Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I'm not just whistling Dixie, here...

Yesterday, I drove home from my appointment, in just a wee bit of shock I think. I was hoping to hear words like 'it's nothing', and come home and feel a little foolish, but very relieved. When the radiologist came in to tell me what he thought, he asked if I had any questions. "Not right this minute," I said, "but can you give me your phone number, because I can guarandamntee you that I'll have a number of them about midnight or so." He burst out laughing and said, "That is an easy one. The answer is no." I responded with, "Now, surely the nice mammogram lady told you about my meltdown in the Lowe's parking lot just last night?" The nice mammogram lady told him that 'the girls' had a new name for him, and it was 'insensitive ass'. He looked confused, but we explained, and we all laughed, as he cheerfully pled 'guilty'. I leaned in to tell her that if she needed any epithets, I was the girl to call, because I was creative that way. (How strange to be laughing and joking when I felt as if the bottom was dropping out of my world.)
I walked out of the hospital, got into my little car and drove home in the rain. I knew that my own physician would be calling. I couldn't bear to go back to work. Since I don't get cell phone service back in the woods, I called their office to let them know to call me at our home phone. To get sympathetic reassurances from the receptionist was almost more than I could stand. We are great laughers and I don't think we've said a serious word to one another in all the years I've gone to this practice. Gina called. The surgeon called. Gina called again. The phone got quiet.
Tim said, "Do you want to watch a movie? Why don't you come and sit down? We'll watch a little TV." He picked up the remote, and Oprah's voice came into our living room. She announced that 'today (x-number) of women would learn that they had breast cancer.'
Later, while I was reading about biopsies, the phone rang again. It was the 'Breast Cancer Relief Fund', asking for a donation.
*gasp again*
And even though I don't consider myself a superstitious person, I cannot shake this sense that events in my own life are being foreshadowed. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Dear God.
I am aware.
It was time to call in the big guns. I did the only reasonable thing. I got a bottle of wine, and I got a wine glass. I poured myself a tall glass, and then I sat down to call my friend, my stalwart, hilarious friend Dixie in Philadelphia. I drink my wine, and we alternate between laughing and weeping, just a little, because after all, I know nothing for sure. But Dixie hears me say the words out loud for the first time. "Dix," I say, "I've just got this growing certainty in my heart. I think that I'm going to hear that I have cancer." Dixie says softly, right back, "Maybe. Maybe you're right, but there are all kinds of success stories. Most people survive it." And then she is laughing again. Her priest's wife went for her biopsy today. And another woman from their church just finished chemo. She considers her church experts in praying about this particular matter. She will get my ta-tas to the prayer chain. And I'm laughing too. I'm a real lightweight when it comes to drinking, but I pour myself a second glass of wine, and I laugh with my friend.


'It' is not a cyst. 'It' is solid. 'It' is measured at 3 cm. 'It' cannot be called cancer. 'It' cannot be called benign. The radiologist recommended removal as quickly as possible. Once the biopsy is done, they'll know what to call 'it'. I called Gina to tell her that I was home, and could be reached there. The receptionist answered the phone. I call her a 'rotten woman'. It's a running joke between us. "Hi, you rotten woman, you," I said. "Oh, how are you doing?" she said in a serious tone, very unlike our usual bantering. I knew then that they already had the radiologist's report and recommendation. "It is what it is," I said. She said, "You'll be okay. Do you hear me?" Gina was right there and wanted to talk to me. She got the surgeon's appointment moved up a week.
Mike, over at the 'Ifsofog' wrote "Life is currently happening to me at an unacceptably high rate of speed and with an undesirable intensity." Ditto.


A long time ago, someone commented on some darn thing that was going on. I don't even remember what it was. "Doesn't that worry you?" Even though I don't remember what was going on at that point, I do remember responding, "Well, yeah, of course I'm concerned. But no sense to name the beast until I get a clear look at him."
Have you ever been in the woods at night? It's a different world then. When you hear a crashing and thumping in the underbrush, you simply hold very still and wait, because you don't know what you're up against. It could be a bear. It could be a raccoon. It could be a deer. You might have cause to fret, but really, whatever it is, like as not, it's headed the other direction, and you've only had a moment of heart racing, which all comes to nothing, and you continue on your way, unharmed.
That's sort of how all of this feels. There's some ominous crashing in the dark underbrush and I'm not sure what I'm up against. Last night, I lay in bed. I touched that lump. Gina, in her professional-speak says things like 'Palpable', and '10 o'clock' and 'dimpling'. All I can say is that it's huge. Over an inch and a half long, I guess. Nearly as wide. I can be pretty oblivious, but really, I'm fairly sure that I would have noticed that if it had been there for any length of time. What does it mean when something like that just 'appears'? My arm was aching, and I was a little bit worried about that development. What does that mean? I lay in the dark telling myself that I was being very foolish. The beast has no name. And in the dark, I lay very, very still.
My aunts told me one thing about the diagnostic tests today. If the news is good, they'll tell me right away that things look good. If the news is not so good, or inconclusive, they'll say nothing, and send the results to my doctor and the surgeon. Gina is pretty laid back. That's one of the reasons that I like her so. I know that she'll give me a call when she knows what is going on. I would expect to know before October 9th, when I see the surgeon. I hope. The worst part is the not knowing.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Thanks for all of your kind words. I appreciate it. It's been an odd weekend here as I digest these things. I am not fearful. I go through the motions of life. We worked on the house Saturday, I spent the afternoon with Cara who was home from college. She is hysterically funny, and a wonderful distraction. We surprised my sister and brother in law with a truck load of firewood. Stacey left for Korea this afternoon. We shall not see her for a year, most likely. I went to church this morning. I taught Sunday school like I always do. On the surface, everything went on, just as it always has.
But this afternoon, I also called two aunts. One on my father's side, who has leukemia. The other on my mother's side. She had colon cancer two years ago. She had cervical cancer at 44. I figured that of anyone, they'd know the family's cancer history, since they'd already recited that information for their own medical records. Being estranged from most of my family, I do not know this stuff. This weekend I researched and discovered that, depending on which articles you read, 3 in every 4 breast lumps are benign. Or 4 out of 5, according to another. This is encouraging. Reading the information on the various lumps was not so comforting, as I can rule out two of the benign situations right away. My aunts tell me that I need to get an advocate/counsellor, and want to provide me with names. I say to them, "No, goodness, no, not yet. It is just a time to collect data, analyze things." I can't bring myself to start thinking along those lines yet. There's no reason to. But for all of my practicality, I found myself laying awake in bed last night. Not afraid. Just thinking. And when I rolled over, my half awake husband rolled with me, as usual. Also as usual, his hand was cupping my breast. Suddenly, I felt his hand stop, and then it moved away, to rest at my waist.
It is way too early to say the word. But there have been a lot of long leaning hugs this weekend, the kind where you rest your head on his shoulder, the kind where he rubs his bristle-y cheek against your hair. And we do not speak.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Today started out like pretty much any other day. I had taken the day off to burn up some 'comp time'. It started out with the newspaper, my regular breakfast of an 'everything' bagel with two cups of coffee. Then Tim and I went down to the woods and cut up and loaded a large maple that had blown down in the recent wind. We don't need the wood. We've got this year's, and next year's, and we've got wood stacked for the year after that. So no, we don't need this, but when a good maple blows down, you don't let it go to waste. I had planned to go to Bradford to apply for a job. I had planned to pick up post cards for Stevie's great post card swap. I was supposed to spend the afternoon helping Tim install kitchen counters in Nancy's kitchen, do some 'mudding' for the drywall in Nancy's new bathroom. Then home. Cara is coming home. She says that I can do her laundry for old time's sake. I had my day all planned out.
What I did not plan on was finding a large lump in my breast while taking a shower. What I did not plan on was hearing the doctor say that I should not wait to be seen. I did not plan on this at all.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Economy - Good News or Bad?

You know, all this talk about the economy, and the trouble that the banks are having. Really, they've brought it on themselves. Now that they've gotten themselves into this mess, we're going to have to save them. That provokes me to no end. Our bank called us a couple days ago to see if we wanted more credit. No, we told them. Isn't that what got us all into this pickle? Too much credit? But I'm starting to rant.

This is our latest acquistion. It's old.Big.

It has three very cool bathrooms. Ignore the green stickers. That just indicates that the place has been winterized, so that water will not freeze in the pipes and explode if the place stood empty and unheated over the winter.

The place has all sorts of built in cupboards and cubbies, and neat things, as old historic homes are wont to have. We even found a secret compartment behind the fireplace.

It was empty. No treasure.


Unlike most repos, someone loved this house a lot. It is very well cared for, but dated. It needs new appliances, and it needs some updating, new wallpaper, kitchen countertops, etc, but all in all, this is a beautiful home, and is two separate rental units. Each apartment has one bedroom and an office/den, as well as the bathrooms, kitchen, living room, and dining room, so they are spacious units.
Tim thinks that the fact that you can buy homes like this for $20,000 is just excellent. I think that the fact that you can buy homes like this for $20,000 is kind of scary.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Grabbing a Handful of Guts

Today, I was setting my traps in a remote part of the county. I usually am pretty good about timing these things, but suddenly realized that I needed to get rid of the coffee I'd been knocking back all morning (translation: had to pee). I'm prepared for things like this though, because, hey, let's be real, they happen. So after I set my trap, I wandered over to the tall weeds at the tree line out of sight from the road. A deer leapt up no more than 10 feet away, and went crashing off in the opposite direction through the underbrush. That was cool. I don't think I've ever been that close to a wild deer before. Well. Not a live one, anyway.
You know, me and God have been going around lately. There's a lot I don't understand, and I am bitter. I love my job. I could stay, but it would mean compromising some principles. I'm one of those tedious people who say, "But it's the principle of the thing," and mean it. But you must understand. This is a big deal for me, because I love this job. There are not a lot of jobs in this area. I know for a fact that I will not love my next job like I love this job. I've decided to just go to the steel mill. It will be hard work, shift work, and it will be inside. But I will be working with men, mostly, and to be perfectly honest, I've always found men much easier to work with than women. I'll take dirty factory work over working at the mail order company again. The steel mill has good benefits. I'll also make more than I would at the mail order company. I'm not leaving only because of the office dynamics. Since the original problem, there are many other signs that it is time to move on. Tim's job has not made payroll three times since he's started. Insurance was briefly cancelled when the company was unable to pay the premium. Now they are having problems buying the steel they need to machine the parts to get money to keep the company afloat. Last week about 1/4 of the work force was laid off. I have a seasonal job with no benefits. If Tim loses his job, we will have no health insurance. But still...I love this job. I really love this job. On my neat list of 'reasons to stay' vs. 'reasons to go', I have just the one reason to stay. It's a biggy though, so I've been feeling bitter.
I took a few moments to sit down and eat my vanilla yogurt and rice cake lunch and to watch the wind blow across the tall grass. I was enjoying my moment, thinking about the sacrifices to come, and questioning, questioning, questioning. Why in the world would God give me a job I adored only to take it away? I can hardly bring myself to interact with my co-workers, feeling that it will make things that much harder to leave. For their part, it seems that I'm already gone. I stand up thinking. "Damn, I'd rather not have ever had this job..." but, I know straightaway that I'm lying. I think of the deer, and the fox I'd seen gamboling across the field first thing in the morning. A few days back, I saw the biggest buck that I've seen in a long time. I thought of the goose that I'd rescued all those months ago. Last week, I helped a rattled trucker who'd blown a tire with a load of steel on. He was out in the middle of no where, and was walking. He was shocked that I'd not only stopped, but given him a ride out, since he couldn't even get anyone to open their door to his knock. But I remembered the time that the stinking automatic locks had locked me out of my truck in a thunder and lightning storm in the middle of nowhere, and I hiked. Some great people helped me out that day, a Canadian doctor and his family. Mr. Goth and the snapping turtle. The kids. All the people that I've met. There have been a lot of adventures. I'm glad that I had the job. I'm glad for all the moments. Some people slog away at dead end jobs for all of their life, never get a chance to experience anything else. So, yeah. I know. I've been lucky. I know that I'm being ungrateful.
I believe in God. I didn't always. I was an atheist for over half my life. Wasn't looking for any answers, because I didn't have any questions. Then God made His presence known to me. There is no sense trying to explain to you what I scarcely understand myself, but one minute I was an atheist, the next minute I was acutely aware of the presence of God. 22 years later, I understand that God is at work here. I don't understand what He is up to though. I know that He wouldn't make it impossible for me to stay if He wasn't nudging me to move on. It is time to step out in faith. It's always a struggle to let go to what you know, to move away from what you are comfortable with. I think about the hardest days of my life, and realize that what I'm dealing with in these days is not nearly as hard as those days were. In the Army, we had a saying. 'When things are rough, you reach down inside, grab a handful of guts, and keep on going.' I realize that I've still got a handful of guts. I will keep on going.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Begin Again

Brianna called tonight. She'd been crying. Mike's not happy. It's not her, he has explained. He doesn't know what he wants. I braced myself. She said, calmly, that she's been pretty depressed since her 27th birthday. Her brother has graduated from college. Her sister has begun college. She feels that she's stumbled around and not accomplished anything. For the first time, ever, she did not ask for anything. She said that she does not need anything, but she wants us to be supportive. She is going to take a nurses aid course. Once she's got a job that she can support herself at, she's going to take stock. She wants to go to school. She wants to be independent. She wants to feel good about herself.
History has taught me to proceed cautiously. I tell her that I want nothing more than to see her succeed, but that I can't really bring myself to get really enthusiastic until I see that these things are actually happening. I explain how each time that she crashes and burns, so do I, that I love her dearly, but I need to step back and watch her begin to step out of the chaos of her life. She has to be the one to choose the new direction to her life. She is quiet. She tells me though that her father told her the same thing.
We talk, we cry. She tells me that this time it will be different. I've heard this before. But it feels different this time, as if she is truly tired of the life that she is living. There is a quiet about her. She appears to be listening. She tells me at the end of the conversation, "Don't worry mom. This time, I'm going to prove you wrong." I tell her that she would not be proving me wrong. She is smart. I've always known this. She may well be brilliant. It gets lost in the swirling chaotic life she leads. I tell her that I know that she can do it, that I've always known this. And she signs off by saying, "Okay. I'll prove you right then."
After I hang up, despite myself, I find my hopes buoyed. Maybe, just maybe, this time it will be different. I can only pray. Nothing would make me gladder than to see her stepping free of these chains. I cannot imagine throwing my head back to laugh without that niggling voice telling my heart: "What are you so glad for? Your child is lost."
I know that I want nothing more,
have never wanted anything more, in life than this one thing:
to see my broken daughter soar.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Making Memories

Stacey is home on leave. She'll be heading for Korea next Monday. Her 26th birthday was at the end of August. She was not here. We did not want to send a birthday gift that she'd just have to pack up and haul home. And what to send her anyways? She told us what she wanted. She wanted a family sit down dinner at the Lumberjack.

We'd taken her there once before, and she liked it.

We live in the woods. Our history is intertwined with the logging industry. The Lumberjack celebrates that heritage, decorated with chainsaw carvings, historical photos, and rustic furniture. The inside has 'trees'.

Since the logging industry went hand in hand with the railroad, they have a train which runs at ceiling level all around the restaurant.

The front dining room is casual, and you eat amongst the 'trees' and the wildlife, and train.

There's a formal dining room out back, decorated in the style appealing to the turn of the century lumber barons.

Cara drove up from college to meet us at the restaurant. Mike could not make it. He was headed to Elmira with his final load of belongings. He begins his new job tomorrow. Tim's brother and sister in law made it up from Johnsonburg. We drove Tim's parents. We had a nice meal with a very attentive waitstaff. As soon as they found out Stacey headed overseas, they went out of their way to make a special time for our family. They even opened up the patio on the roof, just for us, alone, so that we could sit there as our meal digested, visiting, talking about everything. After all, memories are easy to pack. You can take them everywhere.

Even to Korea.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


We've been working hard on an apartment. We've got a woman who wants to rent it. She is elderly, with bad knees, and the first floor apartment appeals to her.
When I moved back to Pennsylvania to start over again, a single mom with three children, working at a local factory trying to make ends meet, I was pretty ashamed. I'd come from a pretty comfortable life in Michigan, with a nice home, and all the trappings of a successful middle class life. I moved my children into a ramshackle rental. It was horrible, and drafty, cold in the winter, stifling hot in the summer. Dylan's bedroom was in the attic, and he could not stand upright in part of it. I was desperately ashamed that I could not provide better for them, but when your ex has been sent to prison, there is no child support. It was up to me, and I did the best that I could. But I remember how badly I felt about that house, that rotten, decaying house with the old carpeting. I remember the landlord, a German woman, who always acted as if I were going to stiff her on the rent, even though I never had, and it would not have entered my mind to. Although I was the same person that I had been in Michigan, when I was the wife of a Dow white collar, I was treated quite differently as a single mother of three children working at the local plastics plant as a janitor. I've never forgotten the shame that goes along with that. I've never forgotten what it is like to have no choice.
We've been told, over and over again, that we're making a big mistake with this apartment. We are 'fixing it up too nicely'. As in, people, awful as they are will just 'trash it'. It always pisses me off a little when I hear it. I could not bear to take money from someone to live in a home I wouldn't live in myself. I want it to be nice for whoever gets it. We're putting in washer and dryer. We are paying attention to the details, period lighting, french doors in the bedroom. New carpeting. New bathroom. New tile. Wallpaper, gleaming woodwork, new ceilings, paint, new furnace, air conditioning. A garage with automatic doors.
I think of the elderly lady who wants to rent the apartment so badly that she stops by regularly to see our progress. We've gotten to know her as she checks up on us, and looks around, and visits with us. She's quiet, with a stammer. She's neat (her car is spotless, and friends tell me that when a prospective tenant comes, you should walk them out to their car. If the car is filled with old food containers and other debris, this is always a bad sign). She's also anxious. I recognize the look in her eyes. She's alone too. Her husband left long ago. She doesn't have a lot of money, but she's careful. She has a good heart. She's disabled, but she volunteers at the senior center. She needs a new place to live by the end of October. She's desperate.
I think this: If you are a person inclined to take advantage of other people's desperate times, you're going to find desperate people taking advantage of you at the first opportunity. Nancy is telling us how she wants the apartment, and we are building it to suit. I believe in the end, our consideration will be repaid, tenfold. It's just a theory. I'll let you know how it works out.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Tim will hear an engine rev, and he gets a goofy grin on his face. He always says, "Listen to those horses bark,' and I know he is thinking wistfully of his glory years, and the Camaro he keeps meaning to do something with. I don't understand the link between testosterone and cars, but I reap the benefits of his testosterone, so I surely don't want to complain about it.
Anyways, here's one man's story of testosterone.
"What builds one person's sense of self worth may mean nothing to another. For example, I am male. Getting my hair done or buying a cute new pair of shoes is a complete zero. Nada. Nothing. But having a fast car? Ha! That is pure testosterone! Now, I have been driving around in an old beat-up pickup truck that I bought new about the end of the Crimean War. The radio doesn't work, but it doesn't need to. I couldn't hear it above the rattles. Sometimes I drive my wife's car. It's a recent model family sedan. Read that: boring. But I have had an old VW Vanagon in the driveway for several years that needed a new engine. Last month I got it fixed, and now that is what I drive. Compared to the truck, this van is hot stuff. It's 5,200 pounds being pushed around by a 90-horsepower four-banger, but everything in life is relative. Finally, I'm out looking for trouble. Wanna race?There is no point in challenging the Rice Rockets. Those guys don't play golf. They don't know the concept of handicap. Besides, it has been years since I've seen thefront end of a Honda Civic. No, I was after bigger fish. Like UPS trucks. Sure enough, I found myself sitting at a stop light next to Big Brown. I gunned the engine. He was game. Then the light turned.The race was on! I had him off the line, but he was gaining on me. The VW was screaming through the gears as we were hurtling down the road. Neck and neck! What a race! It was an adrenaline rush like no other. Just as he was about to pull ahead, the UPS driver chickened out. We had hit 40 miles per hour in less than a mile and he didn't have the guts for it. Me and my van had beat somebody! I'm feeling so charged! This is great! I have to do this again. So, who's next? I'm thinking the city bus."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Summer is on its way out the door. Tonight we are supposed to be down in the 30s, with a frost warning. I've pulled the few remaining plants in from the deck. Once we get a frost, my job will begin to wind down. Mosquitoes aren't a big deal after a frost or two. You know, I've been really grieving about my job. Between you and me, there has been a measure of bitterness, and I hate feeling bitter.
Today it struck me for the first time. There's a unrecognized bonus here. I've spent so much time trying to go the extra mile, to do little things that others may not want to do, but that need doing, trying to please people. Knowing I'm not returning, I realized that I'm freed of that. I have but to meet my scope of work. Just do my job.
I have been dreading these last few weeks, suddenly, there is a measure of peace in it. I have but to do my job. The opinions of others do not matter. The politics do not matter.
It's just me, and my work, and these golden autumn days.
I realize that these days are treasures.

Can't Sleep

I have been short sleeped for going on four days. Sunday night was the big storm, and the wind kept me awake into the wee hours. Monday night Stacey arrived home on leave. We have two short weeks with her before she is off to Korea. We stayed up well past our bedtime. Last night was a board meeting which dragged on and on.
I'm tired.
Very tired.
Tonight, I went to bed early. But each time I was about to doze off, the phone chirped. My nephew who was wounded so very badly in Iraq and his wife are expecting a baby. How strange. 27 years ago, I was giving birth for the first time. My sister will be a grandma. Uncle Herman calling to find out about dinner plans on Sunday as the family gets together to celebrate Stacey's time home. I laid in bed watching a full moon rise above the tree line, slipping in and out of a parade of clouds. My mind wanders to other places and other times, and people who've come and gone. Tim snores beside me.
Am I the only person in the world who's awake?
Feels like it.
So I get up to check.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Gimme my Crown!

We've got power again. And phones. Watching all the footage of Hurricane Ike's rampage in Texas, my complaints will seem like mere petulant whining. Our winds only got to 65 MPH, we only lost power for 24 hours, the only damage was fascia torn from one house downtown, and a tree branch which fell away from the house. But Jeanie needs to give up her self appointed 'Drama Queen of the World' title for a few moments.
My jeans were all in the washing machine which stopped midcycle. Yesterday morning, I could not have coffee, I could not take a shower, having a sponge bath with about a quart of water, and I had to go to work to wash my hair. I was packing lunches by oil lamp, and I did not have my customary 'everything' bagel for breakfast. I was flushing the toilets with water from the ornamental pond. The wind was horrible, and I cannot even imagine Michael and his family hunkered down listening to 100+ mph winds. It was a sleepless night here as 65 mph wind roared like a jet plane engine and whipped trees wildly. Imagining even stronger winds? Unimaginable.
This morning I have clean jeans, coffee, bagel, shower, etc. It is quiet outside. I am done with your title, Jeanie. You can now be the Drama Queen of the World again.
PS: The next time that I need borrow the title, I get to wear the crown too.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I heard this story on the local news out of Jamestown, NY. A 'cold' murder case has been solved. In 1971, a 25 year old VietNam veteran was found stabbed to death in a field. Now, all these years later, a 54 year old man has been charged.
Do the math. In 1971, this fellow was 17 years old. I understand that he has yet to be proven guilty, but my mind went wandering off on one of its tangents. How do you keep a secret like that for 37 years? Was he a good guy living life on the straight and narrow, casting nervous glances over his shoulder? Or was he a billy bad-ass? Did he lay awake in the night next to his sound asleep wife replaying the events of that night? Or was he a sociopath who never gave it a second thought?
I'd like to hear the rest of that story.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Here's an FYI for the men out there: If you and your beloved are working on a house together, and your beloved, to surprise you, powerwashes the garage while you are making a trip to Lowe's to pick up yet another thing that you didn't know you needed until you saw that it was on clearance and upon your return, you see your wife standing in front of a half completed garage, paint peelings everywhere, even heavily coating the person of your dear wife because she is standing in the rain, dripping wet, trying to figure out why the stinking powerwasher you bought on e-bay to save a few bucks has stopped running halfway through the garage cleaning process, you should at once, join your voice with hers to bewail the fact that the powerwasher is a piece of crap.
Even if it's not.
Even if later you discover there is a trick to it.
The most important FYI here, is that you should not begin bitching at your beloved in the driveway, commenting on the obvious stuff like the mess, the half completed job, etc., because even the most patient of beloveds have their limits. You might find yourself on the receiving end of another kind of blast as she explains, at full volume, in the middle of the aforementioned driveway 'that she is not psychic and therefore had no inkling that the powerwasher planned to take a break in the middle of the damn job, and why don't you get off her case anyways, because she's not incompetant, it's the flipping powerwasher, and anyone with two eyes in their head could see that.' Or words to that effect.
One last FYI: on a quiet Saturday morning, events like this amuse the neighbors to no end.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Earlier this spring, Tim had come across an interesting ad on the internet. An elderly couple was selling their house. They'd done a lot of updating and replacing only to discover that the home had a black mold problem in the basement. They now live in a mobile home right next to the house, and are selling the house, piece by piece. Need interior doors...they had just installed new ones. How about replacement windows? All new thermal windows. We bought the Trane furnace/air conditioner last spring. Tim and brother-in-law Dave had gone down to pick it up. This time, we were going down to get the bathroom. It was a new bathroom, scarcely used before they had to leave the house. We were also buying a pile of oak trim board. We're in the process of putting a house back together, and Tim just closed the deal on yet another house yesterday. We stockpile home improvement stuff.
This was the first time that I met Merlyn and Margaret. I already felt kind of bad for them. They were in a pickle with that house. All that work, and for what? They had to move out. But Merlyn was just as cheerful as he could be. In fact, he had actually uninstalled the bathroom for us, saving us quite a lot of time. Being the weisenheimer that I am, I quipped, "What? You wanted rid of us that badly?" Oh, he thought that was funny, and next thing you know, we're blabbing away like we'd known each other forever (I may not have mentioned it, but I am a talker. So was Merlyn). And we kept on talking, while we were loading the truck. I commented that it was hard to believe that summer was over already, and we looked around. "Yup," he said, "I have that big old travel trailer out back and we never used it this summer. Not one time." I said that it really had not been a very nice summer for camping. We'd had so much rain. "Well," says Merlyn matter of factly, "I had big plans. I finished my chemotherapy in the spring, and figured that Margaret and I would take the summer for ourselves. Then they decided to do radiation and I went 40 rounds with that." Not sure what to say, I finally decided to be as matter of fact as he had been. "So did they get it?" "Oh, hell, all they were doing was trying to buy me a little more time. Cancer will kill me. It's in my lymph nodes." Awkwardly, I allowed that I was sorry to hear that. "Yeah," was all he said, and then off he went telling me stories about being a soldier in WWII. He'd started out in the Navy, but they tossed him out, but the Army liked him just fine, and sent him off to see Europe, all expenses paid. And we were laughing and working together in the fall afternoon, surrounded by autumn gold.
I thought of Merlyn as we headed home in our loaded truck. Had to leave his home. Looking death square in the eye. Despite all that, just the happiest charactor you ever want to meet. Earlier this week, I'd compiled a mental list of the things that make me joyful, and was surprised to find that not one of those things was unattainable. All of it, already present in my life, just waiting for me to seize onto it. I thought of Merlyn's merry chuckle. Today I learned another thing about joy. It is not dependent on your circumstances.
Joy is a choice. A conscious choice.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering September 11th.

It seems impossible to me that it has been 7 years since September 11th, but I'm sure that the news reports are correct. These are pictures of ground zero from last summer. It's still a busy place. The thing that is most astonishing to me is that this thing happened in such close proximity to scores of other buildings. They still stand, with that gaping chasm, all that remains of the Twin Towers.


I was still working the graveyard shift at a company called Blair, manning the telephones 7 years ago. I had come home that morning and gone to bed as usual. I jerked awake out of a sound sleep when I heard Tim running up the stairs. I remember thinking, "Why is that plane flying so low?" and immediately wondering why I would have thought such a thing even as the door flew open and Tim said, "We're being attacked." I don't believe that anything psychic was going on, but I do believe that we are all subconsciously aware, even from a sound sleep. I reckon that I heard the television news reports, even though the television never disturbed my sleep, that day or any day before, or any day since, for that matter.


I came downstairs in my bathrobe and curled up on the couch and I watched the news that day, the images that day playing over and over and over again. The Twin Towers. The horrified people watching the buildings collapse. The stream of people walking home. The plane crash in Pennsylvania, the Pentagon. I didn't sleep at all. It was a lot to process. I remember being astonished that the high school teachers were instructed not to allow their students to watch the newscasts. History was happening and they had no access to it until later, when they had gotten home and joined the rest of the world transfixed by the events of the day. I just never understood that decision.

I remember going to work that night, exhausted, but thinking this: The phones will be quiet tonight. Who can think about ordering clothes at a time like this? I didn't want to use one of my valuable vacation days, so I went to work. There was a woman, Kathy. She was a huge and flamboyant, dramatic woman, an expert on everything, who was holding forth in the cafeteria that this was a government plot, that she found it suspicious that no Army aircraft had tried to intercept the hijacked planes. She went on a great length about 'the plot', and expounded on the fact that suspicious activity was taking place everywhere, that our country had been infiltrated. She told about her friend who was 'in the police force' had taken part in the capture of two men of Mid-Eastern descent who were loaded down with explosives and preparing to blow up the Kinzua Dam (a local electric generating dam). Of course, that would never make the paper, she told us. Her friend explained to her that they were under orders from the government to keep this information suppressed. Usually I just let her babble to her audience, and inwardly rolled my eyes. This day however, I was cranky and tired, and it burst out of me. "Either your friend is full of shit, or you are. One of the two." She stopped talking and stared. So did everyone else. She insisted that her friend had said two terrorists tried to blow up the dam. I asked for her friend's name. She told me that she couldn't tell us, because 'she was afraid that he'd get in trouble,' reminding us that the the government itself had directed them to keep their mouths shut. I said, 'Maybe I'll just talk to the newspaper and tip them off on this big story,' (which was some bullshit of my own). I said that I was sure that they had an investigative reporter that would be glad to get the story. She began to get decidedly uncomfortable. Taking a sip of my coffee, I said, "Well. I'm pretty sure who's full of shit." I also asked her what she would have had those intercepts do? Shoot down airliners full of people? Then I took my coffee and left the suddenly quiet breakroom. There are some things that I simply cannot understand.
Probably the most amazing thing that night at work was the volume of calls. One after another, all night long. A surprising number of them were from New Yorkers upset that they had placed orders, paid for express shipping, and did not receive the packages that were due to be delivered on September 11th. Boggled my mind. I patiently explained, over and over, that due to circumstances well beyond UPS's control, there might be some delivery delays. One customer was very insistant on knowing when he could expect that package to arrive. Incredulous, I finally said, "Have you turned on your TV today?" There was a pause. Softly he said, "Yes." And then we both cried. At the end of the phone call, he said, "I know that it sounds awful, but I just wanted to hear, from someone, that next week, or maybe the week after that, that things would be normal again. I knew that you couldn't, not really, but I just wanted to hear that." I told him that I understood.
Things did not get back to normal, not for a long time. I remember at Christmas time taking an order from a man who placed an order for boots, and a warm coat with a hood, and gloves. He had them delivered to a restaurant. There was a tremendous amount of background noise that sounded like heavy equipment. He was having trouble hearing me as I verified the information. He explained at the end of the conversation that he worked at ground zero, and that every day he saw a homeless man getting a free meal at a restaurant that provided soup and sandwiches to the workers. He was moved to buy him warm clothing for Christmas, and had worked his plan out with the restaurant owner. He paused and then said, "You know, I used to see homeless people every day and not give them a second thought. September 11th just makes me want to be a kinder person." I told him that I understood.
This morning, traffic was stopped as a parade of firetrucks rolled into a local cemetery holding a memorial service. A flag for each victim has been planted on a hillside. A candle for each victim lined the highway. I was moved by the sight of over 2700 flags fluttering on the hillside, but I don't attend these memorial services. I've never understood the point. I'm not into public displays of grief. I grieve on my own. All these years later, I can still cry about it. Most everyone understands.

Back from Oz

I've been thinking a lot about joy lately, about the things that make me happy, making mental lists: Getting mail. Selecting the perfect gift for a friend. Laughing with others. Laughing by myself. I like to read. I like alone. I like together. I like writing, picking and choosing my words. I like being stretched out in my own bed after a long day. I like the snoring lump next to me. I like tidy. I like listening to music. I like my big taking-over-the-house plants, fresh inside from a summer outside on the deck. I like a wine cooler in the evening, and my own freshly ground coffee in the morning. I like peaches. I like conversations with strangers. I like crisp ironed shirts and jeans. As I mentally compiled my list, I realized that, really, there is an awful lot that does make me happy. I also realized that none of it is unattainable. It's all present in my life, ready to be savored, ready to be enjoyed. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I've woken up to discover that all I was looking for is right in front of me. I feel a little stupid for losing track of it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Bike

Over at Hal's blog, he has a list of quotes, right at the top it lists one from Madeleine L'Engle. "The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you’ve been." Today, for a moment, I was eight again.
I was out and about, in my little red truck, setting mosquito traps. It's fall now, and fall always makes me kind of thoughtful and sad. This year it is worse. I have a job that I love, and that I've been told that I'm very good at, but in all probability, I will not come back to next year. Every day is imbued with this sense of 'we will never pass this way again', and as hard as I try to reach a different conclusion, no matter what angle I'm looking at, the signs tell me that it is time to move on.
So I was setting a trap. It was the end of the day. As I was walking back to my truck, an elderly lady rode by me on a bike. It was a very old bike, in remarkably good shape, though. The front tire was an old one with a wide whitewall. It was teal, with a headlight, and a rack on the back fender that you could strap things to. It had chrome fenders. I stopped dead in my tracks. I had received the exact same bike on my eighth birthday. It made me grin big. How I loved my bike! My dad worked long hours at the steel mill, and my mother did not drive, so a lot of memories circled around this bike. My brother and sisters and I explored the whole length of our very long road, dropping our bikes in the weeds at the side of the road and clambering down the bank to play in the creek that ran beside it. That bike was long summer days. That bike was freedom. That bike was adventure. When I was 12 or so, I fell off my bike damaging myself so badly that I still carry a little road gravel in my hip. It is such a remarkable scar that the Army dubbed it 'an identifying feature', and logged it on official Army records. Nearly 40 years later, it's still there, reminding me of the daredevil that I used to be, before I became cautious. I remember the laughing that proceeded the crash, and the "Watch this!" I remember what it was like to be bold, and unafraid to try new things, and I think about this generation of children, helmeted, padded, cautioned to within a very inch of their lives. I went home that day, crying, got myself bandaged up, and washed off. Birthday party invitations were few and far between in those days. My badly damaged self made it there anyways.
I said to the old lady on the bike, "I have to tell you...that bike brings back some memories." This bike had been her daughter's bike. That little girl had received it when she was about eight, as well. The lady laughed when I squinted at her and said, "Wait...Mom? Is that you?!!!" A woman in her 50s and a woman in her 70s stared at the bike, taking our own different trips back in time. as we stood along the road, chatting. I turned to get on with my work, she said, "You're Debby, right? That woman that writes in the paper?" And I told her that I was. She tells me that she loves to read my articles and looks for them on Saturdays. I thank her, and tell her that she might want to keep reading. I've got this dandy story about a teal bike rolling around in my head.
Today, for a moment, it was my eighth birthday again. I got a bike. A shiny teal bike with chrome fenders, a headlight, and a rack that you could strap things to, or ride a sibling on. Today,
for a moment, I was eight years old again,
and summer stretched on before me as if it would never, ever end.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

New Age

Stacey's birthday is August 27th. Dylan's is tomorrow September 8th. Mike's is Friday, September 12th, and Brianna's is September 18th. When it is all said and done, they've become, in the order of birthday, 26, 22, 23 and 27.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I've been thinking...

I've been thinking that,
it is time for me to begin again.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Begin Again

Brianna and Mike are headed back to Michigan. The message on the answering machine was that Mike finally had a job offer. When I called her, it turns out that they are headed back because Mike has an interview. It's pretty much a done deal, in their minds, because Mike's stepfather works there.
They will be living with his mom.
Begin again.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Stevyn (who is about to be published for the first time), tagged a bunch of us for a meme.
Six dull (but quirky) things about me.
There are so many that really, how do I narrow them down?

I'll give it a try.

1. I'm left handed. This means that 'turn left' and 'turn right' do not come automatically to me. I hesitate, briefly, while I process this. This hesitation pissed off my drill sergeants to no end when I was in the army, and they made me carry a rock in my left pocket. I learned to hesitate faster when I was in the army.
2. You'll never catch me with a beer in my hand. Malt beverages trigger migraines. I am not a fan of migraines. So I leave the beer for the rest of you fine folk.
3. I ate dog meat by accident. I cannot tell you what it tastes like. It was part of a huge meal in a restaurant in the area of 'The Mountain of the Three Buddhas' in Korea. The owner considered us honored guests and brought dish after dish after dish to us. It was nearly a 2 hour meal, with way too many courses to count, all of them savory, all of them good. At the end of the meal, the 8 of us went to pay for our meals. It wound up amounting to something like $6 for each of us, totally, totally worth it. We left a generous tip with the owner and praised the meal lavishly, praised his hospitality, etc. He smiled and smiled and smiled, thanking us back, repeatedly asking if we liked the food, etc. Then he uttered the fateful words. "I very glad. Most American not like dog." The smiles just froze on our faces, and we left the restaurant muttering, "Oh. My. God. Which dish was it?" And nobody could say...there had been so many. And much to our chagrin, we were forced to admit that dog meat must be good, because there was no dish served that we did not like. To this day when I hear the phrase 'good dog!', I usually have a flash back.
4. I am so averse to having my photo taken that I nearly turned down a newspaper column because I couldn't stand to think of my picture on it. I'm glad that I was able to choke back the no.
5. I take comfort in the unchangeable things in my life. This being said, I'm also very fond of learning new things, and doing new things, and seeing new things.
6. I think that everyone has a story, and I love pulling them out of people. I'm married to a man who, as a child, was not allowed to speak when his father was home. (His father was annoyed by chatter). Tim was unnaturally quiet when we met. He's become a talker. Some folks say he took up talking in self defense. I don't understand why they say that...*walks off muttering*
I'm going to tag Hal, Susan, The Brummie, Scotty, and heck, I don't know. Whoever wants to do this thing. There's not much that can top Stevyn's third nipple, but give it all your best shot folks.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Seriously, Tim and I do not argue much. We just don't. It's not to say that we don't disagree. We do. He says what he thinks, and I say what I think, and usually it gets resolved fairly quickly. Tim is a quiet person. I'm a talker. It always amazes me that people think that I wear the pants in the family. If I'm running the show, it seems to me that I'd get my way a lot more than I do. Tim is pretty bull-headed for a quiet guy. That's one of the things that people don't realize about him.
Well, last night, Tim stopped up to his parents' place. His father's got a automatic window not working, and Tim went up to take the panel off the door and replace the motor. He had stopped home to pick up some tools first and to let the dog out.
I came home to the empty house, all agog about my discoveries of the day, and began to tap out the column while charging the batteries for the camera, intending to drive back out for the picture of the 'Vote Right' sign, after I had fed my husband supper.
Tim hit the door and man, he was not a happy man. It took me a minute to notice, because I was talking. (I'm a talker...I may not have mentioned that). In the middle of a sentence, I got a glimpse of Tim's face, and my soliloquy trailed off. 'What's the matter with you?' I asked. 'Where's the dog's collar?' 'Gees. I don't know. (He only wears a collar when he wears a leash. It's dangerous for a dog to be running about the woods with a collar on. My grandpa's dog chased an animal under a piece of farm equipment, and his collar trapped him there for several days. My grandpa discovered Pard and brought him home and nursed him back to good health. Even though I am not a farmer, my dog just doesn't wear a collar much). Anyways, back to the drama at hand. I say, "Why? What's he done?" "The big baby doesn't even go outside for me." Explaining 'that 'the big baby' is very nervous around him because he doesn't like the poor animal, and the dog can surely tell' is a waste of time. We've had this discussion before. It doesn't do any good. Tim is not a dog person. Buck is a stray, abused, probably by a man, mistrusting. I have his trust, and he is a very good dog, probably the best dog I ever had. Anyways, back to the drama at hand. So, I say to Tim, 'What are you mad about? He doesn't have accidents in the house. If he's afraid to go outside for you, what does it matter?' Tim says, 'So you're going to just baby him and let him stay inside all day? He needs to go outside. I'm going to start tying him out during the day.' I said, 'You are not. He's not hurting anything in the house, and he's never been tied out. I'm not budging on that. YOU WILL NOT TIE THAT DOG OUT!' And Tim bellowed, "He's tied out." I said, "No he won't be." And the next thing you know, we were nose to nose bellowing back and forth. "Yes he is." and "By God you will NOT!" "Yes, I will!" "No you won't." and back and forth it went, both of us mad as hell, and yelling at the top of our lungs. Probably about the tenth time, I just burst into giggles. He looked at me surprised. I told him that we sounded like kids. I told him that it was his own fault that the dog was afraid of him, and was afraid to go out for him. I told him that until he took the time to be patient with the dog, he was never going to get him to do what he wanted him to do, and that he had no one to blame but himself if the dog would not listen to him. I also told him to leave my dog alone and that I would put him out when I got home.
Marriage is a funny thing. I've got a good one, but it always is kind of shocking to me when we fight. As always, by the time supper was on the table, we sat down, heavy in discussions about the sign, how the article would be done, what to do if we were confronted while taking the picture, etc. The topic of the dog was done. Buck padded after me for the rest of the night, casting wary glances at Tim. Tim won't tie the dog out. It's one of those things that I am not going to budge on. He knows it. Tim's got his own 'no compromise' zones. We avoid those areas out of respect for each other and our marriage.
The collar was right where it's supposed to be. In the exact same place it always is. Well. It used to be anyways. This morning, I hid it. Just to make sure that Tim understands this is one of those things that I am not going to budge on.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Shocked Spitless

I know that I live in a very rural area. I know that there are lots of racists here. I was raised in a very racist home. When I got older, and joined the Army, I discovered that racism was just one more lie that my parents had told me. Still, I'd be really stupid to think that racism does not exist here. Most racists say their racist comments, but if challenged, back down immediately, explaining they're not racist at all, but...and that 'but' is always followed by a series of rationalizations, most of them biased and ignorant. I've always thought of racists as a bit like cockroaches. They scatter like hell when the light is shined on them. They are courageous only in groups, and they are never willing to discuss their points of view. Instead, they'll stand there and trumpet their right to 'freedom of speech'. Yup. They have freedom of speech. However, so do I.


I know that some of the elderly folks in my church believe that if Obama is elected, it is a sign of the end times. Tim was amazed when I told him that. "Why do they think that?" he asked. I told him that I simply didn't have the heart to ask it, because I just did not want to hear.


Today, though, I saw something that made me gasp out loud. Right there, in the middle of someone's yard, over in Eldred Township, there is a huge handpainted sign on 1/2 sheet of plywood. In big white letters it said: 'Vote Right. Vote White'.


I'll be damned. Hardly ever does a column just fall into your lap....


Did you hear that Hal's blog on the hospital got picked up as part of CNN's report on the children's hospital?
Good job, Hal.
And to think, people, we all knew him back before he hit the bigtime!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Hal Reports

Hal reported on the evacuation from Louisiana.