Amy Abbott

Jan 242019

My son works for a non-profit in Washington, D.C. Thankfully, his employment is not threatened by the now month-long government shutdown. I innocently asked him (rural dweller that I am) if he enjoyed a more leisurely Metro trip into work from his Silver Spring home. He reminded me that Metro depends on rider revenue. He said that trains have fewer cars, which makes the riders just as crowded during rush hour. On off-peak times, he said, trains are hit and miss.

I use this anecdote as a silly example, an example of my naivete about the shutdown. There may be a lot of naivete around, and I’m not just talking about the tone-deaf Wilbur Ross who told CNBC he is puzzled by reports of federal workers turning to food banks and other forms of relief, suggesting they should be able to obtain bridge loans to tide them over until the government reopens.

No, the naivete I’m talking about is how we fail to realize the larger impact of the shutdown on our country. The press keeps reporting on the 800,000 federal workers without a paycheck. What about federal contractors? Vox reported there are about half a million federal contractors who work for multiple federal government agencies, many in low-wage jobs. Workers furloughed, regardless of federal or contract status, may be the heads of household and responsible for other people. They may have child support or help aging relatives. Student loans? Daycare? Medications?

Each worker’s family has an economic impact within their community, affecting businesses, large and small. If they aren’t working, they aren’t buying gas or getting the oil changed in their car. They likely aren’t paying child care, and in the competitive daycare world, their child may lose his spot. If they rent, missing a payment may cause their landlord problems with finances on his end. Like skipping a stone across a still pond, this problem ripples across our communities affecting everyone.

The media reports the larger problems. The reports are more dire with each passing day. As I write this, the crawl (photo below) on CNN says Bank of America CEO Warns of Long-Term Damage to U.S. Economy Due to Trade & Shutdown Uncertainty.

And if are horrified by the one, take a gander at any of these.

Tax funds may be delayed as Hundreds of IRS workers skip work over shutdown. But you get to keep paying your taxes!

Impact of shutdown on research funding. Government-funded research from healthcare to energy and weather impacts all American citizens. And heads up, wash the sheets in the guest room, your daughter who is a researcher in graduate school may need your basement.

Maybe we don’t need the PandaCam but the Violence Against Woman Act, which expired in December, provides needed services for women and children at risk. And federal highways aren’t being repaired; federal parks are overrun with litter. Did I mention the Coast Guard and border agents? And the court system? What federal agencies are responsible for the migrant children we are holding?

In our nomadic society, people fly for work and pleasure, about 1.73 million people per day (this is not new data, because the Department of Transportation is shutdown.) I have at least three family members, that I know of, flying this week. This headline from Time yesterday will make your head snap: ‘We Cannot Even Calculate the Level of Risk.’ Air Traffic Controllers Issue Dire Warnings About Air Safety During the Shutdown.”

Time noted, “Air traffic controllers, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents, transportation security and law enforcement officers, safety inspectors, air marshals and FBI agents have all been caught up in the shutdown, leaving airports understaffed and raising questions about the current safety of the nation’s aviation system, according to the joint statement from National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi, Air Line Pilots Association President Joe DePete and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson. UPDATE January 25, 2019. As of this morning, three airports are on ground stops due to inadequate staffing, Newark, Philadelphia, and LaGuardia (New York).

Do I have your attention yet? If you have a bomb shelter in your backyard leftover from the Cold War, perhaps now is the time to head out. All of this is unsettling and scary, regardless of where we sit in life. What can we mere mortals do?

Yesterday I read an excellent commentary in Sojourners by Adam Taylor, who is the editor. I know American Christianity hasn’t won any popularity contests recently, but before you run screaming from the room, I challenge you to read his article here. Whether you regard Jesus as your Savior or a prophet, let’s think about his example. The most obvious call to action for people of faith is prayer. That not your bag? The article suggests you call, write, visit those folks who represent you in Congress. Here’s the link to find your person in the House. And yes, here’s the handy-dandy link to find your Senators.

Many non-faith organizations have stepped up from retail chains to famous chefs. Most communities have non-profits dedicated to food and housing security.

The real crux of Taylor’s article is that we as Americans have a long history of rising to a challenge. Remembering the Serenity Prayer, what we can control is helping our neighbors in need. This is and has always been, the crux of the American story. I’m not ready to give up on us yet.

Disclaimer: This article is not about the politics that got us here. I have an immense anger about what I see as the problem. This essay is not about that. Please let your comments reflect what I have written.

Jan 212019

I did not start drinking coffee until I went into direct sales. I had no idea what I was missing. Both my husband’s family and my family were religious about their coffee. I was embarrassed once when my brother-in-law came to our house after visiting my husband in the hospital, and We. Had. No. Coffee. Nothing, not even a Sanka envelope. But, as I mentioned, in our forties, The Husband and I both got religion.

Now, we both depend on java in the morning, and sometimes even a second. Before I retired, I ran through a drive-thru (location depending on traffic but could be FourBux, Donut Bank, or McD’s.) Now, the joy of having a cuppa at home, slowly, while watching the CBS Morning News is sublime.

I am inflexible on the subject of mugs. I drink coffee in a mug. Cups are for tea. I discern a difference. I also want a substantial handle on my mug. I also prefer to drink from a mug that is younger than my adult child, who will be 29 this spring. My husband, on the other hand, treasures mugs with which he has an emotional relationship, like the free Cameron Springs Water mug he adores. I got the mug free at a health fair in the 1990s. I think the company has long been out of business or was purchased.

I recently bought four new mugs (two of which are pictured above) which led to my insistence that we rid ourselves of four. Our cupboard space is limited. We have enough mugs for the von Trapp children and most of the Osmonds and their children and grandchildren to join us for morning coffee, with everyone having a mug.

Out went the free radio station mug with the logo worn off that I got in 1980. Out went three matching mugs with tiny handles. (By out, I mean given to Goodwill for any tiny-handed politicians who need them.) I’m expecting a mug with El Greco’s Toledo on it as well as another with Snoopy, the literary ace, typing on his doghouse. Incremental change, that’s my motto.

Jan 182019

Ninety-seven-year-old Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, flipped his Land Rover on one of the family estates earlier this week. Reports say he was uninjured, but two women in a Kia sustained minor injuries. While no fault was cited in reports, MSN notes “Witnesses told the BBC Philip appeared’very shocked’ and shaken after the collision, which caused the Land Rover he was driving to overturn.”

While certainly not the top story on any media outlet in these days of Rasputin, several pundits weighed in on the question that challenges Baby Boomers. Should my aging parent continue to drive? I guarantee you my 88-year-old father and I will have a discussion about this in the next few days, and he will cite Prince Philip’s driving and his age. Never mind the Prince was likely driving with an aide in the wide-open spaces of Sandringham Estate. Never mind he was in a Land Rover. Never mind he was likely at low speed.

My father is a very active man. He lives in the town where he went to college and still participates in college activities. He is very busy in his fraternity which is about three miles from the senior center where he lives in an apartment. Last weekend his area received about seven inches of snow. His 8 a.m. Saturday morning alumni fraternity meeting was not canceled. Dad insisted on going and finangled a younger fraternity brother to pick him up.

While you may think I’m being overly critical, the whole driving thing is something I can fully understand. I have not driven at night for probably 15 years (unless there is a dire emergency, which hasn’t happened yet.) Winter is challenging because where we live on the eastern side of the Central Standard Time Zone, its pretty dark after 4 p.m. This is one of the reasons I retired early.

Dad had a stroke in his eye about two months ago. He recovered, and his eye doctor was amazed at how well he did. My brother and I didn’t want him driving as he recovered. And it wasn’t only his vision — it was his car, a 2000 Park Avenue Buick. If you are unfamiliar with the model, visit any senior center in your area and go to where the residents park their cars. I’ll buy you a cherry Coke if you don’t find at least six of the Park Avenue sedans, in beige, the color of the year. The good thing about this vehicle is that is it the size of the semi-trailers Ringling Bros formerly used to haul elephants to the circus. You can see him coming, as well as keep six sides of beef in the trunk for transport if that tickles your fancy.

Dad’s girlfriend who has a much newer Nissan small SUV (which sits up higher and make it easier to see from the wheel) was the primary driver during his incarceration from driving. He was not a happy camper.

It will be interesting to see if Prince Philip stops driving. While he has people who can drive him around, so does my father. My brother lives a mile away and takes him many places. His senior center has a bus that will take him to and from his doctor’s appointments. (Dad is not a fan because of the six dollar fee and the inconvenience of waiting.) And of course Dad’s girlfriend is happy and willing to be the driver.

Of course, I worry about Dad. But I also worry about the other guy. I don’t drive at night anymore because my night vision is terrible and I’m afraid. Fear is not the right mind-set for driving, but neither is unfounded confidence.

hen I was a child and grew up in snowy NE Indiana, we rarely missed church or a high school basketball game because of weather. My dad always drove a big Chevy sedan. No 4-wheel drive. No SUV. No special traction control. If you went into the ditch, someone pulled you out. It was a small county, and everyone knew everyone. It’s a different world now, and Dad lives in a small city where he doesn’t know everyone.

One must respect the independence driving gives my father and countless other seniors like him. AARP has outlined excellent talking points for the difficult conversation. I guess I’ll forward this along to Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

Jan 172019

For the past year more than half of our calls have been spam — telemarketing calls, health insurance, the service desk for a computer I don’t own, and the like. Most of the time I don’t answer the ringing phone, something as a child I could not fathom.

We are contemplating getting rid of our house phone. It’s not accurate to call it a landline; we’ve been hooked to our digital lines for at least a decade. But since I was a child, I’ve always had access to a phone, either on the wall, a countertop, and eventually, something I could stick in my pocket and carry around the house.

The first phone I remember was in my parent’s home, where we lived from 1959 to 1966. It was a black, dial telephone that hung on the wall in the kitchen. Our number was 4790. The exchange where we lived was so small that everyone had four digit numbers. My grandparents were on a party line out in the country (we lived in town, about 1,200 people). Their number was 4200. My grandfather sold farms, and I cannot imagine that his neighbors on the party line rejoiced over his constant business calls. My grandparents also had an outside ringer which you could hear from the barns, chicken house, garden, and fields nearest the house.

A study in the British Telegraph this month noted that Brits spend only half as much time using landlines as they did six years ago. The article reported that, “The demand for landline calls has dropped from 103 billion minutes in 2012 to 54 billion in 2017, while mobile call minutes increased from 132.1 billion to 148.6 billion.”

People demand instant messaging, instant answers, instant communication in the Internet age. Apparently, old style dialing of a telephone takes too long. Earlier this week, I watched a very funny video on Facebook. Two teenage boys were given a black desktop style telephone (typical to what you would see on any office desk in my early career). They were asked to demonstrate how to use it. They looked for push buttons and didn’t consider dialing the wheel. A failure of imagination, one might say. But I imagine ii someone handed me an iPhone in 1980, I would use it as a back scratcher.

Not having a landline means I will have to keep my cell phone with me wherever I go in our home. Until the batteries started dying in our home phones, we had them all over the house. Rather than replace the batteries or phone, we’ve just gotten rid of them, one by one.

When I was a child, talking on the phone (hiding in my parent’s bedroom, gabbing with high school friends on a one-piece plastic phone that looked like a Space Age hairdryer, was fabulous. Despite my mom’s constant interruptions to “get off the phone,” I enjoyed talking with my friends. A cell phone is not the same level of enjoyment because the coverage varies, depending on your location and the weather. This morning a friend called while driving from the west into Louisville. Having driven that route many times, I knew I would lose her as she made the big wide curve into the New Albany area. Sustaining a conversation is difficult on a cell phone. Maybe that’s why we text? I’m not sure. I’m not a fan of texting, mostly because I can’t really see the type very well.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Talking to high school friends had limitations; in my consolidated high school there were five long distance exchanges. While a close friend lived only five miles away, calling her was long distance. We may no long distance calls in our home, except for emergency or before 7 a.m. when the rates were lower. My mom often called her sister in Massachusetts for a chat at the early hour, and my dad’s sisters called him with family updates that early. Making a long distance call during the day was something reserved for holidays, when one called far-off relatives and the phone was passed around. My mom was the queen of that practice — my brother and I absolutely hated talking to people we didn’t know once a year. We felt like we were being held at gunpoint.

I am newly retired, a little more than a year now. Because my mobile phone was attached nearly 24/7 as a job requirement, I am reticent to keep it with me at all times. I figure people can catch up with me later, via phone, text, Facebook, smoke signals, and worst case scenario, they hunt me down like a dog. Our communications have become so ubiquitous that some of the joy and wonder are gone, no call is special anymore. Most are not even wanted.

So, we will dump our landline in our continued quest to streamline a retiree budget, and I’m not sure that what we’ve lost we didn’t lose a long time ago.

Sep 102018

The hummingbird feeder hangs empty next to feeders full of safflower seeds. In summer, the tiny birds fed for their long trek south. Now, the hummingbirds are gone.

Wiry finches bounce back and forth between three feeders. Birds coast from the outstretched arms of the trees, gliding smoothly for their respite. Bluebirds attend to mealtime as a pack, multiple plain females, and males resplendent in blue wings and orange breast-coats.

The September air holds a tiny hint of what is to come, a reminder that the seasons change whether we want them to or not.

How I will miss the hummingbirds, delicate yet ambitious, fluttering around the bright red feeder.

A male bluebird stands on the deck rail between feeders, enjoying the bounty of seeds I purposely put out. A cardinal joins him, also focused on repast, unaware the hummingbirds are gone.

The world spins, days grow shorter and colder, light disappears. The hummingbirds will return, as sure as I know my lilac bushes will bloom in April.

Walt Whitman mourned in spring,
“When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.”

In autumn, we celebrate harvest, and release nature in a blaze of glorious color. Does letting go ever feel just, in a world full of injustice? It does not, and the September chill will forever remind me of what we lost, just as Whitman mourned in spring.

Jul 222018

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting, people eating, child and indoor

July 22, 2018 — Several years ago my father paid to have all of his color slides put on disk for us.  He had taken more than 500 slides between 1955 and 1969.  I’m not sure why he stopped, except that my brother and I both had Brownie cameras by then and I suspect he thought our pictures were sufficient.  I wish he had kept taking them, though my teenage years are best left undocumented.

My mom, who passed in 2012, gave us the best birthday parties.  With a July birthday, mine were probably better than my brother’s parties, whose birthday is a few weeks after Christmas.

Since my birthday is tomorrow, I looked through the pictures to find birthday pictures.  I came across this treasure that I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before.  It’s my first birthday.  My parents lived in a small, hot, upstairs apartment in a family home.  Can you imagine my petite mom carrying this 30-lb. baby up and down what has been described to me as steep and dark stairs?  My parents left the stroller at the bottom of the stairs.

Things I noticed in this picture:

  1.  My mom is wearing an apron.
  2. I am laser-focused on the cake.
  3. My fingernails, hair, and eyebrows (except for the hair color) are identical to this morning.
  4. The body is fairly matching, also.
  5. It appears there is a wallet lying on my tray table.  Did they give a one-year old money?  Bad idea, especially that one year old who didn’t learn to handle money until she was in her mid-forties.
  6. For her, my mother is tan.  My grandparents had a cottage at Lake Wawasee then, and we spent much time there in the summer.  In later years, Mom would get skin cancer and not enjoy the sun.
  7. My favorite part of the picture is that my mom’s typewriter is sitting on a table behind me.  My mom typed for my dad for his entire career, tests, reports, hand-outs, whatever.  Mom typed them from Dad’s horrendous handwriting.  I’ve inherited that handwriting because Mom taught me to type before I learned cursive writing.  I was in the first grade.  Learning to type early was fantastic because I could type my “stories.”  (Okay, the voices in my head.)

Fantastic to reflect on this picture sixty years later.  I am grateful for many things, for a mother who loved me, for a father who still loves me, for being born into this home where I was never hungry or cold (I won’t say I was never hot, because my parents didn’t get air conditioning until I was fifty).

Jun 262018

Published in the Sunday Evansville Courier & Press – Father’s Day 2010

On the day I was born my father bought a new ’57 pink Chevy. I want to believe the color was in honor of his first girl-baby; frankly, it probably wasn’t. My father—now almost 80—is a pragmatist and most likely bought what he found available on the Chevy lot on the hot July afternoon.

My storybook ideas of life and his stoic realism stand at the heart of our complicated father-daughter relationship. As I’ve grown older, I more fully understand what makes my father tick, and how these lessons of nature and nurture shaped me.

Our childhoods were polar opposites. Neither of his parents graduated from high school—I suspect they didn’t make it through elementary school. My father was born with a disability and spent the first few years of his life in and out of Riley Hospital in Indianapolis.

His family lost their farm in the Great Depression. His father died when Dad was four. Until after World War II, his family worked the fields with a team of horses, and lived off the land without electricity and indoor plumbing.

My dad went to college with funding from Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation, the first person in his family to go. Using his farm experience, he further honed his education and became a high school science and agriculture teacher.

Both of my parents graduated from college, (though I admit suffering through their continual Boilers vs. Hoosiers debates). I was the Baby Boomer, born in the baby bumper crop year of 1957, growing up in a small Indiana town duplicated in numerous television sitcoms. With annual vacations, our family “saw the USA in our Chevrolet.” My younger brother and I enjoyed what the Greatest Generation never had but gave—freedom from want and worry.

No early morning chores in our little yellow prefabricated house—we picked up our toys after the snap, crackle, pop of Rice Krispies and watched Captain Kangaroo on our black-and-white Dumont television set. We played; my father went to work every day.

Dad had the same job for thirty-seven years. In the summer, he helped adult farmers with their financial records. He volunteered as a 4-H leader, church officer and Lions Club Tail-Twister. He carried a “little black book” in which he scribbled in his illegible handwriting all of his commitments, which he then kept.

And he still had the time to take us on walks in the woods, where he knew the color and texture of every leaf mentioned in Fifty Trees of Indiana.

Sunday mornings were for church. No questions. No arguing. As Dad drove our family to the little country church six miles from our house, he commented on the rural scenery, regardless of the season. Winter offered the contrast of bright red barns against snowdrifts. Spring showcased early wildflowers blanketing hillsides with purple, yellow, and pink blooms. In the summer, he drew encouragement when the rains came, then the planting of corn, then cornstalks rising from the rich, black Indiana soil.

And autumn, the season of harvest, is his favorite. He often quoted James Whitcomb Riley, “Ain’t God good to Indiana?” in celebrating the economic and spiritual victories of harvest. He enjoyed the autumn palette painted across golden fields against an orange and red stand of oaks and maples.

I never appreciated this side of my father until I was long past the age of playing chicken with my brother in the backseat on the way to Sunday school.

In my forties, I realized exactly what my father had given me.

When he was a small child, Dad saw a photograph of a painting in a book. The painting featured a group of horses parading through a wide boulevard of the city. On Thanksgiving Day 2000, Dad asked me to help him find a copy of this painting.

While he could not remember the title or the artist, Dad described the painting to me in such vivid detail I could visualize it. He remembered details: the flowing white manes of large draft horses at the center of the painting, the burst of motion as the great beasts moved through the city, the intensity of the handlers. We searched the Internet for hours and finally gave up.

Two weeks later I was visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, wandering through an exhibit on French mid-19th century paintings. After several hours, I experienced “museum fatigue” and nearly left the building.

One more gallery, I thought. I rounded a corner and came into a gallery containing one painting. A work in oil dominated the room, almost eight feet high and sixteen feet wide. A shiver slid down my spine, as this huge painting was exactly as my father had described.

The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur featured a dozen muscular horses on a Paris boulevard. In the center, a white horse reared up and shook his handsome mane. This was Dad’s painting.

I bought a small poster which I gave him several weeks later at Christmas. This was indeed the painting he remembered from his childhood. What long-forgotten book was it from? He did not know.

Standing alone in a New York City gallery that December day, I never felt closer to my father. I’ve never been interested in agriculture. A life on the land never held any appeal for me. But born of my father’s rural childhood was his tremendous eye for beauty, something he has continued to teach me all of my life.

May 062018

May 5, 2018  An original piece published on Humor Outcasts
by Amy Abbott

People often ask me how I spend my time now that I no longer fly on the corporate trapeze. As a dinosaur with a landline, I gab with Rachel from Card Services and “Brian” who wants to help me with my Microsoft computer problems. I chat with many helpful people who have my sole interests front and center. (I have this bridge for sale in Brooklyn, if you are interested.) I see these calls as a form of entertainment, as in…
“Hello,” I answer the landline when I can find a charged phone.

“This is Brian from Microsoft. We’re calling about your computer. Is First Name of Husband, Last Name of Husband Home,” says Brian, who mispronounces our very common last name.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have a computer, and no, Mr. Last Name of Husband Isn’t Here.”
“Does anyone else in your household have computer, laptop or tablet,” he persists, neglecting the common article “a”.
“No, you’ve reached a mental hospital. There are no computers here, too dangerous for the patients,” I say, hang up, and then dial the number to block Brian’s number. The company will call back on another number, probably within a day.

My current most annoying recurring call is from a charity that solicits for breast cancer research, a worthy cause among other worthy causes. My sister-in-law has MBC, and I’m a supporter of anything that will help her and lengthen her life, and those of the many others who suffer from this horrible disease. This group uses a digital recording, engineered to laugh, pause, show digital empathy, etc. And they ask for my adult son, who hasn’t lived here in ten years. I don’t know why I bother to be nice – it’s a recording after all, but I tell the disembodied voice I support the cause of breast cancer research but not this agency. No matter what I say, the voice – as pleasant as my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Reed – keeps coming at me with another lower offer of what I can give today. Whoever records this should be our representative in North Korea.

I have a new strategy now. I don’t hang up, but I say random words like “pineapple” and “effluvium” and “ramshackle” to see if the responses will change. They don’t, and then I hang up. “Effluvium” is particularly fun to say. The cause is good, so it’s sad that this group exploits fundraising for real breast cancer research. I’m sure they are chasing people away with these digital tactics. (My responses are an adaptation of what I learned from my mother who rid herself of persistent Jehovah Witness missionaries by inviting them in for coffee and then reviewing “The Lutheran Witness” while they waited to push “Watch Tower Magazine.” Mom was not unkind, but somewhat devious.)

Yesterday I received a call from my online pharmacy. This is a sore subject with me because my former company, from whom I’m buying COBRA insurance, changed plans in January and didn’t tell me. I spent months sorting through providers and insurers.

The call was recorded and spit out, “This is XXXX, and your case number is XXXXX666XXXXXXXX. Call us back immediately at 800-XXX-XXXX.”
I scrambled to find a pen and paper and scribbled the numbers down, and I called back. The 666 embedded in the middle of the code did not seem to be a good sign. Was this a scam? The person answered with the name of my online pharmacy, and I gave the 15-digit code and was told I owe them $XX. Weird, because when I order, I immediately pay. When I told my husband, he thought I might have been scammed, but I checked with the bank, and it was the appropriate vendor. Whew!

Technology can be a wonderful enhancement for we mere humans. I cannot imagine travel without Lyft. I can push a magic button, and voila a car appears to take me wherever. But I’m so over “Rachel from Card Services” who is insistent that she can get me a lower card rate, on a card I don’t have.

I guess I’m a Luddite, but I don’t want a washer and dryer so difficult to use that I consult the owner’s manual each time I do a load. (Don’t get me started on the K-cup coffeemaker or my new vacuum cleaner.) If this technology is supposed to make my life easier, then why don’t I have “Rosie, the Robot” from “The Jetsons?” A Roomba just doesn’t have that same warm feeling that Rosie gave her family. You have to wonder how Rosie would respond to the robo-calls. Maybe she would relate; they are her own kind. Did I just say something racist about robots?
I could elaborate more on my daily battle with technology, but it’s time to change the ink cartridge in my printer. Now, where’s that owner’s manual?


Amy Abbott is syndicated on Senior Wire News Service and writes for newspapers and magazines. She’s the author of multiple books, and is currently featured in “Laugh Out Loud,” the first anthology of the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop.

Mar 282018

March 28, 2018 — With the annual ritual of baseball’s opening day, hope does indeed spring eternal in the human breast, to quote the poet. New fields of dreams form during spring training in Florida and Arizona where Snowbirds pray an errant ball doesn’t break the windshield of their rented van.

I appreciate the anticipation of the romance of baseball, especially on days when the news is bleak, and the weather is gray. Growing up in a family that loves baseball, I know nothing is as comforting as a lazy afternoon or evening listening to the jabber of a Major League baseball game.

When I was a child, we had an Arvin AM box radio my dad got for college graduation in 1953. My brother and I played catch outside, while Dad listened to Ernie Banks and the boys. The Amazin’ Mets grabbed the “W” in 1969; it was their time. Dad’s beloved Cubbies would not have their day for a long, long time.

While I preferred my family’s visits to the Detroit Art Institute to see the Diego Rivera murals over watching Denny McClain pitch at old Tiger Stadium, some of the love of the game rubbed off on me. I married baseball fan, but his dreams were forged by a Big Red Machine with guys named Rose and Perez and Bench and Morgan. My parents were not wholly shattered that I married out of the Cubs family. It could have been worse. My intended could have followed an American League team.

My father was a high school teacher and took students on senior trips to New York where he witnessed day games at the original Yankee Stadium. Men in white shirts and ties watched guys named Maris and Mantle in the house that Ruth built. At 87, Dad’s lived long enough to witness his beloved Cubs win the World Series. I held my breath for most of the 2016 final World Series game; I wanted the “W” to wave above Wrigley for my father.

I’d been holding my breath since Rick Sutcliffe made questionable playoff pitches and since the unfortunate fan caused a missed catch. I hadn’t breathed since Harry Caray hung from the announcer’s booth swinging the microphone, and a “one and a two. Take me out of the ball game” echoed from the iconic rafters of Wrigley.

My husband and I presented my father with his first grandson on Opening Day of the 1990 season. The Reds won the 1990 series. On vacation in Florida, we photographed our eight-month-old son in his Reds uniform on Clearwater Beach, to honor his first World Series. During his childhood, we visited great American monuments, like the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

Like his father, our son embraces the Cincinnati Reds like a religion, and we return annually to the altar on the Ohio River to hope against hope, that this will again, be the year.

Why don’t more people embrace the slow grace of baseball? The game is easily understandable and requires athletic prowess in pitching, catching, hitting, running and jumping, as well as the slide into base. In a world that moves nearly at the speed of light, who could not enjoy the slower pace of a baseball game, butt in chair, local brew in hand? If you are lucky, your team may even win.

Before the National Football League became big business, Major League baseball was our national pastime. Forbes noted, “The 2017 MLB regular season marks the third consecutive season of total attendance declines and five out of the last six that saw drops.”

Critics often list baseball’s flaws, including the cost of taking a family. MLB may outprice some, but many cities and towns have farm and local teams. If you can’t see the Green Monster in Boston, try the Mud Hens in Toledo.

Spring comes bearing daffodils and optimism. Somewhere a child picks up his first baseball mitt and takes in the magic of a truly American game.

What will the season bring? In our house, it’s all about the Reds. The Reds will go as far as their pitching will take them, my husband says, and he says it almost every year. Snow falls and rivers rise, yet the faithful believe there will be joy in Mudville this year.


Forbes article:

Author Bio

Amy McVay Abbott, a retired health care executive, writes for Senior Wire News Service and has been published in Salon, The Broad Side, Making Midlife Matter, Tribe Magazine, and others. She is one of 40 writers in “Laugh Out Loud,”  the first anthology of humorists published by the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop, University of Dayton, this spring.

Mar 132018

March 2018

A Healthy Age
By Amy Abbott

The risk is higher for seniors, for shingles and it’s unwelcome relative, post herpetic neuralgia or PHN. Researchers, according to the National Council on Aging, have reported that our immune systems may be “awakened” by our aging bodies, triggering a dormant chicken pox virus.

Sixty-year-old M.D. Walters from near St. Louis, was baffled. Pain on one side of her head and ear caused her to lose sleep. A few days later, a rash appeared.

“It was like someone drew a straight line on my neck, and the rash ran on one side of the line,” she said. She knew about shingles, assuming that her chicken-pox free childhood liberated her from the disease. Walters thought she had pinched a nerve at the gym.

A visit to her medical provider affirmed the surprising diagnosis. When the nurse practitioner parted Walters’ hair and saw the rash on her head, she said, “You have shingles.”

Perhaps Walters had unknowingly been exposed to chicken pox from one of her three siblings in childhood. Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). The virus stays inactive in nerve cells after a bout with or exposure to chicken pox. Ninety-five percent of the Americans have the chicken pox virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Nearly 1 million Americans get shingles (herpes zoster) every year. According to the National Institute on Aging, the disease packs a punch with fluid-filled blisters, sensitive skin, and mild itching to intense pain. Some unlucky people may experience hiccups, or worse, loss of vision if the virus gets in the eye. The CDC said the burning, blistering rash lasts two to four weeks, but PHN may cause pain for months. NIA notes that “something between one and five days after the tingling or burning feeling on the skin, a red rash will appear.”

The risk is higher for seniors, for shingles and it’s unwelcome relative, post herpetic neuralgia or PHN. Researchers, according to the National Council on Aging, have reported that our immune systems may be “awakened” by our aging bodies, triggering a dormant chicken pox virus.

For Walters, her medical provider affirmed her quick trip to the doctor enabled rapid treatment. She received a steroid shot as well as an antiviral drug, a steroid dose-pack, and two pain pills.

Walter’s disease process mimicked the typical patient. “The rash got ‘lumpier,’ and formed white blisters, then the blisters dried up, formed scabs, and sloughed off,” she said.

Fortunately, she did not experience any long-term effects, such as PHN. NIA reports that PHN may be the worst part of shingles for some patients with severe pain in the area where the rash erupted.

The area where shingles scab may become infected or develop a scar. NIA recommends
keeping the rash areas clean and using antibiotic cream.

How can you prevent getting shingles? Shingles are not contagious, but the chicken pox virus is. If you have shingles, you can infect someone with the chicken pox virus.

Since 2006, the FDA has approved several shingles vaccines, and the CDC recommends adults over age 60 get the shot. Shots are available through pharmacies and provider’s offices

Am I Covered? (CDC data sheet)

  • Medicare: Part D covers the vaccine, with a possible cost to you, depending on plan.
  • Medicaid: Dependent upon plan.
  • Private health insurance: Most plans cover for ages 60 and up. Co-pay is dependent on your plan.
  • For vaccine assistance programs:

Who Can Get a Vaccine?

  • Shingles can re-occur. The CDC doesn’t prescribe any length of time between an outbreak and getting the vaccine, but recommends the rash be cleared up.
  • If you have not had the shingles, there’s no time like the present. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the CDC on vaccine usage, recommended in October 2017 that all Americans 50 and older should be vaccinated with Shingrix, including those who already received the Zostavax shot (which has been on the market since 2006.)

No serious problems have been reported with the vaccine, though some patients said redness or burning the injection site and some reported headaches.

Individuals with moderate or severe chronic illness, those with severe allergies, or those with weakened immune systems should not get the shingles shot.

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control website at

Amy McVay Abbott is a retired healthcare executive who writes about health care for Senior Wire News Service. She also writes humorous pieces and is featured as one of 40 humorists in the first Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop anthology in 2018.

Mar 132018

March 2018
A Healthy Age
By Amy Abbott

Notify your electric company you are on oxygen. In case of a power outage, you’ll be on the priority list.

An old cliché says, “as easy as breathing.” For millions of seniors, breathing doesn’t come easily without the assistance of oxygen therapy. Our body needs about 22% oxygen, so our cells work correctly, says the American Thoracic Society. Individuals with compromised lungs may not get enough oxygen into their blood and need help.

According to Grand View Research, advances in technology and rising prevalence of the respiratory disease will result in increased growth in the oxygen therapy business. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), will be the world’s third leading cause of death by 2030.

COPD, and other diseases like asthma and congestive heart failure, may worsen enough to require the patient need oxygen therapy.

As someone suffering from chronic bronchitis and asthma for more than 25 years, I had no idea that supplemental oxygen was in my future. When I shared a range of diverse, new symptoms with my pulmonologist last May, he ordered a battery of tests. Only hours later, a home medical technician was at our home with a confusing array of equipment. Like most people, my experience with supplemental oxygen was limited to hospital stays and observing a relative with congestive heart failure.

My husband and I were utterly unprepared for the change in our lives. Nearly a year later, I’ve adjusted, and for the most part, it has not adversely affected my life. And I can breathe easier!


At-home oxygen concentrator: The at-home concentrator, about the same size as R2D2 from Star Wars, is the source for your home oxygen. My machine is loud and hot, summer or winter. I keep mine in my home office close to a wall outlet.

I wear my oxygen all night, and sometimes during the day, depending on weather conditions (extreme heat and cold bother my lungs.)

  • The concentrator requires little maintenance; I wash the two filters monthly with dish soap.
  • Tubing: Tubing (from 50 down to six feet) connects to your concentrator on one end, and a cannula on the other. The cannula fits in your nose.
  • Emergency tank: Power can go out anytime, so most home medical suppliers provide an emergency tank. Mine is a 12-hour tank (based on the oxygen I use). I have yet to use it. The home medical supplier told me it will be replaced once a year, even if still full.
  • Portable oxygen: Initially, the home medical provider brought me multiple portable oxygen tanks, each with four hours’ worth of oxygen, and each weighing 25 pounds.

Still working at the time, I struggled. I needed three tanks with me in the car. Lifting 75 pounds into the car every morning when my oxygen is usually at its lowest was a deal-breaker. As a hospital marketing executive, I attended meetings and facility visits in the community, which meant dragging a tank in and out of the car multiple times a day. This wasn’t going to work for me.

I asked for another option, and now rent a portable oxygen concentrator that makes oxygen from room air. My unit weighs about five pounds and is far superior to the bulky green tanks.

You can rent your device (check with your insurer) or purchase one.

Some Insider Tips

  • Purchase a pulse oximeter so you can monitor your own oxygen use. Some phones have oxygen apps, like the Samsung Galaxy series. Check with your physician.
  • Notify your electric company you are on oxygen. In case of a power outage, you’ll be on the priority list.
  • Place a sign “Oxygen in use” near your front door. Smoking and oxygen therapy go together like kindling and a match.
  • Watch your electric bill and turn the lights off because you’ll see an increase in usage from your at-home concentrator.
  • Tubing and cannulas need to be replaced every few weeks. I pick up a month’s worth from the home medical office. You can also buy them online or in durable medical equipment stores. You may want to try different cannulas as some are softer to the nose than others.
  • Oxygen may dry out your nasal cavities and lead to nosebleeds in some people. Make sure your home is well-humidified or use nasal saline or gel.
  • Always consult with your physician.

Going on oxygen does not mean you are imprisoned in your home. I don’t plan to let it cramp my style. And sometimes it has benefits. Climbing the steep, curvy stairs of a New York theatre recently, I bested my husband to the top (with my portable tank on). That wouldn’t have happened before!

Disclaimer: Your home medical provider may offer you a slightly different set-up or equipment. My choices are not meant to be prescriptive, only descriptive.

Amy McVay Abbott is a retired healthcare executive who writes about health care for Senior Wire News Service. She also writes humorous pieces and is featured as one of 40 humorists in the first Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop anthology in 2018

Feb 242018

February 2018
A Healthy Age
By Amy Abbott

Blister packs reduce the chance a pharmacist will provide the wrong amount of medicine, and make it difficult for illegal operators to substitute bogus products. With blister packs, there is also a reduction in contamination risk.

From Senior Wire News Service — At dinner last evening, my husband asked me, “Did I take my pills yet?” He pulled his little silver case out of his pocket, and sure enough, he had already taken them. Any senior’s daily dance with medications is only a snapshot of a larger societal issue. We make mistakes, and worse, news reports frequently cite the dreadful track record for medication errors by hospitals, pharmacies, and others in the system.

According to a 2016 article in the journal Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives, adverse drug events (ADE) happen during 3.5 million office visits and 1 million emergency department visits annually.

“Preventable medication errors impact more than 7 million patients and cost almost $21 billion annually across all care settings,” reported the authors, “About 30% of hospitalized patients have at least one discrepancy on discharge medicine reconciliation. Medication errors and ADEs are an underreported burden that adversely affects patients, providers, and the economy.”

Enough to make one reach for the jar of leeches the next time you become ill, isn’t it? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes the major causes of errors:

  • Poor communication in a multi-layered system.
  • Ambiguous product names, directions, or use of medical abbreviations not commonly understood.
  • Poor procedures or techniques.
  • Patient misuse because of misunderstanding product use directions.

Across the prescribing chain, mistakes happen – in the initial packaging, repackaging, dispensing, administering, and even in the wrong use by a patient.

A federal agency, known as the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) is, according to the FDA, charged with preventing medication errors before a drug’s approval. They also evaluate, monitor, and act on reported medication errors, educating health professionals, and sharing information with those invested in preventing errors.

The bottom line is that errors can happen at any link in the chain – during a pharmaceutical trial before the release of a new medication, or in your bathroom when your partner hands you tonight’s medication.

Technology May Be a Game-Changer

Two uses of technology may reduce medications errors and provide designer drugs for individuals. Writing for the American Enterprise Institute’s “AEIdeas,” Roger Bate suggested that improved packaging may reduce errors.

“My criticisms of individual pill distribution is not with the pharmacist. All humans make mistakes, but the U.S. approach treats the patient as largely passive in the whole process.” He continued, “With professional packaging and branding, patients are more likely to see if the medicine is not what they were told it should be by the prescribing physician.”

Bate suggested that blister packs reduce the chance a pharmacist will provide the wrong amount of medicine, and make it difficult for illegal operators to substitute bogus products. With blister packs, there is also a reduction in contamination risk. Bate noted that Amazon recently announced it was jumping into the pharmaceutical pool, selling medicine in the blister packs popular elsewhere in the world.

My question is, will a drone deliver my eye drops? I was reticent to move to mail order, fearing what would happen to the drops on a postal truck in a humid Ohio River Valley summer. Now I will worry that the drone will drop my drops on my roof, necessitating a ladder adventure that surely isn’t good for my health.

Seriously, with the 800-lb gorilla presence of Amazon in our economy, this could be a game-changer. A recent US News report outlined how DNA-specific medication can help doctors treat a patient’s condition based on changes in their genetic make up. The MyCode Community Health Initiative, based at Geisinger Health Systems in Pennsylvania, catalogs the DNA of 150,000 volunteers. If genetic changes are found in conditions associated with a patient’s particular DNA mix, patients are notified.

The source used the example of a 58-year-old Pennsylvania homemaker who had her DNA tested in April 2016. The My Code Community Health Initiative notified her that she was a carrier of a gene that might cause breast and ovarian cancer. The patient had her ovaries removed, and doctors found a golf-ball sized tumor. She had been asymptomatic.

While this illustration is only anecdotal, the point is made that technology offers space-age options that we could not have imagined as children. Designer drugs, made especially for us, can reduce the margin of error, but we still have to take the right pill at the right time.

For further information see discusses ways to prevent personal medication errors.

Amy McVay Abbott is a newly retired healthcare executive who writes about health and wellness issues. Visit her at

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.

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.

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

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.”

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