The Nut House

Did I mention that I’m married to an architect? Probably. He’s a very good carpenter too. He gets ideas for projects. My life is good because of this man, but it’s even better because of these two aspects of him. There are bookcases in the living room and dining room, a fabulous sewing table (that I showed you in a blog), a writing trailer at the farm in Wisconsin, my daughter’s porch, my son’s kichen design and basement design, and all sorts of very cool stuff. He even designed an amazing easel that tilts for our friend Meighen Jackson. 

He makes regular trips to IKEA to hunt through their markdown room for some treasure he can turn into something else. When he came home with a flower pot (orange clay) that he was going to turn into a bird house, I swear to you, I did not roll my eyes. He then disappeared into the garage and got his power tools whirring and buzzing. 

So for a year now we’ve had a very cute birdhouse attached to one of the espalier posts in the backyard. I didn’t dissuade him with my thoughts of how a clay pot would turn into a hot house (in a spot with full summer sun) and a baby sparrow might cook inside it. 

Birds are smart. 

They’d know it didn’t have air conditioning, so it’s been basically a birdless house. 

Seriously, birds are really smart. One year all my little plastic plant markers disappeared from the garden. What the heck! Who would want steal those little plastic tags? How would I know the beefsteak from the cherry tomatoes? Honestly, that wasn’t the end of the world. I could tell who was who once the tomato plants got tomatoes. Beefsteaks are bigger. 

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Then one day I was standing under one of the big pines in the back yard and I heard chirping, so I looked up. There were the plant markers—a very colorful, fancy floor of a bird’s nest. 

Birds are smart.

The very best parts of my days this summer were spent watching the hummingbirds. They take my breath away. In other words, when they come to the feeders I stop breathing and watch them in awe.

Squirrels, I’m not so crazy about. They dig up my bulbs. They leave holes where I don’t want holes. They take single bites out of the rare apples we get on the espalier. They have big teeth. 

When I was a kid my uncle Bubs fed squirrels on his back porch. They’d climb up his leg and take a peanut from his BARE hand. Eeeww. Yikes. Squirrels are very scary.

Sorry, got off track…back to John’s clay pot birdhouse.

A couple weeks ago we noticed a stringy thing hanging out of the birdhouse’s door. Oh no, I thought, Baked Baby Birds!

But then we watched as a squirrel ran along the top of the espalier frame (Squirrel Highway, we call it). It had a wad of something in its mouth. He climbed down and went into the clay pot, and came back out. Empty mouthed. John thought he was making a nest in there. We debate this. I think it’s too small for a squirrel’s nest.  

I think it’s a nut house.

John just asked me if I want to count the rings in a tree slice. I said, “No.”
…but I know he’s thinking of some cool thing to do with the tree slices.

At this point in the story (you know how I am) I could probably make some connection between the Nut House in my back yard and the Nut House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. But I won’t. That other nut house isn’t funny.

BREAKING NEWS from the New York Times:
The Trump administration will finalize the repeal of a clean water regulation that limited the use of polluting chemicals near bodies of water.

Patience. Kindness. Respect.

On August 5th, we got up at 4:00 a.m. and drove from Detroit to Chicago to arrive in time to get John’s ninety year-old mom, Mitzi, out of the hospital and take her back to her condo. She had been in the hospital for two weeks after a fall and serious depression. 

Mitzi’s doctor recommended moving her into an independent-living apartment for seniors, so John’s brother Herb checked it out and loved it. The plan was that we’d spend the week paring down her belongings and moving her into her new place.

It felt precarious. The night before leaving for Chicago, we called her and she tearfully told us she wanted to die and hung up on us. We called the nurses station and they said they’d give her a shower to calm her. How would she manage alone in a new apartment in this condition?

Twenty years ago, my mother fell and ended up in a nursing home for two years before her death at seventy-six. My mother was independent, a loner. She was funny—also snarky, bitchy, impatient and cranky (those traits are genetic and run in my family). I was the responsible party—it was no party. It was a crappy time and John was there for me, helping and supporting. I owe him. 

John’s mom is shy, sweet and fragile (physically and emotionally). But she was ready to give up her two-bedroom/two bath condo for a smaller, easier to tend place. Unlike my mother, who in her own words didn’t “give a rat’s ass about housecleaning,” (maybe that’s genetic too?), John’s mom is a tidier-upper and cleaner. The vacuum had gotten to heavy for her to handle, or rather she had gotten to weak to handle the vacuum (which had remained the same).

Sorting and getting things ready to move out of Mitzi’s condo.

She was lonely. She was isolated in her condo. The Senior Living apartment includes two meals a day in a lovely dining room. She can see other seniors at bingo, movies, the library, the exercise room, the art room, and on the grounds. Someone will clean her apartment twice a month. She might be happy there…

…If she took her pills.

Heart meds, but much more important, the anti-depressants. Xanax (which I find essential when flying six hours over the ocean (which is very deep). And Effexor (very helpful to me when I was the responsible party for my mother and grandmother). Mitzi is to take these meds 3 times a day. John made her a pill board after a couple days of sorting through 8 bottles of pills. And hopefully after my repeating (patiently/kindly) that “yes, you can take them on an empty stomach,” and “no, if the doctor prescribed them they aren’t too many,” and “if they’re evenly spaced throughout the 24 hours, that black cloud won’t get inside your head.” Again, and again, and again.

John made his mom a pill board…easier for her than reading 8 pill bottles.

For the next week I was Marie Kondo of “Tidying up” fame. Every item in every closet in every room was assessed. “Keep or give.” “This or that.” There were many kisses and hugs. Does Marie Kondo do that? I watched her on Netflix…she does hug.

Also I reminded myself that she needed/deserved respect. She’s a grownup. She has things that are meaningful to her. Don’t rush her. Be kind. Be patient. Respect your elders. It was a mantra in my head. “Patience. Kindness. Respect.” Repeat.

John was in other rooms filling black trash bags and hauling them to the dumpster, I wonder what he tossed. Hmm, not too respectful. I kept my mouth shut.

John’s brother Walt came and spent hours/days dealing with finances, including a tax bill that didn’t give the 90 year-old credit for being a senior, and annuity that exists…somewhere. 

Herb came after work and helped. Leslie, Herb’s wife, was an action figure, and a powerhouse of efficiency, taping up boxes for donating. It was a thrill to have her there. 

I mostly was hanging out with Mitzi. I got pretty attached…probably under the influence of all those kisses. Being nice does something to your brain.

On Saturday the movers came (note the family members are all over 60). So three men with muscles came and did a fantastic job. Mitzi was stressed. Understandable, she’d been in her condo for 30 years, and in her house for 30 years before that. I told her she’d be in her new place for 30 years too. She laughed.

We spent Saturday organizing the new place. I filled kitchen cupboards with her sitting on a chair giving a nod to where things were going. John put post-it notes on cupboard doors to make it easier to find things.

New kitchen with labels

All was well.

On Sunday morning when we arrived, she had been up a while and seemed emotionally shaky—she hadn’t taken her pills. “I don’t want to take them on an empty stomach,” she said. I (patiently) reminded her that she needs the pills immediately when she gets up. Not one of her bottles says take with food. The stress of all the changes had to be hard on her.

Post-its on the living room wall, made her laugh.

We worked all day getting things in order and at 8:30 p.m. or so, we left to go back to her condo the sleep on the blow-up mattress and lumpy futon. 

Futon and blow-up mattress. Nitey Nite.

Monday morning we packed up to come home. We stopped by her new apartment to say goodbye, dreading what we might find.

She opened the door with a big smile and when we looked around the apartment, it was beautiful—sunny, shiny and bright. Throw pillows were perfectly arranged on the couch and chairs. Kitchen counters immaculate. She was going to be okay.

Mitzi in her new place.

I’ve been calling her most days. I got attached.

But here’s the bad part, being nice is exhausting. Since we got home I’ve been bitchy, cranky, bossy, and ornery all week. My mom would understand.

Love List

You all know what a Bucket List is, right? It’s a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket (die).

Photo by Nils Schirmer on Unsplash

But maybe your bucket list should include a Love List.

Photo by Andrew Neil on Unsplash

Example 1.
A couple days ago I was talking to my neighbor, Maria, whose husband died in January. She was packing her car with boxes—moving them across town to the small house she bought for herself and teenaged daughter. Down-sizing.

When her husband was sick, she asked him to put her name on his checking account. He said there was plenty of time. Then when he was in the hospital—again she asked. Again he said there was plenty of time. He was hopeful, he was going to get better. And then he died. The bank said she couldn’t close or use the account without his permission. Now that’s tricky.

They each had separate phone accounts. Their youngest daughter was on his. She asked to have T-Mobile move her daughter to her account. They wouldn’t. 

Example 2. 
When my friend Meighen’s husband Bill was very sick, he prepared her to survive without him. He taught her how to use the photography equipment in his studio. They talked about his funeral wishes in detail. His bucket list included making her transition to life without him easier. He put things in order. He loved her.

Losing someone you love is hard enough without having to bruise your forehead banging your head against all the walls and barriers in your path.

A LOVE LIST.
I’m not dying and neither is John, but after talking to Maria, I suggested to John that we give each other lists—all our passwords and computer info, our credit card numbers and the phone numbers to cancel those cards. Medical stuff. Where’s the title to your car? We have separate checking accounts, but they’re both in a trust. (That was smart, don’t you think). Every thing else we have is jointly owned. But what would he want me to do with all his architecture books? What should he do with my paintings? What about the savings account (teeny-tiny) where Amazon deposits my book sale earnings? 

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

And what if a semi-truck hauling lemons tips over on the highway and squishes both of us? Our kids couldn’t make lemonade from that mess unless they also had the lists.

Photo by Olia Nayda on Unsplash

Show someone how much you love them and trust them. Make a List. If you’re twenty-two or fifty or a hundred and two, it’s not too late—until it’s too late. 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

So let’s have a forum here.
Can you think of anything I’ve missed that needs sharing with a loved one…just in case?

159 Russians

I’ve been invaded. 

You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting much in the past few months or even in the past year. Excuses: Depression, Black funk (possibly related to our Commander in Cheat). So, I wasn’t paying much attention to what the Russians were doing on my website.

Yes, RUSSIANS!

Observation

On February 28, I was the guest author at my friend Gale Cunningham’s book club. They’d read my novel, “Intentional” and had smart questions and interesting comments. It was fun. 

Then Gale brought out a little book I’d done years ago with photos from my series of paintings of fabric. It got some “ohhs” and “ahhs” and someone said, “Wow, you can paint and write.”

One of several small books I created on Blurb.
https://www.blurb.com/b/609580-images
One of several small books I created on Blurb.
https://www.blurb.com/b/609580-images

And my response was that I’m really bad at science and math. I could have added foreign languages, sports and a lot of other things that other people are very good at. I know, you shouldn’t have to apologize for being good at a couple things, or rationalize away their value by telling what you’re bad at.

But I did it, and what’s done is done.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about the similarities between the two things I am good at…art and writing, and basically I think it comes down to observation.

Photo by Lukasz Lada

Seeing: as an artist you see details, that tiny edge of yellow in the pink sunset, that a particular shadow is made of blue and green and purple and not just variants of black. Details. And then you take those visual details and arrange them into something new and interesting. In writing, particularly in fiction, you’re observing the visuals (that tiny edge of yellow in the pink sunset), but also behavior, and interactions between people; then rehashing, embellishing, reducing, enhancing, and reimagining what you observe into something new.

Is this what makes me sensitive to details in everyday life—that wrinkle in the bedding that I have to straighten? Noticing. All the time noticing. The loose hair on my shoulder? 

Or maybe it’s a bit of obsessive-compulsiveness.

I used to be good at dancing too (I don’t think it has anything to do with anything).

So, tell me, what are your strong suits? Bragging is encouraged here…

When Clouds Look Like Mountains

I was on the treadmill looking into the distance at low gray clouds. They looked like mountains. So I moved myself from Detroit to Denver and was on a treadmill there, looking out at the Flatirons. Treadmills are really boring, your feet move but you don’t go anywhere, so your brain (mine anyway) takes off at a trot.

So I’m thinking about what things look like and what they really are.

Continue reading “When Clouds Look Like Mountains”

Autumn Fantasy

Here’s how my brain works:

I’m out in the front yard blowing leaves and thinking of a scenario. Leaf clean-up is something John usually does, and when he gets home from his office (Panera), he’ll see the piles of leaves along the curb and say, “Oh, wow! You raked the leaves.”

To which I’ll reply, “No, two college guys came by and offered to do it for free if I’d have sex with them.”

He laughs.

“That’s not funny,” I’ll say and pout. “Why would that be funny?”

Continue reading “Autumn Fantasy”

I voted

“Vote early and vote often,” John likes to tell me. He thinks that’s funny.

We voted early 7:45 a.m. (just once each). We got up, and walked a half-block down to our community center. It was bustling with voters—some with their children. There were twice as many voting stands as there was for the last presidential election, or actually, any past election that I can remember. My friend, Jody, an election official was busy-busy.

I felt scared (about the outcome) and exhilarated at the same time. I voted: colored in all the boxes with my choices on my paper ballot, then feed it into the vote-reader machine. I stuck my “I Voted” sticker on my jacket.

There were cookies and coffee in the lobby. One of my friends from the Gym (in another room in the Community Center) told me that the cookies with the M&M’s were really good. He was there with his trainer and after voting he was going to do a 45-minute workout. He’s 90.

Our very cool Gym. We are soooo lucky.

John and I walked home eating our cookies.

I was wired, not from the cookie with the M&M’s (sugar rush), and I hadn’t had any coffee yet. I needed to be with people. “Let’s go out to breakfast,” I suggested.

So we did.

For a Tuesday morning the restaurant Toast was packed, so we sat at the counter. Most of the people wore “I Voted” stickers. I wanted to go around and hug everyone in the place.

A black man sat down two stools away. He wore his sticker and I pointed at mine and gave him a thumbs up. Then we had a good chat. His name is Mark and he’s praying for the election outcome, I showed him all my crossed fingers.

Crossed fingers, thumbs and wrists.

Then a young blond woman sat on the stool between Mark and me. I didn’t see a sticker, and asked if she voted.

“Not today,” she said, and my happy balloon popped.

But then she told me she had absentee voted. She’s from Portland, Oregon, and getting her Masters degree at Cranbrook.

Oregon has respect for its citizens. They make voting accessible to everyone, everyone gets mailed a ballot, and they can vote or not as they choose (they can also vote in person).

What a good idea.

But, if I voted by mail, I wouldn’t have had that cookie, and I probably wouldn’t have had such a good time chatting with nice people…Citizens of the United States of America!

PS. Want to share your voting experience? I hope it was as easy and pleasant as mine.

 

Save the Date

This Sunday! This coming Sunday! October 28th!

It’s coming up fast. I’ll be at Leno & Lulu’s fabulous store taking part in their Books & Authors Event. I’ll have a stack of books to sell (the ones I wrote, of course), and some nice FREE bookmarks to hand out.

96 W. 14 Mile Road, Clawson 480176

11:00 till 5:00

If you already have my books, come anyway…Check out this great store, they have lots of unusual and interesting things. It’s a fun place.

So, please stop by and say hi, I’d love to see you.

A Dirty Word

On Tuesday night I was a guest at Linda Borowski’s neighborhood book club, where fourteen women gathered in a comfortable circle. They had bought my novel A Bird in the House a few weeks before, and so were prepared with thoughts, questions, and comments. They listened to me talk. We drank wine. It was a really lovely evening with genuinely kind and interesting women.

At the beginning there was some discussion about the opening sentence of the novel…“Two women—one old, one ancient—sat on plastic chairs on their front porch.” Continue reading “A Dirty Word”

Making Cuts

There’s a rumor going around that old women shouldn’t have long hair. I’m taking issue with that idea. How else do you hide your old neck?

There’s so much an old woman can do with her long hair:

  1. Hide sagging breasts,
  2. Put it in a bun and carry a cane to entice Boy Scouts to help cross the street,
  3. Crochet a sweater out of the strands that fall out of her head and grace her black sweaters,
  4. Put it in pigtails and pretend she’s in her second childhood.

Continue reading “Making Cuts”

Write Something!

There’s a post-it note on my blog intro page. Write something” it says. December 11 was my last post, so I guess it’s time. Shall I write a catch up post? How I spent my summer vacation, although it’s winter. It’s been tough, but not terrible. Maybe I haven’t been writing because whining isn’t interesting to hear or read.


Continue reading “Write Something!”

Paper Trail Books

There’s a new bookstore in town. And guess what?

They have signed copies of both of my books, Intentional and A Bird in the House! So if you have a deep craving for one of my novels, or you can’t figure out what to get your Aunt Mable this Happy Holiday season—head over to Royal Oak. Dave also has lots of other peoples’ books, including Annis Pratt’s newest novel The Battle for the Black Fen.

Small Business Saturday is tomorrow. So if you like the idea of having a local bookstore, visit Paper Trail Books and buy something. Anything. Let’s keep them in business.

Paper Trail Books
Hours are 11am until 8pm
Seven days a week
414 S. Washington
(next door to Cafe Muse)
Royal Oak, MI 48067

But, Wait! There’s more…
Don’t you I think I should make myself available for late night TV commercials?

 

NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month. Figuring I’d be confined to quarters for some of the month, because of the dratted nose cancer being removed on November 1st, I signed up for NaNoWriMo.

I’ve committed myself to writing the first draft of a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Thousands of writers around the world take part in this craziness. You’re allowed to work out the plot and characters before the start of this month. I didn’t do anything.

Continue reading “NaNoWriMo”

Book Launch Party This Thursday

It’s on my calendar…. I’m coming!

Thursday, October 26th
7:00 pm
Birmingham Unitarian Church
38651 Woodward Ave, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304

The books have all arrived. Whew! Wouldn’t it be scary to have a book party and no books? Am I stressing? Oh, please…it’s just a party. People I like will be there. There will be treats. There will be beverages. I get to talk. I like all that stuff, so I’m not stressing…much.

Continue reading “Book Launch Party This Thursday”