Archive for the ‘Shelf Life’ Category

Aptly Named

At what time of day do you feel the most energetic and productive?

Oh, dear.  People are going to hate me for this.  My only excuse is, I was born at 6:30 in the morning, and have never gotten over the impression that 6:30 – or 5:30, or sometimes even 4:30 – is the right and proper time to get things done.

Which is to say, no matter how groggy I am when I get out of bed, by the time I have completed all the necessaria of daybreak, I am up and at ’em and rarin’ to go!  Just ask my poor, long-suffering husband.  He is by no means a night owl, but when he gets up, he stumbles out to the kitchen, puts on the kettle, and makes coffee basically on auto-pilot.  If I have wakened before him, and am full of whatever I found in my inbox or on Facebook, I will leap up to tell him and be met with “Shhhh” before I have uttered a word, by which I understand that he is not yet ready to face the day.

This can have its problems, however.  Back when we were a Normal couple – that is, before he was retired, when he had a place where he had to be by 8:00 a.m. – back then, he would be out the door by 6:30 or 7:00.  I would have been awake since 5:00 or so, and, fully breakfasted, would be ready to get into my own workday, putting on laundry and completing the basic housework chores before I set foot out the door.  Now that he is retired, I can’t get anything done before 9:00 a.m. – and by that time, my level of productive energy has already begun to decline.  By 11:00 a.m., it will be gone completely, and I will be good for nothing but needlework, reading, or fooling around on the computer.

I have schooled myself, over the years, to put some effort into producing a pretty darn good evening meal; but I am secretly greatly in sympathy with the way things are done in Europe (big surprise), where they eat their main meal in the middle of the day.  If I had my druthers, I’d get the meal prep done in the morning, eat around noon, and have the dishes out of my hair by 2:00 the latest.

So I have come to accept that I am wired differently from pretty much all of America.  As a young woman, before I was married, I was the world’s worst date – I’d be ready to go home by 10:00 p.m., and heaven help you if you found me still awake at 11:00.  Then I met a guy whose last name was Lark.  There actually are other reasons I married him.  But if I had thought about it, I would have seen the handwriting on the wall the moment I heard his name.

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Well, so much for daily blogging.  It’s been wild around here, and I’m not even talking about Christmas activities – but it’s been wild in a good way.

I thought I’d combine two blog posts in one, by combining two themes from the NaBloPoMo prompts:  “If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?” which is tomorrow’s, and “Do you enjoy your current job (or your last job)?” (today’s prompt).

When I was working, I was most enjoyably employed as a secretary.  Being a secretary has a bad reputation nowadays, being seen as a scutwork job for the nearly brainless; in reality, it was the gateway to a wide variety of fields.  Working solely as a secretary, I worked in textiles, publishing, education, law – and law enforcement – and advertising, this last as a secretary in one of the top three advertising agencies on Madison Avenue.

My last job in this field was as a secretary for my parish church, and that was the most fun of all, because the office had been neglected for so long that it was in complete disarray, and I got to construct it from the ground up, creating the filing system, a tracking system for parishioners’ contributions, a parishioner database, the Rolodex for the parish, and a means of tracking parish vendors, as well as keeping track of work done to the physical plant – this way, it was easier for  the Parish Council to see when a contractor had last shown his face in the door, and to follow up on jobs in progress.  I actually was not finished setting up this last vendor system when I was replaced with someone younger and – I can only assume – more ethnically desirable, since I was not of the same ethnicity as the rest of the parish.  That still hurts, though not as much as it did at the time (see beginning posts from January 2010).

So.  If I could have any job in the world?  It would be my old job, or something similar.  The problem is, I’m now of official retirement age, the point at which your shelf life in any field has basically expired, and you’re expected to go out to pasture and vegetate, until the point where the goal of your life becomes providing an income for the health-care industry.  No, thank you.

Since this line of work is now closed to me for good, I’ve made the adjustment – somewhat – to the idea that hey, I’ve worked hard all my life and earned my retirement, and I’m going to get what I can out of it.  An education in art, something I’ve always wanted to understand.  Expanding my knowledge of music, my chief recreation in life.  Most of all, I’m going to focus on the things that matter most:  spiritual warfare, reconciling the demands of this age, and of old age, with the requirements of eternal life; becoming, as best I can, more conformed to the life of Christ, without losing one iota of the snarkiness that is the hallmark of any good New Yorker.  I figure, if God put me in New York at the beginning of my life, He must have meant it to shape my personality.  Now I just need to develop it into a tool for introducing people to the novel notion that Christians aren’t necessarily pious wusses.


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Are there any candies that you just can’t stomach?”

Pretty much all of them, actually.  Nobody realizes this when they’re young, but when older people talk about not being able to eat certain foods, there’s a reason for that:  Those foods cause, shall we say, “digestive unpleasantness.”  There are so many varieties of Digestive Unpleasantness that it doesn’t pay to go into details, and in any case, who on earth wants to hear about that?!  I don’t, and I live with it.

I have to be careful with candy.  One ounce of dark chocolate a day – the current recommendation of the chocolate lobby health community – is playing with fire for me.  I can have things with chocolate chips in them, as long as it isn’t an Eastern Orthodox fasting period like the seven weeks before Pascha/Easter, or the six weeks before Nativity/Christmas, since most chocolate chips are made from milk chocolate.  White chocolate, about which I rhapsodized a couple of posts ago, is a thing of the past.   😦

Hence the title of today’s post.  Friends who read my blog will remember the medical horrors  I went through about six years ago.  It has since been brought to my attention that I had what is known as a “close call” – I guess I really did come that close to dying – and since that unforgettable time, the expression “Eat dessert first” has come to my attention.

It’s meant to be a witty way of getting people to realize that there’s more to life than obsessing over one’s Perfectly Fit Condition, and any Orthodox priest worth his salt will tell you that it doesn’t matter how careful you are with your health – eventually you die, so you should devote considerably more attention to your spiritual health than to your physical health.  Whatever form that takes for you is a matter of personal circumstance, but to obsess over health is pointless; I was in pretty good shape when I went for a routine hysterectomy that turned out to be anything but routine.

And, as happens with most people who have had a close call, I changed some of my priorities.  I spend more time keeping in touch with family and friends, especially family.  (As I once told an investigator when I was applying for a job in federal law enforcement, “Polaks don’t have friends.  We have Relatives.”  He was Polish himself, so he burst out laughing.)  I spend much more time on my hobbies (reading and cross-stitching), and if my housework isn’t done by 10:00 a.m. – oh well.  It’ll still be there tomorrow.  I have a structure for spending an hour or so a day with God, and I make that a priority – it doesn’t always work out, but having that structure nags me to remember what’s really important here.

And while I don’t actually eat dessert first, I do eat dessert (carefully), something that, like too many American women, I used to avoid assiduously:  Gotta keep my Girlish Figure, y’know.  Let me tell you something:  Girlish Figures are vastly overrated.  Once you have children, you deserve a womanly figure.  You don’t have to get fat, but if your shape takes on a few more curves, you should wear them proudly; you came by them honestly.

And while you shouldn’t go overboard with sweets, I am deadly serious about this:  Do not avoid the sweet things in life.  If you’re invited to coffee, or afternoon tea, have the sweet things that go along with it.  Have Strawberries and Peaches and Cream for breakfast (if you combine it with rice and cottage cheese, you actually have a well-balanced meal.  If you use nonfat cottage cheese, you’ve mitigated the effects of the heavy cream.  It’s a great breakfast).  Eat dessert.

Because the day is coming when you wake up one day in your sixties and realize:  You can’t eat dessert anymore.  Sweet things don’t agree with you anymore.  But if you enjoyed them regularly in the past, you won’t feel regret; you’ll be grateful that you realized in time the importance of Eating Dessert First.

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Well.  It has been a long time since I last blogged.  In between has been mostly Church or family matters:  the celebration of Pascha (Easter), different church projects I was involved in, preparing for a visit to my favorite music school (my trip was cancelled at the last minute); our son began a new job as engineer on a railroad that takes him right through a neighboring town, so we’ve been spending a lot of time Waving at the Engineer, like a pair of “foamers” (railroad slang for extreme railfans).  And, as always, the daily round of housework, medical appointments (thankfully routine), and family visits.  Not a lot of time for blogging.

However, this month I have signed up for NaBloPoMo’s daily post.  Heaven alone knows if I will actually get to do it daily, but I have promised to make the attempt.  This post is a trial run focusing, at least partially, on their theme for August:  Sweetness.

One of the sweeter aspects of my life is cross stitch.  Not those wussy, cutesy little things, but fine-art cross stitch, the kind that takes up at least half a yard of fabric and involves covering every square inch of it with stitches.  Colors up the wazoo:  my current project has 120 colors, and I pared it down from 208.  In retrospect, I should have left it at 208, since paring it down does affect the detail.

But there is still plenty of detail, and the upshot is, I am actually learning about Art:  how artists perceive the interplay of colors, shapes, details as part of the overall picture – things that never struck me before.  The painting I am working on isn’t tranquil or inspiring, at least, not in the ordinary sense:  It’s a painting entitled Boyarina Morozova, by the Russian artist V. I. Surikov, and it depicts a moment in Russian history that was full of turmoil.  If you’re into the 6-6-6 thing, this event took place in 1666, which is suggestive.

A project like this takes pages – 48, in this instance.  48 pages of little tiny symbols that represent the different floss colors, and – thanks to whatever genius applied his computer-programming skills to needlework – come together in a reasonable facsimile of great art.  As I’m working on it, the same thing occurs over and over:  I work in a ten-by-ten grid of symbols, and as I’m working, I keep thinking, “What the heck am I looking at here?!  This can’t be right!”  I grab the printout of the painting and look at the area where I think I’m working:  Does it look anything like what I’ve just stitched?!  Then I look back at my work, and, given a little distance – yes, it does.  It really does.  What looked like an amorphous blob of color as I was working on it has transformed, with distance, into the face of an old man with a beard, a very lifelike face with contour and shadow.  How do artists do this?!  How do they see these contours and shadings?!  Me, I can’t even draw a straight line, and Surikov, and those like him, see an entire “snapshot” of history, thanks to an eye fine-tuned to color and its nuances.

This particular piece, as you will see if the photo ever finishes uploading – if not, you can look up Boyarina Morozova on Google – is tough to look at, tough to think about:  a noblewoman who has been tortured and starved, and is being dragged out of Moscow into exile (ultimately, she was starved to death) for bucking the powers-that-were at the time.  Why choose such a gruesome project?  Originally, I chose it because it’s a very famous painting in Russian culture, and I had hoped to donate it to the Russian Department of our local university.  I had visions of its making a Statement to those Classics weenies who share space with the Russian Department:  Enter at Your Own Risk.  I’m not sure that’s going to happen now; for some reason, the two professors who teach there aren’t talking to me anymore.

There is another reason:  As a Russian Orthodox Christian in a post-Christian era, I’m painfully aware of the persecution that Russian Christians endured during the Soviet era of Russia, and I hold my breath as, little by little, I see signs of the same thing occurring in the United States.  This painting reminds me that Faith comes with a high price tag.  This woman, Boyarina Morozova, paid it.  So did countless other Russians of the Soviet era.  I hope I can show the same courage when my turn comes.

So…what on earth is sweet about this topic?!  Admittedly, not much.  But I must say that I’m enjoying, enormously, my belated Art education.  Color, line, perspective.  Shading, detail.  After a lifetime of wondering how people actually see this stuff – I’m learning to see it, too.

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…is Change, as the Change Gurus keep reminding us.  You know who they are:  those folks who muck around with our lives, tweaking this and altering that and causing general uproar, all the while assuring us that what they are doing is Normal, because “the only constant in life is Change.”

I keep waiting for someone to state the obvious, that it’s because Change Is the Only Constant in Life that we should dial it back wherever possible.  Think about it:  One day you’re a baby, the next you’re off to school, and a scant twelve years later, you’re old enough to vote, hold a job, drive a car.  Then you get married, and the changes start flying at you:  your own kids, your aging parents, mergers-acquisitions-divestitures at work, your spouse’s altering body (to say nothing of your own), and the next thing you know, you have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

And those are just the unavoidable changes.  Then there are the changes you make so that your life runs more smoothly:  A new house, a new community, a different school, maybe a different career.  Some of us find God, others abandon Him.  Some of us change spouses like we change shoes.  (I’m not advocating that last one.)

And then along come the Change Gurus.  You go into work one morning thinking about all the projects you have to get done; you boot up, and say what?!  Everything’s different!  The IT Oafs have been at it again!  And just when you were getting used to the last changes!

Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7.  I-Pods, I-Phones, I-Pads, Kindle Readers, MP-3 Players.  Change is Good!  Why?  Because The Only Constant in Life is Change!

I was just thinking this morning that when I began my own career, I learned to type on a manual typewriter.  You really had to pound those keys, and a typing speed of 60 words per minute guaranteed you a good job.  Electric typewriters were just beginning to revolutionize the office scene, and a company that had a Xerox photocopier was progressive, indeed.  Then came the Selectric Typewriter, with the little ball that you could change for different typefaces — holy cow!  Then the electronic typewriter, then the word processor, and finally, the computer.  Who’d a-thunk that in thirty short years, we’d all be computer geeks?!

My stepgrandmother was born on a farm in Poland.  She never went to school, never learned to read or write.  When she came to this country, she hired out as a farm hand — in those days, New York City still had farms.  She lived to see a man walk on the moon, and a Polish Pope, whom she loved.  (No need to bring up which event was the more important to her!)

All of this came to a head for me when my husband ran into an old acquaintance at the supermarket.  They got to talking about one thing and another, and it developed that the acquaintance was in Human Resources (what a ghastly term) at Tufts University in Boston.  Talking about hiring people, he mentioned that age discrimination is a very real tactic in human-resource management; you don’t like to do it, but the simple fact is that people get to a point where they simply can’t absorb all the changes going on in the business world.  This really hit home with my husband, who retired two years ago:  It’s a shocking thing to realize that after forty or forty-five years of increasing productivity, of altering the person you were to fit in with the Change Gurus’ vision, you are suddenly unemployable because you’ve tapped out your Change Viability.  What’s left in life?!

I belong to a church that resists change for the sake of change.  This is not to say that changes don’t take place, only that there has to be a good reason for changing things up.  The joke goes, “How many Orthodox Christians does it take to change a light bulb?” and the answer is either, “Change?!” in a horrified tone of voice, or “Change?  What’s that?” in a tone of complete puzzlement.  This is known as Change-Guru Hell.

But it’s a perspective that I wish we could export to the modern world, the notion that Change isn’t always good, that you don’t fix what ain’t broke, that people aren’t just “resources” to be used up and thrown away, but of intrinsic value, whose rate of absorption needs to be respected until they can make a smooth transition to the place where they need to be, in order to advance spiritually.  That is a “change we can live with.”  More, that is a change we must accommodate, since it prepares us for the final and most critical change of all:  The change from temporal to eternal life.

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I have a relatively minor but important indulgence:  I eat lunch out almost every day.  It’s ironic that the importance of Lunch Out escalates during Orthodox fasting periods, when we’re supposed to be saving money for almsgiving, but there it is:  I find other places to cut back so I can give alms, but Lunch Out is critically important at such times, since my favorite cafe is the only place I can get a veggie burger on a bun.  I could cook a veggie burger at home, true.  But in this household of two, plain bread gets moldy in no time flat; I hate to think what would happen with burger buns, being consumed at the rate of one per day.

There is the added attraction of my “branch office.”  When I tell my husband I’m going to my “branch office,” he knows where to find me if he feels like joining me:  At Cafe on the Corner.  Before he retired, I used to be able to sit at the desk in the office in peace, paying my bills, writing in my journal, keeping my life on track.  Now that Himself is home all day, he spends a good chunk of it on line, doing heaven alone knows what, and I am desk-less.  At Cafe on the Corner, I can snag a large-ish table and spread out, day planner in one corner (I am one of those Paper dinosaurs), stacks of bills-to-be-paid and bills-to-be-mailed in another corner, and lunch in front of me; eventually, the empty dishes and the pile of bills will swap places.  I keep stamps and address labels in my planner, and my tote is large enough (and with pockets enough) that I can carry around a Paid stamp with me.  Being organized with “Office Tchotchkes” makes me feel Productive.  Once a secretary, always a secretary, I guess.

Recently my husband and I were discussing my odd little habit of Lunch Out, and I mentioned that when I was young and single, I had always eaten lunch out.  “Didn’t you ever pack a lunch?” he asked, surprised, and I had to think about it for a minute.  I knew that I had never packed a lunch; now, why?  Then it dawned on me.  “Sweetheart, anything I had brought into that house for lunch the next day would have disappeared overnight.  There were three hungry teenaged boys in that house, and they’d eat anything not nailed down.”

This is the difference between Only Children and Children with Four or More Siblings.  Only Children are accustomed to being able to put things in one place and being able to find them again several hours later.  Children with Four or More Siblings know that there is no such thing as A Safe Place.  The thought of leaving a cookie unattended “until we get back from a walk,” as my husband once did when we were visiting his parents, is enough to send someone like me into paroxysms of laughter.  So is the concept of Packing Lunch.

So, all these decades later, I find that I draw a blank when it comes to Making Lunch.  Sandwich meat between two slices of bread, OK.  Tuna mixed with mayo between two slices of bread, OK.  The ubiquitous peanut butter and jelly sandwich, OK (somewhat — I’m allergic to peanut butter, but I get the concept of it).  A can of soup, OK.  Every day for six weeks, not OK.  Throw in a fasting period, and I panic.  No meat, no dairy?!  WHAT?!?!  What do I do with this?!

Lunch Out as a mental-health concept, that’s what.  Me and my paperwork.  Me and a book.  Being Among other people without having to be With them.  And the possibility of a chance encounter, on a cold and dispiriting rainy afternoon, with the distinguished-looking retired federal agent who has shared my home for over forty years — Yes!  Geezer Trysts!  It’s all good.

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This post is in the nature of a letter my mother once received from a brother who stayed out of touch with the family for ten years.  He was in the Navy, so every once in so often my mother would get her sister (who worked for the American Legion) to track him down, and Mom would write to him — always with no response.  Finally, after ten years, she wrote, “This is the last letter I’m sending you,” and at long last, he responded:  “Nothing much is new since I last wrote.”

Back in May, I realized a couple of things:  (1) Nobody was responding to my posts, and (b) when they did, it seemed that I was annoying more people than I was edifying or gratifying or informing.  Besides, it isn’t as if I lead the most interesting life on the planet.  So I decided just to give up on the blogosphere.

Then I found a notification from National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo) to the effect that they were moving their blog site, and if I wanted to be able to access them I should sign up at the new site, and I decided — what the heck.  Even though “nothing much is new since I last wrote,” at least I’m writing again.

Now I have to figure out how to reactivate a lot of subscriptions to blogs that I let go during the Silence of the Muttonings.  Including NaBloPoMo.

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Which, I am reliably informed, is how Russians say, “Let’s get back to work.”  Interesting that in the USA, we say, “Back to the salt mines” — which were always a feature of Russian life.

“If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?  Bonus: What is the worst job you’ve ever had? What did you learn from it?” is today’s prompt.  For the record, I skipped the last two days because there’s only one computer in this house, and it had been Commandeered.

If I could have any job in the world, I’d want my old one back.  I was a secretary for a church, and I loved it — not necessarily because it was church-related, but because the office was in such disarray that I constructed all the procedures from scratch:  the filing system, the way mail was processed, the way mass mailings were organized, year-end procedures for closing out the prior year and setting up the systems for the new year — the whole ball of wax was mine, all mine.  Till the Parish Council decided it didn’t want to pay a secretary.  (Well, initially they did.  They constructed a fairy tale about my retiring so they could hire someone of a more acceptable ethnicity, and no I don’t mean race, who didn’t even want the job and had never been a secretary in her life.  Three months later, they decided they couldn’t afford her, either.)

The fun of that job was that it was the culmination of thirty years’ worth of secretarial experience; I was able to pull together everything I had ever learned on the job, and put it to good use in an environment that worked.  Maybe that’s what Greeks find scary, an environment that works.  When you consider the current state of the Greek economy, it explains a lot about the treatment I got.

As for the worst job I ever had, ironically, that was also as a secretary.  I worked for an accountant, and I lasted exactly three weeks.  I had Issues with being required to inch my way across an ice-covered parking lot (the only spots cleared out were for clients), and having to stand in front of the copier catching photocopies as they came out of the machine because the accountant was too cheap to get the sorter fixed.  And what I learned from that job was to ask around about firms that were looking for help; turned out most of the people I knew, knew this accountant’s reputation for being stingy, and I could have saved myself a lot of embarrassment if I’d asked first — it’s the only job I ever walked out on after only three weeks.  But there are some things that self-respect requires, know what I mean?!

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Today’s topic:  “How do you stay entertained when you are snowed in?”  To which I, living in New England, can only respond, “Oh, please.”

I personally have so much handwork that I practically pray for snow days — though, having survived one winter (I think it was ’08-’09, or it might have been the year before) when it began snowing in October and ended in late April, with snow every single day of the first two weeks of February, I temper my enthusiasm for snow with caution.  The fact remains that between cross stitch, knitting, crosswords, letter-writing, blogging, and the ever-present library of Books-to-Be-Read, indoor entertainment is not a problem in this household.

Other people are puzzle aficionados (yes, Italians, I know that’s grammatically incorrect, but I don’t know Italian plurals).  Still others begin planning their home renovations in October, put everything on hold for the holidays, and get back into it the second the Christmas tree is down.  There are people who put together entire photo albums over the winter, complete with hand-written notes about what was taking place in each photo.  You can make pretty good progress on a foreign language when the winds howl and hurl the snow against your windows.

Or you can begin, and finish, War and Peace.  Now there is a project.  But please don’t try to tell me that there’s nothing to do when you are snowed in.

And once it all stops, you still have to dig your way out.  Then you get to go skiing.

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It only recently occurred to me that it’s been one year now since my husband retired, an event I was not looking forward to.  I’m not the first woman who has at least thought, if not said, “I married him for better or for worse, but not for lunch” — although actually, at one point in our lives (when the kids were little), he did used to come home for lunch, and I enjoyed having a hot meal on the table for him.  That was a long time ago.

So here we are, a year later, and it hasn’t been as bad as I’d feared.  I truly was afraid that he would be one of those horrible men I see wandering the supermarket with their wives, badgering the poor woman about all her choices; I always want to say, “Hey, she managed the house just fine without you for 35 or 40 years, so buzz off, buzzard!!” and manage to restrain myself only with difficulty, which gets harder as you get older.

Fortunately, my husband has found many other things to occupy his time, mostly having to do with selling his father’s house.  He made two trips to NJ to clean the place out, in November and December, and we spent much of last winter sorting through the stuff he brought home, which wasn’t as bad as it could have been; he only brought home photo albums (still to be gone through) and tons of paper with confidential information on it because my in-laws never threw anything out.  Most of that went into the shredder (thank goodness for shredders).

In July he actually managed to unload the place, albeit at substantially under market value, mostly due to the fact that the in-laws hadn’t done a thing to the place since they bought it in 1973.  We debated updating it, and decided to put it on the market at a rock-bottom price (which was still about twice what they paid for it), and let the new owner do all the upgrading; and that turned out to be a good approach, since we got our asking price.  I would want that, too, so I could make my new abode my own that way.

And there has been the Garden.  Ever since we moved here, 24 years ago, my husband has had a vegetable garden.  He grows tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, mostly, all organically — we make and use all our own compost — and from time to time we have Unexpected crops, like tomato plants he didn’t buy (they came from seeds we threw away), and very often, a bumper crop of potatoes, which are a whole new ball game when you grow them yourself.  One year he planted pumpkin seeds, and we had pumpkins for about five years after that (and no clue how to cook them, sooooo….).

But now the house is sold, the paper is mostly sorted through, and the garden is going to sleep for the season.  There is still the cellar to clean out; it used to be a very nice family room till the kids moved out and started storing all their stuff down there, and now it looks like most people’s cellars.  When priests come to bless the house, we always ask them just to “throw some holy water down there,” and since they all have families and Stuff themselves, they know where we’re coming from.

I confidently expect this project to take a couple of winters.  After that — I don’t know.  But at least he doesn’t follow me around the supermarket, mostly because I send him with a list and some money.  Gives me more time for cross stitch.

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