Faux Pas

Today Hubs and I went to a memorial of a good friend of ours, Xxxx xxxx, at Episcopal Church of the Redeemer. There were almost no places to park, which I thought nothing of, as my friend had worked for many years in development at an exclusive private school. I’d stopped at home to change from dog sitting clothing to a nice blue and white outfit in a large size. skirt and brand new navy blue shirt from ATL, plus navy and white flats. I also wore my summer hat, a straw number with an attached navy blue ribbon. I’ve taken to wearing this hat a lot lately, as it can hide a number of bad hair days, or give me the appearance of being organised, which I often am not. Hubs has lost about 30 pounds of my gained weight, and looked even more slender in his sharp black suit.

At the church, there sat a super long limo, and a hearse, of course. So we walked in and both of us got programs. We sat close to the front, and after seeing no one I knew, I decided to read the program. On the cover, in large print, was “Virginia Xxxx”. Didn’t make sense. I wiggled the program at Hubs, and after putting on his reading glasses, he whispered, “maybe she went by another name?” Another name? What, did he think she worked in espionage? Try this, instead. Not wrong name, but WRONG FUNERAL As we departed, the mortician said, “Happens all the time. You’d be surprised.”

Out in the parking lot, Hubs pulled up the obituary on his phone, and it stated, merely “please join us for a celebration of her life at 11 a.m. Wednesday. ” Well, the obituary was in the paper last Wednesday, and who in the world would be able to attend a funeral without prior planning? So Hubs and I took that to mean the celebration of her life would be the following Wednesday, July 12.

Anyway, we went to Cross Keys for lunch in their nice new deli, and then Hubs wanted me to visit Talbot’s. I didn’t really want to because of my weight gain. I haven’t yet been able to keep said weight off (no resolve), despite trying the Keto diet twice. You see, it’s my birthday on the 15th, and Hubs once again, had not gotten around to buying me a gift. Even though back in May, I’d asked for 2 polo style shirts from LL Bean. Perfect proof that he doesn’t listen when I talk. So after trying on a size 12 in a sheath dress and not being able to hide my belly, he bought me a necklace. Isn’t that pitiful? I’m too fat for clothing, but a necklace fits?!!

Oh my God! When had I let myself “go?” That is a direct quote from my mother in law, now deceased, who regarded my ever changing figure with disdain. She, of course, was a size 2, sometimes a 3, and never really dieted once in her life. Nor, other than walking across the street to the Gulf of Mexico from her Floridian house, did she ever exercise, while I play tennis 3-4 days a week, and walk dogs for a living!

As if the day had not gotten off to a stellar start, it ended with a visit to my primary doctor. I shall call him Mark, so as to protect the innocent. He is a low key internist who’s afraid of germs, but can expertly diagnose you while standing in the doorway of the examining room. The reason I was seeing him was because 3 Wednesdays ago, I’d fallen on my head while playing tennis. I might note here that almost all of my injuries have stemmed from exercising, whether merely running, or as of late, playing tennis. Falling on your head my friends asked, visualizing that, wondering did I jump in the air for a ball and land directly on my head? Exactly how did it happen? I’m sure they wondered. Well, okay, I hit my butt on my way to the floor, but it was my head that hurt. I think I blanked out between the act of falling and hitting ground, and then pain was what I remembered best. Like someone took a 2X4 to the back of my head.

I know I should have gone to a Minute Clinic that day, but once I’d applied ice to my head, I felt better. I wasn’t nauseated, bleeding, feeling dizzy, or drowsy. So I skipped a look-see with Mark for 3 weeks. But what I did experience two days after the fall was definitely signs of a concussion. Drowsiness while driving to the beach, and inability to retain my balance while in the Bay. Mark sent me for a CAT scan, but not before asking him if my arms looked swollen. Answer? “No, they are just fat.” Great. I need to embrace my total full figure.

So much for this faux pas. Not that I haven’t endured others. Like the time when I was in the Junior League, and a group of us had to be at a meeting at a certain person’s house on Roland Avenue by 6:30 p.m. We knew her house but not her address. This neighbourhood, Roland Park, is one where no two houses look alike. Some houses have porches where families gather all night long, and others are surrounded by brick walls knighted by matching finials. And, this group of us knew for sure that this house had a circular room which bowed out on the right side. Bath. The circular room was a bathroom with a ceramic floor and beautiful stained windows.

We knocked on the door, holding our potluck snacks in both hot and cold dishes. Well, actually, we knocked on the door frame, because the inner door was open. And, after about 15 minutes, in we went, calling our hosts’ name out loud. No reply. Some one, being officious, began to tidy up the coffee table which held a filled ashtray, and unfolded newspapers. Some one else got out a Hoover and vacuumed the rug. While I used the circular bathroom, for a much-needed potty break. And, as I sat on the toilet, my eyes dropped down to a pink trashcan. In it was discarded mail addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Peter Xxxxx.”

I flushed the toilet but ran away from the circular bathroom with lovely stained windows. Yelling, “Y’all! Listen up! We’re in the wrong house! We need to be gone yesterday!” As good Junior Leaguers, we left no mess behind, minus one Pyrex oval dish filled with Spinach balls. To this day I can’t help but wonder if the incorrect Leaguer ever noticed how clean was her living room, and had a poltergeist moved in, doing good instead of bad.










I spent the last 2 nights and 3 days with a pit bull, an adorable and loving pit bull rescue. Who knows what situation she was born in to, but now she is living in a loving environment, where her sometimes aggressive behaviour is duly noted by an animal behaviourist. No beatings, starving, or tortures are a part of her daily routine. In addition to caring for this pit bull, I sat for a rat. Rat, as furry four footed rodent. A noun. Calling someone a Rat, is a very old word that is similar to the F word, what I use as a last resort, when extremely flummoxed or angry. The F word, in my opinion is a poor excuse for good English. Not to be mistaken for a creep, someone I know who I can’t stand. Not an adjective, as in Lee is a stinking rat. Not another noun as in “As soon as I get these rats off my back…”

The rat was an unwitting member of my dog sitting gig. It didn’t really need to be cared for, as it came from the wild, having been born under a bridge, and needed a return to any bridge. Thank goodness it didn’t need feeding, which the pit bull did, three times a day. And, thank God, the rat did not require petting, as that would have been unnecessary as, 1) it, being a wild animal, it had never once been petted, and, 2) I would have died on the spot had said rat come begging for a pet.

There are zillions of phobias most likely unknown to man. In fact, I myself am a phobic, many times over. If you want to know which type of phobic you are, go ahead and Google phobias. There are phobias that I’ve never even heard about! Fear of meat, fear of breathing bad air, fear of men, fear of the Northern Lights.

Phobias are learned, as well as taught. Not taught in school, but rather by a family member, or friend who cannot leave her house without unlocking locks 10-15 times. This act, being excessive behaviour, can be learned by a young child as the only way to leave a house. A woman who cannot stop smoking is not coined as being phobic, rather as being an addict to the calm feeling smoking brings. For those who are germphobic, their behaviour is totally outside the realm of normal. Often in germphobic cases, a person will take a 3 hour shower after seeing a “germ” fall in her lap, or never using public toilets.

In my childhood, many phobias were taught to me. I didn’t create them on my own, as everything in my childhood pre-empted a clean slate. My mother was fanatically afraid of driving over bridges. Yes, she liked to travel, and sometimes it was a demand of her job..Did you know that at the Chesapeake Bridge, toll takers were once on hand to drive people over bridges? Fortunately, being phobic of bridge driving was not passed down to me.

But, fear of flying, called Aviophobia, was. My mother was avidly afraid of flying. I remember times when she drank herself into happy oblivion in order to get on board, and other times, sitting stiffly in her seat, she’d be pumping hard at imaginary brakes. This strikes me now as silly, since you could broaden your horizons if you simply boarded a plane. But, in my late teens and early 20s, I too became afraid to fly. I did, and still do, dislike takeoffs, for speed on the runway seemed to determine how high a plane could get quickly. On the flip side, I’m not afraid of landings. I wait to hear the sharp bump of landing gear connecting with terra firma, and know I’m safe.

Nowadays, I still get a flurry of butterflies in my stomach as the plane powers up for takeoff, but I no longer grab stranger’s hands, or whimper. Instead, I put fingers in my ears so I don’t feel bumps in the air as the plane escalates,and close my eyes, a comfortable ruse to use when one doesn’t like what’s happening. And while I don’t exactly like takeoff, I have found a way to keep myself calm. I merely close my eyes, and ears, until the “Fasten your seatbelt” sign goes off. Being airborne, I know there is no escape from ISIS, thunderstorms, or the bogeyman, and that is satisfying enough.

Another way I use to conquer my fear of flying, was to take flying lessons. A neighbor of my parents had license to fly a 2-seater Cessna. My first lesson involved safety rules. But during my second lesson, I was allowed to take the controls from the pilot, and flew solo (while he sat next to me). This exercise helped a lot.

The various techniques my mother and I used while flying, do not however, work with rat sitting. I saw it run past me and make a beeline for under the coffee table. I banged my feet against the top shelf and waited for the rat to emerge in fear. It did not emerge at all. In fact, I think it ran undetected from the coffee table to under the sofa. But what if it had run upstairs to the bed where I would sleep? Upon entering that room,i shouted “GO AWAY RAT!”

To get my overnight case out of the house without possibility of taking said rat home, I literally dumped the case upside down, and then repacked. But I also stored it in my car trunk for two nights. I know of a guy who said he had a rat in his truck that he couldn’t get rid of. That image pretty much stuck in my mind for days. I just couldn’t go there!

My fear of rodents, called Musophobia, began about 15 years ago, while working at a prestigious private school for girls. The rodent invasion started in the summer. That was my busiest time of year, involving 5 large trash cans of paper, mounds of new directories, and office supplies times 10 for every contingency. Mice like paper to build nests in. And, their love of nuts and chocolate is a detail never to be forgotten.

Well, one golden Monday in August, I’d just returned from a two-week vacation, and was powering up my desktop computer, when a mouse ran across my hand. Not the keyboard, but my hand! At first, I thought it would be one incident, but then when multiple mice ran across the floor, and up onto my desk, totally at ease, I realised it was endemic!

Not only was my office infested, but so was the entire school! There was no safety anywhere, anymore. Both I and the secretary 3 flights down, spent at least once a day for weeks, running screaming from our offices! Another morning I arrived at my usual workday time, and was chit chatting with a teacher, when she said, “Em, did you know you have a mouse riding down an electrical wire from the ceiling over your head?”

I have never moved so fast in my life! Students were arriving by then, and I had to tone down my screams, but not without calling Maintenance first, from my personal cell phone, to come help.

Rodents, mice, rats, moles, voles, and squirrels terrify me. If I see a squirrel in the road, I will aim for it. They are really rats with long tails, anyway. I hope that all the lowlife rapists, murderkillers, and child predators are reincarnated as rodents, but I can’t believe it myself. What I can be sure of is that the rodent infestation was dealt with by fall, and not because the school’s employees had a voice in the matter. No. It’s because the cleaning crew could not make any progress in cleaning because the mice would tear up paper (trash) to use as nests, leave droppings everywhere, and were fearless of people. I didn’t quit because I loved the students I grew to know individually, the faculty which 98 per cent of the time were fantastic, and of course, I needed a full-time job with benefits. I also loved Graduation when, as the “Go” girl, I would send them towards the graduation stage with a smile or whisper of how lovely they looked.

My husbands’ phobia is snakes. Some people are terrified of spiders. And, last, but not least, a small fraction of our civilised world are phobic about just living.





Memoir, writing


I grew up in a world of white. White people, white stucco house, white walls and white sheets. And yet, I was a colorful character, with a vivid imagination, and dreams so colorful and realistic that it was often hard for me to tell the difference between what I’d imagined to be true and what I’d dreamt. Because my sister was a child prodigy, we seemed to live at the local library. It’s not that I didn’t like books, because I did, but I dragged my feet about the summer reading Olympics in which my sister was always a five time Gold winner. I had no desire to join that contest or win an award. With a sister who always came out on top, what was the point of my competing? I would never win. I don’t think my sister had a favorite book back then, she merely read to win, whereas my childhood was filled with Ramona and Beezus, Madeleines “all in a row”, and Eloise, who lived at The Plaza Hotel in New York with Nana and Skeeter, a pet turtle. Nothing about those books were white or dull.

Which is why, while subscribing to The New Yorker magazine in my 50’s, I related to an article by Eric Konigsberg in the 2007 Winter issue. The article was about Leslie Harrington, color consultant to paint companies such as Crayola, Pottery Barn and Avon. Called “Made in the Shade, ” the article was massively long, as most articles are in that magazine, but offered me a justification as to why all my clothing, toys, shoes and friends had to make up the slack from growing up in a predominantly white world. I just wasn’t a good fit – I needed to be surrounded by lime green, bubblegum pink, and bright red. And while I believed that TNYer magazine is for serious readers who are informed about many obscure topics such as the history of the Otis elevator, and how chocolate was discovered and turned into varying strengths of candy bars, some so dark your throat closed against the acid reflux, I made it my goal for ten years to read every issue of the magazine so as to feel educated, worldly and cosmopolitan (and because I wasn’t reading much else, or even writing back then).
In my 3 and 4 year old life I was anamored with horses dressed in gold, pink, purple and brown varnish. These horses went up and down to music and never strayed from their tight circle. When I was 5, my family and I moved from a white city to one where brown skinned people lived in one part of Baltimore, while I roller skated my days away in the other part of the same city. It was when I was 7 that my life began to broaden in ways I’d never thought possible. My mother, a journalist for the evening edition of The Baltimore Sun, took a job as editor of the Society, food and cinema sections. Suddenly I was in New York like Eloise, having tea at The Plaza, and attending Broadway shows. Not only that, but my mother had connections at each Broadway show which got us invited backstage afterwards. I met Yul Brynner, Robert Preston, Ethel Merman, and Mary Martin. “The Music Man” was lively and entertaining, including a little boy who spit when he spoke. But most of all, I loved Mary Martin because she could fly. In “The Peter Pan”, the music and entire production was geared toward children, and I was so awed by Peter Pan that when I got backstage, I hid behind my mother, silent as a lamb. Try as I might, though, my happy thoughts never allowed me to go airborne. The thing is, I found sitting through sometimes four hours of onstage singing and dancing, incredibly boring. No amount of tap dancing or cartwheeling men or women in high heels was colorful enough to keep my attention for long. But a one year subscription to the magazine I learned to love/hate for the amount of time it took me to read it, cost me $46 and I was damned if I’d let that hard earned money go to waste.
I don’t mind the editorial board’s political leanings or have a desire to be at the most recent Alvin Ailey show when I couldn’t even afford a train ticket to the city. I really enjoyed the “out of the box” articles interspersed among great cartoons, written by, in some cases, an editor who must have been a real geek. My son and I often mock my husband about the boring shows he watches on TV. Mostly, he enjoys anything about the Vikings to the point where he claims he wants a proper Viking funeral when he dies. That’s when you place the shrouded body on a boat, set it afire, and send it out to sea. No muss, no fuss. Never mind that it’s illegal. He also has been known to watch the old Charleton Heston films about Jesus Christ. Finally, I believe if there is a show called “The History of Dirt” , my husband will be sure to see it. But “Made in the Shade” appealed to me because somewhere deep inside, I’ m a closet rebel and aim to show my true colors in paint.
Where once I loved knick knacks, flea market painted furniture and overstuffed chairs, now I’ve come to like glass, steel beams and shiny wood. Minimalism. Even wishing I could pare down my life to “Tiny House Nation”. However, with a house filled with cherished family heirlooms, I can’t afford to change my style of decor. So instead I read as many decorating magazines as I can, am an avid follower of Pinterest, the interior designers on IG, and paint often. Which is why “Made in the Shade” only took me a day to read, unlike the customary three. I learned first about a color consultant, Leslie Harrington, and what made her the foremost authority on color pallettes. I learned about the history of paint, and how different colors have evolved from traditional names like white, red, orange and pink.No one I knew early in my married life wanted identical blue foyers. Colors evolved over time through names given them by paint companies moving from orange to pumpkin, from off white to latte, and bright blue to tropical sky. Paint companies told customers that they needed to freshen up their rooms, or switch dens into offices, or turn a college grad’s old room into a man cave. The power of suggestion is mighty. Each generation of people were led to believe that the colors they were passionate about were unique in how and where they were used. Which is why the insides of prisons are painted pale greens or grays. They’re calming colors. You would not want a prison painted with hot pallettes of reds because red is known to create stress, increase tempers, even cause murder. Porches have always been greeting places, but imagine how much more comfortable versus confining they could be with blue ceilings, potted plants, and varnished wood flooring? Martha Stewart catapulted us into front hall steps stenciled with an argyle pattern, salmon in the dining room, and stainless steel counters in the kitchen. Even Marble counter tops. Ms. Stewart wrote how tos on stenciling, then started her own paint line.
For the millenials, paint names have evolved from off white to flax and grass green to edame, wooden ceilings, granite countertops in all-white kitchens, mud rooms with cubbies, and stained decking in shades of grey or stark white. Duron and Valspar are no longer leaders in paint companies. Farrow & Ball, from London, England, has hit the home decorating scene with $75 gallons of paint called butterscotch for dining rooms, and cafe mocha for small spaces. Me, part of Generation X, is an active Duron eggshell satin paint user of colors such as Duckling (used in all 3 of my houses), and Saffron Ivory, a muted creamy white. In every house in which we’ve lived, I’ve been the painter. Usually, I’d wait for my husband to leave for National Guard weekend duty, and when he returned, not only had walls been transformed from white to Chinese Red, but I’d also rearranged furniture. I was a Martha Stewart before anyone had ever heard of her. To me, painting is very therapeutic, although these days the up and down repetitive raising of my arms affects my shoulder arthritis. Also in every house we’ve lived, my living room has been painted duckling. On a gray day, the walls are light yellow. On a sunny day, the walls are brighter. It is a Duron color, although at Lowe’s they will recreate the exact color you need using their base Valspar. Another shade my husband I agree on is grey. It reminds us of the fog that enshrouds the island of Nantucket, our favorite place to be. However, there are many shades of grey these days – steel grey, grey mist, gray silk, and according to whatever paint brand you choose, 50 or more shades. Seriously, grey can be on the silver side or more on the greenish side. We thought in this house we wanted grey in our dining room, but with south facing sun, this grey turned disappointingly to taupe. It looked good 22 years ago when we first moved in, but now, it needs to go. I’m thinking beet.
My kitchens have always been Chinese Red except in this house, where the kitchen is about the size of a galley, so I covered a wall with a cherry design wallpaper and painted the trim white. It’s a dark room with dark cabinets and a new wooden floor. It will be our last project, whereas in our last house, the kitchen was the first redesign.
Our upstairs dressing room has suffered through many fits of pique. First I painted it salmon, which in time, I found that almost everyone in this neighborhood used in their dining rooms. Then I used Cornflower blue, a beautiful color in the can, but once on the walls turned the room into one of doom. So I switched to neon green which I had seen in a teen age girls’ bedroom and loved the wake up call it bombarded you with when you entered the room. Alas, my family begged me to cover it up. A year later, it became a calming Saffron Ivory, after two laborious coats of primer. I didn’t enter the Martha Stewart era of painted furniture, stenciled stairs, Roman shades, swags and/or extra long drapes like most of my friends, because of the expense. Besides, I already had gone through that stage.
Where we live now, the windows are not thermal so I’ve had to add curtains to shades for warmth. Pan back to our former home, originally a tiny 4 room fixer upper made of brown shingles, the house was so ancient, the window panes were beveled, and too interesting to cover up with curtains. Where the house was situated on a busy main road, we had no sidewalks and so no one who could see in. In due time, we painted over the brown shingles a very attractive skim milk. It was, in essence, Nantucket grey. Inside, our kitchen was Chinese red, the dining room wallpaper was a Schumacher design, and in my son’s room I painted the wood floor white, and then splatter painted it in red, blue, green, and yellow.
But back to color. Imagine what a dull world we’d have without choice and along with choice, the chance to decorate your house any color you want. My mothers’ color palette was stifled, to say the least. She could have painted all the walls any color green, as my father was colour-blind green. In my independent life away from my parents, I’ve never had white sheets or white walls. I carry a red purse, wear an orange checked raincoat, and have a penchant for turquoise or black and white striped leggings. Even my friends are of color. These days I choose my colors wisely, because painting is hard work. But I also can never see myself living in a White House with only white sheets again. Sales at HomeGoods help in that arena.