Friday, December 14, 2007

December 14, 2007 letter

Our house, in a snowstorm

I'm back from Michigan, still a little exhausted and depressed from the ordeal. I spent two weeks going through boxes and boxes of papers and photographs, trying to figure out what is in the house, so we can be prepared for the time when everything has to go out of the house. I've done my best to do this without ruffling feathers. I'm not sure how successful I've been.

I was able to see Mom almost every day. That was nice, but most of my time had to be spent at the house. I do think Mom is more relaxed now at the facility. She doesn't have so much stuff to worry about, and I'm sure she is more comfortable physically. She is doing her best to look forward, but it is very hard for her to think about not having the house anymore. Right now, as far as I know, there is no plan for what to do with the house. I'm leaving that up to my brothers.

When my mother's mother died it was a big surprise. Likewise, when her father died, she and her sisters had only a few days to sort through everything and figure out what to do with it. Mom told me a story that has always stuck with me about how, after her mother died, she went through all of the pockets of her mother's suits and dresses looking for a letter, because she was sure her mother would have left a message for her, telling her what to do. Mom didn't want that to happen for us, so I have had the job of going through zillions of bits of paper--

I have to stop now, to explain. One thing that made an impression on my husband Robert as he was considering joining Clan Hogg, was that when one was served something to eat on a paper plate, often, that paper plate was covered with writing. (People who know my family are going to be smiling about this--) I don't know why Hogg people write on paper plates--because they're there? Because nothing can be truly explained without affording the explainee a diagram? Because eating food is conducive to thinking up plans, and paper plates are usually handy then?

Anyway, Mom is a list maker, and I have found those lists EVERYWHERE, in hundreds (although I am prone to exaggeration, I am not exaggerating here) of notebooks, on Post-It notes, in files and on paper plates and yes--even in pockets. In these notes and lists she has written goals for herself , and dozens of prayers for the things she has hoped for her children and others who she feels are like her children, for good relationships and love and creativity and financial safety and spiritual growth. Going through all these scribbles has given me a special insight into my mother and the things that are important in her life that I think other people don't get to have with their own parents. I feel very fortunate--but it also provides me a burden. Mom has written about her need to record everything. One of her essays was about her hope that her children would be able to know her as a human in her lifetime. She hoped her writing would allow that. I will be sending some of her essays to some of you soon.

I have learned about my mother is how important it is for her to finish a project she has been working on for decades. As a young child she had been interested in bundles of letters between her parents when they were courting, when her mother was a Nebraska schoolteacher and her father was (yes, he really was!) a cowboy in Pioche, Nevada. Mom inherited those letters and started writing a book based on them. She then collected old letters and photographs from other family members, and reels of old newspapers on microfiche. Everyone's concern was that she was enjoying the research so much, she appeared to be forgetting to do the writing. I realize that for my Mom's life to be important (and bearable) she has to have something to look forward to, and the publication of her book is a goal I hope to help her accomplish. If I can't do much about her physical condition, maybe I can improve her emotional health!

Mom made multiple copies of everything she ever wrote, as well as keeping copies of every draft. I did my best to sort out duplicates before bringing files and files of papers home with me. Some of these are hadwritten, many are in faded dot matrix type from Mom's original Epsom computer. Everytime one of her computers died, someone would give her a second-hand replacement with obsolete programs, and a different word-processing program incompatible with just about everything else. The result was, as each successive computer died, her processed files died with them. I was especially happy to learn, from Mom's notes, how thrilled she was when I gave her a brand-new PC with Word installed on it. Unfortunately, I have found only a few discs that contain parts of the book, so almost everything has to be re-typed from scratch.

Knowing what a terrible typist I am (you don't see my first draft of this, friends!) I was freaked out about the goal I'd set for myself, then my husband asked me, "Didn't you ask me to retype all that stuff for your Mom the LAST time she changed computers?" And indeed, I did! And indeed, he did it! (at least Parts I and II of the book) What a prince I married! I'll tell you, Mom's prayers for me, at least, came true! And now, my prince is re-typing the other mish-mash of pages. When we see Mom at Christmas, I'm hoping we can talk about what she wants me to do regarding the rest of the book. I think workingtoward getting this book published is what my Mom needs to give her a boost and something to look forward to. Her sisters, Rosie and Lois, have signed on to help with the postage costs and figuring out the photographs that ought to go with it.

I am still jobless, and more freaked out about that than I care to admit, although I feel in my bones that things will start hopping after the New Year. My nebulous and fuzzy feelings about God lead me to believe that it is not for nothing that I find myself without a job at the same time my organizational skills and time are required to take care of my mother and her needs. I am sure, in the long run, I won't regret a moment of these days, as difficult as they are. I hope, when my Mom does die (and there's no reason to believe that will be any time soon!) she will know that she accomplished what she set out to do.

So that's my goal. I am hoping to send out a couple of inquiry letters to publishers before Christmas.

Since coming back to New York I have spent days going through the stuff I shipped home with me. In addition to the papers I brought back an antique dresser and one of Mom's cats. (She still has three at the house--anybody want a nice kitty?). I spent the entire two-weeks while I was in Michigan trying to cozy up to a gorgeous long-haired calico Mom calls Pussyfoots. I tried to warm that cat up with bits of ham, and I set a trap for her the last night I was there. Unfortunately, on the morning I was leaving (and trying to get on the road early enough to avoid a snowstorm in Pennsylvania) a different cat was snoozing inside my cat carrier. I did my best to interpret this sign from God, and decided a cat in the carrier is worth two on the lam.

This kitty's name is Twerp. He's a young, light-tiger kitty with cream-colored eyes. I had expected spats with kitty Mabel, but there haven't been any,and they have become good buddies. Unfortunately, when I made my early-morning decision, I wasn't thinking that maybe my brother Tim had promised this cat to his daughter, Lindsey. Lindsey has forgiven me. I don't know if Tim has.

All of this stuff has kept me so busy, I wondered whether I should skip putting up a tree this year. It is something I really enjoy, but I got a late start and we'll be gone for Christmas week. Another decider was that when I erected Mom's fake tree for her in Michigan, Twerp and another cat named Foggy were almost instantly inside it, gleefully batting down ornaments. Here at home I have very expensive, blown-glass ornaments that I treasure, that would all be ground to glitter if I left two big, fat, never-saw-Christmas-before kittens home alone for a week (or even minute!) I hope by next year Mabel and Twerp will be less rambunctuously curious.

We had an ice storm yesterday. I had to shovel twice. A kitten's first experience with snow is not not unlike a baby's first steps, so I took my camera with me when Mabel insisted on going outside. She went out there, her ears went flat, and before I could even turn the camera on she had zipped between my legs back into the house! I took a picture of our house (I LOVE OUR HOUSE) in the snow, decked out in pine garlands, swags of little white lights and wreaths, but something screwy is happening with our digital camera. When I upload them, the pictures never leave the camera, and when I try to attach them to this blog, all I get is gobbeldy-gook.

So if I can do it, there'll be a picture of our pretty house in a snowstorm at the beginning of this letter. (Robert did it! He's a genius!)

I don't know when the heck I'm going to find time to write my Christmas letter! Probably not until January. Anyway, have a happy, happy Christmas or alternative seasonal holiday, and have a GREAT NEW YEAR! If I take the time to send this letter to you, you know how important you are to me. Talk to you soon--

Franny (and Robert)

P.S. I cook lots of soup in the winter/fall. I have specialties, such as Hoggwilde Autumn Soup with hamburger and veggies, clam/corn chowder, navy bean and ham soup, red lentil soup and fresh mushroom soup. (Ask for recipes, I'll send them!) But I made some soup last night (practicing for a dinner party I plan to throw in January) that was SO FABULOUS it is going to be a FAHL signature dish from now on! Very easy and cheap and pretty and delicious!

Here it is:

Caribbean Pumpkin Soup

Saute 2/3 cup chopped red bell pepper and 2/3 cup chopped onion in a soup pot with some olive oil until onion is transparent.

Add 2 1/2 cups chicken broth (I used partially home-made stock, with little bits of chicken in it) --very yummy!

Add 1 tsp. ground cumin and 2 tsp pureed garlic

Add 1 15 oz. can of pumpkin puree and 1 can of rinsed black beans

Add a 15 oz. can of chopped tomatoes, if you'd like (I accidentally left this out when I made it, and it was still GREAT), and salt and pepper.

Serve with crusty bread and hot sauce!


Drop a line!

Love, R and F

Sunday, November 18, 2007

November 18, 2007 letter

November 18, 2007


Well, this is a big pain in the butt. I have pictures to share with you but when I tried to load them this time all I got was a string of gobbledegook. Technology hates Franny! What did Franny do to deserve this? If I WERE able to download some photos for you I'd show you the fabulous decor for Mid-Hudson Animal Aid's annual auction, our pedicab ride through Manhattan at night and our family's newest baby, Eli, grinning on the lap of his very favorite great-aunt. POOPY! (This is a general comment about the unavailability of the photos. It is not not a comment on Baby Eli on Franny's lap.)

The cat shelter auction was a huge success. Everybody commented on how easily everything came together. The thing I remember best about the first time I helped with the auction was being barked at: "Don't touch that!" That was from the old coordinator, who shall remain nameless. By contrast, this year Jane Hanley and I worked together as co-coordinators of the event, and she was just a dream. She is so easy to work with, and so organized, and we are both big believers in DELEGATING DUTIES! Everybody did what they were asked to do, and they did it perfectly. It was a fun night, and we made about $12,000. Some of that money is earmarked for a personal project of mine, a special dates reminder calendar. (That's a calendar you use over again every year, to remind you of birthdays and anniversaries.) We auctioned off the rights to have someone's cat be the "cover kitty." A wonderful donor paid $1,000 for that! When the calendar is ready I'll be hitting you all up to buy one. We'll showcase some of the favorite shelter cats for the individual months, I think. I am trying to line up a well-known cat photographer to do the cover for us.

Robert and I had a great time at our friend Ruth's elegant birthday bash. "Doctor Ruth" is the daughter of an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist at NASA. She is also a naturopathic doctor as well as a secretary at Robert's office, and she tells the most amazing stories. Her stories are so amazing, in fact, that some people think she makes them up, but we know they're true. Ruth lived through harrowing experiences around September 11th--her apartment building was right next to the towers--and she has done so many things! For instance, she has been a ballet dancer, a flautist in several orchestras, a computer whiz at Salomon Brothers (a giant investment bank), a fashion designer, a succesful Hollywood screenwriter, a theater manager, a prizewinning sharpshooter, an accomplished horsewoman, and on and on, and she has only now celebrated her fiftieth birthday! (Wouldn't you know it? She looks like she's thirty-five.) Anyway, her parents gave her a lovely gift for her birthday--dinner for twelve good friends aboard a cruise boat--and Robert and I were very pleased she chose to include us!

The boat was to leave the Chelsea Pier in New York City at 7:30, and Robert doesn't get off work in White Plains until 6:00,. so we knew we'd have to hurry. I drove in to work with him, and we managed to get off a little early to take the train to Grand Central Station. Once there, we had only about half an hour to make it to the pier, and found we had a wait of about that long just to get a cab. We stood in line at the taxi stand, where a guy with a pedi-cab (sort of a bicycle rickshaw) swore to us he could get us there in time, even though it was a dang long and fast bike ride. The cost was exorbitant (though well-earned)and we decided to go for it. What fun! The night was brisk and gorgeous, and it was exciting to dodge in and out of traffic, past the brightly-lit theater marquees, looking up at the Empire State Building from the street. I think wherever you live, one tends to acquire the idea that as a local, you should somehow be above being impressed by those things that are "tourist" for your area. But there is something about being in New York City at night. It is a wonderland of sounds and sights, and it was fun to be caught up in it! And nothing is more fun for me than to be caught up in it with my best friend, Robert Lochow.

Our hard-working pedaler got us to the pier in time, and we had a few stressful moments when we realized we had forgotten to bring our invitation, and had no idea which of about five huge party ships we were supposed to embark upon, but we found our way in the nick of time. The "Bateaux" was a beautiful boat, perhaps 120 feet long (says Robert--I'm no good at judging things like that) with a glassed-over dining area, and everything decorated with flowers and little white lights. We met Ruth's parents and her other guests, who included among others, two male ballet dancers, a transgendered mother of two, and a couple named Gary and Dennis, who met Ruth when she was the costume designer for a drag queen production in which one of them performed. (You never would have guessed this, meeting them.) We spent the most time talking to those two guys. They told wild stories about Ruth! They make most of their income now in real estate, but one of them still derives a great deal of income dressing as a woman, selling Tupperware! (We're talking thousands--how come I only made about fifty bucks the whole time I did it?) [Robert replies: Maybe you should've worn one of my suits.]

Anyway, our meal was elegant, and the company fun and fascinating. The boat went around the lower part of Manhatten, under beautiful bridges and past gleaming skyscrapers. All the colors of the lights were reflected on the black water, glinting like jewels. We ended up in front of the Statue of Liberty, where the jazz group performed "God Bless America" and songs of that ilk, while we stood on the deck. Even though I often feel as a country we are failing in the promises made by that icon, it was still a surprisingly stirring experience to be there, looking up at it, while listening to the words of those songs. (Who knows? Maybe someday we'll return to our roots as a place of refuge for the huddled masses, yearning to be free.) Anyway, it was a thrilling, romantic, and beautiful night.

We presented Ruth with the gift we'd scored for her in Connecticut the weekend before--a nearly life-size Belgian dark-chocolate turkey. (We had tried to get her a special German hot chocolate drink mix, but couldn't find it.) The turkey cracked her up. At the end of the evening Gary and Dennis (the real estater and Tupperware kings) drove us back to Grand Central in their incredibly elegant BMW 5 Series with black leather interior (people really do live like that in New York!) past all the lights of 42nd Street. It was a night to remember.

This last weekend, we drove to Maryland for the memorial service for our brother-in-law, Bill MacArthur. It was a sad weekend, because Bill had deserved to have a long life, enjoying his family. But it was also gratifying to have his whole family gather to say good-bye to him, and it was a treat to meet our two newest members, Landon MacArthur (son of Bill's son Josh and his wife Lisa) and baby Elijah Stritter (son of Todd and Christy). I love having babies in the family! (SQUEAL!) I cooed and kissed fat little feet all weekend. Robert and I brought Muffy along to most of the get-togethers, although not the actual memorial service. The simple, dignified service was held in an 18th-century chapel, filled to the rafters with friends. The reception afterward was loving and the food was great. And there was a piper. What more could one ask?

I am all packed and ready to drive to Michigan. I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to seeing my Mom on Tuesday evening. She's back at TenderCare. She doesn't have a phone there, so I haven't been able to talk to her, but Tim and Chris are spending lots of time with her. From November 20 to December 3 I'll be at her house (517-655-2609) trying to figure out what to do with all the stuff collected by the Family Hogg over about half a century. Give me a call or come by! I'll put you to work! I'm having Thanksgiving dinner with my sister-in-law Liz and nieces Amanda and Margaret at a restaurant somewhere. I'm looking forward to that. Robert is running back down to Maryland to spend the day with his mother and sister.

I know my Mom is having a hard time adjusting to this big change in her life, no matter what she says, and never mind that it was her own decision to leave Hoggwilde. So please send her a prayer for peace and contentment, and love. And send her a letter. Tim works very near where she is living now, so if you send a letter in care of him, he'll get it to her. Send it to Patty Hogg, c/o Tim Hogg, 6970 Aberdeen Drive, Dimondale, MI 48821.

Everybody, have a great holiday with your loved ones. And write to me! I'll be able to pick up e-mail while I'm in Michigan.

Stay Groovy!


Saturday, November 3, 2007

November 5, 2007 letter

Here's a picture of Mom, taken in June.

Although she put up a brave front recently, making it through a tornado all by herself, Mom has told us she doesn't feel safe being alone in her house. She has also had a continuing slow decline in her ability to get around, even with her handy new wheeled walker. She has told Liz and Tim that she thinks she'd like to go back to TenderCare, where she got so much good care and attention, and made friends.

I talked to Mom for a long time about how she feels about this, knowing how much she loves our old house, filled with so many fun and lively memories, and how hard she fought to be able to come back to it after her original hospitalization. She says she doesn't feel bad. She told me, "I couldn't have had a better life if I had dreamed it," and that she's ready to let some young family take over that dream. She seems to be feeling peaceful about it, although I'm sure she'll have teary moments as the time grows nearer. Tim and Liz are working on getting her back into nursing care. In the meantime, Chris and Tim are spending nights with her, Brenda is helping her, and Liz is dropping by in the mornings and evenings and handling a lot of the paperwork.

Once again, it seems God has given me the great gift of NOT finding me a job, so I have time to take care of this more important one. In order to legally receive unemployment benefits I actually have to be in New York, ready and able to accept a job at any moment, so I will have to go off benefits for a few weeks. That will be difficult. Too bad I'm not the heir of any wealthy, near-death relatives who nobody likes. Perhaps I should start buying lottery tickets? Sigh.

We drove to Maryland last weekend to see Robert's sister Cindy, and to do what we can to help her as she deals with her new widowhood. It has been a rough trip for her. Cindy's daughter Sarah was there, helping her mom figure out her financial situation and providing emotional support. They have planned a lovely-sounding memorial service for Bill, on the 17th. We'll be driving down for that, of course. We also spent time with Robert's mother, Muffy, who seems much more frail to me now. I guess this is the time in our lives when we have to deal with death and illness of parents and spouses and the like. It's just very tough, and there's no way around it.

Our friend Paul visited from the city this weekend. It was overcast and blah-looking outdoors. Paul and Robert went for a long walk and talked books and politics while I spent most of Saturday on a shopping venture. I was looking for things we need for the cat shelter's annual goods and services auction. It's this next Saturday, and I am co-chair. Paul left early Sunday morning. It is always good to visit with him.

Robert and I have been invited to a special party next week, celebrating our friend Ruth's 50th birthday. She is the secretary at Robert's firm who is also a naturopathic doctor. It's going to be a fancy dinner on a big boat that goes around Manhatten at night. Ruth has done many thoughtful things for us and has been a very good friend through tough times, so I had a special birthday peresent in mind for her. I asked Robert to buy it on the Internet for Ruth, but he discovered it can only be purchased directly, in Germany, and in one little shop in Connecticut. Like the incredibly prudent people we are, we decided to try Connecticut first.

After such a drab Saturday, our drive on Sunday was glorious! The sky was bright blue and the hillsides all orange and gold and red. We drove along curving, country roads, past red barns and yellow fields that are criss-crossed with the ancient gray stone fences that are everywhere around here. It was as if we were driving through postcards of New England--we even went through an antique covered bridge! We saw red hawks, a gorgeous ring-necked pheasant and a (sadly, dead) fox--even the animals we saw were in fall colors! We got to Kent, Connecticut, and spent a couple hours discovering art galleries and bookstores. We also discovered that the shop no longer carried the item we were looking for. Dang! So we bought something else. (Sorry, Ruth. You have to wait until your birthday party to find out what it is.)

I was looking forward very much to seeing my friend Bonnie when she was in New York City, but I didn't hear from her in time to make a plan. When she did call, I was busy assisting an electrician who had come to our house to figure out why our fridge outlet stopped working. I was also sick as a dog that day and hoped Bonnie and I would be able to make another plan. It didn't happen. Poop.

Other bits of news of note: My pal Starr Toth, from the mystery writing group I attended when I lived in Detroit, entered an on-line contest for best first chapters, and won second place. But someone from Simon and Schuster read her submission and offered her a contract! I am so pleased! Starr is a really good writer, and perhaps her success will get me off my butt and back to writing things other than this blog! Other good news was an e-mail from a college pal, Ziyad Sha'ar, now living in Lebanon. It's been fun playing catch-up.

Ah well, I must get busy now with my unceasing job hunt and grocery shopping! Write soon!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

October 23, 2007

Here are some long-awaited photos. Too bad I can't figure out how to change their order of appearance. The first ones are views of our library, that Colleen and Brian helped us build this past winter. The next picture is of the ceiling before we put up the complete fixture and the tin panels. The last one shows the room before the built-in bookcases were installed. Quite an improvement!

It's been a wild ride since my last blog letter.

First, I have bad news about my brother-in-law, Bill MacArthur. He is Robert's only sister Cindy's husband. Bill had been battling cancer that started in his bladder. He didn't like to talk about his health problems and he didn't like other people talking about them. He was a very stoic person. We knew things weren't going well, as he seemed to have one surgery after another, and we knew his chemo-therapy wasn't working as planned and was debilitating. Robert and I felt helpless, not able to offer much, except to be here, ready to come when asked. We got the word yesterday that Bill has died. We feel sorry for Cindy, knowing how much she looked forward to retiring with her husband, to live a life doing the things they wanted to do together. We also feel so sorry for Bill, who had to suffer so much at the end of his life. We will be traveling to Maryland this weekend to be with the family.

Another tragedy is that Patience, the young girl who has been helping take care of my Mom, had planned on moving out of Mom's house because her father had been in a terrible accident, and would need 24-hour care after getting out of the hospital. Unfortunately, just a day or so before he was supposed to be released, he unexpectedly died. This was a rough blow for an eighteen-year-old, who has had a lot more crap to deal with in her short life than most other people. In June, Patience' cousin disappeared. She had lived in Williamston. She was later found, murdered. At first, an ex-boyfriend was the suspect, but it turned out she was killed by a serial murderer, who killed four other Lansing-area women. It was something you'd expect to read in some cheesy police procedural mystery story--not something you expect would happen in real life, to someone in your family. Patience had been spending a lot of time with her deceased cousin's two daughters.

To make matters even MORE surreal, a tornado plowed through Willaimston last weekend. It made the national news, and you may have heard about the couple who lost their lives. Their brand-new house, that they had finally moved into just that day, was completely blown off its foundation and dropped into a pond on the property. The husband and wife, whose bodies were later pulled from the water, were Patience' aunt and uncle. Needless to say, the poor kid is a wreck, and feels she needs to move back in with her mother to help hold her family together. I don't know how you could have all these random, awful things happen in such a short period of time, and not have it change your life forever. This young girl can use your prayers. Her name is Patience Bentley.

My Mom made it through the tornado practically unscathed, which is a miracle, as some of the most intense damage occurred right on High Street. All of the trees in the park two blocks away were torn up by their roots, and the high school was hit hard. There is a huge maple tree right outside the room Mom sleeps in, that we have been worried might fall on the house some day. Years ago my brothers and Clay Lenherdt put a huge bolt through the trunk,to keep it from splitting completely in half, and we have thought it was about time to add some other sort of support. Anyway, that tree did split, but it fell against the roof above the studio, and took out part of the eaves. The place where she sleeps was not affected. She insists that being from Kansas, she's not afraid of tornados. Her sister Rosie (also from Kansas) told me that being AROUND tornadoes is a little different from being IN a tornado. Rosie made it through the huge twister that tore up downtown Topeka by hiding in a stairwell with her hands over her ears. She said that for years after that, even the sound of a vacuum cleaner made her nervous.

Anyway, Mom is OK, doing better than expected (she got her electricity back faster than most of the rest of the town) and I think getting through the experience all by herself has made her feel a little more competent and tough.

In spite all this extreme sad and scary news, I am feeling quite a bit better. My brother Chris says that I should not talk about a job possibility before it's a job certainty, or I'll jinx it, so I won't. My friend Lindy (who tells me she has been praying for me to get a good job) asked me how this came to me. Well, Lindy, this job possibility came to me through the medium of PYGMY GOATS. That's all I can say for now.

I am expecting to meet one of my highschool chums, Bonnie Beuthein Dike, in the City sometime this week. Bonnie played the cello in highschool and was in student government. Now she's a yoga instructor in Washington state, and the mother of eleven children! Cool! I've collected some articles and things to share with her. Maybe I'll find some interesting photos. Hey! Maybe I'll share some photos with you, too! Maybe I'll even show you that library make-over I've been promising for centuries!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

October 3 letter

While the other ladies marched in the Spirit of Beacon Day Parade, I kept busy at our booth, painting kitty faces on little kids.

This is a close-up of Mom's painting.

October 3, 2007
Howdy! The air is suddenly crisper, and the Virginia creeper that grows all over our front porch during the summer has begun to turn from dark green to blazing scarlet. It is an effect that lasts only a few days, as the leaves fall off soon after they turn, but it sure is striking while it happens!

We had a short but fun visit with our friends the Habels, from Michigan. Mark collects prints by an artist named Richard Merkin, who was appearing at a gallery about fifty miles from here. So part of our visit with them was taken up on a holy pilgrimage to meet Richard. He is a very interesting guy–he’s a regular writer for Vanity Fair magazine, as well as an art teacher, and he is one of the people whose faces appear on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album. We had a good chat. Mark bought a painting from him--a self-portrait--and everybody was happy!

I spent some fun time with Deb while the boys were elsewhere, probably upstairs arguing about politics. Deb (the child of two Polish concentration-camp survivors) let slip that she didn’t know how to make pizaki. (Yeah, I was shocked, too!) So the Scottish girl spent a day teaching the Polish girl how to make them. (They’re Easter eggs, by the way.) You draw designs on raw eggs using beeswax that you warm up over a candle, and it melts through a pizaki (a tiny copper funnel on a stick) onto the egg. You dip the egg into progressively darker colored dye baths, adding lines of wax where you want the next color to appear. Eventually, you end up with a lumpy black thing that hardly looks like an egg anymore. Finally, you hold it over a candle to melt off all the wax you just spent hours putting on. Gorgeous colors emerge. You have to be careful with the dyes because they’re poisonous, and not to break the eggs (after a few years, the stuff inside evaporates).

Deb and I had a fun afternoon, made almost indelibly memorable when I accidentally dumped two cups of black dye all over the place in my kitchen. I let go of a string of words that would have injured even Robert Lochow’s hardened ears. [Robert says: This I doubt.] I quickly sopped up the dripping puddle, but that left a huge blue stain on my white vinyl floor and another one on my horrible worn-out yellow counter top. Robert and Mark came running to assist me. With a lot of Clorox and elbow grease, after an hour you could hardly tell where the dye had been, except the grain on the wood cabinets is quite a bit darker there. Also, I forgot, and washed the old towels with some other laundry. Let’s just say I no longer have difficulty telling my identical pairs of white bedroom slippers apart.

We had a good time, visiting Olana (the home of the Victorian painter Frederick Church) and eating things. We had a great meal at Tonique, a fancy restaurant in Beacon, on Mark’s mother, Leonora. She was not very nice to me when Mark and I dated, but she has mellowed in her old age, and now enjoys treating Mark and his friends to nice things. One thing Mark’s father used to do at the end of a meal was to demand the "terrifying total." When the bill was finally presented, he'd give out a mock scream. So we called Leonora when the bill came, and screamed, and she giggled about it. It was a nice and funny way to remember Mark’s dad, who died a few years ago.

Mark also visited my mom before he came here (as I mentioned, Mark is an ex-beau of mine, and very fond of Patty). He brought some stuff from Mom’s house that I had been unable to bring back with me. One item is a very large painting that Mom started many years ago. It is of her old aunties in Nebraska, squinting into the sunlight. Mom never actually finished the painting, but I talked her out of doing any more to it, because I like it the way it is. If it were not so big (five feet tall by three feet wide) I would want to hang it in our house. But as I’m always trying to find ways to get some bucks together to pay for helpers for Mom, I thought I might find a better price for it in New York than in Michigan.

We have some new young neighbors across the street. (I find it hard to believe I would ever be writing about "those nice young people." I mean, aren’t Robert and I nice young people?) Joshua is thin and intense. He bought the terribly neglected house across the street from us and spent the summer gutting it, then piecing it back together. He finally moved in with his tattooed and pierced girlfriend, Erin. We don’t know them very well, but we’ve been friendly, providing them with useful welcome gifts–a sump pump we weren’t going to be able to use, and some cabinet hardware. I found out that Erin works in a gallery in town, so I took a photograph of the painting to her for advice on how I might go about selling it.

It turns out that Erin is the OWNER of the gallery (and others! And Joshua designs men’s clothing for Banana Republic–who knew?). She was thrilled with the painting, and wants to sell it in the gallery. The amount $1,500 was bandied about! So I’ve spent a few days building a frame for the thing, and I’ll take it over there tomorrow. It is so fun that my mother, at age 79, is still having life-long dreams made real. I promised her I’d take a picture of the painting when it’s in place, and that I’d tell you all that her work is being exhibited in a fabulous New York art gallery! It’s Beacon, New York, not New York, New York, but who’s quibbling? Mom was pretty tickled about that.

Sunday was Spirit of Beacon Day. I painted faces of little kids, including one very pretty little boy who talked the whole time, saying things like, "It was evil, so I cut it off," in a very sincere voice. It was more than a little creepy. Next, a little girl whom I had assumed was his sister kept touching the brush and my hands and my face while I painted her face. The woman who was with them said, "She can’t help it. She’s hyper-tactile." I realized these were probably children from a school for emotionally impaired children that is nearby. That made me sad. I wanted to hug them so bad. I also loved the little girl who wiggled all her loose teeth for me. I WISH WE HAD KIDS! If anybody has any they don’t want, let us know!

We made about five hundred dollars for the cat shelter at our booth. Robert marched in the parade, handing out candy, and helped me set up and close down. I am always thankful for his support and his unending love. I am a lucky chica to have chosen such an excellent muchacho! I thank God every day.

Speaking of the shelter and of cats, Alice was in good spirits while Mark and Deb were here. They also have a very old cat, so they are always very attentive to Alice when they visit. But the day after they left Robert told me he had seen Alice wandering around, squatting and straining as if she were trying to urinate. Not a good sign. He also found little drops of blood on the parlor carpet. So I took her to the vet in the morning to make sure she wasn’t in pain. The vet said her intestines were "ropey," a sign a she might have lymphoma. She said that even if Alice wasn’t in pain, she probably would be soon. So I had to do the hard thing and have my dear little baby put to sleep. I got to hold her, and that was good. I still burst into tears every time I think about it, but I know in my heart it was the right thing to do. Robert and I buried her in the flower bed, next to my dear Kahuna and Clawd’ya.

It’s not so easy when it’s your Mama who’s having the rough time. Although Mom’s very happy to be home, it hasn’t been easy for her. Her night nurse, Patience, had a terrible thing happen. Her father was in a bad car crash, and Patience may need to move in to take care of him. She has been spending a lot of time at the hospital, and Liz, Tim, and Chris have been staying with Mom on the nights she’s not there. Although Mom is expecting to get better and better, sometimes the improvements brought about by her physical therapy don’t seem to last very long, so she sometimes finds herself back at square one. I hope we can find someone who can help Brenda, who is doing all she can do right now, and for a reliable replacement for Patience, if she has to leave. Send prayers to my brothers and my sister-in-law Liz (and all my sisters-in-law, for that matter, because they’re all involved) because this is very trying for all of them. I wish I lived closer and could help more.

I wrote last time that a headhunter (that’s a person who finds jobs for white-collar employees) had called me to say there was no way in hell (I think those were her exact words) she could find a job for me. A couple of you have written back to tell me that person was a jerk, but I don’t think so. Her name is Judy. She is a very well-known and respected professional who I never would have consulted in a million years except that she had placed several people in my old office. I didn’t have very high expectations to begin with. She spent a long time with me on the phone, telling me the problems she saw with my situation that will make getting hired harder for than other people (most of the straight lawyer sort of work I did was about twenty years ago, for instance, and the last few jobs I held for only about two years).

I explained what happened to me in Michigan when the legal offices I worked for lost their funding. She asked me more questions about things I do for fun, and I told her about my writing and the cat shelter. She said she found me to be a very interesting person, but my resume didn’t show that. She mentioned it was near Yom Kippur, and she thought it would be a good mitzvah to help me (that's a good thing you to do to help others without expecting anything in return). I went to see her and she spent about an hour giving me invaluable advice, helping me to rewrite my resume to show employers what sort of things I might be able to do for them. So I feel a little more able to go out there in the world and find something important to do that makes money for Robert’s and my future together. Keep those happy thoughts coming for me and my job hunt!

I think I’ll make this a short letter. I hope it works out better for most of you to only have to load up one letter at a time. If you want to see letters that I wrote earlier, just click on the month on the right side of the top of the page, and that should bring it up for you.

Tonight is my writing group night. I have been so bummed out lately about things like my job situation and Mom’s problems that I haven’t been able to write anything new. But I’ll give it a try. Drop a line! I know you are supposed to be able to post comments here, but I don’t know how. You can reach me at

Love, and good health to you all!
FAH and Robert

Monday, September 17, 2007

September 18 letter

Old, deaf, blind, toothless Alice.

Howdy, howdy, howdy...

The first and best news is that my Mom is home. She sounds great, she seems very happy. She's got Brenda and Patience and my sister-in-law Liz looking in in her, and physical therapists coming to the house, and after a long ARGUMENT (Mom hates their food) I think she'll agree to have Meals on Wheels. Even if she feeds the stuff to her cats, it's another person dropping in every day to make sure she's OK.

It's hard to get an accurate picture from so far away. Mom, and the women who take care of her, all say everything is going as well as can be expected, but my brothers are all flipped out because she seems so weak and they're worried she'll get hurt. I think some of this is because of men's innate feeling they are supposed to be able to fix everything--but some things related to getting older can't be fixed. Meanwhile, my mother is pleased to be back in her place, and hopeful that things are going to get better (for instance, she expects she'll get better at navigating with her new wheeled walker). Her state of mind is very good. Give her a call--her number is (517) 655-2609.

When I last wrote, I had just contacted my old college friend, Moncef Majbri, and we had made plans to meet. Susan and Gagik and I went into the City and met him at the subway station. We walked to his house to meet his wife, Monia, also from Tunisia, and I was completely enraptured by his children, twins Amin and Insaaf, who attend a special school at the United Nations. (I love it when you ask a kid what their favorite thing in life is, and they say, "School!") We had a nice cake, then Moncef drove us into Manhattan to show Susan and Gagik some things they hadn't yet seen, like Ground Zero and some shopping areas. I had a great time on the drive, getting a French lesson and a history of New York City from Moncef's kids. I have a great deal of affection for Moncef, who has always been such a sweet-natured, decent, good guy. It was so nice to find out that he ended up so happy, and with such a lovely family!

By a fluke, Moncef happens to live in the same neighborhood where Gagik's father Stephan lived before the incident that sent him to prison. So we walked to the apartment building where Stephan used to live, and a super actually let us into the building's courtyard. I don't know whether it was helpful to Gagik or not. The whole experience of going to the places his father had gone seemed to add to his emotional strain at times. (Susan has just called me to let me know that they had received approval to have Gagik's father's body exhumed, that it had been done today, and that his remains would be flown to California very soon!) I hope once they have him buried in the Armenian cemetery in Fresno, Gagik will finally feel he has done right by his father, and find some peace. I can't imagine going through what Gagik has gone through in the past few years.

Anyway, we ended our visit with the Majbri family with a lovely meal at their favorite local Greek restaurant. The night was beautiful, and it was great to be with old friends. I only wish Robert had been with us! (And Abbas Panjvani! And Ziyad Sha'ar! And Muhsin Akkas! And Patty Finale!) I hope the Majbris will soon take us up on our invitation to visit us. But they'll have to wait a bit, because this weekend, friends Mark and Deb will be here from Michigan.

The job search slogs on. I actually was offered a temporary job selling Hallowe'en costumes, but Robert talked me out of it, because the hours I would be working are exactly the hours I need to be available in case someone decides they want to interview me. I would be working a 40-hour week, and it would take me two-and-a-half weeks just to come up with my monthly car payment. I don't know why it didn't occur to me, but a friend told me I would be STUPID (thank you, Linda Bierniak--sometimes I need to be hit in the head with a sledgehammer) not to apply for unemployment compensation. Because so much of my income while I was working came in the form of a big Christmas bonus, I am eligible to receive almost my usual weekly pay while I look for work. DUH! So I applied. Not a nibble, yet, on any job application. (Sigh.)

So now I am home, scouring the Internet and buying lots of newspapers, looking for my new dream job. In the meantime, I have plenty of time to work on the cat shelter's biggest fund-raiser of the year, the annual goods and services auction, which takes place on November 10. I am co-coordinator. If anybody wants to donate something to be auctioned off, let me know! I hear works of art go for big bucks. My pal Dee Weis donated a gorgeous cat quilt.

Speaking of cats, every day I strain to hear the flutter of the wings of the angel of death--and every day I don't hear them. 21-year-old Alice has lately been soaking her bedding with urine when she sleeps (which is almost all the time). She doesn't seem to be in any pain, and doesn't seem to be very interested in food. According to the websites, these are the signs an old cat is on the way out. Right now she's asleep on the front porch, on a wing chair that we used to have in our parlor and haven't yet bothered to haul out to the curb on junk day.

I think I will be less traumatized when Alice finally dies than I was when my favorites, Claw'dya and Kahuna, died, but it is still hard to say goodbye to a friend who has been with me every day for 21 years. Alice has no teeth and is blind and deaf, but still has a pretty, sleek coat. She can't find the litter box anymore, but she can still jump up onto the washing machine, where her bed is. I took the picture of her at the top of this post, in her "traveling bed" on the sofa (on top of a sheet of plastic! I'm no fool!). Isn't she a pretty girl? I am concerned about her, but as I've been expecting her to die for about seven years now, ever since she got lead poisoning from drinking from the furnace boiler run-off bucket, all I can tell you is, I'm not holding my breath. I think I am going to be extra nice to her, in any case, with lots of extra hugs and pets and ear scratches.

What else? I just got a call from a headhunter who called to say there was no way in hell she could ever place me in a job. So I guess that means I need you all to keep sending me good thoughts! Write soon (to!

F (and R)

More pictures!~

At dinner in Queens, with Gagik, Susan, Monia, Moncef, Amin and Insaaf. A fun evening!

This is a photo of me with Moncef and family.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Sunday, September 2

This is a picture of Susan's husband, Gagik, putting flowers on his father's grave.
I don't know how I let such a long time go by without a new letter. I guess I've been feeling overwhelmed with the job hunt, getting my Mom back on her feet, and then figuring out how to get back home to New York. Since returning home, we've had houseguests from California, and I've been driving them around, and doing what I can to make their visit a good one. Here's an update:

The job hunt: I keep sending out resumes and letters. Haven't gotten a blip back yet. I may get a job at a doughnut shop next week if I have to.

Getting Mom back on her feet: Pretty good news on this account! She'd still at the facility, but they are expecting to send her home in about two weeks. I know. That's what said two weeks ago. But they want to assure that she'll be able to do things around her house safely before they let her go. She's making great progress--not using a wheelchair at all any more--and her spirits are good!

Getting myself back to New York: I spent a lot of time while in Michigan looking for appreciative homes for things Mom has collected over the years and no longer needs. In her name I donated miles of fabric to a theater and to a church group that makes crocheted rugs. I gave boxes of A Dog Named Dirt (Mom's funny book about an awful dog we used to own) to two animal shelters (to be used as a fundraiser) and to her vet's office (to be sold to help pay vet bills anonymously for old ladies who can't afford them). I gave piles of clothing to Goodwill and the Salvation Army and donated huge trash bags filled with yarn to a friend who crochets lap blankets for injured veterans. I sent Robert back home with our car loaded to the roof with fabric and stuff I intend to try to sell for her, including a rather valuable antique doll. I sent the doll to a special doll dealer in Maryland, and it is going to be offered at an auction in Europe in about six months. I mailed off packages of letters and other treasures to their original senders. Then I packed my suitcase with everything I could fit into it and (with help from friends Colleen and Mary) got onto a Greyhound bus headed for Philadelphia.

It's been some time since I've been on a Greyhound bus. I had originally intended to take some cartons of stuff home with me, and thought the bus made the most sense, as you can bring just about as much luggage with you as you want. Also, it was very cheap. But I still had to face lugging boxes and suitcases around when I finally got to my destination, and in the end I ditched the idea about the cardboard boxes, and only took two suitcases with me.
As usual, there were a few interesting incidents. For instance, when the snotty driver (who made a little speech everytime we boarded new passengers, "I will not tolerate the use of profanity on my bus! You will be ejected from the bus if you use profanity!") drove in circles around downtown Pittsburgh for forty minutes before getting on the intercom to ask if anybody had any idea where the bus depot might be located. That answered my question about his sensitivity to profanity--I figure he must get sworn at more than most people.

Got into Philadelphia, and to the hotel Robert had procured for our anniversary weekend. It was an elegant place near Rittenhouse Square, a park. It was so good to greet him there--and nice to have a little 'decompression' time together. The weather was either too hot or too rainy, but that didn't keep us from walking all over, anyway. We saw the Franklin Institute, but not much else, because of long lines. It's better to sight see in Philly after school is back in session, I think. It was especially nice to come home! After such a long absence, the only casualties were a few house plants Robert forgot about on his rounds with the watering can.

Our houseguests: My friend from college, Susan Khanzadian, called to say that she and her husband, Gagik Ginosyan, were finally ready to come for a visit. This was not an optimum time for us, of course, but I didn't want to say no. A few years ago Susan asked me for help locating Gagik's father's grave. When Gagik was about fourteen, his father Stephan came to the United States. He lived in Los Angeles. Stephan sent money to the family, then stopped. Gagik's family told Gagik his father had abandoned him, and he never heard from Stephan again. Years later Gagik found out from someone else that the reason his father had stopped sending money was because he had been sent to prison. Every new discovery was a harder blow. His father had received a life sentence for murdering a man in New York. By the time Gagik found out about this, his father had died in prison.

In 2003, Susan called me to ask me for help trying to find out what happened to Stephan Ginosyan, as he seemed to have been transferred around a lot. He had been at Attica for awhile, but was transferred to a prison only about twenty miles from our house! It was ridiculously difficult to get any information, even with a power of attorney. But I finally found out that he was buried on the prison grounds, because no one from the family claimed his body when he died.
I tried to arrange for Susan and her husband to visit the grave, and that was a hassle. At one point someone told me in order for me to get permission, I would have to send them a certified copy of Gagik's Armenian birth certificate. I asked the guy what that would prove to him, as Armenian doesn't use our alphabet and he probably wouldn't be able to read it anyway. But sheer will won out, and permission was obtained. Susan and Gaigik planned to come, but unfortunately, Gagik suffered a heart attack, and they weren't able to make the trip until he had recovered enough.

Susan had contacted the prison to let them know they were coming. People had kept promising her they'd get back to her about the arrangements, but they never did. So we decided to go to the there and wait for an answer. I think the whole prison facility was in an uproar because Susan told them they want to be able to disinter the body and remove it to an Armenian cemetery in Fresno. Everybody kept sputtering and fussing and saying,"Well, we don't know. We'll get back to you on that." They also said that no one ever asks to visit graves there.

At the prison, we sat and waited until a supervisor came out. He was apologetic, and eventually, two other supervisors showed up, and they got in a truck and we followed them around the prison walls, past the excercise yards and watchtowers with armed gaurds. It was like something out of a movie. We then went down a dirt road, lined with cornfields, to a little graveyard. The prison walls were no longer visible, the sky was brilliant blue, the corn was a deep green, and in the sky dozens of blackbirds were reeling around. It was peaceful and pretty, except for the bleakness of the gravestones. They were made of cast concrete with nothing but a number on each one. Susan immediately started rummaging through her purse, looking for a paper with Gagik's father’s prison number on it, but Gagik jumped out of the car and ran directly to the correct one. That was kind of spooky.

It was a very emotional scene. Gagik broke down. He and Susan burned incense on the grave and laid flowers across it and said special prayers. I had to ask permission to take photos, promising the supervisors I would only take a picture of the single gravestone, and nothing else. The three officials were very polite but distant, until I went up to them and told them Gagik's story. I said that his family had lied to him about what happened, what a shock it had been to him to find out, and about everything Gagik had done to find his father. After that they were very nice and bent over backwards to be helpful. As a surprise gift for Gagik, I had a brass plate made up, showing Stephan's name and the dates of his life, which the supervisors helped us attach to the headstone. Gagik was really touched by that.

So, both Robert and I were very glad to be able to do what we could to help Gagik gain some closure, even though this wasn't the easiest time for us to have company. I think the wheels are turning regarding the legal work necessary to move the body. We're glad to have been able to help.

Keeping busy: Sugan, Gagik, Robert and I went to Atlantic City. I tried playing slot machines and was reminded again that I am way too Scottish to be able to enjoy gambling. But it was a pretty day to be at the beach, and fun to walk through the very opulent casinos. Robert and I had our palms read by a gypsy fortune teller. Susan and Gagik had a great time, and Robert won enough money at roulette (about $200) to pay for our travel expenses and meals there. The best part of the trip happened when we were getting ready to leave. Robert pointed to the night sky, where little points of light were swooping around in a column, five hundred feet high. It looked as if the stars were going crazy. But it was really hundreds and hundreds of sea gulls, lit from below by the casino lights. I had no idea gulls flew that high. I suppose they're always up there, but we can't see them against the sun.
Susan and I have been looking at photographs from college, where we both hung out with foreign students, wondering what happened to our old friends. I decided to try to locate Moncef Majbri, a very sweet guy from Tunisia. The last time I saw Moncef was in the very early 80's. He was a translator at the United Nations, in French, English and Arabic, and he took me to lunch in the Ambassador's Cafeteria there. Then he moved and I lost contact with him. Through the magic of the internet, I located a phone number, and called him on Saturday morning. A darling little girl's voice answered the phone, and she said it was the right address. I asked if I could speak with Moncef. There was a long pause, then a PIERCING shriek, "DADDY! DADDY! WAKE UP!" followed by Moncef's mumbled, "Hello?"

So I had to apologize to him for that. He was very pleased to hear from me, anyway, and we made plans to visit him. I've also located some other Saudi friends that I hope to see soon.

Well, that's enough for now. Wish me luck in my job hunt. Write soon.
F and R

Sunday, July 29, 2007

July 29, 2007

Life gets harder sometimes. I have been scrambling around, trying to find a new job and getting prepared to say good-bye to all the people at work I am so fond of. It’s been difficult even to think about that without getting teary-eyed. Then something happened that knocked that whole stressful scene out of the park.

My Mom has been having a terrible problem with severe dizziness. It is worse when she’s sitting up, so she spent weeks and weeks lying flat on her back, and as a result she lost a lot of muscle. That’s a dangerous thing when you’re nearly eighty years old. Although she has Brenda to help her, Brenda told me Mom needs more help than she is able to give. In the week before I lost my job I had been trying to hire someone else to fill in for Brenda (believe me, that made losing my income even more upsetting to me). Eventually, Mom ended up in the hospital when she was unable to get out of bed. The hospital resisted admitting her at first, because she is apparently completely healthy. All the tests they have done to figure out what’s happening in her head have been inconclusive.

On Friday the 13th I called her to say hello. Calls to her have been short because her arthritis makes it uncomfortable for her to hold the phone to her ear, but she talked to me for about forty minutes. She gave me her instructions for her funeral and messages to give other people. She said, "I’m dying. I can feel all my systems shutting down," although no doctors agree with her on that point. In fact, a decision had been made to send her to a special facility for intensive physical therapy, but she indicated she wasn’t going to bother with that, as she was going to be dead in a few days. If she didn’t agree to participate and make progress, she would be booted out of the facility. As she doesn’t have the financial ability to hire full-time help (and neither do her children at this point) that would mean she’d end up in a nursing home.

Robert and I immediately drove to Michigan. We met with my brothers and Mom’s priest, Jannell Glennie, who gave us good advice on how to deal with someone in my Mom’s state of mind, to get her focused on getting better. I am glad to say we were able to use that advice and she’s doing much better now, and working very hard at physical therapy. She can walk for quite a ways with her walker, but balance is her main problem, and she needs help standing up and sitting down.

The main reason she is feeling better is that she has some hope her dizziness may be correctable with surgery. We are waiting for an August 14 meeting with neurologists, and have asked for a consult with an opthomologist. I don’t know what will happen if it turns out there isn’t anything we can do for her. She always has to be hopeful, and she has so many plans for the future. She loves living in her house and having kitties around. So please keep her in your prayers, that she’ll be able to do that soon.

I had been wondering how the hell to find the silver lining in the black cloud of losing my job, but I guess it is that I have the ability now to stay with my Mom and do what I can to help her through this tough time. (Robert had to go back to work--Mom’s friend Ed Noonan has lent me a car so I can go back and forth from the facility to see her.) I also get to help my brothers, who are going to be carrying the load of her care after I go back to New York (around August 15). I have been collecting all the stuff she needs for her medical visits and keeping her mind occupied.

I am also working almost around the clock sorting through boxes and boxes (and they go up to the ceiling in some of the upstairs rooms) of papers that my Mom, the archivist, has collected. She has saved photographs and news articles about all the things our family has been involved in for over fifty years, and THAT’S A LOT --Boy Scouts, bagpipe band, city politics, St. Katherine’s Church, hundreds of museums projects and business ventures, and artistic pursuits. She also seems to have saved every graduation announcement and wedding invitation (for every wedding) of every kid we ever knew. Many of those things are more important to other people than they are to any of us, so I am sorting out zillions of piles of things that we will eventually spend billions of dollars in postage, sending out to millions of friends and relations.

This has me feeling overwhelmed at times. I’m afraid that last night a small bottle of vodka and some orange juice (and brother Chris, too) helped.

The most overwhelming part is knowing that the work my Mom has done is valuable, but I don’t know to whom. She has been working on a history of her family and the little town in Kansas where she grew up. She has rolls and rolls of microfilm copies of old newspapers, and boxes of ancient photographs, and she has typed up perhaps 100 years' worth of old letters and diaries. I feel a great weight of responsibility to make sure it goes where it is supposed to go, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t feel that Andy’s kids are very interested in this history, and Tim’s Lindsey is too young to be interested. All I can say is, "Argh!"

Anyway, I have to get ready to go to see Mom. I am trying to spend about six hours every day with her at the facility. I have been reading old family letters to her, then I’ll box them up and send them to the Kansas contingent of cousins, as many of the stories in them are about their childhoods. I have also been reading Mom letters from her sister Joanne, who died only three weeks after Mom got married in 1949. Joanne was only one year younger than Mom, and was the sister she was closest to. Mom said she was so upset about Joanne’s death (she had an unexpected allergic reaction to a medication), and felt so terrible that her sister didn’t get to have her own family and live a longer life, that she has hardly ever spoken about her. To her surprise, Mom has found she enjoys hearing the letters. They’re all about boyfriends and dances and "wolf hunts," and she realizes now that Joanne packed so much into her twenty years of life that it makes it easier to think about her.

When Mom was at her very low point, she asked me to take her cats. This is the only time that Robert, always supportive of me, raised an eyebrow. He loves me and knows I love my cats, but poor Alice’s latest blunder (she has decided the place to take a dump is in our new library, and she soaked a shelf of his books, ruining them) (I say, hey, that’s one way to get rid of some books around here...) has been rough on him. Creaky old Alice will actually tinkle in the litter box downstairs, then crawl up a flight of stairs to do this other business on the carpet. What the hell is going on in her senile kitty head? Thank God I have a carpet cleaning machine that works like a dream.

Mom has five cats, and with the exception of her kitten, they are quite timid. I’m not saying her cats are DUMB or anything (cough-cough) but even if I get one calmed down enough to pet it, it fails to recognize me the next day as "that nice lady who petted me," and I’m once again, "The intruder! Oh, God!" Not only do her cats not recognize me from day to day, they don’t recognize me from room to room. "Intruder in the dining room! Oh God!" "Nice lady with cat food in the kitchen. She’s probably OK." "Oh no! Intruder in the bathroom! Hide! Hide!" In spite of this, I am getting quite fond of one she calls Pookie, who looks like a big white watermelon with golden eyes. Let’s hope, for theirs and Mom’s and Robert’s sake, it will be absolutely unnecessary for her kitties to move anywhere.

Anyway, I have to run. My Mom likes to get cards and letters, if you want to send them, to Patty Hogg, at 401 High Street, Williamston, MI, 48895. Keep those good thoughts comin’!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

July 1, 2007

Even before I got the June letter ready to go out, new things happened that required another letter. So there are two of them here for you. Also, more photos, out of order.

This is a view from the footpath, that might give you some idea of how steep the slopes were, on our way to the falls. Or maybe not. Those were really tall trees.

This is the very top of Kaaterskill Falls. It is hard to get perspective in a photo, but this top tier is 175 feet tall. There is a shelf, about fifty feet deep, at the bottom of this, that you can walk on. There's a shallow pool there, then the water falls an additional 85 feet to the ground. Kaaterskill Falls are taller than Niagara Falls, but perhaps with just a bit less water volume...

Anyway, here's the July 1 letter:

I think no day goes by, for the past two years, that I don't thank God for giving me the gift of my job at Robert's firm. It is so pleasant to work for such competent, decent, generous people, and my job is relaxing and fun. The best part has been that Robert and I get to work together. Our long commute have been wonderful for our marriage--we have that block of time every day that we get to spend all alone, to talk about everything and make fun plans for the future. It has been a dream job for us.

So we were EXCEEDINGLY BUMMED when, on Friday, they called us in to tell us that they were going to have to let me go because of some upcoming changes in the firm. Two of the partners had announced their intention to retire at the end of the year, then a recent Supreme Court decision has made it just about impossible for people to bring class action lawsuits against companies who lie to their stockholders. About half of the firm's business has been representing employee retirement funds against companies like Enron, to try to avoid disasters like Enron. (Apparently, having to deal with pesky lawsuits that prevent the sacking of people's retirement funds is is bad for big business.) Anyway, most of the work I've been doing has been reviewing documents for these gigantic cases. With the current case load, and nothing big on the horizon, they no longer needed two litigation assistants. Other support staff are also being let go. This is bad news, but at least I'll have three more weeks at work, then six weeks' of severance. Then God knows what. It is also possible that Robert may lose his job later this year. (We are keeping that from Robert's mother, for the meantime, because she'll fuss too much.)

This makes everything scary, because without my job, we can't afford our car payment, and without Robert's job, we can't afford our house. Even though I'm sure we will ultimately be fine, I am so depressed out about this you can't imagine. I'm sure we won't be able to match our previously ridiculously high salaries, and with two elderly mothers, we desperately need the vacation time we've both finally accrued. With new jobs you have to start all over again, at zero. But I have always believed that God really likes me, and always has an interesting plan for me, if I will only keep my eyes open for the opportunities shown to me. After all, at one point, God revealed my good pal Robert to me in a different light than I'd ever looked at him before, and you know, that turned out pretty good! I think this change is an opportunity in disguise, if only I look at it the right way.

Even having that understanding and faith, I had a pretty crappy weekend, working desperately to fend off panic feelings and depression. We went to see Pirates of the Caribbean on Friday night, thinking that might help. I have loved these fun, swashbuckling movies, but the third one was a bit ponderous. Also, I couldn't get that heroic music out of my head, and I had dreams about sword fights every time I closed my eyes. That, and worry, kept me from sleeping. I think I finally dropped off at 5:30 a.m., but woke up an hour and a half later, unable to go back to sleep.

I decided to avoid thinking about it (HA!) by keeping busy with yard and house work on Saturday. At about two p.m. I decided a glass of wine might be just the thing, and I ended the day in such a stupid state, I couldn't believe it. It was fireworks night in Beacon, so we went to the sports field where they are held. We were planning to meet up with our friend Roy and his squeeze, Anne, so I brought a big bedspread for us all to lay down on. Roy wrote the next day in an e-mail that he was sorry they couldn't find us in the crowd. I told him that was not surprising. Impaired by too many glasses of wine, I had not dressed appropriately for the after-dark temperatures. Also, my head was throbbing and spinning so much, I laid on the grass and rolled myself up in the bedspread like a mummy, only peeking out at the end to watch the quite fabulous display in the sky. I'll tell you, alcohol for medicinal purposes is a crap shoot. I felt like crap and had a headache later, but I slept like a sack of rocks!

By Sunday, I was ready to give up on feeling sorry for myself. Robert and I took a drive into the Catskill mountains, to Kaaterskill Falls (In New York place names, the suffix "kill" is the Dutch word for "stream"). It was a pleasantly cool day, in fabulouly gorgeous surroundings. In spite of a bad beginning (Robert had researched three different well-critiqued restaurants for us for lunch, only to discover that ALL THREE were closed, and for sale), we had a lovely adventure.

There are signs posted all over Catskill State Park, advising people to stay on the trails to "prevent fatalities." The hiking books are also full of dire warnings about how many people plummet to their deaths there every year. So we started on the trail through the gorge to the falls, with no intention of doing anything but sticking to the path. It started out very rocky and steep, but forest service workers have moved the huge rocks around to make natural-looking stairs. We followed those along a pretty stream, for about half a mile, enjoying the lush forest scenery. Then the terrain changed a little, and we had to concentrate on the path, that had smaller rocks and ropey tree roots sticking up out of damp and crumbly-shale earth. We finally made it to the bottom of the falls. In all, they are too tall to get in the frame of any single photo, and without much water volume. From a distance they looked like a long, wispy feather against the rock face.

We could see people walking around at the very top of the falls, and sitting on the deep rock ledge. We followed what appeared to be the trail upward, but about halfway, we started running into places where the path appeared to go in two or three directions, and there were no flash marks. In retrospect, it was easier going up than coming down because when you are focusing on what's above you, you don't really realize what's below you. It was easier to jump over that two-foot space where the path had crumbled and slid down the hill, when I wasn't looking at where that earth ended up.

At the rock shelf we were on good old granite, and had a nice chat with a couple who were having a picnic there with their two teensy kids. The kids were eating a mango and were covered from head to foot with mango bits and juice. There was a large, shallow pool of clear water there, where they could get cleaned up. We took more pictures, then started the trek down.

Oh, my God.

That's all I can say. I can't recall being so scared out of my wits than I was on that walk, except maybe the time a few years ago when Robert and I found ourselves on the freeway, with a speeding car hurtling toward us in the wrong direction. It was impossible to find a clear path, and hard to find sure handholds in soil and loose gravel that frequently gave way to landslides. I found a whole new meaning in that term, "tree hugger." We did a good deal of the descent sitting on our butts, aiming toward trees and things that might break our fall. (I have a great photo of the back of Robert's pants, taken afterwards, but I didn't use the digital camera...) We would follow what appeared to be the safest route only to find ourselves at the edge of a six foot drop-off, to a two-foot shelf, above a thirty foot cliff, with no way to go back up the way we came. It was just dreadful.

But I guess it's the kind of dreadful we'll do again.

I guess that's enough for this post. Send a line! Let me know you're alive!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

June 26, 2007

I still can't figure out how to stick the pictures in where I want to stick them. Sigh.

The picture below is Dave, me and Sally, at the Vanderbilt's little cottage on the Hudson...

Here's a fairly current picture of ME. I'm so beautiful...

Here's a picture of my neighbor, Pete Seeger, at the Strawberry festival. He's beautiful, too.

And finally, the letter!

Howdy, again! I just got back from a short but nice visit with my Mom in Michigan, and seeing a lot of old pals at my 35th high school reunion. The days prior to the party were spent toiling on my magnum opus, a 70-page update on the lives and deaths of about 100 former classmates. I sent out a questionnaire to the people for whom I had an address. It was a lucky break that I’ve been in a lull at work, so I had plenty of time to sit at my computer, searching through cyberspace for people and news about them. I found several who had been lost. Then I scrunched all the information together into a nice little booklet to hand out at the party and to mail out to the ones who couldn’t make it. People were very pleased with it. I tried to make it light and humorous, and I hope I haven’t offended anybody too deeply!

If I didn’t have so much else to write about, I’d tell you about the amazing transformations of some of the people I knew, and my observations about high school reunions. Suffice it to say that at this point in our lives, most of us seem to be over the fierce competitiveness of earlier reunions, and the general spirit seems to be that we were all happy for one another’s successes. In all the pictures, everyone is grinning absolutely honest grins. I continue to be surprised with the "quiet" ones at school, who now lead such interesting, exciting lives, while some of the "golden ones" seem to be living the most boring lives imaginable. (Golf? Country clubs? What’s WRONG with you?) Also, it was interesting to discover how many cute guys named ME as their secret crush! I must have been BLIND!!!! (And we used to make fun of my brother Chris for that sort of obliviousness . . . perhaps it’s genetic.)

Last weekend we had house guests. My old college buddy from Fresno, David Johnson, and his wife Sally came to visit. Robert and I had such a fun time when the Johnsons took us exploring through the boondocks of western Pennsylvania when we visited a few years ago, we were looking forward to returning the favor. We showed them some of our favorite restaurants. (And now I must tell you, because Dave made me promise I would over Sally’s emphatic objections, how Sally caught her menu on fire at the Canterbury Inn. I was amazed at the many clever ways Dave was able to rub her nose in that over the course of the rest of the visit!). We also took them on favorite drives along the Hudson. We visited the headquarters of Gen. Henry Knox, near what is now West Point, and the headquarters of George Washington, right across the river from Beacon. We’d never been there before (it’s always been closed when we’ve tried to see it). I was surprised how moved I was to be there, walking on the same floor boards as the brilliant men who founded this country.

Important things in history happened all around where we live, but there seems to be so MUCH of it, that it’s overwhelming. I really enjoyed reading the Alexander Hamilton biography (or actually, listening to it on tapes in our car). As it got nearer the end, I found myself getting more and more upset, because I knew my hero was going to be senselessly murdered by Aaron Burr, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I found the book must have had a similar effect on other people. While Googling for images of the people we were reading about, I found and appreciated a very well-researched blog by another Hamiltonite, who refers to Alexander Hamilton as "my dead boyfriend." I know how she feels. Anyway, Robert and I are getting a book on tape about the life of Benjamin Franklin, next. (I probably won’t think of him as my dead boyfriend. But who knows?) [Robert remarks: He was kind of old by the time we got to know him.]

In addition to the trips to Revolutionary War sites, we took Dave and Sally to the Vanderbilt Mansion and the Roosevelt home, in Hyde Park. It was too late to go inside the houses, but we got to explore the flower gardens and magnificent lawns. We had tried to think of things to do with our guests that they can't readily do up in the woodlands where they live. We thought a boat ride on the Hudson would be nice, so we went to see Bannerman’s Island (yeah–that’s the thing the guy was wearing on his head at the hat Parade). We tramped around, looking at the remains of the castle there. It was a bit too much climbing for Sally, I think, and we weren’t allowed on the deck for the boat ride, but it was still interesting.

What else? The weekend before THAT, was the Strawberry festival. I spent the day painting kitty faces on cute little kids, while the other ladies sold T-shirts and the buttons and other things I’ve been making. We made a nice chunk of dough, and it was a pretty and pleasant day. They hold the festival in a park on a little spit of land on the River. Of course, my other "boyfriend," Pete Seeger, was there. [I think he’s the same age as Ben Franklin, honey.]

We had to drive my old car for about a week while our Prius was at the dentist’s, getting new front teeth. I hit a very large raccoon while driving many months ago, that took out the grill, punched a big hole through the front fender and tore up the underside of the car. We kept putting off getting the car fixed, until the act of hitting a cardinal turned a tiny chip in the windshield into a dangerous crack, and we really had to do something. (We have been calling the car our "faunacide-mobile" lately). I was surprised such a little bird could do that to a windshield. I don’t know what would have happened if we’d hit that low-flying turkey that decided to fly right at us in the middle of a thunderstorm!

Anyway, the repair job was supposed to take three days, mostly to allow time for the new paint to cure, but the repair shop kept putting us off, day by day, saying "Tomorrow, for sure." Robert got grumpy about it on day six, and demanded to know what the problem was. It seems they had to disconnect the car’s battery as a safety precaution before working on it, and then couldn’t figure out how to turn the thing back on! I can’t tell you how many times it has happened at oil change places, where, when I hand over my keys, I always ask if they know how to drive a hybrid electric car. I get all kinds of manly snorts in reply. Then, thirty minutes AFTER they said the job would be done, they send some kid out to ask me how to start the thing. Anyway, she looks nice with her smile back.

We had a sad loss this weekend. Nothing big, but I’m surprised how bummed we both continue to be about it. Robert’s brother-in-law made us a bluebird house a few years ago. Our yard is a little too small and crowded for bluebirds, but last year it became the home of a resourceful little house wren. It was a very tiny brown bird, and we enjoyed sitting on the back porch, watching him (or her) struggle to pull sticks and bits of grass through the opening of the birdhouse to make a nest. Then there were babies, who rested their little yellow beaks on ledge of the top of the walls and waited for their parents to come with food. (The birdhouse had a hinged roof lid that I didn’t close all the way, so we could see them peeking through that opening.). But this week our intrepid huntress, Mabel, caught the bird unawares and killed it. (Yes, Mabel’s getting a flea collar with a bell on it this weekend!) I feel very guilty about our dear little friend. I checked in the bird house and the nest was not finished, so at least there aren’t baby birds starving somewhere, as far as I know.

Another little garden friend I am having second thoughts about is Munchie the groundhog (we called them woodchucks in Michigan) who moved to our yard after people cleared a brushy lot down the street and deprived him of his previous wilderness home. At first, I welcomed him, because it's fun to watch him waddle around the gardens. In a yard crowded with plants of all kinds, I will never understand how he knows EXACTLY which plants I DO NOT want him to eat, because those seem to be the ONLY plants he’s interested in. [Robert queries: What’s to understand? The guy’s got taste.] I’m not just talking things like the cucumbers (now surrounded by unsightly sawhorses and chicken wire) and parsley (now protected with a chunk of fencing, after being mowed down by groundhog teeth to a height of exactly three inches). Munchie capped my beautiful black-eyed Susans, that make such a spectacular golden show when all of the other flowers have faded. I don’t know if the plants will be able to survive with only three inches of stem and about twelve leaves. I AM SO BUMMED! Damn you! Damn you, Munchie!

Now Munchie has dug a new den under the fence near our neighbor’s garage which looks about large enough to rent out to tenants. Maybe I’ll wait until NEXT week to get Mabel that flea collar.... I love her in spite of her murderous tendencies.

Well, it’s time to hit the hay. We hope you are all well and happy. We are!
(Honest! Honest! Those library pictures are coming NEXT TIME!!!)
Love F and R

Friday, June 1, 2007

June 1, 2007

Well, OK. Maybe we're not quite cooking with gas. Perhaps I'm using charcoal.

I promise I will eventually figure out how to put pictures where I want them in this blog, with titles under them and everything. The following are pictures of:
1. my beautiful front porch with azaleas;
2. the guy wearing a ferry boat and an island (with a ruined Scottish-style castle on it--it's in the middle of the Hudson--you've got to see it!);
3. me, in my stunning cat hat.

On my hat, two cats are lying amid flowers. One carries a sign that reads "Mid-Hudson Animal Aid - Beacon," and the other one says "Don't Litter! Spay or neuter!" I'm also wearing some of the kitty-face pins that I'm making. I expect to wear this ridiculous get-up while attending functions on behalf of the shelter. Will I frighten away the children?

What else? We are on our way to Maryland to visit my mother-in-law for the weekend. We're listening to a great book on tape--the biography of Alexander Hamilton. I think I have a new national hero. When you tally up all the things he did, it's amazing any one person could have done them. It's too bad he died young and he had so many political enemies, who were able to tarnish his reputation after his death. One bit of interesting information we have learned about Alexander Hamilton--he used to live in Beacon!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

May 30, 2007

OK! Now we're cookin' with gas! I hope this is an easier way for you to read my letters and see my pictures, too! I've put the May 17 letter on this blog, as well as a letter about the last leg of our Mexican trip. Robert put in some pictures--they're not ones I would have chosen, but he tried to show some of the things I wrote about. The first picture shows the Queretero acquaduct, and the second one is the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. We haven't figured out yet how to put in photo captions.

I've been extremely busy lately with volunteer work--most of it involving the cat shelter. When I get home at night I make dinner, then disappear into the basement, where I'm putting together hundreds of pins and magnets shaped like kitty faces. I make them out of painted poker chips, on which I glue whiskers, noses, ears and eyeballs. I'm also making "grown-up" kitty pins, of two cats with their arms wrapped around one another. These are cut out of clay, cured in an oven , then painted. They require a lot more work. I'm also crocheting dozens of colorful pouches, to be worn around the neck, and used to stow sunglasses or cell phones. I've got to get all of this stuff ready for Beacon's hippie-dippy Strawberry Festival on June 10, where I'll be manning a booth, selling the pins, T-shirts and other cat stuff. I may also be painting cat faces on kids again. I am expecting I'll be good and exhausted after six hours or so of that.

The Strawberry Festival is a fun day, down on the waterfront, with music and lots of kids and dogs running around. It is run by the Beacon Sloop Club, an environmental group. They sell homemade strawberry shortcake and give free rides on their sloop, "Clearwater." Later in the year the same group puts on a Corn Festival and a Pumpkin Festival. I hope we have good weather.

Two weekends ago was the Beacon Hat Parade. Beacon was once a big hat manufacturing center, and the home of many famous hat designers, back when everybody wore hats (Quick! How many famous hat designers can you name?) (Yeah. Me, neither...) and the parade is supposed to celebrate that part of the town's history. I thought it might be a good opportunity for some goodwill for the cat shelter, so I made myself a chapeau covered with cats and flowers. You would think a hat this gorgeous would have won an award, but I couldn't compete with the guy who wore a ferry boat and Bannerman's Island, or the lady wearing a horse barn and paddock, or the guy who had a whole working puppet theatre on his head. It was still fun.

This last weekend I volunteered to work at the SCATS sale. This is a combined yard sale, held by an animal rescue organzation across the river. They run a second-hand shop, and once a year they set up a huge yard sale in the parking lot of a pet food store, and invite local rescue groups to set up tables there. At the end of the day all the money is pooled and divided among the groups, and best of all, SCATS loads up all the stuff that doesn't get sold, and hauls it back to their store! We had about a dozen people there from our cat shelter, working all day. We worked hard, got sunburned, and made about a thousand dollars.

I also offered to sell raffle tickets for a Mets baseball game to the millionaire attorneys at my office. You know, it's DANGEROUS, trying to sell Mets tickets-- to Yankees fans! I practically got blasted out of a couple of offices!

You would all of these activities are enough volunteer stuff for one person for one month, but no. My high school class is celebrating its 35th reunion, and I offered to put together a booklet, updating what my classmates have been doing all this time. The internet makes it a little easier, I suppose. It has been fun, trying to find people. I've sent out a lot of questionnaires, but people are taking their time to respond. I'm afraid I'm going to get buried in them at the very last minute.

I called my Mom to tell her that Robert and I will be driving in on the weekend of June 23rd, for the reunion. She then called me, twice, to ask if we couldn't possibly come on another weekend, instead. Our dear pipe Major, Ken Jones, was being honored at the Highland Games in Alma, Michigan, and his three daughters were coming up from Virginia for that. There was going to be a band reunion of sorts, and Mom wanted the whole family to go to that, also she said there was going to be a family get-together involving my nieces from Chicago. So Robert and I changed plans. We told her we'd drive out for the Memorial Day weekend (Robert HATES to travel on holiday weekends, with the increased traffic) and I bought a non-refundable plane ticket for myself, for just one day, so I can attend the reunion later on. We had theater tickets that we couldn't change for a different date so we gave them away (the THIRD play we would have missed this season from our season ticket subscription) and got vacation time approved and did all the stuff necessary to take off on Thursday after work.

Then everything got confusing. It seems there wasn't really any family get-together planned, and Mom wasn't planning on going to the reunion. We decided not to drive out, under those circumstances, and we'll try to do that later on thjs summer. Maybe we'll throw a big party to celebrate my mother's new deck. So Robert and I spent the long weekend doing what we NEEDED to do--backed-up house and yard work. Our neighbors saw us, still at home, and insisted on giving us our theater tickets back (a musical based on Jekyll and Hyde) so we got to go to that, and enjoyed it.