Thursday, 03 April 2014

The Miracle Dog

By Vicki E. Jones

Fianna, our large black Lab-cattle dog mix, was given to us by our daughter Amity back when Fianna was 18 months old and Amity was moving to an apartment complex that did not allow pets.

We had a large, fenced, back yard to offer and a wooded walking trail right next to our house. Next to the walking trail was a creek that a black Lab mix would want to dunk herself in and she did. She was young, agile, happy, active and healthy.

Fianna was seven years old when she began to develop a troubling cough and began to wheeze. Our veterinarian took a chest x-ray and told us that Fianna had emphysema. Our home had always been smoke-free so her diagnosis was quite a shock.

We were told that her health would deteriorate quickly and she would die within a year. She would have to take the same medications that humans take for emphysema for as long as she lived.

Over the next several months, Fianna’s emphysema progressed at a slower rate than predicted and while her cough got worse, she wasn’t that bad off.

At about that time, we noticed that the cheap, foreign-made, vinyl floor tile that my husband, Terry, had installed in the entry way,  itchen and breakfast room areas was starting to yellow in patches and looked just awful. He had installed it just a few months before Fianna was diagnosed.

Disgusted with the time he had spent installing it and the money we had paid for the tile - a close-out lot with no warranty - Terry tore out the vinyl tile, purchased ceramic floor tile and spent ten days installing it himself.

Within a few weeks we noticed something strange: Fianna’s emphysema was getting better instead of worse. Her symptoms were starting to subside.

Over the next several months, we noticed that Fianna continued to improve. Her coughing subsided almost completely and when she did cough it was very mild and brief. Her wheezing disappeared.

When she returned to the veterinarian for an annual checkup, he said she was so much better that she no longer needed a chest x-ray.

Astonished, I told him about the floor tile and how it appeared that the vinyl tile had triggered the emphysema. He agreed, and told us that Fianna was a miracle dog.

The years rolled by. Fianna’s emphysema did not get worse; it remained mild. We knew that each year was a gift, an unexpected gift, and were amazed as she got older and older.

Of course, she eventually developed problems of old age. By 13 she was deaf and I had to communicate with her by clapping loudly at close range, whistling loudly and using a dog-training clicker at close range.

She became very arthritic and had to go on several more medicines. A few months ago we had to add monthly shots for her arthritis.

Fianna is old and arthritic and can’t do what she used to do. Sometimes she collapses in the hindquarters where she is weak and arthritic. She follows us around the house since she needs to see us because she can’t hear us. She can’t get up on the bed and has to sleep on cushions on the floor.

But each day is a gift. She still enjoys life, goes for walks, loves treats and still slurps my arms endlessly as I scratch and pet her at bedtime every night.

Our veterinarian was right: Fianna really is a miracle dog. And today is her birthday.

Miracle Dog

So Happy Birthday, Fianna. And it is indeed a very Happy Birthday because today you are FIFTEEN. You are a 15-year-old miracle dog and we give thanks for each day. And for all the years we have had your love and companionship All the years we were told, so long ago, that we would never have.


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Wednesday, 02 April 2014

Pearls and Princess Pumps

By Janet Thompson

Mother’s mother, who cared for kinfolk and two boarders, wasn't comfortable entertaining. The first-time Sunday diners included my soon-to-be dad, his mother Nana, my grandfather Dada, Mother’s two sisters Maye and Peg and Mother.

Nana arrived dressed fashionably, hatted and gloved. The uneasy conversation didn't relax much during the meal as she viewed herself as classier than her hosts, the rowdy and unruly Irish bunch.

Nana took off her gloves, kept the hat on, only moving the veil aside to eat. Mother’s family had never seen such a display before.

Nana loved feeling silk, velvet and the royal look of purple. Pearls and matching earrings were elemental to her attire. Her black shoes were the mid-heel closed pumps favored by royalty. I call them them Princess Pumps.

She always wore a veiled hat and appropriate gloves. Average height and a round body defined her. Graying to early snow-white hair was always coiffed in the latest styles.

A working woman with two children, she never earned much money. She left Daddy’s father when Daddy was about eight or nine. Daddy’s older sister, Nona, later left home early and married young.

I easily understand how burdensome it was, divorced from an unsuitable choice, as Nana quietly endured a social stigma.

Nana remarried in 1924 and had another son, my Uncle Alfred, five years older than I. Excessively protected, he attended his first party only to look after me.

I learned to love classical music at Nana’s, putting Red Seal records into the top of her tall, round, mahogany Victrola. Nellie Melba, Enrico Caruso and the majestic sounds of the New York Symphony kept me busy and quiet. My Victor Book of the Opera that came with Nana’s Victrola is in my bookcase.

Mother finally got to know Nana better after Daddy’s stepfather died young. I remember that sad day. Everyone loved him because he was jolly, generous and caring. He gave me my first bike for riding to Nana’s.

Nana never drove so Mother insisted Nana buy a car and learn to drive. In a brand-new Plymouth, Mother taught her to cruise all over. Alf only got to learn when I did.

After we moved to Fort Collins, Nana brought Dada and drove from Denver to see us. Daddy asked when they had left. On the two-lane highway, Nana had shaved the normal drive-time down by about 20 minutes. My friends have often called me “four fast wheels,” but the title originally belonged to my Nana.

Living alone (at 18, Alf joined the Army), Nana’s fridge held maybe an egg, a wrinkled piece of fruit, stale bread and perhaps some orange-dyed margarine. She hated cooking for herself and eating alone. She did, however, take many pills, lining the bottles up like soldiers at the dinner table.

Nana was born in the 1890s and died in her mid-70s. Like her generation, she was closemouthed, never disclosing her age or anything personal. She was insular, protective, even secretive.

She'd always worked for doctors as a receptionist-helper. Discretion was a perfect fit for that job.

Nana loved dinner at Auntie Peg’s. When presented with an attractive dish of food, her pithy comment always was, “I could eat a horse and chase the rider.”

Uncle Joe would secretly put a shot of bourbon in her Coca-Cola. She'd then, happily with gusto, savor two platefuls and gladly take home any leftovers.

Years back, “up tight” described folks like Nana. To me, she always seemed and acted old. As she aged, she developed a severe “dowagers hump.” Mother described her as “wizened up.” We believed she suffered from malnutrition and from working for doctors with their pill samples, from over-medication.

On my wall hang Nana’s old pince-nez glasses next to a 101-year-old oval, brass-framed picture of a four- and five year-old. Daddy’s wearing a longish jacket and short pants and Aunt Nona, a lace dress under a humongous hair-bow. Both wear white stockings and black patent-leather shoes. Other reminders of Nana are everywhere.

It was rare to see Nana display real happiness or joy. The few times she did, it was always with a refined degree of elegant panache.

I envision Nana in heaven wearing royal purple velveteen, pearls and Princess Pumps, silver hair perfectly coiffed in her veiled hat, mingling with the hoi polloi, particular about her companions. Her gloves are off only to savor the hors d’oeuvres and the main course.

She‘s probably still pretending she doesn't know the Coke is spiked.


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Tuesday, 01 April 2014

Just Another Challenge

By Johna Ferguson

One never knows in life what’s around the corner.

Before the latest corner appeared, I was happy with the way things were going. My husband, my second, a Chinese and I were living in my fully paid for co-op in Seattle. We knew we must eventually face what to do in later life if our health failed but for the time being we are as healthy as most people in their 80s.

I go to yoga and exercise classes five times a week and Zhou plays pickle ball three times a week and rides his bike to do all our shopping. Life seemed easy and money-wise, very manageable.

That was until his daughter came to visit this past spring.

She felt we should have a larger place with room for live-in care if needed for she didn’t like the idea of us moving into a retirement home. Chinese children of past generations have been raised under the filial piety custom, a Confucian philosophy that they must take care of their elders.

She decided to buy us a condo with two bedrooms and two baths so if we needed a caregiver that person would have a place to stay. She told us we could pick the location since she wasn’t familiar with Seattle so we set out to look.

We found one three blocks away just across the street from the retirement home where I go to exercise daily and on many more bus routes and closer to a variety of shops and services for my husband.

The condo also had a washer/dryer, gas cooking, an elevator and two covered parking places for family and guests. Since we found one that it fit into her budget, she bought it for cash.

She said I should sell my co-op and since I would have money in hand I should pay the new condo homeowner’s dues, yearly real estate taxes, insurance, phone, electricity and internet. Well, that did not set right with me but Zhou volunteered to pay half of those bills since he has his retirement in China which is now convertible to U.S. dollars.

He moved in in June and I often walked back and forth for meals. I wanted to wait for the real estate market to raise some before I sold my co-op so it wasn’t until the middle of October that I put it up for sale. It sold to the first person that looked at it and I even got my price.

Now all this sounds rosy but let me tell you, it wasn’t. When the inspector looked at the condo, before his daughter signed the final papers, there were several things to be fixed. The former owners agreed and fixed all the problems but in reality one has become a constant problem.

One toilet was leaking so the owner’s plumber fixed it. Later it leaked again, so the realtor called her plumber and he again repaired it. But even he did not fix it because this past week it started leaking again. The realtor called her plumber again and now he says it is fixed, but we’ll see.

Early on Zhou was using the washer but failed to check his pockets and a nickel got loose and jammed the water outlet. I had to call a service man to the tune of $125 to repair it.

Then the gas stove burners would not always ignite. I called another service man at $125 only to find we must buy a new stove as the present one was too old to repair. Down went another $800.

Added to this, before we moved in I bought a new dishwasher as the old one might leak and a new stove fan powerful enough to take out Chinese style cooking odors. All this came to another $1800. I will go into debit if anything else happens.

But in a week we are returning to China for a month. The co-op sale closes the day we come back and the new buyer moves in the 8th. I have movers coming the 6th. I just hope our plane isn’t held up by all the pollution Beijing has been having or we will be in trouble. I will be exhausted after the long flight, but hopefully the movers can manage it all.

I think I will need another vacation when all this over. I am sure it has taken a few years off my life, but then life is full of challenges and we must take them as they come. No one ever promised me a rose garden but I wouldn’t mind having a few smiling dandelions.


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Monday, 31 March 2014

Spring

By Norm Jenson of Mostly Anecdotal

I was sitting on a park bench, a gentle bit of gravity holding me in place, when I heard a robin singing, an American Idol.

He sang his song, hitting all the right notes, and while I saw other birds and heard other songs, it was his that nested in my heart.

A start. A gentle breeze unaffected by my bit of gravity passed by, and the sun, perched upon my shoulder shared its warmth.


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Friday, 28 March 2014

Before Nail Guns Were Invented

By Carl Hansen

Some weeks ago, I read a news item about a man who committed suicide by shooting himself with a nail gun. Alhough I have seen these tools in use in recent years - most recently when our roof was re-shingled after a damaging hail storm - I have never owned or rented one, and using one for self-harm seems almost impossible to believe.

I learned how to use a hammer from my father long before nail guns were invented. The only danger from using hammers in those days came from the possibility of swallowing one of the nails some carpenters liked to hold in their clenched teeth or, of course, smashing a finger if it got in the way of a descending blow.

Little did I know that the fact that Dad took time to teach me the proper way to hold a hammer when I was very young would later pay off in a big way when I became a carpenter’s apprentice.

The Monday after summer vacation began and I was old enough to do so, I followed my Dad’s advice to check in with the carpenter’s local to see if there might be area projects needing an apprentice. I was there when the doors opened, dressed for work with my tools and a lunch box in my car.

Almost immediately, a call came in requesting two apprentices be sent to the same construction project. Since there were only two of us on hand that morning, we were both sent on our way.

When we arrived, we were assigned to work with a journeyman carpenter. He ran the big Dewalt power saw cutting plywood and two-by-fours that we then nailed together to create the forms used when concrete was poured for a bridge being erected on the northeast side of Denver.

When lunch time came, the experienced carpenter alerted us to the fact that the “super” on the project needed only one apprentice. His practice was to ask that two be sent out from the union hall so he could observe their work skills and make a decision on which one to keep on the job.

We were told that shortly before quitting time that afternoon, he would be stopping by with a check for the one he had decided to let go.

By that point in the day, I had learned enough about the other apprentice to realize that he had a few more years of work experience as an apprentice than I. Thinking I would be the one sent away, I resigned myself to the idea that I’d be heading home and then would have to go back again to the union hall the next morning hoping another construction project in the area might need my fledgling skills.

But around 4:00PM when the “super” appeared, he did not call my name. It was the other apprentice who gathered up his tools and headed for his car.

Relieved, I finished the work day and was told what time to be on hand the next morning. Along with the relief, however, was the question of how and why the super had asked me to stay when the other apprentice seemed to be far more experienced than I.

A few days later, I worked up the courage to ask how he made his decision. The answer made me ever-so-thankful for my dad’s patient instruction the first few times I picked up a carpenter’s primary tool.

“It’s quite simple,” he said. “Someone taught you the correct way to hold a hammer. You hold yours at the far end of handle. The other apprentice choked up on the handle of his hammer almost to its head. You can’t get enough leverage that way to drive nails into a board.”


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Thursday, 27 March 2014

A Scientific American

By Susan E. Swanberg of The Fourth Helix

My father didn’t go to college but he was a scientist. After he died, I inherited his old copies of Scientific American dating from the 1960s to the early 2000s.

Dad could be a prickly man, and we were estranged when he died. His death came as a surprise to all of us because we thought he was made of more durable stuff. I’d hoped there would be time to mend things.

Soon after my father died, my mother presented me with a trove of his magazines saying, “He would have wanted you to have these.”

I gasped as I thumbed through each dusty issue and recalled how Dad had planted the seeds of a scientist’s curiosity in my young brain, seeds that would blossom years later when I returned to school to study for a PhD. in genetics.

I remembered some of the covers — the image of a seagull on the cover of the October 1967 issue, the pre-Columbian medallion on the cover of the April 1966 issue and the salmon in a water tunnel on the cover of the August 1965 issue.

I recalled how each magazine would sit proudly on our coffee table until the next month’s issue arrived.

As I examined my father’s collection I saw on each cover, recorded in his precise handwriting, notes about the stories that most interested him. Each note elicited a memory or revealed something new about my father.

“Holograms” he scrawled on the February 1980 cover. He and a buddy invented an aircraft trainer, the first that used holographic images he would tell me.

My father was trained by the Navy as an electronics technician. After his honorable discharge, Dad was hired by AMF, the company that invented the electronic pin spotter for bowling. Dad mastered calculus, physics and optics on his own.

Although he did not have a college degree, Dad made his way into the aerospace industry. Eventually he became a licensed engineer and by the end of his career his business card said “Senior Project Scientist.”

My father’s favorite section of Scientific American was The Amateur Scientist. “Seismomoter” [sic] he wrote on the cover of the September 1975 issue. Inside at page 183 was a seismometer design, the design my father probably used to build the “earthquake detector” he kept in the backyard of his southern California home.

vNotes about lasers appeared on the covers of a number of issues. In our living room for many years sat what he called his “laser.” I never saw a demonstration but I have no doubt that it worked.

When he died, my father had over a dozen patents in his name and the name of whatever company he worked for at the time each invention was conceived. Dad never made any money off of those patents.

Some of the cover notes were cryptic: “Lemon meringue pie,” “Judo,” “Sailing,” “Hang gliding.” The pie was probably a reference to my father’s favorite desert, which my mother often baked. Were the other notes about dreams unfulfilled?

I’ll never know now but when I pick up one of the brittle magazines, I can imagine how excited he must have been when a new, shiny issue of arrived in the mail.

Sci Am montage


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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Where are You, Zsa Zsa?

By Marcy Belson

High School. 1953. Spring.

Sarah was on the yearbook committee. She was the smart one in our group of six. The teachers and staff loved her. She was serious, she was an officer on the student council, she was destined to attend nurses training as soon as we graduated.

Serious Sarah.

Her dad had a new Buick, the one with the big chrome portholes on the hood. It was a tank. Six of us could ride in comfort.

vvvThe problem was, who could pick the princess of the yearbook? Usually, it was some person in the community, someone with prestige. Sarah had heard that Zsa Zsa Gabor was vacationing at a spa in Scottsdale.

She managed to get a phone number, called and talked to some assistant to the great star. Sarah's plan was to persuade Ms. Gabor to look at the photos of the three contenders for the title of the princess of the yearbook.

I guess the prince had been chosen; that was not a problem for Sarah.

She was instructed to be at the gate to spa on Saturday morning, 11AM. The great Zsa Zsa would pick a princess. Easy as pie.

We were Juniors, not impressed with much except ourselves, but a movie star - that was worth the trip to Scottsdale, an hour away.

I had lived in Arizona for three years and had never been to Scottsdale. Back then, I think it was still a hidden getaway for the elite, staying behind gates and tall adobe walls.

Saturday morning, Sarah picked us up, all of us dressed for the occasion. Summer dresses, our best shoes, our hair shiny and curled. We all smelled to high heaven of Elizabeth Arden carnation perfume and cigarettes. We smoked, our parents smoked, the movie stars smoked. We thought we were so sophisticated.

Sarah had a map and she managed to find the hidden spa with the big wrought iron gates. The guard told her he would call Ms. Gabor's staff and see if we were expected. There we were, six silly girls thinking we were going to have an experience of a lifetime meeting a star.

Oh, the let down. It was hard. The guard came back to the car and informed us that Ms. Gabor's personal assistant had told him that she was busy with other visitors, some press person, and unfortunately would not be able to see us.

That was simply unacceptable. Sarah reasoned with the guard. We had driven for an hour, we had the photos for Ms. Gabor to look at and chose the princess. It was something that would only take a few minutes. We would all wait in the car, -anything, anything. We couldn't go home and admit defeat.

Well, we were defeated. The guard wasn't impressed, Zsa Zsa was not impressed.

Sarah, to the rescue.

Her next move was to head for the state government buildings downtown. She was on the move, looking for anyone working that morning, anyone, someone to pick a princess from the black-and-white photos.

She went alone into the building. I mean, there were no cell phones in 1953. She just went inside and started talking her way into offices. She finally found someone working on that Saturday morning.

She laid the photos on his desk and said "Pick one." He did, and we had a princess! I have no idea who the man was, maybe someone in the legislature or maybe an assistant. Could have been a janitor. I don't know.

It didn't matter. We were successful. We drove back to Casa Grande with a princess for the yearbook.

I never did like Zsa Zsa Gabor after that day. Who did she think she was?

Sarah did go to nurse training, married and became wealthy. Money is the best revenge. We never discussed the day we tried to visit Zsa Zsa.

Over the years, I've wondered if she really found anyone at the state building to pick a photo. She may have done it herself.


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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Winning the Lottery

By Clifford Rothband

At my age, I'm trying to keep positive. I am always looking back over incidents and occurrences that about flattened me at the time. I can only laugh at how trivial they really were. And it's all true.

It was the mid-nineties, just around Thanksgiving time. We had a small business designing, selling and installing custom window treatments - draperies, blinds and interior fabrications.

No matter how hard one tried to please customers, one can't please everyone all the time. There are some who only look for fault most often as a scam so as not to pay or to renegotiate a contracted price. Which always held a smallest margin of profit since it was a very competitive business.

Or the client and spouse had a different idea how a custom finished installation would look in there house. We often had problem customers. We usually resolved the problem on the spot. But, this time, one of our elderly wealthy clients who paid for the education would force there grandchild, the attorney, to sue us in court.

Now reflect that the judge from the popular TV series program about small claims court was one of our clients and everything that they ordered came in wrong. Yet they told us not to worry. They taught me this acronym – SNAFU.

Things happen. It wasn't our fault and they paid us the balance on the promise that we would correct any and all problems. This family turned out to give us sterling recommendations and I stand indebted to them. Repeat business often depends on how well we handled problems.

Now it's Monday before Thanksgiving and we got served with papers that we defaulted on a court appearance, that the corporate veil was ignored and a judgment and lien has been placed on an individual name.

Litigation. It is part of business but to sue a mom and pop business in another state and without giving due notice is about as low as one can go. Thankfully, it never did go anywhere.

The good part. We had purchased a Florida Fantasy Five ticket in the supermarket. Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving we go to buy a few last-minute items and check our lottery tickets.

We got a winner!

The cashier tells us to sign the back before somebody steals it or you lose the ticket. In the excitement the name signed is the same as appearing on the judgment. Shoot!

On Thanksgiving day, we call the lottery commission offices. Questions, how can we cash in? What is the cash prize? To my astonishment the lottery office is closed until Monday.

These thoughts rush through my mind: Some one is going to share our winnings by default. Our business is teetering and we just get by - we sure can use the winnings. Hot dog, our ship has come in! Maybe a vacation or pay off some debt. Maybe a new delivery vehicle. So many dreams and things we do really need can now be bought. Holy cow!

The following Monday morning is slow after the holiday so we drive to the lottery office about 30 miles away. “Hey,” we screech as we enter. "We got a winner!"

We fill out the tax forms, the excitement and frenzy, how much did we win? Now the bad part. There are at least 20 other winners and one-third is held back for taxes. All that anxiety over nothing.

Yes, a winner but not even enough money for a new car or even a vacation. Poo. But we got teeshirts proclaiming that we won and a cute picture.

What memories.


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Monday, 24 March 2014

Daybreak

By Chlele Gummer

Open the doors to the fading night

To hear:
The pulse of the crickets.
The first trill of the watchful bird
Testing its voice in the dark silence
Cueing the others waiting in hushed suspense.

To see:
The last star boldly gleaming in the east
Tenaciously holding its place
Against the persistent swell of the light.
Shadows of trees wait in dramatic silhouette
For the light to return to them their substance.

To feel:
The moist, cool air as it wafts and wanders into the room
Invisibly flowing and billowing around my feet.
It awakens and arouses my heart,
Quickens my breath and urges me to sing.

To sing:
As the light methodically invades the night,
The chorus of the living increases.
Each small voice joins the others
In the cacophony of sound,
Celebrating and consecrating our renewal
In the return of the sun.


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Friday, 21 March 2014

There’s Nothing Wrong in Being Old

By Marc Leavitt of Marc Leavitt's Blog

There’s nothing wrong in being old,
It comes to all, if truth be told.
The young think that the old are done,
And should stay home, their races run.

Our lives are chapters in a book,
And each one’s worth a second look,
The pages full of joy and strife,
All aspects of a busy life.

The young grow old, and once were young,
The fact on which the story’s hung;
No use to grumble or to fear
The story’s end, when bedtime’s near.


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