

And after all these years, the floor still has held up magnificently. My dogs have done everything short of giving birth on it, yet it looks brand new, not even a scratch. And it really does camouflage dirt and dog fur. It also camouflages just about anything I drop on it. There could be a body lying on it somewhere and I'd never know it.

Alas, a couple months ago, I received a court document informing me that everyone who purchased my particular brand of flooring between 2009-2010 was entitled to a portion of a multi-million-dollar class-action lawsuit because the flooring’s formaldehyde levels had been deemed toxic.

My first thought was, “It took them all this time to tell me that my flooring is toxic? I could have dropped dead by now!”

My second thought was, “Hey...I’m going to be getting some money!”

#   #   #

Footnote:  Through research (after initially panicking and considering ripping out all of my flooring and replacing it) I learned that the levels of formaldehyde rapidly decrease by the second year, and subsequently vanish after that. And if the flooring was aired out prior to being installed, the levels would be insignificant.  I was fortunate to have had a contractor who insisted that my flooring be removed from its boxes and allowed to breathe and expand in the garage for a few weeks before he installed it. Bless him!