Loss

My neighbor Jim is an elusive character. He’s in his mid 70’s, still very active. I’ve lived next door to him for 5 years. He’s a retired firefighter but that was his part time job! He was also a painting contractor. He keeps busy working odd jobs, mostly for friends. He golfs now and then. He does not talk much, just sort of grunts if you say hello to him. In the past year, he has engaged me in conversation once or twice. That means he likes me. At least those who know him well say that’s true.

Some things I do know about Jim is that he was briefly married and got divorced many years ago. There were no kids. His house is big…really big for one single man. I’ve never been inside but I’m told it’s nice. He has a nice big deck on the back of the house that he never uses. Ever. And the one thing that always has me perplexed is that no matter the time of the year, the windows in the house are always closed. There is no air conditioning. The driveway is on the far side of the house so I can’t see if his car is at home. The only way I know he is home in the evening is by seeing the lights on in what is most likely his living room. I know that in the winter, he goes to Florida for a few weeks. I also know he had a horrible bout with throat cancer a few years ago but seems to have recovered fairly well.

This past winter was different. Jim did not go to Florida. I did not see him to speak to but would see him come and go from time to time. But then it seemed like he was gone for long stretches of time….days and into weeks. His normal routine would be to be out doing a painting job during the day. He would come home, clean up and then drive away to parts unknown, coming home later in the evening. But as I said, this past winter was different. His paint truck seemed to never leave the yard. His car was rarely at home. Days and sometimes a week or more would go by with no signs of life in the house. This went on into Spring and early Summer. I mentioned this to a mutual friend and was frankly shocked at what I was told. Apparently elusive Jim had a lady friend! And they had been a “thing” for many many years. Well, of course I would not have known that. Good for Jim!

Her name was Betty Lou. I know nothing about her or their life together. I suspect she was a great help to him when he was sick. And then she got sick. I am told it was some time this past winter that she was diagnosed with cancer. No idea what kind. But whatever it was, it was apparently aggressive. Jim was devoted to her care which now explains the lengthy periods of time he was away from home. He stayed with her day and night. He stayed with her up until she passed.  It was a big loss for Jim.

Several people have said Jim claims this was the worst year of his life. I suppose that’s probably true. I also know that Jim’s best friend of close to 50 years passed away this Spring, also of cancer. I think traditionally men are less equipped to manage a loss like this than women are. Loss is hard for everyone and Jim isn’t any different. But for some reason, his loss makes me extra sad. His life was wrapped up in her and their life and now it’s all gone. He is home now, every night. What now?

 

Impact weather day

 

We are having a heat wave. And I hate it. But I hate the media more for making it so much worse than it already is. They seem to thrive on weather extremes. And they really love to use specific words and phrases to hammer home their point.

So here is my list of words and phrases that should be banned in reference to this heat:

Excessive. Dangerous. Historic. Cooling centers. Hot. Really Hot. Splash Pads. Pools. Air conditioning. Shower. Ice cream. Humidity. Dew Points. Heat Index. Hydrate. Check on the elderly. Heat advisory. Extreme heat warning. Heat exhaustion. Heat stroke. Fry an egg. Pets. Kids. Power grid.

There are many more that could be added to the list. But my all-time least favorite (and actually it’s very new) is IMPACT WEATHER DAY.

Weather people…I beg you. Please stop! Thank you.

I’m going back into my air conditioned house where I plan to eat ice cream, take a cool shower, check on my elderly neighbors, ignore the dew point and hope the power grid does not give out!

 

 

Pssst…hey you. Yeah you! I’ve got a newsflash for you….

You are NOT Mark Spitz!

There is a public pool in my City. It opened 55 years ago and is still going strong. But it has limitations. It’s biggest problem is that it’s too small. It’s bigger problem is some of the people who come to use it. The pool does it’s best to cater to the needs of everyone who comes. There are hours for general swimming where anyone can do just about anything. There are always 2 lap lanes but the fact is that during general swim, these lanes are not immune to infiltration by non-competitive swimmers. There is a big shallow end that’s good for kids. At the other end is a diving board and slide. This part of the pool is very deep, mostly because there used to be a very high diving board! They took that away many years ago in the interest of safety. During the week, a mere 45 minutes is set aside from 12:15 to 1pm for “adult swim” only. On weekends, “adult swim” is from 11a-12p. And on Tuesday and Thursday mornings in July and half of August, early morning “adult swim” is from 7:30-8:15. Not much time for us “adults”. But we make the best of it.

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I have been coming to this pool since day 1. As a kid, I spent many summer days camped out with my friends, keeping an eye on all the cute boys and making plans for what we all were going to do that night in the park. Simpler times for sure. I grew up and grew away from the pool as life took me in different directions and working for a living took over for summering in the pool. Close to 20 years ago, I re-discovered the pool and began going every day for adult swim. I worked nights at the time and a nice dip in the cool pool before bed was the perfect thing for a good day’s sleep.

I don’t swim. I can, for the most part but I just don’t. I run in the pool and do some variations of aerobic exercises as I run back and forth in the lane. It’s a great workout. No impact on the joints, gets your heart rate up and gives you great resistance in the water as you move back and forth. I simply love it. The lane closest to the shallow end is PERFECT for me and my exercise routine. The water comes to mid-chest and provides the absolute best possible combination of depth and resistance. But I don’t own the lane. And neither do you!

Over the years, there is a core group of people who come to adult swim. We all know each other and we all know where we prefer to “swim”. There is a flow to the pool and you kinda need to go with it.  But then Mark Spitz shows up. You know, the guy with the tiny Speedo, the skin tight swim cap, the flippers and hand flippers, goggles, stop watch and several additional swim aides. Mark is not a regular. In fact, he is often a day swimmer…obvious by the wrist band you get when you pay by the day.

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Mark arrives after everyone else is in the pool, deep into their routines. And then Mark’s routine begins. He stretches, he adjusts his Speedo. stretches, adjusts, stretches, adjusts….and then despite HUGE letters of the pool deck saying “No Diving”, he dives in to a lane regardless of who else might be there. Every so often, Mark stands at the head of the lane I’m in and tells me in no uncertain terms, that the lane is for “lap swimming” and I need to get out of it and move over to the shallow end of the pool. I am polite and simply say that the pool is for whatever you want it to be and that I am happy to have him swim around me if he’d like. Mark tells me again the lanes are for swimming….and so I stop running and break into a breast stroke and ask, “Is this better?”. And I refuse to move. There have been times when Mark has approached the pool staff asking them to have me move. And he is told this will not happen. So Mark finds a space…adjusts his goggles, starts his timer and off he goes. One lap. Check timer. Readjust goggles. Put on flippers. Swim. One lap. Check timer. Fuss with goggles. Swim. Take off flippers. Drink flavored power water. Fuss with goggles. Swim. Flip turn. Breast stroke. Flip. Stop to adjust goggles. Butterfly stroke….because we ALL need to be impressed. Except nobody is impressed. Finally someone will vacate one of the two roped off lanes and Mark will make his way over to it. And then he fusses with all his stuff all over again. So much times is wasted on all this stuff….just swim! But no…..you are Mark Spitz! When your time is up, off you go and we likely will never see you again. We are oaky with that. Maybe you can find a pool somewhere that caters to the Mark Spitz type. Good luck with that. Because I have a newsflash for you….you are NOT Mark Spitz!

 

And for those of you of a younger generation…omit Mark Spitz and insert Michael Phelps!

Mr.Mouse takes a vacation…with Abigail

 

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It was only a matter of time. The elusive and very private Mr.Mouse was finally dragged on vacation by the ever charming Abigail. There is romance in her heart…but can we say the same for Mr.Mouse?

They boarded the boat and found their way to their bunks…separate accommodations to be sure. Once settled, they made their way to the decks to mingle with the other guests and get to know people. Some folks may have been a little skittish seeing two mice on board but it was quickly apparent these were not THOSE kind of mice. Mr.Mouse was familiar with several guests as he is a seasoned sailor aboard the schooner. He quickly renewed friendships with his crew friends….Sean and Ben, Nick, Elli and AB. And of course Capt’s Doug and Linda. There were several folks he has sailed with in prior years. Always nice to see John and Betsey, Betty and Ralph and of course buddies Harry and Gary!

And then there were the “newbies”…Helen and Fred and daughter Jennifer, Derek and Karyn, Lu and Ira, Jonathan and Ann and their friend Gina, Dee and last but not least Michael. All very nice folks, some who have sailed the schooner before and others making their maiden voyage. Everyone settled in and waited for morning and the thrill of pushing off the dock.

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We were treated to the shipyard osprey in the nest, watching over the 3 eggs waiting to burst open at any moment. These birds are great hunters, flying off the nest and frequently returning with a tasty fish in it’s talons. We sailed away on Tuesday morning at “10:30” and headed out into the bay. The weather looked a little gray with some rain possible but any day on the water is a good day. We made our way across the bay and through the Fox Island Thoroughfare and found ourselves a beautiful spot on Calderwood Island to go ashore and have lobster!

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On many previous trips, lots of pictures were taken. This trip, the camera was set aside for the most part and we all just enjoyed what we were seeing in the moment. But one never gets tired of seeing the beautiful Schooner Heritage at anchor in the cove.

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And then again, seeing her under sail is most impressive…

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The weather was not necessarily the best on this trip…rain was our companion more than we may have wanted. But on our last morning, the skies cleared and the winds came and across the Bay we sailed, past the hills of Camden and back to port.

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Another fabulous trip came to an end far too quickly. So I guess that means I have to go back again….soon! Will Mr.Mouse and Abigail be aboard? Time will tell…

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The tale of Squeaky the cat

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It’s hard to recall exactly when he came into our lives. Was it 10 years ago? 15? More?

He first appeared in L’s yard. He was a big boy and looked strong and healthy. A beautiful black and white tuxedo cat, he was not friendly or approachable. He was very aware of his surroundings and knew every escape route. He kept coming back to the yard so of course he must need food. L first put food in a dish and placed it in the back driveway. He was alway wary, ever cautious of anything that might get too close to him. This dance of the food dish went on for awhile as this mysterious feline kept coming back to the yard. Slowly over time, L was able to move the food dish off the ground and up on the back porch. It was then she heard that little squeaking noise he spoke when looking for a handout. Thus the name Squeaky was bestowed upon him.

Every so often, Squeaky would wander over into my yard and of course I fed him. But still, he remained aloof. He would hang out in my yard and exchange conversations with my cat Schroeder thru the screen windows. It was a chatter fest and often amusing to listen to. What were they talking about? I imagine Squeaky was telling Schroeder all about the outside world while Schroeder spoke of the joys of human pampering.

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Squeaky loved to roam the neighborhood and we would see him in other yards and crossing the busy street on many occasions. He was very street smart and was always safe. More than once I saw him in the overnight hours roaming the streets of the village square, some quarter mile away from “home”. I would yell at him and tell him to go home but he carried on his route and surveyed his territory as he saw fit. He was not one to be told what to do! He was truly the king of his territory.

More and more, Squeaky seemed to regard L’s back yard as his home territory. He even found himself a nice little corner in the yard where leaves would pile up in the winds of Fall. Knowing he favored this corner and these leaves, L and her husband C would rake the yard, fill the corner with leaves and and save a barrel full of leaves to use throughout the winter months to help fluff up the pile. What a life!IMG_3995.JPG

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And then one year Squeaky disappeared and did not come back. We looked for him every day for a while but it was clear he had moved on. We hoped that was the story rather than thinking he met a more ominous fate. So L put away his dishes and we went about life without our special friend. It was probably a year or so later, during the winter and after a very large snowstorm that Squeaky returned. C was in their yard shoveling out cars and adding snow to the giant pile that had already been plowed in the back yard. I was doing the same in my yard. I turned at one moment and saw a flash of black on top of the snow white pile. And there, sitting on top as if he was king of the world, was Squeaky!

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We all rejoiced that our old friend had returned, looking none the worse for wear. Out came his special dishes and there he was, sauntering up on the porch, ever cautious, and enjoyed the meal that was presented. He was back! And he hung around for awhile. Every morning he would appear and wait for the food to be put out for him. After breakfast, he would settle in his leaf pile and enjoy the warmth of the sun while he dozed. He would return in the evening and after dinner, off he went to parts unknown. We often commented how much fun it would have been to have a “Squeaky Cam” to see where he went! One of the oddest things was that Squeaky would never show up to eat on Sunday. Ever! Where did he go on Sunday…was there cat church? Did he go visit family? We will never know. The years went by and the routine stayed the same. Leaf pile, eating on the porch, napping under the bushes in the heat of the Summer. Once in awhile he would be gone for a few days but always turned up again, looking for his dinner. One year, about two weeks before Christmas, he did not come back. We worried terribly for him because by now, we were all attached to “our” cat. The sad part about feral cats is you never know what happens to them. Once again, we thought he was gone for good. I went away to Maine for the holiday and on Christmas Eve, L texted me saying he showed up for dinner! A Christmas miracle! We asked him where he had been but he just looked at us and smiled….and said nothing.

A few years ago, Squeaky finally started to let his guard down and would walk up on the porch while L sat there next to his dishes. She could not touch him but he felt safe enough to be that close to her. This turned into moving his dishes inside on the porch where he would go but would not stay. L had gotten him a little bed and placed it out on the porch for him. She lined the bed with an old cashmere sweater…what a life! Squeaky loved his bed and would curl up and enjoy the warm cashmere under the sun.

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And then my Schroeder died. I buried him in the yard close to the lilac bushes he could always smell but never touch. We would often see Squeaky sitting by the burial spot. I believe he knew his friend Schroeder was here and he would sit quietly by the grave at times throughout the year.

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As the years went by, we noticed that Squeaky was limping, was always batting at his ears and had some big patches of matted fur. In what can only be described as a matter of patience, Squeaky was trapped and taken to a vet for care. His first visit was very interesting. L had always believed that Squeaky was a “she”. Imagine the fun when the vet called to say “she” was a “he”! Lucky that Squeaky is a good name either way. At this trip to the vet, all the matted fur was shaved off, his ears were treated for mites and he was neutered and had his ear tipped. Since then, he has returned to the vet many times for updated shots, dental work and tooth extractions and other various issues. It was never easy to trap him but he was so very lucky that his humans cared enough about him to get him treated when he was sick.

Over the last three years, Squeaky has aged. His hearing and eyesight were not as sharp as they used to be. He actually started going into L and C’s house to eat. His bed was moved into the enclosed porch area and he would spend his nights curled up safe and warm. In the winter months, a space heater was placed by his bed to keep him warm. Over this time, Squeaky even started to allow us to touch him and pat him. He loved to have his ears scratched. As he ventured more and more into the house, he seemed to enjoy being inside. He remained cautious but eventually succumbed to the joy of human contact. He would get up on the couch and enjoy being patted and pampered for the evening. Who would have thought this would ever happen?!

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Over these last few months, it was clear Squeaks was not well. He lost weight. His eating was sporadic. There were several trips to the vet. He went willingly, no trap was needed now. Many things were tried….medications, special diets, anything that might make him better. But it was only borrowed time.

On Thursday June 27, L and C took Squeaky to the vet for the last time. He was taken, peacefully and painlessly over the rainbow bridge. It was as it should be.

What a life this beautiful gentleman lived. He far exceeded the average lifespan of a feral cat. He did so because he was smart and crafty and knew how to survive all the things that could harm him. He was smart enough in his golden years to finally let his guard down and the humans who loved and cared for him for so long into his life. He trusted us to be kind. We would not betray that trust. He  gave us endless moments of joy and laughter and mostly awe at his ability to survive and thrive. Squeaky will be greatly missed.

In a few weeks, his ashes will be returned to L and C and we will spread them in his yard, by his leaf pile, where he was most at home. Fare well and farewell Squeaks.

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I love a parade….

 

It’s Memorial Day. Parades are a quintessential part of the day.

As a kid here in my hometown, the parade was a family outing. We would all go up to City Hall and watch as the bands came marching by. The parade always wound itself into the cemetery where it would stop at the veterans memorial to pay homage to those that sacrificed their lives for this country. A lone bugler off in the distance would play Taps. It was always a somber moment. In those days, we were treated to the Marine Corps band, straight from Quantico Virginia. They were so impressive. So sharp in their dress uniforms, crisp creases, perfectly straight hats, movements that were completely in sync. There were the usual array of elected officials, the local Judge (and former Mayor) was always among the marchers. There were large groups of veterans from the various wars and columns of police officers and fire fighters. Even the school crossing guard ladies marched! And then came the kids….Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and Brownies. The local high school band marched with the mascot Tiger leading the way. There were mounted police and trick horses. The various Elks, Moose, Masons and other assorted groups marched. And Little League kids as far as you could see, followed closely by the dancing school girls. And then came the cars…the fancy ones, the old ones, the ones carrying the Gold Star mothers and the Grand Marshall…always a local hero.

Along the way peddlers pulled their carts carrying balloons, horns and every toy that lit up and sparkled. Children rushed to the cart to buy their favorite items. And of course a balloon would get free and float to the sky leaving a very sad child behind. The ice cream man came along and rocket pops, ice cream sandwiches, creamsicles and fudgsicles were on the menu. Always so hard to make a choice! It was Americana at it’s best.

Today I went to the local parade with my bff T. And for sure none of this parade harkened me back to “the old days”. Sure, the Police Honor Guard led the parade, of course following the float with the giant bell that signals the parade is coming. And then it all went wrong. There were the local officials, the Mayor wearing red and glad handing as she went along. The bands….it’s hard to call them that. There were musicians walking in small groups, no real uniforms, nothing crisp and in sync. There were a few dancing kids and a small contingent of scouts and ligerbot teams. There were LOTS of big trucks that seemed to have no real purpose. There was a float for the late Stan Lee….we are still trying to figure that out. Notably missing was the Fire Dept Honor Guard and some shiny new fire trucks. There were some minutemen (and women) and a few horses. There were some go carts driven by kids wearing red, white and blue pajamas (that’s what they looked like).  There was a stilt walker and Pat Patriot and some unicycle riders….and tow trucks and landscape companies with beds full of mulch and fake gardens planted. And then there was the fruit and vegetable band. I mean really, what’s a parade with out a carrot, a banana and a pepper?

And then it was over. And we left wondering how it came to this point that our local parade is a shadow of it’s former self? The day is all about honoring those that fought and died for our freedom. And today, I barely saw a veteran at all. But I will return to this parade next year because after all…”I love a parade”!

A leap of faith…

There comes a point in life where no matter who you are, what you do, where you live or what your circumstances are, you should pamper yourself once in awhile.

I’m not big on the mani/pedi thing, and massages are ok but not really my thing. But for a long time, I’ve wanted to have a housecleaner. It’s not that I can’t do it because I can and I do and I have for my whole life. But really, who wouldn’t like someone to come in and do it all for you? My problem is (was!) finding someone who was responsible, reasonably priced and most of all, was trustworthy to be in my home. Quite a list to fulfill!

I have a habit of investigating and reviewing and researching things so deeply that I end up not ever being able to make a decision. So I do nothing and continue to clean. But then something happened….

My friend T was walking along a busy street when a woman approached her and handed her a business card. They had a conversation. It went well. They went on their way. And then T told me about it and so we decided to dig a little and see what we could find out about this woman….we will call her S. Suffice it to say we were able to find that S was actually quite impressive and seemed to be the real deal. So I took a chance…and emailed her with my information and a little about what I was looking for. She called me the next day and all I can say is WOW. She was so impressive just over the phone! We agreed to meet at my house so she could give me a quote on a deep clean of my apartment. We spent over half an hour just chatting (mostly her) and I learned that S was a very motivated young woman. She came from an immigrant family and was sent on scholarship to a very swanky girls school in the “burbs. She went on to college, receiving 7 full scholarships and ultimately graduated with 3 degrees. This girl is no slouch! So why is she cleaning homes and businesses? Because it’s the family business and she wants to show her parents how she can grow the business. And mostly, it’s what makes her happy. So a young woman who could write her own ticket to any corporate job chose her family and her happiness over a life in an office. That impresses me.

So we agreed on a price and a day and I put my trust in this young woman to be in my home, the place that means the most to me and is my sanctuary. S and her worker A arrived as scheduled and I went to work, excited about what my house would look like when they were done. I was absolutely not disappointed! I walked into my home and the first thing I noticed was the GLEAMING hard wood floors. Every surface was clean and shiny. Furniture was moved, cleaned under, polished and put back. The oven….appears brand new! The bathroom shined. And the cute fold on the towels and the Kleenex roses were an added touch! S and A surpassed my wildest dreams about how cool it would be to have someone come and deep clean my house.

I have since recommended S to several friends and co-workers. I hope they take her on as I know they will not be disappointed. And I am glad I took that leap of faith and allowed a stranger into my home for the sole purpose of pampering myself. Sometimes you just have to take that leap….