“Molly has an amazing power of expression with compression.”
Mel Soule 

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THE CHANGE-UP

The photo above represents not just my cat, but something I almost never, ever do. You see, I am the sort of person that decides on a certain decor–a particular arrangement of the furniture and various accessories in my place of residence, and that is the end, period. If stuff looks good, it stays there.

Remember the days when there were summer slipcovers? That your mom put on the furniture in April and took off again in October (well, not my mom, but those aspirational moms who had apartments in New York and also homes in the Hamptons)? The women whose families returned home from work and school to find the furniture rearranged? One more example: the people who have so many wonderful pieces of art that they have to keep them in constant rotation? People like that?

Yes, well. As I mentioned above, I like permanence. I like my house to be the same, all the time. Once I get things set, I take a lot of comfort and pleasure in looking around at my static and satisfying environment. Summer slipcovers take up a lot of storage space. Moving sofas around is just an invitation to back spasms, as far as I am concerned.

But gosh. This week I happened to walk by the open door of one of the apartments on my floor. I glanced in and saw a woman I had nodded to in passing, and this woman was surrounded by a whole bunch of really gorgeous artwork. So of course, I stopped dead in my tracks and invited myself in.

It turns out that all of that artwork was hers. Yes, she owned it, but I mean she produced it. She is an artist, she has a studio in one of the bedrooms in her space, and of course, I elbowed my way in to see all of her paintings.

The long story short is that within the space of two hours, I had not only asked her if she would be my friend, but I inveigled an invitation for me and my husband to come over. The result is the picture above of my cat admiring the two new paintings I bought from my neighbor.

So I found myself taking down one painting, hanging two new ones, and rehanging the old one in a new spot. This was both exhilarating and unsettling for all three of us: my husband, who went up and down the ladder seventy times until the pictures were even, straight, and at the right height; the cat, who thought the picture hooks were bugs she needed to jump at and kill; and me, who spent a sleepless night realizing that the first place I chose for the new abstracts was absolutely wrong. So we had to rehang everything all over again. At seven thirty the next morning. Before we even had our coffee. Because things were just not right.

I am now satisfied with the hangings.  There is cohesion, balance, and the right sense of focus. We got it right. I can relax. Nothing will change until I die. No summer slipcovers over here, for heaven’s sake. Get it the way you want it and leave it alone is my motto.

By the way, the artist and my new friend?

Her name is Susanne King. You can visit her website http://ssk-art.com

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DRAWING A BLANK

Writing a blog post every single week for over what? ten years–becomes harder as time goes by. I cast around for topics, and since nothing in the news is “good” any more, writing about current events gets repetitive. I mean, how often do you hear about shots, masks, floods, climate change, the narrowing of women’s rights, and unemployment? Granted, I have never written a blog post about unemployment, and I am not about to start now.

So I though I might share with you some of the topics I have considered writing about lately, all of them rejected:

  • I miss seeing the insides of all of the newscasters’ houses, now that they are no longer broadcasting from home.
  • I may never go to a restaurant again.
  • Eating a hot dog takes one week off your life.
  • I saw a headline in my news feed, that read HOW TO KNOW IF YOU HAVE INSOMNIA.
  • My husband almost never uses a coaster.
  • They make milk out of every single nut on earth these days.
  • Apparently, you can make every single recipe using a sheet pan.
  • I know of five things to do with dental floss that don’t involve teeth.
  • During my colonoscopy, I thought I was watching HGTV.
  • Camomile tea is a scam. It does not make you sleepy.
  • I never watch the Grammys because I have no idea who any of those musicians are.
  • I fall for clickbait every single time.
  • I thought a thirst trap was the desert.
  • Arthritis.

See you next week, when I am sure I will have so much to say about so many things, it will be tough to choose.

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THE GREAT POTTERY THROW DOWN

I am taking a wheel pottery class.

I am the worst student in the class. I actually made the above pot on the wheel, and if you have watched The Great Pottery Throw Down on HBO, you will readily acknowledge that it is pitiful.

I signed up for the class because of the pandemic. I need something to do. Writing books is not what I can concentrate on at the moment, and sitting around the house waiting for the booster shots to be available isn’t any fun.

So I signed up for BEGINNING WHEEL POTTERY at my local arts center. I soon found out that this title is completely misleading because everyone in the class but me already knew how to throw pots. First off, the instructor called all the other students by their first names.  Then, the woman next to me leaned right in to her wheel, and without so much as a slight hesitation, began to throw a teapot, for God’s sake. As the others merrily centered their clay and leaned into their wheels, I looked around in confusion while kneading the blob in my hands.

If you are expecting me to tell you that after a few sessions I got the hang of it, you are wrong. The pot above was produced on the final day of class. The other students, the ones who produced graceful urns, salad bowls, sets of dinner plates, and actual candlesticks, told me not to get discouraged. Nevertheless, I persisted in getting discouraged.

Figuring that perhaps wheel pottery isn’t for me, I signed up for Beginning Hand Pottery in September. No wheels involved. I swear, if on the first day, the other students start right in sculpturing birds in flight or busts of Beethoven, I am quitting.

 

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TAKE A HIKE

Hikers are stalwarts. They love terrain. Nothing thrills them more than putting on their stout shoes, spraying insect repellent all over, donning a knapsack, filling a water bottle/s, and heading out.

I am not in this group. First off, I have two bad knees, so walking in nature is fraught with the possibility of stepping in a hole and twisting something irrevocably. This means I have to look down all the time, so I miss the view.

But I have to be honest here. I have a very narrow window in which taking so much as a walk is possible. I am very sensitive to weather. If it is hot, I am overcome by sweat. Humidity gives me both sweat and steamed up glasses. If it is too cold, then breathing makes my chest hurt. So in order to venture into the outside world, I require a temperature range of between 70 and 75 degrees, little or no humidity, and a gentle breeze.

This doesn’t happen very often, but today it did, and my husband and I took a walk through Cox Arboretum, and we enjoyed the birds, the prairie, and the breeze. I didn’t trip over anything, no water bottles were necessary, and it was almost meditational.

These perfect walking conditions will probably not come together again for months or perhaps years. So nature and I are good for the duration.

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SUMMER’S END

The nasturtiums on the balcony are looking puny. The sweet potato vines are, too. I have dried all the hydrangeas that will fit in vases, and the August drought has set in.

What an odd summer it has been. Is the pandemic over? In July, it was a resounding “YES!” Now, just a few weeks later, we aren’t so sure. All those customers who were so brazenly mask-less at the grocery store are now masking up once again. I am so glad that I didn’t throw away our cache of masks; I almost did, but thought better of it.

Anxiety has returned. I am worried about my grandchildren, who are too young to be vaccinated, going to school. My grandson told me over FaceTime today that he “will probably get the Delta variant.” He is 7. Way too aware. It made my heart clench.

We are living pretty much as we have. My husband assures me that he is wearing his mask when he goes to church and to his other activities, so I have to trust that he will be fine. I certainly put my mask on, even to walk down the hall to the trash room. But I wonder how much longer this surreal way of life will continue. What will happen at Christmas? Will we be able to fly to California? Or will we have to spend another holiday, just the two of us, awash in bleakness?

I try not to be furious with those who have chosen not to get vaccinated, but it is hard to watch the news about exhausted hospital workers and not get mad. Then I realize that a lot of them have chosen not to get the vaccine, and I just don’t get it.

In the mean time, I plod along, working on “at home projects,” looking out the window, and wishing that life from the “good old days” would return. It never will, will it?

None of us who have lived through this will forget it. Our fears may remain for months or years. Will we ever shake hands or hug without first considering if it is a good idea to do so? Will standing close to another person seem somehow ominous? Will sourdough bread ever be free of negative associations?

I hate staying home. But I don’t want to go anywhere, either. And I admire the brave souls who are out in the world, going on with things.

How long will it take for me to join them?

 

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Q AND A

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by        myself.

Here is the transcript:

ME:  Good afternoon, Molly.

ME:  Hello.

ME:  How has the pandemic been for you? Do you think the worst is behind us?

ME:  I am confused as the next person. I am confused because the Delta variant has convinced many unvaccinated people to get shots, while simultaneously convincing others that getting the vaccine is now unnecessary. It seems to be going both ways, and I am totally flummoxed.

ME:  Understandable. So we won’t talk about that. How have you been passing the time during the past months?

ME:  You must not read my blog. I talk about that all the time.

ME:  Oh. Ok. Here’s an idea–shall we do the Proust Questionnaire?

ME: It might be fun.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?  Eating chocolate cake and not getting  A) huge hips, B) a sugar crash afterwards, and C) a massive sense of guilt.

What is your greatest fear? Besides cancer and that our AC will go out during climate change? I guess that would be death.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?  Introversion while simultaneously wanting to be the center of attention.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?  Wanting to be the center of attention.

Which person do you most admire?  That runs the gamut from Erma Bombeck to Amal Clooney.

What is your greatest extravagance?  Amazon. Jeff Bezos has me in his top ten.

What is your current state of mind?  I am always worried about something. For instance, today I am concerned that my washing machine tub might have black mold growing inside it. I just ordered special cleaning tablets from Amazon.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?  Don’t get me started on people who win huge awards, saying afterwards that they are “humbled.” Awards do not make one humble. LOSING AWARDS makes you humble, for God’s sake.

On what occasion do you lie?  There are so many occasions in which lying is called for.   One example: Answering the question “How are you?” FINE. Fine is the only answer. Nobody is fine, but nobody wants to know this. Another example: Answering “No, I am stuffed,” when the host asks if you want seconds on the mashed potatoes.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?  My GOD. I have ears like Mr. Spock.

Which living person do you most despise?  It’s a man. A big man. A despicable man. He has a wife with squinty eyes. His last name starts with a T and ends with a P.

What is the quality you most like in a man?  Everyone says it’s a sense of humor, so that goes without saying. So my answer is a sense of irony. Like last night, as we were eating corn on the cob, my husband mentioned that we were fresh out of dental floss.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?  I would have to say empathy. For instance, when I am on WW, a true friend will wear Spanx, even if she is thin.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?  Good grief, that’s a tough question.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?  For certain, it is NOT the accordion.

When and where were you the happiest?  Sitting on my balcony at night, talking and laughing with my children and my grandchildren.

Which talent would you most like to have?  I would like to be an Irish Clog dance champion. That or one of those Electro Swing dancers. Google Vico Neo and you will understand.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Didn’t I mention my ears??

What do you consider your greatest achievement?  Writing books and keeping this blog going for so long that some of my readers have died of old age.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?  I would like to come back as a poet or an Irish Clog dancer. Or perhaps a clog dancer who writes poems.

Where would you most like to live?  Next door to a cookbook author. Free samples.

What is your most treasured possession?  That would have to be my iPhone. I could not live without it. Photos, YouTube, and of course, Amazon.

What do you regard as the depth of misery?  You mean, for a human being? Torture. For me, with my privilege and age? Sitting in a waiting room without my iPhone.

What is your favorite occupation?  You may be surprised that it isn’t writing. Reading is high on the list. Eating is the truest, most honest answer. Cake would be involved.

What is your most marked characteristic? Do we have to keep coming back to my ears?

What do you most value in your friends?  I would have to say the fact that they are still alive.

Who are your most favorite writers?  All of them.

Who is your hero of fiction?  Anne of Green Gables.

Which historical figure do you most identify with? Well, it isn’t Joan of Arc, I can tell you that.

Who are your heroes in real life?  Writers who manage to write more books than I have.

What are your favorite names?  When I was five, I wanted to change my name to Annabricks.

What is it that you most dislike?  When my husband interviews the wait staff at restaurants. I am so thankful to the pandemic for our prolonged absence from local eateries.

What is your greatest regret?  That chocolate cake isn’t good for you.

How would you like to die?  See chocolate cake, above. Perhaps with two scoops of coffee ice cream and some fudge sauce.

What is your motto?  “Never have a motto.”

 

 

 

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SIXTY LIGHT BULBS

It’s not over. There is the variant. Maybe more variants. Masks or not? Covid is still the top headline. It haunts us all.

I managed to get by during the past year of isolation and worry. However, I had various coping mechanisms that I am not proud of. Amazon became a lifeline, and I ordered everything on Amazon.

It made me feel secure to have packages arriving every day. I couldn’t go out, but for sure, I could still acquire things. I wasn’t helpless. Getting things that shored up the household made me feel safe, comfortable and not desperate. No toilet paper shortages for us, damn it! I didn’t order things that weren’t useful. Everybody needs stuff like toothpaste and toilet paper. I read about how vulnerable the supply chain was, and so I also ordered things like six packs of shampoo, giant size containers of lotion, and some extra rolls of paper towels.

I did suffer a slight lapse. The pundits on the news one day discussed how shortages could continue for months–maybe more than a year. The economy was fragile, manufacturing in places was shut down, and if your washing machine or other major appliance broke, good luck getting a replacement.

I must have been getting dark when I watched this. I reached over to switch on the lamp beside me and suddenly panicked. What if our light bulbs burned out and we couldn’t get new ones, because the supply chain shortages included light bulbs? Would we have to sit around in the dark, suffering pandemic isolation in blackness? Would we have to resort to lighting candles and living like they did during all those shows like Poldark, with just a ring of faint light surrounding the diminishing tapers? Of course, I use Poldark as an example, because Aidan Turner…

I digressed there for a second, because Aidan Turner. Back to the supply chain. The threat is real! Shortages happened. They are still happening, for heaven’s sake! So I did what any self-respecting panic-stricken isolator would do: I ordered a case of sixty light bulbs. They arrived promptly two days later, all sixty of them, packaged nicely in a huge cardboard box marked SIXTY ONE HUNDRED WATT LIGHT BULBS. This was in mid-April of 2020, in the height of the lockdowns in the US. I patted myself on the back, knowing full well that there would be people fervently wishing they had thought to order some extra light bulbs. Ha!

It is now almost the end of July, 2021. The box of light bulbs sits, unopened, in the rear of the laundry room. I have used up all the paper towels I ordered, and so the light bulb carton is no longer obscured. My husband hasn’t noticed it. Thank goodness. But he will, sooner or later, and this does not bode well for me, since he has remarked on the size of my Amazon bills.

Luckily, I live in an apartment building, where it is easy to be a Good Samaritan. The next time my husband spends the day golfing, I plan to distribute free light bulbs to fifty (I have to keep some bulbs; I am not completely nuts) lucky neighbors, spreading happiness and light among them.

“The sun is gone, but I have a light.” Curt Cobain

That says it all, doesn’t it?

 

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A PLAYLIST FOR THE AGED

My husband and I lived through the pandemic so far, but it has taken its toll. We feel as old as the hills. Do you? So here’s a playlist I curated just for those of us who feel especially hard-hit by the pandemic:

  • Everybody Hurts, by R.E.M.
  • There Goes My Life, by Kenny Chesney
  • I Don’t Dance, by Lee Brice
  • Safety Dance, by Men Without Hats
  • Hips Don’t Lie, by Shakira
  • All You Can Eat, by The Fat Boys
  • Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All, by the Fifth Dimension
  • Walk, Don’t Run, by the Ventures
  • Somebody Get Me a Doctor, by Van Halen
  • Running on Empty, by Jackson Browne
  • I’m So Bald, by Mr. Mason
  • The Denture Song, by Randy Miller
  • Stayin’ Alive, by the BeeGees
  • Heart Attack, by Demi Lovato

I had to do it.

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THE HAPPINESS AND THE GRIEF

Nineteen months. Well over a year of not seeing my daughter, her husband, or more importantly, our grandchildren. At ages seven and four, I wondered if they would remember us. I knew they had changed so much since we had seen them. We missed so much.

So finally, after vaccinations and so much waiting, they arrived. I had been looking forward to it for so long–planning, shopping, hoping, and losing sleep. They were to come for two weeks. We would watch baseball games and Fourth of July fireworks together. The activities were planned for almost every day: the Ohio Caverns, King’s Island, the Boonshoft Children’s Museum, Carillon Park.

We didn’t anticipate the chaos. Birdie, aged four, loved picking flowers on the deck–until the pots were nearly bald. She danced to ABBA in her pajamas. Charlie loved the robot kit we got him, and spent hours making and remaking them in various configurations. He cuddled during  family movie night. Nobody went to bed early. There were S’Mores. Bubbles. Chocolate ice cream. Hot dogs. Sticky fingers and filthy feet. The messes.

I knew it was coming. The goodbyes. By the day of departure, my husband and I were exhausted. So yes, we were ready to reclaim our quiet lives.We knew it would take hours of cleaning to set things to rights around the apartment. But the grief seeped in. Waving goodbye as they drove off, I felt as if most of my internal organs went missing all at once. The heaviness of loss. We missed almost two years of their lives, and now, we would have to go back to missing them once again.

No amount of busy-ness has helped ease the grief of losing them again. Only time and the return of routine will erase it. This sadness is not unfamiliar; it happens at every family parting. But this time it seemed so much more significant. We are not getting any younger, and those children are growing up so fast. How many more years will we have with them?

Every person who has lived through this pandemic has experienced this sort of emptiness. We all have had losses and loneliness. My story is just one of many. We have all weathered perhaps one of the worst years of our lives. A plague of historical significance. It may not be behind us yet. Every single one of us has a COVID story.

Before this virus hit the world, I never worried too much about having grandchildren so far away, because I could always just fly out to see them, any time. But the past nineteen months took that sense of security away. Nineteen months. That gap will not be filled. The future no longer looks quite so stable.

Meanwhile, I wait for my heart to start beating again.

 

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