Saturday, October 31, 2009


Happy Halloween. This has been a day that began with us cleaning and rearranging and stashing things like coffee pots because it was our first day to show the house.

A little before noon our agent, Mary-Anne, exiled us from our own house and told us we couldn't return until 1 when the viewing was over. We went to Crows Nest and decided to try out a new restaurant boasting "Build Your Own Burgers", which we now know is restaurant-speak for you can have the stuff you would have been able to have for free anyways, but now we get to charge about 5 bucks more.

The burgers were good, though pricey, but the lunch was excellent because while we were reviewing the menu our great friends Shirley and Cheryl walked past and we got them to join us.

After lunch, LK went to the grocery to buy 12 bags of candy bars to give to Trick or Treaters. I went to the drug store to get six prescriptions for diabetes filled because of all the candy I used to eat when I was a Trick or Treater. Karma, I guess.

Then we went home where Mary-Anne filled us in on the viewing. She said that 19 families had come through the house and about 2 or 3 were "good inspections", which I think means they are strong prospects. We talked with her for quite a while, and if I have to get it to a simple sentence. it would be: Good first day and we'll find out how good later.

After that, we had about an hour before Rachael and Matt came over with Lily to trick or treat the neighborhood. (We apparently have a strong American contingent living here and it's prime territory for Halloween treats.) LK used it to carve an excellent jack o'lantern. Lily's friends Chloe and Amy eventually joined her, and after some play time at the house Rach and Matt took them around to harvest sweets.

Lily dressed as a pumpkin. It's a costume she's had for years and rediscovered recently. She decided that she wanted to wear the costume again, even though it's really designed to fit a girl of about 2 or 3. As you can see from the picture, she somehow pulled it off although the cap makes her look to me like Drew Barrymore in Grey Gardens.

When I told her today that Auntie Sandy (as she calls her) had first made the costume for Jordan when she was a little girl, Lily got quite excited and couldn't wait to tell her parents that the costume was quite special because Auntie Sandy had sewed it.

Anyhow, an hour later three 7-year-olds were wolfing down candy. I am positive none of these girls ever eats this much candy, and I was starting to feel a little nauseous myself watching them. I tried to slow them down with all the arguments adults use that have zero impact on 7-year-olds with piles of chocolate in front of them.

Out of desperation, I finally said, "Lily, if you keep eating Snickers you are going to end up looking like Bampy." Her two friends both stopped and looked at me with a true lack of comprehension. Then Lily piped up, "He means we will all be fat." Chloe and Amy nodded. Then, confident that they did not need to fear baldness at an early age, all three girls went back to scarfing down their candy.

They finally left, and LK and I were alone, but Greenwich is now unofficially a Halloween Center of Excellence in Australia. LK bought 12 bags of 12 candy bars. By 7:30 we were down to 10 little Snickers and dreading what would happen if the doorbell rang two or three more times. Fortunately, the tide receded with five candy bars left and we were able to relax.

As we sat down, we both realized we were very tired for no obvious reason. It may just be that we have finally reached the Showing-the-House finish line and it was probably just an unconscious response. Anyhow, LK is making a late dinner. She has just blown out the candle on the jack o'lantern and proclaimed Halloween officially over. And soon after we eat, I think we will both be happy to crawl into bed.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mama, Pappy and Bubba

I don't know why it all started, but a few months ago my Dad and I had been talking on the phone and he said he was going to switch the call over to my mother. Only he said, "I'll give you to your Mama."

Now I have never called her Mama in 60 years, and she and I both cracked up that he had said it. But then the next night he said it again. And the next night. Until, through sheer repetition, her name became Mama, and I have now started saying "Hi, Mama" when she comes on the line.

Then one night a few weeks ago, she decided that if she was going to get a new name after six decades then so could I. So when I said, "Hi, Mama," she told me that from now on if her new name was Mama then mine was going to be Bubba. We both had a good laugh because Bubba is just not a name our New England family has dealt with. However, I knew I was in for it the next night when Dad answered the phone with "How are you, Bubba?" And it has stuck since then.

So, it is just the sort of silliness that makes families laugh. Well, kind of. Yesterday Mama told me that she had been shopping and saw a box of frozen hamburgers called Bubba Burgers. "I had to buy them," she told me, even though she had never bought frozen hamburgers in her life. And then this morning my father (whom I now call Pappy) sent me e-mail pictures of the Bubba Burgers box.

This being the era of Google, I can now tell you that Bubba Burgers were invented in the early 1990s by Walter "Bubba" Eaves. The company's web site says that Bubba's dream was "to create a burger that he would be proud to serve to his friends at his home." Which doesn't seem like all that grand a dream to me, but perhaps if you're named Bubba it is.

And, much like George W, it was Mission Accomplished for Bubba. Again, to quote the web site, ". . . he was so proud of his creation he named his burger the BUBBA burger®. With these high standards, the BUBBA burger® was born!"

Surprisingly, the company making the BUBBA burger® is not the first one to get mentioned when you google the words Bubba + Burger. That actually belongs to a small chain of restaurants in Kauai Hawaii known as Bubba's, (if you hadn't already guessed the name). The restaurants specialize in burgers and in fact their menu offers a wide range of burgers. They are the Bubba, the Double Bubba, the Big Bubba, the Slopper and the Double Slopper. And if you really want to know what the Double Slopper is, you can check out the menu yourself here.

And while you're there, check out the rest of this site. It is one of the funniest and most entertaining sites I've visited. You just need to know that Kuaui's Bubba restaurants have as their motto: "We cheat tourists, drunks and attorneys." And at the bottom of their menu, they tell you that you can add lettuce and tomato for $1, but then caution: "Not Recommended. Been served without it since 1936."

And while they don't appear to be freezing and shipping Big Bubba Burgers or the Double Slopper to the world outside Hawaii, you can order some items.

My favorite is a package of beans called "Bubba's Organic Bubble Bath". Its directions are simple: "Cook and eat with 1 bowl Bubba's Budweiser Chili 1 hour BEFORE bath time."

Anyhow, enough about the various Bubba burgers and back to the main subject of our new names. It must be time to give Linda Maureen a new name in line with Mama, Pappy and Bubba. Perhaps Linda-Mo? Oh, never mind. I have already been calling her that for years.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Proper Knees Up

Today I did two things I haven't done in years.

The first was that I knelt down. The second was that I stood up after kneeling down.

I cannot remember the last time my knees let me do a proper kneel-down, but today I decided to chance it in pursuit of getting our house sold. On Saturday I had painted over some chips and scratches on the yellow columns at the front of the house. The assumption being that people react quickly to how a house looks when they first approach it, and it seemed important not to let them see that we hadn't bothered with the dings and nicks since we moved in.

Anyhow, the paint job on the columns seemed effective enough without going to the trouble of repainting the whole thing. But all the yellow paint I had spilled on the marble pavers of the porch needed a scrubbing this morning.

I also wanted to paint the step at the front door. For some reason the previous owners had painted it bright red, which I have always thought was an odd choice for a yellow house with aqua trim. But in the 9 years we have lived here much of the red paint had worn away to the point where you didn't know if it was a red step with lots of wear or a wooden step that had been bleeding.

Anyhow, it was time to kneel down. Nothing ripped, tore or even hurt much. I was thinking this wasn't going to be as bad as I had worried. Then I realized I still had to get my other knee down.

Once both knees were down, I started scrubbing like a scullery maid - if you can imagine a bald, fat scullery maid with a moustache. The yellow paint came up pretty easily, and all that remained was to get the paint and do the front step.

Which is when I learned that kneeling down - as challenging as it may seem - is much easier than standing up.


More or less stuck on all fours on the front porch with little idea how to get out of that position, I ran through my yoga positions in my mind. Perhaps one would show me the way to get upright again.

The Downward-facing Dog is supposed to start from a kneeling position, but I've always cheated and skipped the kneeling part, so that was no help. The Sun Salutation had taught me how to do a sort of squat that uses my knees to stand up from a bent-over position. Unfortunately, I can now tell you that you cannot squat when you are sitting on your feet, and really it was getting those feet out in front of me that was the real challenge. So that was little help.

I finally figured out that the porch railing could also function as a pull-up bar from the position I was in. Grabbing it, I was able to swing one foot and then the next in front of my body. And from there I did a modified Sun Salutation and pushed my way through to the upright position. My Wii guy probably would have told me I need to work on my balance, but it did not matter.

And yes, the whole process had to be repeated in order to paint the step. So you could say that I have now done this kneel-down-and-get-back-up thing twice. But when I was done, I was relieved that twice would be quite enough for the foreseeable future.

That was until a few moments later. I forgot to shut the front door afterwards and Streak walked through, leaving paw marks on the newly painted step and paint marks on the porch pavers. LK volunteered to clean up the paint the cat had tracked, and I did a quick fix on the step, but it will need another coat. I guess I will be back painting the step one last time tomorrow.

Assuming my knees are still working when I try to get out of bed.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Living Large

Fat bottomed girls, you make the rockin' world go round
Get on your bikes and ride


Many of you have probably heard about Club Bounce by now, but I just discovered it. It's a nightclub in Long Beach, California that caters to plus-sized people. And if "plus-sized" sounds too politically correct to you, you may prefer the way the Associated Press put it:

This expansive nightclub a couple blocks from the Pacific Ocean, with its flashing lights, friendly atmosphere and wall-rattling hip-hop sounds, caters specifically to fat people. That's right, fat people. Not just any fat people, either, but fat people who are proud to call themselves fat people.

Now I am willing to acknowledge that I am fat, but I am not proud of it. I really cannot get my head around how someone who cannot touch their toes would be proud of that. Anyhow, you can read all about Club Bounce in the AP report and there's another interesting story here on a web site called that caters to the bar management trade.

The owner of the bar makes a big deal about creating an environment where plus-sized party-goers can enjoy themselves without feeling like "the fat girl at the bar", as she described it. I would sooner think my reaction to the club would be more like "there's nothing but fat girls at the bar", but then I am obviously not tuned into the Club Bounce way of thinking.

I mean, it's not like a gay bar. I can understand why gays would want to have a place where they can get together without worrying about being bashed if they feel like doing the lambada. But honestly, is there a dance floor anywhere in the world that prohibits chubby folks from boogeying?

Or is it that the chubby folks feel out of place with people who wear black because they like the color and not because it hides their shapes? Certainly I have learned over the years that the easiest way to look thinner was not to lose weight - which is very hard work - but to hang around a bunch of very fat people. So maybe that would be the best reason to go to the club for some of us.

I don't want to sound too harsh about Club Bounce. Live and let live, so if the XXLs of this world want their own place to dance, more power to them. But I have to tell you I am quite disappointed because I wouldn't be allowed into the club.

While I pass the physical requirements easily enough, my problem is that the club requires that men wear shirts with a collar and it bans sneakers. In order to get in, I would have to abandon my retirement uniform. I just don't think it's something I would consider if the only payoff is that I get to dance with a bunch of large people who boast that they're fat and proud of it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Unreal Estate

On Friday the photographer came to take the pictures of the house that will run on the Internet and in the brochure. The photo at the top is what the living room looks like. The shot on the bottom is what the photographer took. Ignoring the lighting differences, since he got a beautiful sunny day and today is a dreadful overcast and dreary day, I think you can see what these folks do to pitch your property.

The top picture is all about C words: comfortable couches and cushions and chairs and curtains, with a background of even more chairs on the deck. The photographer's shot is about light and windows and wood floors and it all leads outdoors to the deck and garden and just a hint of the harbor beyond. And the bottom picture is also about removing armchairs and paintings and tables and half the cushions to make everything look more spacious.

It's obviously a good picture for what the real estate agent wants to do with her marketing. The people who may want to buy this house will want it for what they can do with it and how they would live here, not how we do.

I did wonder if people who came over to look based on the ad were often surprised when what was in the pictures is not what they see in the real house. "Oh no," Mary-Anne assured me. "No one has ever said anything. I doubt if they even realize it's different."

And she is probably right. In an ironic twist on the English language, it's obvious that to be successful in real estate, you have to be fairly cavalier about presenting what is real. Not one of the pictures for our real estate ads is real, as in, this is how they look every other day.

So much of the language they use is also quite oddly wrong. I've posted earlier that I first noticed this when they referred to 2 1/2 baths when what we have is 2 baths and 3 toilets - almost as if they're hoping to convince people that third toilet is really a half-sized bath.

And now that we have started seeing the words they are going to use in the ads, I should tell you that we don't have a deck, despite what looks like one just behind the living room. Nope, we've been calling it the wrong name all these years - it's really an undercover entertainment area.

And it forms a key component of our house's "emphasis on a relaxed indoor-outdoor alfresco lifestyle" as the brochure reads. A bit of redundancy there, perhaps, since "alfresco" means "outdoors", but being Italian it sounds so much more elegant. And perhaps disguises the fact that essentially pitching the house this way is a lot like saying it is a good place to sit outside of -- either on the deck that is no longer a deck or in the back yard, which by the way has now become a courtyard.

And according to our ad, when you're standing on what was once a deck, you capture "cameo water views". I have looked in four or five dictionaries, and cannot find a definition for "cameo" that makes any sense in this context. But it sounds good, doesn't it? Sounds kind of special. Probably even more so given that you're actually standing on the undercover entertainment area.

Oh well, LK and I have enormous confidence that Mary-Anne knows what she's doing so who am I to critique her work? First showing is this Saturday. It's all happening soon.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Who's the Boss?

Apparently I screwed up royally yesterday. I had been in the garage and I stumbled upon an old pack of cat tray liners. Since Streak had her last losing fight (as distinct from all her other losing fights), she has been using the cat tray almost exclusively.

And I am the official remover of Streak's used kitty litter. It's not fun and I am clumsy, so I was really happy to find that at some point in the distant past I had bought a pack of cat tray liners - probably the last time Streak lost a fight and the vet said she had to stay inside until her stitches healed.

I proudly announced my discovery to LK. And that was my mistake. Had I just started using the liners, she would never have known about it because she so hates the notion of dealing with a cat crapping in her house that she won't even go into the bathroom where the cat tray lives. Too much grit on the floor, she says. Which is correct, but I've learned to deal with it.

But no, I had to tell Linda that I had discovered the cat tray liners. And she stared at me.

LK staring is bad, I know from experience. But the speaking-after-staring is even worse. Linda spoke.

"I told you about those yesterday," she said, "and you said you didn't want them."

There is really no way to come back from that without admitting that you weren't paying any attention to what she was saying. I did not try.

But with LK, payback is a bitch. Sure, she could just treat me as a guy who wasn't paying attention. But no, this was one of those moments when policy is implemented, forever changing the way we do things.

Tonight my darling said to me that when I told her about the cat tray liners that she made a decision that she would never pay attention to me again. "When I tell you you need new shirts and you tell me you will never wear them, I will buy them. Because I know you will wear them and wonder why I didn't buy more," she said.

"When I tell you that you need a new sweatshirt, I don't want to hear that you have plenty in the cupboard. I am buying it. And I know that you will probably love it so much that you will not wear anything else for weeks until I insist on washing it."

And so forth.

One of the things that retirement teaches you is that the future is, essentially, already here. Patterns of behavior, the ways we deal with one another, the duel to be the alpha dog --- well, I hope these are not etched in granite in the first year of retirement. Because right now, I am looking at the pendulum, and it has swung widely out of reach to the other side.

And all because Streak stopped taking a dump outdoors.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Back Bites

This is more of a tweet than a post, but I just noticed that I wrote the following paragraph in the post below ("Time Trials"):

Right now Brian is back working on the floor in the front bedroom. I say "back" because they finished working on it last Friday. Because of my back being sore, I didn't try to move anything back into the room until yesterday.

You may not believe that I once taught literature to college students and later made my living by writing. But it's all true. Which makes me wonder how much I am slipping when I use the word "back" four times in three sentences.

It may not be a record, but if anyone were taking bets, I'd back me to win.

Time Trials

This is the fun part of selling our house.

Right now Brian is back working on the floor in the front bedroom. I say "back" because they finished working on it last Friday. Because of my back being sore, I didn't try to move anything back into the room until yesterday. That's when my foot went through the floor. Apparently, they had decided they could skip part of their work.

I called Brian who said he would come back yesterday to fix it, but having learned the ways of tradesmen, we were feeling incredibly lucky just to see him today.

When Brian showed up we were a little concerned that things might get hectic around here. Andrew and his team were scheduled to be here an hour ago to power-wash the house and then clean the windows. Make that 75 minutes ago, but LK just saw them pull up out front.

That leaves only the woman who was due 15 minutes ago to measure the rooms in order to draw up a floor plan to put on the web site when the house gets listed.

We thought that was her when the doorbell rang five minutes ago, but when I opened the front door there was an older woman who started out by introducing "her friend" who was a younger woman with a child. Since I didn't know any of them, I was wondering if the floor plan woman was a complete whack job who brought her buddies and their kids along on the job.

Turns out she wasn't the floor plan woman, but from a Christian outreach program. She wanted to talk to us about who to go to when we needed comfort and help with our problems.

I told her I used tradesmen for that. But as I sent her and her friend on their way, I couldn't help but think that out of everyone today she may have set the record. Surely, she is at least 40 years too late.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kindle Garden

We have made a decision that seems monumental to me, yet at the same time it seems obvious and natural. We are abandoning books.

We will still be reading novels and non-fiction. But most of the time we will be reading them on the Kindle, Amazon's portable device for reading digital versions of books which became available for overseas customers today. Ours have already been shipped.

After almost 60 years of just loving the experience of picking up books and reading them, I have decided that it's the words that I love not the pieces of dead tree that have been stitched together. That decision was made easier because we have more or less stopped reading newspapers since LK retired. We get the weekend papers in order to track real estate, but all the rest of our news comes from the computer screen and, when they aren't dropping everything to watch a silver balloon float over Colorado, CNN.

But the Internet, crammed as it is with news sites, is perfect for people ready to drop physical newspapers. Somehow, dropping books seemed a lot more extreme.

I know there are people who are in love with the tactile part of reading. They love to feel the paper, to hold the words in their hands, to put them on shelves in their home. I don't think we will fall into that group, but Lord knows LK and I have saved hundreds of books that we could surely guarantee would never be read again, and our de-cluttering efforts forced us to rethink whether we really buy into that strong taboo against treating books as disposable items like most of our other possessions.

LK and I also made the decision to move to the Kindle for practical reasons. Carrying lots of books is a royal pain in the butt when you're on a long trip. And getting new books is a chore requiring either going to the bookstore, ordering online or getting Jason to pick some up for us and bring them to us (OK, his chore, not ours!). LK was particularly adrift when she finished all of her books and still had two days in Venice with no English books to be found.

Even so, we both wondered how we would feel to move to all-digital reading. In the end, we decided we have moved past holding on to old ways of doing things because, well, they were the old ways we did them.

I wouldn't even consider giving up my iPod and returning to a record/8-track/tape/CD player. I love having thousands of photos on my computer and in a virtual storage place like Shutterfly. I can't imagine a time when it would matter to put them on pieces of paper anymore. I like making phone calls by talking into my computer. Who needs a handset? And I can easily see a point in the very near future where I quite simply never have to carry any cash with me.

Mind you, we've also embraced new technology in the past only to have our closets filled with things that didn't work out as well as we thought they would in our original enthusiasm. I am pretty sure the eBay audience isn't going to bid through the roof for our mini-CD recorder.

But I have a hunch the Kindle is a big deal, especially for us book readers. I will let you know after we've had a couple of months dealing with it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Paradise Regained

I don't know
I don't know
I don't know
where I'm a-gonna go
when the volcano blow

Jimmy Buffet, Volcano

Linda has been really happy today. In fact she has been like a kid before Christmas, and all because she read an article in the newspaper about the Caribbean island of Montserrat.

That beautiful little island has always been very special for us. It was the first place outside the US where we went for a holiday. Even with all the travel we have done since then, the experience we had in Montserrat in 1987 remains one of those we recall most fondly.

It was my first time outside the US (if you don't count Canada, and no one in the US does). It was perhaps the first time I saw the night sky with absolutely no ambient light. It was the first time I walked on black sand, created from volcanic lava that had eroded over the centuries.

It was my first time at a resort, the Vue Pointe. It was also my first experience with a beach bar, which at the time struck me as the most sensible thing I had ever encountered. And for both of us it was just a great time to veg out and relax with one another after an amazingly stressful magazine launch in Boston. And remember, this was before mobile phones and the Internet, so when you went on vacation, you really went on vacation.

One of the highlights of our holiday was the day we took a taxi up to the Soufriere Hills to walk around the volcano. This wasn't a national park or special place. You just drove up to where it was and had a wander among the holes in the rocks that would spew smoke. I honestly don't recall if you could smell sulfur, but I have convinced myself I did. Of one thing I am sure - you had no doubt that you were standing over something forceful that was burbling away just below you.

Montserrat back then had a claim to fame. Not that we met them, but there were a lot of musicians who visited the island often. George Martin, the Beatles manager, had built a world-class recording studio there and it was used by many top stars. When Jimmy Buffett sang his bouncy song asking where you gonna go when the volcano blow, it was Montserrat's volcano he was singing about.

But in 1995 that song stopped being fun as the volcano erupted, forcing the evacuation of the capital city of Plymouth which was covered with a thick layer of ash. The next year some residents were allowed to return, but in June of 1997 there was a huge eruption that killed 19 people and covered the city to the height you can see in the picture at top. It is eerie to think that LK and I once shopped and had lunch at the places buried under the lava flows and ash.

Plymouth, which is still technically the island's capital, is permanently abandoned. Over half the island is an exclusion zone which means that it is too dangerous to redevelop there.

So why was LK so happy today after she read the newspaper? It turns out that the correct answer to "Where you gonna go?" is "The other side of the island". Although more than half the population have left the island since the catastrophe, others are busy rebuilding essential services on the northern end of the island - hopefully out of reach of the volcano. The airport has been rebuilt, and they have now started a daily ferry service to Antigua.

And with all of this has come the re-birth of tourism. LK spent the afternoon reading about the various places to stay there, and many sound lovely. The Vue Pointe closed permanently after the last big blow, but there are lots of B&Bs and apartments popping up.

When we left Montserrat in 1987, we both wanted to return some day for another holiday. Then the next year we moved here to Oz, and we never got back before the volcano erupted. With that event, we felt such a loss that we would never see this beautiful place and meet these charming people again.

Now we will. And that's why LK - and I - have been like kids at Christmas today.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thumbs Up, But Back Down.

Not that I was really looking to learn, but I am starting to understand some things about being over 60. One of them is that you can unintentionally invite karma to come in and kick you in the butt if you're not careful.

Just a couple of days ago I had recovered my energy from the hard work of lugging stuff around and cleaning up. I did my Wii exercises and I thought to myself that I felt pretty good. No aches, no pains, nothing to complain about at all.

Two days later, I am having trouble standing up without pain, my calf muscles cramp up when I walk, there are nicks and scrapes and cuts all over me, and I keep reaching for my mobile phone when it vibrates only to realize that it isn't in my pocket.

Everything is very minor, but collectively these aches and pains are annoying. I know how each of them came about (well, not the mysterious vibration when my phone isn't even in my pocket), and in each instance bar one it all seems a little unfair of karma to be punishing me for my "I Feel Good" moment.

The one instance where I have only myself to blame is the scrape on my thumb. Two nights ago I decided to make fondue and was busily grating the cheese when I discovered that you can also grate your thumb if you don't pay attention. From now on, the cheese grater has a warning label saying it is unsafe to operate if you have been consuming alcohol.

By the way, grating your skin hurts a lot more than cutting yourself, which I did on the other hand. And no, I was not conducting a test to compare them.

Then yesterday morning I was doing my Wii yoga. Time for the Tree pose, which is the one where you stand on one leg with your arms above your head. The Wii trainer was in the process of saying, "You're fairly unsteady. That's not good for your back," when I felt my lower back start to ache.

I know you're supposed to do stretching before you exercise, but yoga is stretching. What kind of stretching do you have to do before you stretch?

Anyhow, I stopped the exercises so I wouldn't damage my back. It stopped hurting and didn't bother me the rest of the day. Since I couldn't do my Wii workout, I made sure I went for my walk. I went on the nature trail down to the wharf because it is the prettiest route to take around here.

There was a big step down on the path, and I didn't want to jar my back. So I stepped to the side of the path and walked down. Except the side of the path was a little slippery, and I ended up stumbling and scraping my left shin against a big rock. It only bled a little. I could show you a picture of that damage, but I don't think you can tell the difference between yesterday's scrape and the scars from when I fell in Africa more than 10 years ago.

That was the first walk I've taken in a while since we have been doing so much physical work getting the house ready to sell, and by the end I was walking really slowly because both of my calf muscles were starting to cramp up. Fortunately, it did not begin until I was close to home, and the neighbors didn't have to put up with me screaming in agony.

Because I haven't walked in a couple of weeks, I wasn't surprised this morning when my heels, knees and hips were sore. But that's the good "sore" from finally using the muscles you haven't used in a while.

The bad "sore" happened when LK and I came back from the North Sydney markets this morning. When I leaned over to pick up a bag on the floor of the car, my lower back reminded me why I hadn't finished the yoga yesterday.

Only now it's not going away, and I am being extremely protective of it -- walking slowly so as not to jar it, getting up so slowly that I some times can't remember if I am getting up or sitting down, and in general hoping cocktail hour hurries up and gets here because I think this backache feels like a 2-martini cure.

Nothing is all that serious and all of them will be forgotten in a couple of days. But isn't it amazing how karma can take you from feeling great on Tuesday to feeling sorry for yourself by Saturday.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Poetry Man

Today is my father's birthday.

I can think of so many things he has done in his life that impress me, but one that continually amazes me is the poetry he writes. In the last year, we have been posting them to his poetry blog and you may enjoy checking it out.

I used to write a little poetry, but I haven't tried in so many years that I am unlikely to ever do so again. But I thought it might be fun to write a poem to celebrate Dad's birthday.

And to make the challenge even more interesting, I decided I would write a rhyming poem - something I did seldom when I fancied myself a young Lord Byron.

Let me tell you. It is so hard to do. I don't think I have spent this much time on such a short piece in my whole life. And upon re-reading it, I can't say that I am very pleased with it. But with the deadline of Dad's birthday, here it is anyway.

Ah well. Obviously my literary role in life is to be limited to the role of smart-ass blogger. (And, Sandy, I know I said I would include you in the first poem I wrote if I ever wrote one again. But I just couldn't figure out how to do it. Maybe next time - although there isn't likely to be one.)


Red Kennedy

October winds brought in the frosty morn
with whispers there soon will be snow.
And in Vermont young John was born
Eighty-five years ago.

A carrot top, they called him Red
in the home of the Kennedy clan.
Those who have known him have always said
he grew into a wonderful man.

Wallingford memories are held so dear,
bringing stories so tender and funny.
Sure times were tough, but it's ever so clear
that Mary's house had more love than money.

Let time hurry forward past basketball glory,
past Navy service, past lifeguard duty,
til St Patrick's Day when the thrust of this story
shifts to passion and love and Norma's beauty.

In love and in luck, their life moves on.
A September wedding at Christ the King.
The next Fathers Day they welcome Don,
a pointy-head baby and chubby thing.

Eight years later young Bob arrives.
They completed the family of four.
And all of this time, Red's career thrives.
Keebler's offers he cannot ignore.

Opportunity knocked and the family moved
to Syracuse first, then Florissant.
With every challenge Red easily proved
there was little to do that he can't.

Another promotion, New Jersey's now home
with only one move left to make.
Eventually, wanting to no longer roam,
Back to Rutland for happiness' sake.

But the man's many jobs don't define him.
They merely mark points in his life.
To know all about what's inside him
Check the love of his family and wife.

They will tell of a grand story teller
and how he can make you laugh.
(My favorite - when Mom's in the cellar,
cutting the toilet in half!)

They will tell of a generous man who would do
whatever he could to help out.
and the courage he showed as he always fought through
in every medical bout.

In October Vermont paints a golden earth
before winter weather turns bad.
And it's also the month that marks his birth.
Happy Birthday, Dad.

Little Things Mean a Lot

What is it with some Australians and their weird fascination with little people? We are the country that invented dwarf tossing in the 1980's, although I have a theory about how that "sport" came about. I strongly suspect some drunken yobbos were really cruel to a dwarf at the pub one night. When they awoke the next morning, a sliver of shame ran through their brains. But unaware of what to do with that, they decided instead that it had been fun and declared it the latest sport.

I am also considering a theory that it is not in fact a coincidence that we affectionately call our country Oz. The original Oz, of course, was home to the munchkins, so perhaps being fascinated with little people is just a hardwired cultural heritage. Far-fetched? Perhaps, but consider also the fact that the most highly awarded films featuring dwarves, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, was filmed in New Zealand - which wishes it were Oz.

Still don't believe it? Well how about the fact that when our Nicole Kidman falls in love, she chooses the shortest guys in the room. And when it comes to Tom Cruise, do we really think it was only a coincidence that in the 1985 movie Legend, two of his character's friends - Brown Tom and Screwball - are dwarves. Some felt this was done so Tom would not be the shortest person in the cast, but I think he had his eyes on Our Nic all along.

You may be wondering what in the world has prompted all this thinking about little people and Australia. Well, think no more. Last week Cranbourne Racecourse in Victoria created a bit of a furore when it held the Midget's Cup, in which dwarves were carried on the back of patrons who raced 50 meters.

You can read the story here, but basically the people running the track thought it was all just a bit of fun so what's the fuss about? Frankly, I think it shows the enormous strides Oz has made in the past 25 years. In the '80's full-statured people picked up dwarves and threw them as far as they could for sport. Today, they get on the backs of the taller people who carry them while they run down the track. Now the really interesting bit would be if we let the little people carry whips like real jockeys.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sunday Chores

Oh dear, I am tired.

Yesterday was always going to be a tough day in our continuing move to get the house ready to sell. But we lost any opportunity to put off til tomorrow what we should do today when we agreed to let our agent bring in a house hunter on Monday since he was only in town for another day or two before returning overseas.

So there was no turning back. Sunday was just plain hard work. Floors needed mopping, bathrooms needed scrubbing, rugs needed vacuuming. And on top of that all, we booked a special trash pickup from the council and I had to lug book cases, moldy garden umbrellas, plastic wine glasses, magazine racks, baskets, broken appliances, tables (including a broken picnic table) and other things that we just didn't need or want any more.

Much of the stuff was still good and in working condition. At least putting it out for the trash is totally guilt-free. There is no waste because within a couple of hours all the good stuff is gone. In fact, I was quite charitable and sorted it into broken stuff and working stuff to make it easier for the people who drive around looking for gems among the clean-up trash. They must not have trusted me because they took lots of the broken stuff, as well.

I also undertook mop duty for the little loo off the laundry room. It's called the half-bath in real-estate speak (as in the house has 2 1/2 baths). And because it is real-estate speak, half-bath actually means no bath, only a toilet and sink.

Anyhow, we have never used the half-bath in our nearly 10 years here because, frankly, two people don't need 2 1/2 baths. You can imagine what happens to the walls and floor of a room not used for 10 years, sitting off the laundry room and never given a thorough clean because it was so full of whatever we had that we couldn't figure out where else to put it.

Let's just say the mop won, but it was an epic struggle all the way to the final siren.

And LK was working even harder than me. Having de-cluttered by packing 38 boxes in four days, she turned her attention to other matters. She scrubbed down all eight of our deck chairs, even though I suggested to her that the cleanliness of the deck chairs was probably not going to be a factor in a decision to buy our house.

She even did a reasonably accurate impersonation of Faye Dunaway impersonating Joan Crawford. She decided the stairs needed to be cleaned. Not dust-mopped or vacuumed clean. Oh no, each of the 18 steps had to be individually dusted and hand scrubbed clean.

And that made it a two-person job. LK stood on a step, dusting and washing the one above it as she bent over. My job? I held the bucket. And in my mind, I composed short poems about the experience. Lots of good rhymes there.

Lily and her parents came over late in the afternoon. She usually jumps up into my arms, but I sat down in order to hold her. I explained that I had been working very hard and was quite tired. "All of my muscles are very sore," I said. "Even your butt muscles?" she asked.

I love a 7-year-old's humor. I told her, "No, my butt muscles are OK." All the while thinking, "Great. She's inherited her grandmother's sense of humor."

So there was a certain irony this morning as LK groaned slightly getting out of the car. Feeling the effect of all that bending over on the stairwell, she told me, "Even my butt muscles are sore."

I will have to remember to tell Lily the next time we see her.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Don't Come a-Knockin' on My Front Door

I am not obsessive about punctuality, but I am pretty close to being so. At some point my Mom and Dad taught their little Bubba that it is very rude not to show up when you said you would.

My bride, on the other hand, has an entirely more relaxed approach to punctuality. Being on time is like horseshoes - close enough and you score. She points out, for example, that showing up at a party at start time usually startles your hosts and forces them to seat you alone in a room with a drink while they continue preparations. She would insist that it would be rude to be punctual to a party, and most hosts would probably agree.

As you can imagine, this has caused a wee bit of tension in the time we have spent together. Well, early on it may have, but over 25+ years we have both adjusted. I have learned to relax if LK isn't quite ready when I am (well, at least most of the time). And on more than a few occasions lately, she's actually been ready on time.

But as different as we both are in our approach to punctuality, neither of us can quite get our heads around people not showing up at all when they have said they would be here. Not showing up isn't the same as late. It's I don't care or couldn't remember or - even worse - something more important came up.

This morning a tradesman was due between 9 and 9:30 to give us a quotation on some work we need done. At 9:35 I started grumbling, but LK didn't seem phased at all. She started getting cross around 10:30 when he was an hour late. By the time it became apparent that we were being stood up, she was singing with the chorus that the guy was a jerk.

It might not have struck us as so bad had the same thing not happened Thursday night. Our accountant had said he would stop by to work on our accounts and finish off our taxes. We treat visits by Bob the Accountant as a mini-party, and I had opened a nice wine in anticipation of an hour with him.

He stood us up, too.

And in both instances, it's not just that they did not show up when they said they would. They didn't even call us up to tell us something had come up.

I have no idea if this is a trend, a coincidence, or people have just started humoring us by saying they will come but in fact we are so awful to visit they have no intention of actually showing up. I do know that right now we are both starting to feel a little fragile. If you say you're coming over and change your mind, please just give us a call and make a good excuse.

We won't believe you, of course, but we will feel better about it all.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shame Faced

I am writing from Australia, probably the last place in the western world that still presents minstrel shows. In the past day, millions around the world watched a clip from our national TV variety show "Hey Hey, It's Saturday" because they presented a group who painted their faces black and parodied the Jackson Five. (Well, except for the guy doing Michael. He was painted white. And that was the only real humor in the skit.)

Harry Connick jr was a judge on the show, and he objected to white guys donning blackface for which the show's host apologized to anyone it had offended. The blogosphere has been crackling with thousands of people commenting about the story. Basically the responses are falling into a couple of categories: 1. (mostly Americans) It was racist, and good for Harry Connick for taking a stand on it; or 2. (mostly Aussies) Those damned Americans are so politically correct that they now take offense at even the most innocuous humor.

One of the defenses by several Aussies in Group No 2 is that no one in America seemed to take offense at the movie Tropic Thunder where Robert Downey played an actor who had his skin pigment darkened because he was playing a black man in a movie. That one is not quite as convincing as they might hope, though, because the movie makes lots of jokes at the expense of the character for doing this. Oh, and also - the character is an Australian.

Many also pointed out that 12 years ago Harry Connick jr did a skit where he played a preacher with a southern accent next to a black guy playing a preacher. They did not quite grasp that Harry Connick is in fact a southerner, and that he did not smear black makeup all over his face to do the skit. But then, the Internet does bring out the dumbest in a lot - an awful lot - of people.

Blackface was a type of entertainment invented almost 200 years ago in - where else - the US. In fact, the Wikipedia entry calls the minstrel show featuring whites in blackface "the first distinctly American theatrical form." But that postcard at the top of this post is more than 100 years old, and minstrel shows have been dead for nearly as long. I guess it's ironic that blackface humor is now outrageously offensive in the US, yet it lives on here, where it can still go to air nationwide.

But history doesn't answer the fundamental question: was this skit in Australia racist?

Well, yes it was. But no more so than when the Wayans put on white face to make fun of young white women in their 2004 movie White Chicks. The fact is that we could fill volumes naming actors and comedians who have played people of other races, other genders, other body shapes, other sexual preferences, etc.

I am not sure why some are OK and some are not. But that's the case. I saw White Chicks (well, the first half) and the only offense I took was that it wasn't funny enough to watch it all. It didn't even occur to me that it could be construed as racist, any more than I felt I was being ridiculed by Mike Meyers' Fat Bastard or Tom Cruise in a bald wig in - oh, that's right - Tropic Thunder once again.

I propose that the squazillion people with an opinion on whether this was racist agree to a simple test. If the people are willing to put blackface on and walk through an inner city neighorhood in the US, then we will assume they are not racist and the neighborhood will all laugh at the humor of it all. But of course, if they do agree to do that, we will all agree that they are seriously stupid.

Which I suspect we should have known from their skit.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Belly of the Wail

A bit out of action the last two days as a tummy bug reminds me that when a bug gets inside my tummy it has ample opportunity to range free and wide and do what it will. Kind of a virus's version of "Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam."

I hate the state I am in. I only feel mild discomfort most of the time and severe belly aches once in a while, but I am otherwise not feeling that sick. Just very tired. Except for the times when I suddenly feel fine and start doing something and then become very, very tired.

So LK has been doing the donkey's share of the de-cluttering project for the last two days, while I have de-cluttered my insides. Fortunately I have not needed to bow down to the porcelain god. But that's not to say I don't show respect, and in fact have been visiting its room and meditating many times each day.

If you think this is veering toward the distinctly unpleasant, pity poor Linda who has been living at ground zero. I am sure she was most appreciative when I woke her from a deep sleep at 4am as I made yet another mad dash to the loo.

So I will steer this post to the finish line by sharing some questions that hit me during one of my moments of tranquility. Why do Americans spell it "diarrhea" and Australians "diarrhoea"? And, if you look at the Aussie spelling, are there any other English words with a silent H-O combination?

I guess you could say that I've been spending far too much time in the littlest room.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Looking Ahead - Kinda

Linda's working hard upstairs in our continuing quest to de-clutter the house. I feel vaguely guilty about being downstairs not doing anything productive - just watching football and surfing the web. And if the Steelers game continues to be as one-sided as it is, I will probably give in to my guilt and find some work to do.

Jon just sent an e-mail asking where we were moving if we sold the house. He's not the first to bring up the subject. As a result of telling everyone that we're putting the house up for sale, we keep getting asked what we plan to do. It's slightly embarrassing to admit it, but we hadn't really thought that far ahead.

Sure, we have had long-term plans to sell and relocate to Tasmania. But the key phrase there is "long-term". If this house now sells at auction in late November, we will be completing the deal and vacating some time late in January. And that's when "short-term" bumps against "long-term", because we cannot move to Tassie until August at the earliest because our tenant there has a lease through July.

I guess LK describes our situation best. She's telling people we will be homeless.

Our current thinking is that we will probably rent a holiday home on the coast about an hour away from Sydney. The holiday peak season will be ending about the time we need our temporary digs. That should keep the costs down. It will let us have enough space so it doesn't feel like we're living in a hotel room and still keep us within an easy train ride to Sydney. Also, if we're in a holiday home, it just might prove quite tempting for family and friends to join us for a break.

Or we may not do that.

Another option is to just hit the road. We proved in our recent US holiday that we are extremely adept at mooching off of people and there's no chance of getting homesick if you don't have a home. We've already got a 24-day cruise booked for April, and we might just wander the world for months until we once again have a home - nomad as a lifestyle choice.

Or we may move early to Tassie and rent an apartment for six months while we find an architect get to work on plans to renovate the house we have there. That being the most practical plan, it's probably the least likely to be what we do.

Or we may do something else. Because every time we think about what we will do if we sell the house next month, we seem to come up with one more option.

Robert Burns wrote, "The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft aglay."

That's one good thing about not knowing what we're going to do. If you haven't laid any schemes, they cannot gang aglay, whatever that means.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Don 2.0

Oh, multitasking, multimedia me! It's Saturday morning, and I am cooking breakfast for Lily. And when she leaves for her swimming lessons, I start lugging hundreds and hundreds of magazines - most printed in the last century - into the car to take to the waste management center (what we used to call a dump).

In the afternoon, I edit a video from our holiday in order to finish off my second web site.

So here's the European finish to our trip. Hope the bits all works.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Flipping My Wig

That's right. The Number 1 best-selling men's wig is called "Don". I am flattered.

The reason I know about this is because the Wall St Journal has a story this morning in which they test toupees and wigs from four different web sites. We can all remember that Rupert Murdoch promised there would be no changes in the WSJ's editorial approach if he bought it. But for the life of me, I cannot remember this staid business newspaper running stories like "Toupee Test: From Hair Hat to Good Match" before Rupe bought it.

I focused on the story because I have been fairly sensitive about this hair business since I got my super-close cut in Norwood a month ago. When I saw friends at Steve's lunch the other day, a few people said the hair cut was not that short. When I reminded them that it was now four weeks, though, heads nodded knowingly.

Reading the WSJ toupee test, though, got me wondering. In retirement I have changed so much about myself: I exercise more, write more, dress up less and drink the same. So why not go the full 9 yards and get a complete makeover.

Following the reporter's recommendations, I went to and selected three different looks.

The first is called "Boy-Cut", and I think it does bring an element of youthfulness to my otherwise old-looking face.

The middle is "DeNiro" and I can imagine walking down the street with that on my head and shouting at people, "You talking to me? Yeah, you. You talking to me?"

The third is "Peter". I have no idea why it's called that, but the idea of having curly hair intrigued me, and best of all it matches my moustache. I think it also makes me look a bit like an extra on The Sopranos.

Got to get back to the Wall St Journal. I am hoping they've tested the best quick weight-loss diets that let you still drink martinis.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Boxing Day

Oh Lord, what were we thinking?

This morning we celebrated the first anniversary of Don's Retirement Day by packing boxes and boxes of books. Five things became evident:
  1. We have given way too much money to people like John Grisham and Anne Rice
  2. I have saved books for over 40 years that neither I nor anyone I know will ever read again (e.g., "The Poetry and Criticism of Matthew Arnold")
  3. Most of the boxes we had around were empty booze and wine boxes
  4. Boxes of books are really heavy
  5. Carrying all these boxes of books downstairs will be a new level of fitness training
And I suspect that we will soon discover that the market for used books is just about nil.

Oh well, we have to do it because (and here's the news) we are putting our house on the market. This was always part of our retirement plans. LK has been monitoring the property market around here and decided now is a great time to pull the trigger.

The first open house is October 31, so we have about four weeks to do all the things they say you have to do if you want top price. Although we will be hiring people to do stuff like power spraying the pavers and washing the windows, there's still much for us to do.

It's what our real estate agent calls "de-cluttering". It appears that the things you live with as part of your life (like filling the bookcases with books) is clutter when it comes to selling your house. So are the knickknacks we have all over the house, the teddy bears in the study, the baskets in the kitchen and just about anything that you live with and don't even notice after awhile.

We've got several job for handymen but plenty for us to do in addition to our de-cluttering -- lots of touch-up with paint, and a massive clean-out to get rid of things like the very attractive broken picnic table in the back garden. I knew there would be an element of karma to all that lazing around for the past three months. Here it comes.