Monthly Archives: October 2017

Last-Day-of-the-Month Musings

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I don’t have much time: tonight I’m packing for five days away. Today has been filled with the usual “running around like a chicken with her head cut off” behavior that is fairly normal for a day off work, exaggerated by preparing for a trip. Before I let my Tuesday get completely away from me, I have a few random thoughts – in no particular order – to share.

  • love having young people next door! I loved my last neighbors, too, but since the house sold it has been a great pleasure having a young family there. Tonight, one little fluffy owl and an even smaller lumberjack stopped over for trick-or-treat. What a joy! And their sweet parents even brought presents for me!
  • You know how your computer seems to know what your interests are, and present you with ads that will appeal to you? If I have recently looked at clothes or books or shoes, similar items show up in my browser. Well, for the last week – ever since I fell victim to a computer scam – the ads in my browser all have to do with pigs. So far, I’ve seen ads for hog feed, a treatment for hog hooves, a dietary supplement and an anti-lame medicine for hogs. I don’t know what to make of it. It’s a little intriguing…and a little humiliating to think that perhaps the people that scammed me are not computer experts…but pig farmers.
  • Last year, fall lingered. Every single day was a different show as the colors progressed through each glorious stage. Every week, I’d think, “Oh, these colors are at their peak,” only to have them outdone by the next week, and the next, and the next. This year, the season is not lingering. After a September that seemed more like a month of summer, we rushed into fall…and kept right on rushing. Many of the stages of fall color were obliterated by pouring rain, or erased by strong winds. Today, we had our first snow.
  • After more than a year of going back and forth about it, Rosa Parks seems to have remembered that she likes to go for a walk. Darla has never needed convincing. It always kind of put a damper on our outing, though, when we had to leave Rosa Parks at home. Lately, it has been a pleasure to have her with us, wagging her little tail all the way down the road!
  • My daughters and I are getting together this weekend, and I’m so excited about it, I could burst! I’m looking forward to catching up on both of their lives, having lots of laughs and good conversation. On that note…I’m off to finish packing!
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Not the Day I Expected…Part 3

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Wednesday, I’d gone to town for coffee, banking and garbage drop-off. I arrived back home just before noon, and was pleased to see that the power was back on. I reset the clocks, made a pot of coffee, and started in on the kitchen.

The next three hours was a flurry of dusting and scrubbing, moving and arranging. Some things were almost done, and just needed finishing touches; others were jobs that had to be started at the very beginning. Files were moved to the dining room. Kitchen shelves were reconfigured and every dust-free book, basket and jar was replaced nicely on them.

The refrigerator was completely cleared: magnets, posters and photos from the metal doors; baskets, bins and boxes from the top; foodstuffs, shelves and bins from inside. I scoured it, then, outside and in. I washed each shelf and all three bins. I stood them on the rug, leaned against the cupboards to drip dry.

I poured a cup of coffee, sat down at the computer and turned it on. A warning window popped up on the screen; the controls didn’t work. “Your computer has been compromised,” the message said, “Call Microsoft for assistance in repairing this problem.” A toll-free number followed. “Damn it! I should have paid attention to all those other messages telling me to upgrade my system,” I thought, as I dialed the number.

What followed was a lengthy interaction between me and a technician. He had me open an internet sharing window that allowed him access. He showed me lines and lines of the many harmful things that were in my system. “It’s pretty serious,” he told me. he asked about the age of the computer, what virus protection it has, and whether the warranty was still valid. He quoted a price ($299.99), then explained that there would be an additional charge of $99.99 because my warranty was no longer good.

I wailed; I whined; I told him I was just starting to make progress on getting my credit cards paid down. He said, “Look, lady, you called me!” Finally, I agreed to the amount, and gave him my credit card information. He told me to leave my computer on, that the other technician would be working on it for about an hour, to remove the viruses, scrub the system and set up protection. I would get a call when they were finished.

I went back to my housekeeping while waiting for the call, grumbling about how impossible it is to get ahead. The second call came in; I sat back down at the computer. The technician – a young woman, this time – used lines and arrows to show me the security features she had added. She showed me the location of their toll-free number, should I need further assistance. She said, “Your credit card will be charged four hundred dollars.”

“No way,” I said, and seem to recall that caused her to gasp, “what I agreed to was two charges that would total three hundred ninety-nine dollars and ninety-eight cents.”

“Of course, you’re right,” she said, “I was just rounding up.”

I was feeling pretty bleak…and considerably poorer…though still proud of myself for catching that two-cent error…by the time I got back to the kitchen. The phone rang again. This time, it was a woman from the electric company. I thought, at first, that she was calling to apologize for the recent electrical outage. No, she was collecting data for a survey. She didn’t ask if I had time, or would care to participate, but just started firing off questions. I was balancing the telephone between my ear and my shoulder, while trying to reassemble the refrigerator. Juggling shelves and bins while trying to keep the phone from sliding away, my answers were peppered with curses and protests.

“How much longer??” I demanded at one point. “If you quit complaining and just answer the questions, about two minutes,” was her sharp rebuke. Such was my state of mind that day, that I meekly followed orders: I quit complaining, and answered the questions.

Hours later, discouraged, dejected and depressed…but with a sparkling clean kitchen…I sat down to dinner. The telephone rang. I almost didn’t answer it. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone; the phone had not been my friend that day. I picked it up, just before the answering machine kicked in.

My friend Linda! A friendly voice, at the end of a rough day. I started to tell her about the rotten day I’d had, from the power outage and lack of coffee to the old man’s toenail clippings to the awful telephone calls. When I got to the part about the pop-up warning with the number to call and the high cost of repair, she immediately said, “Oh, Cindy, that’s a scam!”

As soon as she said it, I knew that she was right. How would Microsoft know I had a virus? Why would I consider paying nearly four hundred dollars to fix it, when I could practically get a whole new computer for that price? How very stupid I had been! Then, I started thinking about the consequences: they had my credit card numbers! What had they been doing in my computer…and what did they actually download onto it?

“I gotta go,” I said, near tears, “I’ve got to figure this out.”

In the days since that happened, I’ve had several conversations with my credit card company. I’ve cut up my card, and will be issued a new one. I’ve been struggling to remove everything that was added to my system that day, and have been very cautious about using the computer at all. I’ve changed passwords and security measures. I have cried in utter humiliation. I have chastised myself constantly for my foolishness.

Today is my Dad’s birthday. Because of that, I’ve spent some time imagining how this whole episode would have gone over with him, if he were still alive. Dad was often unpredictable in his response. It’s hard to guess if he would be angry for me…or angry at me. I can guarantee, there would be a lot of “goddamn”s involved.

I can picture Dad going on a rant about the “goddamn scammers” who would take advantage of my ignorance. He might rail on about the “goddamn computers” which have made such things possible, and completely changed the world as he knew it. He might have even gone after the “goddamn telephone,” which he never was comfortable with.

I like to think, though – because Dad could be light-hearted, too – that he’d be impressed with my ability to tell the story, and that he’d see a bit of humor along with the tragedy of it. I can picture him wagging his head from side to side, with a look of both sympathy and understanding. I can clearly see his mischievous grin as he speaks: “Cindy…how the hell did you get to be so goddamned STUPID??”

Not the Day I Expected…Part 2

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So, it was Tuesday afternoon. Having whiled away my two days off in various procrastination strategies, wastrel tendencies and fits and starts of actual progress, I had just arranged to have one additional day off. Flush with energy and new-found enthusiasm for the project at hand, I went to it.

Before continuing my cleaning and rearranging, a trip to town was necessary. I hadn’t picked up my mail in at least five days; I had a small collection of letters and payments to send out. The Post Office was my first stop.

Now that the grocery store has gone to their shorter, off-season hours, it’s difficult to do any serious shopping in the few minutes between me getting out of work, and their closing time. It has to be done on a day off. I went to the market next, with my long grocery list.

Finally, since I was in town at the right time of day, I stopped at the pub for happy hour, to have a drink with some friends. I told them all about my kitchen: the mess I was in, the progress I’d made, and my plans to complete the job. By the time I finished my beer, I was ready to get back at it. I said good-bye, and headed for home.

Distracted by the wind and rain, and focused on greeting the dogs and getting the groceries inside, it was a while before I realized I had no electricity. When the power goes out, I don’t have telephone or computer or lights. I can’t run water or use appliances. Darkness comes early this time of year. I lit candles and thought about what manner of cold, raw thing I could have for dinner. When the lights came on – after about an hour – the first thing I did was make a warm meal.

I had barely finished, when the power went out again. That time, it stayed out all night. I later learned that Mike, our Great Lakes Energy guy, had been out working in the wind and storms for 24 hours straight. At that time, it is mandatory that he take eight hours to catch up on his rest. So, those of us living south of the airport that were affected by the outage had to wait until the next day for it to be restored.

It wasn’t so bad. I have a battery-run lantern that gives enough light to read by. My E-reader was charged, too, and loaded with several books I hadn’t read yet. The dogs were happy to settle in. The weather was conducive to good sleep. If I hadn’t been so intent on getting things done, it would have all been quite enjoyable.

Wednesday morning was damp and chilly. I still had no power. Another drive to town was needed. Though I almost never make frivolous trips, always aware of the age of my car and the price of gas, I had no intention of getting on with my day without knowing that the outage had been reported, finding out what the prospects were for having the power restored, and getting a cup of coffee!!

To the back seat of my car, already filled with boxes of old Beacons, I added a bag of garbage and several sacks full of recyclables. A stop at the Transfer Station to get rid of all the trash, in the boxes and bins available there, would help to justify the drive. I gathered coin and small checks for deposit; a visit to the bank was added reason for the excursion. Having rationalized to the point where I could believe a seven-mile drive to town was sensible, I decided to start by taking myself out to breakfast.

Though I had a book with me, and had been looking forward to reading – alone – in the restaurant while I ate, I accepted an invitation to join an old friend at his table. He was in good spirits, and related a couple island stories I hadn’t heard before. The conversation veered a little to the south when he told me about having his toenails clipped…but by the time my food arrived, he had moved on to other topics. We had a nice visit.

I didn’t know, though, until much later, that the morning meal was going to be the best part of my entire day. But, again, I’m out of time. Part 3, I swear, will be the final chapter of this tedious saga.

Not the Day I Expected…Part 1

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It wasn’t the day I expected.

None of them are, really. My days off, that is. They begin – Sunday evening – with high expectations and big plans. That gives way, by Monday, to too much time sitting at the computer, going over the week’s news and drinking coffee. “It is my day off, after all,” I tell myself, an excuse for my sloth. By Tuesday, desperation has taken over.

Tuesday is writing day, but also the day to give the dogs a good, long walk, the day I promised myself I’d make time for the studio and the last day to catch up on all the weekly chores before going back to work. It is a day always tinged with desperation: too much too do; too little time.

This week, in addition to all the usual tasks (plus grapes to harvest to be cleaned and cooked and turned into juice, tomatoes to stew and freeze for the winter, the whole garden to be pulled up, covered over and readied for winter, the grass to mow and leaves to rake!!!), I was rearranging the kitchen.

Aunt Katie bought me a small chest-type freezer about a dozen years ago. It was a bit large for my small kitchen, so it was set up in her pole barn. At first, it worked okay for the vegetables and fruits I put up for winter. I’d stop for a visit, then fill a grocery sack with a week’s supply of foods. My cousin Bob used it sometimes for his overflow of venison, pork or lamb. After a while, it seemed like too much trouble to burrow through to find what I needed to fill the little freezer compartment in my refrigerator, to make sure everything was rotated for freshness, and to remember what was there. Eventually, I quit using it. Now, with the sorting and purging that goes on after a death, that freezer is coming down to my house. But I have to make room.

The file cabinets that sat under the kitchen shelves could be moved to the dining room. That would allow me to add one shelf – necessary, because I will lose the space for one cabinet – while I was emptying and moving the shelves down four inches to the end of the stairway wall to leave just enough space for the freezer at the other end. I also planned to clear out and clean the refrigerator, in anticipation of being able to redistribute the contents of the freezer compartment.

While I was at it – if time allowed – my plans were to also empty and clean two thirty-six inch cabinets on the south wall. Then I could unscrew them from the wall, cut boards to support the Formica top while I pulled the cabinets out.  That would allow me to access a blind corner…where I am fairly certain a family of mice is setting up winter housekeeping. But that was probably too much to expect.

By Tuesday afternoon, I was on a roll, getting things done, making good progress…but watching the clock. Not enough time! After weighing my options, I made a couple calls and arranged to have the following day off, as well. I chastised myself a little for the time I had wasted and the pay I was sacrificing, but all-in-all, it seemed like a good plan. One more day, fired with enthusiasm as I was, would be enough.

That was what I thought, anyway. I don’t know how many things can possible go awry in a single day, but I’m sure my day was in the running for the most! Too many, in fact, to go into in the time I have this morning. That will have to wait for Part 2.

Intermission

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I love a break in the action, no matter what the action is.

An evening of euchre? Let’s take intermission at some point, to finish up all the threads of conversation that were left dangling as cards were played. Let’s cut into that pie.

A good book? Chapters provide an ideal pause. The characters take shape, the tension deepens and the motivations become clearer in the time between putting a book down, and picking it up again.

A play? Intermission is time to get a snack or run to the rest room, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to turn to the folks on either side. A short exchange of “Isn’t this wonderful?!” or “He is hysterical!” and something that was going on between the stage and each individual member of the audience now feels like shared experience.

A major project at work or home? Goals can change once underway. Perspectives are different in the middle of a project than they are at the start. A short intermission, maybe with a cup of coffee or an apple,  allows for an assessment of progress, and a reevaluation of the direction forward.

An evening of watching TV? I swear, my house has never gotten the attention that it did when I had television! There was one evening a week when I liked every show on the air from 7 to 10 PM. That was also my housekeeping night. During every commercial break, I’d jump up and furiously tackle a project: change loads from washer to dryer; wipe down the stove and counter tops; sweep a room; dust a shelf; clean a window. It’s amazing how much can be accomplished in five-minute increments!

There were times that I combined housekeeping night with exercise night. Then, the commercial intermissions were spent cleaning house, and the shows were watched while standing on one foot in “tree pose,” holding a plank position or getting in a few sit-ups. When handled correctly, TV – and the intermissions it provides – can be quite worthwhile!

A meal. I think it’s a good idea to take a little intermission before taking a second helping of anything. Time to reflect on the flavors of the meal. Time to decide if I’m still hungry, or just wanting more because it tastes good. Sometimes I take a second helping anyway, but at least I’ve made myself more aware of my motivation. If I’m over-eating because it is delicious, it’s good to know that, and better appreciate the experience.

Sometimes, eight hours in bed can seem like a very long time. After a couple hours of good sleep, I often find myself wide awake. I used to struggle to fall back asleep, concerned about what the following day would be like if I weren’t rested. It seemed the more I worried about it, the more sleep evaded me. Now, I just take a little intermission. I get a glass of water. I read a little bit, make a grocery list or write a letter. If I simply give in to the need for a pause, sleep comes easy.

Then there are vacations: magical breaks from normal life that shake up our senses and help us to see everything clearer. A change in environment or routine gives a basis for comparison, and helps to clarify what we know. With a little distance from the usual day-to-day sights and sounds, it’s easier to appreciate them, on return.

Most days, I enjoy whatever I’m doing. Still, I think every experience is made better by a little intermission!

 

 

Empathy versus Apology

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It’s still okay, it seems, when confronted with a death, to say, “I’m so sorry.” The usual response is as expected: a somber nod, a murmured “Thank you.”

In my experience, that’s no longer the case in most other circumstances. Someone tells me of a minor frustration, a bad experience or a maddening encounter. I say, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” or “I’m sorry you’re having such a rough hour [week/year/go of it]” or simply, “I’m so sorry.”

That, too often, causes a look ranging from mild surprise to incredulity to irritation, and one of several responses:

“Well, it’s not your fault!”

You didn’t do it.”

“I wasn’t blaming you!”

I realize that.

I was not apologizing; I was empathizing. I know I wasn’t the cause of your pain, frustration or anger; I am not blaming myself. Likely, I have been in your situation, or one very similar, and I understand how you feel. I am sorry you’re going through it. Empathy, not apology. It’s the difference between “I’m sorry you’re having car trouble” and “I’m sorry I wrecked your car.”

“I’m sorry you’re having a hard day” = empathy.

“I’m sorry for giving you such a hard time” = apology.

Do I need to be clearer? Is “I’m sorry” not enough? Do I look guilty? What would make a person think I am blaming myself? When I approach someone who has had a death in the family, and say, “I’m sorry,” it has never been countered with, “Why? You didn’t kill him!” Have we forgotten about how to express shared feelings?

Maybe, from now on, I’ll try something different. If someone tells me of a minor frustration, a bad experience or a maddening encounter, this will be my response:

“Bummer!”

 

Listing

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I’ve said it before: I love a list.

Lists give organization to my days. They work as outlines, to highlight my accomplishments and help my scatter-brained self to continue from one task to the next.

Lists can be memory aids. The children in my family, when I was growing up, in age order: Brenda, Cindy, Ted, Sheila, Cheryl, Nita, Robin, David, Darla, Amy, Bobby. The children in my father’s family: Henry, Alfred, Robert, Katherine, Margaret, Kenneth. The children in my mother’s family: Janice (no list there!). My own children: Jennifer, Katherine. My grandchildren: Michael, Brandon, Madeline, Tommy, Patrick. My great-grandchildren: Lacey, Faith, Lincoln. These recitations seem silly and unnecessary…right up until I stumble trying to remember a grandchild’s name. Then I know that – especially as I age, and fumble over even common words and things I should absolutely know – any assistance is a good thing.

My job is easier when I refer to my mental lists. The lights to turn on when I open the hardware store: two switches by the front door; six switches by the stairs; one switch in the front of housewares, one in the back and two slide controls on the side wall; one switch in the front of the gift shop; the toggle switch for the paint color display. Opening procedure at the hardware: punch in; turn on the lights; start up the computers; count and record the starting till for each register; turn on the radio; turn on the mixer for the paint machine; put stuff outside, according to the season: grills, lawnmowers, lawn chairs, wheelbarrows, snow blowers; tidy the entry. And the day continues this way, with procedures for sales, returns and charges on the registers, lists for ordering…and on and on.

I have a list of staple foodstuffs I like to keep on hand, and will usually put another list together before going to the grocery store, of things I need based on my planned week’s meals…which is another list. There is a list of foods I cannot have if I follow one diet plan, and a list of foods I need if I go with a different plan. If the cupboards are bare, and I don’t want to go to the grocery store, there is a list of basics that – if I have one or two of them on hand – I can use to put a satisfying meal together with, in a pinch. It is both heartening and scary to think that, with flour, eggs, and frozen vegetables, I could survive.

I have a list of “Nine Habits of People with Clean Houses,” because I do so aspire to be one of them. I have a list of chores to do on a daily basis, and another – often neglected – for weekly and monthly tasks. There is a separate list, for reference, of things that I should tackle, when I have time. There are lists of springtime jobs, autumn chores and holiday-oriented tasks. Always, in my day planner, there are lists of the cleaning I do manage to get done.

I have lists of books I have read, that I am reading, and that I want to read. The same with movies, Ted talks, on-line classes and art projects. Lists of pets, both living and dead. Lists of places I’ve been (few), and places I would like to see (many). I have lists of friends, relatives and acquaintances. Lists of accomplishments and (sadly) of failures.

I picture my life as a large outline, made up of lists with arrows leading from one to another, with quite a few scribbles…and a lot of stars and exclamation points.