A cup of tea won’t fix it.

The problem:
One toilet that doesn’t flush properly.
One wife who is convinced a repair kit from Lowe’s is the solution.
One husband, a former Mr. Fix-it who, sadly, only fixes cups of tea these days.
Same wife who is a bumble-thumbs, but who can read instructions.
Same former Mr. Fix-it, frustrated, refuses to listen to instructions.
Result: None.
Action: Call plumber.

Another problem:
Frigid temperatures locally, similar to those all over the country. Thus, when I, aka bumble-thumbed wife, called the usually ever-ready, quick-response plumbing company, I was told, “All our plumbers are out fixing frozen pipes.”

“Well, we have two other bathrooms, so our problem isn’t urgent,” I said. She promised to work us in as soon as possible.

A week passed and then, wouldn’t you know, the master bathroom toilet started spewing water out the top of the tank. I sopped up the flood with old towels and called for help again. “Just wanted to make sure you haven’t forgotten us,” I said, “we’re down to one toilet now.”

“You’re still on the list, but our guys are still working ’round the clock. Let me see what I can do, but it might be first of next week…”

It was Friday, 11:30 a.m.

A few hours later the phone rang. “You have a flushing problem?” a pleasant male voice asked. “I can be there in fifteen minutes, OK?”

Was it ever!  I rushed around squirting cleaner into the bowls, and doing a general bathroom spritz. It wouldn’t do for a plumber to see a messy bathroom.

He was prompt. I showed him into bathroom number one where husband Peter’s tools, the replacement float kit, and assorted old towels still littered the floor. “Hm, someone has been busy,” he said. “Easy fix though.” He added something about bent tubes and slow flow. Guy talk.

“There’s another problem too?” he asked.

I led him upstairs to bathroom number two. “Hm, angle’s wrong…water spurts sideways, hits the side of the tank and spills onto the floor. Quick fix.”

I almost laughed. Sounded like a male plumbing problem to me. “Well, since you’re here,” I said, “I think the toilet in the guest bathroom might have problems too.  The handle is hard to push down.”

“Won’t take long to fix any of these. I’ll still be able to make my three o’clock appointment.”

Time: 2:20 p.m. Friday.

Within minutes the first toilet was flushing merrily.  He headed upstairs to work on the master bathroom and I returned here to my desk to finish “Something to sneeze at.”  Just then I heard Peter, in the basement, yelling, “THIS SINK IS FILLING UP WITH WATER!”  I dashed upstairs to my new best friend.

He rocketed down the two flights the way a fireman skitters down a ladder. “Whooie, I’ve never had this happen,” he said.  He immediately started banging the black sewer pipe that looms the length of the basement. I’d heard that deep bass-toned, solid thunk before. It bellowed “clogged sewer pipe” at me.

Don’t use any water,” he cautioned and, of course, right then I needed to.

“When it rains, it pours,” I joked, feebly.

He shook his head. “Seventeen years and I’ve never had three toilets and a clogged sewer line in the same house, on the same day.”

This guy was terrific. He spread an old towel, pink, inside the kitchen door before he lugged an anaconda-sized snake and other scungy equipment to the basement.  What a thoughtful thing to do when dealing with someone else’s…business. After several futile calls to his plumber cohorts he was able to clear the sewer line by himself and finish fixing the toilets. “Have a nice weekend,” he said as he headed to another emergency.

“Thanks! You too.”

“Oh, I’ll probably have to work all weekend,” he said, still smiling.

Time: 6:03 p.m.





The Pope does the tango.

I am neither a Catholic nor particularly religious.

Oh, I went to Sunday School, sang in the choir for twelve years, learned the Lord’s Prayer, the Twenty-Third Psalm, the Golden Rule, and some of the Ten Commandments — truthfully, I couldn’t do arithmetic to save my soul, so I didn’t try very hard to learn all ten.

I have Beliefs.

But also Questions.

I have Faith, but it’s my own warped brand most of which I learned from the Gospel of My Mom. She did good deeds all the time, but she didn’t necessarily think you had to go to church every week.

So I’m out of my comfort zone when I say how much I like the new Pope.  Francis — would he mind if I call him Francis? — has a perpetual twinkle in his eyes.

I love a twinkle.

What’s not to love about a Pope who wears plain brown shoes, instead of fancy custom-made red slippers, and who personally washed the feet of twelve young people of different faiths not long after he was elected…inaugurated…anointed…whatever.

I like knowing he was a nightclub bouncer in Buenos Aires, that he had a girlfriend before he became a priest, and that he loved to dance the tango.  How cool is that?

The white smoke had barely cleared the chimney before conservative Catholics started rattling their thuribles — incense thingies to us non-Catholics.

Last spring, an unexpected gift of two doves in a cage turned into a papal photo-op. The new pontiff released the birds, but one returned to perch on the holy fingers for a while.  Another picture, taken from below the pope’s elevated platform, showed one of his entourage looking directly up at the underside of a dove in flight.  His look said, “Please don’t poop on me, bird.”  If that had happened, I’ll bet the Pope would have laughed.

A month ago a little boy climbed up beside Francis while he was speaking to thousands of people about the importance of family. The kid hugged the Pope’s knees and climbed into his chair. Francis smiled like a benevolent grandpa and patted him on the head.

Lately the Pope has been masquerading as a regular priest, dressed in black robes instead of white, and tending to the poor in Rome.  He drives himself in a 1993 Renault with 190,000 miles on it, leaving the popemobile parked at home in the garage.

This man even has a Twitter account!

He’s the kind of person I’d like to know. An everyday guy who shocked his flock with his view on Faith: “If one has the answers to all the questions —that is proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself.  The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt.”

I know people who think they have all the answers, who have blind beliefs, and who never hesitate to espouse them.  It’s their way or no way.

Drives me nuts.

I’ve always thought some Roman Catholic practices make life a whole lot easier.  Confession, for instance.  Do what you want Monday through Saturday, confess your sins Saturday evening, go to Mass Sunday, and you’re good to go for another week. Or communion. That’s real wine in those little glasses. Maybe not a good year, but still. And school uniforms, what a great idea! They take the drama out of dressing for school.  Same clothes every day, identical hand-me-downs for all the children.

I’ve opened myself to criticism, maybe even exorcism, but here’s the thing: if damning comments show up here, I have the Power of Delete in my fingertips.

It’s a good time.

Three years ago, when I told husband Peter I was going to take a line dancing class, he envisioned the Radio City Rockettes and he laughed. Then he did his version of a high step-kick across the kitchen.

And I howled.

No, we are not the precision long-legged beauties you see in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But we do dance in a line, without partners, and we follow a choreographed pattern of steps … at least that’s the idea.

Our class of “seniors” has a heck of a good time.  We press on, never mind that we don’t remember the steps that go with the music from one week to the next.  I look forward to Thursday afternoons.

Cass, our instructor, flits across the floor the way a reflection bounces off water.  She must have wondered if she’d ever get through to us.

“Mama Maria” was our first dance. We caught on so slowly. As simple and boring as it seems now, it took us weeks to master.  We now know the names of steps — grapevine, rocker step, jazz box, kick ball change, Charleston, cha cha, hitch —but putting them to the music without Cass’ repeat instructions?  Never happens.

The “old faithfuls” from the original bunch, Lois, Joanne, Barb, Judy R and me, have been joined by “new faithfuls,” Gini, Pat and Gay.

Lois the stalwart never forgets the steps once she’s learned them, though she refuses to count much to Cass’ dismay. “I can’t count and dance,” Lois grumbles. “Which do you want me to do?”  Joanne insists she’ll never learn whatever new dance Cass trots out, but she counts determinedly, concentrates so hard her red hair sizzles, and learns the routine quickly. Barb has a loosey-goosey interpretation of the steps that works for her. Judy R is so polished and perfect when she slips into the room during her lunch hour that she looks the part, so it doesn’t matter if she misses a kick-stomp here, a cha-cha there.

Me, Judy C.? I sweat. You know the saying, “Southern girls glisten, Yankee girls sweat”?  I’m a Yankee.

Early on I caught on to the new dances more quickly than now. “I was better but I got over it,” as my dad liked to say. I had to sit out most of last year because of my crumbling knee, see Good to go wherever.  For months, all I could do was try to learn while sitting on a chair and moving my feet to “mark” the choreography: chair dancing. That helped some but chair dancing is probably akin to learning how to pole dance without a pole. Not that I’ve ever tried it, nor would I!

Now that I’m able to dance again, my balance has gone kaflooey.  Some of the twists and turns make me feel as if I’m on a Carousel riding a horse that’s made a dash for greener pastures.

Line dancing is usually done to country music, true. But our Cass has eclectic tastes that veer to breakdancing songs, Lady GaGa, gentle waltzes and even Christmas carols. I’m not a fan of the singer who wore a costume made of raw meat, but once I got the steps to “I like it rough,” I changed my tune.

Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” is our current challenge.  Most of the group have it nailed, but the full turns make me feel like I’m in a centrifuge.  I may have to sit that one out at the Christmas performance.

Alan Jackson’s “Good Time” is my favorite.  Love the beat and that it’s used in this GE commercial.  As a former GE employee, it’s great to see that the giant, rather stodgy company I once knew introduced such a catchy commercial for … ecoimagination?  That term hadn’t even been coined when I retired 25 years ago.  Imagine that!

Love beyond words.

Scroll up.  See that paragraph symbol in front of my blog title?  I love that.  My lifelong affair with typesetting, editing tools, typefaces, printers’ ink and trays of type goes back to high school.  Even the “typewriter look” of this text makes me smile.

My most recent post, “Leave my blankie alone,” (you can read it here) started with a quotation set above the lead paragraph. I didn’t know until I previewed the draft that the default was a giant stylized mark at the front end only. That blatant symbol said, “I’m not gonna close this with a mirror image of myself because I am a “HONKIN’ BIG QUOTATION MARK, and I don’t hafta if I don’t wanna.”

Love typography with attitude.

Love punctuation? Not so much. I confess I’m a fickle comma user. I hook them around what I perceive are the right places the way a stripper drapes herself with feather boas. I probably failed comma usage in Miss Mann’s senior English class. She urged us to keep the textbook, McGraw-Hill Handbook of English (1952), for future use, so I did. The twenty-eight pages about commas  are well-worn.

On the other hand, I’m miserly and judicious with exclamation points, but a bit loose with dashes to set off appositive asides mid-sentence. And ellipses are fun, those triplet dots that indicate words not seen, or that let your words gaze off the page as you write … .

Don’t over-think this information.

The designer-described “favorite notebook” look of my site, with its pale blue lines and faded red rules down the margins, speaks to me. It suggests writing in the most basic form: pad of paper; pencil. Such subtle touches thrill me beyond, well, beyond words.

Yeah, weird.

Old typewriters sang to me with their satisfying sharp-edged clack clack clack, rumble, slam, ding. And there was something about the inherent resilient sturdiness of those old machines, their bold industrial heft.  A key would say, “Press me and I’ll make that skinny striker arm give you an e, or an E.”  An early 1900s Underwood #5 typewriter is lurking behind me right now.  Sadly, its E is long gone.

Personal computers — I’d sooner cut off my left hand than give up my Mac — have changed the “job” of writing in a way that adds dimension to the craft because, in many cases, we are writer, editor, and typesetter. Not necessarily a good thing. If it were possible, I’d red-pencil changes the way Miss Mann, did. Wordy, I’d write in the margin.

In “How old is too old to blog,” (read it here), I said: “The thought of writing on the site terrifies me. What if I accidentally posted it before all the t’s and i’s were crossed and dotted, the spelling checked?  … I will continue to write in Word, and will copy and paste my posts into my waiting site … .” I said what I meant and meant what I said, as Miss Mann preached, but I changed my tune quickly.  After just three posts, I started writing directly onto the blank page, and now I edit as I go.

Piece. Of. Cake.

I am as addicted to editing as some people are to crosswords.  I spend hours tweaking a sentence or searching for the perfect word.  A whole afternoon will pass, me plastered to the computer screen like a moth to a light bulb, and all I’ve done is change one word for another.  It is possible, I’ve discovered, to edit after a post is published. Recently I found a miniscule error that screamed at me like a zit on prom night. Quick, delete!  Update!  Whew.

Even with the advantages my computer provides — seeing my words on the virtual pages in front of me right now — I still have to print them and hold the paper in my hands before I’m confident that my words really say what I meant them to say. The pages must look right too, no extra spaces, lines that break awkwardly, or annoying repetition.

I don’t expect anyone to understand.



Bigger isn’t always better.

Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are not my strengths.  Unless the situation absolutely demands it, I don’t do numbers.

I do words.

Thank goodness my social security number is easy to remember.  Our street address, too — it’s the same, minus a one, as the address where I grew up. Our phone number back then was 1128W, but our current number?  Let me think.  I can remember my own age (odd years are easier than even), and that my husband is seventy years older than our dog who is five.

The blasted multiplication tables handed me yet another comeuppance not too long ago. The seven-inch magnifying mirror I’ve had for at least five years has a modest sticker that whispers 5X.  If that means what I think, then my face looks five times larger than when it’s reflected on the non-magnifying side. I can handle that. That bit of up-sizing helps me pencil in my balding eyebrows, and darken, clumpily, my graying lashes.

Over the past months though, I’ve noticed I haven’t been able to see what I was doing to myself at 5X as clearly as before. I found a three-inch “purse-size” one that shouted 10X on a sticky label that covered the glass.  By my calculations, ten times the magnification should be big enough.


I had no idea how my age spots (fka freckles) looked, nor how many stray chin hairs (think bearded lady) and errant eyebrows (under my brow line where I don’t need them) I had. Obviously I’ve wasted a lot of money over the years on the vats of Clinique All Day Eye Creme I’ve used to shore up my bagging eyes.  And where the bleeding heck did that cluster of flaming red spiders come from?

What must I look like to others?

Where is that glib woman who used to boast, “I’ve earned every wrinkle I’ve got”?  My face is ready for Halloween!  All I need is a black pointy hat and a broom.

I have the broom.



Good to go wherever.

Estimates say there are more than 600,000 total knee replacements (TKR) in this country every year. Last January, I was one of those.

Seven years ago I was knocked off my bicycle on a nearby trail. I landed hard on my right knee adding injury to the insult of existing arthritis. When I told the story to my doctor, he chuckled.  He was glad I was hurt while being active. “Better than sitting at home doing nothing,” is his philosophy. He sent me for some physical therapy and, over the years since, I tried various injections, all in hopes of avoiding surgery.  Yes, stalling!

Like so many others, including my younger daughter, I reached the point where every step was grinding the heck out of the shredded remains of cartilage and bone. No more morning walks, bike rides, or shopping. (Truthfully, I’m not really a shopper, but the idea that I couldn’t go made me want to.)

The side-trip excursions on our travels left me “sitting by the side of the road.” On a sea trip around the British Isles I didn’t get to see puffins up close because I couldn’t climb the cliff to their nesting site.  On a Canyons trip out west, I limped along worrying about being a drag on our little group. And when I wanted to try hang gliding off the dunes in North Carolina I was told I needed two good knees to landI could paraglide though, and that was way better. I flew higher and a nice young man named Jim took care of take-off and landing.  All I had to do was hang on and enjoy the view.

But surgery was inevitable.

I wasn’t afraid of Dr. M’s hacksaw nor the idea of his arsenal of power tools, but the long rehab and months of physical therapy were daunting to think about. Thanks to daughters Carolynn and Leslie, my recovery went smoothly. It helped that Leslie had TKR six months earlier. I learned from her experience and borrowed her “equipment” — walker, cane, commode frame (don’t ask), and cache of OTC medications. This past June, I returned those aids because she had her other knee replaced. Between us then, three knees to add to the annual total, and now the threat looms on Carolynn’s horizon.

Chris, the physical therapist I saw three times a week post-op for three months, could make a contortionist cry “uncle.”  He was wonderful in spite of my carrying on. “Nothing you can do will be worse than childbirth,” I said during my first visit. I’d have another baby (were that even possible) before I’d go through PT again.

Knock on wood my left knee remains intact!

In August, Brian Williams, “NBC Evening News” anchor, announced he would, “be away for a while.”  He’d finally given in and was having TKR for the knee he’d crushed in a high school football game when he was nineteen. Williams’ progress rated mention on “Nightly News” and “Today.”  I wrote my own headline:


Nasturtiums askance

Nasturtiums are my favorite annuals.  Their orange blooms make the mornings brighter, the evenings glow.

This year my nasturtiums have performed as never before. They make beautiful color combinations as they twine through the weathered gray fence, romp around the beruffled hot pink rose, lollop under the rusty birdbath. Any day now they’ll insinuate themselves into the fuzzy, soft green sage.  They are brazen hussies. I love that about them.

At dusk, their brilliant orange fluoresces — they look as if they’re lit from within.  Not all nasturtiums are orange, of course.  There’s a creamy yellow, a vivid Crayola yellow/orange, a deep red, and sometimes, a wussy melted sherbet shade.  Generally those “other” colors don’t last a full season, at least not in my garden.

Nasturtiums are more than jeweled bouquets on my kitchen table from early summer to first frost though.  They’re edibles that can brighten a salad with their color and peppery taste.  Their scent is similar to that of peaches cooking down for jam.  And as the flowers die away the seeds can be pickled to make “poor man’s capers.”

A few nights ago I wanted to perk up the “look” of our dinner — predictable green peas, bland white baked potato, and broiled salmon. I garnished our plates with one orange and one yellow nasturtium each.  “They’re edible you know,” I said to Peter.

He looked at me askance.  My husband does askance better than anyone I know.

“Just try one.” I munched on a flower head. “Mm-mmmm!

Again with the askance.

“C’mon, if you can eat eel sushi you can try nasturtium,” I ragged.

He nibbled, but was not convinced.

The meal tasted exceptionally good to me, and Peter cleaned his plate saying, as he does when I’ve fixed something he especially likes, “Thank you, ‘Mum.’”

“You liked the salmon then?” He always likes salmon, or just about any fish.

“Must’ve been good,” he said, tipping up his plate. It was as clean as if the dog had licked it.

I chuckled.  “Know why it tasted so good, what the difference was?”

He was wary.

“I rolled the fillets in minced nasturtium blossoms,” I said.  “That’s what gave them the spiky bite.”

He eyebrows went up, but his lips didn’t move.

The next day our friends Shelia and Jerry were here. I told them the nasturtium-encrusted salmon story while we ate lunch outside. Jerry wrinkled his nose, but Shelia was interested, so I ran to the herb garden the nasturtiums had claimed, picked several each of the different colors, and encouraged a tasting.

Shelia decided she’d plant nasturtiums next year, Jerry didn’t say no, and Peter? The phrase “you can lead a mule to water but you can’t make him drink” comes to mind.

How do we wash our clothes?

We wash our clothes expensively, that’s how!  At the moment I’m ready to try beating my clothes against a rock in the river.

It was still as dark outside as my six o’clock mug of coffee when I heard an annoying high pitched beep.  Every three minutes the sound interrupted my morning solitude.  None of the usual culprits was guilty, not my tinnitus-affected ears, nor cell phone, dishwasher, or microwave. The beep came from the laundry room.  My washer’s control panel was lit up like the instrument panel on an airplane. The machine was frozen on “Express,” a setting I’d never used in 15 years, and I hadn’t done any laundry in three days. The darn thing wouldn’t run, nor would “stop” make the lights go off.

I pulled the plug.

When the rest of the world woke up I placed a mayday call to Dan, the repair superman I found several years ago. Dan can fix any major home appliance. He came as soon as he could, carefully performed a number of tests, then shook his head sadly. My washer had spun out for the last time. A new printed circuit board and power supply would cost more than three hundred dollars, labor not included. I could buy a new washer for that. The dryer still worked, though barely. The rational me said, “No new dryer” — I hang most things outside to dry in the sun or, during bad weather, in the basement — but the fussy me whispered, “Matchy, matchy.”

After a quick recce to “kick the tires” on what I thought would be my pick, I came home and logged in to Consumer Reports. Should have done that first of course.

Oh my.

I spent hours comparing features and benefits.  No, I do not want to communicate with my laundry while I’m playing canasta with my friends.  No, I do not want a dryer with steam option that would necessitate a water line to an appliance that is supposed to be drying my clothes.  Maybe that’s a good thing, but it seems counterintuitive to me.  I’m just sayin’.

Some of the newest washday appliances will let you link to the manufacturer via an app on your smart phone. You can select your equipment’s symptoms and get a diagnosis before the repairman comes.  Not only that, you can phone your washer to check on the status of your delicates while you’re visiting the in-laws.

Just what I need! Another set of commands to learn, more passwords to forget, oh, and a smart phone to buy. Note to Maytag, GE, Whirlpool, Samsung et al:  I’m doing laundry here, not launching a submarine! When someone invents a machine that moves the washed clothes into the dryer, and a dryer that matches socks, folds towels, and puts everything away…then we’ll talk.

Satisfied with my choice at last, I clicked on “user comments.”  Some were enthusiastic, but most were not suitable for a G-rated blog!  I’d spent a gorgeous autumn weekend researching laundry appliances, and I was no further ahead than when I’d started.

And the laundry hamper overflowed.

Oh yes! Cost!  That printed circuit board/power supply replacement suddenly seemed a bargain.  Some of the highest end appliances cost more than six thousand dollars for a washer/dryer combo.  My first car didn’t cost even half that much.

Who needs a “smart” washer?  I’m a smart washer.

I’ll get my DublHandi washboard out. These primitive “appliances,” first manufactured in 1938, are “ideal for silks, hosiery and lingerie or handkerchiefs.”  Plus, at 8.5″ x 18″ they’re “just the right size to fit a bucket, pail or lavatory.” They “pack easily into suitcase or traveling bag” too. What’s not to love?

FYI, DublHandi washboards are still manufactured in Logan, Ohio. They sell for about twenty-three bucks.  If you’re interested in a cost effective option to a smart washer, here’s some nitty gritty info:




Take the bitter with the sweet.

[Today’s post is a shortened version of an essay in That’s all she wrote. It just seems to fit right now, right here. If you wonder who “Mother Tough” is, she’s my alter persona, the voice in my two books.] 

Autumn is a bittersweet time.  Autumn is also bittersweet time.  Read those two sentences again.  There is a difference.

Most people regard the season as an ending.  Me?  I think of autumn as a beginning, a prelude, a brilliantly hued lead-in to my favorite time of year, a monochromatic, sparkly-white winter.

There’s nothing like the smell of autumn leaves unless, of course, it’s the smell of impending snow.  Mother Tough’s nose always knows when snow’s on the way.

Still, autumn also brings melancholy memories of school starting, another year ticked off the calendar more definitively than the stroke of midnight New Year’s Eve, the familiar smell of white paste and Goldenrod writing tablets and the thrill of new puppy-loves that won’t last as long as Halloween’s pumpkins.

… I love bittersweet, the twisty vine studded with bright red, orange-jacketed berries that festoons trees and fence posts.  I had a lone source in the woods where we used to live.

After we moved [from way up north to southwest Virginia] —a bittersweet experience—I discovered the vine grows so profusely here that I’m spoiled for choice.

Who knew the very trail I walk almost every morning would be swathed in sweeping, trailing bittersweet?  Who knew trees, poles, even rocks would be ensnared in bittersweet’s stranglehold?

Who could predict that having such an abundance of a woody vine would help tip Mother Tough’s emotional scales, balancing out the lack of really good, fresh apple cider, for example?

Cider.  Another reason to love autumn.  Even though Virginia is “apple country”—Winchester, in northern Virginia, hosts the famous annual Apple Blossom Festival each spring, for heavens sakes—local cider lacks substance.  At least it is unpasteurized so it will ferment, but it’s rather insipid and smacks of too much cloying Golden Delicious and not enough of tart Winesap for balance.

So the very bittersweet that drapes our town like brightly beaded cobwebs makes up for the lackluster cider!

… [For] years I thought bittersweet was a parasitic plant like mistletoe that mooched off the nutrients of the tree it climbed.  Some references say bittersweet is also called deadly nightshade—certainly not something you’d want in your back yard!  Imagine my surprise when I read a question in Country Living Gardener (August, 1998):  “I would love to grow bittersweet in [our] woods,” the reader wrote, “as it is so expensive and difficult to find [for dried arrangements].  Is it difficult to grow?”  The editor replied, “Bittersweet (Celastrus spp.) grows as a robust woody vine.  The Chinese species (C. orbiculatus) is most widespread.  In parts of the Northeast it has become an invasive exotic, swallowing up farm walls, fences, hedges, and shrubs with abandon.  Similar, but not seen as often, our native C. scandens has been pushed out by its Oriental cousin in many areas. Best started as plants, both species are available from mail-order nurseries…”

All these years I wouldn’t have had to skulk around, secateurs in hand, clipping bittersweet and sneaking it home under my jacket!  I could’ve grown my own!

Once I learned the Latin name, my further research told me bittersweet, in the Solanaceae family, is kin to belladonna a.k.a. deadly nightshade, as well as to henbane, mandrake, tobacco, capsicum pepper, tomato, and petunia.  What a family!  You can use it to poison, smoke, cook, or plant in your window box!

Mother Nature and Mother Tough must be cut out of the same bolt of cloth.  Every year, I ooh and ah at the brilliant fall colors, as if I’d never seen them before, while Peter’s attitude is, “You’ve seen one red leaf, you’ve seen ‘em all.”

By the first autumn in our new locale, after we’d settled in a bit, we hiked some trails nearby, five miles from home if you fly with crows, 20 miles if you drive.  One perfect fall day the sky was so blue it looked as if you could scrape the color off with a palette knife and see through to the heavens above.  The leaves glowed.  I gazed at the valleys at every overlook. “Isn’t this as pretty as anything you’d see in the Adirondacks?” Peter asked.

I had to admit, the views were actually more breathtaking, with vistas stretching northwest to West Virginia and southeast across the valley to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Though I will always miss the inky Adirondack lakes edged with scrims of balsams, our convenient access to the Appalachians and the Blue Ridge keep me in balance.

Ya’ gotta balance the bitter and the sweet!


She always went for the laugh.

About eighteen months ago my friend Beth started having trouble swallowing so her doctor referred her to a physical therapist.  It wasn’t long before she knew it was something more serious than “a throat thing.”

She prayed it was multiple sclerosis. She figured she could live reasonably normally with MS. But the diagnosis, when it came, wasn’t entirely unexpected.  She’d been researching her symptoms. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that has no cure. There is help from the ALS organization in the form of making life as bearable as possible.  Better than nothing, I suppose.  Beth rationalized that the “good” thing about ALS was that it was a gradual illness; it didn’t hit all at once.

Beth went from using a cane, then a walker, to being unable to walk at all. She had the Cadillac of electric wheelchairs in her favorite blue. Never a confident car driver, she was an even worse wheelchair driver.  She laughed when she told me about running over the cat’s tail and dinging the walls and furniture.

She went from being able to eat some soft foods early on, to puddings and yogurt, to a feeding tube. She was very upset at Easter when she couldn’t even eat a deviled egg!  She went from being the life of the party always with a story to tell, often a naughty one, to being unable to speak at all. She was a technology-hater, who had to become a smart phone and iPad user.  Her spirit was strong though, and she kept the twinkle in her eyes.

With each passing week, it seemed, she had to have what she called “a new piece of equipment,” another something to help her move, sit, breathe.  A stair-climber was installed not long into her illness, then a bed downstairs in the living room became necessary.  An oxygen tank was a new companion.

And yet, for all that, when I visited for what turned out to be almost the last time the only she thing complained about was her hair“My hair is driving me crazy,” she said.

“I can help with that,” I told her.  “I’ll bet my hairdresser Lourie will make a house call.”

So the next week Lourie tamed and shortened Beth’s wavy locks into a cap that cradled her head.  You’d have thought she gave her the moon.  While Lourie snipped, Beth pulled up her pant leg to show me that the annoying brace she’d been wearing for months was gone.  She smiled.  “The doctor told me that since I can’t stand or walk anymore, I don’t need it.” Funny how such small pleasures could make her worsening days seem better.

Sadly, Beth’s struggles to swallow, to breathe, ended on September 19.

Wherever you are today, Beth, I know you’ll keep ‘em laughing.