Friday, June 29, 2012

How I Struggled to Write a Couch Poem - Helping Bill Hess - Poem: The Mail-Order Couch

Before I regale you with my couch poem, let's commiserate about the awful heat! 

"80 degrees" read my outdoor thermometer, which is thumbtacked to a tree stump in the frontyard, as I tied my new and comfy Vasque sneakers and headed out the door.

It's not so bad, I thought, as I headed down the hill. Rounding the corner of Cowbell, I sought out the shady parts, which were plentiful, and the going was easy.

Until, that is, I rounded the corner at Greyhorse - "that's all one word," I say to new visitors - and then the heat hit me so fast I thot I would pass out right there on the street.

In fact, I saw myself falling on my hands and knees. Proof perhaps of a parallel universe?

I could not breathe right. Keep on walking, I told myself, one foot in front of the other. I stepped into the shade and caught my breath.

What is happening to me?

I could always stop at Carol's house, the gray one, and ask them to drive me home. I knew I wouldn't. I knew I would make it the entire way, which I did.

Full stop, new paragraph.

The prob with the couch poem is that I bot two couches, but I'm not skillful enuf to poetate about one couch, let alone two.

I bought the couch from Gamburg's in Hatboro, PA and called my saleswoman Amy Kraemer. What kind of wood did they use to make the legs, I asked.

She got in touch with Mastercraft Furniture - oops Craftmaster Furniture - in Hiddenite, NC - to find me the answer.

Also she answered my question on how best to clean the occasional spot. I've already forgotten what she said but I think it was:  Hose it down with a fire hose.

Our man in Alaska, Bill Hess, underwent a colonectomy today for pre-cancerous tumors. I mailed him a generous check to help pay for the operation.

Writes Bill on his blog:

Dr. O'Malley's Office had already informed me his bill would be just under $10,000. Now I was informed the hospital bill would be $60,000 - BUT - they had a real special deal for uninsured people like myself. All I needed to do was pay just $20,000 before I went into surgery and they would knock the rest off.

I told them they might as well ask me for $2 million. Add in the bills for Dr. Sahagun and Providence and the total comes to about $80,000. It wouldn't surprise me at all if it grows from here.

Joe Biden just emailed me wanting a donation:

Yesterday I shared an emotional moment with Barack in the Oval Office after he learned health reform had been upheld.

Barack Obama is a man who refused to give up. No matter how politically unpopular it was, he knew it was the right thing to do.

Good marketing, fundwriters! Love the use of the term Barack. I also adore the font, whose name I do not know. But guess what? Altho I want Barack to win, I ain't giving him a cent.

His healthcare won't go into effect soon enuf to help my pen-pal Bill Hess. Our darling Barack made too many concessions to the health insurance companies. Nice guys finish last.


Jose carried you over the threshold
the companion of my latter days
I was finished with the has-beens
couches bought at thrift stores
other people’s sweat and cigarettes
You are newly born
the stork wrapped you in cellophane
a couch for eternity.

In the foothills of North Carolina
they dressed you in your wedding gown
red as raspberries glistening in a pie
and slipped on your high-heel pumps
a blend of alderwood and birch

You’ve settled down
far from the clang of manly hammers
the swoosh of bouncy soy-product
stuffed into your cushioned hips and breasts

Tired, I lay down to nap
sixty-six years of exhaustion
visions flooding the forest of my mind:
Why have I returned to foggy San Francisco?
or the sweltering heat of Houston
where I reigned five years
as a failed wife?

Never an answer
only sweet comfort
in your arms
we rejoice in
the manic depression I sloughed off
the new kidney pulsing invisible
and your silent attentiveness
intuitive as an oak.

Here, let us get up and greet the dawn
Nearing eighty, I am nearly as old as mother when she died
Your cushions have grown hard, pebbly inside
Still we thrill to the violin
and the birds splashing in the birdbath
I’ve told friends I’m no Henry the Eighth
intent on divorce
But, who, my darling
will want you when I'm gone?  

Healthcare Law Stands!

I was tapping away on my kidney memoir when I felt the strong pull of the online NY Times. When I looked this is what I found:

Hail the date: June 28, 2012. And may it stand, proclaiming healthcare for all, denying no one, the lucky or the unlucky.  How many people are there - I know two out of millions - who have gone bankrupt b/c they spent every last penny fighting to save their lives.

Not to mention the uninsured - 50 million of them -  some of whom simply dropped dead b/c they could not pay to get well.

Many of my fellow kidney recipients fell into the donut hole of their prescription drug Medicare Part D and simply stopped taking their antirejection meds since they'd used up all their rx coverage.

Surely you know what happened to them.

Goodbye Mr. Chips.

The founding fathers of Medicare made one huge mistake. They forgot to include

Okay, you can close your mouth and rinse.

Every few minutes the headlines on the Times changed:

Did you know that Justice Sonia Sotomayor has one of the most expensive diseases there is? Since age 7, she's been a Type 1 Diabetic. I learned that on, my fave diabetes website

The Diabetes Folks are ecstatic the legislation passed. I remember when I went to my Diabetes Support Group and sat at the table with a couple of older guys whose insurance did not cover the convenient PEN-STYLE delivery of insulin, like my own Novolog pen.

The pen-style is a brilliant invention and every person w diabetes should have access to it.

I was outraged that these two men were denied coverage by the greediest, richest, most selfish corporations of our day: health insurers.

And you know what? They didn't seem to mind. 

I went out to water my jardin and was grateful no one told me I could not plant violas intermixed with the darling scarlet pimpernels.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Shuffling Couches - Goodbye Nora Ephron - Helene's Soup Bowl

Brrrring! I was asleep having a great dream about my friend Helene when the phone knocked me into consciousness.

"Your sofas will be delivered before 10 a.m.," she said.

The living room was a mess, but gimme a deadline and I'm psyched. I cleaned off the two old couches which Impact Thrift will pick up next week.

Booty under the cushions: 30 pens, biz cards, and two items I'm smashing down b/c they're creased.

How intrusive: just asked me if I wanna share this post with them. SMASH YOU DOWN.

Jose knocked on the front door and assessed the situation. I could not wait to be united with my two new couches. It took two months for the new deep red upholstery to be put on.

The couches are even better than I expected.

Jose remembered my new sofa-bed that's upstairs in Sarah's old room. These were well-wrapped in toilet paper, as were the huge cushions I ordered to go with the couch.

Oh, I'm so distraught. One of the great women of letters - Nora Ephron - just died at age 71. There's only one reason, I said to myself, she would die: cancer.  Sure enuf, she had leukemia and died from pneumonia. Read more in the Times.

I loved her piece on the aging neck

 Nora Ephron 1941-2012.

Here's my friend Russell Eisenman.  I put him here to cheer us up. He's Nora's age exactly but still breathing. He gets rave teaching reviews at his college. He was my first BF after I left my husband and we're still friends.

I have been sitting on my new red couch most of the day cuz it's my new desk. My laptop sits atop a TV table I found on the curb.

 I also tested it out as a Napper. I like it better than my bed. After I finished my work this a.m., I began watching WW2 documentaries - profiles of Goering, Goebbels, and the capture of Adolf Eichmann.

Oh, darn! I left my iced coffee in the kitchen. Looks like I'll have to get up and bring in here.

Am doing an experiment. Last nite I drank iced decaf and my blood sugar was almost normal in the morning. As you know, I'm a person w diabetes.

We'll see how it is in the morning. Perhaps I can finish my dream about my friend Helene who has just moved into Rydal Park from the horrific Artman Home for the Brain-dead.


Whose bowl is this?
Surely not mine with its
delicate traceries, as delicate
as the woman I got it from

a small gift on the occasion of
her confinement
forever in a Lutheran nursing home
though she is Jewish
and has become a
reluctant octogenarian

I sip the fine Harrod’s tea
she gave me from a tin
though the taste has long gone
like some of the finer
workings of her mind
an early obituary causing
the shutting down of many corners,
a panic and hysteria that her home
on Bauman Drive
is missing her terribly

I took one succulent plant but
my windowsill is crowded with my
own nest and pine cones and feathers

Greeting my arrival in the Lutheran home
was a quick order from the attractive Gestapo
behind the desk
Sign in and wear a stick-on Visitor’s Badge

More Nazis on the second floor she now
calls home
Fake smiling, bowing aides who accompany
me down the hall, my steps watched lest I
inject the dementia patients with enough
morphine to kill them all
these Busby Berkeley babes
with wild white hair
and frumpy housedresses

these once vibrant bathing beauties
who made love with a passion
and now sit deadpan in a circle
eyes vacant as a dead dog’s eyes

We can’t let you die Helene
Writer, sculptor, woman with a camera
your photograph of my Sarah hangs in
my study, she was only fourteen, you
measured my children
on your kitchen wall, a swipe of a pencil
and - voila - they’re all grown up

We shall keep you alive though the
grilled cheese is rubbery
We shall keep you alive though your
lime-green Olds has been taken from you and
the husband you once loved is
failing fast in another building,
an untended bedsore on his heel
- who is watching who? –

You’ve got your phone and your computer
and you’ve got me, too, eating peanuts
and raisins from that stunning bowl that
shall help mold me into a more delicate
and thoughtful woman
as I lick my fingers from my
late-night snack and view the bowl
a reminder of my own future
doom-filled days.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Beaver Pond Poetry, Music, Ghosts and Trees - Poem: Saying Goodbye to Grace

I love the informal format of Liz Bowman's Beaver Pond Poetry Forum. 

Left my house in Willow Grove in plenty of time to get there, cruise thru the bumper-to-bumper traffic in New Hope, and get lost along the last half-mile of finding the church.

I got direx from my sister Lynn who used to live in New Hope but eloped with the love of her life and is now living in Florida.

Her direx were great...but it was two older gentlemen who were putting water toys in the trash who told me, to go thru the sign for 202 and then I'll see it on the left.

When I walked in, at exactly start-time of 2:30, Liz was sitting alone in the church.

I used the baffroom and noticed a 'trap door' which she told me led to the basement, hidden by a Persian rug.

"I thought it was for Jews to hide from the Nazis," I joked.

Finally two other people joined us, Tracy, Liz's sister/law and the man I was waiting for - Sandy Bender, banjo player. 

The four of us talked a lot. Liz has always had ghosts wherever she's lived. Once as a lil girl growing up along the Hudson River very scary ghost visited her and she cried for hours afterward.

They were forced to get an exorcist who got rid of all their ghosts, including the good ones.

Liz read exquisite lines for her journals, dating back to 2001 and 2002. Ah, the importance of journaling!

Sandy told an incredible story of a hiking trip he took. He was late so the group left w/o him. He set out to catch up with them and met a man who was weeping on the side of the road.

I can't go on alone, the man said to Sandy. Will you walk with me?

They walked together and the man told the awful story of his 15-yo son - Lennon Baldwin - who had killed himself b/c of being bullied

Imagine the synchronicity that brot Sandy together with John Baldwin - and all the other synchronicity in our lives!


a silent ache
when she leaves
alone in her carseat
Mom-mom drives
she watches me blow kisses
through the back window
strapped in
a prisoner to her elders

both grandmothers will leave first
snatched without mercy
useless to cling to our lost darlings who
will forget us like
last night’s dreams

what’s to remember about Bubby?
because I say, Grace this is a daisy,
how do you like my new birdbath?

it is I who want to tag along
after death
want to be with her
listen to her laugh
meet her friends
guard her when she swims
teach her to ride no-handed on a bike
put her on the plane
when she travels to Rome

I will be there to see all things
at least today I believe it
tomorrow may be different
as my parachute falls silently
to the poppy fields
and nothing is left but a
an indentation in the soil.       

 Brick labyrinth at St. Philip's Chapel, put in six years ago.

Magnificent garden with centerpiece of weeping cherry tree.

Tracy, Liz's sister/law, who said she might try her hand at poetry. It's contagious, I said.

Don't you just love doors? You never know what you'll find inside.

Driving home through New Hope. I love the lil shops and the way of the people. Many of em are hippies like the people at Beaver Pond.

Here's where I make my crucial Right turn to avoid New Hope traffic.Was not quite sure how to get home this way but it was correct - Lynette Heap's big ole stone house, Peddler's Village, the Sox Lady, and up through Hatboro.

I filled up with Giant gas for $3.29 a pound. The cheapest around.

West Bridge Street. Last store on the right used to be our family-feud store: The Now and Then Shop. Ah, how sweet those words look. My dad started it before he went away to NeverneverLand at age 59.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Couples Therapy with Dr Ruth Jampol - Schmoozing afterward in the Coffeeshop

Dr Ruth Jampol, licensed psychologist, from Southampton Psychiatric Center, in her talk "Couples Therapy and the Treatment of Mood Disorders."

Another great speaker from our "Meet Your Mental Health Professionals Series", closing out our Summer season.

She practices a form of therapy called "Emotionally Focused Therapy" (EFT).

Research on couples therapy shows this type of therapy is as helpful as individual therapy. Here are excerpts from her talk:

Few things are more stressful than a distressed relationship. It goes on day in and day out - it wears on you like the drip drip drip of a faucet - there's no end to it, no escape.

Relationship problems are a major trigger for episodes of depression or anxiety. If you don't fix it, it gets worse. She gave examples of men or women who stop talking to each other, who give each other the silent treatment, or who explode when the partner says the wrong thing.

Helen Kirschner, who runs our Daytime Meeting at the Giant Supermarket, asked, "What do you do when one of the couples doesn't wanna attend couples therapy?"

Great question, H! She and I know at least eight couples in the group who should be in marriage counseling. Helen said a lotta people are afraid of change and are happier doing nothing than getting help.

Dr Ruth said she asks the reluctant spouse to go to just one session to see how they like it.

 For my library book club we're reading Steinbeck's "To a God Unknown," his second novel. The Wayne family, who homesteaded to California from Vermont in the late 1800s, is one very unusual family, tempered and influenced by the extreme weather that meant successful crops, but also by the native Mexicans who helped them out.

When one of the Waynes gets depressed, they wait it out until it passes, go for long walks, talk to supportive people, or hug a tree.

Dr Ruth said there's a strong correlation between depression and relationship distress. When one member is diagnosed with depression they can easily be triggered into a depression, much more than with the general public.

When these couples complete sessions of couples therapy, the benefits go on and on. However, if a depressed person takes meds and stops them, there are no benefits, but just the opposite -  relapse of depression.

One of our audience members echoed Dr Ruth's words about one partner with depression. The person withdraws from the world. Their partner may wanna help but doesn't know what to do or may unwittingly make matters worse.

 EFT is all about getting to what's beneath the surface. A couple's arguments are not really about the matter at hand - "why don't you ever put your shoes away? why don't you clean off your side of the bed" - but focus on issues which the person is not articulating.

She tells couples to use the "I" statement. "I feel upset - or disappointed - or angry - when you watch television and don't pay attention to what I'm saying."

She helps couples put their feelings into words. Emotions don't lie. Emotions are real. Emotions need to be honored and understood by both parties.

When your partner doesn't listen to you, you may feel invisible - lonely - abandoned -angry. You may very well shut down.

Get thee to a therapist! How about to Sue Johnson (MUST CLICK), Canadian author of Hold Me Tight?

Writes Johnson:
We have a wired-in need for emotional contact and responsiveness from significant others. It's a survival response, the driving force of the bond of security a baby seeks with its mother. This observation is at the heart of attachment theory. A great deal of evidence indicates that the need for secure attachment never disappears; it evolves into the adult need for a secure emotional bond with a partner. Think of how a mother lovingly gazes at her baby, just as two lovers stare into each other's eyes.
Dr Ruth said the Ottawan Sue Johnson developed EFT in the late 1980s. The training is intenseive, from five to eight years.

You need tremendous listening skills, said Ruth. Emotions and behavior make sense once we understand them. "I need to find a way in," she said about difficult cases.

She serves on the Board of the Philadelphia Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy, an organization dedicated to promoting high quality couples therapy in the greater Philadelphia area.

Ruth showed us a fascinating video of Sue Johnson interviewing a married couple. You can view it on the website of the International School for Excellence in EFT.

She loved the pink orchid we gave her as a thank-you gift.

Afterward, six or seven of us met in the downstairs Coffeeshop.

 Hello Will and Betsey. Betsey and I are gonna go paddleboating at Lake Galena during the week. Can't wait. It's a real work-out.

Lucas McCain happened to be in town, so he parked his horse and rifle outside and joined us, ordering a hot cup of coffee.

I'd been waiting all day for my first cuppa coffee, iced. Since the Giant coffee is tasteless, I added cinnamon and cocoa.

We always have lively discussions. I was biding my time until I could bring up a particular subject.

Conversation topics included:

- The influential award-winning Boston Globe columnist and author, Bob Whittaker, gave bad advice to mental health consumers telling them to go off their meds b/c the meds were shown not to be helpful.

- "Rich" got depressed after he retired. It was the worst experience of his life. That's the way we feel when depression hits. He checked into Abington hospital for a week, which he found very helpful. That's how he found New Directions.

He recently received his hospital bill:  $30,000.  But b/c he has Medicare and Blue Cross 65, he only has to pay $1200.

You know what? If you gave me a billion dollars, I would never go through another depression again....or manic psychosis, which is even worse. Why? I felt all those things a person feels - abandoned, alone, angry, no one understands me.

- We also discussed going off meds later in life, like I did when I was 58. Is it a good idea? Discuss it with your family and your doctor.

And then it was my turn. I brought up the awful subject of the worst pedophile in our lifetime. I am fascinated by the case. When my neighbor Patrick saw me eating dinner outside on my front lawn, he pulled up a lawn chair and we discussed it.

If I heard him in the shower with a kid, I would've gone in and probly killed the s.o.b, said Patrick, father of two young boys.

I stared at the pictures of the pedophile, whose name I am not gonna sully my blog with. What monster lurks below the surface. And he is a true monster. This is possibly the worst crime a person can commit.

I liked the face of McGettigan, the prosecuting attorney. I'll close this post with his satisfied face.

Watch your Step! Ruthless pursuit of perfection for my house

As you remember, I had surgery last August for my excruciatingly painful sciatica. Everything was fine until 7 months later - this May - when I began gardening and got new pains. Physical therapy and exercises got rid of most of the pain except for my numb left foot. Have no idea what that's about.

My bad foot made me fall down one of my side steps and get a boo-boo on my knee, which made for good conversation with my 22-month-old granddaughter Grace as we shared boo-boos over lunch.

My fall made me aware of steps. So when the Stoneworkx Company began doing work up the street at John DeLuca's I invited them over to see what they could do for me.

Justin, in the first photo, and tall blue-eyed Nate above got to work building me a second step. The original step that was here was quite large and I needed to hold onto my railing when I stepped up. I'm just a little tyke - barely five-foot tall and shrinking - so the second step would make it easier for me to enter mine own home.

Justin is putting a coat of cement on the original step so it will match the color of the new step. Justin is the only white guy living in his neighborhood in North Philly. It's a step up from his previous life in Kensington. Nate, the other worker, is studying to be a probation officer for teens to help bad kids go straight.

Embedded on the new step are sea shells. Originally I wanted Grace's handprint on there but the colors "bled."

Justin pressed them down on either side of the step within a "picture frame." He did a very nice job. 

Today there were muddy footprints on the bottom step from

I told the boys from Stoneworkx and the squirrel, too, that I always take pictures of the work I get done on the house.

It makes me feel almost grown up.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ted Heck, Ret. Lieutenant: WW2 History Lesson - Off to Germany we Go to Rebuild the Country

I had the extreme pleasure of hearing 90-yr-old Ted Heck talk about his experiences in Germany after World War Two. Although he saw combat, he wanted to emphasize America's role in getting Germany back on its feet.

 The program was esp. meaningful since I recently watched the 10-hour documentary about the Holocaust called Shoah (hell). The filmmaker was interviewed on the Charlie Rose Show.

Filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, b. 1925, is a French Jew who interviewed survivors of Treblinka, Auschwitz and other camps, as well as the Germans who incarcerated them. The man above is a driver of one of the notorious cattle cars, where one-third of the people on board died from thirst, malnutrition, or being trampled on.

I learned things about the Holocaust I never knew. Before gas chambers were invented for their efficiency and ability to exterminate thousands upon thousands of people per day, the Nazis used "Gas vans" where the vehicle's exhaust was pumped directly into the van.

This searing documentary, while difficult to watch, is so compelling you want to stay until the bitter end to see the end of the suffering.

 Here's Ted Heck before his talk. I told him my dad was a paymaster at Guantanamo Bay and never saw action.

Here are excerpts from Ted's talk. Many of his friends were in the audience. When one of em entered the room, Ted called out, "We missed you at tennis this morning."

A talented athlete, Ted took up skiing while he was in post-war Germany. Here's his skiing and athletic column. 

His success, he said, is due to the four C's:


Note the role that chance plays. He met many important people overseas who offered him jobs of a lifetime. Back in the USA, he was vice president of many companies and quite successful. A widower with two children and no grandchildren, his girlfriend of 22 years comes from a big family so he plays the avuncular role there.

 Back in 1941, Winston Churchill was so sure of winning the war, he began to plan for Germany's restoration.  Henry Morgenthau, FDR's secy of the treasury, feared Germany's power, and wanted to turn the country into farmlands.

"How are you going to keep them down on the Farm after they've seen Paris" was a famous comment about servicemen from the sticks dazzled by the big city.

The Americans set up a "denazification camp" after the war near Hammelburg. It was important to show you were triumphant. The GIs had lots of free time and would play sports. When they played golf, they would have the Nazis fetch the golf balls.

General Eisenhower had given strict orders that the GIs not fraternize with the Germans. It was impossible, said Heck, and also a bad idea, since they wanted to impart ideas of democracy to the Germans.

Germans are used to obeying orders. An autocrat always ruled the country until after WW1 when it became a democratic republic.

In the presidential election of 1932, Hitler received only 30 percent of the vote. But through luck and Machiavellian deceit he became the leader, with his pal Goebbels at his side, and they quickly turned it into a dictatorship.

While stationed in Germany, 50,000 GI's were sent to colleges. Heck had been studying English literature at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, but now he was offered classes at Cambridge University in London. He attended Bull College, specifically set up to train servicemen.

Cambridge was founded in 1231 by a charter from King Henry 8.

Heck said his mother kept a scrapbook of her son's achievements "to feed my ego," he joked.

Heck showed us a slide of all his classmates from Cambridge: Darwin, Byron, Cromwell, Samuel Pepys, Thomas Gray must-clik), Edmund Spenser, Churchill. 

Recreation was a huge part of the soldiers' lives. A baseball stadium was built - in a month! - and Heck played alongside of Cal McLish, who would become a Major League pitcher, pitching his last game in 1959. McLish was 18 yo at the time and Heck enjoyed being with him so much he got him a job as his jeep driver. Officers, such as Lt. Heck, all had drivers.

Heck particularly enjoyed hearing a lecture by Lord Bertrand Russell.

 Wait a minute! I think I hear Bertie espousing philosophy and logic right now. Can't quite tell if this is before or after his death at 97 yrs old.

"Hearing him was one of the greatest experiences of my life," said Heck. He also had the opportunity to see Sir Laurence Olivier in SIX PLAYS during one week at the Old Vic Company.

The USO had a program to bring in entertainers into Germany. Heck saw Bob Hope and

Dietrich, who put her arms around him and 30 other men in the room.

Ghent Altarpiece or Adoration of the Mystic Lamb - Flemish panel painting, 1432.

This is one of the most influential of all paintings and the one most frequently stolen (six times), according to historian Noah Charney.

How did our hero become the leading authority on the painting in Bethlehem, PA, when he returned to Lehigh University?

The brother of his college professor was called to Germany to catalog artworks looted by the Nazis. Most were hidden in underground salt mines for protection.

Marburg Museum now held many of the stolen items. "It was like a Target store warehouse," said Heck.

He saw Manets and Cezannes face to face.

 Manet's Bar at the Folies Bergere.

As if this isn't enough of Heck's fascinating life, he's an actor as well, and had a small part in the first movie ever made about World War Two.

800 men auditioned for the part of an American soldier who is briefly interviewed on television in the 1951 film Decision Before Dawn.

In the film, Heck says the immortal lines, "C'mon you krauthead, you're holding up the line."

"And who's gonna play YOU in your life story?" asked a member of the appreciative audience.

After the movie, Bill Murray, who sat next to me went up to talk about the flourishing Black Market after the war. Bill's father was drafted into the army at age 38.

It was such a privilege being with the charismatic Ted Heck I almost asked for his autograph or a lock of his hair or a nail clipping. Shaking his hand sufficed.

Heck said his favorite song of all-time is the one they sang to commemorate the end of the war: Symphony: C'est fini.