Someone’s In The Kitchen

About a year has passed since I last was able to write this blog. As you know, Bob, my husband, Dale, died of probably-pneumonia on January 3, 2018. Suddenly, while he was sleeping. I went to wake him up, but he wouldn’t get up. I thought he was playing games, but he really wasn’t breathing. Turns out he’d been gone for about an hour before I found him.

For a year I thought I would make a blog post about that night, but though I just now sat down to do it, I realize I can’t. Maybe someday I’ll write it all down, but not today. Instead I’m going to fast-forward to today and talk about my kitchen renovation.

Why, yes, that certainly is a subject everyone has done. Everybody on Facebook has written about their new kitchen. It’s a safe subject, not likely to make anyone cry, and just the word “renovate” is cheerful. Like “resurrect.” Or “rehabilitate.” “Renew.” There’s a joy in a new kitchen, especially when one has hated one’s kitchen for as long as I have.

Oh, yeah. Nearly thirty years ago we bought this place for a “starter” home. I didn’t want a ranch style, didn’t like the awkward landscaping, and especially hated the kitchen/dining room with white-ish linoleum and cheap gray carpet that shed pile constantly. Hated the knotty pine cabinets already yellowed with thirty-one years of age, dining room paneling likewise yellowed, postage stamp counter space, and a sink with one of those little, bitty vegetable sinks that just make no sense.

When Dale died so suddenly, we were less than a year from paying off the house. The plan then was to make repairs on it with the money we would no longer be spending on a mortgage. Suddenly I was faced with probably having to sell the house, but then my children stepped up to relieve me of all debt. I have a bumper magnet on my car like the honor student ones you see everywhere, that says “My child is a sober, responsible, tax-paying ADULT.” If I’ve done nothing else worthwhile in my life, I’ve at least got kids who are fine, successful, well-adjusted people. In short, I’m still living in the house I bought with Dale.

But I hate the kitchen. Over the years we’ve installed new flooring in it twice, In 2007 swapping out the linoleum and carpet for wood veneer, then when that was flooded in 2010 we installed dark bamboo. It also was ruined by assorted liquids (you don’t want to know), and several months ago began to buckle badly enough to trip people up. My daughter decided we needed a new floor, and while we were at it we should paint, and install new cabinet hardware, counter top, sink, curtains, and backsplash. She would pay for the materials, and her brother and I are doing the labor.

I’m over sixty. My balance is bad. An hour on a ladder cleaning and painting wipes me out for the rest of the day. This job wasn’t ever going to get done in a week.

So, some weeks ago Travis pulled up the old flooring, revealing once again the linoleum that had been there when we bought the place. I bought some mineral spirits and spent about a week cleaning grease off the cabinets. They’re now nearly sixty years old, and even more gross-looking than they were when we bought this place. The hammered-copper hardware was cemented into place by decades of grease and whatnot, and left green stains on the cabinet doors. The mineral spirits could only accomplish so much, and I searched down our hand sander to take off the really impossible crud.

First coat.

Doing all this while the flooring is gone enables me to paint with impunity. No dropcloth needed, I don’t have to worry about drips. I’ve primered and got one coat of paint on the cabinet doors, which are laid out across the empty dining room. Travis moved the refrigerator for me, and I cleaned and primered the wall and cabinet behind. That’s where I am today, getting that bit of wall completed so we can put the refrigerator back in its slot and move on. The walls, molding, and backsplash will be an eggshell white, and the cabinets will be a darkish blue that will work with my metallic blue KitchenAid mixer. (Yes, I am decorating around the mixer. It’s either that or risk having it fight with the décor until I die.)

Happily, I’m finding this project somewhat therapeutic. For nearly thirty years I tolerated a kitchen I hated because I wasn’t the only one living in the house. Though I hate that Dale is gone and will never be okay with it, I’m learning to figure out what I want and am sticking up for it. This house is mine, mine, mine, all mine, and every room is for me to use as I please, until I sell it or bequeath it. I move onward.

Dog-Shaped Hole

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been AWOL, and I apologize. I expect you all found other things to amuse, and I haven’t been much fun in any case. On the 31st I had oral surgery, and it went well, thank you. Then four days later my dog died.

You know, this blog was not intended to be a litany of people and pets I’ve lost. Honest. No, really. I swear it. When I migrated my website, I fully expected to have more worthwhile things to say than “my dog died.” But let me tell you about Max. He was the best dog ever.

In June of 2010, we found ourselves dogless, and it had only been seven months since I’d lost my very favorite cat, Silas. My husband knew I wanted another Border collie, and thought he might meet me at the airport on my return from a trip to New York and present me with a puppy, but thought better of it and let me pick out the puppy myself. So we found a breeder up the road in Beth Page, and went to look.

The place was clean, the dogs seemed happy, and there were several puppies to choose from. All the unusual-colored ones were spoken for, but I was happy to take a black-and-white rough coat. I picked up one of those, and he settled into my arms while I looked at the other puppies. We talked about rough coat vs. smooth coat, eye color, and other sundries. I wanted a rough coat, and thought I might like one with blue eyes, but at five weeks old it was too early to tell eye color. We looked at the parents. The father was a smallish, red, rough coat with erect ears. We were told he was an agility competitor, and his parents had both been imported from Scotland and Ireland. I liked that very much. Mom was quite large for a Border collie. She was floppy-eared and so shaggy she almost looked like an English Sheep Dog. Her people were working cattle dogs from Kentucky.

The puppy in my arms fell asleep, and when it came time to choose, I saw no reason to put him down. So we bought him and named him Max, then left him there to grow up for another week.

The following Saturday I went to pick him up after he’d had his shots, etc., and the breeder greeted me with, “I have good news. It looks like he’s going to have one blue eye.” One blue? I thought that was a little weird. But then later he ended up with one blue and one blue/brown merle, which I found unutterably cool.

At six weeks old, Max was still very young to be leaving home. Eight weeks is the recommended age. But I had the time and energy to focus on him. I would sit with him on the carpet, and he would play for about ten minutes, then fall asleep in my lap for five. Play for ten, sleep for five.

He was the first puppy I’d ever had who was specifically my dog, and with my husband on the road there was nobody else around to influence him. I bought several books on dog training (I can do anything if I have the instructions), and began readying him for the obedience class I planned to take, which would be a learning experience for both of us. At eight weeks I started showing him the concept of “fetch.” Mostly I would take his favorite toy, toss it in front of him, then praise and pet him when he picked it up. It was maybe a couple of weeks later that he caught on that the objective was for him to bring it to me, and from then on he was a fetching fool. A Border collie with a job is a happy puppy.

Some months later we signed up for an obedience class. He already knew how to sit, but hadn’t yet grasped coming on command. He learned it in no time flat. Every week the instructor was at a loss to fill the time because Max would pick up the day’s lesson in about five minutes, then go, “Okay, what else ya got?” I decided I liked having a dog who was smarter than me.

Even for a Border collie, Max was high energy and smarter than average. We have a broadcast-style (no wire) invisible fence we’d bought for our first Border collie, Ziggy. The instructions say to give the dog a couple of days to get used to the perimeter. Ziggy, being of a breed known for intelligence, learned it in a couple of hours. Max, at about a year old, learned it in five minutes. Which is also about how long it took him to learn to catch a Frisbee (aka Slobber Disk.)

As I said earlier, Max was a fetching fool. Anyone who came to our back door was immediately presented with Max’s honeycomb ball. Like a bridge troll, he expected the ball to be thrown several times before he would allow that person to pass. And no matter how many throws he got, he always went, “Piker!” Often when I walked down the driveway to get the mail, that ball would go rolling past me to the street. I’d turn around and find Max standing at the top, waiting for me to throw it for him. The neighbors all loved playing fetch with Max, which I encouraged because I could never keep up with him.

On August 4, two weeks ago, Max died. The vet showed me the x-ray, which revealed something that looked like a bone in his colon, and a shadow that looked like a massive infection. Since everyone in my family knows not to give bones to a dog, I can only guess he got it out of the garbage. In any case, he passed only a few minutes after I got him to the vet.

I’ll get another puppy, probably in a year or two. Meanwhile I’m working with my daughter’s dog, a Mountain Cur named Cooper. He’s not a stupid dog, but compared to Max he seems badly retarded. I’m so spoiled by Max.

Best. Dog Ever.

The System is Working

Rant alert. No humor today.

On October 3, 2001, at 7:30 in the evening, I sat in front of the TV, waiting for Farscape to start and my brother, Alan, to arrive to watch it with me. It was a regular thing, and I looked forward to it every week. Tonight he was late, but that wasn’t unusual.

About five minutes into the show, the phone rang. It was a woman, who asked, “Who’s this?”

I replied, “Who’s this?”

She only kept asking who I was, and I finally hung up. I have no patience for anyone who can’t identify themselves on the phone. I went back to watching the show.

The phone rang again, and it was the same woman, asking again who I was. I insisted she tell me who she was, and got another runaround. This was beginning to annoy me. This was before we had a DVR, and I was missing my favorite show. Again I hung up.

A third time the phone rang. This time it was a police officer, who informed me the call was about my brother, who had just had a heart attack. Apparently I was his emergency contact, and I was summoned to the hospital. I picked up my purse and left immediately.

On the way there, I sorted out in my mind how we would take care of Alan during his convalescence. I was his only local relative; he would need to stay with us and I would be responsible for him. That was how it had always been. He was my little brother, and all my life I had been held responsible for him.

In the ER, I learned he was still coding. They’d been trying to restart his heart for about half an hour. I was told that at this point, even if he responded he would probably end up brain-damaged. But as it was, they gave up soon after and pronounced him dead.

It turned out that the woman who had called twice then hung up was a friend of his, who had discovered him on the floor of his computer shop about half an hour after he called her, complaining of severe chest pains. (And by half an hour I mean God only knows how long it really took that flaming idiot to finally decide Alan needed help.)

Much later, from various sources including witnesses, emergency responders, and hospital records, I was able to assemble the truth of what happened. Alan began experiencing chest pains early in the evening, and phoned his friend the brain trust. She later said to me he told her to not call 911, because he couldn’t afford another trip to the ER and thought he could just tough it out the way he always had before. I learned he’d been having these episodes for about six months. Two months earlier he’d gone to the emergency room after going unconscious during one of them, but by the time he got there his rhythm had normalized and he was stable. The ER had done nothing; the episode had simply ended. By law, hospital emergency rooms are not obligated to find out what happened, they’re only required to stabilize. I know this because the ER at TriStar Hendersonville Medical Center, where Alan went for help and where he ultimately died, has notices posted on every available wall space stating in detail that they are not responsible for treating patients who are not insured, and once a patient is stabilized he is expected to leave the premises. So, since my brother was conscious and breathing, the hospital booted him out the door and he went home with a medical bill he would never have been able to pay even if he’d lived. He was a self-employed computer tech, new in town and barely scraping by, and had no way of affording individual health insurance. Ever. An individual policy for someone his age would have cost more than his entire income.

Alan told his friend not to call 911, and told her it was because, if he incurred another medical debt, he would never be able to have anything for the rest of his life. So she didn’t call anyone, and a while later wandered over to his shop to see if he was all right. He was, at that point, quite dead.

Had he been insured and not afraid to call for help, he could have been taken to the hospital in time and ::cough:: stabilized. And they might have stumbled across the cause of these episodes. Or perhaps, even, he might have had a diagnosis after the very first episode if he’d had access to a GP. But almost no GPs take new patients who are not insured. Why didn’t he get on Medicaid? Fffff…right. Be real, this is Tennessee. You need a lawyer to get on TennCare. In short, my brother died for lack of health insurance, as surely as if some actuary from Blue Cross had put a bullet in his brain.

So…I told you that story to tell you this, and some other stuff. (Yeah, this is going to be a long post, but I hope you’ll bear with me.) Skip ahead a few years. President Barack Obama, after at least a year of struggle which I followed closely, with fingers crossed that he would put an end to our health care system which was killing people, signed into law the Affordable Care Act. I decline to call it “ObamaCare,” because the main thing to remember is the word affordable. Let’s note that affordable is not part of the Republican repeal bill, on any level. We’ll get back to that shortly.

I won’t go into detail about the law itself; it’s extremely complex and deeply flawed. I’ll spare the rant on why. The central issue on this is that this law enabled millions of people, including me, to have more or less affordable health insurance. For some it is the first time in their lives. I had been uninsured my entire adult life. Being insurance clueless, I approached the government exchange with trepidation. It was confusing, but not nearly as hopeless as the teeth-pulling nightmare I’d experienced when signing my husband up for an individual policy several years earlier. (Just him; we couldn’t afford to insure both of us.) The information I needed was there on the site, I just had to interpret it. I signed up for insurance on the exchange, barely affordable because of the subsidy, and began to feel like I belonged, and no longer fallen through the cracks. It’s impossible to describe how good that felt.

My husband’s profession (entertainer coach driver) doesn’t offer health insurance at any price, because this is Tennessee and entertainment unions are by law prohibited from any sort of collective behavior that might give them any power. Welcome to Right to Work. I have been a freelance writer since 1993, but though I have been a member of the Authors’ Guild they were unable to offer me health insurance because I live in Tennessee. I point out these things lest anyone accuse me of just not wanting to pay for health care. The ugly truth is that over the years I have paid many, many times as much for the smidgens of diagnosis and treatment I’ve managed to pry out of the system as what was charged for the same tests and prescriptions to insurance companies. I’m not talking about copays, I’m talking about total cost to the insurer. Because my husband was briefly insured, and we’re both diabetic and taking the same tests and pills, I have bills to prove it.

During these past few years of being fully insured (except for optical and dental, because apparently the health insurance industry doesn’t consider eyes and teeth part of one’s body), I’ve finally been able to control my blood sugar and blood pressure, goals that had eluded me during previous years when every office visit had to be budgeted and certain medications were impossibly out of reach. In December of 2014 I developed a blister on my foot and was hospitalized with a diabetic foot ulcer. It was caught soon enough to avoid amputation because I hadn’t hesitated to have it checked as soon as I realized there was something wrong. Nowadays any foot sore will send me to my GP immediately, because my copay is one-fifth the cost of an office visit. Though they told me the cellulitis that developed from the foot ulcer might never heal entirely, after two and a half years has healed up and there’s no sign of it. I’ve also managed to lose a little weight, and my thyroid is being properly tested and medicated, which helps weight control and therefore blood sugar and cholesterol control. I can get antibiotics for respiratory infections and stomach bugs, thereby spending days under the weather rather than weeks or months. All in all, the advent of the ACA has enabled me to feel healthier–be healthier–than I had for decades.

Thank you, Mr. Obama.

Now jump to January 20, 2017. Trump put his hand on a couple of bibles and swore to defend the Constitution, a promise we knew at the time he didn’t mean, and now he’s showing us just how little regard he has for it. At that moment I was on a bus full of women in pink knitted hats, headed to Washington D.C. to let the world know Trump is Not My President and that we weren’t going to allow him to plunder the country. Six months in, it’s beginning to look as if our political system–even the rule of law–is crumbling around our heads. Regardless of which side one supports, it can’t be denied that Washington D.C. is not getting anything accomplished, and those of us who are retirement age or close to it, who have the rest of our lives at stake, are watching the three-ring nightmare with white knuckles. I am literally counting the days until I will be old enough for Medicare. Mitch (Yertle the Turtle) McConnell is leading the charge to yank the ACA, among other things. Every few weeks it looks like millions of us are going to lose our health care–and therefore our health–so that monstrously, absurdly, unthinkably rich folks can pay less in taxes and by that become even more monstrous, absurd, and unthinkable. It appears we are doomed.

But I say there’s hope. (You knew I was going somewhere with this, yes?) Trump isn’t going to be impeached this year, or next. However, neither is he fooling most of us. We in the pink hats have made ourselves clear, and will continue to do so. Those in Washington who care about democracy, rule of law, and the individual lives of Americans who are not rolling in money, are sticking up for us. Last night (Thursday, July 27, 2017) the Senate voted on the Republican ACA repeal bill, and the vote was “no.” In a Republican-controlled Senate, McConnell’s mean little bill hasn’t gone forward. Three Republican senators made the difference by joining the forty-eight Democrats in not wanting to hurt people. John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins helped stick up for those of us who are at risk.

McConnell, having postponed the vote so McCain could participate, is not a happy camper today.

So all is not lost, despite the White House turning into Animal House. The ACA, obviously, is not the whole picture, and there will likely be more repeal attempts in the future, but for now the Senate has moved on to other things and  many of us will be healthier for it.

Now we must get the message to our representatives that we want the ACA fixed.

End rant.

Washington Women's March

Final Visit

I’d thought I was going for a final visit. My father had been sick for a long time, and had been living on borrowed time since his heart attack in 2005. I pictured myself spending a couple of weeks hanging out with my dad, looking at old family photos, saying things that needed to be said, answering questions and settling misunderstandings.

My flight reservation was for 4:28 p.m. on May 2. That morning I got a phone call, and the caller ID said it was Dad. Half asleep, I picked up and when I heard a man’s voice say my name I groggily thought it was him. Surely calling to say he was feeling better, and he’d see me later.

But it was my stepbrother, telling me my father had passed away half an hour before. Suddenly my visit became a trip to a funeral.

I used to like flying. Before 9/11 it felt like a Grand Adventure to climb on a plane and head off to places I’d never been before. Scotland, New York, Montreal, Frankfurt…then the TSA entered the picture and it’s never been the same since. But today there were no hassles. The world had turned…soft. Dreamlike. As if everyone knew I was not really here anymore, and that no matter what happened in transit, it would still be better than the morning I’d had.

I landed in Spokane shortly before the car rental counter was due to close down at midnight, with an hour and a half drive still between me and Colville. One of the handles on my suitcase had been broken off, but I had more pressing things to deal with.

I turned on my phone to call my husband to tell him the plane hadn’t crashed, but the thing went into a beeping fit and turned itself off. Huh. Turned it on again, and it beeped some more before blinking off. It appeared I would need to plug it in once I got into the car.

The nice car rental fellow gave me a key and sent me to slot J4 where I was supposed to find a cheap, wind-up-toy sort of car. Economy was all I could afford.

No car in J4. I peered at the key fob to see what it said, but my reading glasses weren’t anywhere near my face and all I could see was a big J4 scrawled on the fob in black sharpie. And even I could see there was no car in J4.

I pushed the door unlock button on the fob, and the car in J5 blinked a “hereIam.” I blinked back. It was a 2017 silver and black Camaro. Convertible. I was tired enough to go, “Oh, dear.” I knew for sure the car rental guy was going to come scurrying out of the terminal any second, and take away the fob he’d mistakenly given me. He couldn’t possibly have meant for me to have this car. But I was too tired to do anything but say “screwit” and make a note to argue with them later.

The trunk was absurdly tiny, but my bag made it in. I climbed into the driver’s seat, and couldn’t see over the dashboard. It was dark, and I was afraid to feel around for random buttons lest I accidentally put the top down and couldn’t get it back up. So I tried to see what I was doing in the dark. (See above: no reading glasses.)

I got the car started somehow, though there was no actual key on the fob. Also a first for me. Good thing the dashboard gave me an error message telling me to put my foot on the brake, or I’d still be there, pushing that button. I found the cigarette lighter plug and plugged in my phone. Tried to turn it on, but it only beeped and pooped out again. I started to become frustrated.

The car was one of those newfangled, quasi-manual shift cars with no clutch. I like a standard transmission, but I don’t think they make those anymore. I had never, ever seen one of these with no clutch. I had not the faintest idea how to shift this thing.

I had a GPS with me, and felt around, hoping to find a second cigarette lighter plug. No luck. I had to unplug the phone to plug in the GPS. I didn’t much like being unable to call my husband right away, but I had no clue which way to go to get to the road north.

With the GPS booted, I went to enter my destination, which was my dad’s house. I realized I did not know the house number. Which was on my phone. Which I couldn’t turn on.

I unplugged the GPS, plugged in my phone, then sat for a moment, beyond frustrated and holding back panic.

I noticed an OnStar button, and pushed it in desperation though I figured I would get a robot voice asking for a credit card number. But instead I got a live person, to whom I spilled my guts about my situation. She happily sent me the directions to Colville via the onboard GPS.

So I backed out of the space, nearly an hour after my plane had landed, and made my way out of the parking lot.

That was when I realized the shifting procedure wasn’t going to make itself apparent. The shifter did nothing once it was in drive, and there was no obvious control for changing gears. I could hear the engine winding up, and had to pull over to think about this. I was having nightmare visions of driving all the way to Colville in first gear and arriving sometime near dawn.

As I poked around the dashboard, looking for the bloody shift control, my phone rang. It was my husband. I picked it up, certain the thing would turn off as soon as I touched it. When I heard his voice, I burst into tears I was so relieved.

He talked me in off the ledge, explained to me how to shift the car (paddles on the steering wheel…who knew?), and then tried to help me figure out which way to pick up the road to Colville. Because he’s spent the past forty-five years driving everywhere in North America and some places south of the border, he knew where I should go. However, he couldn’t know exactly where I was because I could see no signs. I had to hang up, plug the GPS back in, and see if I could shift the car well enough to get out of Spokane. Then I looked up dad’s house number on my phone, entered it into my familiar GPS, and proceeded on my way.

An hour and a half later I pulled up at my father’s house, where my father no longer was.

My stepmother and two of my stepbrothers were there. Over the next few days we all picked carefully through the minefield of memories, photographs, and paperwork. We pulled together the details of Dad’s life, and I helped write his obituary. It was  a surreal experience.

He was all about airplanes. He learned to fly before he learned to drive. After high school he studied aeronautical engineering and began military flight training in the Naval Reserve. He declined an appointment to Annapolis so he could continue his flight training, then was called up for active duty in the Korean War. He finished his training in Pensacola. His flight gear and log book are on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum there.Alan Bedford Sr.

During his eight years of active duty, he flew fighter jets off the U.S.S. Boxer and U.S.S. Hornet, earning seven citations and service medals. After the war, he flew as a test pilot and was assigned to the U.S. Naval Air Missile Test Center at Point Mugu, California. I was born on that base.

After his discharge from active duty, he went to work at Lockheed Missiles and Space Corp. Still with the airplanes. In his forties he took a hiatus from there, finished out college, picked up an MBA, and worked as a flight instructor, instructor trainer, and aerial photographer. He tried to teach me to fly, but I couldn’t get past the unshakable conviction that the instant I took control of the plane it would plummet from the sky. I still have the logbook that shows half an hour of flight time.

Julianne, age threeOne of my favorite pictures of myself was taken by my dad when I was about three years old, as I was running across the yard to hug him. When I was four, he came home from somewhere with a copy of Black Beauty for me. I looked inside and said, “I can’t read this; there aren’t any pictures.” He said, “Then learn to read.”

And I did.

In 2002 when my second novel was released, I was visiting my dad for a family reunion. We went into Barnes & Noble and found seven copies of Outlaw Sword on the shelf. I said, “Cool. Let’s see if they want me to sign them.” He laughed, thinking I was joking. But he stopped laughing when I took the copies to the service desk and the manager was happy to have me sign them. As I did, my dad stood there looking like he was going to pop from pride.

Honor GuardOn May 18 he was buried in a veteran’s cemetery outside of Spokane, with full military honors. Jet airplanes taking off from nearby Spokane airport added an oddly appropriate soundtrack as we mourned a former fighter pilot. In the distance the United States flag flew at half mast. Three riflemen fired three volleys. Strangers in uniform saluted him, with all military precision and respect

I knew him for sixty years, and now I can’t imagine the world without him in it.