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 FAHOGG@aol.com.

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