Category Archives: family

Dan’s Upgrade

My husband has at last entered the 21st century! After literally decades of resistance, he has moved up from the flip-phone to the smartphone.

Of course, when we first got cell phones, all of them were flip-phones. And we thought we might be the last people on earth to get even those. A few misunderstandings that led to shouting and accusations of discourtesy meant that we needed to enter the digital age. After one particularly loud and angry … discussion, we decided to take the plunge. Dan in particular was reluctant to get a mobile device, since he didn’t want to be “tied to his phone” and perpetually available. But he had to admit that cell phones had their uses.

His compromise with his own Luddite leanings was never to figure out how to use the thing. While he eventually figured out how to record a voicemail message and even to leave a message on my phone, he never learned how to retrieve voicemail left for him. Instead, he let it pile up until the phone always reported that his voicemail was full, making it useless. (I recently deleted his voicemail and the messages there were all from January of a year ago, and most of them were from his mother. But I digress.)

Once smartphones became available, I opted for one when my flip-phone crapped out. Dan kept replacing his with another flip-phone when it was out of order or he lost it so thoroughly that it was likely in a different state, or maybe another country. I thought it might be because he wanted a phone that was most like a Star Trek communicator.

But when I got a smartphone (not that I was among the first to do so either), he looked askance at it. “I don’t want a phone that’s smarter than I am,” he said, which I suppose was meant as a joke, though I really couldn’t tell. I tried to convince him that the added features – the easy availability of news and weather and GPS, for example – made it worthwhile, but still he resisted. He said he didn’t want to be one of “those people” who had their eyes perpetually glued to a screen. (He once asked me what people did before they could stare at their cellphones. “Read books,” I said. “Not while they’re walking,” he replied. I had to tell him that when I was in high school I did indeed read books while walking from one class to the next. But I digress again.)

Then I started getting apps on my phone that I knew Dan or I would want or need. The prize among them was PictureThis, an app that let you take pictures of plants, then would identify them and provide other useful and interesting information about them, such as whether your plant looked sick or whether that species had been mentioned in a poem. It even provided the poem for you. This led to Dan dashing into the house, shouting, “Give me your phone,” and bringing it back with dirty smudges on it. When Dan got a tablet, I downloaded this app for him so he wouldn’t have to borrow my phone. I also downloaded some music and video apps onto the tablet when he was going to be visiting his mother. He hates her taste in TV.

Dan’s entry into the modern era was a consequence of a different app, though. Where he works, people clocked in and out using their smartphones. Dan couldn’t, and that meant he had to walk farther to do so. In a sense, it was laziness that turned the tide.

Of course, it wasn’t as easy as that. The way his coworkers scanned in was using a QR code. Dan didn’t know what those were. So I had to download him a QR reader and show him how to use it. I don’t think he’s actually used it yet, but at least now he has the option when he’s too tired to make the long trudge.

I know he still mourns the death of his flip-phone, but even he had to admit that our phone provider didn’t really support them anymore. And the first night he had the smartphone I caught him with his nose pointed at the screen, watching YouTube videos.

He doesn’t love it yet, but I figure it’s just a matter of time. He’s no longer comparing its intelligence to his.

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Crocheted Christmas

Many people have traditions regarding their Christmas trees. There are live (real) Christmas trees or artificial ones which at least don’t shed needles and don’t require the death of a live tree. Then there are the lights – multicolored, all white, or all blue. (My mother didn’t care for these, as they always made her think of families in mourning. But I digress.)

There’s also the question of what goes on top – star and angel are the most popular choices. Ornaments vary from old, family ones that represent children’s ages or antiques passed down; modern ornaments that all have the same look; or handmade ones, often made by children. (Our old friend John used to add modeled clay ornaments, including naked fertility goddesses, to celebrate the pagan origins of the holiday tree. But I digress again.) To tinsel or not to tinsel is another choice. If a pet gets into it, tinsel can cause intestinal blockages or festive poop.

My mother’s tradition certainly included handmade ornaments of a specific style – crocheted. Mom (for some unknown reason, my friends and family called her Muzz) had the needlework gene passed down from her mother, who knitted.

Her specialty was snowflakes. They allowed for creativity, as no two snowflakes are said to be the same. (I don’t know how that could be tested, aside from examining every snowflake that ever fell. More digression.) Muzz had a special process to ensure non-floppiness of the snowflakes – she laid them out flat and dosed them with Elmer’s glue. When it dried, she had snowflakes that stood up to anything and never melted.

Muzz and her tree, complete with angel topper.

The rest of her ornaments were multicultural gifts. She had a fair number of foreign penpals that she connected with through crochet magazines. They shared patterns and sometimes completed ornaments that represented their skill or their culture. Muzz even sent a friend in India a large bottle of Elmer’s for her crocheted items. Other people – friends, neighbors, and church ladies – gifted Muzz with ornaments they collected on their travels. Many of them were Santas. There is a stunning number of Santas in various poses available.

For the topper, her tradition was one that owed its origin to my dad. He always insisted that it should be an old, dilapidated angel every year. It had a little smudge on its face. It reminded him of the 1938 film Angels With Dirty Faces – not strictly speaking a Christmas movie, but one he always liked, notably the title. (It had a hella cast, too.) After my father died, Muzz kept up the tradition.

Muzz was not one of those who liked plastic trees or put them up right after Thanksgiving. (We have a friend who kept her artificial tree up well into the spring. She decked it with suitable ornaments for Valentine’s Day and Easter. Yet more digression.) In early to mid-December, we would take her out to a tree lot and help her pick one out. Later, when she had less mobility, Dan and I would choose one, discussing what she would like best. It couldn’t be too tall, since she wasn’t able to stand on a step stool to place the angel. She always seemed pleased with what we brought home.

Alas, some of those traditions have now lapsed, owing to the fact that Dan and I no longer get a tree. It seems like too much for just the two of us, not to mention that we have cats. (Digressions continue. A friend of mine used to hang soft, felt ornaments on the lower branches specifically for her cat to steal and leave in various places around their house. She kept count of the thefts every year.)

I don’t know. Maybe it would be worth it to hang a garland on our balcony railing, just to hang my mother’s ornaments on it.

What are your holiday traditions?

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The Dry Well

So, it’s come to this. I have nothing left to write about. Last year I attempted a post on Halloween and how it has been taken over by adults. I then realized that I had written the same post in 2019. Not word-for-word, but almost paragraph-for-paragraph.

This has happened to me with many posts I have written lately, including my invention of a personal style, also done in 2019; plus-size peoples’ problems, now and in 2017; learning styles, and probably more. Thanksgiving came around last year, and also my birthday. I’ve already mined those subjects for posts and don’t want to revisit them, even if I could think of something new to say about them, which I can’t.

This proposes a problem or at least a difficulty. Have I already written everything I know about? Why am I just repeating myself? Or have I reached the end of my creativity?

It is ironic for me to confess this, because I have written about this same dilemma a number of times: in “Your Writing Brain” (2021), “As a Muse, Depression Sucks” (2019), “How to Write When the Muse Takes a Hike” (2018), “Muse Blues” (2016), and possibly a few others I’ve totally forgotten. Obviously, running out of inspiration is a subject near and dear to my heart, or at least close to the surface of my brain, as I think it must be to most writers.

In those previous posts, I have suggested ways to revitalize the writing juices. Read an author you like and try to incorporate their style or some aspect of their writing as an exercise. (I tried writing à la Mary Roach, but that resulted in too many footnotes.) Take off in a direction you’ve never gone before (politics, sex, children, history, economics, theater, or whatever).

Instead, I’ve delved into my memories. Visiting my country relatives as a child. Meeting Captain Kangaroo. Adventures in Girl Scouting. But my memory is notoriously spotty, so I don’t know how long I can keep this up.

I suppose I could plumb the depths of my other blog, bipolarme.blog, but those posts seem a little dark for what is meant to be a lighter-hearted blog. If only the cats would do something adorable! But no, they won’t cooperate. Neither will my husband. He hasn’t even done anything annoying lately, like the time he “volunteered” me to cater his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration. In another state. As a surprise (to me and to them). (I refer to this as one of his near-death experiences. But I digress.) In fact, he’s been so sweet that he just got me a kalanchoe for my office (which spellcheck didn’t like, though I certainly do).

I read a lot, so I suppose I could do book reviews. But the books I read aren’t the latest bestsellers. Often they are children’s fantasy books or science fiction that’s decades old. Other books I like are on distressing subjects like autopsies, the Spanish Flu, lobotomies, and accidents while mountain-climbing. I suppose I could write about why these subjects fascinate me, but that doesn’t seem likely to fascinate you.

In posting this, I’m taking after my husband, who once wrote a paper for school explaining all the different reasons he couldn’t write a paper for that class. It got an A. I should be so lucky.

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Vacations That Are and Aren’t

There are vacations that refresh, and then there are vacations that don’t. There are vacations where that create memories, and then there are vacations that don’t. There are vacations that are, and then there are vacations that aren’t.

My husband and I have had plenty of wonderful vacations, with scads of natural wonder, historic locations, local events, and places to explore. We’ve been to England, Monserrat, Croatia, and most recently Ireland, to name a few. (We also had a great time in Benson, AZ. Why Benson? “Benson, AZ” is the theme song to a sci-fi movie called Dark Star, which only a few people ever saw. What’s there to do there? Exploring caves, star-gazing, and visiting rock shops, among other things. But I digress.) We often returned exhausted rather than refreshed, but we’ve made memories that will last (I hope) until we’re older and grayer.

However, a gentleman of my acquaintance, who prefers not to be named, is on one of the vacations that aren’t.

He’s going to spend eleven days with, let’s say, his beloved ancient aunt and his cousin who live in, let’s say, Colorado. He has done this before, so he knows what he’s getting into.

What he’s getting into is work. Not his normal, paying work, though. His aunt has a long list of chores for him. And when I say chores, I don’t mean washing the car, which his aunt still does herself. I mean re-graveling the driveway. Clearing out a huge attic. Painting the porch. Installing a generator. Fixing the washing machine.

Or all of the above.

It’s like a “stay-cation,” only with airlines involved. And without the sitting on the porch with a drink with fruit and an umbrella in his hand and his feet in a kiddie pool with The Wild Jimbos singing “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” playing on an iPod with an auxiliary speaker. He does it because he really, truly loves his aunt. She’s in her 90s and needs the help.

(What he doesn’t really, truly love is her taste in music. And TV shows. And movies. And news. All of which she plays at high volume because she is hard of hearing. Fortunately, he just acquired a tablet that has been loaded with streaming services, radio stations, books, and other media that he can browse to his heart’s content. With earbuds, of course. But I digress. Again.)

At least his cousin is going to do the cooking. Except that the cousin cooks for a week at a time, and they have it every day until it’s all gone. The gentleman of my acquaintance cooks too, but not usually after a day of working in the hot sun. Then, his major concern is rehydration, which will likely include iced tea rather than drinks with fruit and an umbrella.

What I’m having is the stay-cation. Without the kiddie pool and The Wild Jimbos, though. My husband is also going to be out of town. I have writing assignments at the moment, so I’m pretty sure I can fill up my days with that and a bevy of dancing boys. Well, and binge-watching cooking shows on The Food Network. It won’t be thrilling and memorable (unless the dancing boys turn out to be real rather than imaginary), but it should be relaxing, with no annoying sweat (except for possibly in case of dancing boys, see above).

The peace and quiet will be welcome. I don’t always like my husband’s taste in movies, TV shows, and music either, and he plays them very loudly. (Hearing loss may run in the family.) It’s much easier to write and type without auditory distractions other than the cats meowing for food.

I think, however, that both I and the gentleman of my acquaintance will need a few days to recover from our assorted vacations before we get back to real work. Not that we’re likely to get much of a chance. Ah, well. There’s always the next real vacation for my husband and me to look forward to. Maybe we’ll even go back to Benson.

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Loving the Library

I love libraries. They and the books within them have shaped my life.

The idea of libraries went back, evidently, to ancient Assyria, but libraries in the United States caught hold in 1731, when Benjamin Franklin founded the Philadelphia Library Company with a bunch of his friends. I’m pleased to note that it’s still in operation today and has, as you might guess, many of Franklin’s papers and all sorts of historic books and manuscripts, including the Mayflower Compact and first editions of Moby-Dick and Leaves of Grass. The current collection is over 500,000 books.

I have a t-shirt that says “I Love You to the Library and Back.” That’s what I should have said to my father. Every other Saturday, the bookmobile parked in the Rike’s Department Store parking lot, and I got my reading fix. I almost always checked out Green Eggs and Ham, until my mother told me that I should get something else, too. (My mother once tried to make me green eggs and ham. It worked for the eggs, but not so much for the ham. But I digress.) My dad drove me to the bookmobile and sometimes even to a small library just a bit farther away. I brought home double armloads of books and started reading them on the drive home.

Later on, my father even drove me to the library downtown, where I could check out a particular record album I loved and could find nowhere else (I now have it on iTunes, but this was long ago). Libraries now have CDs and DVDs and video games and ebooks and sometimes even tools you can check out. They also have computers that the public can use for searching the online “card catalog” and for their own wants and needs. They have children’s summer reading programs, storytimes, and crafts.

My father wasn’t really a reader himself until he was laid low by cancer and couldn’t even get to the room with the television. Beth McCarty, a family friend and the “traveling library lady,” brought books to shut-ins and never failed to bring my father bags of the Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey and Foxfire books he loved.

When I was in junior high, I volunteered to work in the school library during my free period, shelving books. It was there I became acquainted with Robert Heinlein’s juveniles and Ray Bradbury’s short stories, beginning my lifelong love of science fiction. (I once was concentrating so hard on the titles that I walked right off the little stool I needed to reach the upper shelves. But I digress again.)

I spent my undergrad college years working in the grad school library, which had closed stacks. I was a page and retrieved books for people and sent them down in what was essentially a dumbwaiter. It was my first exposure to the Library of Congress classification system, though it wouldn’t be my last. I loved the job, since when there weren’t any requests, I could read to my heart’s content from the topics shelved on whatever floor I was stationed on. In later life, I also read while on duty when I worked at an unsuccessful bookstore.

By the time I was a young adult (though older than what is called “young adult” these days in terms of fiction audiences) I made regular trips to the library. I discovered Sue Grafton’s alphabet series while she was still only a few letters in. Another type of fiction that I explored was children’s literature. The library never made me feel silly about checking out Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series. And I particularly haunted the new acquisitions shelf. I was always on the prowl for something I didn’t know about that sounded interesting.

I thought of the overdue fines I paid over the years as my little contributions to the libraries’ budget. (A much more substantial contribution to the Ohio libraries – over $600,000 – was made by comedian Drew Carey, who gave away what he had won on game shows, before he ever hosted one.)

Of course, if Ben Franklin were alive now (and I wish he was), the concept of libraries would most likely never have gotten off the ground. A place accessible to anyone where they could get books for free? Supported by our tax dollars? It’s hard to imagine that going through these days.

Anymore I think of librarians as a type of freedom fighter. They take access to books and the privacy of patrons seriously. Back in 2001, when the Patriot Act was passed, they refused to rat out their patrons based on what “unsuitable” books they checked out. Now, they resist efforts to remove books from their shelves based on the wishes of pressure groups.

At one point in my life, I seriously considered becoming a librarian myself. I sometimes still wish I had. I would be proud to join their ranks, even with the low pay, lack of funding, and political nonsense. It’s a job that needs doing, and always will.

(I’ll have more to say about libraries next week.)

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Whose Daughter? Whose Wife?

Emily St. John Mandel noticed back in 2012 that there were many, many books with titles that related to someone’s daughter. “No trend that I’ve ever noticed has seemed quite so pervasive as the daughter phenomenon,” she said. “Seriously, once you start noticing them, they’re everywhere. A recent issue of Shelf Awareness had ads for both The Sausage Maker’s Daughters and The Witch’s Daughter. I’m Facebook friends with the authors of The Hummingbird’s DaughterThe Baker’s DaughterThe Calligrapher’s Daughter, and The Murderer’s Daughters, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.” She actually made a spreadsheet of the number of daughter books and came up with over 530. “I don’t mean to suggest that 530 represents the total number of these books,” she added. “Five hundred and thirty was just the arbitrary point where I decided to stop counting, because the project was starting to take too much time. I was only on page 88 of 200 pages of search results.”

Well, I took over her mission and recorded still more daughters that were the subject of books. One of the best known is The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. Among the others I found were the President’s, General’s, Senator’s, Governor’s, Admiral’s, Colonel’s, Judge’s, and Sheriff’s. And the Bishop’s, Apostate’s, and Vicar’s. Not to mention the Alchemist’s, Apothecary’s, Taxi Driver’s, Merchant’s, Outlaw’s, and Killer’s. There were even ones that recognized that sometimes women had daughters as well: the Harlot’s, the Mistress’s, and the Book Woman’s daughters all came up on the search.

But the phenomenon doesn’t stop there. I also found a plethora of books devoted to various people’s wives. The most recent and popular was The Time-Traveler’s Wife, but there are plenty of others. Some I found particularly interesting: Zookeeper’s and Tiger’s (two separate books), Nazi Officer’s, Traitor’s, Lightning God’s, Liar’s, Shape-Changer’s, Dopeman’s, Conqueror’s, and Dark Overlord’s. Lobotomist’s (I think I need to read that one) and Anatomist’s and Knife Thrower’s. Lots of occupational ones – Shoemaker’s, Pilot’s (and Aviator’s), Headmaster’s, Optician’s, Woodcutter’s, Centurion’s, Mapmaker’s (a fascinating book that I’ve actually read), Tea Planter’s, Clockmaker’s, Chocolate Maker’s, Restaurant Critic’s, Runaway Pastor’s (no, that’s one, not two), Penmaker’s, and Banker’s wives were all featured. And some that are just puzzling: Salaryman’s, Janitor’s, Centaur’s wife.

That’s where I stopped recording them. I’m not a big fan of spreadsheets.

The reason I bring all this up (there actually is a reason) is that I’m always annoyed (not to say pissed off) when there’s a campaign that defines a woman in terms of her relationship with someone else: Breast cancer could happen to your wife or your mother. Being attacked on the street at night could happen to your daughter, your fiance, your niece. Abortion, stalking, mental and other illnesses – all could happen to a person related to you.

It’s not that you shouldn’t be aware of how these tragedies and distressing situations can affect those around you – loved ones, relatives, neighbors. And it’s not like there aren’t a few similar things that could be said about husbands, fathers, uncles, brothers, or male friends (killed in war or suffering from prostate cancer, usually).

What gets to me is that the afflictions are said to be visited on women in relation to someone else. Isn’t it bad enough when a woman is raped or gets cervical cancer strictly as herself? Why do we have to define her as someone’s something in order for her to deserve our attention?

Even the sisters and the daughters are encouraged to think, “It could be my mother or grandmother. It could be my best friend.” I guess “It could happen to any woman” isn’t specific enough. There has to be an emotional connection to make them worth caring about.

But there are plenty of women without family or community connections who are subject to diseases and disasters – the homeless woman, the one who has always lived on her own, the widow with no children. Why can’t we care about, have sympathy for, and work toward the health and happiness of them too?

Or are they only worthwhile and interesting when they’re daughters or wives?

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Adventures in Ireland, Part One: There and Back Again

No. This wasn’t us. Not hardly.

Our recent trip to Ireland was a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. Ireland is a marvelous country and our time there was sublime. But getting there and back was ridiculous.

It all started (or didn’t, actually) when we got to the airport in the evening to discover no one was behind the airline counter. A few phone calls later, we discovered that the airline had changed the flight time – back in December – and we never got so much as an email from them about it. So we missed the flight to Ireland by approximately four hours.

There were no other flights out that evening, though they had one the next day. Unfortunately, since we were officially no-shows, we had to rebook and pay more money. I spent considerable time on the phone with our bank and credit card company too, trying to shift money around so we could still go.

We had already stowed our car in the non-airport long-term parking and didn’t feel inclined to retrieve it and go back home. So we had to get a hotel room and spend the night. Even that was a trial. None of the hotels that had vacancies had shuttle service to the airport and one of them didn’t even have hot water. So it was Uber for us both that evening and in the morning. At last we got on our way, but we had missed one day of our vacation, spent it in a Best Western instead of an Irish bed-and-breakfast, and already cut into our less-than-extravagant budget.

When we finally arrived in Dublin, we rented a car and set off to our first hotel. The vacation company had booked us into swanky hotels for the first and last stops, presumably on the theory that we’d be exhausted at those points. We didn’t stay in Dublin, because I was dubious about driving on the left in a big city the first day we got there. Instead, we went to the Dunboyne Castle Hotel, which is a little bit away from the city and just as impressive as it sounds.

Our first real b-n-b was in Donegal, and it was in many ways my favorite of the places we stayed. Brook Lodge was a regular house with a comfy bedroom (and en suite bathroom, which all our accommodations had) and a lovely woman who cooked us breakfasts while we watched and Dan chatted with her about gardening.

Our first real stop was a ditch on the way to Brook Lodge. It was 11:00 p.m., we were spent, and we ended up on a one-lane road that stopped at a cattle gate. We managed to get turned around, but went off the side of the road. Fortunately, we had a small flashlight with us (Girl Scout training came in handy there) and Dan took off down the road to find some help. I waited with the car.

Within half an hour, Dan was back with a great couple who drove us and our luggage to Brook Lodge, then came back the next day to pull the Toyota out of the ditch and magically remove the dent so that Hertz wouldn’t make us buy a whole new car when we turned it in.

(The Tom-Tom GPS that came with our rental car was useless and for most of the trip we used Google Maps on my phone. Dan did the driving as I was too nervous to do it, and I did the navigating as he wasn’t able to do both at once. But I digress.)

It was another ridiculous story when it was time to return to Ohio. When we went to catch our plane (after far too long driving around the airport trying to figure out where to leave our rental car), we arrived at the counter only to find that we couldn’t board the plane. Naively, we had thought that our COVID triple-vax cards would be sufficient for travel to the US as they had been going to Ireland. But no. We needed an antigen test. Since the testing site was in another part of the airport and our plane boarded in 30 minutes, there was no way we could get the test in time. There were no other flights that weren’t booked solid for four more days.

I got on the phone with the airline and spent a good hour and a half with them trying to figure out a solution. Eventually, we achieved one. There would be a plane that we could take – from Dublin to Newark and Newark to Chicago and thence to Ohio. And it wouldn’t take a four-day wait. Only two.

Again, we had no choice but to find a hotel room. And just as the flights were booked, so were most of the hotel rooms. We found one that had two rooms left and quickly snagged one. (It was an accessible room, with all kinds of extra equipment in the bathroom. We didn’t need the pull cord for the nurse, but some of the other accommodations proved handy because my husband and I are somewhat mobility-challenged. But I digress again.)

So we spent two days in a Dublin airport hotel, except for taking the hotel shuttle to the COVID testing site at the airport. (Need I say that we both tested negative?) I suppose we could have taken buses to explore the city, but by that time we were both beyond fatigued and demoralized, not to mention out of money. We spent the time playing Mille Bornes, which we had for some reason brought with us, and reading and playing solitaire on our Nook e-readers. And trying to get a charging cable for my phone in case I needed another marathon session with the airline. The hotel provided one. They kept the cables people had left behind for six months, then handed them out to anyone who needed them.

We were enormously relieved to get home and retrieve the kitties from the vet where we had boarded them. We immediately started saving to go back to Ireland, though with a few lessons learned.

There’s lots more to tell and show, but I’ll leave the more sublime parts of the story – and the photos – for next week’s blog, when I’ll no doubt digress again and again. More sublimity and more ridiculosity to come…

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Still More Travel Tales, or Why I’m Somewhere Else

I hope when you see this post, I’ll be out of the country, in Ireland. (I say I hope because I’m not altogether convinced that the WordPress schedule-your-post-for-later function will work the way I want it to.)

I’ve traveled to Ireland twice before, once with my mother and once with a group of Catholic writers and editors. (Why? The company that sponsored our tour wanted us to round up our readers for a tour of our own.) They were both epic tours in different ways.

Now I am going back to Ireland with my husband, who has never been there. It’s kind of a second honeymoon for us. Our first one was when we were rather poor. (We paid for our wedding cake with food stamps and our reception was a potluck. But I digress.) Our honeymoon was spent camping and whitewater rafting and sleeping in a treehouse, which is another story.

Since then we have traveled a lot together, including to England, Croatia, and Benson, AZ. (That last trip was inspired by a song of the same name which was the theme song (about special relativity) for a low-budget science fiction movie, Dark Star, that practically no one has ever seen. But I digress. Again.)

We scheduled our Ireland trip last fall when we could lock in plane fares. My husband’s nephew is a travel agent and he made all the arrangements for us, up to and including getting the airlines to send one of those beepy cart things to our gate so we could make our connection without having to run while carrying luggage. He also took care of renting us a car in Ireland and making B-n-B reservations in places we wanted to stay. We’re going to be driving around and visiting lots of scenic and historical places, which his nephew was also kind enough to send us notes on and how far each is from where we’re staying. The nephew’s name is Michael Reily and he’s on Facebook, if any of this inspires you to book a trip.

Since then I have been planning like a madwoman. I’ve written about this before in my post “Preparing for the Normandy Invasion.” And that was about a three-day trip. This time I looked up directions for getting to every town, castle, or spot we want to see, plus a scenic tour by boat. I even emailed a pub to ask if we needed to reserve a table. (No.) I booked reservations for eight different sites and events and printed out confirmations. I even paid for them beforehand, never knowing how much I paid because I can’t (yet) convert dollars to Euros in my head. And I got compression stockings for the overseas flights, as they give me cankles.

One of the things I made sure to tell Dan’s nephew about was that we wanted to go to the town where the movie The Quiet Man, one of Dan’s all-time favorite movies, was filmed. His nephew even arranged it so we could visit the town on Dan’s birthday. I may stake out a seat in a pub while he explores, since that isn’t one of my favorite movies. (I wonder if I can get a map of the area so he doesn’t miss anything.) We’ve even booked a very touristy but entertaining Medieval Banquet that I enjoyed on one of my earlier trips. For culture’s sake, we’ve also booked the local Folk Park as well, which has replicas of thatched-roof cottages as well as gardens. It sounds like a great place to take pictures.

Speaking of pictures, I found out that my iPod and my phone will post them directly to Facebook, so you may have already seen some of them by now. (I wasn’t afraid to give away this little bit of information about us being away from my home, since none of my Facebook friends are burglars, and most live in some other state. But I digress. Again.) The photo included here is not one I took. It’s of the Giant’s Causeway, which I hope we will have seen by now.

So far, the most difficult part of the trip was getting both our cats to the vet for boarding. We have one that escaped from his carrier when tried to take them for their shots. So it’s buy another, sturdier carrier or ferry the cats in two trips.

The only thing I wasn’t able to overthink was how to practice driving on the left side of the road. I hope I’m doing it right – I mean left.

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TV Improved Our Marriage

It isn’t that our marriage is bad. But we had been growing apart. That is to say that my husband and I like different TV programs. I like cooking shows, though I never actually make any of the recipes. He likes classic movies from the ’30s to the ’70s, especially science fiction, the cheesier the better. (One of his favorites is Robinson Crusoe on Mars.)

I’m a big fan of science fiction, but not generally the movies. They all seem to involve superheroes, comics I’ve never heard of, the alien threat of the week, or mindless high-tech violence. (My distaste for superhero movies was challenged when I discovered I love Deadpool, which contains plenty of low-tech (though scarcely credible) violence. Deadpool is really an antihero rather than a hero anyway. But I digress.)

It’s not that I dislike all movies from the early days. I think My Man Godfrey is good, Arsenic and Old Lace is the best serial killer movie ever, Harvey is funny and touching, and Twelve Angry Men is superb. But so many old movies contain rapid-fire dialogue that I can’t make out (think Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby) or women with high-pitched, shrill voices hollering (as in Born Yesterday, which is otherwise a really terrific movie).

Dan objects to my cooking competition shows (such as Top Chef, Chopped, and Beat Bobby Flay) both because they bore him and because they sometimes drop live lobsters into boiling water (he still calls Emeril Lagasse “the evil cook” because he once dropped live crayfish into a hot skillet and joked about it). My husband’s tender-hearted. What can I say?

There is a competition show that we both like – Forged in Fire. I don’t know why I like this, but I do. I tend to like competition shows where the contestants have to make an actual thing that requires skill (which may be why I like Project Runway, too, which Dan doesn’t).

When Forged in Fire comes on, we retreat to my study to watch it, instead of being in separate rooms watching separate programs. (We go to my study because there is something wrong with the Roku in the living room and it doesn’t get all the same channels.) I also got him to watch Ink Master with me. He didn’t want to like it, but he got hooked on it.

Recently, though, we’ve been binge-watching a few series, generally a few episodes a week, which is our version of binging. I’ve selected the shows carefully to entice Dan into my study. We started with Star Trek: Picard, which we will watch weekly once it starts up again (unless episodes with Q are a major factor). The same with Star Trek: Discovery. Recently, we’ve begun watching Resident Alien and The Orville. Both of these are comedy sci-fi series, so they satisfy my husband’s needs and are perfect lures. And we both like some documentaries. Occasionally we watch a movie, or Dan watches one while I fool around on my computer – at least we’re in the same room.

There are some drawbacks to meeting in my study. There are only two chairs and one of them is my desk chair. Dan is more amenable to joining me if I let him sit in the comfy chair. And he has to have snacks (popcorn and/or nuts), crumbs of which get strewn about the carpet.

There are also some pluses. Dan is always too hot and I am always too cold. Fortunately, the study has a window he can open and a blanket I can wrap up in. There is a little tray table to put beverages on and a Mr. Coffee machine if either of us wants tea or cocoa (neither of us is addicted to coffee).

Carefully chosen TV programs and a comfortable study have thus brought us together, ending weeks of separation in the evenings (or in the daytime on our days off). I suppose that separation was the price we were paying for having TVs in two different rooms.

But now, we are closer than ever, both physically and emotionally. It’s rare to find TV shows that can do that.

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A Cat in the Night

Cats have a reputation for being aloof and unemotional. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. (They also have reputations for being graceful, which anyone who’s seen a cat fall off a window ledge can testify is unfounded. There are plenty of online videos that prove it too. But I digress.)

Actually, cats have wide emotional ranges, which can include anything from passive to pissed-off. One of our previous cats, Maggie, could snub a person so thoroughly that they knew they had been well and truly snubbed.

But every now and then, a cat will read your emotions and give you exactly what you need.

We have a cat named Toby. He’s generally happy-go-lucky, with a trace of skittishness. He doesn’t purr much, but he makes crazy sounds like “ma-weep” that I don’t know how he can do without proper lips. He does like to cuddle when we’re on the sofa or the comfy chair, either nestled in my husband’s arms or draped across my capacious bosom. (If I were a different sort of writer, I would have titled this “Bosom Buddies.” But I digress. Again.) At night our other cat, Dushenka, snuggles up by Dan’s head, while Toby sometimes curls up by my feet, to be joined by Dushenka if Dan starts rocking and rolling too much in his sleep.

This day, though, I had simply had enough. Dan forgot to pick up something I needed when he went to the store. I was still suffering the aftereffects of dental surgery and was sorely sick of eating broth and mush, enlivened only by peanut butter or the occasional scrambled egg. Something I ordered arrived but wasn’t right. It wasn’t a day when big problems unexpectedly dropped in my lap. It was a day when I felt like I was being nibbled to death by ducks.

I sat on the sofa beside Dan, tears slowly trickling down my face, which he didn’t see. Later he claimed he did but didn’t know what to do about it, which is in some ways worse.

At last, we went to bed and Dushenka curled up next to hubby as usual. Dan went promptly to sleep, a thing I can never manage to pull off. I lay in bed, tears still trickling, making small puddles in my ears.

Then Toby came, and lay next to me, his furry little head resting on my arm. And he stayed with me. He would sometimes move a little, twist around to find a better position. But he always ended up in some configuration with his head on my arm. He was a soothing presence, giving me just what I needed – silent comfort and undemanding physical contact.

We stayed like that for hours. Once in a while, I reached to touch him, but it didn’t seem to disturb him. It was me and Toby, communing through the long, dark hours of the night.

Eventually, I was calm and reassured enough to sleep, and I turned on my side, the only way I ever sleep. Toby retreated to his usual position alongside my feet, close enough to return to his protective, gently soothing position if I needed his presence again. But I slept through the rest of the night, dreamless, and awoke calm, ready to face the next day and all its ducks. Knowing that Toby was there if I needed him.

More gushy food for Toby! (And Dushenka)

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