Friday, December 31, 2010

And another one gone.

My mother used to say that the older you get, the faster time goes. And here we just finished one New Year's Eve and we find ourselves at the next. I used to want time to go faster (when I was young and stupid).  She had a saying for that, too; be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.

This was one of those up and down years. It brought to mind the inescapable fact that I'm getting older in a few ways, some good and some not. But on the whole, as I look back on it from the last day of my ASPCA calendar,  I realize my good fortune. Every person I care about is still here and healthy on this last day of the year. And that, more so than wealth or happiness is how I measure a successful year. Because my mother has another saying; when you have your health, you have everything. Right again, mom!

Have a happy and healthy New Year. And if it's prosperous too, well then, all the better.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Into the Twilight Zone

My ride from hell started innocently enough. I decided to stop by my vet's office on the way home from work in order to pick up a gel and a water additive that will, hopefully, stave off a dental for my anesthesia sensitive cat. Now, to set the stage,  the vet is not located anywhere in the vicinity of my house. On a good day, it's a least a half hour ride. We use this vet because, well, she's excellent. When you have a house of felines that are on various medications, you pick and choose and then stay with someone you trust. We've followed her from a huge animal hospital (also not really local) to her new private practice... thirty five minutes as the crow flies from either the office or the house.

Tooling down Garden State Parkway (the beautiful cousin to the NJ Turnpike) is not a hardship in the winter. In fact, right around Exit 120, it's downright gorgeous. It's a flat expanse with water on either side. And at near sunset, it's a spectacular sight. I should have appreciated the moving traffic and the scenery while I could, but I digress.

The vet is located in a town called Fair Haven, which is right next to a larger town called Red Bank. Now typically, Red Bank is the epitome of the Shore arts scene. There are nightclubs, restaurants, a great theater, a train station and traffic. A lot of traffic. But as I approached the heart of the town, I noticed that the usually slow moving traffic was creeping in the opposite direction.  Power lines had come down and, added to the snow plow activity, the major and only street that lead to my destination was closed. The detour going to the office wasn't bad. But the traffic going back the way I came and the way I'd have to go to get home, was a nightmare. So, I smugly asked the vet tech for a quicker way back that would avoid the center of town. She scribbled some directions, which I attempted to memorize as I was pulling out of the parking lot. I made it about a mile into the trek before I saw a  sign for the one road I needed to take to get home. So, ignoring the paper, which distinctly said turn left, I turned right and ran right into the return traffic I had hoped to avoid. At this point, I made the first turn I could and stumbled upon the only unplowed block left in all of New Jersey. I kid you not, it looked like the lunar surface. And there was absolutely no way to turn around. So I tightened my seat belt, turned off my traction control and off I went, jarring my teeth and various body parts all the way down the block, ignoring the angry, upraised fists of the shoveling residents I sprayed with snow as I went by.  At the corner, I made a left turn this time, right back into the traffic I was looking to avoid.

As darkness descended, I gave up any hope of reading the paper the tech gave me, and as I was no longer anywhere near her route, and sitting in traffic that was not going anywhere, the paper was useless. I turned to my gps system instead, and when the traffic started to crawl, made the first available turn off the road and spent the next 15 minutes listening to Australian Karen telling me, with what I imagined was increasing agitation, to turn right, turn right. TURN RIGHT, YOU MORON! (okay, that last part I made up, but I swear she was getting more strident as I ignored her suggestions). With one eye on the display map and the other on the red tail lights in front of me, I saw a sign for my turn off, and proceeded to, well, turn off. Right into a parking lot. Once I figured out that this was not Route 520 (there are no rows of parking spots on a major thoroughfare) I got myself turned around and out of there.  I was let back on the same road by a driver who looked suspiciously like he was laughing at me.  And I wound up by that same sign. But this time, I wasn't falling for it!  My gps was barking at me to TURN LEFT but I was getting on that exit on the right. Which I never did find. What I found was myself back on the road into the center of the town. The one I was trying so hard to escape.

To make a long long story short, I did eventually turn right when the traffic was going left, and tacked  my way out of the worst of the congestion. After two hours of what should have been a half hour detour, I was on the way back home, dental implements in hand. I did learn a valuable lesson though. Next time this happens, I will just follow my regular route home, sit in traffic and wait my turn. The shortest distance between two points is still a straight line, no matter how slow you're traveling. Think about it.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My neighbor intimidates me

We've lived in our humble abode for a little over 19 years, and for those 19 years, my neighbor has been waging a psychological war. One in which he seems to always, somehow, come out victorious. Let me backtrack just a bit.

The day after we moved in, one of his daughters' cars appeared in front of our house. The car, about 20 years old then, was, to put it mildly, a heap. And when asked why it was not parked in front of his own house, this neighbor replied, "Because I don't want to inconvenience my guests when they park." Hmm... well what about the fact that you are now inconveniencing MY guests? And that's putting aside the fact that it was a rusted out old piece of junk gracing my side of the curb.  I had to use the utility company as an excuse to get him to move it after he refused my polite requests to relocate it or better yet, donate it to charity.

A few short weeks later, my house alarm went off when I wasn't home. Within 5 minutes of my car pulling into the driveway, he was at my door, complaining that the noise was a nuisance. Yes, I can understand that it is, but did it ever occur to him that there may have been a reason for it going off,  like a burglar paying a visit perhaps, or a murder in progress? I guess not.  His reaction was a bit over the top, and I laughed it off after I apologized, but a few days later, I realized that this same neighbor had a loudspeaker attached to the roof of his garage, aimed right for my bedroom. And this loudspeaker was spewing forth show tunes, opera, and Cher at various times of the day and night, usually when I put my daughter, who was young at the time, down for a nap. His teenage daughters would have parties outside in the warm months, and the loudspeaker would blast until 2 or 3 am. After calls to the neighbor and to the police, nothing would happen. I'd try to reason with the guy. It would work for one afternoon, or one evening, and then the volume and "Do You Believe" would be back up to levels loud enough to wake the dead. Whenever this idiot would be out in the yard, or at his pool, even in his garage, that loudspeaker would be blaring. Les Miz was bad enough on Broadway, I didn't have to hear the soundtrack in my own bedroom, over and over again.

Mind  you, we put up with this for 13 years, before I did a little research into our township's zoning code, and found, lo and behold, that loudspeakers are prohibited on private residences and unless he took it down, he'd be fined $500. Well, it seems money does talk, because since July 5, 2004, when he received a violation notice from the township, he's been wearing earphones and Cher has finally been silenced. And since then, I've found that every single one of my neighbors had asked him to be reasonable over the years, and he refused. I became the neighborhood heroine, an accolade I would have gladly done without if it meant not having to confront this man about anything.

This is our long and storied history. While some of you would say, "Wow, that's nothing. You should meet MY neighbor," there is something about this person that just twists me into knots. It's his obvious disregard for anyone else that gets me, I guess. He just doesn't care. He doesn't care about being a good neighbor, doesn't care about anyone else except himself and he lets you know it when you confront him. And that to me is such a foreign concept that I would rather let the township do the confronting than face him myself.

Of course, as I look out the window and see the newest version of his junk car sitting right in front of our house, I know I'm going to have to ring his bell and ask him to move it, again.  Did I mention it's leaking oil in a puddle in front of my house, and that's why it's not on his driveway?  And that we are expecting 18 inches of snow tonight and it's sitting right where the township usually plows all the snow that has fallen on our street? And that if it stays there, all that snow will wind up in my driveway while his remains pristine? 

So as I gird my loins to pay this guy another visit to plead my case, I console myself with the fact that he's 15 years older than I am and he won't live forever.  Either that, or the township will do an automated call and ask everyone to move their cars off the street. I'm waiting just a little bit longer for the phone to ring.

What is Bookishly Attentive?

A few years ago, my sister found herself as the go-to source for all things romance novels.  Our friends would email her for recommendations and she would glibly give out referrals to classics like "Flame and the Flower" and more recent contemporary efforts by Toni Blake, et. al.  Now, couple this with my friend Angie's idea to start a book review blog and my desire to participate in one, and was born.

Our idea of a blog was this; read the book, give a plot summation, explain whether we liked it or not and why.  In other words, if a friend asked you about that book, what would you tell them?  For the most part, that scheme has worked. We've gotten requests from authors to review their new work, which is always an honor and a thrill, and we're sent advanced reader copies to add to our review list. And we're not all historical or contemporary romance either. There are some worthy non-fictions thrown in, too. We've been at it almost three years and so far, it's worked really well for us. And for our followers, who've hit the blog almost 13,000 times.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gas up the blower, summer is over.

So the seasonal hysteria has begun.  I'm not talking about the Christmas holiday mad last dash to the mall. I'm talking about the possibility of white cold stuff known locally as snow. According to Accuweather, the Northeast will go either  all or nothing in terms of snowfall early next week.  It will snow on the scale of the "MONSTER" March storm of 1993 (if you remember that one, you're a better person than me) or we will only be dealt a "glancing blow" as the storm tracks south, then north and out to sea. Now, I know winter has just begun, and I also know snow is part and parcel of living in the mid-Atlantic states. I also know we've been lucky so far. My friends in the UK have already had enough snow to last them the next few centuries.  And other friends in the South and the Midwest have already had their taste of old man winter. But as I look outside my office window, I see a bare, virgin, landscape, so far devoid of any frozen precipitation.  I do realize it's only a matter of time.

Thanks to this prevaricating nature of the forecast, talking heads everywhere up and down the coast now have a new purpose; to frighten the masses to death. Films and stories of past blizzards will emerge, urgent soundbites decrying the need for mobilization and shelter will be broadcast, and the entire populace will run, frightened out of their minds, to the nearest grocery store, where they will succeed in buying out supplies of bread, eggs and milk. And enough of these items to last for two weeks at least, will be dropped into shopping baskets. As if the roads will never be passable and french toast can save the day. It's amazing, and the phenomenon happens every time.

I'm not giving into the hype. The snow blower will be filled because that is what we always do around Christmastime. I will go to the store because I go every week.  And I will not listen to the pundits predicting Armageddon and Apocalypse Now.  If the snow falls, it falls. The township will be out to plow and the roads will be cleared in less than a day. Things will be a bit messier than before, admittedly, but also a bit prettier. And perhaps we'll all move at a slightly slower pace, which is good, all things considered.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Special Fed Ex Delivery

There are some people I know who cannot fathom the thought that I have a cat, or more precisely, a cat's ashes, in an engraved wooden box in the headboard of my bed. They think it's ghoulish, or morbid, or ridiculous. And they are entitled to that opinion. But to me, it just feels right. After all, Bill was happiest on my bed. He slept with us every night. He spent 18 of his 24 cat day hours ensconced on my side of the Tempur-pedic. So why shouldn't he spend his after-life there as well?

We lost Hillary about 10 days ago. And before anyone thinks of it on their own, yes, they were adopted in 1993. And yes, they were named after the then First Couple. And yes, they even resembled the human Bill and Hillary. Bill had a beautiful gray and silver coat. He could befriend anyone, and was always good for a head butt or two. Hillary, tan and gray, slightly overweight with a constantly changing hairstyle (oops, I mean coat of fur)  was intelligent and aloof. She was cautious in her friendships, but once you were accepted into her circle, she was with you for life.  Hillary's ashes arrived at the office today in a Fed Ex box. And since her favorite spot was my husband's side of the bed, she'll now have a place in his headboard, just a particle board wall away from Bill. 

So these members of our family will always be with us, in this house or anywhere else we wind up.  I can even pretend, in the deepest form of denial, that they are still here. And if that makes us both feel better, then what can I say? Ghoulish? No. Comforting? Yes. And that's all that matters.

Red Rice Yeast

My visit to the internist did not go well. After a few years of watching my total cholesterol elevate (it should come with a bumper sticker that says, This Cholesterol Level Has Climbed Mount Washington), it was time to "do" something about it. Since I am pretty much against any medication that does not include chocolate, I was resistant to my doctor's gentle (verbal) prodding. Seeing how I had dug in my heels, he suggested I start off with something called Red Rice Yeast. I work in a health care environment and I see patients with cholesterol problems who complain about the side effects of statins. And as an alternative, some have switched to this Chinese wonder drug. So, I enlisted the aid of my vitamin-guru husband to research my options.

After wandering the aisles of Vitamin Shoppe, we were directed to the "You're going to keel over from a heart attack if you don't buy something from these shelves" section, where my husband zeroed in on the brand he wanted. After pulling the bottle off the shelf, he handed it to me so I could read the warnings  (I hand it right back because I don't have my reading glasses). And they are pretty much the same as the statins, so why do I feel safer taking these as opposed to a tightly controlled, doctor prescribed FDA regulated drug? I have no idea. After a comment from the husband that "this product may cause death" the purchase is made, and we head home.

Now, some possible side-effects of Red Rice Yeast are body aches and pains and possible liver malfunction.  Being the classic Type A, anxiety-prone personality I am, it only took about 5 minutes after my first pill to start feeling "things." Bear in mind that when you get to the age I am, EVERYTHING feels like "something"  at some point or another. Just the act of getting out of bed hurts. It's called "getting old and decrepit." There is a silver lining to this, however.  While waiting the six months to have blood work done to see if this stuff really works, we are busy using it as our new go-to excuse. Now when one of us feels a new or old twinge of pain, we say, "Red Rice Yeast" and get on with our day.  It's all what you make of it.