Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Tale of the Gingerbread Man and His Wife

Once upon a time in a snowy village in the High country of Bergen, there lived a kindly gingerbread man and his wife. They had a lovely cottage which Ginger Man had built himself, hauling the wood from a bountiful land called Brooklyn. Ginger Lady had carefully planted flowers and decorated the house with Christmas garlands in anticipation of the festive season that would soon be upon them.

GingerMan greeting his neighbor, Santa

Christmas was wonderful, although not everyone could come.  The Ginger's son was imprisoned out West on the island fortress of the evil sorcerer Al of Catraz.  The clever son was able to escape by plying the guards with veal cutlet and sugar pie and plunging into the icy waters to swim to safety. The Ginger Lady's brother and his family were also in a perilous situation, held captive by the evil Princess Di R.Rhea in the land beyond the Tappan Zee. Luckily, the Princess got bored after 24 hours and released them, but it was too late to go over the river and through the woods to arrive on time.

Laughter rang out and echoed in the woods around the little house, as presents were opened. There were wonderful gifts like enchanted clocks that captured the woodland birds chirping every hour and homemade delicacies from the faraway lands of Brooklyn.  Miniature trees, computer marvels, scarves of wondrous colors, panini grills, shiny black cuff links, and an inspirational book about a rock 'n roll drug lord were met with happy smiles.  When the Ginger Lady declared "Let the games begin," the cards flew and raucous laughter ensued.

The two day celebration continued at the King and Queen's castle nearby. The food was sumptuous, more guests arrived from the forest hills and the windsor kingdom and more games were played.

By the third day, weary but happy guests returned to their homes and the Ginger Man and Lady settled into their house, snug and warm.  That's when strange things started happening.  At first, it was just small items disappearing from the house-- the window garland, the Christmas tree, the roof lights.

But then things got serious. A gash appeared in the roof, allowing snow to drift down into the house.  Santa was puzzled.

Ginger Man eyed Santa suspiciously, but said nothing. Later, he asked his wife if she noticed anything unusual about Santa--his growing size, for example.  "Not at all," replied Ginger Lady. "Don't tell me you're accusing Santa! Why, he's the Spirit of Christmas. That's crazy talk."  But things only got worse. During the night strange creatures were heard, hideous hyena-like laughter pierced the chill air. And the next day more destruction rained down on the poor Ginger family.

Finally Ginger Lady took a long and dangerous journey to Westfield, where she bartered for a special device from the Wizard of Electronics.  She returned home and with Ginger Man set up the webcam.  That night the noises were ferocious, but the camera found the true culprit:

It was none other than the insatiable Laughing Dog aka Buffy the Sugar Slayer! That explained the hideous laughter they'd heard during the previous nights. Although their house was ruined, the Ginger Man and Lady knew they would be safe now because the entire demon pack of laughing dogs was spotted rolling out of the woods, off to another neighborhood in search of sweets. 

The Gingers prepared to salvage the remains and start anew. 

They were not worried because not only were they quite skilled and handy, but the Spirit of Christmas had grown so large in their hearts that they knew they could do anything,

The End.

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Year's resolutions

My good friend Rita suggested that New Year's resolutions are passe. Instead, she suggested, you should pick a theme for the upcoming year, such as "Reaching out to old friends" or "Taking care of yourself". 

I like that idea and I'm thinking about possible themes. Mine are more like Travelling to all 50 states or Reading a book a day. My brother Peter, always a trend setter, started a theme in 2010 with picking the top 500 songs of his life. A more cynical person might choose a theme like "Weeding out old friends who never call" or "Top Grudges to maintain".

Wrapping up 2010 I did reexamine my resolutions, one of which was to "do a quad."  No, I haven't taken up competitive figure skating. The inspiration came last December when I went to the 16 plex theatre and saw the feel bad movie of the year-Precious- followed by the feel good movie--Blind Side.  I enjoyed both movies, but the real fun was simply walking from one screening room to the next on the same ticket.  I could have easily added a third movie, and considered  Twilight, the vampire movie, but opted for dinner instead.

The challenge materialized before me, as I rode home from the mall--one day, preferably Tuesday Movie Day, one ticket, four movies.  It had to be 4 because 3 seemed so easy to do and with an average length of 2 hours, 4 movies would add up to a perfect 8 hour work day.

As with most resolutions, I can't believe it is now the last week of December and I have yet to accomplish the quad. I've got the tactical plan:

FOOD--Make my one appearance at the snack bar and carefully choose from the menu-- a drink is probably best.  Too many appearances in the main snack bar area which is right next to the ticketing may raise suspicion even among the most jaded teenage employee. 

Jaded teenage employee:
Lady, I'm not counting, but isn't this your fourth bag of popcorn?
No, no, that was my twin sister the other times.

I'm also considering packing a large handbag with granola bars, pb&j, fruit and a bottle of water.

TIME:  Start with the first show of the day, usually 11 a.m. and mission accomplished by 8pm. Must study the movie start times and running times to produce optimal viewing schedule. Try to avoid theatres 1 and 2 which necessitates crossing the lobby, where jaded teenagers work. Best to stick to the long corridor for screens 3-16.

CLOTHING: Dress in  nondescript, drab color clothes to blend with the crowd. Mission Impossible theme playing in my bedroom as I suit up would be a nice touch. Consider all in black with optional ski mask, but that just might defeat the purpose.

MOVIES:This is actually the toughest piece of the puzzle.  Are there 4 movies out at one time that you actually want to sit through?  This is the ideal week, as holidays bring a raft of new movies and best chance for a pleasant, satisfying "work" day.  But all this 3-D stuff. When do they give you the glasses? What if you sneak in without them and are forced to watch an entire movie with blurry images?

WEATHER: this snowstorm was an unexpected development, but I'm confident that all will be back to normal tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I know, I know.. you just heard from me yesterday, but this is a short one.

Tuesday night was the lunar light spectacular, which I rose at 2:45 am to witness. After all, although lunar eclipses are common, (there will be two next year) the fine print reveals that they wont be visible from the US or they're only partial eclipses.  And this one was a triple zinger: total lunar eclipse, full moon, winter solstice. Wow. It was going to be awesome.

I bundled up in fleece pants and top, down jacket, gloves and hat and slipped out to the back deck. The moon was very high in the sky, but still didn't clear the treetops surrounding the house.  Binoculars gave a better view, but, like Santa on the firetruck, pictures were sub-optimal. Apparently more than a Canon Power shot is required, since my photo revealed the moon as the size of a pinhead among ghostly branches.

Full moon over NJ 3 AM 12/21/10

I missed the pac-man like chomping of the moon which started around 1:30 a.m., as the shadow of the earth took progressively bigger bites of the moon. But, I did get a view through the binocs of the pink-orange hued moon, reflecting the indirect sunlight still being filtered through the earth's atmosphere and causing the moonglow. Where was Koki, our Costa Rican birdwatching guide, when I needed him to line up his telescope for a better view?

I loved the feeling of creeping around the house at 3 a.m., although tripping on a sprinkler head nearly sent me sprawling on the driveway. Back into the house with freezing fingers, I dozed back to sleep in Eric's old room, which had a pretty good view out the window.

As NASA described it: "the moon's holiday gift to us"


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Lights

Santa drove by our house on Sunday night on top of the town's fire engine, waving and giving candy to children. I went out on our steps, alone, (cue the music:  "I'll be home for Christmas"), plugged in our Christmas lights and waved back.
Santa in the burbs--it might as well be Grovers Corners!

Christmas lights give you that warm inner glow, too.  I remember as a kid driving home on Christmas night, a long circuitous route from our cousins', who only lived down the hill from us. We detoured down all the side streets to see the lights, though none could compare to our own house.

My father was very proud of our decorations-- a giant candy cane suspended from the porch ceiling was flanked by three foot high candles on the railings. Dad had fashioned the candy cane out of flexible steel tubing, covered it in white plastic and painted on the red stripes. The candles, too, were a product of his cellar workshop. We had an illuminated creche scene hanging just above the candy cane and a white star in the attic window. My mother's contribution was white plastic candles and red wreaths in each window. The wreaths were ancient and shed a dusting of red fibers on the windowsills. 

We used to have a life sized cutout of Santa that stood on the porch next to the mailbox, but it blew over one windy year and was never the same. Sadly, he was replaced with a lit plastic K-Mart Santa who was a pygmy in comparison--maybe 3 feet tall. We were so disappointed with Midget Santa that my father strapped him to a high backed stool and then covered the bottom of the stool with a red vinyl skirt and that helped a little. Ah, memories...

Well, I dug through some photos and found this picture of our house.
Don't be confused by the two figures in red: the one on the left is Midget Santa and the one on the right is my little brother circa 1965.(And, yes, that's Buffy's brown house in the background!)  You may be as surprised as I am that Midget Santa has escaped from his high, red-skirted stool by the door and advanced to the coveted middle pillar with the vanquished candy cane nowhere in sight. 

Here's another view, so you can see my Mom's wreaths and candles.
Careful observers will note the smug look on Midget Santa's face and that he appears to be anchored by a triangular rope contraption, one of my father's specialties. And whither the candy cane?

It's a Christmas mystery.

One final note: We'd need a wider view to see the creche and the star above the porch, but it all seems pretty modest compared to today's light extravaganzas. If we were the best in the neighborhood, what did everyone else do?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

DIY - Part Deux

We had such a productive home improvement weekend that Gary requested a retraction of the previous post. No way. Apparently humorous musings on the state of our home, accompanied by embarrassing photos, motivates better than nagging ever could.

I did promise him an update and you will be amazed! Sidewalk lights were all checked and tightened and now 2 out of the 8 work.  The compactor rests in the Recycling Center Yard with other forlorn hulks of rusty water heaters and abandoned appliances. We are awaiting new cabinet delivery any day now. The skylight has been winterized in a unique and slightly pathetic way and even though it looks like a white blob creeping through the glass, the family room temperature is now only a few degrees colder than the rest of the house. My handyman cousin down the shore has been dispatched to rework the toilet.

Bonus round: Gary hooked up the CD player (I know, we're old school) to the sound system, so I can play my Christmas music.  Finally, on Eric's prodding, we secured a common nut (cost 5 cents) from the hardware store and replaced the missing wheel on the handtruck. It only took 20 years.

Collateral damage for all these projects was minimal: one cut finger, one sprained wrist and one irritated eye from the insulation dust.

And yes, our most successful project:

You hardly even notice that the angel's head is practically riveted to the ceiling and you can't even see the scrape marks!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

DIY for the non-DIYer

What ever possessed me to think I could consider myself a DIYer? Just because I'm home, have projects crying out for attention and live near a Home Depot is no reason to jump-- no, leap-- to the conclusion that DIY (do it yourself) is easy, fun and part of our patriotic duty as good citizens.

Too late for excuses now. I'm currently looking at four unfinished (some might say unstarted) DIY projects.  

Outside I have a new, neatly lined up row of attractive, burnished copper LED landscape lights. Flip the switch and not one of them lights up.

In the kitchen, where I used to have a GE trash compactor, there is a gaping hole, with the round white bin from the old compactor, sitting forlornly in the wide space. To compact, we now use the old fashioned method: insert one foot into can and stomp down. The old compactor rests on a hand truck in the middle of the garage between our two parked cars.

It's not that hard maneuvering around it, even though one of the handtruck's wheels has fallen off. An unintentional brush against the handtruck and the compactor sways uncertainly, tipping downward and threatening to lurch forward into one of the cars. It's unfortunate that the DPW does not pick up trash compactors at the curb, but it should be an easy matter to roll the compactor up a ramp into the car and drive it to the recycling center. I believe it's on the list of acceptable appliances, but, if not, there is always the cover of darkness to help with a dump and run trip.

One thing we’ll have to remember is to brace the compactor/hand truck once it’s in the trunk. I seem to remember a similar escapade where a lawn mower crashed through the rear window of a Volvo station wagon when someone was driving it uphill to the repair shop. 

In the family room sits the unstarted project--insulating the skylight.  On the floor in the corner is an unopened  box labeled Window Insulation Kit-- clear vinyl and double-sided tape which is to be applied when the temperature is over 50 degrees. Hmm, it may warm up again? Next to it is a roll of insulation which someone from California thought could be neatly tucked in behind the skylight's shade with no fuss or bother. "Hey, Mama, no problem."

Finally, in my mother's house, the pieces of  a new kit replacing the inner workings of the toilet are arranged artistically on the bedspread. The shiny black plastic assemblage and  instruction sheet in four languages snuggles into the folds of the pink gingham checked comforter, a modern day still life. Sorry, no picture! The toilet is unused, with the water turned off. (at least I hope it's still turned off....)

I feel quite enriched from these undertakings. Life, after all,  is not just book learning. So far I have learned that:
  1. Tools are very important.  Attempting to reach a 12 foot high skylight with a short, unsteady ladder can be hazardous to your health. Also, the two arms of a wrench should be tightly secured by the bolt that joins them and should not wiggle back and forth in your hand.
  2. Some knowledge and skill in using said tools is required, despite assurances from the man at the local hardware store, who insists it is easy to do, even while he watches you drop your keys, fumble with the latch on your handbag, spill change out of your wallet and finally dig out the money to pay him. "Yes, it's easy to do," he lies.
  3. The general public refers to that big orange store as the Home Depot, but we insiders, who visit at least three times a week, know it is really store #904. 
  4. You never actually save money doing it yourself and you may end up not speaking to your husband, at least temporarily.
  5. The phone number of a reliable handy man is essential.
This weekend we are attempting yet one more project, but one I think we’ll accomplish. It may seem minor to some, but at least we’ll experience the thrill and pride of actually doing it all by ourselves.  The task: buying and putting up the Christmas tree – a real one!  Yeah, we can do that.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Don't you just love made-up words? Usually they reflect our new technological society- blogosphere, technocrat, yuppies, IM, texting, sexting...  Scanxiety is a combo of scan and anxiety and, as every metastatic breast cancer patient knows, scans, which are usually repeated every three months, are definitely anxiety- inducing exercises.

No matter how much you tell yourself that it's just another test, it's amazing how the anxiety builds up. I couldn't sleep Sunday night, awaiting my first PET scan (alas, nothing to do with Homer or pets). I had been doing CATscans (again, nothing to do with pets, but somehow this strikes me now as sinister) and Nuclear Bone scans.   The advantage of the PET was greater sensitivity, measuring metabolic activity, instead of tumor images.You were injected with radioactive glucose, waited quietly for 45 minutes while it spread throughout your body and then were slowly scanned over the course of an hour from your "kneecaps to your eyeballs"(as the tech explained it).

I had heard from a friend that too much activity prior to the scan would cause the PET to light up, giving a false positive. For example, she knew someone who spent her 45 minute quiet time writing Christmas cards and her arm lit up like a Christmas tree on the scan.

My PET scan tech scoffed at this story but I was determined to minimize my movement, just in case. I settled into the chair and carefully used my pinky finger to turn the pages of my book from the bottom, very slowly. What if i got an itch, was annoyed by a pesky fly or had to blow my nose? My stomach rumbled, crying out for food and I wondered how movements along the digestive tract registered?  What if I started burbing or got the hiccups? The anxiety meter ticked up a few notches. My eye did start to itch and I had to scratch it- once, twice, three times. Man, I could already see me written up in the medical journals, the only bc patient with weird metastases to the right eyeball.

The scan itself was uneventful, but I didn't drift off to sleep. The pallet seemed a bit narrow and as I was progressively moved into the tube, I had to first hold my arms out like I was flapping them like chicken wings and then put them all the way over my head. The tube ceiling was a pleasant six inches above my head, unlike the Nuclear bone scan which involves a flat panel descending to within an inch of your face. I always used to watch that panel as it slowly dropped, feeling like the character in a Stephen King story who was completely paralyzed but alive, lying on an autopsy table, unable to scream as the pathologist's scalpel descended.  At least I would be able to scream if the machine didn't stop. After that moment of sheer terror, I would close my eyes. You had to or you'd go cross-eyed and claustrophobic.  Compared to the bone scan, this PETscan was a piece of cake.

When the test was over, the smiling tech sent me off with these parting words: "Don't go near children or pregnant women for the rest of today and drink lots of water to wash out the isotope."  Suddenly, I was Homer Simpson leaving the nuclear power plant with a glowing green rod stuck in my back pocket. Did anyone worry about the net effect of all this radiation?!  Yes, Virginia, your cancer is under control, but you seem to be developing a third eye and I don't mean the yoga kind.

Now the real anxiety began--waiting for the results to determine if the cancer had spread (bad), was stable (good), decreased (very good) or NED (excellent!)

Ah, the elusive NED. When I first joined the cancer message boards, I was full of admiration for this guy NED. He really got around.
TexasCowGrrl: "Dancing with NED for the last 6 months and it's heavenly." 
PinkHotMama: "I've been dancing with NED for 3 months now and couldn't agree more."

Uh oh, was this going to turn into a nasty catfight? Who was this mystery man? He seemed like a bit of a cad--did he think he was as smooth as James Bond, as handsome as George Clooney, as fluid on his feet as Fred Astaire?

MarksGrandma: "Everyone deserves a whirl around the dance floor with NED."

What a guy! But where did MarksGrandpa weigh in on the NED issue? Did he approve?

I finally figured it out when GroovyChica posted:
"My dance with NED ended this week with my latest scan showing progression to the liver." 
Damn and it had all seemed so much fun.

A quick Google explained that NED is No Evidence of Disease, but you have to love that carefree image of women celebrating a break in the disease with a swirling, twirling, tangoing around the ballroom floor, their celebrity spin a la Dancing with the Stars.

I've not had the privilege yet of Dancing with NED. I'm still in the trenches--"wrestling the alligator."  This one was not so hard to figure out, except i was thrown off because the first post was from GatorGal.
GG: "Had a tough week, wrestling the alligator."
Hmm, maybe she really was an alligator wrestler?  You used to see those signs for authentic Seminole Indian alligator wrestlers at Alligator World somewhere in South Carolina, Georgia or Northern Fla, if you ever took the long Spring Break drive to Fla. But, no, according to the posts, there seemed to be alligator wrestlers all over the country and I didn't think there was a sudden explosion of carny freak shows with the alligator wrestlers next to the bearded lady and the sword swallower.

Yesterday ended well for me: anxiety dispelled, cancer under control, me right in there with the other alligator wrestlers. A sad note: Elizabeth Edwards is at the end of her struggle--not quite 4 years.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The truth about dogs

Just for shock value I posted this picture as my new profile shot on FB. Most of you know I am not a "dog" person.

No time now for pussyfooting (ouch) around, it's time to talk turkey (double ouch) on the truth about dogs.

I was raised in a non-dog, non-pet household, unless you count my brother's mini turtles from Woolworth's that lived about a month before they got moldy with white gunk and died.  Our next door neighbors had a mutt named "Buffy", a small, golden colored dog with a large, high pitched bark.

On nice days, they would attach Buffy's leash to the clothesline (no clothes), giving him the run of the yard. For you youngsters out there, a clothesline was a piece of rope threaded through a pulley and forming an elongated, circulating system where you could reel in your shirts and sheets when the sun and wind had dried them.(somewhat embarrassing to display your undies for the whole neighborhood to see.) Since we had no fences between yards, the system worked equally well for a pooch, confining the area of his travel to a rectangular patch, slightly larger than the clothesline itself.

credit: thesocietypages.org

Every night when my father Charlie drove into our driveway, Buffy pricked up his ears, ran full tilt to the edge of our property,strained at his leash and barked incessantly as my father got out of the car.  My father would yell at him and shake his fist before entering our house and slamming the kitchen door. Same ritual every night.

At supper my father would regale us with tales of how he would get even with Buffy.  My favorite was his suggestion to mine the property line, so that one unfortunate day, Buffy would lean just a little too hard against the leather leash and put one paw on our side.  Bye-bye, Buffy---flying into the air like a Road Runner-Wiley Coyote cartoon.  I imagined that the next day, like Wiley, Buffy would return with blackened fur and a bandaged head, pushing a little cannon or lighting dynamite sticks to hurl our way. The Charlie-Buffy Wars had just begun.

So, how did I get from there to a picture with a cute black fluffball dog on my lap?  Homer (hmm, another cartoon character) belongs to my brother's family and was a Thanksgiving guest at our house.  He's a little excitable, but they say a dog mirrors his owners, although I never saw my brother jump up and down and leap furniture in a single bound when company arrived.

Homer began as a tiny, timid puffball. He's bigger now and much feistier, but still lightweight-- you can feel his bones through the layer of twisted, fuzzy fur and unlike many dogs, he doesn't have that alarming heft and substance when he jumps up on you.  He's not a crotch sniffer, which automatically moves him up several spots on my list of favorite animals. (yes, it's a short list). Once he's calmed down, he's good company and likes to have his tummy scratched.

The funniest moment was when his "mom", my sister-in-law, went outside without him. Like an abandoned toddler, he raced from one window to another, up on his hind legs, head moving from side to side searching for her. When he thought he heard a noise, he returned to the doorway where she'd disappeared and began a mournful yelp. Nothing comforted him. Such joy when she re-emerged! Celebration and crazy jumping.

How many people get that reaction from their family or friends--every day, every time?  It's downright heart warming.

Now here's the dark side.  Homer doesn't like everyone.  Some people are labeled Charlies in his mind and his barking and snapping can be as ferocious as Buffy's was years ago.  Wearing a hat puts you on Homer's enemy list, as does wearing fake fur trimmed coats or being a boy aged 9-12.  Was he harrassed by boys in a former life, or even in this one?  That's one for the doggie psychologist or the dog whisperer. In the meantime, sorry Dad, but I've become a Homer fan and the Buffy vs Charlie family tradition is dying on my watch.  Maybe, like baldness, the gene will be passed to the next generation to resume the feud.