Cling-Clang, Bing-Bang

Oh, the cling and the clang,

And the bing and the bang,

Of the construction zone

That is my home!

Walls ripped open

And still I’m hopin’

For peace and quiet,

Without all the riot

Of nails screeching as hammers yank them out

Sorry to leave their old boards, no doubt.

The dust and debris

Are overwhelming to me,

No peace, no quiet,

Just an ongoing riot

Of destruction

And ongoing construction!

Will it ever end?

Sadly no time soon, my friend–

As long as bandsaws whine

And sawdust lines

Each window and door

And each and every floor,

I doubt I’ll ever see the day

When all this mess finally goes away

It may be that I’ll lose my mind,

In which case I would probably find

That all the dust and dirt and mess

Will become my final nest.

If so, then plant me in a box of pine

And tape up my mouth to stop my whine!






When Kindness Heals Better Than a Pill

We all know how complicated our healthcare system has become in our country. Many of us older folks remember the days when the doctor came to the house instead of the sick person going to the doctor’s office. In the little town in which I grew up, “Doctor Jim” showed up at your door when a family member was ill. I remember having the flu as a little girl and, after Doctor Jim examined me, handed my mother the pills I needed and gave me a purple lollypop, he left the room briefly. I repaid his kindness by getting out of bed and rooting through his bag–and breaking his thermometer! Panicked, I scooped up as much of the quivering mercury as I could with the broken glass and threw everything back in his bag.

But that was a long time ago, and now, doctors and nurses are forced to spend only a small amount of time with their patients. It’s hard on the patients, but I believe it’s hard on the medical people as well; knowing that they are under the gun to get everything done quickly. They probably feel that they would prefer having more time, and I’m sure that the patients would as well. Many of the doctors appear gruff and hurried to the patients; whether they are gruff by nature or just trying to work within the given time frame, it makes the patients feel more anxious and worried.

I recently visited a dear friend of ours in the hospital. He shared a room with another man, and as we visited, I couldn’t help hearing how demanding he was to the nurses: “gimme this, gimme that, I want ice cream,” and so on. I related this to my best friend who had been a nurse for years. She told me that the hospitals now are being forced to provide better “customer service” to patients. This means that, along with all the many things a nurse has to do for each patient (and not enough time to do even the essentials), they are also expected to be waitresses as well! Also, hospitals have cut back on nurses’ aids, which adds more to the nurses’ duties.

However, when you get a bad diagnosis, things are different. Last spring when I was diagnosed with DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, which is the non-invasive type of breast cancer that usually only requires a lumpectomy to remove the affected area), I was invited to the local hospital for a “cancer conference.” I was still in shock from the diagnosis, and I walked into the hospital to meet with a surgeon, an oncologist, a social worker and someone from Billing.

I was first given a little pink bag, in which was a pink notebook (for recording all my ‘thoughts and feelings’), a light-green scarf, a thin book (also pink) describing my diagnosis and how to deal with it, some candy and a box of tissues. This “cancer goodie bag” was somehow supposed to cheer me up for having cancer. The surgeon told me what type of surgery would be done, the oncologist told me what my survival odds were with a lumpectomy vs. having a double mastectomy “just to be on the safe side, and hey! That would mean no follow-up radiation or Tamoxifan!” The social worker told me what kind of “cancer survival group” I could attend, and the gal from Billing gave me an estimate of how much this was going to cost—let’s just say that for the same amount I could probably have had a nice long vacation in Kauai.

I walked out of there feeling worse than I did walking in. After some research and a different and wonderful surgeon, I had the lumpectomy done, and was advised to have followup radiation and Tamoxifan. I refused both, and it turned out that I needed neither; the followup mammogram was clear.

Here’s the difference between this surgeon and the “cancer committee” I first met with: my surgeon was a terrific woman who had years of experience with breast cancer. She was down-to-earth, funny, and most of all, gave me all the time I needed. She does a great deal of charity work for the immigrants in her area, and she is always kind and truthful. She believes in the power of positive thinking, Reiki, meditation and kindness. She advised me to write down a note for her to read aloud to me just as I was waking up from the operation. The note I asked her to read said: “You’re going to be fine; I got all the cancer, and you are going to recover from this beautifully.”

And the bill? We had told her up front that we had no insurance, and a realistic price was agreed upon as well as a workable payment plan. She was kindness itself, and I felt better than I had in weeks. Just before the surgery began and the anesthesiologist was administering the anesthesia, she leaned down to me and said, “Ok, you’re going to sleep now and dream of George Clooney.” I fought the drugs long enough to say, “no, not him–*Jeffrey Dean Morgan!” She laughed, and then said, “all right, Jeffrey Dean Morgan it is.”

And here I am four months later, cancer-free. I realize that anything can happen, but when I look back at my own experience, I know that what helped me the most was my surgeon’s kindness, understanding and the time she spent with me. That sincere kindness did more good for me than any amount of radiation therapy or pills.

As the Hippocratic oath that all doctors must take before becoming doctors says, “**First, do no harm.” To this I would also add, “be kind. You are working on a human being just like yourself.”

*Look him up, he’s a doll.

**”It is a popular misconception that the phrase “First do no harm” is a part of the Hippocratic oath. Strictly speaking, the phrase does not appear in the oath, although the oath does contain “Also I will, according to my ability and judgment, prescribe a regimen for the health of the sick; but I will utterly reject harm and mischief”….

Another equivalent phrase is found in Epidemics, Book I, of the Hippocratic school: “Practice two things in your dealings with disease: either help or do not harm the patient”. The exact phrase is believed to have originated with the 19th-century surgeon Thomas Inman.”


Beware the ‘New Normal’

It is a fact that, when we humans are exposed to something that initially shocks us, this happens:

  • We are at first appalled and disgusted by it
  • We continue to see evidence of this shocking event, and it slowly becomes part of our lives
  • We become used to it and may even come to embrace it

What a short slide it is from shock and horror to acceptance and inertia! It takes a great deal of effort to sustain that first shock, so to keep our sanity, we eventually get used to it. The reason that some things shock us is because they ARE shocking and they shake us to the core of our being.

What would it be like to endure an earthquake or tornado that ripped your home apart once a month? How would it be to step out of your car in a parking lot, close the door and have your car drop into a massive sinkhole–each week? What would happen if you kept on breaking the same arm over and over again? Would that become our new normal and could we get used to it?

We remember where we were and what we were doing when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001. For us older folks, we remember where we were and what we were doing when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX on November 22, 1963. My parents never forgot December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Events such as these changed our lives forever. These events marked us and our country in ways we could never have predicted. They changed our view of ourselves, our thinking and our way of life. That’s what major events do.

So when terrible things become part of our lives, what do we do? Since we can’t predict the future and can’t tell what’s around the corner for us, all we can do is to go forward as prepared as we can be. When something initially shocks or horrifies us, it is well to keep hold of those emotions. They remind us that we must never become used to terrible things, but learn to act on how to avoid worrying about if/when/where they will happen.

This is trickier than it sounds, and it’s an issue with which I constantly have trouble. So many awful things happen and there is nothing I can do about them. It’s one thing when a friend or neighbor is sick; you take them a meal or two and ask what they need done and then do it. It is something else altogether when a nation falls under attack, a tsunami decimates a village, a bomb goes off in a city nearby, or there is a shooting in a high school.

When major events such as these happen, it hurts both my heart and spirit. We have all felt that helplessness in knowing that we have no power to make horrible things go away. These are the times when prayer, good wishes, Reiki and positive thoughts can make a difference. Positive energy is an unseen force that has a powerful effect. It may not stop terrible things from happening or erase them when they do, but they do have a definite effect on us.

I do not trivialize the horrific events—they are horrific. But I do know that in my own life that when positive, kind, loving energy goes out, it is transforming to the heart and mind. If all I can do when a neighbor loses a son to suicide is to take a loaf of homemade bread over and tell them how sorry I am, it matters. If all I can do when a friend loses a beloved pet is to send her a heartfelt note and let her know that she is not alone, it matters. If all I can do is to listen to someone who is sick and worried and hear them out, it matters.

It comes down to this: learn from the horror, but do not put all your energy into worrying about the horror. Keep as positive as possible to avoid your heart and soul from hurting as well as your mind. Send loving energy and prayer to those who need it. Lastly, create a “shield” in your mind that you will use to put up to block the negative energy that such events exude. Detail it in your mind; it can be a bubble of golden light, an actual metal shield, an iridescent wall of protection, etc. (My own shield is a bubble of bright rock crystal.) Most of all, remember that while your shield can block negative energy and darkness, it will always let in positive energy and light.

As for the ‘new normal’, it’s ok to be horrified. It’s not ok to ignore it. Be aware, and keep your shield handy.


The Great Kitchen Klutter Kaper

As I mentioned before, the Crankee Yankee and I live in the house in which he and his brother grew up. It was built in 1953, when personal space wasn’t a top priority. The house itself is small, as are the rooms. However, that really isn’t a bad thing. Our bathroom is so small that I can clean the floor with two squares of paper towel; one soaked with cleaner, and one to dry it.

The kitchen is quite roomy, and has plenty of cupboards; one set to the left of the sink for foodstuffs, and one to the right for dishes, glasses, etc. However, I have to stand on a step-stool to reach items on the top shelf. The shelves themselves are pretty deep, so much so that in order to get to something that’s up against the back wall, I have to put my arm in all the way to my armpit to reach it.

Not surprisingly, I got in the habit of randomly stuffing things into the cupboards willy-nilly; no organization at all. That kind of sloppiness lead to my buying, say; more baking soda because I couldn’t see that we already had four boxes shoved against the wall in the top shelf! So this week, humming “*We’re Not Gonna Take It,” I began deconstructing the contents of the cabinets.

Wow…just wow…we had moved into the house in 2007, and there were some things in the cupboards dated 2006! So I got busy and tackled the bottom shelf where we had previously kept dozens of spices and seasonings. Now, the Crankee Yankee has never met a spice or a seasoning he didn’t love, so we had tons of them. In fact, in some cases there were doubles and triples of them (again–we couldn’t see that we already had them because of all the clutter).

Good news: no bug infestations, no mold, no alien lifeforms–good deal!

There was also the dust factor. The cupboards have no doors, so there was a lot of dust and grime to clean out. A few years ago, the Crankee Yankee’s wonderful daughter, mother of the Amazing Ava (our granddaughter); gave us two of those handy space-saving spice racks that come with three drawers each. We filled them up, and yes, they were a major space-saver–except for the fact that we had several dozen more spices beyond what fit in the racks. I cleaned the racks and reordered them. But once I got through cleaning off each and every item and had scrubbed the empty shelf, I had two big bulging bags of trash.

Each day I cleaned and reorganized a new shelf, and also made use of the dozens of glass jars we had. I filled them with brown rice, quinoa, cornmeal, lentils, nuts, bulghur, etc. and labeled and dated each jar. These last are on the top shelf, perched at the front (with nothing behind them–I know it’s wasted space but that how we got in trouble the first time). Since I was working on that side of the kitchen anyway, I also cleaned out and organized our free-standing cupboard, which stands beside the refrigerator.

While working on that area, I cleaned the tops of the refrigerator and cabinet, and put down some cloth place mats to keep them as dust-free as possible. We keep our cereal on top of the refrigerator, so I made use of large clear plastic box and corralled all the cereals up there. Next on my list is are the cupboards on the right side, which badly need a major re-organization.

You may ask why we don’t put doors up on the cabinets to keep the dust down–good question. The reason is that the Crankee Yankee and I can’t seem to come together on what kind of doors we want. I even suggested that we **DIY the doors; I picture a wooden frame with either glass or rippled plastic inserts. But according to the Crankee Yankee, making them is not as easy as you’d think. So we are still working that one out.

However, the main thing is that I finally put my butt in gear and made a start of it. And when you think about it, doing anything requires that you start somewhere. So, having started, I am on my way to Klearing the Kitchen Klutter for good; the cupboards, anyway.

….at this point, we won’t even talk about the state of the ancient (new in 1953!), ‘defies all cleaning materials’, horrible ugly linoleum kitchen floor….

*Song by Twisted Sister.

**Do It Yourself

Finding Peace in the Middle of a Construction Zone

Yes, I am trying to find peace in the middle of a construction zone. And no, I am not talking about living through major building renovations in the middle of New York City, or rebuilding in the aftermath of a tornado. Well–it’s actually quite a bit like a tornado.

Let me explain. My husband of nearly 14 years, my beloved Crankee Yankee, calls our home (circa 1953) his hobby. He is a retired carpenter, and a good one, too. Between he and his younger brother, they can do just about everything from pouring a cement foundation to repairing a roof. We moved into the house in which the Crankee Yankee and his brother grew up  after my wonderful mother-in-law died in 2007. We had moved in to help care for her along with Hospice, and she was pleased that we were going to be moving into the house that she had loved so much.

So, fast forward to 2016. While I am filled with awe and admiration at the Crankee Yankee’s ability to renovate, restore, re-purpose and replace nearly everything in the house, we are nevertheless living in an on-going construction zone. I can honestly say that there is no part of the house, inside and out; that hasn’t been torn up, re-insulated, patched, painted, and so on. Ours is the only house in the neighborhood that looks like it’s recovering from a bomb blast.

While the house is my husband’s hobby, it is also our home. We have four cats, two indoor only and two indoor/outdoor ones. Although they have never told me directly, all this hammering, sawing and demolition work isn’t anything they are too thrilled about. Me, neither. I have never in my life lived like this, and even after 9 years it’s still hard to accept, never mind live in. It wouldn’t bother me so much if only each project could be completely finished, and then move on to the next. However, I do get that when you’re working on an old house, there are constant surprises, and you can’t always finish one part without having to deal with another part (or several parts) that affects the first part. That’s just the way it is.

Case in point: one of the first projects the Crankee Yankee tackled was the beautiful bay window in the living room. His dad, also an excellent carpenter, had built a three-sided bay window off the living room decades ago and there was definitely some upkeep needed. But when the Crankee Yankee started pulling some of the bottom boards out, guess what he found: the entire inside had been taken over by a gang of honeybees! The inside was full of some pretty old and nasty-looking sticky combs, also dozens of dead bees; all of which had to be removed. So cleaning out the “honeybee hideout” wasn’t part of the original plan of just replacing a few boards, but nevertheless it had to be dealt with.

And this is how things go; you can plan to do this, that and the other thing, but in an old house there are always going to be those things you didn’t plan on. The upside of this is that we pay for materials as we need them, so we aren’t in debt. The Crankee Yankee is doing all the work, and often with the most welcome help from his brother, who is also no slouch at renovating, and also does electrical work. So the labor is free. But it takes time and patience.

Why am I telling you this? I tell you this to remind myself why, even with all the mess and dust and aggravation, I am proud of the smart, resourceful, handy and savvy guy I married. I am also telling you this to remind myself not to smack him upside the head when things never seem to get done. I may never make peace with living in a construction zone, but at least I haven’t snapped completely.

At least, not yet.


Rules is Rules!

There used to be a funny commercial about fried chicken franchises; when the customer orders a chicken meal she asks, “What parts of the chicken are in my meal?”

The kid behind the counter replies in a thick southern accent, “Parts is parts.”

As “parts is parts,” I myself go by the “rules is rules” concept. I wish I had a dime for each time the Crankee Yankee breezes through a stop sign in the supermarket parking lot. He says that there are “no rules” for driving in a parking lot (that’s Crankee Yankee-ese reasoning for not stopping at stop signs in parking lots). Sigh. I am a stickler for rules, and whenever and wherever there is a stop sign ANYWHERE,  I stop. Period.

I’m hidebound by rules, and it’s become second nature for me to stop at stop signs, signal well before I turn, let that impatient person behind me on the highway pass me, and so on. Basically when I drive, I want a peaceful ride. I don’t want to assert my dominance over other drivers, or be first to get to the exit or any of that stuff. It’s not that I’m such a wonderful person; I just don’t want stress and anxiety in my life. Following the rules is what helps keep me sane.

However, in order to follow the rules, you first need to know the rules. The first time I had to use a kiosk for parking, I flubbed it up because I didn’t read all the directions. I paid for my parking stub at the kiosk, put the stub in my wallet and went on my merry way. When I returned to the car, I found a PARKING TICKET under my windshield wiper! I thought, ‘but I paid for parking–why’d I get a ticket?’

So I went back to the kiosk, and there in large letters at the bottom of the instructions read “PLEASE PLACE YOUR PARKING STUB FACE-UP ON YOUR DASHBOARD.”

…well, duh. So I went to the local police station, admitted my mistake and showed them my parking stub. The nice man at the counter laughed and said that everyone does that the first time, and that this time there would be no charge. Then his eyes narrowed and he leaned toward me and said, “Now you know how to do it. Don’t mess up the next time.” I assured him that I had learned my lesson.

So, there you go; when you screw up, admit it, learn from it and move on. Rules is rules after all. So yes, I am that annoying person who stops at stop signs, even in a parking lot.

Live with it, Crankee Yankee!


My Real Job

Now that I am not working, I look back over my career years  and wonder just how good or effective I was at my many jobs. I don’t mean all the babysitting and sales work I did in my teens; I refer to the jobs I had when I was newly out on my own, and going forward from there. Looking back, I now realize that many of the mistakes I made was because I was young and inexperienced in a real workplace. I learned the hard way (and I expect most of us have learned this as well) that you have to go along to get along.

Someone one told me once that, with very little exception, anyone in any position could be replaced. What she said was this: “Put your hand in a bucket of water, then take it out. In the time it takes for the water to close over where your hand was is just how fast you could be replaced.” And you know–she was right.

I won’t bore you with all the jobs I had over the years, but suffice it to say that some of them ended for me because of me. Oh, you hear things like ‘we’re cutting back in this department,’ or ‘we won’t be renewing your contract this year because of budget cuts,’ or the like. Often this is the truth, but sometimes it’s way of getting rid of someone who just doesn’t fit in.

I won’t pretend that it didn’t hurt; it did. But I always learned something from each experience. When I finally got into my ‘real job’ of technical writing, I felt I had hit on the career I was meant to have. I wrote all kinds of instructional manuals for many different products and companies, and loved both the precision and the clarity of it. I enjoyed breaking down complicated constructs to simple steps, and I liked knowing that I was helping someone by making their job easier.

What I didn’t see at the time was that my idea of clarity and consistence in my manuals wasn’t always appreciated or needed. Often a manager would tell me to just do the absolute minimum to satisfy the shipping list that called for a manual. But I believed that a good manual would save a lot of Help Desk calls and misunderstandings. I believe it still, but now understand that these things aren’t necessarily important to everyone. I was egotistical enough to believe that I was right and knew better than those who hired me.

I also made the mistake of thinking that those with whom I worked  were friends. There is of course a relationship you develop with co-workers, but it is a work relationship only. This means that you need to be careful of what you do or say. Of course people are going to be looking out for themselves; why would they not?

I always knew that I worked for the money, not the job. For the most part I liked what I was doing, especially writing, but I never had (or wanted) what it took to climb the corporate ladder. Don’t misunderstand–I give credit to anyone who has a dream of succeeding and works hard to get there. I say more power to them. But it never was my goal–I knew I needed to work to pay rent and my bills, to buy food, gas, and so on.

But now that I am not working, I finally know who I am and what work I’m supposed to do. All that time spent working for a paycheck was never a mistake; it helped me get to this place and time. Even jobs I lost because of my mistakes and misunderstandings were learning experiences. I now know why I am here—why we all are here. I am here to love and to be loved, to share my gifts and talents, to give comfort and support–and accept that same comfort and support. I am here to share the things I’ve learned, to be a better person, wife, grandmother, daughter, friend, pet owner, and so on. I am here to strengthen my talents, to be kind as much as possible, to take the high road as much as possible and not devolve into self-pity or passive-aggressive behavior.

For the first time in my life I have clarity on what my real work is and why it must be done. While love can lift us up on wings of joy, it can also break our hearts to bits. The people and animals I have lost in my life have taken their toll on me to be sure. But their hand prints (and paw prints) are stamped indelibly on my heart. Each time I get a hug and give a hug, it is confirmation that we are here to be our true selves and to give as well as take.

My dad appreciates a pithy bumper sticker, and his favorite reads: “Love is our soul purpose.” Isn’t that the truth!


Is Anyone Else in Love With the Food Network?

Heaven knows I’m not a Food Network cook; I make good-tasting meals that are mostly healthy (ok, ok, I DO go under the health radar sometimes and make homemade mac and cheese or lemon bars). I also love to bake, and love transforming a recipe on paper to a delicious meal on a plate.

That said, I have fallen deeply in love with the Food Network. I am hooked on the contests such as Chopped, Hell’s Kitchen, Master Chef and Junior Master Chef, All-Star Academy, Cake Wars, Dinner Impossible, Food Fight, Iron Chef, Kids Baking Championship, The Great British Baking Show (I absolutely LOVE this one!), and Worst Cooks in America (love this; it makes me feel a tiny bit superior), and I am continually discovering more.

What I particularly like is the kind of people who love all aspects of food; searching out the ingredients, putting those ingredients together and transforming them to a fabulous meal. Even the plating of the food fascinates me, like watching someone painstakingly develop a beautiful sauce that they can drizzle on the food and decorate the plate. It is theater at its best.

“Food construction” has become an art form. Recently I watched a young woman sear a gorgeous piece of salmon with Thai seasonings, and plate it with with a white truffle risotto arranged around the salmon like lace, and dotted with perfect rubies of pomegranate seeds. She had also braised some beautiful asparagus spears with butter, white wine and cracked peppercorns, the stalks stacked perfectly on the side of the plate and finished off with a strip of roasted yellow pepper wrapped like a ribbon. Pure performance art!

I have become fascinated with what I call the ‘upper level’ of cooking; that is, building flavors, experimenting with what looks like diverse ingredients but that turn out great together, and also appreciating good knife work; that is, doing all that fast chopping and not cutting off your fingers.

I have also learned some great cookery terms such as:

  • Chiffonade: a preparation of finely sliced or shredded leafy vegetables or herbs.
  • Blanching: involves plunging a food into boiling water for a few seconds and then rinsing it under cold water to stop the cooking process.
  • Poaching: cooking a food submerged in water that is just under the boiling point, or simmering.
  • Daube: a stew consisting of a single piece of meat such as a shoulder or joint. The meat is stewed in a rich, wine laden broth with herbs and vegetables. The broth is then thickened, reduced and served with the slices of meat and accompanying vegetables. (I have always made my pot roast this way and never knew the correct term!)
  • Coulis: a thick sauce made of puréed fruit or vegetables.
  • Deglazing: to dissolve the thin glaze of juices and brown bits on the surface of a pan in which food has been fried, sauteed or roasted. To do this, add liquid and stir and scrape over high heat, thereby adding flavor to the liquid for use as a sauce. Wine, stock, and vinegar are common deglazing liquids.
  • Blackening: a way of cooking meat in which you coat it generously with pepper and other spices. Then the meat is seared to lock in the flavor and produce a meat that is crisp on the outside, but moist and tender on the inside. This is an especially popular technique to use when cooking fish or chicken.
  • Jacquarding: the process of poking holes into the muscle of meat in order to tenderize.

But what amazes me the most about the cooking contests; i.e., making a full entree in 30 minutes–is this: they do all this without recipes! I would be lost without directions. My own cookbooks are liberally sprinkled with stains, grains of flour and spices, and I’ve penned in observations and comments such as: “Ick–this is terrible; don’t make it again!” or “add red wine instead of beef broth; it’s much better!” or “do not add cooked bacon to the chowder; just chop it and sprinkle it on when the chowder is served. Otherwise the chowder will be full of limp greasy strips of tasteless flabby bacon.”

However, my love of cooking doesn’t inspire me to take on something as elaborate as homemade croissants. Oh, I’ve seen them made, I’ve read the recipes, but frankly I’m not up to that challenge. (And it’s not like Gordon Ramsey is screaming in my ear to make them.) There is a wonderful bakery in town that makes the absolute best croissants (ham and cheese, chocolate (heavenly!!), raspberry and almond). They are flaky and tender and melt in your mouth. They are seriously a slice of Heaven.

In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, when a person dies and goes to Heaven, a smiling angel hands them a perfect warm chocolate croissant. Now wouldn’t that just be worth the trip?