Like Living in a Holiday Greeting Card

[Photo is mine.]

Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.

–Lyrics by Sammy Cahn

I’ve never lived inside a greeting card before. You’d have to be really really thin, like Wiley C. Cayote after being flattened by a road paver. Never fear. My readers know that and that the title of this post is metaphorical. Having said that, I will admit that I could drop a few pounds.

So, consider the lead photograph at the top of your screen. Doesn’t our house look like a Disney version of Santa’s Workshop? It looks so cozy inside and it is. Outside, it looks like a winter wonderland…snowy and frozen.

Many of my friends from back in the day will read this blog in Florida and say: “Beautiful, but no thanks.” Others may look at the picture and say: “How cozy. How peaceful.”

[My photo.]

I used to love winter when I was growing up in Owego, NY. We had a toboggan, sleds, skates and shovels to pile the snow and make a ‘snow fort’. My views have changed since 1958. Consider this:

I have to get from the front door to the car in the driveway which means I have to shovel a path, clean the snow off the car and hope the battery isn’t dead. Then I look and see that the county plow has piled the road snow at the head of the driveway. We have a guy (last name is Winter by the way) who plows our driveway but to do so properly, the car needs to be moved. Can you see a problem in this situation? I can.

Now, for reasons I won’t get into here, we have two cars. My car is in the garage. Protected. But how do I get to said garage? I have to shovel a path from our porch to the back door. I need this path because every two weeks the recycling and garbage has to be brought to the large plastic buckets in the garage. Once these are filled, I have to shovel a short path so I can haul the bins to the roadside. Mr. Winter may have had a chance to clear that space from the garage door to the road. Sometimes he doesn’t have that chance…so I have to shovel.

The other day I brought up the idea of getting a snow-blower. They cost about $700 for a proper one that ‘drives itself’. I told my wife that we’d save on Mr. Winter’s plowing. We’d have the thing paid off in two to three winters. She said we’d still have to keep him on our payroll because when we’re away for the winter, the driveway needs to be plowed. It’s an insurance thing.

“But I have a bad back,” I told my wife.

“Then I’ll shovel,” she replied.

“Not with your dicey shoulder,” I retorted.

We’re at the classic snow-blower stalemate.

[A beautiful landscape. Photo is mine.]

So, what is the situation now? Well, I need one of those patches for my lower back after I shovel even a few yards. I possess five buckets of ice-melting stuff on hand as well as three cans of de-icer, three shovels, a child’s plastic sled to haul our groceries from wherever I can park the car to the front door.

You can see the front door in the top photograph. The one that looks so cozy and inviting. But there’s not many people on our road to invite to our cozy home. They’ve all gone south for the winter. Like the hummingbirds, geese and other seventy-something-year-old folks.

We will be spending the majority of this winter in England. We have a great place to stay at the home of long-time friends. But, last year they had a freak cold snap and several inches of snow fell in North Dorset.

I wonder if I can use an English shovel. They drive on the left…maybe there’s a shoveling etiquette?

If you get a holiday card from your son or ex-wife who now live in Tucson, savor the photo of the lovely, dry, snowless desert.

[Source: The New Yorker. Dec. 10, 2018. Artist is Peter Kuper.]

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What Happened at 9:54 PM on September 22?

[The earth and sun at the equinox. Source: Google search.]

Are you regular? I mean do you feel in balance? Was everything right as it should be on Saturday last, September 22? Many of you, myself included, will say that nothing is in balance these days. Nothing is as it should be. But let’s leave politics aside for a moment to contemplate a wondrous phenomenon of nature. This one occurs twice a year. On or about March 21 and on or about September 21 (this year is was the 22nd, don’t quibble about details).

What on earth am I going on about this time?

Well, it’s the Autumnal Equinox, of course. You won’t find the Druids at Stonehenge on this day (actually, the Druids are always at Stonehenge). They tend to gather at the Summer Solstice, which is on or about June 21. If you are a novice Druid, think again about going to Stonehenge in June. The parking is a bitch.

Briefly, on Saturday last, September 22, the earth was facing the sun and the day should be of equal length. From now on, the days are going to get shorter…until on or about December 21, which is the Winter Solstice. The diagram at the top of this blog may help illustrate the general idea. Are the daylight hours and night-time really equal right now? No, because nothing in nature is quite that simple. There’s a lag time but I’m not going there.

[Balanced egg at the equator on the equinox. Source: GypsyNester.com}

It’s been said that at the moment of the Equinox, one can, if one desires, balance an egg. But this supposedly can only be done at the Equator. As a Science Teacher, I told my Sixth graders about this once in the late 1990’s. I challenged them. Two boys produced a photo (before digital) of a “balanced egg” on a table on the terrace of their York Avenue apartment. I said: “Wow”. They walked away pleased and proud they pulled one-off on the old science guy. But, I think they propped the egg up with some Nutty Putty or Wrigley’s Chewing Gum. You can’t fool me.

[My attempt at balancing an egg failed. But the tomatoes look balanced. Source: my photo]

So, I’ll be back to discuss the Solstice sometime in December. That’s a whole different diagram. A whole different story.

And you can’t do anything with an egg except scramble it (or poach it).

 

Books I’ll Never Finish While I Can’t Sleep

[Source: Google search.]

It’s 5:30 am. I just put aside a book that I probably will never finish. And I can’t sleep. I toss. I turn. I stare at the ceiling…at the wall and the glowing numerals of my digital clock. Hypnos has not come to my bedside tonight. Morpheus will not visit me and give me sweet dreams. Maybe that’s a good thing. As Bob Dylan once said: “My dreams are made of iron and steel.”

Such is my dilemma. I am an avid reader. I won’t bore you about bragging of the three books a months I read. But, there is a small but growing list of books that I began (in some cases, many years ago) that I will never finish. As a rule, I don’t read any book twice. The possible exception is Lost Horizon by James Hilton. It’s one of my favorites. It’s about a man chasing his dream.

I can even read long books. In the mid-1970’s, I read the Bible from cover to cover. Very interesting. Lots of sex and violence. I began reading In Search of Lost Time about twenty years ago. I only have about 800 pages left. I’ll make it happen. If if took Proust years to write it, I can take years to read it.

I’m now about 34% of the way through David Copperfield. I’ll do it. I promise.

But, there is one book (pictured above) that I began about 55 years ago. The Vicar of Wakefield. I like reading about English vicars. It’s comforting to live in a small village in England, even if its only on paper. But for some reason I cannot complete this rather slim volume. What am I blocked about?

[Source: Google search.]

The same applies to The Nature of Light and Color in the Open Air. Now, I realize that this title is somewhat titillating. Perhaps even a little risqué. I assure you, it isn’t even mildly pornographic even though the term: ‘naked eye’ is plainly printed on the cover. And as a former science teacher, I know I would relish the details of rainbows and clouds. But, forty years have passed since I first purchased the book. I don’t even know where the physical copy is right now. Maybe behind some shadow. Or at the end of the rainbow where all good treasures are found.

[My photo.]

About ten years ago I purchased a copy of The Tale of Genji (at a discount price at Barnes & Noble). It’s an important book, written over 1,000 years ago. My copy has 1,120 pages. My bookmark rests on page 5. If I read five pages every third night, at that rate I will finish the book in 20.4 months. That would be mid-May of 2020.

Not bad, considering that I’m a slow reader.

But, will any of these help me fall asleep?

 

 

The Night Lauren Bacall Heard Me Cough

[Photo source: IMDb]

I lived for almost thirty years on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It’s an artsy neighborhood. And it’s not uncommon to cross paths with famous people, most often actors. My wife was in the Blockbuster Video store, in line behind Michael J. Fox.

“I think your next,” he said to Mariam.

“And I think you’re great,” she said to him.

She stood in line at Fairway on Broadway behind Francis McDormond.

“I love your work,” Mariam said.

“Thank you,” replied the Oscar-winning actor.

I had a moment of greatness too. I went into our neighborhood Mexican restaurant…Gabriella’s. I calmly walked passed a chubby guy sitting at one of our favorite outside tables…with his family. He had cut off denim shorts, a thin wife and a hefty kid or two.

It was James Gandolfini. Tony Soprano was sitting at my table. I didn’t raise a fuss. I’ve been to Jersey City. I knew the deal. First come, first serve.

That was life in New York City!

Let’s go back in time. It’s 1984. I’m an exchange teacher in Dorset, England. I befriended a young woman when I signed up for a screen-printing and etching course at the Poole Arts Center. I made sure I sat near her. She was pretty and a very good artist…and a gourmet cook.  I still have one of her etchings on my wall. She was a mid-wife, a surf-boarder and a sweet attractive woman. We became friends. We went out for eats and a pint or two after class. She promised me she’d teach me how to wind-surf in Poole harbor. We never got to do it.

But one thing we did get to do was see a play.

I had tickets to the Salisbury Playhouse production of Sweet Bird of Youth.  I asked her if she would like to go. Yes, she said.

[This is the movie with Paul Newman and Geraldine Page. Photo is mine.]

“How about dinner?”, I asked.

“I’m a good cook what do you think you would like?”, she said. I made a joke. “Oh. Shrimp Scampi and some caviar.”

She picked me up in her MG (mounted with a wind-surfer board rack). She had a picnic basket. I peaked inside. There was shrimp scampi, caviar and a bottle of white wine. We spread a blanket on the lawn in front of the main entrance of Salisbury Cathedral. The air was crisp. The food was awesome. The view was breathtaking.

We finished and made our way to our seats at the Playhouse. The lights went down. Sweet Bird of Youth began. Lauren Bacall was playing aging actress. I don’t recall the leading man.

That’s when Lauren and I connected.

There was a scene where she was lounging on a bed, waiting for her lover. The theater was stone quiet. The silence was intense. But the need in my throat couldn’t linger. I needed to cough.

I coughed.

She didn’t look into the audience like they do now days when a cell phone goes off. But, I knew she HAD to have heard me cough. There was no other sound. Only me.

Years later, I flipped through her autobiography in a narrow aisle at a Barnes & Noble. I found no reference to me, the cough, the disruption, or the shrimp scampi. I wonder how long my cough stayed with her.

I have a feeling that I was no match for Bogie.

“You know how to cough, don’t you? You just lower your head and make a gasping sound.”

An August Omen

Omen n. Something believed to be a sign of good or evil.

–The American Heritage Dictionary

Can you see it? Between the two large trees…behind the birch. I can see it. I first noticed it a few days ago but held-off saying anything about it.

It’s not a cardinal or an oriole.  It’s a leaf. And it’s turning red. So are the few other leaves on the same branch.

I know about omens. For example, I don’t need a crystal ball or magic stick to know that my next flight on American Airlines is going to be painful. Painful because I have two legs and American must assume you won’t need them during your flight. Other than that, I’m Irish and the Irish know omens.

But the leaf omen is telling me something special. It’s a warning from the Weather Gods of the North Country. Leaves, you see, are not supposed to turn color until it’s autumn. That’s the rule I grew up observing when I lived downstate New York.

But its August. August 22 to be exact. Legally, its still Summer. Fall colors are not to be a part of ones life until late September or October. Trick or Treat time, when you walk down the street and kick leaves dressed as a vampire.

So, what does all this mean? It means that WINTER is around the proverbial corner. I mowed the lawn once this summer. I haven’t blown the leaves and pine needles off the roof yet. And, yet, these leaves are telling me something:

“Winter is on the way. Get your snow shovel out and keep it handy.”

(Yes, I listen to the leaves. Is there a problem with that?)

I just put the shovel away in the garage. What am I supposed to do? Things are happening too fast for me. I’m retired. I should be slowing down.

But no. Winter in the North Country is just weeks away. It’s almost September. I predict that before the end of October, I’ll need to bring out the shovel again.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fall colors…all eleven days of them.

 

 

 

 

It Just Isn’t That Simple

I am waging a war here in the North Country. I am waging a war against spiders. I am the General and I am losing. Look, we bought the house in 2000, but the spiders think they are the real owners. That’s eighteen years of warfare. The two World Wars didn’t last that long. Okay, you can talk about the Hundred Year War in Europe, but I’m not a historian and I’m sure it wasn’t about spiders.

I could stop the small weapon action with the whisk broom and rent a power washer. I could blast every shutter and every cornice and every eave. But I would lose. Seven minutes after I drive off to return the power washer, there would be a new spider web being spun, like a never-ending fairy tale. Sometimes I feel like we are living in something like the Addams Family house…or Castle Dracula in Transylvania.

Spiders. Living in the woods. Where is Stephen King when we need him?

I guess it just isn’t that simple.

I spotted a cluster of Indian Pipes (Monotrope uniflora) on the path down to our dock. I always thought they were Saprophytes…living wholly off the decayed detritus of the forest floor. But no. I glimpsed something in the New York Times the other day that alluded to the fact that scientists are finding that the way the Pipes get nutrients is more complicated.

I guess it just isn’t that simple.

The other day, my wife, Mariam (this happened on her birthday) was thinking about particle accelerators. She asked me a question about String Theory and it’s relationship to Quantum Physics. (She knew I was a science teacher for 34+ years). I thought about the question for a minute. Then I told her:

“Honey, it just isn’t that simple.”

So, on a recent night, Mariam and I went to a concert.

The second part of the concert featured a world acclaimed pianist. Before she came on stage I looked up at the piano she was going to play. It was one large piano, a concert Steinway Grand…about the size of a ’49 Cadillac. If it wasn’t for its odd shape (like a piano) it reminded me of the coffin that Andre The Giant was buried in.

[Full disclosure: My son, Brian, lives not very far from the Steinway & Sons factory (when they built them in Queens). He has no connection with the Steinway company so I’m not sure why I’m disclosing this].

We were in the second row. Great seats except you couldn’t see the pianists hands working the keyboard (music terms)…but then again you couldn’t see anything on that stage because of the size of that piano.

She played the piece with total abandon and gusto. It was breath taking…except I couldn’t take my eyes off the collar of the guy in the front row. It was not straight. He was there with his wife (she sat in front of me) and two children.

My first thought was what kind of wife was she? She let her husband go out into public with a messed up collar. Then she leaned forward. A tag on her blouse (shirt, top…whatever) was sticking up. I thought what kind of husband was he, letting his wife go out in public with a tag showing in her mid back.

I considered making a deal with Mariam (she admitted being distracted by his collar after I brought it to her attention), that she could lean forward and straighten out his collar while I tucked the tag inside her top.

We were conflicted. Mariam rejected the idea.

I took another sip of Chardonnay from the ‘sippy-cup’ and settled back to listen to the last movement of a piano concerto.

But I couldn’t take my eyes off the couple in front of us. He was clearly in love with his wife. He kept looking at her and even stroked her arm. She paid little attention to his attention…she chewed gun during the concert.

Was this a dysfunctional family?  Did she really love him?

Then I looked at the two children they made together. The daughter was a pretty 18-year-old with freshly washed auburn hair. The boy was a well-behaved ten-year-old who sat patiently through a concert that he probably didn’t really want to attend. But this couple, with his collar and her tag, were responsible for their very existence.

I guess some things are just not that simple.

 

If I Was A Good Dog And My Time Came To Die, I’d Go To My Reward, England

Some years ago, when I wore a young man’s clothes, someone told me that when dogs get old and die, they go to The Dog Star. Now, as a man with gray hair, I know the truth. When dogs pass on, they go to England.

When I was a child I had a dog. His name was King. He was a good dog too. Except the one day he wanted me more than our large back yard…so he followed me to school.

“King! Go home!” I yelled. He would stop and then start following me again. I forget how that day turned out…it was more than sixty years ago. He probably went back down Front Street and sat in the back yard until one of us got home from school.

We didn’t ‘play’ with him in the way some dog owners do. We never threw a stick, a frisbee or a tennis ball. He just enjoyed playing around us as we played our own games.

I cried when King was “put down”…something that my parents did when I was in bed with the flu. I heard about it later from a friend. It was the right and humane thing to do. King had damage from being struck in the hind quarters in front of our house. He was old. He howled when the train blew the whistle as it came near our house. I was sad but didn’t blame my parents. I was quite ill and they didn’t want to make my misery any worse.

I’m okay with all that.

But, here in England…they love their dogs. Pets are even allowed into the bar area of a pub…where people can eat. That is not legal in NYC, or most other places.

In front of almost every shop along the High Street of any small town or village, there are stainless dishes for the dogs to drink from. That’s a good thing. I thought the Upper East Side of Manhattan was the place to open a pet supply shop. No, it’s in every village in England.

I do have to object to the fact that many walkers (and England is full of walkers) don’t keep their dogs on a leash. The dogs “worry” the sheep and lambs. That’s not right.

But you should take a walk along West 92nd Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Hardly anyone obeys the “pooper scopper” laws. It’s a problem all over (and I mean that literally).

I love dogs. I really do. But I’m the one who wants to be the master.

.

That’s why I love cats more than dogs. The cat’s attitude is: “I’ll get back to you.”

The dog:

“FOOD’

[All photos are mine]