Feeling Grief

I hate it when people think that a person should be “over” grieving for a lost loved one by a certain time. There is no limit on grief. It lasts as long as it lasts, and there’s no speeding it up.

In years past, women were expected to wear mourning clothing and have limited social engagements for a year after the death of their husbands. It was an attempt to codify grief. Going back to regular, if still somber, clothing (“half-mourning”), I suppose, was a way to signal that the woman was again “on the market.”

Even back then, it didn’t work as it was supposed to. Queen Victoria, on the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, observed deep mourning until the day she died – forty years later. Presumably, no one suggested that it was time for her to “get over it.” She ruled a nation and an empire while still deeply grieving.

Nowadays, grief is internal. Oh, we observe funeral rituals, wear somber clothing, gather for support and prayer. We bring food or flowers for the family and gather to remember the departed.

But even when the rituals surrounding death are over, grief is far from over. My mother-in-law continues to memorialize her husband every year on the date of his death. Who am I to say that this is excessive? I remember my friend Bill, who died unexpectedly years ago, especially when I hear the music he played and loved. Do I enjoy the music? Of course. Does it bring back fond memories? Definitely. Does it make me sad? Oh, yes. Bill died very young and those who loved him have had years to adjust to his absence. That doesn’t mean we miss him any the less.

Today my heart is heavy with the loss of a dear friend. I will try not to dwell on her final illness and her death, so remote from me in these days of COVID but so present in my heart and memory. Everywhere there are the reminders of her generous heart – the red silk shirt she gave me, memories of a New Year’s Eve spent together, all the things she wrote, the effect she had on mutual friends. The birthday card she picked out for my husband long before she was incapacitated, which her family kindly and unexpectedly sent to him. We laughed together. We cried together. We shared joy and supported each other through the bad times.

Today I must find something to wear to her funeral. I know, paradoxically, that if she were still alive, she would lend – or give – me something appropriate. If necessary, she would go with me to the store to pick something out.

I guess that eventually these raw feelings will fade and most of what I have left will be the good memories. But right now what I have is the sorrow. The mourning. The grief.

I Love People Who Improve

One day, years ago, I saw a friend outside a function room in a hotel, trying to master bar chords on his guitar for a song he had been working on. I’m not sure if he got them figured out that day, but he has since mastered them thoroughly. He is now in great demand at music festivals.

Years ago, a friend of mine was studying art in high school. Many of her paintings were reproductions of record album covers. Now she teaches art, has had her paintings in gallery shows, and takes commissions for her artwork. She has experimented with different styles, and also has dabbled in quilting and jewelry making.

One of the things that I love about these people is that they took something they loved and got better at it. They put in the time. They made the most of their pursuits. They got better at them.

Too many people take up artistic or other pursuits and, if they’re not good at them immediately, give up. Closets everywhere are littered with sheet music, sketchpads, needlepoint paraphernalia, bolts of fabric, unused crochet hooks, skis and tennis racquets and bongo drums – remnants of their hopes and abandoned attempts. These are not failures, strictly, as their creators never really gave them a chance. They are relics of people who simply didn’t improve.

On my computer are files that record my attempts to get better at writing. There are poems that I submitted to contests. Stories that didn’t make the cut. Writing samples that were not selected for bigger assignments. But I like to think that my writing is getting better. One of my stories got an honorable mention. I have finished a novel.

True, the novel needs a rewrite, or at least the first four chapters do. I need to improve if I am to take my writing any further. And this I will try to do. I simply made the mistake of not realizing that I had more work to do to improve. It was not until I realized this that I had the impetus to improve.

It’s a fact that not everyone has the talent – the raw ability – to play the guitar well, to create paintings that people want to buy, to write a novel that sells. But there are things they can do to improve at their craft, to make a hobby more fulfilling or even a business. They can take lessons, for example. They can learn from the masters. At first a person may be copying someone else’s style. (That’s the way the Old Masters learned to paint. Some of them became so good at it that professionals have a hard time telling the difference. Then the fledgling painters left the nest and took their own commissions, developed their own styles.)

And I admire that tenacity in creative people, whether they be crafters or aspiring pros. It’s a daunting thing, and an audacious one, to think you can improve. There may be a natural limit to how much a person can improve, but even to try is a worthy thing. The pros have something in common with those who never make it. They all started from zero. Even the people who abandon their pursuit may have improved – just not enough or fast enough to satisfy themselves and their expectations.

One of my writer friends conducts seminars called “Leap and the Net Will Appear.” I’m not sure that I totally believe that.

But one of my favorite sayings is, “If you’re going to strike out, strike out swinging.” Who knows, after some coaching and practice, you may be hitting the ball out of the park. Or maybe my friend is right, and the net will appear.

Diverse Minds

The university I went to had something called “distribution requirements.” That meant that everyone had to take at least two courses that were outside their major. I was an English major, so I took History of Science in Western Civilization and Beekeeping (which turned out to be a horrible mistake).

I think Cornell had the right idea. It’s a good idea to step outside your comfort zone and expand your mind. Of course, many students side-stepped the requirement, choosing a course that most resembled their major. Science students took economics, on the theory, I guess, that they both dealt with numbers. Same with architecture students and life drawing. Or English majors and French literature.

However, one of my friends was a civil engineering student, and she took sculpture. She didn’t get the greatest grade, but I admired that she valued exercising her mind and exploring her talents more than pumping up her GPA.

I love people who have diverse interests. We all know people who have a single-minded fixation on a topic, vocation, or hobby. And that’s okay. The world needs specialists. But the world also needs generalists.

I enjoy the science fiction fans who also love Gilbert and Sullivan. I admire lawyers who also play a stringed instrument. I applaud nuns who also enjoy South Park. Microbiologists who participate in community theater. Artists who are big fans of the space program. Gardeners who study comparative religions. Police officers who explore photography. (I really know all these people.) And we all know about the astronaut who plays guitar and sings in space.

As for me, everybody knows I’m a word nerd. My hobbies include crossword puzzles. My spare time is spent writing blogs and novels. But I am also a closet science geek. I have been known to ask friends in the sciences things like, “Explain to me how epigenetics is different from Lamarckian evolution.” And mostly understood the (probably simplified) explanation. Apart from science (and reading about it), I also love travel and semiprecious stones.

I would have to say that most of friends are people who explore different areas of their personalities and different areas of interest. I seem to be drawn to them. One of my oldest friends, a restaurant manager at the time, spent his off hours learning how to scuba dive, developing his own photos, and reading science fiction. I know an aerospace engineer who practices yoga. A writer who loves trains and old postcards. An office worker who decorates elaborate birthday cakes. The combinations are nearly endless.

People argue which is better to use, the left brain or the right brain. The left brain is the rational, logical side, exemplified by scientists and mathematicians. The right brain is said to be the seat of creativity, non-logical thinking, and artistic expression. It has been argued that our world today is skewed toward the left-brained, leaving out those who function mostly on the right side of the brain. There are a lot of right-brained people who are stuck in a left-brained world, where business executives and doctors and people in other high-paying occupations rule. Right-brained people are too often looked down on as hippie-dippy, touchy-feely new-agers who don’t really contribute to society.

(I would seriously disagree with that characterization. Right-brained pursuits make life worth living. Who can live in a world without music, film and television, stories, and the decorative and performing arts? But I digress.)

I don’t know how many people remember Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. It was all the rage in education a while back. It posited that there are many kinds of IQ, and that children learn best when taught in harmony with whatever their special style of intelligence is – visual-spatial or musical or bodily-kinesthetic learning or others, in addition to verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical.

Of course, the theory can be applied ridiculously and made fun of (suggesting that the McCarthy hearings be presented in interpretive dance). But it had some remarkable successes – children who learned their alphabet better when tracing letters in a sand tray instead of reciting them.

What I mean to say is that no one operates totally on one side of the brain or the other, or learns things in the same way. My husband, for example, is a more visual learner, while I’m more verbal. But I can’t count the number of times when we’ve explored the same content, him from a documentary and me from a book – an archaeological discovery, for example.

No one way of learning or experiencing the world is better than another. No one way of expressing oneself is intrinsically better than another. And while single-minded devotion is good in some respects, so is diversity of mind. And, in my experience, it makes for more interesting people, not to mention more interesting conversationalists.

The Wing-Wing and the Tutu

Why did the man have a hundred-dollar bill tattooed on his wing-wing?

A woman I know was telling a joke, but I lost it before she ever got to the punchline. “Wing-wing?” I fell over laughing. I knew the joke and I knew the punchline (Because he heard that women love to blow money). But what was funny to me was that she could tell a joke about oral sex, but couldn’t even say “penis.”

I asked her what she called women’s genitals. “Their tutu,” she replied. (This must have mightily confused her kids the first time they saw a ballet. But I digress.)

No matter how you tell that joke, it doesn’t sound right with any cutesy-poo substitute for penis. And I imagine she discarded the more normal euphemisms cock, prick, and dick as being too crude, only to be used in a unisex setting (men only). And there are other words: junk, man meat, manhood, package, thing, schlong. (I personally was taken aback when a guy used “drain the lizard” as a substitute for urinate.) Wing-wing is something you would only use with a child. And neither this woman nor her audience were children.

Women don’t have it any better. Besides tutu, their genitals are called va-jay-jay, vee, squish mitten, down there, the infamous pussy, money-maker, lady garden, and many, many coarser words that I don’t care to use, even in a post on what to call things.

Breasts don’t get a break, either. Boobs and tits are so common, you’d almost think they were the real names. Then there are others: hooters, jugs, fun bags – I’m sure you can add your own.

And of course there is the babytalk that lasts into adulthood: wee-wee, pee-pee, tinkle, make, poo-poo, doody. I’m not saying that we should say “I have to shit” when we go to the restroom. “I have to go to the restroom” is sufficient. (And don’t get me started on what we call the restroom, which is also a euphemism, but one we can generally agree is offensive to no one.)

But we started off with what to call male and female genitals, other than babytalk or crudity. There has to be something between those two extremes. And there is.

What’s wrong with using the proper names?

The problem starts in childhood. It’s just as easy for a child to learn the word “penis” as the word “wing-wing” and the word “vagina” instead of “tutu.” Yes, there will be awkward moments. The children will use the words in public. Likely no one will clutch their pearls and swoon.  My husband was babysitting some children who announced, “I have a penis.” and “I have a vagina.” He replied, “Yes. Now let’s go play with your building blocks.” A friend’s child, looking at a statue, said, “That one has a penis,” then went on to more interesting things, such as the wings the statue had on his feet.

But the problem continues well into adulthood. To say that sex education in schools is inadequate is inadequate. Most people, male or female, cannot tell you what the difference is between a vulva and a vagina, or even that women have a vulva. “Uterus” is a word considered improper to use in the legislature when discussing women’s reproductive issues.

I consider the whole thing a non-issue. Who gets hurt when we call things by their right names – not cutesy euphemisms, not crude dysphemisms (look it up)?

Not to mention that it would have made the joke a lot funnier – and intentionally so – if the woman could have brought herself to use the word “penis.” At least she would have gotten to the punchline before I collapsed in laughter.

Growing Old Together

No, this isn’t going to be a post about me and my husband, although it’s true that we’re growing older (every day) and we’re still together (after nearly 40 years).

Instead, I’m going to write about growing older with my cat, Dushenka. (Dushenka, incidentally, is Russian for “Little Soul” and is used colloquially to mean “Sweetheart” or “Darling.”)

I once had a cat (Louise) who lived to be 21. That’s rather old for a cat. I had her with me since she was a kitten. While she wasn’t mine for all of my life, I was hers for all of hers. Figuring cat-to-human years is tricky, but she was definitely a senior cat. But I digress.

I don’t really know how old Dushenka was when she came to us, but the vet records show we first brought her in in 2012. Assuming she was two or maybe three when she chose us for her family, that makes her 11 or 12 years old, or approximately the same age as I am now in cat years. We are aging together, and not always gracefully.

In fact, “gracefully” is a memory for both of us. Every time she jumps down from her perch by the window, her back legs don’t work so well and she bonks her little bottom on the floor. To get up on the perch, she now has to take a route from one of the chairs in my study and make a smaller leap, rather than jumping up from the ground.

I know exactly how she feels. Sometimes my legs don’t work right either, and more than once I’ve gotten up off the floor by using a chair as an intermediary.

When cats age, they often get gray or white hairs on their chin or around their muzzle. Dushenka avoids this by having a completely white chin and muzzle already. (It should be noted that all my profile pictures were taken mumblemurph years ago.)

I get cold very easily and need sweaters or blanks tucked around me. So does Dushenka. Her favorite napping spots are on a chair that contains one or more of my sweaters or a pillow that makes her look like a princess. Her favorite sleeping spot is in our bed, curled up in a little nest made of the comforter, or on top of my husband (who radiates heat like a fuzzy stove).

Dushenka is, however, not too old to play sometimes. She likes “get that string” and is pretty quick at it. I like playing “get that string” too, from the other end of the string.

She likes sun and fresh air, sitting or sleeping on her perch when the sun is shining and I’ve opened the window for her to sniff the wonders outside. She watches cat TV, also known as “I wanna bite the birdie.” I like the feeling of sun on my old bones too, and the fresh air, as long as I have one of the sweaters. I watch human TV and enjoy “I wanna bite the birdie” when they’re fixing poultry on “Chopped.”

She does not go outside, primarily because I want to keep her safe from fleas, diseases, and marauding cars. I stay inside to ward off pandemics and how people-y the outside world is.

Still, it would be foolish not to say that Dushenka and I are both on the decline. She will likely reach the end of her life a few years earlier than I do, given the cat-year-progression thing. And when that happens, I will have to think hard about whether to get another cat. I surely wouldn’t want to adopt a young kitten and leave her all alone at some point in the future.

Maybe a senior cat. They always need homes. And we can grow older together.

 

What I Do – And Don’t – Know About the Vaccine

This week I got my first shot of the Moderna vaccine, which was the kind they had at Walmart, where I was able to get an appointment for me and my husband. I don’t really know the difference between that and the Pfizer one, but I do know the Johnson & Johnson one (also called Janssen, for some reason) requires only one shot to be effective and requires less refrigeration than the others.

Getting the shot itself was okay. My arm didn’t hurt at all until the next day and was then just a minor nuisance.

Actually, my legs hurt more than my arm did, because there was a lot of walking, waiting, and standing involved. The trip went like this: From the parking lot into the store. From the front door to the pharmacy department. Standing in line there, while they tried to find my insurance on their computer. Then to the lawn and garden department at the other end of the store, where the shots were being given, for some reason (one of the things I don’t know about the vaccine). And I had to stand in line there too, while my husband was scoping out planters.

But that’s just me bitching.

The truth is, while I didn’t enjoy every minute of the process, I was overjoyed that I got the vaccination. It’s not that I enjoy injections (or “jabs,” as the rest of the world calls them). I’m not needle-phobic.

One thing I don’t know about the vaccine is why it was so hard to find a location that would give it to us. It would have made sense to get vaccinated at the pharmacy in the store where my husband works, but no. I was put on one of the infinity waiting lists and Dan couldn’t even get on that because he doesn’t have a smartphone so he couldn’t get a text about it. (Dan is the last person in America to have a stupidphone, one of the old flip variety. I think he just likes to pretend he’s a cast member on the original Star Trek.)

I tried a couple of other local pharmacies. I tried registering online, but no appointments were forthcoming. And there were no stadium drive-through vaccinations (that I heard of). At last, I tried Walmart. I’m not fond of Walmart, for any number of reasons. But this time they booked appointments for us within a reasonable time.

Now, as to the supposed dangers of the vaccine. Here’s what I do know.

You cannot get autism from the vaccine, as one of Dan’s coworkers fears. That was definitively debunked years ago (the doctor who started it all lost his license) and was only considered a potential hazard for children when the rumor was first going around (the bogus rumor, I add).

You will not be chipped by Bill Gates. First of all, the tiny needles they use for the vaccination are too small to contain even a microchip like the ones my cats have. And Gates surely has no interest in where I go (which isn’t of interest to much of anyone at all, not even me). Nor do I think he cares what I spend, as long as some of it is on Microsoft Windows, which I need to do my work. Besides, your cell phone is perfectly adequate to track your movements, if anyone is interested.

You will not get the Mark of the Beast along with the vaccine. None of the vaccines I’ve gotten – smallpox, flu, etc. – have had the least effect on my soul. I don’t see why this one should be any different.

Taking the vaccine is not the first step in a long, convoluted trail to government control and a cashless society that keeps track of where we go and rules our bank accounts (see Bill Gates, above).

Getting the vaccine has not changed my DNA (or even my RNA). I would not pass along tainted genes to any hypothetical children, and I will not turn into a half-human-half-animal person. DNA doesn’t work that way, and neither do vaccines.

I do believe I might get flu-like symptoms when I get my second dose, but I’ve handled the flu before. It’s a drag, but not as big a drag as COVID.

All in all, I’m glad I got vaccinated. All I really have to say about it is “Go ye and do likewise.”

 

Nature Red in Claw and Sting

Yes, I know the quotation is “nature red in tooth and claw” and it refers primarily to beasts that have those appurtenances, like lions and tigers and bears. But those don’t scare me much, because I seldom run into them in my day-to-day life.

(There was the time, years ago, when a group that should have known better brought a baby lion to the mall and offered to take pictures of people holding it. I couldn’t resist. They handed me the bundle of joy, which weighed at least 50 pounds. It proceeded to lick my ear. Afraid that the lion was just testing whether I was tasty enough to eat, the handlers swooped in and grabbed the lion, but not before they took this picture. But I digress.)

I will readily admit to being afraid of bees – an apiphobe (which, despite appearances, does not mean someone afraid of apes. That would be a pithecophobe.) If a bee gets near me, I freeze and scream until someone braver shooes it away. If it lands on my drink or my person, game over. Even the gentlest of bees terrifies me. My husband swears that carpenter bees don’t sting humans, for example. But I know wasps do, and one once got into the house while Dan was away. Now whenever Dan sees a flying insect in the area, he tries to convince me it was a butterfly or a dragonfly.

In fact, some people will tell you that’s why I got married – so I would have someone who could defend me from airborne attacks. And it would be hard to deny. When he wasn’t home and a wasp got in, I had to hit it with a shoe, then scoop it into a bottle with a lid and take it outside where, if it lived through all that, it could choose a different victim.

Ironically, I took beekeeping in college, in hopes of overcoming my fear. It didn’t work. I was okay during lectures, when we looked at diagrams and tasted samples of honey. But I had to take Valium to go to lab, where we interacted with real, live bees.

But now we have new threats. First came the killer bees, also called Africanized bees, that somehow lost their way and were invading the US through Mexico, last I heard. I think a border wall would have been sensible then, not later, when human beings were the supposed threats. Somehow they never made it to Ohio – at least that I know of. (My husband may have been censoring the news.)

Then came the 17-year locusts. (I’ve had to endure these twice in my life.) I don’t know if they actually bite or sting, but they have a terrible reputation. If they can be a Biblical plague, I might as well be scared of them. As far as I can see, though, the most harm they produce (to people, not to crops) is to drop down from trees in massive numbers and make an icky squishing sound when you happen to step on one, which is unavoidable. Seventeen years ago, I knew a woman who carried an umbrella to protect herself from the falling ones, though I don’t know how she avoided the squooshing noises.

This past year came the murder hornets. I could never steel myself to even read anything about them, but I assume they tied people up, stuffed them in the trunks of cars, stung them, then rolled the bodies down the nearest ravine. At least, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.

What will come next? Serial killer scorpions? Kidnapper tarantulas? Predatory lady bugs that look all cute and harmless until they attack? By now, I don’t trust any insect (or arachnid) to stay in its place, which is at least ten feet away from me. Not that I would want to touch them with a ten-foot pole.

 

Scheduling Rejection

I’m a writer and right now I have a book manuscript floating around the Internet, looking for an agent. Which means, of course, that I’m collecting a lot of rejection slips (emails, really).

A lot of books and articles and blog posts purport to teach you how to deal with rejection, usually by telling you about famous authors whose novels were rejected any number of times before they were accepted. This doesn’t cheer me up or comfort me any, as all I can say is, “Well, I have way more rejections than J.D. Salinger ever did.” It’s a competition I don’t care to win.

Instead, I have decided to schedule my rejections, so that they come in a little more slowly and I can handle them, psychologically. To me, at least, getting a few rejections at a time is better than getting hundreds all at once. That would truly drive me into depression and immobility.

Actually, no one gets hundreds of rejections. Most agents have a policy of “no response means no.” This means that many of my query letters, writing samples, and submissions are lost in limbo – not a yes, not a no, just nothing. (Yes, I know the Catholic Church has given up on Limbo as a Thing. That doesn’t make my metaphor any less appropriate. But I digress.)

So, here’s my schedule: Every day I send out queries – but only three. That’s just the basics, though. Every time a get a rejection email, I cross that agency off my master list of queries sent, and I send an extra query that day. And add it to the master list, of course. The master list also contains the date the query was sent and the name of the specific agent it was addressed to, as well as the agency.

When I say “cross that agency off,” I mean it literally – I don’t delete it from the list. (Strikethrough is a function I use often in Word.) The info remains encoded in ones and in zeros. It’s just that I can’t remember the names of all the places I’ve queried. So whenever I find another potential agent, I use “Find” to see if I have sent to them, been rejected by them, or whatever. (I know there are apps like Query Tracker and just any old database that would do this for me, but I stubbornly stick to my low-tech version.)

I also use the list to keep track of any additional notes: “Closed to queries until March 1st.  Try again then.” Or “Re-query in eight weeks.” (That one’s a rarity.)

I must admit that I am running low on agents to query. I don’t think I’ve contacted every available agent in the US, but I’m having a hard time finding lists of agents who are willing to consider mysteries or lists that contain a number of agents to whom I haven’t already submitted.

I have received one semi-positive response – one agent wanted to see a copy of the whole manuscript. And another rejection email – one that I considered a good one – said that I could try them again when I had another project. Although if they didn’t want the first one, I don’t know why they’d want the sequel, which is what I’m now writing.

Maybe I should take on a different project altogether. I don’t really love the genres, but maybe a cozy mystery (if only I could think up a suitable career for the “detective” to have and a, well, cozy setting). Or a romance, though I wouldn’t be able to use my own experience to base it on. I haven’t had a “meet cute” since I met my husband, mumblemumble years ago, introduced by mutual friends at a folk festival.

Actually, what I’m working on is a sequel to the mystery novel I’ve been sending around. My theory is that publishing companies like series more than they like stand-alone novels. Or maybe I should resurrect my early attempt at a mystery novel in which I killed off my rotten-ex-boyfriend-who-almost-ruined-my-life. If that doesn’t make me feel better, I’ll kill him off again in the sequel.

 

 

Missing My Friend

Last week I received an answer to a query. An agent I had contacted about my mystery novel had asked to review my complete manuscript.

My first thought was, “I have to tell Robbin about this!” But I couldn’t.

No, Robbin doesn’t have COVID and she isn’t dead. But she had a severe stroke last month and is in a nursing home. I can’t visit her or even call her on the phone. 

Robbin has a limited range of motion on one side of her body. With the other hand, she keeps trying to pull out her trache tube, which has made her life a tennis match between hospital and nursing home. Hospital to insert the tube, and back to the nursing home until she pulls it out again. Evidently, the nursing home does not have personnel able to put in a trache.

Robbin’s daughter and husband have had “window visits” with her, and now Stu is allowed to visit her in person. Stu and Kelly phone me frequently to give me updates on her condition, though there isn’t really much to tell, except transfers to and from the hospital and occasional infections and fevers. The latest update was that they’re now treating her for pneumonia. None of it is in the least encouraging.

I fear I will never have my friend back again.

Robbin and I met when she applied for a temporary job at a publishing company where I was working. I remember seeing her credentials and editing test and thinking, “We’ve got a live one here!” She only worked at the company for a few months, but it was enough to bond us.

Robbin has been my partner in crime, my commiseration buddy, my writing cheerleader, and my test audience. We have compared notes on our mental and emotional states, bitched about our husbands, given each other gifts, talked for hours about everything or nothing much. We have crashed parties together. We have made rum balls together. (My contribution was to taste them and advise, “Needs more rum.”)

She has taken me shopping and dressed me up like her own personal Barbie. Until she came along, I didn’t know there were any colors other than beige, olive drab, and camo. She took my husband shopping too, when he needed a suit for his class reunion.

When a tornado destroyed our house and my husband and I were stuck in a Red Cross shelter, Robbin and Stu gave us a lift and the use of their credit card to get us into a motel, where we stayed for a number of weeks.

I gave Robbin the first cat she ever had (Norman), thus starting her on a long career as the local Crazy Cat Lady. We’ve supported each other and cried our way through many a feline illness and death, and reminisced about our little friends afterward. I know her cats and her little chihuahua Moochie are missing her too. (This cat would surely remind her of Sandy, or one of the many others she opened her heart and house to.)

Robbin has never been good at diplomacy. She says what she thinks and doesn’t sugarcoat it for anyone. You always know where you stand with her. She has a generous heart and a raucous laugh that I fear I will never hear again. Her absence is a hole in my life that no one else can fill.

I know that the odds are not good for her to recover from this, the second stroke she’s had. I know I will likely never get my friend back the way I knew her. And I know my feelings are as nothing compared to those of her husband and daughter.

But I wish I had the Robbin I knew back, even for just another phone call.

What Do You Do With Your Winnings?

You suddenly receive a chunk of money. What will you do with it? That’s a question that I have heard often. Not directed to me. I have no prospects of landing more than pocket change, unless my mystery gets published, hits the bestseller lists, and gets picked up for a television series.

But I watch a fair number of competition shows on TV, primarily on Food Network or The History Channel. I enter giveaways occasionally, when HGTV is offering a fabulous house in Rhode Island as a prize. But I never even buy lottery tickets, to which I have a philosophical objection. (I believe that they are a tool used by the upper classes to make money by fooling people into believing that they can magically join the upper classes. But I digress.)

The prizes offered in the shows I watch are seldom life-changing, usually starting at $10,000, which seems nice, but I have seen them go up to $100,000, which actually could be life-changing, if not a key into the leisure class.

What the contestant would spend the money on if he or she won is a question that invariably gets asked. I have noticed a pattern in the responses. There are a few major categories.

Travel. Contestants’ dreams of travel seem pretty realistic to me. It’s what I would spend my winnings on.

The usual fantasy trips are to take the family on a great vacation, to have a honeymoon that somehow never happened, or to visit a part of the world from which ancestors came. In the food competitions, there is also a tendency to wish for funds to travel the world (or at least part of it) sampling and learning how to cook different kinds of cuisine.

(Since we were on the subject of honeymoons (or at least I was), I also hear contestants who want to spend their prize on an engagement ring or a wedding. I know the price of diamonds and of weddings have not gone down in recent years, but $10,000 or $25,000 seems a bit high for regular folks, the ones who never appear on “Say Yes to the Dress.” An engagement ring for $25,000? I mean, come on!)

Home. I’ve heard a number of contestants say they would like to put a down payment on a new home. This time the figure seems a bit too low. But what do I know? Maybe the couple has already saved toward a house and this would put them over the roof, so to speak.

Other winners say they would renovate their kitchen (on the food shows) or their workshop (on craft- or building-type shows). This I can understand. Remodeling a kitchen or a workshop could easily eat up that kind of money, especially if new appliances or tools are required.

Business. Again, as with houses, the prizes offered don’t really seem magnanimous enough to start a business, but again, most of these lucky winners may have a fair amount put aside already. Or their dreams are more modest – to get a storefront instead of an internet bakery (a concept I’m not altogether clear on), or a food truck (I’m assuming this would also be a down payment, given that a food truck would have to cost more than a car, which you can hardly get for $10,000 anymore anyway) or the ability to turn a part-time hobby into a full-time business, which seems to me like a pipe dream, but I suppose there are people who could make it work.

Charity. Some of the potential winners have loftier goals. I’ve heard chefs say that they would start a variety of cooking programs for troubled youth. I’ve heard winners say that they would give part, or even all, their winnings, to a charity that provides funds for researching a disease or condition that a family member suffers from. Others want to donate to a church or other religious cause. Once I even saw a kid (on “Kids’ Baking Championship”) who wanted to help out a teacher who had fallen on hard times.

Me, I’d be off like a flash to Ireland with my husband. (I’ve been twice, but he’s never been). If there’s some left over, we’ll just have to arm wrestle for it. Maybe Benson, Arizona, where we once enjoyed one of our best vacations ever. Or, more likely, only as far as the IRS office.