Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Insomnia

Inspiration

b. watterson
                                                                                           



Sophie moved down the street at a sprint - her eyes were closed - she knew this neighborhood like the back of her hand - maybe even better. She could hear the wind, other kids laughing and yelling, birds chirping, leaves rustling in the breeze and the city bus groaning into action after having deposited someone at the street corner. The contrast between the cool spring wind and the soft warm touch of the sun on her face was exhilarating. She ran past the stand of lilac bushes at the end of the block tasting their sweet fragrance.  She took an extra long stride as she turned the corner past the lilacs to avoid the broken patch of sidewalk.  She felt like her heart would burst from the run but she kept on going - past Mr. Smith's yard with the chronic sprinkler,past old Mrs. Murphy's with the "stay off the grass" sign,  past the Conways with the children all too young to leave the yard and too numerous to keep inside on such a day - she could hear them calling to her and she opened her eyes, smiled and waved.  She looked briefly down at her feet and saw the new blue Keds - they really did make her run faster, jump higher, go further. On she went, her pleated, plaid skirt and white blouse flapping around her. One more corner and then the final leg of the run that would end at the Rosewood Elementary School playground.  Sophie loved coming to the playground when school wasn't in session. It seemed like such a daring thing to do and there weren't nearly as many kids vying for a swing.  She got to the swing set and skidded on the pea-gravel under the swings. Situating herself on her favorite swing, she began to pump her rubbery legs to get going as high as she could. In a matter of a minute she felt like she was flying and she leaned back and closed her eyes. The world turned upside down and the broad smile on Sophie's face could have cracked it in two. She stopped working at the swinging and just enjoyed the sensation, the gentle arc she drew in her small corner of the playground - the weightlessness and then the realization that very soon the swing would come to a stop and once again she would be grounded. She held on to the last bit of motion the swing was willing to shell out and then opened her eyes, dismounted and started walking back home - back to siblings, chores, dinner around a table with the people she most wanted to be like and liked by... and her Keds suddenly kicked her into high gear, pounding the pavement as Sophie headed back to real life and all its comforts.

and now for something completely different....

Since I have done nothing to add to this blog in the last several (many) months, I thought I better get crackin' and do SOMETHING... so, a small selection of "poetry" from my distant and not so distant past.

Andrew Wyeth
 He recalled beauty.                                  
It's power and
elaborate
frantic
language.
An ache in the breast
like rust.


Raw winter sky
White void
Pounding the will
Crushing the symphony
of me


She sits, always alone.                                                                                                                                                
Iron tongued
and dreams of singing delicate music
of whispering her want to her beloved
in light cool moments.


Not much, but something. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

This just in....


My dad, number one fan and faithful correspondent, sent this comic strip to me the other day.  It made me laugh and blog.
Write on, fellow bloggers. Don't be discouraged.

Behind

He had gotten to church later than usual and slipped into his regular spot just as the service started.  The plaid jacket he had worn on the walk to church that early spring morning was now too warm and he shrugged it off at the same time trying to find the correct spot in his missal.  His coat slid off the pew and as he bent to recover it, he caught the light, fresh scent of citrus. Standing he  noticed the person in the seat in front of him -a woman of average height and slender build.  Her shoulder length chestnut hair was flecked with gray and caught carelessly in a tortoise shell clip which seemed to be slipping.  The clean smell was definitely coming from her.  He noticed her shoulders and the line of her back and wondered briefly how it would feel to put his hand on the small of her back.  She wore a pretty blue and white print dress that, while appropriate for the setting, did flatter her figure - at least from the back. Shaking his head to get focused on what he was there for, he found his spot in the book and began singing along with his fellow churchgoers.  He closed his eyes to better concentrate on the service and became aware of a sweet alto voice singing harmony. Tilting his head in an effort to locate the voice, eyes still closed, he realized it was coming from the lemony-smelling woman in front of him.  His eyes popped open and he was again distracted from the service as he noticed the way her silver earrings hung from her earlobes and moved as she sang, the gentle curve of the side of her neck and how she would occasionally scrunch her shoulders up and then drop them back down or reach up to massage her neck.  He had no concept of her age - it's hard to tell that from behind  but he found himself checking , unsuccessfully,  to see if she wore a ring on her left hand. The entire congregation sitting brought him out of his thoughts and he too sat, a little heavily.   It had been such a long time since he had really noticed other women - his wife of 25 happy  years had died suddenly several years ago and he had just moved through life in a daze - one day melting into the next. The fog had lifted little by little but colors were still muted in his world - until this morning.  He was surprised and mildly embarrassed at his inattentiveness to the service and again shook his head admonishing himself to pay attention.  As he listened to the readings he had a passing thought that he would definitely speak to this woman in the social hall afterwards.  That seemed to settle him and he concentrated on the service until a thought came unbidden to his mind.... "I wonder what her face looks like."


Christina's World - Andrew Wyeth
                                                                     

Ah... the sights and smells of spring

Northern Indiana is pancake flat - except for some surprising gently rolling hills sprinkled here and there. Driving down a hilly country road yesterday admiring the neatly manicured fields (some looking freshly turned) which will host armies of corn stalks in just a few months, I was swept away by the beauty of spring in the Great Lakes area.  Gusty winds blew the decorative grasses planted alongside a white frame farmhouse and bent a windbreak sensuously.  Forsythia bushes untouched by pruning shears danced like flames in the buffeting wind. The car window was down halfway and a pasture filled with black-speckled bovine gave off the earthy aroma of manure and sweet hay.  Red-winged blackbirds seemed to dot the top of each fence post and several mallards flew by overhead braving the wind to reach a pond sparkling blue in one of the farmyards. The first blooms on trees and shrubs along the road in shades of red, delicate pink and white provided a sudden splash of color after the grays and browns of winter.  The spring-soft air tousled my hair and  I was reminded once again of why people fall in love this time of year. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday, Monday

The word two-year-olds worldwide choose not to acknowledge was uttered in the wake of countless attempts by an ungainly girl with a tangle of brown curls covering her head  to wreak havoc on the living room and all it's occupants - "NO!"  Mommy had spoken.  With a stomp of her foot and a severely down-turned lower lip, Little Miss Ringlets blew an gust of upset and unhappiness out her nostrils both clotted with ropey, green snot.  With results no decongestant can produce, a lumpy spray of gunk exited her nose holes and speckled the sleeve of her mother's blouse and the side of mommy's made up face.  Spying me, Little Miss Ringlets made a move toward my perch on a too-soft, stained sofa, sizing me up as she approached.  While it was likely that much of the nasty congealed contents of her snout had already been purged, I was regretting my decision not to don my Hazmat suit before heading out of the house this morning.  Little Miss stopped just short of me and tilted back her head to take aim.  Her nostrils appeared to pulsate with her desire to give me this little gift of her discontent.  Taking a big breath in, she then shot the air out her nose and two things happened - I quickly moved my things and as much of myself as I could out of the line of fire and Little Miss's lower face was covered by what burst forth from her nose.  She had a look of triumph on her face when she leveled her head again to meet my gaze, yellowish-green goo hanging from her chin. Relieved at not having been slimed by nasal mucus, I looked her square in the face, smiled and continued my conversation with her mother.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

BOING

Spring Forward...  I managed to remember to set my clocks ahead one hour before going  to bed last night.... will wonders never cease?  Now I have an excuse for not getting things done. I have been robbed of an hour of my time.  Predictably,  I know I will not experience greater productivity when I have to fall back an hour in the autumn - I will claim confusion about what time it actually is and probably oversleep the next morning.  It was nice to have some daylight left at almost 8:00 p.m. tonight.  Things are looking up and I find myself smiling a  bit more with each extra minute of daylight.  I was mildly amused and sort of guilt ridden this afternoon when I grabbed the old bags to go clean up after my dog in the backyard.  She was so excited to hear the rattle of plastic bags and ran out on the back porch and sat down right next to her leash in anticipation of a walk.  I think she has a bit of cabin fever like me.  I had to explain that I was just going into the yard  -  it's still pretty chilly to take one of our 5 or 6 + mile walks.  I guess if I were kinder to my dog I could have at least taken her around the block.  I hope she will forgive me and know that many good walks are in the offing. More likely she has posted an ad on Craigslist looking for a more suitable companion.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Out of control

This in-between weather in northern Indiana creates difficulties.  Recently, in the span of approximately 20 hours, there was lemon yellow sunshine, blustery winds, temps of a balmy 51 degrees, pounding rain, precipitous drops in temperature and then snow.  It's confusing to know how to dress, whether to risk driving and what to do with hair that is very susceptible to weather quirks.  This past Saturday evening, I came home from a fundraiser in fairly mild temperatures and drizzly rain .  When I woke up on Sunday there was a benign-looking dusting of snow on the ground.  With a sense of disappointment that spring hadn't yet arrived, I got ready to leave the house.  Once in the car, I was careful to brake early approaching intersections - black ice is a real danger around here.  Things were going well and I was driving at a speed that seemed appropriate to road conditions - about 5 miles under posted limits.  There was a fair amount of traffic at 9:00 on a Sunday morning.  In a millisecond, a vehicle several car-lengths ahead of me began swerving and slipping across the road. In the next second I hit the same spot and was treated to a gut wrenching, adrenaline boosting roller coaster ride of trying to control a car that hit a solid sheet of ice going 35 miles an hour.  I know everyone says things like that seem to happen in slow motion and it's true.  By some miracle all the cars around me were suddenly gone and my car careered crazily  one moment heading straight for a tree, the next aimed at a very solid looking fire hydrant and then ... "WHACK" - the left rear wheel slammed hard into a high curbed median, the car skittered across two lanes and then gained enough traction for me to get it into a deserted parking lot to assess the damage.  I had to sit in the car for a few minutes trying to wrest my fingers from the steering wheel shaking my head in disbelief and relief that, for a second time in my life, I had a car accident (incident) that involved only myself and my poor car. Anyone who was behind me or at the intersection I was bearing down on probably got a scary show, but thankfully they weren't close enough to be part of the action.

Walking around the car, I didn't initially notice any problems.  I took a few deep breaths and decided to get back on the road.  Only then did I notice that I had to keep the steering wheel pulled quite far to the right to get my car to go straight.  Back in the parking lot, I carefully positioned the steering wheel to situate the front tires facing straight ahead.  This time when I got out of my car, I saw that the left rear tire was at an odd angle to the rest of the tires - no wonder the car slowed down.  Getting back in the car I had a moment of self-pity... who could I call, who could help me, I'm all alone in the world, poor me. I have very good natured neighbors who come to my rescue so frequently I am a little concerned they will move out of the area under cover of darkness some time soon. They quickly showed up in the parking lot and looked reassuringly relieved that I was not injured.  Mr. Neighbor gave the car a quick looking over and proclaimed that the damage was likely not as bad as it looked. Mrs. Neighbor offered all kinds of help and moral support. When it became clear that I would have to have to car towed I sent them on their way with Mrs. Neighbor's offer to pick me up at the service station when the tow truck dropped me off.  Thank goodness for good neighbors who are also friends.

 Now it's Wednesday. I've turned the rental car back in and am anticipating having my little car back from the repair shop sometime tomorrow.  The repairs cost just under my insurance deductible.The week is looking a little better than it did at it's start. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

10 years

 b. watterson

It seemed like a good idea at the time - 2

For the past several weeks I have been working around the house - painting, pulling up carpet to reveal very serviceable hardwood floors, moving furniture, going through stacks and stacks of books, dusting, slicing open the side of my hand with a utility knife (thank goodness for kind neighbors who have a first aid kit), etc...  It's been a lot of work and there is still a good bit of stuff to do, but I was sitting in the living room tonight basking in the warm glow of the honey tones coming from the newly bared floor. A plate was on my lap and on the plate was a turkey, bacon, lettuce, onion, provolone cheese sandwich, a modest pile of Cheez-its and a ramekin filled with the remains of the cherry Jell-O that got me through my weekend illness.   The dog, as usual, was parked right at my knee waiting patiently for some of the food to fall into her mouth. She has good reason for hope judging by past episodes which have found me standing up to do something and forgetting I have a lap full of food.  Everything was going along well and then I decided  it would be nice of me to give the dog a little bit of Jell-O.  It never entered my mind that a dog who has been observed swiping a sandwich off a plate and swallowing it whole would have a problem with a little blob of gelatin.  She took it quickly enough and then placed it daintily on the wood floor and started to lick at it.  I suggested somewhat heatedly that she should just pick it up, which she did.  She walked a few steps across the room and deposited a somewhat less molded glob of bright red cherry Jell-O on the floor.  She nudged it across the floor with her nose and took a couple more licks at it - just enough to cause it to liquefy.   Apparently some dogs (maybe all of  them) don't care for the texture of jello. Who knew? As I cleaned up the little red puddle I wondered if Mucinex is a mind-altering substance.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My suspect immune system

Another weekend gone by in a haze of fever, body aches, chills and dangerous trips up and down stairs.  What is going on?  I thought my immune system was supposed to help me fight off opportunistic infections without completely wrecking me.  At least it has the good grace to go off the rails when I actually can afford to be sick.  I am hoping for a healthier spring.  In the meantime, I am sitting in the wingback chair in my living room staring out the rain speckled windows at a gray February afternoon and being thankful that I was able to get myself out of bed today.  The chores abound and will have to wait until I have the energy to do more than bathe and dress myself. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Snow days" revisited



After my "Snow days" post of late last year, I neglected to shout from the rooftop "I got a snow day!!" when the most recent "Storm of the Century" last week prompted almost everything to shut down, including my office.  I was so delighted to have a free day that I did some work in an attempt to catch up.  Oh well, maybe the next snow day I will put to good use by sleeping in, eating marshmallows for breakfast, staying in my pajamas all day and dancing with the dog.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cabin fever

The rhythm of daily life is fairly consistent.  The mundane is what glues the world together during the infrequent highs and lows.  Mostly I am comfortable with the mundane - waking just before the alarm in the morning, listening to my dog stretch out and yawn at the top of the stairs, hearing the trash truck rumble down the street, turning on the kettle for a cup of coffee, opening the blinds and watching the world outside start to waken and move about. The routines of the morning - of the entire day - keep me on task, keep me moving toward the time when I can settle down after work and just have a few minutes to sit.  In difficult times, routines really save me.  Some things just have to get done no matter what's happening, no matter how crummy you feel.
This winter has been strange with regard to loneliness.  The routines keep me plugging away, but the "settle down" time at the end of the day has become increasingly lonely. The house, the phone and my social life are too quiet. I have decided to chalk it up to cabin fever, winter storms and not enough physical activity.  It's hard to take the dog for a walk when there are mountains of snow on all sides.  I'm all for taking up a challenge, but I don't want to be found in the spring thaw curled up around my dog in a muddy puddle. 
Solitude is a gift - the quiet a comfortable embrace. Loneliness is an unwelcome visitor.  It gives me too much time to get stuck in my head and begin to create things to fret about.  I need to get out of my head, out of my house and out of a routine that, while helpful, feels a little stagnant.
Can't wait for spring... and lilacs and bright yellow-green new leaves on the trees and yes, even spring cleaning. 


Around the Corner by Andrew Wyeth
                                                  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It seemed like a good idea at the time






Why don't people tell you things that really matter, really make a difference in life?  There are so many things that you just have to figure out on your own.  For instance, it's never a good idea to take a fiber supplement, have a big bowl of chili and begin really working to meet the daily recommended  intake of fruits and vegetables all on the same day.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but someone probably could have/should have counseled otherwise.




Sunday, January 23, 2011

To-do lists

(Picture courtesy of Charles Schultz's imagination and artistry)

Another weekend has flown by and my to-do list has nothing on it that I can check off as completed.  The weekends always starts out well enough - a tentative list of things I will accomplish in roughly 48 hours time that will make me feel that I have used my time wisely.  I don't know how things get away from me, but here is an example of what lurks above my head... there is a room in my house that I began painting at Thanksgiving time (it's not unfinished because it is so big... I just changed my mind about how I wanted it all to end up and lost focus), there are stacks of books all over my living room floor that need to be gone through and those books I no longer want discarded, dishes are sitting in the kitchen sink with old food particles petrifying on plates, bowls, forks, the monthly bills are waiting until that bitter end for me to pay them (not necessarily due to lack of funds but lack of ambition/motivation), my dog is in desperate need of a bath/brush and a mountain of paperwork that should have been done yesterday leans precariously on the edge of an ottoman.  And now it is Sunday evening and nothing of any substance got done. Well, that's not altogether true.  I did manage to start reading 3 or 4 books that have been on my list for quite a while, the mail-delivery-deterring iceberg that had parked on the front steps of my house after a recent, if brief , "warm up" has been tamed with ice-melt and removed, Marx Brothers movies in need of another viewing got viewed and visits to various family members, in person or by phone, occurred.  It seemed like a full and productive weekend until I looked around and saw all the things I didn't do.  Ah well.  Next weekend this weekend's tasks will be a little further down the list and a bit more likely to get accomplished.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I love you, Mrs. Green!

Sitting in the molded plastic chair in the new classroom at the start of a new academic year in a new school, the alarmingly skinny girl leaned forward in anticipation. Her delicate shoulders squared, her hands clasped together on top of the desk, her serious brown eyes surveyed the room. None of the other kids had talked to her yet.  The bell announcing the start of Frankie's third grade year pealed through the school - jarring. 
There were about twenty children in the class and some were obviously well acquainted with each other.  Frankie heard some of the girls giggling and sharing stories about summer camps and family vacations.  Some of the boys were goofing off and doing gross things that boys do - belching, picking at body parts (their own) and saying words they thought were "dirty" but really weren't.  The big round clock on the wall with the audibly moving hands clicked to 8:04 a.m.  The kids all started looking around the room, craning their necks to see the door.  Where was the teacher? It became unnaturally quiet for a room full of 8 and 9 year olds.
Then, with a whoosh and a squeaking of rubber-soled shoes on the floor, in walked a lovely woman with hair the color of straw, a light blue skirt and a blouse with so many flowers in the design it looked as if some of them might end up on the floor.  Her arms were full of boxes and she looked like her slender frame would break under the load.  She made her way carefully down a row of seats and plopped her burden on the floor next to the teacher's desk.  "Good morning!  I'm Mrs. Green and I'm the new third grade teacher." she said with a smile that would have lit up the entire room were a sudden and total solar eclipse to have occurred. 
Frankie and the other children just stared at her.  The previous third grade teacher, by all accounts, had been a sourpuss and all the kids, when they managed to think about school at all over the summer, had had varying degrees of anxiety about what third grade was going to be like. This smiling, pretty woman in front of the class left Frankie with the feeling you get when you think the M&M bag is empty and then suddenly realize there is still candy left inside.
Third grade was a swirl of joy, anxiety and revelation for Frankie.  Mrs. Green was a voracious reader and introduced the class to many new worlds compliments of E.B. White, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Madeline L'Engle, etc... When she wasn't reading to the class, she was encouraging them to explore the various characters brought to the world by these incredibly ingenious creators or to generate their own.  Mrs. Green acted as though each of the kids in her class was someone very special and the whole class seemed to meet her expectation - with a couple of exceptions.  She was funny, sweet, challenging, thoughtful and a fierce proponent of all the kids in her charge avoiding dullard status.  Frankie would sit in class and marvel at the energy and enthusiasm her teacher exhibited.  Even in the midst of flurries of idiocy among her pupils, she would forge ahead with her lesson plan and a disarming grin and get the class moving in the right direction.  Field trips, library visits, spelling bees and reading competitions peppered the year and inspired the children in her class to strive for and accomplish more than was expected. 
At the end of the year, Frankie's head was overfull of imaginings and possibilities.  She supposed that her peers were having  similar experiences.  Maybe not.  That was the year that she got up one morning a few days before school started and rode her bike through the quiet neighborhood before most of the neighbors or even her family were awake feeling  for all the world like Douglas Spaulding commanding the world to wake up/come alive in the opening chapter of Dandelion Wine. She had imagined that the new school year was going to be something special. And it was even more than that.

(For many years I've wanted to express my immense gratitude to Mrs. Green for making such a positive difference in my life.  I'm not sure that I have adequately expressed my appreciation, but it's a start.   I love you, Mrs. Green! Wherever you are, thanks!)

Block......

Thank you, Bill Watterson!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Where's my dog?


This past Friday evening I was sitting in the living room enjoying the warmth of a new furnace and the good company of a friend when there was a knock at the door. Two rosy-cheeked young boys - maybe 12 or 13 years old - snowsuits on, shovels in hands offered to shovel my walk for $5 for each of them.  It had been snowing all day and, while I had gotten out earlier to sweep off the first few inches that fell, another several were now on the ground with no sign of the snow stopping.  My wonderful neighbors almost always include me on their snow blowing route and as I was trying to come up with an answer for the boys, I saw my neighbor making his way down the sidewalk behind his handy snow removal machine.  The boys looked crestfallen and said they were trying to earn money so they could go tubing tomorrow.  In spite of money not growing on trees (yet), I quickly realized that it would be helpful to have the walk to my garage and the alley-access driveway cleared off.  The smiles on their faces alone were probably worth the 10 bucks.  They made quick work of it and even shoveled off my front steps (which the neighbor's snow blower doesn't reach).  I paid them, thanked them and woke up Saturday morning to over 2 feet of new snow blanketing my walks and everything else in sight.  My sister called me to ask how I felt about my $10 investment from last evening and after thinking again of the smiling faces and the possibility of legendary tubing experiences for those kids, I responded that I felt pretty good about it. 
With that feeling, I peeled myself out of bed to let my dog out for her morning toilet.  I opened the door to the backyard, saw that the snow was even with the top step and then saw my dog disappear.... It was kind of shocking - one second she was leaning out the back door to see what all this white was about and the next second - POOF - no dog.  Then I saw her nose poke out from the snow and then a hearty "ARROOOO!?" as she voiced her question of what the heck was going on....   Her nose would appear in different spots close to the back door and she would let out another howl. It was probably funnier for me than it was for her. I ran to put on some jeans and get my boots on so that I could dig her out before I lost her 'til spring.  I had to do a fair bit of digging to clear a space for her and to just make some paths to be able to get out of the  house if I needed to.  She wandered up and down the walkway between the house and the garage trying to see over the walls of snow on either side.  Her normal routine is to exit the house, run to the very back of the lot and then start patrolling the yard and commenting loudly to any other audible dogs in the neighborhood.  She looked very caged in and didn't appear to be enjoying it.  She did make a courageous dive into one of the walls of snow only to pop out again a moment later drowned in snow and shaking her head in seeming confusion. Shoveling the yard or even part of it to accommodate my dog did leave me wondering a little bit at the wisdom of having a dog, but she seemed to appreciate it.  We got back in the house both covered with snow which continued to fall through most of the morning.  No dummy, she immediately walked to the heat vent in the living room, curled up in front of it and went to sleep.
Snowbound, I have spent the weekend being ridiculously lazy (with the exception of shoveling), watching movies and being very grateful for a home, good neighbors and a silly dog that makes me laugh a lot.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I got it at Amazon.com

This holiday season has been alternately so sweet and full of wonder and agonizing and full of ague.  Christmas was great - I hosted dinner for some of my very favorite people and had one of the best Christmases in recent memory.  What followed was a week of some kind flu that caused me to think I must not have been being the best person throughout the last year and was having to pay some sort of penance. I contacted my guests just to make sure I hadn't inadvertently poisoned the lot of them.  Nope. Just me. All systems were compromised and as I was lying on the bathroom floor watching a spider create an intricate web between the back of the toilet and the wall and sweating profusely while shivering my goosebumps off, for some reason I started thinking of all the things I've been able to get at Amazon.com.  It might have been the fever...
I don't remember exactly when I became such an Amazon acolyte - perhaps it was when I finally found the elusive "Little Book of Cheer" sitting in the Amazon marketplace just waiting for me to purchase it and recreate the joy of receiving it from my mom and little sisters when I was about 8 years old. Not sure why I felt the need to buy it as I could recite the poem by heart and just had to scrunch my eyes a little bit to see all the cute pictures of puppies wiggling and little boys playing toe-tapping tunes.  I discovered that almost anything you could think of or need can be found at Amazon and shipped via Free Super Saver Shipping to your door with alarming rapidity.  Books, music, clothing, food, auto parts, textbooks, printer cartridges, furniture, gifts, vanishing creme (that didn't do what I thought it was going to do), etc...
In the midst of a midlife crisis/excruciating heartbreak this summer, in an effort to get some of my own back, I outfitted my three-season porch with patio furniture purchased from Amazon after squinting at pictures on their website and sending links to my sister with notes like "this looks nice, doesn't it" and "does this look like me?".  When it arrived, it didn't resemble the pics - everything was heavily wrapped in plastic and all flat.  Should have paid attention to the "some assembly required" part of the description. Not to be cowed by this I quickly located the directions for assembly - a page of inscrutable drawings with various arrows - no words.  I threw caution to the wind and relied on my memory of what tables, chairs and benches are supposed to look like.  Within 5 hours, following several heated discussions with a set of Allen wrenches and impossibly small screwdrivers, the entire ensemble was situated on the porch creating a cozy niche from which to nurse my wounded pride.  Over the summer I entertained quite a few people on that back porch. The furniture has held up fine so far. 
I seem to be on the mend. A good thing since my vacation is almost over and I need to return to work ready to greet families with a smile and preferably no communicable diseases. I'm off to search Amazon.com for ways to boost my immune system.