Thursday, December 29, 2016

In the midst of life

"Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why."

There's no good way to die.

The closest thing would be to go to sleep one night (in your very old age of course) feeling fine, and just not wake up in the morning.

That's hard on the next of kin though.

Like the time my Uncle Howard (cousin once removed really, but I called him Uncle) at the age of 88 keeled over on 3rd Avenue and expired. He was on his way to a Saturday matinee with his wife, my 84-year-old Aunt Helen. He'd never retired, he'd worked as a CPA right up through the day before that calamitous Saturday.

I said to my aunt later, it was fortunate that he didn't suffer. My aunt said, it may have been fortunate for him but not so much for me.

There is something to be said for having time to process an upcoming loss, to line up your ducks, to say any things that need to be said. To make peace with the universe for the dying and for the left-behind.

Yet there also is something to be said for not suffering, for going out like a snuffed candle, for feeling no pain or fear or guilt or remorse or sorrow.

One of the worst ways to die that I can think of is the way that one of my glass tribe lost her husband on Christmas Eve. Short story long, Jill buried her husband of 34 years on March 2, 2008. Coincidentally, if you believe in coincidence, that was the date I took my first lampwork lesson. I didn't know Jill until sometime later and didn't know her story until much later. Her husband was diagnosed with cancer, went through treatment, remission, recurrence, more treatment, the cancer spreading, hospice, and eventually the inevitable.

About five years ago, she met a man, fell in love and married him. Six months ago he was diagnosed with leukemia. He went through hellish chemotherapy, brief remission, relapse, a stroke, transitory vision loss, partial recovery, a potential stem cell donor match, hope, a decline, palliative care, hospice and, once more, the inevitable.

It's impossible for me to imagine going through that once, let alone twice. Jill, I mean.

That has to be one of the crappiest ways for a life to end. Hospitals, chemicals, nausea, pain, hope and then hopelessness, morphine, stupor and the letting go.

I think I'd rather be hit by a train than to spend my last six months sick as a dog, hurting, scared, guilty, helpless and then, poof, gone.

If I think about what would be worse, watching someone you love go through it, or going through it yourself, I always conclude that I'd rather live it than watch it. Let it be me, if someon who I love greatly has to be sick.

That's saying something, since I am terrified of being ill. I've been so lucky to be robustly healthy. I rarely get so much as a head cold. Illness and depression are a bonded pair for me. The minute my system is weakened or my resistance is low, my neurotransmitters go haywire.

That's OK, there are drugs for that, just please, universe, don't let me bear witness to anyone in my family suffering under threat of terminal illness.

I'm sorry to be so uncheery during this season of good cheer. Here is what I want the takeaway message to be. Love fiercely. Treasure each day. Be kind. Dwell on all that is good. Take nothing for granted, especially time. Make the most of whatever you have. Be good to yourself, take care of yourself, respect yourself. Respect others. Practice active gratitude.

And it's OK to talk about it, to acknowledge death as part of life, to have a plan, to make a will, to make your wishes known. It's OK to consider risk and contemplate mortality. Talking about it won't make it happen, not talking about it won't prevent it.

Neil and I were walking and Neil was saying that it's above freezing at the North Pole, and talking about how the ozone layer that protects us from solar radiation is thinning, and how species are going extinct and people are overpopulating the planet. He talked about Stephen Hawking's proclamation that if we don't find a way to leave Earth, the human race will perish.

I'm trying to decide how much I care if mankind doesn't continue to exist. I think that colonizing Mars is a lunatic's fantasy. We'll never surmount the obstacles when we can't even take measures to save this planet, a much lower bar to conquer. I probably won't be around when Earth becomes uninhabitable one thousand years hence, give or take. How essential is it to preserve homo sapiens or specimens of humanity? Your mileage may vary, but I honestly don't think we're that special. Some of us downright suck.

Even taken as a whole, humankind with its good and its bad is not all that. Species come, species go, new species evolve. If we're gone, we're gone. I feel a tiny bit sorry for my great great great (etc.) grandchildren, if I have any, but I don't know them personally and there's not much I can do. As I told Neil, I will recycle, I will try to reduce my carbon footprint to the extent it's within my comfort zone, I will be the change to the degree I am able, but that's all I can do and I can't grieve over consequences I have no control over.

Speaking of not grieving, social media is exploding with outrage over the number of celebrity deaths in 2016. People are saying, buh-bye 2016, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Statistically, I doubt this year was any different in the number of celebrity deaths than any other. And it's unlikely to be any different in 2017 or in any year after. In fact, as we age, more of the idols of our childhoods and young adulthoods will be going to that great celebrity playground in the sky. Wait, what? Do celebrities get their own special playground in the sky? I doubt that.

Here are some of the notable deaths for me during this past year.

David Bowie, age 69, Alan Rickman, age 69, Glen Frey, age 67, Harper Lee, age 89, Nancy Reagan, age 94, Keith Emerson, age 71, Prince, age 57, Morley Safer, age 84, Patty Duke, age 69, Muhammad Ali, age 74, Elie Wiesel, age 87, Gene Wilder, age 83, Leonard Cohen, age 82, Robert Vaughn, age 83, Leon Russell, Mage 74, Greg Lake, age 69, Zsa Zsa Gabor, age 99, George Michael, age 53, Carrie Fisher, age 60, Debbie Reynolds, age 84.

Notice that I said notable. Not tragic. Not grievous. Not outrageous. Sure it's sad that Prince, George and Carrie were so young, but drugs were involved so I can't mourn overly much.

Besides, I didn't know them. I knew who they were. But they didn't know me. So how sad should I feel? About 55.3 million people die each year. That's 151,600 deaths per day, 6,316 people dying per hour. Some of them are children, teenagers, people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Do we each of us mourn for all of them? Should we?

We don't. We shouldn't.

I will mourn for those I know, I will grieve for those I know who suffered personal losses.

As I think about it, I apprehend that when we mourn celebrity deaths, we are really mourning for ourselves, for the passage of time, for the transitory nature of life, for the evidence of our own mortality.

And that's understandable, as long as we recognize that that's what we're doing.

Or not. Who am I to tell you who to mourn for, to judge you for who you mourn for? No one, that's who. You choose who you will mourn for and I'll choose who I won't mourn for.

There may be some overlap.

I can live with that.

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins, set to music by Natalie Merchant)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The ghost of Christmas presents

"I hear babies cry I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world."

On December 21, which would have been my dad's 96th birthday, our newest grandson was born, weighing in at an impressive 8 lbs. 13 oz.

Mama Laurie, Dad Luke, and Baby Blake all are doing just fine. As is Riggs the dog.

Laurie's mom, Luke's mom, Luke's dad, and various and sundry siblings and friends are on hand this week, so Neil and I won't see him until next weekend. I tried to convince Neil to drive over today, just for one day, and make a surprise appearance. He remained stoutly unconvinced.

And I do understand, it makes sense to wait until we can have some quieter time with the new family.

But last night, as we got ready for bed, Neil was grousing about the cost of this, that, and the other thing, and it struck me. I said, you don't want to go to Lake Charles because you don't want to get stuck picking up the tab for Christmas Eve dinner for twentysomething people. He said something to the effect of, damn skippy! And I said, I get that, it totally makes sense to me. And it does, in a way that his other reasons don't.

Sometimes I think that he wants to move to North Carolina so he doesn't have to buy everyone's dinner all the time. I do pay when it is my kids and their crew, but we've had a lot more dinners with Neil's kids, especially before they moved to Lake Charles, but even since then, because they come to Houston regularly.

The baby will change that for a while, but Laurie's master plan is to be moved back to Texas by the end of next summer so Luke can have a teaching job here for the 2017-18 school year. Chris will be in Lake Charles through the end of 2017, finishing his graduate program, and then he'll go where he gets a job. Braunsdorfs have a strong homing instinct so I predict it will be in Texas. Anything is possible though. His girlfriend is Louisianan. I think I just made that word up.

So today it's just me and Neil for Christmas Eve. We'll cook up some Omaha steaks, thanks to my mother-in-law, and open what Neil calls pjösk - which he says means gift of small value in Norwegian or Swedish, but I couldn't find it with Google. In fact, the closest slang word I could find was sercy, which is used in the Southern USA to describe a small, possibly unexpected gift.

In my mind, pjösk meant junk gifts, the kind you might buy at the dollar store. Certain of Neil's relatives seem to believe it's the number of wrapped gifts, not the content that counts, and in fact have taken it to a new level. They must start shopping the day after Christmas, because sometime around October we get several huge shopping bags full of wrapped gifts. All this is not meant to look a gift horse in the mouth, since the gifts are worth their weight in entertainement value alone.

To make it more unusual, store tags always are cut off the items, which frequently come in department store gift boxes. Early in my relationship with Neil, I tried to exchange a shirt that didn't fit, only to learn that it wasn't purchased at that store. Random sizes are a hallmark of these gifts, so when all the kids would come over, there was a lot of laughter and trading. I got a couple of my favorite sweatshirts because they didn't fit Laurie.

One sad thing is, Neil always puts a lot of thought into getting these relatives a meaningful gift. One year we bought them a Keurig, which we later learned (covertly) that they'd returned. I'm mean enough that I'd be giving them a case of K-cups every damn following Christmas. Neil is nice. Now he gets them gift cards.

Another year he gave them a gift card to a restaurant they like in their locale. They went there and ate up and when the waiter ran the card there was no money on it. They made such a huge fuss that their meal was comped, but they didn't tell us until much later, long after Neil might have tried to sort it out.

This gave me another idea, even meaner that the K-cups. We'd pick up gift cards from the racks you see at stores, not put any money on them, and send them as gifts. I laughed just typing that. Of course that's just me, Neil would never contemplate anything like that. He hasn't a single mean bone.

Can you tell that I lack Christmas spirit? I thought so.

I don't care whether (or not) someone says Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to me.

I do mind that every public place has a Christmas tree and Santa Claus and carols playing.

I'd spend every December feeling disenfranchised and marginalized if I let myself dwell on it, which I try not to do. Overly. Much.

Anyway. So, since today was a low-impact day, we decided to tackle a cleaning project. We have these crazy arched windows in the living room. The blinds only go up to the bottom of the arch. There are three windows and when we moved in, nine years ago, I bought large colored vases to set on the shelves in the arches, to partically block the sun. There they have been collecting dust ever since, and we decided to take them down and wash them.

I don't know about other dust but Texas dust is wicked. It's tacky, sticky. You can't easily remove it, say, with a feather duster or a swipe with a damp cloth. No, you have to wash it off with soap and water. So I started scrubbing away the dust and this is what I found out. Bad things can happen to large vases that have sat in full sunlight for nine years. Some of the bottles had been coated with color (as opposed to being made out of glass in that color) and as I scrubbed away, the sun-baked color flaked right off.

Out of 18 bottles, five cleaned up nicely. The others are all in some state of partially flaked off color and scrub-resistant grime. We put them back up temporarily for sun blockage, but I will be replacing them. If today wasn't Christmas Eve, I'd have gone right out to buy new ones. At least it solved one disagreement for us. All along I've said that the vases stay with the house. Neil was all for taking them, or selling them, or donating them. Today he was ready to recycle the lot of them.

I know that new ones, especially nicer ones, will reopen the decision, and maybe our future buyers won't even want them. I just know I want to replace them. What should have been a project with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment wound up being irritating and adding to my to-do list.

Assuming I had a to-do list. Which I do not.

Bead sales have been slow-ish but existent, a couple of sales a day or so. I made some more dream beads for Beads of Courage.

For Anderson, age 5 (picture attached)
" My dream bead would be a big robot. It would be colorful and have bumpy gears and robot buttons on his body."

For Emma, age 16
"I would love a bumpy bead with some correlation to flowers or trees. Deep, vibrant colors are my favorite."

For Kristina, age 16
"I would love to have a bead of the Tardis from Doctor Who. It is a time travel machine disguised as a British police phone box. It is blue."

For all its flaws, I'm really proud of that Tardis.

Beads of Courage invited me to participate in the 2017 Beads of the Month Program. For a total of 100 beads about 1.5 inches in size, BOC is offering to compensate the artist the amount of $5 per bead. Postage is at the artist's expense.

OK, it's a noble cause, beads for kids with cancer or in this case, beads for fund raising to buy program beads for kids with cancer. At first I agreed I would do it for the month of May. But the more I think about it, the more anxious I feel about making 100 identical beads in that size. Even identical in the artisan bead context of same color, size and design, its beyond my comfort zone. I think I am going to withdraw from that program. As much as I like making beads and as willing as I'd be to make 100 $5 beads of some kind for BOC, having to make 100 of the same bead of that size would be nothing but stressful.

I'll let them know next week.

In the meantime, I made a little slideshow of some of my recent beads. Be kind.

And oh, all right, a smidge of Christmas spirit.

I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I see skies of blue
And clouds of white
The bright blessed day
The dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
Of people going by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, how do you do?
They're really saying
I love you

I hear babies cry
I watch them grow
They'll learn much more
Than I'll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Oh yeah.

(Bob Thiele [as George Douglas] and George David Weiss, first recorded by Louis Armstrong)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Retirement, moving, optimism and the man in the moon

"I may have to beg, borrow or steal
Some feelings from you
So I can have some feelings too."

Day sixteen of Neil's retirement. We're doing OK.

It's been a bit of a whirlwind. We spent two days in Austin, followed by two days in Lake Charles last week. It went something like this.

Wednesday, feed the cats, drive to Austin, dinner with Chelsea and Rob, Chelsea's improv show at ColdTowne Theater, sleep at La Quinta.

Thursday, lunch with Chelsea, visit two bead stores, Bath & Body Works, coffee and cupcakes at Quacks, Chelsea's comedy sketch show at Spider House Ballroom. Drive home, stop at Buc-ee's, feed the cats, sleep at home.

Friday, feed the cats, drive to Lake Charles, lunch at Pronia's Deli and Bakery, Bath & Body Works (yes, again), chill at Laurie's, dinner at Cracker Barrel, sleep at Hampton Inn.

Saturday, Luke's graduation from McNeese State University, lunch at 121 Artisan Bistro, drive home, feed the cats, sleep at home, done.

On Sunday we went to the Houston Society of Glass Beadmaker's holiday party at Berry Hill in the Heights. And on Monday, finally, it was back to business as usual, more or less, beads and treadmill. Rinse and repeat.

My mom used to say that when you retire you have lots of good intentions, yet somehow, five years later, you still haven't organized that junk drawer. I suppose that's because you can always do it tomorrow.

Not Neil. He's been an absolute whirlwind of fixing things, sorting through things, rearranging things, and yes, even filling up the recycling bin.

Naturally things get worse before they get better, so there are boxes and stacks of books and things, like obsolete electronics, staged everywhere.

Not only that, but he had lunch dates with former workmates on every day of this week.

I'm sure the frenzy will slow down as he crosses things off his pages of lists, as it sinks in that not everything must be done yesterday, if not sooner.

And I'm not complaining. Anything is better than Star Trek reruns all day every day. He does take TV breaks while he consults his lists and drinks his milk with Nesquik.

Our next trip is at the end of the month. Laurie now is scheduled for baby induction on December 21, my dad's birthday. Her mom will be with her for the first week or so, maybe Luke's mom too. So we've made our plan to go after the first tranche of helpful relatives departs.

We'll stay for a couple of days, come home for a couple of days, and then it's North Carolina again, for a pre-build meeting with the designer and builder and to stake our lot. We're also going to try Airbnb for the first time. I like the idea of establishing a base that we can return to that's more personal and less pricey than a hotel.

I'm actually not sure how manyy trips there I will be making while the house is being built. I know at some point Neil wants to meet with the landscaper. I may or may not go for that. Moving there stills feels more like a bad dream than a dream come true.

I can't talk to Neil about my feelings at all. He has no doubts, no fears, no misgivings. In spite of the fact that he's clearly the more social one of the two of us, he's fully on board with moving to a place where we know no one.

Then again, right now I'm not really feeling my feelings. In my head, I know that I don't want to move. It's the last thing I think about at night, as I sink into my bed that I love in my bedroom that I love and feel held, by the mattress and sheets and blankets. It's the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning. How many more mornings will I wake up in my room here? I don't have the number, I just know it won't be enough.

Today was warm, in a gray and humid way, much too warm for mid-December, and Neil noted that. He longs for seasons, for winter, for cold weather. I don't. But I wouldn't say I'm sad. I'm moving through the days, I'm eating and laughing and watching TV. I'm not tearful or morose or angry.

I'm in denial. That's the only explanation I can think of for my dearth of feeling.

I imagine it will come. One way or another.

I did feel very moved by the finale of Rectify, one of the best television dramas you've probably never heard of. If spoilers bother you and you think you might watch it one day, read on at your own peril.

In a nutshell, the show is the story of Daniel Holden who spent 19 years on death row for the murder of his high school girlfriend, a murder he may or may not have committed but one he confessed to, under duress. High on mushrooms at the time, Daniel has no memories of what happened on the night Hanna was gang-raped and strangled.

Fast forward almost 20 years to the day the show begins, when Daniel is released because forensics have progressed to the point that DNA has exonerated him of guilt for the rape. For four seasons, the story follows Daniel and his family and the ways that his imprisonment has affected and continues to affect every aspect of their lives.

While the show never definitively answers the question of who killed Hanna Dean, it is with Daniel who our sympathies lie from the get-go. Because how could this sensitive, thoughtful, guileless and adorable guy be guilty? We assume Daniel is innocent because we want him to be, because of how he suffered in prison, and because who wants to watch a show about a guy who was guilty and really just got what he deserved?

In prison Daniel was raped by a group of prisoners. He spent his days in a windowless box of a cell. He bonded with a fellow prisoner and then endured the friend's execution, his grief for that lost relationship barely muted by the fact that Kerwin did commit the crime he was hanged for.

I binge watched the first three seasons of the show, which also chronicles the story of sister Amantha, who never doubted Daniel's innocence or stopped fighting for his acquittal. It's the story of Daniel's mom Janet, her second husband Ted, Ted's son Teddy and Teddy's wife Tawney. Daniel makes mistakes, lost in a brave new world of freedom, bias and recrimination. He chokes out Teddy in a provoked rage. He is beaten severely by Hanna's brother Bobby. Trey, a creepy suspect in Hanna's rape does his best to implicate Daniel in the death of George, another suspect.

A bright light in the ensuing darknesss and confusion is Daniel's relationship with Tawney. As Tawney becomes aware that her marriage to Teddy is failing, she and Daniel form a bond that is complex and compelling, a bond born of need and compassion and innocence. At the end of the third season, after Daniel avoids a retrial by plea bargaining a confession to Hanna's murder in exhange for time served and banishment from the state, there is a brilliant scene on a beach where Daniel (we think) is imagining himself being visited by Tawney in prison.

Tawney is lost, she says, Daniel says he'll find her, she says she must find herself. Daniel puts his hand against the glass, but there is no glass. Sometimes there is and sometimes there isn't, she says. As they are about to kiss, the scene cuts to Tawney, alone in her bedroom, and now it appears that it's actually Tawney's fantasy (we think).

I watched the fourth and final season as it unfolded over seven weeks and eight episodes. Daniel is in Tennessee, trying to learn to live, trying to come to grips with whether or not he wants or deserves a life. Tawney and Teddy have separated and are trying to sort out what it is that they really want. Daniel meets Chloe, a free spirit who is better at leaving than at saying goodbye. She's also pregnant. She and Daniel are, as she says, temporarily perfect for each other.

Everyone has grown over the course of four seasons that depict something like a year of their lives. Even Teddy has matured, made progress toward dealing with his anger, which is exemplified by his ultimate sacrifice in letting Tawney go, granting her both support and freedom to find her own way in life.

I have to admit, I was holding my breath, willing Teddy and Tawney not to reconcile, which for a time seemed possible. I think that would have diminished the message of growth, not to mention the profound impact of the Daniel-Tawney relationship. Through the final eight episodes I waited for some closure to that story arc.

I knew it was coming at the beginning of the finale, when a scene with Tawney was included as part of the intro, i.e., "previously on Rectify ..." Near the end of the episode, after the DA makes a press statement that the Hanna Dean case is being reopened, Daniel speaks to family members by phone. Teddy asks to speak to Daniel and apologies are exchanged, then Teddy gives the phone to Tawney, who is waiting for her turn to speak. Perhaps more than anything else, Teddy's redemption is validated when he ungrudgingly hands the phone to Tawney.

Daniel and Tawney each are standing at the precipice of their unique hopeful futures. Tawney has found a purpose for her life. Daniel has opened the door to hope by accepting a willingness to risk disappointment. Tawney wishes him a life filled with wonder.

Amantha sums up the bittersweetness of the story. Nothing will rectify what happened. Convicting the guilty won't bring back Hanna, nor her father, nor all the lost years of Daniel's incarceration.

But as Daniel says, so many more people helped him than harmed him along the way, and even if he doesn't know the reason that he is where he is now, that doesn't mean there isn't one. He's doing the work, he's getting therapy for trauma, we believe that he will be vindicated of wrongdoing and be able to move forward without the baggage of doubt about his own innocence. He feels a responsibility not to let everyone who helped him down, not to let himself down.

The show ends with another brilliant sequence. Daniel is in his room and then he is in a field full of light. Chloe is there too, and her baby, who smiles at Daniel. Daniel takes the baby and it is a moment of pure joy and grace.

Of course we don't know if it's a dream, a vision, a flash forward or a premonition. The takeaway I think is that Daniel is open to hope, to the possibility of a future filled with beauty and love and wonder.

And what, you ask, does this have to do with retirement, moving, beads or the man in the moon?

I think it comes down to optimism.

To prevailing against odds.

To staying open and hopeful.

To embracing a life filled with wonder.

I read an interview with show creator and writer Ray McKinnon, and was struck by this quote.
But back to your question on the redemption, or perhaps the optimism, of this season. As I got deeper into the characters and into the show and to the philosophy of life, even though we all know, or most of us do, undeniably, that we're going to die, we're going to cease to exist in this realm, we continue to live in this realm with some optimism and that's part of our human nature.
So there's that.

Maybe it's OK to move forward without sadness, without questions, without answers, simply with optimism. For today, I'm going with that.

Even if I can't completely feel it.

I'm numb as a statue
I may have to beg, borrow or steal
Some feelings from you
So I can have some feelings too

I'm pale as a ghost
You know what I love about you
That's what I need the most

I'm gonna beg, borrow or steal
Some feelings from you
I'm gonna beg, borrow or steal
So I can have some feelings too

I don't care if it's superficial
You don't have to dig down deep
Just bring enough for the ritual
Get here before I fall asleep

Ain't nothing special
When the present meets the past
I've always taken care of business
I've paid my first and last
Now can I get a witness?

(Warren Zevon)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Not your regularly scheduled programming

"Disorder in the house
There's a flaw in the system
And the fly in the ointment's gonna bring the whole thing down."

Day three of Neil's retirement.

It's weird because suddenly I can't remember what it is that I usually do all day.

It's like I am looking at myself under a microscope, i.e., through Neil's eyes.

I decided to take off the first four days of his retirement, Thursday through Sunday. On Monday I will go back to my regularly scheduled programming. Which is anchored by beads in the morning and treadmill in the afternoon. With interruptions for bead business activities - cleaning beads, stringing beads, taking photos of beads, listing beads, invoicing for beads sold, packing beads for shippping, followed most days by a trip to the post office.

Sales have been super slow anyway. I'm still recovering from the humiliation of my last round of Bargain Box auctions. Bargain Box is the site where all listings must start at $1, and destash items may not have a buy-it-now option.

A month ago or so, I listed on Bargain Box for the first time and had a feeding frenzy of bids and buy-it-nows. Multiple people made multiple purchases, including one lady who racked up more than $300 of purchases. I also cleared a lot of older inventory, including beads I didn't love but was willing to list at a starting bid of $1 and let the chips fall wherever chips do.

Then, during election week, the site had a one-time "end-of-the-world" sale (is that an oxymoron?) and allowed sellers to set the start bids without restriction, including destash items. I did well during this sale too.

After a week off for the holidays, I started another round of listings on Bargain Box at $1. The worst case scenario materialized. Some listings sold for $1. Many listings sold for $5 or less. Nothing sold for more than $10. Worse yet, there were a lot of different buyers. I kept it going for a couple of days, hoping for a comeback, hoping for repeat business from customers who wanted to leverage shipping.

That little experiment compounded injury with insult. In the end I mailed at least 10 packages with one item that came to less than $10 including shipping. Before PayPal fees. Not counting the cost of bubble mailers, tissue paper, bubble bags, stickers, mailing labels and printer ink. Let's not even think about the cost of the trips to the post office.

One lady won three listings for $1 each. I shipped her 8 beads for $3 plus $3.50 shipping. Oh well. I made someone's day anyway. That's something.

But right now I've sworn off Bargain Box listings. I've restrung individual pairs into samplers of pairs and I've made up more sets. I've gone back to my old pricing benchmark of $3 and up per earring-size bead. Focals are back to the $20 range and up. Sales are limping but existant. I'll just keep trying because if I stop I sure won't sell anything.

Of course if there's another "end-of-the-world" sale I might list at Bargain Box again.

So, as you know, there's always more to the story, or another story. I was low on bubble mailers so I re-orded a box of 100 on Nov. 20. They were shipping Nov. 21. The expected delivery date was Dec. 1.

And because I blew through so many mailers shipping small potatoes, I used my last mailer on Nov. 30. On Dec. 1, Amazon tracking showed that "Your package was delivered. The delivery was signed by: U.S. Postal Service. Delivered 5:27 PM Sugar Land, TX, US."

Excpet I didn't have it. So yesterday, Dec. 2, I had a couple of ridiculously unsatisfying phone calls with Amazon, where I tried to make a person whose native language wasn't English understand that a refund or replacement from the third party vendor would not resolve my problem, which could only be solved if Amazon could ensure that I'd receive a replacement within no more than two days.

I even found a comparable product sold by Amazon, for a mere additional $9 plus tax. I could not persuade Amazon to price match. Amazon did email the original vendor on my behalf, but my copy via email was immediately followed by an email to the effect that "Your e-mail to [vendor] ( cannot be delivered because there was a problem with the recipient's email system."

That prompted my second ridiculously unsatisfying phone call with Amazon, which wound up with Amazon giving me a $5 credit for reasons unknown but I suspect probably just to make me go away and not call again. Amazon also agreed to initiate an investigation as to why the email to the vendor failed.

You may notice that I'm not naming the vendor. It's not the vendor I have a quarrel with. I've used this vendor before, they have a good product at the best pric. Delivery has never been an issue before and the problem falls squarely on the shoulders of the good old US Postal Service, God bless America.

So I hatched a new plan. I ordered the same albeit overpriced product from Amazon, with two-day Prime delivery on Sunday and the full intent to return it unopened if by chance the original order showed up by Monday. Intuition suggested it might. Once before a product designated as delivered (but not recieved) was brought over by a neighbor a day or two later.

Today, Saturday, just a little while ago, the doorbell rang. An individual from a neighboring subdivision had taken the trouble to drive over with my box. Not a neighbor living in Telfair but a person living in an adjacent subdivision called New Territory. So the expensive replacement bubble mailers will be going back. Because, beyond the righteous reasons, as slow as sales have been, I'm not sure I will need 200 bubble mailers in the upcoming months.

If I do, I'll be ordering from the same vendor. In fact, I'm half inclined to place another order now to make up for any trouble I may have caused them by complaining to Amazon.

And what do you know, in the meantime, my Amazon Prime order of Blue Buffalo cat food that was supposed to be here yesterday, is now estimated to be delivered by Dec. 6, with this little gem tagline. "We’re sorry your package is late. If it hasn’t arrived by Wednesday, Dec 7, please come back for more options."

Yeah, great. I only opted for two-day delivery in lieu of my usual choice, free no-rush delivery with a $1 credit toward digital media, because we are getting low and planning to be away overnight later in the week. But I don't have the stuffing for another call to Amazon. I'll wait and see if it actually shows up today, tomorrow or Monday.

Intuition tells me it will.

And Neil was afraid we'd run out of things to talk about once he retired. Hah!

In the meantime, he's parked in front of the television, doing paperwork.

I knew this was going to be one of the hardest things for me to adjust to - the boob tube being on all the time.

I never watch TV during the day. I do watch something on my iPad for 45 minutes to an hour while I'm walking on the treadmill. Sometimes I even finish an episode after I get off the treadmill. But that's it.

I'm not sure why it bothers me so much. Probably because I didn't grow up with a TV on all the time, as I've discovered so many people have.

No, for a long time we had one TV and it was in the basement. I think my mom would sometimes iron down there while we were at school, but if you don't count me and Dark Shadows, no one in our family ever watched the soaps. Or sitcoms. Or pretty much anything that wasn't educational or classic or the nightly news.

Later I got a little black and white TV for my room. After school I'd watch Dark Shadows at 4 pm and sometimes whatever movie came on from 4:30 to 6 pm, which was dinner time, without deviation, without fail. My dad prided himself on virtually never watching TV. He read the paper in the evenings.

Later in life, after he retired and my parents moved to a condo in Florida, he did start watching sports. There was a TV in the bedroom and in the study-guest room, but never one in the living room.

And the way we watched TV was different too. We looked at the equivalent of TV guide, which was the newspaper listings for the evening. If there was something of interest on we watched. If not, the TV stayed off.

And to this day, I will look at the on-screen guide and if there is nothing on that interests me I turn off the TV and do something else. Often I only check PBS.

Neil on the other hand is a typical channel surfer. He find something, anything to watch, often toggling between old movies, Star Trek re-runs and sports. Sometimes he will find a show that I might like, such as Buying Hawaii or a documentary on Nat Geo Wild about space exploration or the origins of the universe, and he'll TiVo it so we can watch it together and fast-forward through the commercials.

Mostly though we watch DVDs or Netflix or Amazon video. We'll alternate between several series. Right now on the menu we have Murdoch Mysteries, Rosemary and Thyme, and The Dresden Files. There are umpteen seasons of Murdoch so that will be a staple for a long time. Next up in the rotation are Life on Mars (I finally dropped the dime on the DVDs) and The Crown.

I'm going to have to reign in my judgment of Neil for turning on the TV during daylight hours. Especially on a cool, damp, gray day like today, when he'd planned to do some work in the yard. I'm sure he can - and well may - judge me for many things, including the days I don't leave the house, the time I spend on the computer (even if I am writing) and who knows what other things that make up my daily routine will annoy him. I suspect he'll do better than I will with regard to tolerance.

After all, I do have seniority on this retirement thing, while he's just a rank amateur.

And I do need to give him a lot more than three days to figure it out.

What do you think, does a month sound about right?

Disorder in the house
The tub runneth over
Plaster falling down in pieces by the couch of pain

Disorder in the house
Time to duck and cover
Helicopters hover over rough terrain

Disorder in the house
Reptile wisdom
Zombies on the lawn staggering around

Disorder in the house
There's a flaw in the system
And the fly in the ointment's gonna bring the whole thing down

The floodgates are open
We've let the demons loose
The big guns have spoken
And we've fallen for the ruse

Disorder in the house
It's a fate worse than fame
Even the Lhasa Apso seems to be ashamed

Disorder in the house
The doors are coming off the hinges
The earth will open and swallow up the real estate

I just got my paycheck
I'm gonna paint the whole town grey
Whether it's a night in Paris or a Fresno matinee

It's the home of the brave and the land of the free
Where the less you know the better off you'll be

Disorder in the house
All bets are off
I'm sprawled across the davenport of despair

Disorder in the house
I'll live with the losses
And watch the sundown through the portiere.

(Warren Zevon)