A Sad Surprise in a Moving Box

Old photos bring back old memories and feelings.

Unpacking after a move is a funny thing. If you’ve organized your things properly and packed them into labeled boxes, you logically unpack things you need most first. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since I moved from Arizona in May 2013 and started moving into my new home in early 2015. The kitchen and bathroom and bedroom items were first to be unpacked: pots and pans and utensils, toiletries and bathroom appliances and medicine cabinet contents, clothes and shoes and accessories. Then, as furniture locations were finalized and most of the finish work was done, I reached for boxes containing the extras: silk plants and baskets for atop my kitchen cabinets, collectibles to be arranged in new wall mounted displays, books for my library shelves, framed photographs for the walls. Each item that’s unpacked and put into its place makes my home more like my home.

Lexox Autumn
I love Lenox’s Autumn pattern, which was originally released back in 1918, but only used my set, which was a gift from my mother, three times. Make me an offer. I have service for 9 plus salad bowls and serving plates.

These days, there are still about a dozen packed boxes in my massive garage. Some will likely never be unpacked. Do I really need a set of Lenox china for up to nine dinner guests? Or real silver silverware? Why in the world did I collect all those pin-on buttons at computer shows in the 1990s and early 2000s? My matchbook collection was fun to add to after a dinner out, but who gives away matchbooks these days? And after writing more than 80 books and hundreds of articles, do I really need to keep the box of published clips I began accumulating in the late 1980s?

I’ve been going through the boxes — at least peeking inside them — in an effort to take inventory on what still needs to be unpacked and what can probably be disposed of. I’ve been shifting boxes to the shelves I built in my garage for long-term storage, separating them into three categories: store, sell, and unpack.

And that’s how I came upon the box labeled “Wall Art / Family Photos.” It had been at the bottom of a pile, slightly crushed. I peeked inside. Lots of frames, all carefully packed in bubble wrap. This needed to get unpacked. So later, when I took a break, I brought it upstairs to tend to when I had a chance.

That chance was yesterday evening. I put the box on my dining table and started pulling out the wrapped items, revealing them one after another.

First were two old framed still life prints of fruit. They aren’t very attractive, but they do have sentimental value. They’ve hung in every kitchen in every home I’ve lived in as an adult. It was good to see them. I have just the place for them in my new kitchen.

Then the framed puppy photo of my dog, Spot, who I’d gotten as a birthday present from my future wasband when we lived in our first house together in New Jersey. And a baby picture of me. And a group photo of me with my sister and brother, taken at a Sears photo studio about 20 years ago. And a photo of me standing by my first helicopter.

And then I got to the framed photo of my grandmother and her sister when they were kids. The photo was retouched, slightly enlarged, matted, and framed. It shows the two girls in sepia, sitting on the roof of their apartment building in the Bronx. My aunt Fanny is holding a small dog. I’d found the picture somewhere and had the touch-up work done, then made a framed print for my grandmother for Christmas one year. At the same time, I’d made one for myself.

Old Photo
The photo of my late father-in-law was tucked into the frame of the photo of my grandmother and her sister. I honestly don’t remember packing it, but I’m glad I did.

But it was not that photo that prompted this blog post. It was the more modern portrait of a man stuck into the side of the frame: my late father-in-law, Charlie.

I don’t remember packing the photo, but I must have. I always liked Charlie, who died suddenly and very unexpectedly of a massive heart attack only a year after he retired. He was fun and had a good sense of humor. Although he teased his wife mercilessly — which I’ve admitted elsewhere bothered me a lot — he took good care of her and stuck with her through thick and thin. She could not have been an easy person to live with and I suspect the teasing was one of the ways he dealt with it. But he was a man who understood what marriage was all about, what those vows really meant.

Unlike his son.

Early on in my divorce, when I was living alone my Wickenburg home, I put a photo of Charlie and his wife on my front door with a post-it note attached. The post-it note obscured Julia’s face, pointed to Charlie, and said something like “He would be ashamed of you.” My future wasband eventually saw the photo when he came to the house and took it away with him. I hope he got the message, but I doubt it.

But I know Charlie would have been ashamed of him. And I’m glad he was spared the pain our divorce likely would have caused him. I wish my family could have been spared the same pain.

Seeing his photo tucked into that frame reminded me of all this. It made me sad. Sad that he left so soon after his retirement, just at the point where he likely expected to relax and spend time with his family and friends. Sad that he was gone. Sad about all the things he’d missed.

And sad that his son couldn’t have been more like he was.

I’ve discarded or hidden away most of the reminders of the 29 years I spent with the man who betrayed my trust and broke my heart. But this is one I won’t put away. I’ll get a frame for Charlie’s photo and put it with the others on the table behind my sofa. Charlie is a man worth remembering.

Dealing with Two Colds in Three Months

It’s really all about rest.

It’s funny how when you pay attention to your body it tells you things about yourself and the way your body works.

The September Cold

Back in September, a few days before I was due to head out on a trip to Lopez Island, I got struck down by a cold. It came upon me suddenly with a lot of sneezing and a very runny — more like drippy — nose. (I call that leaky faucet nose.) I assumed it was an allergy attack. I’ve had “hay fever” my whole life and moving to the west — first Arizona and now Washington State — really reduced the number of attacks I get. But I was working outdoors that day in a dusty environment and I assumed that either pollen — the sagebrush was blooming — or dust had triggered the attack. I walked around with a tissue box, which I brought with me when I went out to dinner with friends. “Just allergies,” I assured them.

But it wasn’t allergies. The symptoms persisted throughout the night and I woke the next morning feeling like crap. Weak, achey, miserable. I realized then that I had a cold and began to panic. I was really looking forward to that Lopez trip and knew how horrible traveling with a cold could be. (It had ruined vacations in Hawai’i and the Bahamas.) I was determined to recover quickly.

Alka Seltzer Cold Medicine
Alka Seltzer Plus is what really helps control my cold symptoms. Keep in mind that no cold medicine “cures” a cold. The best you can hope for is to control symptoms so you can get some rest.

So I spent the whole day in bed, drugged up with whatever cold meds I could find in my medicine cabinet. That was mostly Alka Seltzer cold medicine, which happens to work great for me. Daytime formula during the day and nighttime formula for night. I slept most of that first day, getting up only to feed Penny and the cats, let Penny out a few times, and gather eggs from my chickens. I found some frozen chicken soup in the downstairs freezer and heated it up for lunch and dinner. I had orange juice in the fridge and drank all of it. The whole day went by in a sort of fog. It’s fortunate that my calendar was empty; I would have had to cancel everything on it, including any revenue flights.

The next day, I felt human again. Almost good. I got up and started my day as usual: coffee, catching up on news, etc. I’d planned to take it easy again and did — at least for the first half of the day. I read on the living room sofa. I wasn’t tired enough to nap, so I didn’t.

Later in the afternoon, I ventured outdoors to take care of a few chores. I did more than I expected to do, but I monitored my condition carefully and came inside at any sign of fatigue. My symptoms were controlled by cold medicine and I was okay.

I was very surprised to be feeling fully recovered just a few days later, in time for my trip to Lopez. I thought long and hard about how that quick recovery and I realized that for the first time in my life, I’d done something I’d never done before: surrendered an entire day of my life to a cold.

Could that be the answer to a quick recovery? Just spending a whole day in bed?

I’d read in numerous reliable places that the common cold took 5-7 days to pass. I’ve had colds in the past that have lasted weeks, with lots of suffering every day and even a few doctor visits. Yet the symptoms for mine had come and gone in about 4 days.

Lucky? Maybe.

The November Cold

Unfortunately, I have the opportunity to try to repeat my fast recovery this week.

I flew home from Arizona on Saturday morning and immediately got to work putting out fires (so to speak) at my house. My housesitter had done a good job taking care of things while I was gone and left the house immaculately clean (which I really appreciate) but since I wasn’t expecting the temperatures to dip below freezing while I was gone — hell, it was in the 60s every day right before I left — I didn’t give him instructions for the chickens water. It was frozen and the poor birds had apparently been trying to peck through the ice. So I had to get them set up with their heated water dish for winter. They’d also run out of food — I thought what I’d left them in their feeder would have been enough. They didn’t seem to be suffering at all, so I suspect the situation had been short term. No harm, no foul (no pun intended).

I also had to struggle to deal with a frozen hose (which I’ll need to wait until warmer temperatures to resolve), my mousers running out of dry cat food, and clearing space in my garage for a friend who was bringing his boat over to store for the winter.

So I was running around like a nut all afternoon and most of the next day.

It was on Monday afternoon — notably three days after my commercial airline flight — that those “allergy” symptoms started in. I had just cleaned the chicken’s roost area in the coop and put down some bedding pellets. The pullets were on the perches in there and did a lot of panicked flapping around as I worked. The sneezing and runny nose started within 10 minutes. Damn birds. The dander must have gotten me.

But the symptoms persisted through my dentist visit and the rest of the afternoon. And that evening. By night time, I knew it wasn’t an allergy attack.

Puffs w/Vicks
My #1 choice for tissues when I have a cold is Puffs with Vicks. My mother used to put Vicks VapoRub on our chests when we had colds as kids. I don’t know if it helped, but the smell of Vicks is forever associated in my mind with cold recovery. These tissues are very hard to find in stores.

I got on the nighttime cold medicine before bed. I still had a miserable night, tossing and turning, blowing my nose enough to build a mountain of dirty tissues beside me.

In the morning, I felt super crappy with a headache the size of the migraines I used to get years ago. (Honestly, if nausea had accompanied it, I would have called it a migraine.) After the sun rose, my bedroom, with the lights off, was too bright — even though it was overcast all day. I got up only to let out Penny, give her some food, and take some drugs. I had grapefruit juice in the fridge and drank a bunch of that. I felt too weak to go down and check the garage freezer for more chicken soup. I went back to bed. Penny, obviously sensing that something wasn’t quite right, snuggled up between me and my dirty tissue mountain.

I cancelled my dinner date with a friend and blew off the wine tasting I was supposed to attend afterwards.

I slept most of the day.

Around 3 PM, I got up and made myself something to eat. A salad with sardines. (Don’t knock it; I like sardines.) I cursed myself for packing the balsamic vinegar into my camper (which is waiting for me in Arizona) and not buying a fresh bottle for home. I tore down and discarded my tissue mountain. I let Penny out again and went back to bed. I slept more.

In the evening, woken by that damn headache, I got up to take some more ibuprofen. I let Penny out again. I went into the garage and gave the cats a can of food. I let Penny in. Then I settled in on the sofa with a throw blanket and glass of grapefruit juice to catch up with Stephen Colbert’s Late Show. I felt a little better, but not much. At least I could stay awake.

After about an hour of that, I was exhausted. It was only 7 PM. I surrendered, took some more nighttime cold medicine, and climbed back into bed. I read for about 10 minutes and then fell asleep.

I slept pretty well until about 3 AM. Then I woke up feeling pretty darn good. I hung around in bed, catching up on news via Twitter. (Lots of good news about yesterday’s election. Hooray!) Then, at about 4:30 AM, I decided that my internal clock would just have to stay screwed up for a while and got out of bed to start my day.

With coffee.

I’ll take it easy today, but will get stuff done, mostly indoors. I have a lot of paperwork to catch up on after my two-week trip south. Maybe I’ll finally finish unpacking my books. And I’m sure I’ll take a nap.

My goal is to rest up enough to be completely recovered by Friday. I think it’s possible if I don’t push myself.

Lesson Learned

And that’s the lesson I’ve learned in dealing with these two colds: when a cold strikes, give in to it. Just treat the symptoms with whatever cold meds can help you get rest. Sleep as much as possible. Stay warm and comfortable. Rest, rest, rest.

If it’s just a cold — not the flu — a quicker-than-average recovery might be possible. But not if you push yourself.

And if you’re feeling good right now, go out and get a flu shot. I haven’t gotten mine yet — shame on me — but will definitely get it as soon as I feel 100% recovered from this cold.

The Guns in My Life

Not all gun owners are nuts.

I read something on Twitter this morning that really struck a nerve:

Monitoring? What did he mean by monitoring?

I read some of the comments and found this one:

I don’t think she meant “special” in a positive way. And that really got under my skin.

You see, I’m a gun owner. And although I like to think I’m special, I’m not special in the way Michelle seems to think all gun owners are.

And that’s why I decided to write this post. You see, I’m not the only person in my family who owns a gun and none of them are “special” in the sense that we need to be monitored.

My Father’s Guns

My father worked as a police officer in our small northern New Jersey town of Cresskill from around the time I was born in the early 1960s to his retirement. As you might expect, he owned a gun and I grew up with at least one gun in the house.

I say “at least” because I honestly don’t know how many guns he had. We were taught at a young age not to touch his gun and we didn’t. When he got home from work, he’d put it on the top shelf of a tall bookcase in the foyer or sometimes on top of the refrigerator when he came home for dinner. (He worked three different shifts: 8-4, 4-12, and “midnights” (12-8).) I knew the gun was dangerous and I knew I wasn’t supposed to touch it. I never did.

Well, that isn’t exactly true.

Every autumn, the town held what was called a “Turkey Shoot.” It was held at the local shooting range. They’d put up targets and participants would shoot. The targets were scored and the high score would win frozen turkeys. I think it was a fund raiser, but how would I know? I was a kid.

At least twice when we attended this event, my father let us shoot his gun at the target. He never handed us the gun. Instead, he held the gun with us to point and shoot. I remember it being heavy and the trigger being hard to pull. I don’t remember if I won a turkey. Again, I was a kid.

Girl Scouts

When I was in Girl Scouts, we learned to shoot rifles. This was at an indoor range in the nearby town of Tenafly (I think). The rifles were probably World War II surplus. They could hold one shot and had a bolt action. Again, I was a kid and don’t remember much about it.

I also don’t know why learning to shoot rifles was a Girl Scout activity in my area around 1970, but today I think it’s kind of cool.

I do remember that they taught us to shoot from multiple positions including prone and sitting cross-legged. I was a pretty decent shot.

My Uncle’s Guns

My uncle was a flag-waving veteran of the Korean War, although the closest he got to Korea was the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. He became quite a gun collector and kept most of them in a big gun safe down in his basement, right at the foot of the basement stairs. I vaguely remember him showing some of them to me. Most of them were collector’s items.

In his younger days, he was also a hunter. For years, he had a bearskin rug on the floor in his living room. He’d got the bear on the same trip my dad had shot a deer. (That’s when I first ate venison.)

He was a little crazy with the guns sometimes, but I don’t think he was unsafe. One day when I was just out of college, I visited his family with my boyfriend, who had a very “plain vanilla” family life. My uncle’s family was anything but “plain vanilla.” My uncle staged a fight with his son, my cousin, with my cousin yelling at him from down in the basement stairs. My uncle pulled out a gun and shot it down the stairs from the kitchen. Yes, in his house. The gunshot was loud! But the bullet was a blank. He’d apparently set the whole thing up to give my boyfriend something to talk about when he got home.

I don’t know how many guns he had, but I suspect it was more than 20. I don’t know what happened to them when he passed away.

My First Gun

I got my first gun in the early 2000s, not long after moving from the New Jersey suburbs to Arizona. My future wasband telecommuted to work back in New Jersey, which required him to be away from home 7 to 10 days every month. While he was gone, I was alone with a deaf dog in a house that creaked a lot more than I was used to. I used to lay awake at night, convinced that the creaking I was hearing was someone creeping up the stairs. Keep in mind that the house was at the end of a gravel road, pretty far from the neighbors so it wasn’t as if help could arrive quickly if there was an intruder.

At my request, my future wasband bought us a gun to keep in the bedroom. It was a 38 special revolver.

Of course, being responsible (not “special”) gun owners, we immediately sought training to make sure we could use it safely. The only training we found in the area was a Concealed Weapons Permit class. It was a weekend long and included lots of information about guns, including safety and legality. The guy who taught it with his wife — both of whom wore camouflage outfits to class — was very pro-carry. Remember, Arizona is an open carry state, meaning you can wear or carry a visible gun in most places. The concealed weapons permit enabled holders to carry a gun concealed by clothing or in a purse or backpack. Some people think this is important. I was the only woman in the class and they kept trying to convince me that I’d be safer if I carried a gun with me at all times. I said I wasn’t interested. They said, “Well, what about if you’re in a mall parking lot late at night, parked way out on the edge, and a gang of guys comes toward you.” I replied, “I’d never put myself in a situation like that. I’m not an idiot.”

The class was informative, opening my eyes to a different gun mentality than mine. It also included range time where we had to qualify before passing. Since I was the only woman in the class, I got a bit of attention. I was told that with a little practice, I could be a good shooter. Great.

A side benefit of having a concealed weapons permit was that I could worry a lot less about rules when I took my gun to the range or elsewhere. For example, suppose I’ve got the gun out of sight in my car’s glove box when I get pulled over for speeding. The gun would be considered “concealed” and without a permit to carry it that way, I could get in deep trouble. The course explained how to handle such a situation and the permit made it legal to have the gun in the glove box to begin with.

Beretta 21A Bobcat
My Beretta isn’t very practical, but it holds a place in my heart as my first gun. And yes, that’s my hand holding it.

Of course the 38 Special wasn’t really my gun. It was my future wasband’s. I wound up buying something quite a bit smaller, easier to handle, and less practical: a Beretta 21A Bobcat. It’s a semi-automatic handgun with a magazine that holds 7 22 caliber rounds. I bought it brand new in a gun shop and, yes, I did go through a background check process before it was sold to me. It’s less practical for three main reasons:

  • If I ever did have to use it to stop a serious attacker, I’d basically have to empty it into his body to stop him/her. 22 rounds aren’t very big.
  • It’s extremely picky about ammunition and will jam if I don’t buy the right stuff. A recent trip to the range for some additional training confirmed what I remembered about it: there’s a popular (and not cheap) brand of ammo it simply chokes on. No one wants a gun that will jam when it’s needed.
  • I’m not nearly as accurate firing it as I am with a bigger gun. I think that could be resolved with more practice, though.

But since I really don’t need a gun, I never saw a reason to replace it.

And it does have a nice feature that I thought was handy for horseback riding out in the desert: it’s rather unique flip up barrel makes it easy to load a single 22 long “snake shot” round. That turns the little gun into a small shotgun suitable for killing rattlesnakes or deterring coyotes out on the trail.

My wasband eventually replaced the 38 special with a Glock. I don’t know which one, but I do know that I was more accurate with the Glock than the Beretta.

The Big Sandy Shoot

As I’ve blogged about here and here, there’s a twice-yearly event called the Big Sandy Shoot, which his held on some private property in the middle of the Arizona desert. It’s a gathering of gun enthusiasts who get to fire a wide range of weapons at reactive targets. There are strict safety rules with range officers to enforce them. No one gets hurt, although the tracer rounds they use at night have been known to start fires.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, a “reactive target” is one that literally explodes when hit.

These are hobbyists, mostly, although I suspect more than a few of them are “special.” (Ever see a cannon made out of a fire extinguisher that fires bowling balls? I have.) They’re really into their guns and showing off. It’s interesting, but a bit too hard core for my taste. Since I’ve already blogged about it, I’ll let you read those blog posts to learn how crazy it is.

My Brother’s Guns

My brother shoots for a hobby. He owns fifteen guns — as he just informed me in answer to my texted question — and he’s quite proficient using them. He regularly competes using an STI Edge handgun. According to him:

It’s specifically for competition. I have different barrels for it so I can shoot 9mm, .40 Cal and .22 with it.

My shotgun is a Benelli M2 and my rifle was built by a company called JP

Back in 2013, when I was visiting my brother and his wife, I went with them to one of their competitions. (They both shoot.) It was professionally managed and extremely safety oriented. Rules were followed with no exception — range officers made sure of it. I could see why he enjoyed it. It was challenging stuff, with a variety of target types and scenarios. It got him outdoors year-round, with other people who enjoyed the same hobby. Beats parking his ass on a sofa watching TV, no?

Keep in mind that my brother lives in New Jersey where gun laws are pretty strict. (My uncle lived in New Jersey, too.) I don’t know the details on how he’s required to register, store, transport, or shoot them. But I do know that he competes all along the eastern seaboard.

He and his wife divorced a few years ago. They still see each other occasionally at the range and at competitions.

I tried to find a YouTube video of him shooting but came up empty. He sent me a 30-second video of himself at a competition shooting a rifle but I don’t think it’s up to me to share it online. If he sends me a YouTube link, I’ll add it to this post.

My Shotgun

Concealed Carry Permit
I got a concealed carry permit good for Washington State when I moved here.

When I moved to Washington state, which I believe is also an open carry state, I brought my little Beretta with me. Then I did the paperwork to get a concealed carry permit here. It’s actually easier here than in Arizona; no class is required. (I think that’s wrong.) I carry it in my wallet, even though I don’t carry the gun.

Reminton 870
My Remington 870 Tactical shotgun. I had it sitting by the front deck door with a box of ammo for weeks after the second dog attack.

But when I started having serious worries about coyotes coming into my property to steal chickens or possibly my dog, I started thinking that maybe I needed a more practical weapon. And when my neighbor’s dog got into my chicken yard and slaughtered a total of 18 laying hens and two roosters (over two visits), I made my decision. I bought a shotgun.

The shotgun I bought was a Remington 870 Tactical. It’s a pump action 12-gauge shotgun that can hold 7 rounds. (I don’t keep it loaded.) And no kidding here: I bought it at a local store called Hooked on Toys and yes, they did do a background check on me before completing the sale.

Once again, I took it (and my Beretta) to the range to work with an instructor. A friend and I actually took a course together. The course was created by the NRA and had NRA materials, but the instructor was not an NRA employee and he assured us that the educational and political arms of the NRA are completely separate. (Although I thought that was okay at the time, I now want absolutely nothing to do with the NRA and will never pay for anything if there’s any possibility that part of my money might go to the NRA.) The course was informative and I got a chance to learn how to shoot the shotgun. I discovered that the kickback with the butt against my shoulder hurts like hell and I can be pretty accurate shooting from the hip. Hell, if you can’t hit a target with a shotgun, you probably shouldn’t be shooting a gun at all.

Fortunately, the neighbor’s dog has not returned. Could I shoot it? I don’t know. But the Animal Control folks say it’s legal for me to do so, as long as I kill it.

Not All Gun Owners are Dangerous Nuts

You might be able to see why I was bugged by Michelle’s tweet above. As you might imagine, I didn’t let it go uncommented:

But she’s not the only one making uninformed comments about gun owners. There’s a lot of it going around right now. It happens after every mass shooting.

And although I am a gun owner and have insight why other people own guns, I agree that we need to have some common-sense gun control laws. At a minimum, we need:

  • A ban on all guns and accessories that make it possible to fire more than 10 rounds without reloading. These devices should be absolutely illegal to own, let alone sell or use. There is absolutely no reason anyone needs this kind of equipment.
  • Registration for all guns, including those sold in secondary markets such as gun shows or private sales. If you own a gun, it should be registered. Period.
  • Background checks for all gun owners. The check should be done before each gun is purchased and should include criminal activity, domestic violence complaints, and mental health checks.
  • Training requirement for all gun owners. Before you purchase a gun, you should be required to take a qualified class in its use and operation and have a certificate to prove that you’ve taken the class. Additional refresher course training should be required periodically, perhaps every five years.

I don’t believe guns are bad. I believe people are bad. I also believe that we should not make it easy for bad people to do bad things with guns.

The situation we have in this country is absurd, with different laws in every state, many of which make it all too easy for people who are crazy to obtain weapons of mass killing capabilities — like the bump stock the Las Vegas shooter used to fire over 500 rounds without reloading. How can anyone think that’s okay?

The Second Amendment was written in a time when a high-tech gun fired one shot at a time. The Founding Fathers likely never imagined the kind of carnage that could be done with today’s weapons, so it’s pretty silly to keep referring to our “right” to have these kinds of weapons.

And no, a good guy with a gun isn’t the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun. It’s a good way for others to be injured in a crossfire or for the “good guy” to get mistaken for a bad guy and gunned down by police.

And yes, I’m a gun owner. But if the only solution to the gun violence epidemic in this country was to take away everyone’s gun — as they have done in other civilized countries — I’d hand mine over in a heartbeat.

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