Thursday, January 31, 2013

Running with the Wolves

I've been trying to refinance my house.
I made an online inquiry.
And for the past two days my phone has been vibrating so much that it seems more like... um....a vibrator than a phone.

Hope to be satisfied. With a low, low interest rate.

And I hope to rejoin the blogosphere in a few days.

photo credit:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Odious Task Day

1. Inquire about Re-fi. Check.
2. Email divorce attorney regarding reduced alimony. Check.
3. Finish packing new juicer with a million too many parts back into original shipping carton. Check.
4. Open towering stack of mail. Check.
5. Begin filling out tax organizer questionnaire. Check.
6. Ponder confusing property tax file. Check.
7. Eat sugar free chocolate bar as a special treat while attending to all of the above. WTF.
8. Ask self why eating above chocolate bar seemed like a good idea.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Put Your Arms Around Something as Big as the California Sky

It's not unusual for the man who loves me to pull out his notebook and jot down a line or two for a song. We might be cooking dinner when the notebook appears or sitting with a glass of wine, talking. Quite often, as it did last night, the notebook came out when we were getting ready for bed. I was already under the covers as he stood in the dark, scribbling at the dresser in the corner. I never peer over his shoulder at these moments, never ask "What's the song about?" I wouldn't especially like to answer questions like these when an idea for a story or an essay first occurs to me. I've witnessed quite a few lines being recorded in the notebook over the past four years, and only a couple have been shared with me.

As we lay in bed this morning, I told the man who loves me my dream, admitting that I'd dreamed of The Someone. The dream had an incoherent narrative. Something about a car and a pair of shoes. And my concern about my real-life recently reduced alimony played against a backdrop of some dream-world global impending financial crisis. In the dream I was trying to ascertain if The Someone's finances were going to hell, and my own fortune, shackled to his as it is--was I destined for ruin, too, and would this happen before or after the financial apocalypse? It was still dark when I woke just enough to realize that I was pressed against one man while dreaming of another, and how absurd that was. I made myself stop the dream and go back to sleep.

This morning as the man who loves me and I stood pulling on our clothes and talking about coffee, the notebook lay open on the dresser. "Look at this," he said, "you'd think I wrote these lines this morning, but I wrote them last night." And in the notebook, was the beginning of a song about a man pulling his lover back to him although he knew she was dreaming of another man.

I can't get my arms all the way around this intangible thing any more than I can put my arms around the California sky. But there it is.

photo note: The man who loves me took this picture in his neighborhood. Don't you love it?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Report from Pillville: The Gastroenterologist, the Scan,the Blood Test, and the New Medication

"My God, you're handsome!" my mom said a couple of minutes into the appointment with her latest doctor--a gastroenterologist. Nothing wrong with her eyes. Seriously, this doctor needs a TV show. Or perhaps a trip to Bollywood. Now I understand why the nurse comes in first and takes the patient's heart rate and blood pressure before the doctor appears.

And here's the best part of it. After I told him she doesn't hear well, and she could communicate much better if he looked at her, he did. Every syllable. He listened to her complaints. He asked a lot of questions and listened some more. He studied her list of medications, then rearranged the scheduling of those a bit so he could work in a new med that might help her.

He also ordered blood work and a scan in addition to the other lab tests she's already had. The scan was today, and I'm always amazed by what a trouper my mom is. Chalky drinks, IVs, loud machines--no problem.

And when we got home, she received a shot of vitamin M--the best medicine of all. In fact all the residents of Margaritaville have been suffering from a severe vitamin M deficiency. We're all feeling better by the minute.

photo notes: The picture at the top of this post is an Indian movie star--not the gastroenterologist. The picture at the bottom of the post is, however, the real and true M.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wild Night

I recall power outages as stealthy things. Suddenly you woke aware that it was lighter outside that it should be. The face of your plug-in alarm clock frozen. Your heart sinking with the knowledge that you were already late for work.

Nowadays, the power-less silence has found its voice. When the power went out here last night around 4:00 a.m., the noise woke me. Beep from the security system. Chirp from the carbon monoxide detector. Beeebeeep from my mother's oxygen machine (don't worry, she only uses it at night and can survive quite well without it.) Thankfully the security system only beeped once. Not like the overly courteous system at my old house. But the noise was good. It woke me, and I took a battery-powered lantern downstairs to my mom's bathroom. She was already awake. "Now you can see if you need to get up," I told her."
"What time is it?" she asked.
"Four,"I said.
"What?" she said. I grabbed the lantern and held up four fingers. "What time is it?" she asked again.
"One, two, three, four," I said again.
"Okay," she said. "Four-O-One."
"Right," I said. Although it was probably 4:05 by then.

I couldn't sleep. So I read some more of "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed and tried not to freak out as my mom yelled and talked in her sleep. Eventually,I drifted off and woke to the clatter of my printer re-booting itself around 5:00. My feet were killing me when I woke. I guess I was hiking with Cheryl in the ten minutes or so that I slept. Luckily the pain was just part of the dream, and my feet were fine as I went back downstairs to check on my mom. She was sitting on the side of her bed, already resetting her clock. Maybe she'd been hiking with us, too--shouting at bears, or foxes, or trying to scare Sasquatch away.

photo credit:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Multiple Choice Question on the Wonders of Margaritaville

Where have I been that I haven't been blogging?

a. in jail
b. on ice
c. joined the convent
d. ran off on with a fishing boat
e. none of the above

The correct answer is e.

Would you believe me if I told you that all of the following describe my weekend?

a. bought a fish from a little girl who's going to use the money to by a bow and arrow
b. had a visit from two friends, and then two more arrived unexpectedly
c. the friends and I had an awful brunch at a place that ran out of coffee
d. the friends and I got so hot walking on the beach that we had to go to a bar for a beer
e. that in that bar a guy named Whiskey Bob bought me a jar of jalapeno jam

Monday, January 21, 2013

And what a fabulous day it was!

The TV is seldom on at my house, but I skipped yoga this morning and tuned in to the inauguration at 8:30 a.m. My mom and I sat on the couch with our coffee. The throngs of people, the Capitol, the Washington Monument. I thought of three years ago and of the month I lived in the guest quarters at Washington Hospital Center while she lingered at death's door. How I knew then that those historic landmarks were out there just a mile or two away, but I never even tried to visit them.

This afternoon we went to the gastroenterologist, and then across the street to the hospital for a blood test. When we got home, I tuned in again to the inauguration. The magnitude of our amazement struck us both at the same time. We talked about change and how much progress has been made in her lifetime. "Next we need a woman president!" she said. "The next ticket ought to be a woman and a Native American!"

Tonight after dinner I turned on the TV a third time. Michelle in her red gown. The dance. The kiss. Stevie Wonder."Wouldn't you like to be there--at the inaugural ball--just once?" my mom asked.
"Yes, I would," I said. What a privilege that would be if my mom gets her wish. For that I would travel from sea to shining sea.

Friday, January 18, 2013

What I'm thinking about on a Friday night:

The way reflected light in the marina can make the water look like it's burning.

This book:

And what Ingersoll says about happiness: "Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so."

My friend Paula's latest blog post: Better, Worse, or the Same? I think this way of looking my mom's discomfort over her various ailments will help the two of us communicate more clearly.

These thoughts from poet Liz Kay's blog: Her thoughts about Complications and rage and desire have been rolling around in my head ever since I read her post yesterday.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cat Gets Ticket but Avoids Jail

My 19-year-old cat, Piper, was caught in a door-to-door check by animal control on Saturday. I was  asked to produce her license and proof of a rabies vaccination, but managed to plead ignorance and insanity due to moving here recently. Lost papers, blah, blah....slipped her collar, blah...blah...busy taking care of my mother,  blah, blah. Of course, I managed to throw in that I was a Humane Society volunteer last year.

Piper does not go outside. Never has, really. The smallest hummingbird terrifies her. We've tried to coax her onto the patio, but it would probably require tranquilizers. She likes the couch. And her bed under the sink in the laundry room. Occasionally, she forgets the daughters have grown up and left home and she organizes herself into a hunt for them. This usually leaves her stranded on the stairs meowing like a maniac.

So today I took her to the vet for a rabies vaccine. She did well on her journey into the great wide world and appears to be suffering no adverse effects even though the chart the vet showed me translates her age into human years as 92. Next week sometime between my mom's trips to the gastroenterologist and Miracle Ear, I'll take the rabies certificate downtown and buy Piper a license. It would be great though if I could remember who the vet was that spayed her. She needs a certificate for that, too--or the price of the license will be doubled. This move to Margaritaville was Piper's fourth move, and she's had a hard time keeping track of her paperwork. Which makes me remember how many times I misplaced my final decree of divorce. I think at one point one of the daughters offered to attach it to a lanyard. Which makes me think that maybe divorce decrees could be turned into little tags and worn on collars--or maybe charm bracelets.

photo by Sam Kunz

City of Baltimore: Round Three

The invoices for my mom's health insurance premiums finally arrived today. They were forwarded by my cousin, whose basement apartment my mom moved from three years ago. I cannot  say for certain that she changed her address from there to my brother's house when she moved in with him, but I would bet a sheet of postage stamps that she made a reasonable attempt.

At it turns out the City of Baltimore has a near deity-like omnipresence. The envelope that the invoices were packaged in bear one return address. The top of each monthly invoice bears a second address, while the bottom of the invoice that one is instructed to return with the payment has yet a third address. I wrote change of address letters and mailed one to each of the three different addresses.

My project of setting up these monthly payments for auto-pay must be abandoned. Auto pay does not seem to be an option as there are no instuctions for such on the invoice. And, Baltimore knows, it is not possible to speak to anyone by phone that can instruct me. Ah, well. Should I somehow manage to get a parking ticket in Baltimore, it looks like I can pay it online.

Of further note, my panic about missing the payment deadline of January first has been assuaged. The  postmark on the city's envelope is January 10th. I've heard of "Tulsa Time," but maybe someone should write a song about Baltimore.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bird of the Day: Eared Grebe

We actually spotted this creature some weeks ago, and I forgot to post it. So here it is in all its wondrousness to take your mind off the mundane.

I am realizing more and more that I am a bird geek. I want a better camera. Fancy binoculars. A trip meant for bird watching.

True confessions: I even like sparrows.

Secret: Pelicans blow my mind. If a pelican flies overhead when, let's say, you are walking with me on the beach, you will have to repeat what you just said.

Yours truly,

Very geeky bird lover

P.S. A snowy egret flew right in front of me today as I was driving. My life flashed in front of my eyes. Well. Maybe not. But my brain said egretegretegret!!!

City of Baltimore/ Round Two

Oh, I could give you the blow by blow. Who I called. What they said. How long it took. How much of the time I spent on hold. How the last number I tried led back to the first number I called.

But I won't.

What matters is that I have not yet succeeded in paying my mom's insurance premium for January. Or enrolling her in auto pay so the specter of future missed payments no longer haunts me.

There are no more numbers left to call.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dear Senior Citizens, How do you manage alone?

"I wonder if I'm ever going to get my bill for my health insurance," my mom says to me while I linger in the kitchen avoiding the dastardly coughing woman in my yoga class. Last night the wind rattled my windows, rattled my house, rattled my bones, and my very soul. Without any sleep this could be the morning Coughing Woman breaches my immune system---so I have a second cup of coffee. Oops, too late to go to yoga now.

"What was that you said about a bill, Mom?" My exhausted brain hears the alarm bell, albeit ever so faintly. Out from her bedroom she shuffles with an invoice from December, explaining that the December 1st payment was the last one she'd made. My mother has Medicare, but she also has supplementary insurance through the City of Baltimore where she worked for several years as a janitor in city office buildings. With all of her health issues, she needs that secondary insurance. The upper right hand corner of the last month's invoice carries a terrifying advisory, "If payment is not received by the due date, coverage will be terminated." Last week's trip to the emergency room rose up like an anvil ready to drop. "Uh-oh," I say. My mom went on to explain that the City of Baltimore sends a packet of a year's worth of invoices every January--but they always send them late. The payment is due on the first of the month, but the invoices never arrive in time.

I decide to call the employee benefits phone number listed on the invoice. It's 9:00 a.m. in California. There is no answer in Baltimore. Maybe I mis-dialed. I try again. Lunch? I try an hour later. Still no answer. No outgoing push one for this, two for that message either. Is it a holiday in Baltimore? A week long festival for the inauguration? Martin Luther King Jr. Week? I try the main number for the City of Baltimore. The menu of selections doesn't apply to what I need, but I select for speaking to a real live person and remain on hold for, I dunno, ten minutes? Meanwhile, my mom and I discuss auto-pay options--putting her monthly health insurance premiums on a credit card and enduring the service charge, auto-deducting  the payment from a checking account; why we should do this, i.e. what if you're sick mom, and in the hospital, and I forget to pay it for you? Still, I'm on hold, so I hang up. I grab the iPad and go to the City of Baltimore website expecting to see some banner across it: "City Closed on Mondays," or "Monday is Furlough Day." No. So I scroll through each link to see if we can accomplish setting up the auto-pay online. No. I try the first number again. Ah! "Push one for employee benefits." The person I speak to ensures me that they have the correct address for my mom, that yes, they send out the invoices late every year, that no her coverage isn't lapsed. "I'd like to enroll her in auto-pay," I say. She tells me that the person I need to talk to is on another call. She'll call me back.

It's noon now in California. 3:00 in Baltimore. While waiting, I've checked on my Mom's catastrophic coverage from Care First--which is, essentially, Blue Cross and Blue Sheild, too. My mom thought she'd changed her address with Care First by enclosing notification of her new address with her payment some months before her move here in August. When we finally received the forwarded invoice from them for the next payment, her coverage had lapsed. It took a bit of ranting, but I got it re-instated. It turned out that if you want to change your address with Care First, you need to call them, wait on hold for awhile, and then have them tell you the address of the mail room administrator in Lexington, Kentucky. This address appears nowhere on their invoice. There are no instructions of any kind on the invoice for changing your address. They will, however, drop you like a hot potato if your invoice goes to the wrong address causing you to pay late. But this morning, no worries there. She is paid up currently (after the near disaster of the lapse.) I requested a letter of confirmation. Which I had already requested in writing back in August when I wrote them a letter then after the reinstatement.

I assume that if we had national health insurance in a single-payer model, it would work much like Medicare. Here I am. A person. A citizen. I have this coverage. There would be no dancing around with invoices sent late. No slipping through the cracks. "Ooohhh, this country will never have health care like that!" my mom says.

Oh, dear old people,  especially you who are hard of hearing or with failing eyesight, you who are not computer literate, you whose blood pressure spikes a bit as you struggle to decipher "press 1 for this, 2 for that, etc," how do you manage? From the bottom of my heart, I hope someone is helping you.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hoooo-ooooo are you?


"Don't tell me you're surprised," he said.
"I'm not surprised," I said. "Just confused." He went on to tell me there was nothing to be confused about. His marriage was over, and he wanted us to get back together. 

We were somewhere with his relatives. We were hanging around together--but mostly surreptitiously. We were talking in his hotel room. It seemed a given. That we should just paste the pieces back together. I couldn't think of any other reasonable way to approach the situation. "Have you told your mother that we're getting back together?" I asked. 
"Not yet," he said.
"Then don't," I said. "Because there's a man I love, and I can't live without him. 

Holy shit. Right? The wind howled like a maniac all night long. Musta been an ill wind that blew that dream to me. It's howling again. Styling those palm fronds into a brand new crazy do. It was so windy yesterday that when I rolled down my car window to talk to my neighbor who happened to be in the next lane, that I got dirt in my mouth. My  chewing gum was so gritty, I had to throw it away. Right now, however, the wind is blowing from the east--opposite of what it was doing yesterday. Blow a sweet dream to me, Mr. Wind. Real sweet.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Watt is the What?

"I just pushed the circuit breaker switch back to the "on" position," I said. "Now I'm going to turn on each lamp and light switch that are on that circuit and see if the breaker trips again." My mom stood in the kitchen in her pink flannel snowman pajamas nodding. I started with the living room lamp in the corner, then proceeded to the next lamp, then the light switches that turned on the hall lights, the outside lights, and the light at the top of the stairs. The house was blazing with light and everything stayed on. "Success," I told her. "Look, it's all good." We had a brief discussion then about why the breaker blew in the first place. I couldn't explain that. Maybe the breaker is wearing out, was the best I could muster.

"I'll bet it's the furnace," my mom said. "The heat came on and blew everything out."

"Nope," I said. "Couldn't be the furnace, because the heat has been working. That's on a different circuit." She nodded. "Well," I said, "I'm going to go run my errands."

"So, what time is the electrician coming?" my mom asked.

"He's not," I said. "It's fixed."

"We don't want the furnace to go out," she said. I explained about the furnace being on a different circuit again and went on my merry way.

I'm never quite sure what is happening when my mom and I fail to communicate. Is it the hearing aids?
Dementia or maybe a negative result from the Namenda? True, she's 88 and grew up as one of the "rural poor" which in her case meant kerosene lanterns in a log cabin for part of her upbringing, but I'm pretty sure she used to know her way around a fuse box--at least well enough  to stand behind my dad with a flashlight while he changed a fuse.

Maybe part of what gets in our way is her definition of gender roles. More than once, she's said that I should wait until the man who loves me appears for the weekend to perform this or that task. A couple of times she's said that it's too bad that I don't have a man to do things for me--so maybe she didn't believe that I could get the lights back on. Maybe she's afraid that due to my "tinkering" we'll be plunged into cold and darkness or electrocuted while using the toaster. I can't say, but communication is a complicated business even when our hearing and our brains are functioning well.

I had a mini freakout inside my head the other night in the emergency room when the doctor asked her how long she'd been having the pains in her abdomen. "Weeks!" she cried. "Months!" The doctor looked at me and frowned. I saw my self being photographed in profile, then from the front with a number under by chin. Oh, good, I thought, now I can add elder abuse to my rap sheet. I explained to the doctor that while my mom often complains of stomach cramping in the morning, she's consulted with more than one doctor about that, but the recent acute pains were something new. I guess I'll be allowed to walk the streets for now. But if I call you in the middle of the night, listen carefully. If I say I'm in prison, you might need to take me literally. Then again, I might just be talking about how I feel.

photo credit:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

This Morning

The islands are sinking into the mist as the sky's curtains draw across the setting moon. Footsteps sinking into the cold sand, I stoop for plastic. Into my empty coffee mug I deposit drinking straws, their stripes faded like old circus tents. A rainbow of plastic caps. A shotgun shell. Remnants of wet cellophane, each piece gleaming like a jellyfish in the angled morning light. Flaccid strips of bright ruined balloons mimic worms, and I wonder if the willets and curlews I watch at the water's edge gobble them up sometimes by mistake, their bellies filling like those fated birds on that far away atoll whose innards are stuffed with  caps and Bic lighters and Barbie parts, gestating death. An impromptu burial mound materializes in my path. Feather and shell and bone. A beak. I keep walking. Later, half washed away, is a child's construction of driftwood, stick, and stone--proof, I guess, that we are better at building than maintaining. Just steps from the last trash can, I find him. A blue plastic soldier, missing an arm and most of a leg, his gun still clutched in his remaining hand. Not sure if he's evidence of childhood innocence or  destruction's harbinger, I put him in my pocket and carry him home.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Top Ten Reasons Why the Emergency Room is No Fun

1. There's always a kid with a rash or pus draining from an ear who, while feeling less unwell than he should, zig-zags around breathing on you.

2. It's always too cold.

3. There are always things that beep. Incessantly. At a level loud enough to cause hearing damage.

4. There are never enough people to respond to the beeping.

5. Somewhere in one of those little rooms is probably a person who has stopped breathing.

6. The words, "code blue" will inevitably be broadcast over the P.A. system.

7. The place always seems like it could be a tad bit cleaner.

8. There's always a baby crying. And crying. And crying.

9. You forgot to bring that thing (list of meds, doctor's number, cord for the iPad or cell phone) that you swore you'd remember to bring.

10. You're there. And someone you love is there. Oh, wait--that beats the hell out of being there alone.

So first of all, things are relatively okay here in Margaritaville. My mom suffered an attack of diverticulitis last evening and after five hours at the hospital was ultimately given a couple shots of morphine and sent home  with antibiotics. She's feeling somewhat better. I, being a bit of a germaphobe, am waiting to come down with whatever dread disease that kid had. I'm sure I'll be fine if  I keep washing my hands every five minutes.

Now about that "alone" business. I am finding it rather daunting these days to realize that if/when there is a crisis with my mom,  I will most probably be dealing with it alone. And if something bad comes my way, she, too, will have to face that alone--at least for the first few hours. That "in sickness and in health" clause that's packaged with the marriage vows is one hell of a fringe benefit.

"I'm alone," the weeping woman said last night. "I don't have anyone. I came here by ambulance." She was in an ER room across the hall, sobbing and sobbing while the nurse asked her questions. While I sat next to my mom, I concocted the many scenarios that brought the woman to the Emergency Room where she had no one by her side.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Days of Wonder and Amazement

The weather has been shifting here. When the man who loves me and I walked on the beach yesterday afternoon there was a rainbow ring around the sun. Kind of like this.

It poured as we slept last night. Then sunny this morning when we woke. A cold wind kicked up while I was at the farmer's market and I rushed away with my fresh fish as well as some Taiwanese spinach ("Much more flavor!" says the farmer) and this wonderful and amazing stuff.

It's peanut butter. I cooked the halibut with the barbeque peanut butter tonight. My mom wasn't crazy about it....but I LOVED it! I'm imagining some kind of banana dessert. And stir-frying the spinach with the curry peanut butter.

And speaking of wonderfulness, Downtown Abbey season 3 kicks off tonight. Did you catch the interview with some of the cast members on Morning Edition?

Days of wonder and amazement here in Margaritaville.

photo credit for the photo of the sun:

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I had already received the New Year's Eve email from The Someone informing me that, due to his declining income, my alimony would be less in 2013. Ooookay. Not much of a heads up, but I'm hardly a candidate for foodstamps, so while one part of my brain is Googling shit like, "how to find out if your ex-spouse has an off-shore bank account,"the other is telling me to deal with it. Still, I whittle away hours reading about asset protection trusts and law firm gossip, wondering if it really would be worth it to hire a forensic accountant. No? Yes? No. But then I check my bank balance and find that the auto deposit for my last big fat alimony check for 2012 is one cent. That's right. A penny. My bank account is a trampoline  now. I spend an afternoon on Trulia and house shopping in Dubuque, Iowa. I was born there, I reasoned. Why not die there? That bridge that terrified me as a child? Well.

I might have to move, I tell the man who loves me. Nope--60 miles wasn't far enough, now I'm contemplating two thousand. But it's okay, I continue. I might die. You might die. Anything can happen, I tell him.  I fantasize that he will come visit me, knowing that is nigh unto impossible. I fantasize that I will find a historic house with a view of the Mississippi at a tiny fraction of the cost of living in southern California, that I will reconnect will my long lost cousins, that my mom and I will never eat dinner again without someone else at the table, that daily zillions of  people are  struck by tragedy, and this probably doesn't qualify. But still, here I am in Margaritaville. The house. The birds. The ocean. The air. Space for the daughters to come visit and stay awhile. A kayak on the horizon. Well, there's nothing like the specter of loss to make you love what you've got.

Today the regular alimony amount appeared in my account. At this point, it's still "pending."But hey, it looks like I get to keep the extra penny. A found penny is good luck, right?

photo credit: