Amy Abbott

Feb 172018

By PenCooper93 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

February 16, 2018 — I do stupid things.  I’ve contemplated the reasons and developed a list:

  1. Russians disguised as people from Ohio or West Virginia made me
  2. Senior Moment
  3. Hyperspeed Alien Abduction and Return
  4. Genetics
  5. Candy Crush Dependency

Several days ago I realized I needed new pillows.  I like my pillows arranged just so. When the pillows age and flatten out, my system is ruined.  Happens overnight, one night your pillows are fluffy, and eight hours later, utter devastation.

I shopped at Wally World for cough drops and red onions this week, and I thought, I’ll pop over to the Home Goods department and pull two pillows out of the first discount bin I find.  Did I give it any forethought or did I just randomly pull out the first two I saw? (See list above.)

An end cap, labeled “Made in rural China by four-year-olds who haven’t eaten in days” and featuring “Dust Mites and Bedbugs” drew me in.  I selected two, each $2.79.

I didn’t think another thing about it until my husband said before we went to bed, “You gonna lay your head on those things.  They look  disgusting and filthy.”

I consulted with our 82-year-old housekeeper Doreen who advises me like a California psychic. She suggested a “My Pillow.”  She bought one for her husband, and now he sleeps well.  Each pillow has a forty dollar price tag if you can find it on sale. That seemed a little above my current retiree pay grade (ah, for old days when I coveted the Westin Heavenly Bed and accompanying luscious bedding on business trips.)

I figured somewhere between “Not Fit for Homo Sapien Use” and “For the best nights sleep in the whole wide world, try My Pillow dot com” there would be something acceptable to this Purveyor of the Perfect Pillow System. (Sorry for the earworm from the “My Pillow” commercial.)

This ain’t your grandmother’s online shopping trip.  She didn’t have to deal with the Memory Foam Revolution.  We once bought memory foam mattress which came with two memory foam pillows.  For about three weeks, I had a severe asthma attack every night.  After multiple attacks, we figured it might be the memory foam.  By researching, I learned about “off-gassing” defined below by AmericaSleep.


Memory foam smell comes from a reaction called “off-gassing.” If you’ve ever smelled fresh paint, dry cleaning, or the inside of a new car, that’s off-gassing.

New foams and many other manufactured products experience off-gassing. It happens when “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs) break down. As opposed to being stable, these “volatile” (or unstable) compounds break apart, most commonly forming gasses — hence the term off-gassing.

In mattresses, the most common place to find VOCs is in the foam and adhesives. They can include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), formaldehyde, benzene, methylene chloride, toluene, trichloroethane, naphthalene, perfluorocarbons.

We returned the mattress (100-night guarantee) and bought a  foam mattress that didn’t expel toxic fumes.  The vendors insisted we keep the pillows, which even the cats found off-putting.  A new pillow is catnip for a kitty, but not the feral possum smell of the memory foam.

Researching appropriate foam pillow options, I turned to one of the best finance magazines in the world, “Forbes.”  Why not “Good Housekeeping” or “Foam Pillow Monthly?”  (See list above.)  Read “Forbes'” take on the best pillows here.  Between interviews with Donald Trump and discussions about inflation, do editors sit ’round a long, mahogany conference table with their heads bowed on various pillows, sampling the latest wares?

Recommended as the number one pillow for most people by “Forbes” is the  Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow.

“supportive without being too firm or stiff, and testers appreciated that its moldability accommodated each sleeper’s specific contours. The Xtreme Comforts averaged the highest ratings among most of our testers, but it wasn’t everyone’s favorite. So while one of the competitors might be a better pick for you, we’re still confident that the Xtreme Comforts won’t steer you wrong.”

That sounds great, but $49 a pillow was out of this retirees’ annual pillow budget.  (Disclaimer to  friends with $10,000 electronic mattresses and two remotes, a vintage lamb’s wool duvet made by blind Argentinian nuns in the last century and five thousand dollar Icelandic eiderdown pillows: get over yourselves.)

I wonder if the “Forbes’ recommended pillow is pricey (by my low rent standards) because of the extra cost “shredding” the memory foam involves?

  • Who is doing the shredding?
  • Are their bureaucrats in the industry who regulate the conditions of shredding memory foam?
  • Why does memory foam need to be shredded?
  • And the most disturbing question to this asthmatic is when memory foam is shredded by professionals does it disperse more of the toxic garbage including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), formaldehyde, benzene, methylene chloride, toluene, trichloroethane, naphthalene, perfluorocarbons?

Disappointed, I compromised with a set of two Beckham Hotel Collection Gel Pillows, Dust Mite Resistant and Hypoallergenic. That name just implies romance, doesn’t it? The label said, “Made in Denmark by well-fed adults with national health insurance and liberal vacation days.”

Amazon Prime won’t deliver the pillows until Tuesday.  For now,  I’m stuck with Chinese Dust Mites, all flattened out.



Feb 122018

This piece was published on the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Website on February 11, 2018 — The retired life is resplendent with richness and meaning. It does not, however, free one from the tasks of ordinary life. I often must rise from my red velour chaise lounge, set the peppermint bonbons and glass of sherry aside, and attend to the mundane duties of the household.

I am well trained for these responsibilities, having had an All Important Position for more than 30 years, and of course, the Most Important Job of a mother for 18 plus years.

The All Important Position required me to carry a tiny box, a box that sent me messages, much like Billy Mumy on “Twilight Zone.”  I was also expected to know things, and especially important that I answer questions from those who reported to me.

Did I turn in an expense report last July 3? Look it up on your computer.

I can’t, a bear ate my computer, and I must connect to the Mother Ship through your docking station. Now, what’s my password?  Call the help desk.

What’s their number?  It’s 1-800-How-Many-Days-Until-I-Retire?

As a mother in the Most Important Job, I was expected to know things, and especially important that I answer questions from those who once resided in my uterus.

Where are my car keys? On the kitchen counter where you left them.

Where is my Scout sash?  In your closet on the hanger with your uniform.

What did I do with my Biology book? Did you look in your backpack?

These high-level skills now transfer to my Really Important Job as retiree wife, where I’m expected to know things and answer questions from my helpmate of 34 years.

Where are my car keys? On the kitchen counter where you left them.

Where is the can opener?  In the same drawer, it’s been in since we moved here in 1996.

What did I do with my work calendar? Did you look in your briefcase?

My skills, along with everything I learned in graduate school, have increased my value at home beyond answering questions since my retirement. Tonight, I’m descaling our pod coffeemaker.

In the olden days when our coffeemaker broke, we went to Wally World and bought another plastic Mr. Coffee for $20. Our first Mr. Coffee, a wedding present, lasted more than two decades.  The newer ones, not so much.  But for a year of great coffee, $20 is not excessive.

I had to get all fancy when the pod coffee makers came out. Now I’m in descaling hell.  I’m sorry no one was home to hear my obscene-laden cries when I read the instructions, which were glued to the bottle. When I pried them off, they stuck back to back on the Chinese instructions.  Thankfully, I still had the manual from the pod coffeemaker, so there you go.

How to descale a coffeemaker in 143 easy steps:

First, dump all the water out of the coffeemaker. No instructions on this.  I gingerly picked up the red monster, turned it upside down, and poured all the water in the sink.  I’m not sure if there’s a secret reservoir I’m missing.  I then poured in the descaling solution which is made of arsenic, old tires, Pepsi and dishwashing detergent.

The next step is completing two cleansing brews. Thankfully I was doing cleansing breaths while waiting for the cleansing brews. This took about 10 minutes and had it not been for my cleansing breaths, I might have been more irritated.

Instructions dictate the coffeemaker sits with the lethal slumgullion baking inside the reservoir for 30 minutes.

Great, I’ll soon be finished.

Not so fast. Because of the unknown contents of the toxic brew (possibly elephant sperm, pizza rolls, battery acid and dish detergent?), a dozen OR MORE cleansing brews are necessary.  Seriously, what the he** is in that stuff?  Do I really want to drink the coffee that comes out of it after all this?

I have four Wally Worlds within six miles of my house. I could have put on a bra, shoes and my parka, driven to Wally World and purchased a new coffeemaker and paid for it in the regular not the scanner line, gone to Zaxby’s Chicken for a three-piece chicken strip meal substituting cole slaw for French fries, eaten my dinner in the car, driven home, and made new coffee in the time it takes to descale this bad boy.

But I’m going to complete the housewifely job when the 30 minutes is up.  I may be up all night running cleansing brews. This is bad for me because tomorrow I will need considerable energy to rise from my chaise lounge, put aside the lemon drop martini and bruschetta, and head to the deck to clean the ca-ca off the top of the bird feeders.

— Amy McVay Abbott

A retired health care executive, Abbott is a Midwestern writer and author of four books. Her online home is


To see the original posting click here.


Jan 212018

January 21, 2018 — The battle continues. Each side remains vigilant, fighting with weapons, creative and traditional. My objective in this daily skirmish is feeding the birds.

I lack proper tactics because I don’t fully understand the enemy. I am not sure of his motives or his strategy. He frequently changes his patterns of attack.  The birds are hungry.

I refer to “he,” but frankly there are dozens of chunky, otter-sized squirrels in my backyard. I put food out for them under the deck, where the furry beasts can find it, in theory, before they ravage the bird feeders.

We’ve had two feeders in this same place for years. The feeders are attached to a metal hook two-and-a-half feet over the deck. From the bottom of the feeders, it’s a good twelve feet to the ground.

When I retired in October, I replaced both of the feeders. The old feeders were, in a word, disgusting.  I failed to realize the seriousness of the situation and purchased frivolous, brightly colored feeders that were unlike the old ones. Rookie mistake.  Both feeders were knocked down overnight. One was broken to bits, chewed or torn up. Beyond repair. The second one, a long cylinder, was bloodied but not broken.  I hung it back up and tied it to the shepherd’s crook with a bread tie.

At the time, I suspected raccoons and felt confused because I didn’t know how a coon could balance enough on the two-inch deck rail to knock down the feeder. Was it something bigger? Did Sasquatch come out of the woods and merely reach his long, hairy arm up from the yard to get bits of sunflower seeds and grain?

After observing the frequent gymnastics of local members of the family Sciuridae, I knew it wasn’t Sasquatch or an adept rare Indiana bobcat, or even a sure-footed coon. It was Bullwinkle’s friend, Rocky.

I purchased a second feeder, like the cylindrical one that Rocky had been unable to knock down. Securing a bread wrapper around the top kept it in place. He still managed to jump on the feeders and eat the seeds and shake more on the ground.  I posted on Facebook for advice.   Several commenters suggested I leave things alone.  I had not considered this.

I decided to experiment and not fill the feeders every day.  I would not let them go empty, but I had observed that Mr. Squirrel likes a full feeder. Two days passed with half-full feeders. Rocky didn’t show up for those two days.

The feeders were empty this morning. I’m watching for the rapid rodent as I work. We’ll see what happens. Some kind folks suggested that squirrels and birds can live in harmony. I say, harumph but am willing to give it a try.

My desk sits in front of the window, so I don’t miss much at the feeders. This morning the neighborhood cat, a large tom with yellow and white fur, jumped on the deck and went to the feeder. All God’s children are hungry. I’m expecting a giraffe any day now.



Jan 172018

January 17, 2018 — When I was in my twenties, I visited my great aunt Zoe Trucia Evans at her Denver home. Aunt Zoe, my grandmother’s sister, and lifelong nemesis moved to Colorado from Indiana in the 1930s. Zoe’s husband Everett had a respiratory condition and needed the Colorado climate.

Throughout their lives, the sisters quibbled and quarreled over everything, and my grandmother often made disparaging remarks about her older sister.

I wanted to learn, for myself, how truly evil my great-aunt was. I was curious. I started writing to her, and she wrote back and we were pen-pals for the rest of hre life.  She invited me to visit her in Denver.

I flew to Denver from my Florida home in 1985 and found my aunt a lovely and warm person. She told me stories about her parents, my great-grandparents.  She was older than my Grammy and gave me more details about her beloved parents, Kellis and Anna (Long) Hoard.  Both died in the early 1930s, long before I was born and when my mother was a small child.

The visit was so delightful that I went again, and have treasured memories of those visits at my aunt’s little brick home surrounded by my uncle precious and well-tended rosebushes.  Zoe was very different from my grandmother, though they shared the same lively, piercing blue eyes.

Zoe wanted to give me a treasure from her family. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings but I wasn’t enamored with the three- and four-inch-high figurines she placed in front of me on her kitchen table.

“These are Hummels,” she said, “And they are very special to me.  Notice the mark on the bottom.  All of them came from Germany in the 1940s.”

I didn’t know a Hummel from a hummingbird.

Great Aunt Zoe carefully wrapped the seven figurines in a newspaper.  I took them in a carry-on bag back to Tampa.

After arriving home, I flung the bag onto our water bed and told my husband, “You should see these ugly little trolls Aunt Zoe gave me.”

He opened the wrapping paper and said, with incredulity, “These are valuable.  Don’t you know that?  These are Hummels and they are probably worth some money”

My husband knew some about antiques and was fairly amazed about how clueless I was.

I was still unimpressed. I should have paid more attention, but they didn’t ring any bells for me. I stuck them away in my grandmother’s china cabinet and left them there, except for moves undisturbed for thirty plus years.

Last week I decided to move my living room furniture on a whim. This involved emptying the china cabinet and setting its contents out on the dining room table to safely move an empty cabinet.

I moved the Depression glass, the wedding toast glasses, some teacups, and came to the Hummels.  Where there had been seven Hummels, there were now seventeen. How did this happen?  Did I see a lurid glint in the eye of the little pharmacist toward the kerchiefed girl on a swing?

Is it possible a miracle took place on the lighted glass shelves of our china cabinet? What do you think?

Jan 152018

January 15, 2018 — Do you remember the metal ice trays your parent kept in their freezer?  Do you remember the sticky touch of the metal against your skin when you pulled the lever to open the tray?That feeling of metal against skin describes precisely how our last week of cold weather feels to me.

Any time the temperature drops below 40 degrees, I want to turn into a pumpkin (a beautiful round pumpkin that’s sitting in a condo in Clearwater, Florida.)  This is my blog, so I can write what I want, and today I’m going to kvetch mightly about the bitter cold. No, I don’t have to be focused or disciplined on my blog.  Verbal diarrhea, here we go.

Me and Snowman, Walnut Street, about 1962

I grew up in northeastern Indiana, in an area that was not directly affected every winter day by Lake Effect snow, but impacted often enough.  That being said, the Fort Wayne area still had its share of snow and ice and frigid temps.

We were entirely unaware of what a crisis it was.  Snow days at school were rare.  We did not miss church or out-of-town basketball games, because of a little snow.  My dad shoveled our driveway, and we drove.  We didn’t have a snow blade, though sometimes a neighbor would clear out the driveway.  We also didn’t have a vehicle for snow; Dad drove a four-door Chevy sedan and even with no all-wheel drive, we just plowed through.

Dad took care of everything at home; all I had to do was get into the warm car. (Thanks, Dad. At 87, he is still fearless. Yesterday he went to church in five-degree weather and told me he was surprised there were few people there.)

When I went away to college, I learned to despise the cold weather.

Didn’t help that my five years (undergraduate plus one year of grad school) came during several of the worst winters of the last century.  On January 25, 2018, we’ll celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78 (I am most grateful that college students didn’t have SmartPhones then, enough said.)  Ball State canceled classes for five days, Thursday and Friday, and then three days the following week.  I didn’t leave Hurlbut Hall, though I was out with friends as the storm roared in (visiting Mr. Happy Burger in Elwood.  Our every-other-week payday tradition was to visit dives in outlying towns.  We hustled back to campus, via Bob’s Bottle Shoppe.)

1977 was the coldest of my college years. I walked home from my student job every night.  I worked from four to seven as a cashier in a men’s dining hall.  The first three months of 1977 boasted some of the coldest weather I remember.  My workplace was at least a mile, maybe two, from my dorm.  I went to work directly from class, so I carried my big backpack of books.  I wore a heavy parka, blue with an orange lining, a long stocking cap, mittens over gloves, and a scarf.  My boots stayed on all day. Not a Bobbie Brooks girl of the seventies, I wore what many did: jeans, a t-shirt, and a flannel shirt.

One night I walked home, through the Quad, across the Scramble Light, down the slippery hill back of University Hall, and was nearly to the parking garage when I fell.  I slipped and landed on my back, like a turtle.  The heavy backpack hoisted me up enough that I was flailing and unable to get up.  After 7 p.m. on a night where wind chills dove below zero, few people were out.  I thrashed around on the ground, and a random stranger came along and helped me get up.

Those five years in Muncie, while filled with many nights with wind chills in the below ten and twenty range, weren’t enough to drive me out of Indiana. My grandparents wintered in Clearwater, Florida, every year and I visited them frequently, starting with Spring Break 1958.  I loved the Clearwater area and always dreamed of moving there someday.

The winter of 1982 was the last straw.

I was a staff writer at Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne, a regional campus of the two Big 10 Indiana state universities.  I rented a townhouse WITH A GARAGE.  I was so excited to have a garage, having dug my car out of a snowbank many times.  I needed to be at work early, as it was my responsibility to call the media if classes were canceled or delayed.  What I didn’t think about when I rented the townhouse the previous summer, was that the detached garage did not have a garage door opened.  (Making $14,000 a year didn’t allow me the luxury to buy one for a rented place.)  When it snowed, the snow drifted against the door of the garage.  To get my car out, I had to spend an hour digging through the drifts to get my lean machine, a 1981 Chevette, out of the garage.  The garage was not attached to the townhouse and at the rear of the property.  Even when I managed to dig out the drifts, the driveway to the driveway wasn’t ever plowed.  I was better off to leave my car on the street in front of the house.

Every workday in January, February, and most of March, I dug out my car on Woodmark Drive. (Not a part of this story, but when the snow melted, Fort Wayne’s three rivers flooded and the city had a remarkable flood.  My friend who lived downtown stayed with me.  She was a reporter, and later was part of a team that won a Pulitzer for outstanding coverage of the flood. The flood also affected the university; I rode in a boat inside several buildings with our chancellor and a photographer to capture the eerie mess.)

That was enough.  I had had it.  I was going to Florida, come hell or high water (and I had seen both in the first part of that year.)  I started subscribing to the defunct Clearwater Sun and the then-St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), and secured a job as a writer in the Foundation of Morton Plant Hospital.  Morton Plant, at that time, was a 980-bed hospital and was the fourth largest hospital in Florida.

I loved Florida and still consider it my second home.  Circumstances change, and The Love of My Life joined me at the end of 1982, and the rest, we say, is history.  My Beloved went to graduate school at the University of South Florida, obtaining two graduate degrees (after a stint as a third-shift janitor at Morton Plant.)  He wanted to come home, and when he accepted a job at the University of Evansville, we loaded up our ancient Volvo and headed here thirty years ago this month. I can’t say I regret the move; it’s a great place to raise a child.  But every year I have these thoughts of warm sunshine.

Hurlbut Hall fishbowl, January 1978.

God willing, I’m coming back, with the same enthusiasm as spring 1958.  As soon as My Beloved is retired, we’ll go south again for the cold months. You can take the white sand out of my shoes, but the sunshine never leaves my heart.

(And now I have to put on multiple layers of clothing and go outside and feed my own angry birds.)



Jan 032018

January 3, 2018 — My retirement vision hasn’t quite met reality yet.

In my apparition, I’m reading a leather-bound volume of “War and Peace.” I’m writing handwritten epistles to friends with a crystal nib and brown ink from Siena, Italy.  I’m taking long baths, getting frequent facials, and walking briskly in the mall at 8:30 a.m. daily. I’m spending quality time with my husband of 33 years.

In the real world, I’m reading a sleazy, throwaway novel. I’m sending texts. I’m walking to the mailbox.  I am, however, spending more time with my husband.

We sit side-by-side each evening in our circa 1990 green velveteen recliners, struggling for power over the television remote. My husband’s favorites are “Shipping Wars” and “The Curse of Oak Island.”

It ain’t “Masterpiece Theater.”

We watch a driver maneuver an unfamiliar truck from Opp, Alabama to Walla Walla, Washington with a load of Rhode Island red chickens and a 72-hour deadline. The plot must advance. The driver finds himself and 116 screaming hens in Pawhuska, OK  on a Sunday when the feed store is closed.  The high-tension drama keeps me riveted between commercials for a bathroom odor eliminator or the greatest pillow in world history.

Museokeskus Vapriikki [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The chickens arrive in time for us to change the channel to “The Curse of Oak Island.”

The premise of Oak Island involves a supposed buried treasure on an island off Nova Scotia.  Legend says seven people must die before the treasure is found.  Six have succumbed.  I might be the seventh, dying of boredom.

Two Michigan brothers use modern technology to pursue treasure hunters have sought for two centuries.  Mostly, the brothers dig or talk about digging.

To pass the time, I’ve invented an “Oak Island” drinking game. I raise my glass to the words “borehole #9” or “ejection probe device.”

While the show is an hour, usually there are no more than six or eight minutes of real action. A recent episode was painfully slow as it revolved around one of the brothers being bitten by a deer tick.  Lyme disease kept him away from the dig just as two human bone fragments were discovered.

The writers need to spice it up. How about a tuxedoed Big Foot (Sasquatch for the Canadian locals) presenting a letter (in cursive with Italian dip ink, of course) from OJ Simpson admitting he killed his wife and her friend and threw the knife in the Money Pit? Now that would make me sit up in my recliner!

Jan 022018

Fala Jo, 1997 – 2016

Written January 2016, published January 2, 2018 — I am buying Metamucil for our cat as instructed by our veterinarian. Fala, our aging Tom, has gastrointestinal distress.

I’m hiding behind the magazines in the drugstore line, like the pimply-faced teenage hero of “Summer of 42.” I’m stacking random items, a greeting card, razors, gum, and toothpaste, like Herbie in the iconic coming-of-age movie. Can I refocus the clerk from my purchase of a constipation cure, like Herbie hid condoms from his clerk?  I don’t want anyone to see me buying Metamucil, even if it is for Fala.

Sometime in the last eight years, our Empty Nest turned into a palace for this rescue cat. Fala and his littermate Sisy joined our home the day before our son’s eighth birthday. When they came to live with us, they behaved as pets.  We were not their servants.

When our only son left for college 1,100 miles away, my husband and I gained a hole in our heart as wide as Texas. A year later, Sisy died. We were two sad people left with a lonely cat.

Now our son works in the city where he graduated from college. He has a fulfilled, happy life. We don’t want him to return to our nest; that’s not what’s best for him. And we support his choices.

But something has seriously changed. Since Sisy’s death, we’ve crossed over an imaginary line to a place where Fala presides.

Was it when Fala’s arthritic legs could no longer jump on our king sized bed, where he sleeps with us? We bought pet stairs, just his size. Now he can quickly come up to the bed and find his uber-comfy, memory foam bed complete with a plush kitty-sized blanket.

Was it when he cried for food, and we moved his bowl up from the basement to the master bath, along with his water jug that looks like a tiny water cooler?

Or was it when he was just too tired to walk the ten feet to get a drink, and I started giving him a drink from his own plastic glass marked by a Sharpie with “Fala.”

Or was it last week when his Daddy took him to the vet, and we learned that Fala was gassy and constipated? Fala is eighteen; in human terms, that’s more than eighty years old. Perhaps the grand old man needs extra tender loving care.

Or maybe we’re just completely over the edge, awash in grief over our Empty Nest, humanizing this ten-pound ball of fur.

Despite his lack of verbal skills or opposable thumbs, Fala clearly makes his wishes known to the management. We oblige and pamper.

Isn’t that what good parents are supposed to do?

Dec 222017

By The Regina Company (The National Geographic Magazine) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

December 23, 2017–Our housekeeper, who is 82 and has been with our family for 25 years, is here today (Friday). We’re both pretty afraid of her (and you would be, too).  We love her to pieces, but she has strong opinions that we consider, or she will not be happy. We want her to be happy. When it was time for a new vacuum, I asked her opinion.

My Beloved wanted a Dyson, but I honestly couldn’t see it for a home that has less than 25% carpeting.  Our housekeeper wanted a Shark. On Cyber Monday, I ordered the one she wanted which arrived unassembled. Had I purchased at a local store, it still would have come unassembled.  Or as my husband pointed out later, I could pay an outrageous fee to have a 17-year-old assemble it. (In retrospect, the idea is growing on me.)

As I am the most organized person on earth, I started assembly at 10 p.m. last night. The directions were pictures entirely too small for me to see.  I’m not sure I could have seen the diagrams when I was twenty. Tiny, tiny images.

I retrieved my magnifying glass and was able to see the pictures.

The second problem, I am unable to comprehend the pictures.  Ask me to write a ten thousand word essay on vacuum cleaners, and I’m good to go.  Insert part A into part B, and a dark cloud befalls the room.

I could not assemble a kitten without written directions (place tail above anus).

Pictures showed a bolt connects the handle to the body of the vacuum. I put the bolt in the hole and attempted to screw it in with a regular screwdriver.  After finding resistance in the initial twist, any rational person might think, “This is not the right hole.”

No, it wasn’t the right hole.  And it wasn’t even close.  And I got it stuck.

How would you like it if your spouse (who is high on steroids) asked for your help at 10:30 p.m. on a work night? (He’s not retired yet.)  My Beloved nearly stripped the damn thing before he got it out. He was able to persuade the bolt from the hole with pliers.

Then we couldn’t figure out where the actual hole was located. Five college degrees between us and we are completely clueless.  Before I get a lecture on liberal arts degrees, let me state for the record that the only person I know who could assemble this is our nephew who has a degree in mechanical engineering. He’s the one we call when we cannot figure out how to turn the tire pressure light off in the car, and cannot comprehend the helpful 22-minute YouTube video on same.

My Beloved figured out how to attach the handle correctly.  Gratefully, I noted that the handle also faced the correct way.

Time for hose assembly.  Neither of us could understand the pictures.  And what didn’t help at all was that the Easy Start Up Directions and the regular directions had different information.  Somewhere in the Ether copywriters at Shark are laughing their rear ends off, pondering ignorant customers like us.

My Beloved was most patient with me.  The steroids now entirely kicked in, I was somewhat hysterical and singing “Bring me some figgy pudding” out of nervousness.  The steroids are, however, slightly useful because I could reshingle the house if necessary with my colossal surge of energy. My Beloved had many sharp objects in his hands over the course of our time together. He could have quickly (and rightfully, I might add) have stabbed me any number of times.

As the shortest day of the year drained into midnight, we finished.  Well, we think we have completed.

As our housekeeper owns the same model, she can tell us if the hoses are in the right place.  As Tiny Tim would say, “God Bless Us, Every One.”

IF YOU FOUND THIS FUNNY, please share on your social media. Indie writers need love, too.

Dec 132017

Originally posted on Medium December 13, 2017

  1. Twice ousted Judge Roy Moore’s Sweet Home Alabama Christmas Special, featuring the Young Girl’s Chorale of Opp, Alabama sings “Carol of the Children.” Also starring the grown-up Cosby Kids, dancing with life-sized, animated Jello pudding pops.
  2. The com Holiday Program showcases a family uncovering why cousin Eddie doesn’t look like Grandpa but has a striking resemblance to the late Wilfred Brimley.
  3. Old Timer’s Politically Correct Winter Holiday features Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Bernie Sanders reminiscing about a winter solstice spent with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt at Hyde Park.
  4. Bill and Hillary Clinton return to the “Double Wide on the Arkansas River,” the Clinton Presidential Library, in Arkansas Holiday Celebration. Bill and Hill are welcomed by surprise guests Juanita Broaddrick, Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, and Kathleen Willey. Hostess Monica Lewinski closes with” Deck the Halls,” wearing only boughs of holly.
  5. As the last college fraternity in the USA, the boys of Tau Nu Beta at tiny Central Idaho College ring in the holidays with the Party Until You Puke Christmas Special. The 12- underage brothers of TNB highlight drinking songs of times past, including “All I Want for Christmas is Whiskey” and the classic “One more Christmas Beer.”
  6. In A Slovenian Folk Christmas, First Lady Melania Trump shares her childhood dream to marry a man with a gold toilet. On a snowy day, she strolls of Novo Mesto, her hometown, distributing slices of Christmas cake to the villagers.
  7. Barron Christmas Carol – When his family moves from their gilded New York City tower to a white house built by slaves in Washington, D.C., a young lad learns how the other half lives, without gold toilets.
  8. The Asia for the Holidays travelogue tells the adventures of three college basketball players meandering their way through China on less than ten dollars a day. How the lanky superstars get funds for their travels is revealed.
  9. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from this remake of Elf on the Shelf after the initial viewing. Producers placed the diminutive Sessions in hilarious poses, in the Situation Room and under the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
  10. Vice President Mike Pence plays Ralphie in this made-for-tv adaptation of Jean Shepherds’ 1939 classic, A Christmas Story. The script was rejected when the sponsor, the National Rifle Association, demanded young Ralphie pine for an AR-15 instead of an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot, range model air rifle. Sponsored by Indiana NRA.
  11. You won’t want to miss Harvey Weinstein’s Predators Ball live from the steps of the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Dressed in red sweaters and white pants, a quartet of special guests, Matt Lauer, Dustin Hoffman, Mark Halperin, and Kevin Spacey delight the live audience with acapella versions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” A video tribute to the late Hugh Hefner is narrated by Charlie Rose.

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Dec 122017

There was only one real Santa Claus.  He used the pseudonym Phil Steigerwald, but we all knew he was the only Kris Kringle.  He had the roundest, kindest face you’ve ever seen, and welcomed you to his red-covered chair in the middle of Wolf and Dessauer’s Department Store in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His beard was long and fluffy, and his Santa suit felt like lamb’s wool.

We knew him well because every day after school we rushed home to watch him on WKJG, Channel 33.  With his assistant Wee Willie Wand, Santa greeted children of northeastern Indiana and northwestern Ohio for thirty minutes on live television.  How exciting to spot schoolmates on the television show!

For weeks my brother and I anticipated the visit. Wolf and Dessauer’s was an elegant, old-style department store. In addition to Santa’s North Pole, downtown Fort Wayne became an otherworldly place during the holiday season.  A large, lighted Christmas tree towered above Calhoun Street on a platform near GC Murphy’s.

W and Ds store featured magical, animated Christmas windows around the perimeter.  In 1964, I was still seven years away from seeing Disneyland. The windows were worth the wait in line in Fort Wayne’s usually cold December.  Mom dressed us in our red rubber pull-over boots and plaid coats to stand in the cold.

The centerpiece of the W and D outside decorations was a large, lighted Santa and his reindeer hung on the face of the building.  In December 1982 when my husband and I had our first date, we drove to Fort Wayne to see this holiday icon, which was now displayed at the Fort Wayne National Bank.  We walked around, looking at the holiday lights, as snow fell around us.

Seeing Santa was wonderful, and we always had a list of wanted toys to share. Unlike my brother who was terrified of the Jolly Old Elf, I engaged the fat man in conversation until Wee Willie Wand needed to drag me off his lap.  Santa managed to find his way every year to our home, despite lack of a fireplace.

Several years later on a hot summer day, my neighbor Betty Lou Saffer told me there was no Santa Claus.  She had three older siblings, so apparently, the word got out.  I’m still upset about it.


Nov 182017

November 18, 2017 — As a child, I feared a tornado could pick up our tiny  house and send us into the ether, like in “The Wizard of Oz.” The house had neither a basement or a crawlspace. My fears grew after the 1965  Palm Sunday tornado. Our town wasn’t in the path of the multi-funnel event.  In Indiana, 137 people were killed and more than 1,200 injured by ten tornadoes during the late afternoon and evening hours, according to the National Weather Service.

What do I fear the most today? Shortly after I retired in October, I shopped at our local discount store.  I thought of a recent incident. Several days before, an active shooter ripped through the same store in a western state. Police chased him, and he eventually shot himself. The chase was slow in starting as locals drew weapons in this open carry state, mystifying the police about the shooter. According to a “Los Angeles Times” story, “good guys with guns” may have caused additional chaos.

I laughed at myself about my fears going to the store. I just retired from a psychiatric hospital, where chaos is the norm. Few mental patients become violent, but there’s some agitation when troubled individuals are in defined, locked spaces. In the nearly four years I worked in the crisis stabilization hospital, I can count on one hand the times I was afraid. So, I checked that off my list of fears, and I’ve been thinking about what I do fear.

In the early part of my career, I was fearful that my spouse or I would lose our jobs, and not be able to pay our mortgage. (With interest rates above eight percent on our first mortgage, which was a healthy fear.) After several miscarriages, I was afraid I couldn’t have a child. We had a beautiful son, who was diagnosed with autism at age two. I was afraid he would never talk and always be tethered to us.  He grew, language came, and he went from special education to neurotypical classrooms. Would he be okay at church camp for three days? Or on the high adventure trip to Wyoming with Boy Scouts (and no cell phone service)?  Then off to Europe with his high-school French Club for two weeks? And then moving to the East Coast for college, and staying for his career?

Tornadoes still frighten me.  And I’m again afraid of a nuclear bomb blast, just as I was in early elementary school. We drilled in the classic “Duck and Cover” way as if a second grader’s wooden desk shielded us from nuclear annihilation or radiation or the roof falling in.

As an adult, my greatest fear is losing my spouse and our son. My mother is gone now, as are all my grandparents.  My father will be 87 this year; I know it is a gift that he is still with us. Unlike many of my peers, I am not afraid to fly. I can’t say I don’t think about what can happen, but I don’t dwell on it. Flying from Atlanta, Georgia, to Madrid, Spain, in summer 2014, the pilot came on the overhead speaker about three hours out of Atlanta. The little screen map on the seat ahead of me showed we were smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

“We’re going to have to turn all the power off for about 15 minutes,” he said. “One of our engines has gone out, and we have to reboot the computer to get it started again.” Of course, this massive plane could fly easily on one engine. We were not in any danger. Fifteen minutes in the dark makes one realize how little control we have over everything. The power came back on and we had a wonderful time in Spain.

Of course, anything can happen at any time.  I was a fortunate child that all I had to fear in my childhood was bad weather, not abuse or poverty or any of a hundred horrors many children face. 38 Special - FMJ, SP, WC - SB - 3.jpgUnlike children today, I did not have to worry about an armed domestic terrorist coming into my classroom. As a teenager, I didn’t worry that a gunman would interrupt my viewing of “The Towering Inferno” in a theatre. When worshipping with my family at Sunday morning services, we didn’t consider that a shooter could step inside and kill half of us. These are all realities we face today.

I am by no means fearless. I have no idea how I would respond to any of the situations in a school, theatre, or church we’ve seen in our country.  But we cannot let fear run our lives.  We can be diligent and use common sense. And that over which we have no control, we must let go.

A former co-worker of mine was terrified when her high school age daughter attended the last Presidential inauguration. Rumors flourished that protestors might disrupt the proceedings, and my friend was worried something would happen to her daughter, a thousand miles away from her Kentucky hometown of 29,000 people. Her daughter was fine. On the night the daughter was to return with her classmates, a man who shot another man was apprehended in my co-workers front yard. He was discovered in this town of 29,000 people, a town described as “sleepy.”

Most worry is for naught.  While we should not abandon caution, we don’t know our future.  We do not know when the bullets will fly or the cancer cells will turn against us. While FDR’s first inaugural speech quote “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” has become a cliche, the speech bears revisiting.  No one reading this was alive in 1933, but our grandparents and great-grandparents struggled in the depths of The Great Depression.  Roosevelt, who was known as jovial and cheerful in his campaign, gave a stirring speech with many religious overtones. He reminded Americans that they lacked material possessions, not values. He used the forum to remind Americans of how they forefathers struggled to build this country. Rereading that speech tonight gave me additional comfort and insight.











Nov 172017

November 17, 2017,  Three points on the national discussion about sexually inappropriate behavior.

OUR PARTY AT ALL COSTS.  Roy Moore could make love to a sheep on the roof of the Truman Balcony and some Republicans would defend him.  POTUS once said he could shoot people on Fifth Avenue and he would still be loved. Even though some admit that Roy Moore’s behaviors (if you believe his accusers) are vile, they still plan on voting for him.  The one that threw me over the edge was the female governor of Alabama.How can any woman in politics, regardless of stripe, not be moved by the number and similarity of Moore’s accusers?. Better a pedophile than a Democrat?  Seriously?

GASLIGHTING.  When asked why POTUS commented on Senator Al Franken’s bad behavior while not condemning Roy Moore, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “The only difference between President Trump and Sen. Al Franken is that the Minnesota lawmaker admitted he did something wrong.” That is some kind of stinkin’ thinkin’.  Trump has more than a dozen accusers of sexually inappropriate behavior.  We’ve all seen the infamous Access Hollywood tape where 45 admitted he makes advances without permission. (I’m being delicate but I’m talking about the grabbing her by the p@#%* remarks.)  But the difference between the two men is that Senator Franken admitted his errors and apologized, accordFlickr_-_law_keven_-_The_Bear_Necessities_of_Life.....jpg (2924×2496)ing to the Press Secretary.  How will she explain her comments to her children when they are of age?

  1. POKE THE BEAR. I’m disappointed with Senator Franken’s behavior (but not surprised.)  Anyone who is surprised that a prominent white male behaved/behaves this way hasn’t been paying attention.  Or maybe living on the Planet Mongo for the last century. But for POTUS to go after him with the giant logs in his own eyes (sorry but I couldn’t resist using the Biblical metaphor about the log.) seems as ridiculous as poking a hibernating bear with a large stick.  God only knows what will happen next.

Yes, I would like to see Senator Al Franken resign for his sins, despite his excellent record as an advocate for marginalized groups.  But here are my terms.  Senator Franken should resign when 45 does.  Tit for tat.



Nov 082017

REFLECTIONS November 2017

The Raven Lunatic

 Senior Wire News Service — I rarely, rarely comment on our son’s posts. Okay, I break that rule all the time. Last night our son went to see Apocalyptica in Washington, D.C., so I commented on the picture he posted. Do I know Apocalyptica from a hole in the ground? No, but the venue was beautiful.

When a 19-year-old Harvard sophomore created what would become Facebook in his dorm room, could he have imagined its global reach among all ages? A new study from Visiting Angels ( shared the feelings of some millennials who secretly want to unfriend Mimi and Poppa, who they believe, tend to post embarrassing stuff.

According to the study, here are the top no-nos for Grandma and Grandpa:

  • Posting personal stuff: One in four respondents say grandparents post too much information about their love and social lives. (Got news for you kids, Mee-maw isn’t quite walking to the light yet.) More than one-third said their elders post dirty laundry about family feuds or finances.
  • Rant and rave: One in five believe Gram-Gram goes “emoji crazy” in comments or posts, while 33% of respondents say they don’t like it when their elder relatives get too political or go “holy roller,” posting too much about religion.
  • Tread on personal turf: One in four really hate it when Grandma tries to friend their friends, and 30% really don’t dig Grammy or Grampy posting on their timeline. Half of those surveyed don’t want their grandparents posting on their timeline at all (I get that, and no baby pictures either.) Biggest no-no on personal turf: For pete’s sake, Oma and Opa, don’t comment on appearance, hair, weight, or clothing. (That probably leaves out comments about the Significant Other as well, I’m guessing.)

Surprise, Kiddos, We’re Not Going Anywhere!

In 2017, there are 2.01billion Facebook monthly users worldwide. While much public perception focuses on the social media activity of millennials, don’t sell Nana short. Data from Pew Research tells a different story. Among online adults, the percentage of those who use Facebook in the 50-64 age group is 63% and 56% above age 65 in the most recent statistics available.

Marketers should not ignore us. We baby boomers are here to stay and still make an economic impact.

Like many other people my age, I first went on Facebook to monitor our son. At the time, he was a freshman in college, moving 1,100 miles from home. He’s not the type to call or text daily (or sometimes even weekly), so seeing his posts gave us a sense that he might still be alive.

Over time we developed rules. I rarely, rarely comment on our son’s posts. Okay, I break that rule all the time. Last night our son went to see Apocalyptica in Washington, D.C., so I commented on the picture he posted. Do I know Apocalyptica from a hole in the ground? No, but the venue was beautiful. If he doesn’t like what I post, he just takes it down.

Since he rarely comments on my posts, if I need to refer to him I use “Junior.” He’s not tagged and generally won’t see it, as in “Junior met Senator Elizabeth Warren yesterda

Telefon, Nordisk familjebok.png

Public Domain,

y.” This tactic allows the parent or grandparent to brag but keeps millennial eyes off the post. Of course, I’m entitled to this one joy. My cats are all dead; I have no kitty pictures to post anymore. Vacation is but once a year, and I’m not a grandmother.

While baby boomers are active users of social media, it is their children and grandchildren who tend to be the early adopters, especially the millennials.

Dr. Tamara Wandel has researched and published on social media topics since its inception in the early 2000s. “Young people are the fastest growing adopters of the newer online platforms, so they’re very interested in trying out what’s trendy. Young people still check in on Facebook, but they’re more apt to post a quick photo on Instagram, keep up with a daily Snapchat streak with friends, or retweet something on Twitter,” said the professor of communication at the University of Evansville (Indiana). “But Facebook remains the most popular social media platform, and its registered users are more broadly representative of the U.S. population as a whole.

She added, “To put in context, nearly 80 percent of online Americans use Facebook, and for Twitter, the amount is closer to 25 percent.”

While the younger folks may lead the way, seniors will likely be bringing up the rear. A British study reported by the Telegraph noted 4 in 10 baby boomers now use a smartphone, up 11 percentage points in a year, while the use of smartphones among the over-75s has nearly doubled from 8 percent to 15.

Some seniors remain resistant. The Telegraph study noted that half of the over-75 group had “no plans to use the Internet.” In my life, my 87-year-old father has no need for Internet as he has AmyNet and AndyNet (that’s us). When he wants to know something, he’ll call one of his children, knowing we have “the box” in our hands.

How did the Cubs do today? What’s happening in the market? Can you find the address of my sophomore year college roommate? Where did the Lincoln funeral train go in Indiana? (Helps that I’m married to a research librarian.)

But, God forbid Grandpa to call either of his grandsons for the same request or express any interest in going on their Facebook pages. That would just be wrong.

Amy McVay Abbott is a newly retired healthcare executive who can be reached @ravensenior on Twitter or amyistheravenlunatic on Instagram. She is not competent at either technology but gives it the old college try.


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Oct 142017

10/14/2017 — Earlier this week, the President of the United States signed an executive order to cut subsidies to insurance companies through the ACA (Obamacare.)  45 said, “[I am instructing the government] to take action to increase competition, increase choice and increase access to lower-priced, high-quality health care options.” 

These payments are subsidies required by law and will affect, according to Slate, more than seven million people in the United States.  Premiums are expected to rise 20 percent by 2018, and 25 percent by 2020, said Slate.

What is so distressing is that many people will buy the snake oil of “lower-priced, high-quality health care options.”

I’m not an economist or an actuarial, but isn’t the point of insurance  to spread risk over a population? If the community is diluted from those without illness or disease, won’t the usage go way up and thus the price?  If the price goes up, won’t people pay the $600 fee penalty for not having insurance, and use the emergency room?

Image result for morton plant hospital clearwater floridaI’ve worked for more than three decades in healthcare.  Whether you agree politically with it or not, the Affordable Care Act has allowed individuals who lacked insurance coverage access to non-emergency health care.  I’ve witnessed many people getting care at my hospital who would not have had the opportunity before this legislation.  I work in a psychiatric and addiction treatment center.  You can hear about the need for these services nationwide by listening to any radio or tv news show for about ten minutes. You’ll hear about the opioid epidemic in our country. If this executive order is allowed to stand, more people will die of drug overdoses, among other things.

In my job, my team and I visit area emergency departments frequently.  Over the past four years, there’s not an emergency room within 100 miles in every direction that I’ve not visited.  We talk with clinical staff about their needs for psychiatric and addiction treatment, as well as educate on and facilitate direct admits.  Most of the time, the emergency rooms are crowded.  Can you imagine the demand for these services when 7 million people find their health insurance unaffordable?  The mother whose child has strep, the Little Leaguer with the broken bone and the asthmatic will jam the emergency rooms because they don’t have access to private practitioners. Those clinics which provide low-income care and struggle for funding with a patchwork quilt of government funding, grants, and philanthropy will also be more overwhelmed.

The premiums for Obamacare have gone up drastically, and in many locations, are non-existent.  In my county, there is only one provider, and the rates are expensive. There are other ways to address this, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  The result of the new order is that hundreds of policies that don’t address the real need of insurance, pre-existing conditions, will pull younger, healthier people from the group, thus diluting the risk pool.

And there is no need for this.  Despite all its flaws (which are apparent and have been discussed at length) the ACA provided access to a needed population. Letting the air out of this balloon will only force more people to choose care or food and heat, or sit for hours in overcrowded emergency rooms.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We have an excellent, well-run provider network in Medicare, which is a single-payer using market providers.  Why not lower the eligibility age for Medicare to fifty?  The risk pool for the entire Medicare population will be lessened, with healthier people fifteen years and under the current enrollment age.  The risk pool for people under fifty would also be enhanced with healthier people.

I’m not smart enough to know the answers, but what I do know is that we are the only country in the western world that doesn’t ensure that all citizens are covered.  We think it is a right for every citizen to have unlimited firearms and ammunition, yet we cannot guarantee a flu shot.  And if you don’t think a flu shot is essential, check out our history for one hundred years ago in 1918 when the Spanish flu killed more people than World War I.



Oct 062017

October 6, 2017 — This piece is from my first book, “The Luxury of Daydreams,” )2011).

Mature corn, ready for harvest, stands in neat, geometric rows in Indiana fields. The Hoosier sky has gray clouds outlined in an almost black line etched against a blue-green sky. Sometimes the clouds look surreal as if painted with oil tempura on an elegant and forgiving canvas.

I am born again every October. The tenth month of the year is my month. Some find the season of autumn depressing as annual vegetation withers and die.

October’s sights and sounds fill my senses and soul.

In northern Indiana where I grew up, the seasons are more sharply defined than southern Indiana, which is now my home. Harvest is in full force in October if not completed. Beans and corn are picked, winter wheat is planted.

By early October, front porch evenings are waning. As a child, I loved sitting between my grandparents on their front porch swing at Homeland Farm. Our low-tech activity was looking down the country road for headlights appearing at the ridge of the hill toward the state highway.

Late October evenings were too cold for the front porch. Nearing Halloween, we might have a fire in the home’s fireplace, under the mantel of custom-made tiles that depicted family history in Washington Township. My ancestors came to Indiana in 1830. A Hoosier cabinet, a spinning wheel, the old farm bell that now occupies my brother’s backyard, a plow, and an Aberdeen Angus adorned the blue and white tiles on the fireplace.

October was also a glorious month for outdoor activities. Occasionally, the church youth hosted a bonfire in a farm field, with spires of lighter-fluid induced flames lapping at the autumn sky. We seared our Eckrich hot dogs and ate sticky, s’mores made of Hershey bars, marsh mellows, and graham crackers. The best ones were cold in the middle and burned on the edge.
* * *

When I attended college in central Indiana, the old campus was vibrant with color–like a preschooler’s new Crayola eight-pack–throughout October.

I lock my bicycle in front of my dormitory.  Every weekday I pedal through the central campus to the journalism building.  The west campus bloomed with trees and featured old stone buildings from the 1930s.

Riding my bike on a crisp autumn day, I enter the old campus.  I ride into a central green space with paths worn in every direction by generations of students. My bicycle tires crackle through red, maroon, and gold leaves spent from walnut, sycamore, maple, and oak trees, and the breeze gently licks my face.

I ride slowly, hoping the trip never ends.

* * *

Betraying my love of Indiana and October, I move to Florida after college. Every October in the Sunshine State makes me sad. The first autumn away from Indiana my friend Doris sends me an envelope full of dried leaves. The pleasant scent of lovely, crunchy pieces of home is a beautiful gift.

My beloved and I come home to Indiana in October for our wedding. We marry at the same 100-year-old country church I attended as a child. My parents married in this same tiny church more than half a century ago.

An elm tree with limbs that reach prayerfully to the sky in every direction stands in front of the old church. Our wedding afternoon is a perfect Hallmark card cover. The mighty elm shimmers with copper and bronze leaves, still falling.

As the church bell tolls the call for worship, the picture-perfect day fills every sense.

After my husband finished graduate school, we feel the pull of home. We return, with a new life in southern Indiana.  Northern and southern Indiana are almost different states. I do not know anything south of the Old National Road.

While I treasure the symmetry of central and northern Indiana farmland, I love the curves of southern Indiana. My favorite place in southern Indiana is Lincoln State Park in Gentryville, near where Abraham Lincoln lived as a boy. A ribbon of heavily wooded state highway slices through the state park and the Lincoln Boyhood Home National Monument in Spencer County.

Within the park is a pine forest, which as my father told me, is not indigenous to Indiana. Planted in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the trees now rise above the park and offer permanent shade.

We stayed in the cabins many times in October, spending several days in paradise, first when our son was five. The cabins are simple, with furniture like my $100 a month graduate student apartment.

On our visits to Lincoln State Park, we arrive with bags of books, board games, and food for grilling meals outdoors., even breakfast. The beds are uncomfortable, the living room furniture is wooden and stiff, and the kitchen features orange plastic stack chairs. It is not the Ritz Carlton.

Does the Ritz Carlton have a screened-in front porch, and the combined scent of pine trees, dying cottonwood, sycamore, and maple leaves? Can you hike on a quiet October morning around a deep blue-green lake, which reflects the trees and disappearing autumn sun?

Today is October 1st. The month lies before me, rich with unknown experiences. Time to find my favorite sweatshirt.

Updated 2017.



Sep 272017

September 27, 2017 — I woke up this morning thinking about events at Kent State University in 1970. I was 13 years old, a late Baby Boomer, a child in the sixties. (If you don’t remember, read about it here.)

My father taught high school in northeastern Indiana. Some members of the senior class wore black armbands to school in protest of the deaths of four KSU students at the hand of the National Guard. Several, maybe two or three, of these students belonged to the National Honor Society.  The MHS sponsors decided members who wore the black armbands must relinquish their membership. At graduation a few weeks later, the students were not given the NHS cord, nor were their names in the commencement program as members.

My parents felt the students were wrong and should be denied NHS honors at graduation.

Our family watched the bloody horror of the Vietnam War “in living color,” since 1967 when we received a color television for Christmas. Every night on the Huntley/Brinkley news show, we saw death and destruction.

Now four students lay dead on a campus four hours away. Kent State University was similar to many Indiana universities in size and scope, and the four students who died might have been from my hometown. The KSU students did not die half a world away in combat with an enemy in a steamy jungle; they were shot during the day on an Ohio college campus.

Even at age 13, I understood what was happening.  Supporting the protesters felt like we weren’t supporting our soldiers. In our town, we supported our troops. But all over the country, soldiers returned from Vietnam with no support, no recognition of their sacrifice.  Soldiers who were injured mentally and physically were treated terribly by almost the entire country.  Many people could not understand why we were fighting and protested on college campuses and at the White House.  Remember the chant, “Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many boys did you kill today?”  LBJ’s daughters Lucy and Lynda heard that chant from the White House as their husbands, and the President’s sons-in-law served in Vietnam.

The long arc of history does indeed bend toward justice, as Martin Luther King Jr. said.  Today we understand that the Vietnam era was more complicated than the Allies versus the Axis Powers, good versus evil.  We likely should not have been in Vietnam, and most historians espouse that view. Still, we lost 55,000 young Americans in defense of something few can explain.

The act of protest is at the foundation of our country.  The Boston Tea Party was perhaps the first act of protest even before our Constitution and Bill of Rights spelled out the freedoms most of us enjoy.

Despite enormous national tragedy in Houston, Florida, USVI, and Puerto Rico, despite worries with North Korea, despite American healthcare imploding, our country debates whether members of the National Football League who knelt during the National Anthem should be fired.  In my opinion, our precious flag represents the freedoms outlining in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I could understand people being upset if it was a Marine flag, but it is not. Your idea of disrespect may be another’s idea of peaceful protest.

It is the American flag, and it stands for all of us.

It stands for those who fight today in Afghanistan in the new surge, including my second cousin.

It stands for my first cousins who have Turkish names and were called “Dirty Arabs” on a Massachusetts playground as children.

It stands for my second cousin who recently completed a four year tour of duty and now is getting a graduate degree. He wants to serve in USAID. His father told me his son has witnessed evil in the world and now seeks to do good.

It stands for my co-worker who shared she may not have children because she is afraid her children of color may be persecuted.

It stands for my sister-in-law’s father, a Japanese American, who wasn’t recognized for his service in World War II in Italy until President Obama invited him and others from his Japanese-American unit to the White House several years ago.

It stands for the 55,000 men and women killed in the Vietnam war, and the protesters who died at Kent State.

It stands for the ex-soldier and player who stood with his hand across his heart at a game Sunday and for the rest of his team in the locker room.

I believe I will see the arc of history bend toward justice in this situation. I believe that those who feel kneeling opposes the flag don’t fully understand the position started by Colin Kaepernick, a mixed-race NFL player, who also is a Christian.  Justice and equality are what our soldiers fought and fight to preserve; justice and equality are what these players seek for their brothers and sisters of color.  People of color are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by law enforcement than those who are white, reports the Washington Post.

Many, many years after Kent State, my family toured the monuments the weekend of my son’s college graduation in Washington D.C.  My dad wanted to go to the Vietnam Memorial to find the names of three students who died in Vietnam.  For a town of 1400 people, three deaths were three too many. All three of them were in Dad’s classes.

At the wall, a veteran covered with patches representing his service to our country was helpful in finding the three names.  I strolled behind Dad as he touched each name etched in black marble with his left hand and wiped tears with his right hand.  In 2012, he was 82 years old.  He had lived through WWII, Korea, and the Vietnam War.  With the perspective of a lifetime, he had softened his views on the Vietnam War.  Now Dad just felt the loss.

Anyone who visits the Wall immediately feels it.  Maya Lin’s beautiful wall rests in the curve of a hillside, surrounded by beautiful, sturdy hardwood trees. The simplicity of the design overwhelms the viewer with a sense of loss beyond words.

As we think of those who peacefully protest injustice and inequality, let’s open our minds and hearts to the meaning of the American flag, as a symbol of freedom for all Americans.


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Aug 122017

August 12, 2017 — Something terrible happened today in our country, in the university town of Charlottesville, Virginia.  In times like these, we await our leaders for comfort, direction, explanation and possible condemnation.

George W. Bush stood in the middle of “The Pile” after 9/11 and shouted to the world. Ronald Reagan eloquently read the poem “High Flyer” at the memorial for the Challenger astronauts. Both men brought us together at a terrible time.

Today our President needed to comfort, direct, explain, and condemn.  And he equivocated.

I  wondered before our President spoke if he would call out the evil we’ve seen in Charlottesville over the last 24 hours. Before the violence of today, unmasked white men walked the streets of the Virginia town with torches. This is not your grandfather’s KKK.

“Monticello, ” near Charlottesville, Virginia, and home of the third President Thomas Jefferson, a man who owned slaves.

The President of the United States faced a moral test this afternoon.  Would he call out evil?  Would he whitewash is something born of racism and bigotry?

He failed the test.  In his statement, the President of all the people of the United States and territories (including Guam) chose to use the old false equivalency notion, citing an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

Here’s a portion of what he said (quote from CNN) “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides,” Trump said in a short statement from his private golf club in New Jersey. “It has been going on for a long time in our country — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.”

What he says is the worst of false equivalency.  What does our President mean “many sides?”  What is the other side of racism and bigotry?

If you are still reading this, do you know what David Duke said today? Do you know who David Duke is?  Here’s what the former KKK leader said in Charlottesville this morning to open the “Unite the Right” rally.

“This represents a turning point for the people of this country,” said Duke in a video uploaded to Twitter by Indianapolis Star photojournalist Mykal McEldowney. “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said, he’s going to take our country back. That’s what we gotta do.”

Duke wants to “take our country back.”  Hmmm.  Maybe we should give all of it to the native Americans who were here first.

Our President has to speak out against this.  His silence is complicity.

Our silence is complicity. My silence is complicity. Your silence is complicity.

People tell me all the time, “I’m just not interested in politics.”  The white supremacist movement is not politics.  It is terrorism. This is our shared country, we all get to live here.  He who does not learn from history is condemned to repeat it, and we are watching the repeat of some awful parts of our history.  It is 2017, years and years and years past the time of Jim Crow.  I was seven years old when LBJ signed the civil rights legislation. Today our country seemed as eaten up by racism and bigotry as it did when I was a child. But, perhaps because of my privilege, I’m just noticing it more?  What is your story?

You need to be interested in Charlottesville and racism because it continues to tear our country apart.  If you are a white person, you likely did not experience the horrors of the Jim Crow era.   Of course,  some white people marched with Dr. King and worked on civil rights, but for most of us, it is pictured in a history book.  If you are white, even if you are poor you are a person of privilege because of the color of your skin.  Don’t believe me.  Try to hail a cab in a major city and watch what happens.

It took me awhile to understand what white privilege is about and get it through my thick head that it doesn’t mean owning a nice car.  It is about the color of your skin.  Let me say that again; it is about the color of your skin. If you are not brown, you don’t know.

I’ve told this story before, but my co-worker has been stopped three times in six months on the same rural road I use every day.  Stopped for what, you ask?  I think you know.  Have I not been stopped because I’m such a good driver?  I think not.  We are, however, people of privilege, descended from white Europeans who came to this country as immigrants for the opportunities here.  We did not come in the bottom of slave ships.  We were not First Families, original Americans who day by day, year by year, century by century lost native lands.

We must all condemn racism and bigotry.  John Pavlovitz is one of my heroes, and his words are far more eloquent than mine.  Read his piece today and come back here.

The violence today is horrible, and the intent of the event was even worse.

We must speak out against the bigotry. We must not equivocate the counter-protesters with men who showed up armed, in helmets and carrying shields.  Ask yourself again: what does that say about intent?

This morning on television I saw a line of counter-protestors, all men, and women of the clergy, men, and women representing all faiths are also represented in our country.  What courage these people showed.

We are black and white, Hindu and Muslim, Baptist and Catholic, atheist and deist, and lovely shades of brown and pillars of spirituality. We are Americans, a crazy melting pot that still offers the great opportunity and potential.

  • What can we do? We can stop bigotry when we hear it.  In our homes, in our classrooms, in our work spaces.
  • We can support the brave law enforcement officers who fight these battles every day.
  • We can make sure we stay informed and read all that we can about the facts of a situation.
  • We can teach our children that “love is love is love.”  Early today I posted a song on Facebook from “South Pacific.”  “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” reminds us that we have to learn how to hate, “before we are six, or seven, or eight.”  What have you taught your children, or your nieces or nephews, or other children in your life?
  • We can stand up those who spew hate and call it something else, like an opposing opinion.

I didn’t just fall off the turnip trucks; my parents taught me the difference between good and evil and right and wrong. None of us is perfect, but we can learn from our errors and make improvements.

The KKK, the neo-Nazis, and the white supremacists represent intentions of pure evil.  How can anyone, let alone the President of the United States, not condemn them?

Aug 052017

Image result for Olympia manual typewriterAugust 6, 2017 — My husband and I disagree on the exact date we met. In my enhanced version, it was August 16, 1977, the day Elvis died. Makes for a better tale. My Beloved says it was ten days earlier because I anticipated my bridesmaid role in an August 13 wedding.  I like my version better.

Either way, it’s been forty years this month since our journey began.

We met in a parking lot next to the old journalism building at Ball State University, the West Quadrangle (which was new that year, replacing the decades-old famous “journalism houses” behind the Student Center.) Randy Abbott was my ride to the college journalism workshop at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.  Col. Charles E. Savedge (see note at the end of the piece) led the workshop for yearbook staffers from all over the country.

The night before I left,  friends and I spent our evening at the Chug (see Webster’s dictionary definition of college dive bar) for Dollar Pitcher Night. It’s possible I might have been a little hung over the morning we left for Athens.

Imagine if Charles Manson channeled the lead character of “Gilligan’s Island.”  That’s how My Beloved looked the first I time I saw him. I remember, however, his Windex-clear blue eyes under the white Gilligan hat, a cap that covered his mop of black, unruly hair.  How I looked that day is his story to tell.

Gilligan stood beside his car, a vintage black Caddy sedan de Ville, with a red leather interior, broken air conditioner, and a carburetor needing occasional air from the barrel of a 19 cent Bic pen.  He asked me directions.  In his words at breakfast this morning, “You gave me directions, and then like a lazy slug, crawled into the backseat of the car and fell asleep until we got there.”

I instructed him to drive through Indianapolis (completely in the wrong direction and adding hours to the trip.)  Athens.   He was trapped in the front seat with another yearbook staffer, who regularly talked in a high-pitched voice throughout the trip while I snored in the backseat.  We arrived in Athens eight hours later, landing on a dirt road on the opposite side of the Hocking River from the campus.  (This became a long-standing pattern. Now we’ve been lost all over the US and Canada and in multiple European countries, and even Iceland.)

We figured our way over the river without a barge.  As the trip took hours longer than planned, I was miffed.  A friend heard me say, “I never want to see that SOB again,” which she lovingly repeated at our wedding rehearsal dinner seven years later.  I’m calmer now; I don’t shout profanity in public anymore.

I won’t say we are blessed because I think that presumes some arrogance, but I believe that we’re lucky.  And we are mindful on any day that luck can run out.  We’ve been married for nearly 33 years. We have a healthy, smart, funny adult son.  We laugh every single day.  Bigly.  Like every family, we’ve had our trials which I won’t bother to list, but we’ve had great joys as well.  I’m so grateful I saw “that SOB” in the parking lot.

Note: Col. Charles E. Savedge is a legend among high school and college journalists.  I first met him at a high school journalism workshop in 1974, and he was the leader of the workshop Randy Abbott and I attended in August 1977.  The link I posted reprints a 1992 “Reader’s Digest” My Most Unforgettable Character tribute to the Colonel.  Though he is long dead, he also has a Facebook page called “Chuck Savedge Yearbook Jedi Master.”

Several months after the Ohio University workshop, Col. Savedge came to Ball State for a private weekend workshop for our yearbook staff.  Mary Dale Walters and I picked him up at the Indianapolis airport, about ninety minutes from campus.  Neither of us had a car, so we borrowed Jim Grim’s 1973 white Gremlin (which featured bench seats and I am not making that up.)  Near the Pyramids on 465, we had a flat tire.  We replaced the tire (honestly, I think someone stopped and helped us, though I don’t remember.)  We kept the flat and took it back with us.  Somewhere in my college stack, I have a black and white picture taken by another workshop presenter, General Motors corporate photographer whose name I think was Herman Duehrer.  The photo shows the Colonel, Mary Dale, and me She was 19; I was 20.  The Colonel, who was always of undefined age, maybe 40 maybe 70, was incredulous.  This trip was the beginning of a close friendship with Mary Dale Walters that continues.  I am, however, grateful that I’m unaware of other pictures from that era, and grateful we didn’t have Smartphones.

The “Readers Digest” article is on page fifteen of the PDF here.

Jun 032017

Cross-posted on Medium — Every morning when I check the bird feeders, I see a plume from the factories on the river. What’s going into the air we breathe? Will our President’s willful rejection of the Paris Climate Accord make our environment worse?

I’ve contemplated this for years, like most people I’m fond of the elements, particularly air. I didn’t have asthma or allergies before I moved to southwestern Indiana. Even six years in humid Florida, with nature in bloom year-round, didn’t bother my breathing.

On the same day that our President announced the United States would leave the Paris Accord, I started on oxygen. I’m 59 years old. When I woke up and fed my birds, I didn’t imagine my day would end with an oxygen technician explaining tanks and regulators to me. This was something elderly people with congestive heart failure deal with, not me.

And by elderly, I don’t mean 59.

As a child growing up 300 miles from here, high heat and humidity were rarer than a rainy day in June. We didn’t have air conditioning and slept with metal fans in the hallway chugging a breeze into our bedrooms. Every window and door had a screen, and the windows stayed open unless we were on vacation.

My mom rarely used the clothes dryer in the summer. She hung sheets and towels and her children’s clothes on a clothesline, a metal pole stuck into the ground with four increasingly smaller squares of cord. A wooden bucket held wooden clothespins used to keep the items on the line. If she could lure my brother or me away from play, we folded the pieces and put into a wicker basket.

Line-dried objects smelled fresh and wonderful, a scent no miracle product has yet to capture.

Lady Bird Johnson, our First Lady, reminded us all to “Keep America Beautiful.” In elementary school, we talked conservation and natural resources. Parents warned children “Don’t be a litterbug,” a term from a 1961 Disney short featuring Donald Duck.

President Richard Nixon started the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970; the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970.

In 1971, the Keep America Beautiful campaign featured a television commercial with a native American man crying over a landscape filled with trash.

Environmental issues came to the forefront, in lockstep with banning the bomb and the Vietnam War.

Somehow, we didn’t really get the message, and we bought large homes and more than one car, often gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs.

By the time our son was born, smog was no longer something that happened only in Los Angeles.

We owned an above-ground pool we enjoyed with our son and his cousins and friends. In the pool’s later years, the morning brought a skiff of a brown substance on the surface of the water. Once that was removed, the water below was as clean as we had left it the day before.

When we no longer had a child at home, we took the pool down and put up a lilac bed.

I’m not a researcher. I don’t claim to know what comes out in the skies and earth near where I live. But I know that when I was a child or when I was raising my child, we didn’t have 25 or 30 “ozone days” a year. An “ozone day” is proclaimed by our local weather prognosticators when some magical mixture of temperature, humidity, and particulates makes the air harder to breathe. Heads up for young children, people with compromised immune systems, and those with breathing problems.

Every spring, the air is worsened by the farmers across the river who burn their fields and the smoke heads to my town, often warranting alerts by the weather folk.

For me, summer comes with dread knowing I’m hostage in my air-conditioned house and car, and now to a 24 lb. tether I’ve named Mr. Tanko. Not that climbing Yosemite’s El Capitan was on my summer bucket list, but I would enjoy sitting on my deck. That doesn’t happen anymore.

I looked up most polluted rivers and felt sick after learning the waterway two miles from my home is among the most polluted in the United States. I don’t want to live in a cave without power or the wonders of modern life, but I also don’t want us to destroy our planet. Nor do I want to be the personal consequence of our own destruction.

I’m likely preaching to the saved as my grandmother used to say, but our President flipped a giant middle finger to our planet last week. The Paris Accord is not a “deal,” it’s an accord. The dictionary definition of accord means “to be in harmony with.”

Trump’s disregard of the Paris Accord screws over the United States; he’s making a statement that we are less responsible for our planet than the other 194 countries. As for me, I’m a person of privilege who still gets clean water and has the option to stay in an air-conditioned home or car. I’ll be okay.

Our President, with his hasty and likely vengeful decision, took America out of the leadership position for clean energy and sentenced our children and grandchildren to far greater worries.

May 162017

Remarks from Carl Shepherd’s wake, May 14, 2017– Maureen asked me to share a few words tonight. My name is Amy Abbott, and I’ve known Carl for about ten years and known Maureen for nearly thirty years.

The day that Carl and Maureen married was a happy day. I think everyone can agree they each found a fantastic partner.

Carl was, of course, a farm boy from White County. When I met him, we immediately connected as three of my four grandparents lived in White County. My maternal grandfather was born in Reynolds, and my paternal grandparents “set up housekeeping” in Idyville (or Idaville if you are not a local.)

Carl lived a rich rural childhood that influenced his entire life, and he brought these characteristics into his marriage with Maureen.

As a teenager, Carl was an officer in both 4-H and FFA. For those of you who don’t know, 4-H is a national organization, primarily for rural children ages ten to eighteen, that promotes community service, integrity, and learning.  The four “Hs” in 4-H stand for head, health, hands and heart.

While it pains me praise that University in West Lafayette, Carl obviously had to have the smarts or a brilliant head to get through Purdue University.

He struggled with health challenges, particularly in the last year, but he kept his mind healthy and active.  A good fishing outing, dinner with any of his many special friends, traveling with Maureen (which often including fishing, be it on an Arkansas lake or the Gulf of Mexico), studying the Bible with his men’s group, or enjoying his beautiful yard.

The last two hands and heart fully speak to me about Carl’s life.

To build things is a gift.  Carl was gifted.

In all his business dealings, he enjoyed his work and what he could do for his customers. Not everyone is blessed with hands that work in this way.  I know he was on the roof of Brenna and Jamie’s garage just a couple of weeks ago, giving his gift.

When Carl died, the doctors told us his heart was large.

His heart had to be that big for all he held dear.  His lifelong friends who supported him through Shirley’s illness and other challenges. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who had so many friends and knew so many people.  Several days after he died I was having lunch at Jaya’s with several business associates who didn’t really know each other and represented different organizations that had nothing to do with Carl.  Both of them knew him.

His love of the arts which was evident in his home and in conversation and in community support.

His family, both his family of origin and the new one he fully embraced when he married their mother.  His heart was big enough to become Grandpa Carl to Addie and Michael Dylan, and an excellent stepfather to Michael and Brenna.

Just weeks ago, he stood at the altar of Holy Rosary with the family as Addie made her First Communion.

His heart brought things to Maureen’s life that I could have predicted.  Like chickens and an ornery and loud rooster. He encouraged and supported the grandchildren in 4-H and showed up at their events, coming full circle to his own childhood.

Carl was not perfect.  I sometimes questioned his fashion choice of cargo shorts, and he often told some questionable jokes.

My father and brother, being graduates of that University in West Lafayette, really enjoyed Carl.  I won’t forget one day when my dad called me and said, “You won’t believe who we ran into at the Louisville Sheep Show.”  You guessed it, Farmer Maureen and Carl.  I didn’t see that one coming.

We will miss you, Carl.

Carl’s obituary is here.