Saturday, November 22, 2008


My surprise from Robert!

On stage, with the Rockettes!

The word is out about Robert's love child.


The person who is telling the world that my husband Robert has been having an affair with a nursing student at the University of Washington, which dalliance has resulted in a pregnancy, is my 91-year old mother-in-law. One of the symptoms of her Parkinson's disease is a senility that started off slow but has been picking up speed. Poor Muffy gets ideas in her head that are so real to her, she cannot be disabused of them. For the most part, these ideas haven't been a problem, and in fact, I think some of them have been helpful, keeping her occupied and happy. For instance, she is excited about the new job she is going to start, as a nursing administrator on the night shift, and she looks forward to dinner dates with people long dead, and she doesn't seem to be too upset when those engagements fall through.

But she is very upset about this one, and worried about the effect this new baby will have on our family. She is not swayed by denials made by both Robert and his sister Cindy, and rejects any suggestion of the improbability that Robert is able to fly back and forth between Seattle and New York every day without me being aware of it.

We hope Muffy will forget about it soon, and move on to some more pleasant fantasy. But in the meantime, just to be on the safe side, I'm re-decorating our guest bedroom in a teddy-bear theme!

Perhaps Robert's it is guilt about his multiple love affairs with young girls all over the United States that makes him plan romantic surprises for me. A few weeks ago he told me to arrange for a day off from work. He wouldn't tell me anything else, except not to pack anything I couldn't carry around with me for awhile, to dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes, and to meet him at Grand Central Station in New York City at six p.m.. So I packed clean socks and underwear, a nightie, and a toothbrush in my briefcase, and arranged for a ride to the train station from one of my co-workers.

It was a bitter morning, and Robert specifically ordered that I pack two things--a hat and gloves. I don't like hats and I always lose gloves, so I rarely wear them. But I have a fake fur collar thing that I wear around my neck when it's cold, and if I need to, I can wrap it around head. Of course, when it was time to take off for the train station, I grabbed my briefcase and left the hat and gloves on my desk.

The train station platform is on the Hudson River, up high, and when the wind gets blowing, it can be frigid. I was sitting on a bench there, shivering and miserable, with my head scrunched down into my coat collar, wondering how in hell I was going to be able to enjoy myself if I had to walk around the City like that. So I opened my briefcase, pulled out my black negligee. Wrapped around my neck with the ends tucked into my coat, no one would ever know.

I met Robert and we walked about a mile or so to a nice hotel, across the street from Madison Square Gardens. Then he took me out to dinner at a really nice restaurant, where I enjoyed a poached pear and cheese salad, a glass of wine and some delicious Brazilian fish. Then he told me what the surprise was.

We walked to Radio City Music Hall to see the 76th annual Christmas Spectacular, featuring the Rockettes. What fun! The sets were just amazing, and the dancers so incredible, and the show numbers SO LONG. How many calories must those women consume everyday in order to do that? There was a double-decker bus trip that you have to see to believe, a 3-D movie of a sleigh trip over New York City, it snowed inside the theatre and there was a full sized nativity scene complete with camels and sheep, and overhead, angels flapping around. It was a true New York experience and I had a great time. But that wasn't all--

Apparently, one of the Rockettes is a University of Michigan grad, and she had invited members of the U 0f M club that Robert is a member of to come backstage afterwards. So I got to see the camels up close and all the set pieces and incredible costumes. We ended up on the stage.

And that is how your friend, FRANCES HOGG LOCHOW, APPEARED ON STAGE AT RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL, WITH THE ROCKETTES (two of them, at least) WEARING A BLACK NEGLIGEE (around her neck)!

The auction for the cat shelter was a big success--or as much of a success as one could be in this current economic climate. We had a lot of people and a lot of nice things to auction off, but the prices we got were about half what we would have gotten last year. We still made over ten thousand dollars, though. The food was great and the entertainment was fabulous (Thanks, Jan and Don and Rosemary!). But there were (as there always are) little bumps and personality clashes on the road to the big event, that left me feeling over-stretched, and I ended up doing something rather extreme. Immediately after the auction I quit the Board. I feel a little sick about it, because I have really enjoyed all the work I've done there and the people I worked with, but I know I have invested too much, emotionally. Three of the main people who usually work on the auction weren't able to do that this year, so I ended carrying all those responsibilities that normally would have been handled by the group. A project that I had worked on for hours and hours (the auction catalog) got screwed up by someone else, and that was really depressing. I felt so floored by the criticisms of a co-Board member who I actually like, I realized I can't be in the same room with her any more.

So now the challenge is to find a way to keep working for the organization from outside. I am sure I will find a way to do that.

And all of this is part of another story--about a doll house. I'll tell you that next time.

I want to have a new blog set up soon, that is easier to get to. My poor computer makes horrible noises and is on its way out, so I hope to get a new one (actually, I want an OLD one) around Christmas. I also hope to send out my regular Christmas letter that I didn't send out last year. I have to figure out how to get that written.

I hope you all have a lovely Thanksgiving (we're going to visit Cindy and Muffy)-- and I hope to hear from all of you around Christmas and the New Year!

Love, FAH and Robert.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Up to my ears in cat stuff....

This is me, painting kitty faces on little kids at a recent festival in Warwick, New York.

I keep getting e-mails from people saying, "Are you all right?" I tell them, "Yeah, I'm just busy! I'll write a letter soon!" Looking at the date of my last post, I guess I've been saying that too long. I think at first, I was just too exhausted from all the stuff about Mom and clearing out her house to even think about writing, and that was soon combined with a computer crash, followed by a busy summer that found me doing something for the cat shelter almost every weekend, and on top of THAT, my new and wonderful job. So I'll take these in reverse order.


Back in early March, when things were really awful, my friend Lindy told me that angels had told her I shouldn't worry about money, because a fabulous job was going to drop into my lap on the same day as my unemployment ran out. Lindy has been exploring her spiritual side, and I like to be supportive, so I thanked her heartily for her good wishes. Then darn, if she wasn't right! I got an e-mail out of nowhere from Charles Rock. He is an attorney, looking for a managing paralegal to run his office, just across the river from where I live. He's not your average attorney (before becoming a lawyer he was a professional classical guitarist, who performed all over the place) but he has had a successful practice, suing doctors, but now he has decided to switch gears and focus on cases that he thinks have some underlying social importance, like lead-poisoning of children. He also decided he didn't want to work with grumpy people anymore, so he farmed out most of his old cases and hired an all-new staff!

He didn't hire me for the manager job--instead, he asked me if I'd like to work as an attorney. I didn't think I'd really want to do that again, but I find I am enjoying it. I forgot how much I like to do legal writing--figuring out arguments to get around obstacles and then finding the right case law and the right language to beat the opposition into a pile of blubbering jelly! Ha! I now fearlessly stride into courtrooms and act like I know what I'm doing. I am still struggling a bit, getting used to a completely different court system and a very complicated computer case-management system, but Charles is completely supportive. I love the other extremely competent women (Yeah! He only hired women!) in the office--Liz, Chrissy and Jenny. It takes me just minutes to get to work, I can take time off when I need it, and the work we do suits my values.


During the summer the cat shelter ( carries on fund-raising activities at festivals. I make things to sell, like magnets, pins and earrings, and I make a nice pot of change painting kitty and puppy faces on little kids. It seems I have something going on almost every weekend. That is winding down somewhat, but I am the chairman of the annual auction, in November. Our basement is filling up with donations, and I just finished making 30 centerpieces for the tables. The cat calendar I designed was finally produced, and Mom's favorite cat, Popcorn, is Mr. February. Doing this stuff for the cats took on a different importance when we couldn't find homes for three of Mom's kitties, and had to bring them to New York, to the shelter. The picture I (I think!) put on the blog is one of me, at the shleter, holding her beautiful Pussyfoots. I'm glad to say that Foggie was adopted a few weeks ago, and sorry to say that Mousie (her very old cat) has left ths earth.
I enjoy doing things for the cats, because in some way, I feel I'm doing it for my Mom and for other old ladies out there who are worried about what will happen to their little friends when they can't take care of them anymore.


About a week ago I made another trip to Michigan, to help my brothers make the final decisions about what to do with stuff in Mom's house. I was a little surprised to find I am not melancholy about the house. I hope someone with kids will buy it--it is certainly magical to be able to grow up in a house on a river. The real eatate market has tanked so badly, and the house is not in particularly good shape, it is evident to anyone entering it that cats used to live there, and also, Mom painted it a very LOUD yellow and green, that will not suit the tastes of very many people. It will sell for much less than it's worth, if it sells before the bank forecloses on the reverse mortgage.  Maybe someone will even tear it down.
If so, that will be too bad.  It really is pretty, and I love all the wilderness that grows around it. Mom wrote a wonderful essay about it, called "Sacred Ground."  But where she connected the river and the land and the house to her "dear little ghosts," I have discovered that all those memories reside in me, and I can say good-bye to the place they were born.  

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Life returns (to normal?)

I started this letter a long time ago, but didn't finish it.  I feel a need to continue to tell the story about my Mom's death--or I should say, the end of her life--because that's something people care about, but it is hard to do.  I've spent so many months focused on her--on dealing with all the emotional aspects of her impending death, for her and for me and for people who love her.  It has been hard, but beautiful and important.  Now I really want to point my life in a different direction--looking forward.  Lots of really good and fun things are happening in my life!  So I think I'll tell you about the new stuff, then I'll tell you about Mom's memorial service.  

I feel better, finally, after surviving a bout of shingles in 90-plus degree weather.  Shingles is a painful after-effect of the chickenpox that often comes back to bite people over fifty, in times of stress.  An itchy spot over my breastbone turned into a line of tiny blisters running along my ribs, that spread out into inflamed patches of HELL.   It hurt to wear clothes.  I spent days lying in the dark in our bedroom, nude, plastered with cold, wet towels.  It hurt to have the fan blow on me.  I thought it was ironic that I would get shingles now, when, for the first time in almost a year I feel completely relaxed about my life, but our friend, Dr. Ruth, says it is normal to get them after a period of intense stress.  Ruth loaded me up with all kinds of naturopathic cures and I feel I got off lightly.  The blisters never broke and have subsided, but I still have moments when I feel like my skin is crawling with bees!  Oh well.  Focus on the positive!  

(I am writing this now on June 22)  We just got back from a weekend in Southern Maryland. We were there to scatter the ashes of my brother-in-law, Bill MacArthur.  Cindy (Robert's sister and Bill's widow) works at the Calvert County Marine Museum, that owns an antique oyster-fishing sailboat called a "bug-eye."  It is a gorgeous craft and we get to take free rides on it from time to time.  Cindy rented it for the ceremony, and the Lochow/MacArthur family gathered.  It is so much fun for me because we have lots of teeny great-nephews who are so quirky and dear.  (For instance, almost-two-year-old Landon, has a fixation on leaf blowers. He runs around pretending that vacuum cleaner parts and empty paper-towel rolls are leaf-blowers, much the way my brother turned anything they could hold in their hands into guns when we were little and cowboys and Indians were all the rage.)  Landon, Nicky and Lukas were playing with little toy cars on the benches of the boat, and it was entertaining how everyone became hearing-impaired each time one of them asked (about the wooden casket of ashes), "What's in there?"     
It was a great day, bright and sunny, to be out on the water of the Chesapeake Bay, bouncing over the waves with spray in our faces and pretty Celtic music playing.  Cindy asked Robert to read a poem that I thought was not well-written, but the sentiment and the idea behind it were very appropriate, and I think people might appreciate it who are thinking about my Mom now. Here's my version:

"A ship leaves the dock.  She is beautiful, with sails full-blown.
She takes off toward the horizon, becoming smaller and 
smaller, until she is nothing but a white dot at the place where 
the sea touches the sky.  Someone beside me says, 'She is gone!'  
And  I think, 'Gone where?'  She appears smaller, but only to 
us.  In reality, she is as broad and strong and capable of carrying 
life as she ever was.  And at that very moment that someone 
cries, 'She is gone!'--persons on another shore are crying, 
'There she is!  Here she comes!'"
OK.  I had to stop and have a little cry there.  If anyone want to know the poet or the actual poem, ask me, and I'll send it to you.

Mom's memorial service was held on May 10.  I don't think she could have asked for a better and more meaningful send off.  My brothers and I talked with Jannel, the priest, about what we thought was important to Mom.  I put together a collection of photographs for a display (when I get my computer working again I'll be able to show you) of all the special things in her life--family, music, art, writing, small animals, Vick, and her beloved Hoggwilde. Mom had wanted people who didn't have it to have a copy of her book, "A Dog Called Dirt," and also, some of her art work, so I had those ready for those who wanted them.  Aunties and Cousins and friends more dear than they will ever know helped set up before the service.  Then the others showed up--so many more than were anticipated when the church printed the official programs.  
Jannel asked me for a photo to put on the little table where Mom's ashes were placed at the front of the church.  I didn't have anything except a portrait that Mom absolutely HATED. In fact, when I was sending out her Christmas letter for her last year I decided to send out some of her millions of extra photographs to her friends.  I found lots of copies of pictures of her with her "Dirk" book (by the way, I discovered today that twelve-dollar copies of her book are selling for $22.00 on e-Bay now!)   I also found a whole bunch of copies of a portrait taken for the St. Kate's church directory.  When I told Mom I was sending those out to people, she freaked! She told me she thought she looked so awful in that picture she wanted all copies destroyed.  I lied, and didn't tell her I'd already sent out dozens and dozens of them.   I actually like the picture.  I have it on my fridge door and I blow kisses at it every morning when I get milk for my coffee.

In that photograph Mom is wearing pretty pale blue and green colors, and they perfectly matched the colors of the service bulletin that Jannell had put together. Jannel also asked me about flowers for the table display.  We didn't have any.  I was so busy trying to get the photo display set up and the food set out and coffee made, all the while trying to greet people and answer questions (in addition to the general stress of dealing with the fact that I was about ready to attend my mother's memorial service) I was about ready to go out of my mind.  Then a very sweet and "Hoggish" thing happened.  

Patty Graham Enfield (one of the "school chums" I got re-acquainted with last year when I was working on my high school reunion) walked into the church carrying a handful of the most beautiful and poignant flowers--pale-blue columbine, with drooping, sad heads and translucent pale green stems.  She held them out to me and I almost cried.  I said, "Oh, no! Mom said she didn't want flowers--" and Patty started apologizing.  I swept them up.  They were so unusual a flower for that time of year, and such gorgeous colors--  I spent a lot of time during the service looking at them and thinking how Mom always said that is something special about our family--that we are blessed--that how often in our times of need we receive exactly what we need from unexpected and unbidden sources.

The church was crammed full, and the service was perfect. My brother Tim wrote things that were incorporated into the homily that were so perfectly "Patty,"--I can't tell you.  It was especially good that her two sisters and some cousins were able to come from Kansas to be with us.  Afterwards, we went back to Hoggwilde and had the kind of party Mom always loved--lots of people milling around, telling funny stories.  She would have been so happy to have been there, with so many friends enjoying her beautiful house and the flowers and her new deck. There could not have been a more appreciative, happier, more thankful way to say goodbye.
The next morning Robert and I had to take off.  We stopped at the house and loaded the car up with living memories of my childhood--Hoggwilde-grown ferns and black raspberry plants and jonquils, in plastic buckets.  I am happy to report that they are growing like gangbusters here in my yard in New York.  

I have been busy since the service with my special project--sending things that Mom saved off to people.  I am sending them a booklet of her writings that I put together and brother Chris produced.  I am almost done, but not quite.
The challenge now is to learn how to live my life without a mama.  I got through Mothers' Day OK.  I don't think Mom was particularly sentimental about that day, but I did discover that she saved every Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day card I ever sent to them.  July 4th was harder.  I always think, when I see flag-decorated paper plates and napkins in the stores, "I should get these for Mom, she'll like them!"  Then I remember.         

So life without her is emptier, but it keeps going forward, and it's good.  Her silly kitty, Twirp, lives with us now, destroying wallpaper and tearing up sofas and carpet.  He is so proud of himself!  I think her kitty Foggie (at the shelter) will be adopted soon, because she's so affectionate, but Pussyfoots and Mousie are so spooky, they hide from people.  I hope for Christmas maybe my husband will let me bring Pussyfoots home with us.  

Mom's favorite cat was Popcorn.  She saved him from death just about the time Andy died, and she focused so much love and attention on him.  He had seizures and died in her arms, and Mom never got over that.  She had always considered him to be her miracle kitten.  I am glad that I was able to give her a special gift before her death--Popcorn was chosen as the Calendar Cat for February for the Mid-Hudson Animal Aid Record of Special Events.  The Record (a perpetual calendar) has been a personal fundraising project of mine, and I am very proud of it. I think we will have an ad for it on our website soon, so I'll  publish that for you in a month or so (in time for Christmas shopping!).  This is a great gift idea for anybody who likes cats or who has a large family with lots of birthdays and anniversaries to keep track of, or who wants to honor Patty Hogg.  The calendar is GORGEOUS.  They cost $12.00 each.  If you want one, let me know.    

I will wait until next time to tell you about my fabulous new job!  My great boss!  My shocking paycheck!  My cool co-workers!   Write to me!  I love to hear from you.

FAH (and Robert)

(Hoping soon to get my computer up and running again so I can send you pictures!)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mom's good ending--and some good beginnings


I wasn't aware I hadn't written anything in April.  I guess it's because I have been writing so many individual e-mails.

When I last wrote I had just received a job offer that I could hardly believe.  The commute is so short (4.7 miles) that I could walk it if I really needed to.  Or, if I wanted, I could get there via a ferry ride across the Hudson River!  My co-workers (and especially my boss, Charles) are friendly and helpful, and I am so excited to be part of his practice!  If I had dreamed it I could not have asked for a better and easier way to get established as a lawyer in New York, after such a long absence from that workforce.  I'll write more about that next time.

When Charles handed me my first paycheck he apologized and told me he'd try to make things right with me with bonuses later in the year.  I put it in my briefcase and didn't look at it until later. Then I nearly fell over.  I made Robert look at it, and tell me I'm not crazy.   It is MUCH MORE than I ever expected (but, being so very bad at math, I can often be taken unawares). Furthermore, that paycheck is proof of the existence of God, because immediately upon receiving it I broke a tooth ($1,200); our gas clothes dryer quit ($1,000); Mabel required veterinary care for a urinary blockage ($500, plus $18.00-per-5-lb.-bag cat food weekly for the rest of her life); Mom's kitty Twirp has to get his shots ($150); my computer is still useless and may require replacement ($1,200) and my vacuum cleaner expired ($150-200).  IN CASE THAT WAS NOT ENOUGH, I need a new dish drainer!  That's five bucks at K-Mart, and even more if I go for fancy and insist on Martha Stewart.   

When I last wrote, Mom was doing well after her surgery.  I had decided to tell Charles I wanted to take off the Thursday and Friday before Mother's Day to go to see her.  But I had worked at my new job for only two days before Tim called to say that the nurse at TenderCare strongly suggested that the family gather to "make arrangements."  I prepared to take off again. At first I planned to take the trip alone, but Robert insisted on coming with me (part of our pre-marital "mi mama es tu mama" pledge) and I am so glad he was able to do that.  I had no idea how much I would need him.  I appreciate what a strain it was on his bosses to have him be gone that week, and I am so thankful to them and to everybody else for their support through this difficult period.  

This trip was the third time since June 2007 that I have dropped everything to make the thirteen-hour drive to Michigan at Tim's suggestion, never knowing what I would find when I got there.  Robert and I arrived late in the evening and got a room in the hotel where we stayed before--the parking lot adjoins Tendercare.  I left Robert to deal with registration and I ran to see Mom, and found her sitting up, and looking mighty pink and perky for a dying woman.  For a moment (but just a little one) I wanted to strangle my brother.  

Mom said, "Franny!  I'm so glad you're here!" and I instantly thanked God and Tim.  It was so important to see her when she was really aware of my presence.  We had a nice evening together. Chris had spent the whole day with her, and he had a good time with her, too.  Mom asked me to cut her fingernails, and I did that.  I complained that I had gotten little pieces of fingernail all over the floor.  She was in a happy mood, but very very weak.  She could hardly move, but she could still tell stories.  

Each day she became weaker and more uncomfortable.  Her bowel surgery made it hard for her body to absorb water, so she was constantly thirsty and unable to get a drink herself. So I sat next to her all day, because she wanted water about once a minute.  The next day she slept a lot more, and she had pain in her hands and arms in spite of large doses of morphine.  She asked me to scratch her nose and I told her I needed a little guidance as far as where she was itchy, and I was also hampered because I had just cut my nails very short, and didn't have any fingernails to scratch with.  Her last joke: "Pick some up off the floor."  

Wednesday the 16th, she stopped drinking and slept all the time.  I had decided I would go back to New York if a time came when I couldn't be useful to her anymore, and Robert's bosses especially needed him to be there there on Friday.  So we prepared to drive back on the 17th, my birthday, although I had a funny feeling that Mom would die that day (Dad died on Andy's birthday).  But I realized that even though Mom wasn't asking to have her nose itched or her neck rubbed, or for a drink of water, my brothers needed me to be there.  

Chris and Tim and I were at her bedside all day long on the 17th.  At about four 0'clock in the morning on the 18th, Tim tried to get a few winks in his truck out in the parking lot.  We were all worried about going to sleep, lest we be so out of it we couldn't wake up when we needed to.  But I realized it was STUPID to have a perfectly nice hotel room about fifty yards away, so we decided to take shifts at two-hour naps.  Tim and I took advantage of it first, then we took over the vigil at six.  At about eight a.m. on the 18th, Tim noticed Mom's breathing was different.  I went to get Chris, FASTER THAN I HAVE EVER RUN, and about ten minutes later Mom stopped breathing.  She was very calm and relaxed.  It was peaceful, painless passing for her.  We were all with her, touching her.  She held a picture of my Dad in her arms.   

All of us were with Daddy when he died, in 1988.  That was a much sadder event, because he was leaving Mom, who loved him so much, and he died much too young.  Still, it was a very spiritual experience.  I remember a distinct feeling at the moment he died of a presence entering the room, and I felt compelled to look toward the ceiling.  I felt as if he was looking at me from there.  I didn't have that same feeling with Mom.  I think it's because she was already gone--already with Daddy and Andy--when she finally left.  

I told the nurse that she died, then Chris, Tim, Robert, and I all went together to the funeral home to make arrangements.  We met up with Meg and Lindsey and we all went out for breakfast together.  Chris said what we were all thinking, how strange it was, for once, to not be worried about Mom.  

Back in New York I started working again on the last of the boxes and boxes of papers Mom saved, trying to sort them out and get things ready to mail out to her friends.  I spread everything out on our parlor floor, and worked on it for days, until I wore myself out.  It has been overwhelming, dealing with the thousands of letters and photographs that Mom saved.  It was such a huge responsibility but I kept on, knowing I was doing it for her. 

In these long months of her disability I had been saving things I sorted through--notes and letter fragments and essays--in a file marked "memorial."  When I got home I started reviewing those to put together a gift of herself, for those who love her.  Chris offered to do the actual design and layout of the booklet (about sixteen pages of poetry and prayers and stories, photographs and diary entries) and I am sure he will do a beautiful job.  We will have it ready for her memorial service, and I will send it out to any of you who ask me.

It was especially hard to make it through those last boxes.  I think there were eighty of them, originally. I've often just been unable to face dealing with the task.  I wondered if I have been blocked by the realization that when I finish this last sorting, I will be performing the last good thing I can do on earth to help my Mom.  I wondered, is this the last opportunity I will ever have to show her how much I love her?  Is this the last way I can make her feel more comfortable? When this job is done, is it really the end?  But I think not.  I promised her I would try to get her book completed--"As Ever Yours," about her family.   It seems to make the most sense to wait until I have a computer that is not going to fart out on me before I start that in earnest.  But I will do it. It's a wonderful book. 

Mom's memorial service is May 10th, at St. Kate's.  That's the day before Mother's Day.  Her sisters and some cousins will be there, as well as many friends.  If you can't be there, believe me, she will know you wanted to be, and she will receive your prayers and thoughts.  My brothers and I thank you so much for your cards and e-mails.  Thank you for showing up at the nursing home to sit with me. Thank you for bringing me flowers.  Thanks for giving me a hug in the parking lot of the grocery store.  I appreciate every thought and gesture.

So that's the story of the good ending of my mother's good life.  I look backward with thanks, and forward with eager anticipation.  My new job and my new friendships with the people at work and at the foundry, and my continued excellent relationship with Robert and my wonderful brothers and sisters-in-law, are all wonderful, happy things on the horizon of my life, on my 54th birthday.  I'm sad, but I'm OK.  

In fact, I am ridiculously happy about some things.  When I get my computer to work again (I'm writing this on Robert's new Mac)  I'll show you pictures of my new BACK PORCH SLAB! Now, who could be excited about a new back porch slab?  I am!  We used to have a crumbling, ugly concrete back porch that has been replaced (AT A RIDICULOUSLY LOW PRICE--due to my magical connections) with Vermont bluestone.  I am so excited about it, I go outside often, just to look at it.  I'm also happy about spring.  I tried to figure out what would be the best thing to remind me of my childhood at Hoggwilde, after it becomes someone else's home.  So I dug up buckets of Lily of the Valley and ferns and black raspberries and jonquils, and planted them in our yard here.  I know how much Mom loved them, and I think every spring I will be able to share that thrill with her, even though she's not here, of seeing her little green babies push their way out of the soil to bring forth trumpeting masses of color and scent, and clouds of joy, that allow us all to experience once again that feeling of renewal and life.

Keep in touch, all of you.  Come to see us!  Remember, we are the cheapest hotel in New York you'll ever find, all you Europeans!  Jenny and Rick, please move here immediately! Marguerite, you too!       

Love, F and R

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Better news!

I have been hampered by computer problems.  I was in Michigan for awhile, without access to a machine, and when I got home I found mine to be completely useless.  Robert is infuriated by long waits for websites to load.  He blames this on spyware and viruses and has installed all sorts of programs to rout these evils out.  These programs result in a fifteen-minute battle of the anti-program programs before you can get to any site.  (I believe this is why his own computer finally screamed and died, and he's been using mine for the last year.)  Robert also blames slowness on aol (which I still use because I'm used to it, even though we have cable now and don't really need it) and Windows.  

So while I was gone Robert bought a new Mac computer which, of course, doesn't use Windows.  When he hooked up his new machine and mine to a router, his worked fine, but something happened to mine.  My Internet connection flickers and I get booted off after about half a minute.  Then my mouse pointer got stuck and I couldn't get off the opening page.  All this is boring to you (and to me too, believe me) so all I'll say is that Robert is still plugging away trying to figure out how to fix the problem.  I can use his computer to write this and to check my e-mail, but I can't share pictures, I can't get at my address lists or my writing projects, and this computer isn't compatible with our printers!   ARGH!!!  

I sent you all an e-mail from my friend Colleen's house when I was in Michigan and Mom was in the hospital.  I suppose that was the low point, but things are a little better now.  Mom is on the mend physically.  She handled the surgery well and is back at Tendercare now.  She is still very weak and depressed, but there is a psychologist who visits her and she hopes he can help her get her head around what is happening to her.  She likes company but in very short spurts.   After I wrote to you, she had a really good day.  I sat with her and read her letters and she was even laughing from time to time, telling me stories.  Then the next day she was wiped out and slept all day.  She goes up and down.  Keep sending her good thoughts.  I hope I'll be able to see her again in May.

Part of my mission when I was there was to corral her three remaining kitties and bring them to New York.  I spent the week cooing at them, petting them, and gaining their trust (and they are NOT very trusting kitties).  After that, it felt awful to have to grab them and stuff them into cages.  I had to set up elaborate structures of storm windows propped up against chairs to herd them in the right direction.  Even wearing arm-length oven mitts, some Franny blood was shed in the struggle, but I was successful in the end.  Mousie, Pussyfoots and Foggy are now living at the shelter where they seem to be quite comfortable.  I will visit them today, bearing catnip mice and a hairbrush.  

I have been enjoying working at the foundry very much.  It feels wonderful to get up in the morning with a PURPOSE.  But even if they could afford to pay me and I was working there full-time, I wouldn't make enough money to cover my portion of our expenses.  (I do think that in a few more months, the foundry's finances will be much stronger.   If I had money to invest in a new business enterprise, I would invest it there!)  This fussing about money causes me to wake up in the middle of the night in a panic.  I really enjoy the work and the people I work with, and if I didn't have to make our steep monthly car payment, I could do it.  Robert says we could pay the balance off out of savings, but I hate not having any kind of emergency fund to fall back on.

So in spite of the fact that I LOVE this job I realized I have had to keep an open mind about finding another one.  I have continued searching and sending out resumes, but I've gotten no nibbles.  I went to the county employment office for career counseling and spoke to a woman who told me to visualize my perfect job.  So I did.  The perfect job for me would be close to my home.  It would be in a law-related field, where I could use my license, but I wouldn't necessarily be responsible for my own caseload.  I  am tired of working at the office for ten hours, then bringing piles of papers home with me every night.  (I did that for fifteen years, and that was long enough!)  I enjoyed managing law offices (that's what I did at my legal aid jobs) and being the person who figures out what needs to be done and how best to do it for litigators (which is what I did at Robert's law firm).  I prefer not to work for the interests of corporations or insurance companies against regular folks, and I 'd love to work with people who are civil to one another.  (This is more of a rarity in law offices than you may realize.)  

So in a perfect world, where there are unicorns and fairies and rainbows everywhere, I suppose such a job exists.     

My friend Lindy sent me a kind of prayer thing (which I'd like to look at again now, but it's on my computer).  She said she envisioned the perfect job for me arriving JUST as my unemployment insurance ran out.  It ran out this week.

Last Friday I got an e-mail from someone who said, "I saw your resume on the 'net.  Give me a call."  So I did, and I had an interview on Friday at a one-person law firm across the river in Newburgh, only three miles from our house.  This guy is named Charles.  He's my age, and doesn't think people over fifty are dinosaurs.  (The career counselor told me this is the main reason I'm not getting offers.)  Charles said he's looking for someone who can run his office when he's gone (he is gone for months at a time), delegate work, and keep track of deadlines.   He needs someone who can step in and handle some attorney-type things when necessary, but he only carries 50 cases.  This means it's a nine-to-five job -- and it has benefits!  He said, "You're much more than I was even looking for," and I said, "You're exactly what I've been looking for," and he said, "OK. I am going to spend the weekend trying to figure out how I can pay you what you're worth."  Oh yeah, and while I was waiting for my interview I talked with the receptionist, who said, "The best thing about working here is that everybody is SO NICE!"

Thanks, Lindy!

We'll see what happens when I speak to him again tomorrow.  Anything he offers (and he seems to have a very successful practice) will be more than I can make at the foundry.  I am already sick about telling Insun.  We have been working on the most fun sculptures!  We are fabricating a centipede for Tom Otterness. It is about a yard long and has 56 little feet.  At the same time we are making two other centipedes but they are twelve times that size!  They will be 28 feet long, and when they're done, Insun wants a photograph of all of us, riding them.  We're doing a man and a lady centipede (the lady has a hair bow and high heels; the man wears a bowler).  I have some photos to show you of the tiny wax shoes next to the big wax shoes.  They are cute, but I am sure we'll be SICK TO DEATH of any size wax shoe pretty soon.  

Robert and I did a fun thing on Monday.  On the way home from an Easter visit with his family in Maryland, we stopped in NYC to attend the preview of the graphic novel that I wrote about last time.  I am always very nervous driving in the City, but we had no problem -- we even found a parking space right in front of the theater!  We had a delicious meal at an Indian restaurant, then went to see the show.  We recognized a few of the artists who were at the shoot we did in Philadelphia, and they all seemed to remember us (since we were the only gray-hairs, I suppose).  We watched four episodes of "non-filmic cinema" (yes, Jenny Walker, that's what they called it).  The second one was one of the stories from the book.  We had only seen a few of the photographs before.  They took pictures in the underground tunnels and endless hallways filled with debris and with the ceilings falling down, and used the photographs of the actors to tell the story.  They did all kinds of interesting things to the photographs.  One particularly spooky one was of old chairs and wheelchairs tumbling through space down one of the hallways, and in other pictures you could see the shadows of the floating chairs.  It was a lot of fun and the theater was completely filled. 

Afterward we talked to Bryan, the filmmaker who'd told me my story was going to be in the book.  He was very apologetic.  He said, "I didn't have enough time!"  Since they didn't mention my story (which is called "Marjorie's Sister"), I figured that they'd decided not to use it, but he assured me it is in the book, the photographs are fabulous, and I'll really be pleased with it.    Bryan didn't have time to convert it to PowerPoint, or whatever they used to make the version they showed at the theater.  Then later, when I was standing in line for the ladies' room later, a young woman said, "Hey! I heard you're one of the writers!"  So that was fun--in my whole life I never imagined I'd be part of the New York City arts scene!  Still no word when the finished product is actually going to hit the bookstores.

There's more, but I have too much to do.  Hopefully, soon I'll have my computer back again, or maybe even a new one (my birthday's coming up, you know) and I'll send you some pictures --and maybe some more good news.

Happy spring!


F and R.        

Sunday, February 24, 2008


This is Twerp.

Here's the cover of the Byberry book. I'm the little white dot at the far right corner. Robert is walking behind me.

Check out that Grandma hair!

This is a picture of Mabel, sleeping on my office chair, and my new desk that Robert built for me. But mostly, it is a picture of how messy my office is.

Happy birthday, all you Februaries! Lindy, Colleen, Dawn, Susie, Susan, Lucas, Margaret, Jane and Norma!

This is a quiet, snowy Sunday afternoon. Robert has ventured out for a walk but I am too paralyzed by lists of things I must get done to do that. ARGH!

I am enjoying my new "job" very much, but I still feel so much at sea about it. I put the word job in quotes there, because having a job usually means that you get paid for the work you do. But my poor boss is having a terrible time. She has to wait for final approval on some sculptures in order to get paid for them, all the while trying to pay employees, make improvements to the foundry building, and buy materials. I have been working full time, but she is only able to pay me for a few hours a week. I expect the situation to get better eventually, and I feel I am getting some useful training, as well as being in a better state of mind doing something that gets me out of the house. I am not in financial difficulty yet, but that may come. For the time being, I have the supplement of unemployment insurance, but that isn't going to last forever, and working for free for someone arguably makes it difficult to work for someone else for money. That may run contrary to the unemployment rules, but I am still applying for regular lawyer jobs, and I swear, if ANYBODY calls me back, I'll jump on it! I figure whatever ends up happening will be a sign from God. I just wish that God would stop speaking to me in mysterious ways, and just pick up the phone and tell me what to do!

This artistic life -- made up of of periods of panic about money interspersed with periods of panic about looming deadlines, smoothed out with moments of creative zen -- is something I know well, as I lived it with my parents for decades. I suppose it is not such a prudent choice for someone like me, who really ought to be thinking about retirement and the need to squirrel some bucks away, but it sure has been interesting! For the past few weeks I have been working on a sculpture of an American WWII soldier for a war memorial. He looks like a giant version of those green plastic "army guy" toys, as my brothers called them. I spent a week on a wax rifle, smoothing joins and filling in tiny air bubbles, and rebuilding a gunsight and other parts that didn't get filled in the mold correctly, or got 'smooshed' in the molding process. I spent another week or so on the soldier's backpack and shirt collar. All the while Insun (my boss) has been putting the finishing touches on a beautiful sculpture of two cranes perched on a tall pillar, caught in barbed wire. It is so gorgeous and sad, and the ironic thing is, it is also a WWII memorial. This one for Japanese soldiers, and will eventually stand somewhere in Japan. It is stunning to contemplate that in the same rooms we are creating symbols to express heroism and loss for people on opposite sides of the world, on opposite sides of the same terrible conflict.

I have been doing the wax re-work while I look around for other ways to be helpful. I answer the phone and I've tried to take over mundane stuff from Insun, like dealing with suppliers and making sure there's enough coffee and toilet paper to make it through the week. I have yet to tackle the bookkeeping work I originally told her I'd do for her, as the computer I need is still in John and Insun's bedroom at their home.

Robert and I did something different last night. Our neighbors invited us to go to a '50s dance with them at a local Knights of Columbus hall. It was fun. I even danced a little, but most of the music was what they call "mixes"--little snippets of old songs connected together--and I didn't like that too much. I guess I'd also prefer to dance to the REAL dance music of my generation--"Born to be Wild" and "Sympathy for the Devil" come to mind. It was funny to watch all those old, silver-haired people gyrating around on the dance floor, then to look at MY husband, who is MY age, and realize, "Oh no! Am I the only YOUTHFUL person here?" Then, with a shudder, I remember that I've got silver hair, too. I'VE GOT GRANDMA HOGG HAIR! I'M GRANDMA HOGG! ARGH!!!! (But I also inherited Grandma Hogg lovely skin, so I'm not complining that much.)

It did not help to learn that some symposium of radio stations has recently decided to add songs from the 1980's to their "Golden Oldies" collections.

Speaking of my wild hippie youth, I have recently been contacted by my first big heart-throb, John a/k/a "Fuzzy" Backus. He lives in Florida now, and seems to have come back to his senses after years of following one cultish (is that a word?) group after another. I told him I'd critique a book he's writing. This is a stupid promise, as I have a grant proposal to write for the cat shelter, an arts grant proposal for the foundry, my own books to work on, my Mom's book to promote, my friend Herman's book to edit, and MY CHRISTMAS LETTER to write! Oh well. It's so hard to write or even to concentrate when I feel so adrift with this job stuff. NERVES!!!!

What else? I told you all a long time ago that a story I wrote for a series of books called "Tales From The Sanitarium" was supposed to be published. This was connected with the photo shoot Robert and I did at the Byberry Mental Institution in Philadelphia a few years ago. I kept being told and told again that it was coming out "next month," and then nothing. We have just received notice that there will be a special publication party and an exhibition about making the book (a movie/slide show) in New York City in March, and we are invited. Sounds like fun, except the announcement/invitation lists the stories in the first book, and mine is NOT one of them! Oh well. I will try to attach a photo of the cover of the book. I am the TEENSY-WEENSY little white dot in the far right corner of the uppermost photo. I think Robert is behind me, but you probably won't be able to make him out.

I'll also try to upload some pictures of other things. Maybe some of our kitties (who wouldn't get out of our room and kept Robert up ALL NIGHT) and if they aren't too dark, a picture of the dance last night, or maybe a picture of my kitchen window or my new office, who knows?

Twerp used to be my Mom's cat and now he lives here, getting fatter and fatter every day. He is so fat and round, in fact, that when he tries to clean his little pink butt, he rolls back and just keeps on rolling, like a beach ball. He has to roll himself up against a wall or something in order to do any really effective cleaning. Without going into nauseating detail, I will tell you that this prime situation doesn't occur often enough. I have started to refer to Twerp's anatomy as "the Black Hole of Cat-butta." I tell him all the time how he should try to be more fastidious, but he doesn't care.

In the morning Twerp runs downstairs with me to the kitchen, where he falls over in a dramatic fashion and acts like Scarlet O'Hara on her lounge, dying from lack of sustenance. Then I lay out a line of four kitty treats (little brown things shaped like rabbits, about the size of my little fingernail) and he gobbles them up. This one morning, when he threw himself down like that, a crusty bit of matter from his nether regions fell off. I told him how disgusting and awful that was, but he ignored me and went after the kitty crunchies. Then he accidentally went toward his own personal "crunchy," and -- my goodness! You never saw such a dirty look from a cat! He absolutely thinks I tried to play a trick on him, and since then, he won't eat kitty treats! He just pats at them, and glowers at me.

Cats are a hoot.

Write soon. I am planning on a four-day trip to Michigan around St. Patrick's Day. I'm looking forward to seeing Mom. Maybe I'll see some of you then, too.


F and R

Sunday, February 3, 2008

My (literally) HOT job prospect...

These are life-size waxes of some sculptures, cut into pieces for casting:

This is where I work:

This is a statue (about eight feet tall) of Martin Luther King that has just been completed.

I think this is Mary Magdalene...

This is John and Cornelio, pouring a casting. Watching this is like watching a baby being born.

February 3, 2008

Robert and I have been trying to get to know more of our neighbors by throwing dinner parties. I planned a big Jamaican spread for eight people. I made fancy invitations and sent them out. I spoke to everybody to remind them. I spent a few weeks tracking down ingredients. I made pumpkin soup, callaloo, goat curry, rice and peas ("coat of arms"), and jerk chicken, as well as a tropical fruit salad for dessert. We bought Red Stripe beer and made a huge quantity of rum punch. We had Bob Marley on the stereo. I did the whole thing, dressing up the table with my blue fishy dishes and a centerpiece made out of ceramic crabs scuttling around the "coral reef" that was my soup tureen, amid little candles nestled in glass bowls of salt. I tell you, Martha Stewart would have fallen to her knees and wept tears of pride.

Our neighbors Insun Kim and John Maffucci called to say they would be happy to come, but because of another commitment, they'd have to leave early. I wasn't sure from the message whether they expected to eat dinner with us or not. I decided to play that one by ear. Early on the day of the party, Carolyn Carroll called to say she thought she might have pneumonia, and begged off. Robert and I ran around calling other pals with late invitations. Roy thought he and Anne could make it, but he had to wait until she got back from a shopping trip.

Cocktails were at six and dinner at seven. When NOBODY had showed up by 7:15, I realized it was going to be up to ME to drink a gallon of rum punch all by myself. At 7:20, right after I'd dismantled my beautiful tablescape, John and Insun knocked on our door, ravenously hungry and bearing bottles of wine.

We had a great time, and actually, I was glad not to have other people there who would have diffused the conversation. We found out that John is a professor of metal casting at a college on Long Island. He and Insun had both worked at Tallix, Beacon's world-famous art foundry, which closed its doors about a year ago. Insun is a Korean-born metal sculptor and metal-finishing expert. They explained that they had just opened a small foundry in Beacon and were in desperate need of a bookkeeper, a general office manager, and just about every other kind of employee you can imagine. I told Insun about my visit to Tallix with my brother and sister-in-law, shortly after we moved to Beacon. I had seen the women calmly scratching away at wax models, and I'd wondered then if I would enjoy doing that.

She said, "Come on!" So for about a week now I have worked at the foundry, trying it on for size. I have purchased books about how to be a bookkeeper. Those of you who know about my math skills are probably reading this with bulging eyeballs at this point. (Yeah, I don't know what 7 times 7 is. Yeah, I transpose numbers all the time and can't write a phone number down correctly to save my life. Yeah, if you show me the number five and ask me what it is, I'll tell you it's four. So what?) I'm looking at various small-business payroll software programs. I am doing this even though John and Insun will not be ready for me to even look at that stuff for about another week. In the meantime, I've been trying my hand at wax reworking.

Reworking is part of the process of making bronze statues. The artists usually make their originals out of clay or wax (or wood, or recycled popsicle sticks) and have a rubber mold made of it. If the sculpture is very complicated or very large, there will be several molds. The molds come to the foundry where a copy of the piece is made out of a brittle red wax. It is the reworker's job to reassemble the original work out of wax. All of the joins have to be smoothed away, and any distortion corrected. This is done with tools that have been heated over a torch. The reworker has to be able to gauge the temperature of the wax and choose the right tool (from a chisel or a saw down to a dental pick) to recreate the artist's intent and the original texture of the area that has to be repaired.

When the reworking is completed, the artists come in to check the reproduction and make sure it is exactly what they want, making marks where they want the reworkers to change things. Then, when it is ABSOLUTELY PERFECT, the reworkers cut the whole thing up again with saws! They have to do this because there are limits on the amount of hot bronze can be poured at one time. There are about forty other steps that have to be taken to make a ceramic mold of the wax copy, with supports and channels (called gating) for the molten bronze to flow through, before the metal is poured into the mold. When the bronze castings are made the metal finishers, like Insun, do to the metal the same thing the reworkers did with the wax, except they do it with grinders and welding torches.

It is ungodly expensive to cast a statue--it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars--but if you saw all these steps in the process, you would understand why. Both Insun and John are very well known in the artistic community and are up to their ears in work offers. But the foundry has only been operational since November, and it's very much still in the start-up stage. There are painful gaps between the time a mold comes in and the finished project goes out (and the payment comes in). Unfortunately, as artists who have been completely focused on the operational aspects of this new business, John and Insun are at sea about things like what documents have to be handed over to the accountant. I am at sea about all these things also, but I have been advised that my IQ is above-average. I OUGHT to be able to figure out numbers and IRS forms--don't you think? I grew up in a family of artists who are terrible business people. I should be able to handle this rollercoaster better than other people, don't you think?

In the meantime, I've been doing wax reworking. I have been working on a set of plaques by a New York artist who has a thing for octopi and gigantic penises (give me a break--who doesn't?). I have been working on cute little robots by the artist Tom Otterness. I have been making little softball-playing girls by some famous artist whose name I've forgotten but if you saw her stuff, you'd recognize it, and a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary. I have been doing the rework (and enjoying it!--it is the most zen job I've ever had) but I assumed I was just marking time while the Mafuccis get ready for me to do the office job. But Insun told me I am really talented as a sculptor--much better than most people--and she is thrilled with the quality of my work! This is stunning to me.

So the question is, what should I do? I constantly make lists of pros and cons in my head. The cons are: The longer I am away from a law-related job, the harder it will be to get one again, and law jobs pay better. Art money stinks like rotten potatoes. With this particular job, there is a great possibility of unpaid paydays occurring from time to time, at least for a while. The hours are long--7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., plus all the weekend hours I can handle. On the other hand, these are the same hours Robert spends at his job, plus his commute. My commute is a whopping 1.8 miles each way; I could easily walk it in the summer.

Other cons are that this is a DANGEROUS place to work. Fire and horrible burns are a constant threat. Wax smoke is lethal (Did you know that? Even candle wax), as is about every other fume caused by, and chemical used during, the foundry process. The ex-Tallix workers tell the most hair-raising stories. "Remember when that guy knocked over his wax pot and the whole floor was on fire, and everybody jumped on top of their tables, screaming?" "Remember when that guy accidentally poured molten bronze into his boot and burned all his toes off?" And then they laugh!

The pros are that it is a privilege to be a part of someone's grand artistic vision, making something that may inspire thousands if not millions of people and last hundreds of years. (Of course, during the Civil War they had to melt down all the monuments to make cannonballs, but really, in ten months, how many more wars can Our Exalted Ruler start?) It is also interesting to use a process that has been used since the Egyptians, and inspiring to work with such talented people. In addition, it's nice to know that I'm actually GOOD at doing something that's challenging and FUN!

Damn!!! It's a real dilemma!

So that's the deal. That's where I am. I'll post some pictures I took this weekend. I'll show you where I work and some pictures of John and Cornelio and Doug pouring a cast. I'll show you some of the sculptures (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a madonna that will end up in a church in Colorado) AND MAYBE YOU CAN TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!!!! ARGH!!!!

Other than that, Robert and I are groovy. I am hoping I'll be able to make a trip to Michigan again soon, to see my mother. I miss her so much, and it is so frustrating for me not to be able to just pick up the phone and talk to her. I am hoping our friends Colleen and Brian will make a visit this winter and that they will be able to bring me more boxes of papers from Mom's house to sort through, and also a gigantic dollhouse that my folks made. God knows where I'll put it. (But truly, God does know these things, so I'm not going to worry about it.)

We're going to see Robert's mom and sister this next weekend. I miss them! I am looking forward to it!

Be groovy!

F and R

Monday, January 14, 2008

Christmas and the New Year!

I keep writing about how overwhelmed I have been, going through boxes of documents and photographs at my Mom's house. (I hear you mutter, "She's such a crybaby!") Maybe these photos will give you some idea what I'm talking about. I had the brainstorm of taking pictures only after I'd been working on them for about two weeks, so there were MANY more than this to begin with, and stacks and stacks more boxes in the studio and in Mom's office. The top box in the middle picture was mysteriously labeled BOB FLECK'S PANTS.

January 14, 2008

I have had a hard time writing lately. I still haven't started my annual letter yet--this past year has exhausted me to the extent I get tired thinking about even THINKING about writing about it. I also just finished sending out a Christmas letter for my Mom (She dictated, I took notes, Robert transcribed, I copied, addressed, stuffed, stamped and mailed) to all of her friends, and maybe that's why I feel like I've already done the Christmas letter job.

Robert and I drove to Michigan for the holiday. We didn't stay at Hoggwilde, but rather in a hotel whose parking lot abuts the lot of TenderCare. I was able to trot over there every morning and every evening, and that was good. I spent the rest of the time at the family home, sorting through more boxes. (I'm posting pictures of SOME of these boxes, lest you think I'm exaggerating.) Before I left Michigan on the last trip I had set up Mom's Christmas tree and got her house decorated. On the Sunday before Christmas the whole family gathered there. Chris and Tim brought Mom from the facility, hauled her up the stairs in her wheelchair and plunked her down in front of her tree. The night before she had tearfully told me she didn't know if she should go back to the house, because it might make her feel too sad. In the end she surprised herself and had a wonderful, happy day.

Robert and I had a good time at the McNeilly family Christmas Eve food-and-drink-fest, and then went to the service at Saint Katherine's in the evening. We also met up a bunch of Williamston High school chums at a local restaurant, and I had lunch with my pal, Marisue. I also had a short visit with Jenny (Smith) Walker, who was visiting from Atlanta. It was good to see so many old friends and great to have my whole family together.

For the last few years Robert and I have celebrated Christmas with his mother and sister in early January, so we saved our gifts for one another to open then. This time Cindy asked if we could put off the celebration until February. We said, "Sure." Cindy lost her husband recently and is having an understandably tough time. So we weren't too surprised when she called again to ask if we could put off Christmas until next year. The truth is that Muffy often doesn't know what day it is (though she has lots of lucid moments) and she probably won't miss it. So Robert and I finally opened our presents to one another on Friday. I gave Robert thrilling and exciting gifts! New hangers and moth blocks for his closet! A Belgian waffle iron, and a promise to actually make him waffles! He gave me jewelry (I must grow additional fingers and earlobes, immediately!) and a magical mystery tour.

We try to take turns surprising one another with little mystery vacations. Robert does a much better job than I do of keeping them secret all the way to the end. On Saturday morning (after Belgian waffles!) he bustled me on the train to the city, where we checked in to a nice mid-town hotel. He told me we were going to see a play. I can't tell you how many times over the past seven years Robert has asked me which plays I've seen on Broadway, and I've told him I've never seen one. Then he says, "WHAT? YOU'VE NEVER SEEN A BROADWAY PLAY?" and I say, "Nope. I've never seen one." Then he says, "We'll have to do something about that." Then we have this same exact conversation a few months later, and he swears I never told him that before.

So I was surprised to find myself actually standing in front of the Lyceum Theater. It is an ornate, Victorian building, built in 1900. It was an especially fitting place to see "Is He Dead?", a farce written by Mark Twain about an artist in bankruptcy who fakes his own death to make his paintings worth more money. It was written right after Twain himself emerged from bankruptcy, but the production deal fell through. The play was never produced until somebody found it in a dusty archive in 2002 and staged this performance. The show was full of awful puns and lots of silliness, and it was fun to watch it in a theater where the author/playwright himself had attended plays.

We went to the matinee performance because Robert had other plans for us in the evening. After the show we had dinner at a fancy fish restaurant. It was so fancy, in fact, they had a special attendant whose only job was to open the bathroom door for patrons. We ate grilled sea bass and a seafood appetizer that was just delicious, and for dessert, lavender and honey ice cream. We went back to our hotel to rest our already blistered feet before walking through Times Square (or perhaps I should say, before being jostled through Times Square). There were shoulder-to-shoulder people there, admiring all the lights and giant television screens. Robert hates the crowds, but I thought it was fun and exciting.

We ended up at our destination--another new experience for me-- an actual night club. We did the thing where one stands in line and a beefy-looking character decides whether or not one is cool enough to be admitted. The guy demanded IDs and I told him I didn't have one. He just smiled as I tried to convince him I’m over 21.

Apparently he felt sorry for us, because he let us in. We had gotten there half an hour early in order to get a good seat and relax before the show, but ended up having to stand around for an hour and fifteen minutes in a bar so jam-packed with people, and so hot and so noisy, it was practically painful. But when we finally got into the venue and found some (pretty terrible) seats, we chilled out. We saw an old-fashioned burlesque show, complete with a raunchy band, torch singers, belly-dancers, jugglers, magicians, a stripper and a sword swallower. Then we stumbled to our hotel for a sleep and a leisurely morning in our nice hotel before taking the train back to Beacon on Sunday.

But this was not even the greatest of my Christmas booty! I sit here typing this at my new, fancy desk! Prior to this past weekend, my work space consisted of an unfinished interior door propped up by phone books on top of a metal filing cabinet at one end and a folding table on the other, with a drawer-less desk shoved under the middle to hold all the computer guts. Now I ask you, is that any place for a famous writer to work? Huh? Didn’t think so! Six years ago it was my temporary solution to an emergency situation, and it has never been satisfactory. For one thing, the typing surface was about four inches higher than it should be, and I didn’t get to look out my window when seated at my computer. So last weekend Robert directed me to clear everything out of there, and we spent a pleasant two days working on it together.

Mom had some golden oak filing cabinets at her house that I brought here. Robert built me a huge L-shaped desk top that I stained a dark mahogany color. I stained the wooden filing cabinets the same color, and used them for the base of the desk. It looks elegant and expensive, but the whole thing, including stain and varnish, only cost about fifty bucks. I was also able to finish some little tasks I had started but never completed, like hemming the curtains and putting up my fancy antique drapery hardware. It is so much easier to work and type now–I have no more excuses!

I must finish this letter now, and go out in the world to purchase four pounds of goat meat. Robert and I are throwing a dinner party for eight on Saturday–a continuation of our effort to meet more of our neighbors. I’m making a Jamaican meal, and I think I’ve finally located a grocery that sells the stuff I need. I have to get a move-on!

We hope your New Year is off to a good start!
F and R