Category Archives: Wit’s End

Before we head back to the mountain house…

“In order to be an immaculate member of a flock of sheep, one must above all be a sheep oneself.” (Albert Einstein)

In the past few days, I’ve mumbled “Just shoot me now.” more than once. Probably at least three times. In a good week I only have to deal with one of the following: Direct TV, BrightHouse, Anthem Blue Cross, Sprint or Citizens Insurance. In a bad week I have an encounter with Pudgy Fingers at Bank of America. (If you don’t know that rant, you’re not on my FB and it’s just as well. That was both an all time high and an all time low in rants, applauded by many.) This week I have had to deal with ALL of the above, plus a plumber, a rodent control person, a wind mitigation insurance inspection, an appraiser and a new bank. This last group, to a one, have been quite nice and professional but still. The contractor who did the improvements on the house didn’t have his crew reattach the screening that covers the cinder block vents that are common to Florida houses where you have crawl spaces rather than basements. Rats got in and ate through the main house drain. Really? I know. Really. Most likely they came to call after a major rousting from construction on the house next door. Rats are endemic to places with citrus trees. Anyway, they got thirsty enough that they ate through the drain. We called pest control. Crawl spaces are not nice and the access is a little 3 x 2 hole in the closet floor of the guest room. About the third time someone squeezed out of that crawl space covered in mud and filth with a giant dead rat, I said “Just shoot me now.”

(The plumber noted that sometimes, here in Florida, rats come up into the toilets through the pipes. WTH? This is the stuff of nightmares.)

Then the plumber went down and came up and looked like he might be having a heart attack so I invited him to sit his filthy self down and have some ice tea. He recovered, left and once again I cleaned up the mess and shoved some of the detritus that doesn’t fit in this tiny house back in the closet before the appraiser came. But before he could get here, the screen repair guy came and everything was dumped out and down he went with bales of screen and tools and then he came up wheezing and sweaty and I cleaned again and refilled the closet.  Not 24 hours passed and the mitigation guy came to inspect the house for homeowners insurance. This is because, although Florida is notorious for gouging people on their homeowners insurance, I have long felt as though we are being especially gouged. Singled out, you might say. This house is a piece of sh historic property which means we get to pay 3500.00 a year to insure 1200 sq ft for 200,000 which it is probably not worth and definitely wouldn’t be enough to replace it. We also haven’t been getting any credit for new hurricane shutters, new roof, new heating/cooling, etc. And we’ve been charged for being in a flood zone, which we are not, according to the city. We are on relatively high ground. The solution is you hire a mitigation inspector to come and certify that you have certain protections and then hopefully your insurance rate is reduced.

The mitigation inspector came and I sort of whimpered, “You don’t have to go in the crawl space do you?” and mercifully he said, “No.” Instead he pulled down the ceiling ladder and crawled up into the attic to look at the inside construction of the roof. Insulation rained out of the attic and I sighed. When he came down about 10 minutes later he said the new roof was up to snuff but it appeared there was a possum living in the attic. Just shoot me now.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (St Matthew 7:15)

In my never ending effort to put as much distance as possible between those criminals Bank of America and ourselves, we’ve applied for a new mortgage with a bank that seems, up to this point, helpful and courteous. They’ve offered us a good rate compared to Bank of America, where they are braced to raise our already outrageously high adjustable rate through the heavens when it comes up for change in 10 months. The fine print of the contract that was signed 6 years and 3 banks back notes that, in lieu of attaching our rate to some reasonably low federal index plus some, they can attach it to any old index- oil futures, gold, intergalactic exploration, whatever- and then add a whole lot more for their trouble. How does 10.75 percent sound? Funny, the stuff you’ll sign without considering all the possibilities of the fine print. So, early this morning a very kind, round appraiser shows up to figure out how much our house is worth. We already know that what seemed like a lot of down payment equity a few years ago is now a drop in the bucket of a dead housing market, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed. We spent the past little while stripping and refinishing 600 feet of deck, power washing the house, cleaning (and re-cleaning) from top to bottom in preparation. The house now, on the eve of our return to North Carolina for the year, is so spit-spot that it sparkles in that way that houses do only when they are up for sale, not when people are actually living in them. This gentleman measured, photographed, scrutinized the premises and admired it greatly. And then he spent half an hour telling me horror stories of every single upside-down house he’s appraised in the last six months. Just shoot me now.

(It’s a cute little house.)

The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same. (Stendal)

Meanwhile, back in the world of health insurance, Anthem Blue Cross is trying to kill us. There are many details and hours of heated exchange about how they quoted us, in correspondence which we signed, copied for our records and returned, the wrong rate. I won’t go into all that because it would get your blood pressure up, too. Although we’ve been, all these months, dutifully paying that quoted and already prohibitive rate that makes us seriously consider living uninsured, we fell behind by a couple hundred dollars, unbeknownst to us. (what kind of sentence is that?) I guess the real rate was a secret, kept only unto Anthem Blue Cross. We didn’t know any of this until we showed up for Rich’s middle-aged person’s routine colonoscopy (which means he’s already having fun, right?) and the little clerk informs us that that will be a deposit of 1700.00 please, because our health insurance was cancelled. The total cost will be determined after the fact, depending on the state of his colon.(It’s good. In the end, no pun intended, we are always grateful.)  The one and only thing that is covered short of the Mack truck scenario under our policy is now not, because we have been cancelled. Seriously. the ONLY thing they cover is a routine colonoscopy and it’s so exciting to have something, anything covered by insurance that it seemed like a great idea to drink a gallon of Go-Litely and toddle on over to have it done. So I said to Rich, “Hey! This is great! You go first!” except after he did, endlessly, we find our insurance has been cancelled. Just shoot me now.

Wait. I’ll do it myself. The idea seems even more attractive because THIS HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION. Click on the link to see this 3000 year old innovation. Right when I despair that the whole world has gone mad AND is against us a friend sends me this. In an age when so many old fashioned common sense ideas have  fallen by the wayside, when all sense and sensibility seems out of reach and values have thinned to translucency HERE is an old idea whose time has come. Debby, a savvy woman of great good Midwestern sense,  passed this on to me and by God, it makes death look down right attractive. I mean this is everything I have been trying to explain to people for the past two years. Cozy, soft, warm, no artificial colors, ecologically sound. I am about to re-write “cremation, please” to “wool coffin, please.”

Wool: The Perfect Fiber

Sheep : The Perfect Animal









These sheep which belong to Donald Slater of Whitehouse Farm Centre, Morpeth, Northumberland, were sprayed, using the paint with which farmers traditionally mark their flocks, with the words of a “haik-ewe.” They were then left to graze, and the poems formed as they wandered into different patterns were noted down.

And for Bonnie, who always leaves perfectly poetic comments :

Si quelqu’un veut un mouton, c’est la preuve qu’il en existe un.”





Itchy feet


Rich has been the road warrior this week and I’m off of yoga, biking, gardening or even cat stretching for another few days, although I’m starting to test my limits. If only I didn’t have this vision of stitches popping out and flipping onto the carpet like bits of black lint. They’re supposed to be the kind that dissolve and absorb but I don’t see how that’s going to happen with the ones that are right on the surface. I wish I could get a good visual on what’s going on back there; maybe I’ll go to Macy’s with my binoculars and try to find a changing room with one of those three-way mirrors. That’s a horrifying thought- not examining the stitches, but going to Macys. To look in a mirror. Or for any reason.

I’m trying not to be preoccupied with this nagging itch on my back but every time I stop focusing on that I think about buying land in the mountains. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about buying real estate out of sheer boredom. The search for Wit’s End, the lake cottage to beat all lake cottages, began when Abby got her driver’s license and watching the Canadian Womens Curling Championship wore thin. (Actually, that was pretty interesting right through the semi-finals. I could relate to all that sweeping and yelling.) At the time the economy was weak, the stock market dropping and I thought my savings for retirement could do better. I searched long and hard for the just right place and made an offer on Wit’s End two days before the Trade Center was blown to bits. I moved in towards the end of October and that was the best fall ever, enjoying bonfires on the lake with the ladies of book club. I was sorry to sell Wit’s End when we moved here but it no longer made sense in our lives and I was lucky to come out about even because the market in Michigan, especially for cottages, is as miserable as it has ever been. But it was five years of pure getaway heaven and that was priceless.

The Florida bungalow, which now has the Wit’s End sign on the porch, was another one of those “let’s see, what shall I do now?” sort of deals. Rich made the mistake of taking me along to Florida on a business trip and although his meetings were in Orlando, he thought we might enjoy some time on St. Pete beach (gak). He was away for one night working and since I couldn’t really hang for that long at the Holiday Inn tiki bar I took the bus downtown and bought a house. Originally that was just an investment too, because, afterall, who would want to spend any amount of time in Florida? I wish I was there right now.

When I alluded to finding a place where I could get back into gardening and growing more of our food, I was absolutely serious. I have this fantasy that there’s a beautiful, affordable five acre parcel with my name on it somewhere in Western North Carolina. It has mountain views, a creek, trees AND pasture. The challenge of gardening on rock can’t be any greater than Michigan clay, right? I could waltz into Asheville once a week and meet Anne Fitten for coffee or I could drive west just a tad and chat with Kimberly. The fantasy includes Rich because for the next five years I would just go there when he’s on the road, getting the place ready for us- starting fruit trees, clearing some patches here and there, maybe watching the progress on a cypress log home. Then, after the Olympics are firmly in place for Chicago, he’ll be happy to work less and fish more. He has lots of connections in that area, too, so he would be free to consult if he got bored. We would go happily back and forth between Florida and the mountains, according to the weather. This place I envision will cost exactly what I have squirreled away from the sale of Wit’s End because real estate is cheap right now. I know because I have about 40 listings bookmarked and all I need to do is book a flight and I have a free ticket sitting right here in front of me from a bump earlier in the year… You see how my mind works.

Last year when I suggested to Abby that she might want to cut back on fulltime work AND school she said that she didn’t do well if she had empty time on her hands. That’s true enough; all of the instances where she has gotten into trouble (for want of a better word) have been tied to free time. Right now, her dad is down visiting her and that aggravates me just on general principal. It’s not right that he’s enjoying the pleasure of her company if I’m not.

The other child is hard at work with regular gigs and doing well. He called yesterday and left a message, saying, “Hey, mom! I just called to say hi and see how you’re doing. I love you. Talk to you soon.” I saved it on my cell phone. Not long ago that kind of call was hard to imagine because if the kids called it meant they needed something. I’d look at the incoming number and think, “Now what?” certain that one or the other a) needed money, b) wanted the AAA number because a car broke down, or c) lost a passport or birth certificate. I always wondered how both children could suffer the illusion that I could just produce endless copies of identity papers. Now, I miss all the times they relied on me to hook them up; you can bet they didn’t call their dad for birth certificates.

I’m going back to perusing the online FSBO listings for Western North Carolina now and then I’m going to wander down to the conservatory and zoo. Or, I might check flights. Rich comes home tonight and I guess it’s none too soon.

Well, not exactly a beautiful pea green boat

But good enough and now on the way to the upper most, outer most tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Here are a few photos: Neighbor Mark steering her away from the dock at Wit’s End one last time, the pontoon with the giant mosquito on the deck, and all loaded up and ready to pull away, We also sent a Captain’s hat, a bottle of champagne and a case of home canned hot sauce.Boat_2Boat1


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A little respite at wit’s end

There is, of course, more to the Bud and Jan story but I am not yet of a mind to share it. Not because I wouldn’t share it with you, because this past week has confirmed what I already knew: that there are people who you have never heard their voice or touched their hand and, yet, these people can become your friends. It’s very odd- you write about your day-to-day life and they write about theirs and you read each other’s lives and laugh or sigh or say, “That rings familiar.” And then after a while, when times are tough, they can care about you as much as the friends you have to dinner, the women in your book club, the colleagues you work with and even the family that supports you. They are precisely the sorts of people with whom you want to share your story. And I will, but it is still evolving and still too raw.Bench

Today, I took an afternoon and night to myself here at Wit’s End to spend some quiet time. A respite of sorts before another flurry of activity around the death of my mother. On the drive out here two things crossed my mind that made it hard to keep the yellow line in focus. The first was that I was barely out of the driveway before I reached for my phone to call my parents at Lost Loon Lodge. It is my habit to call them when I am driving because that’s when I do my best on the phone. I don’t really enjoy chatting on the phone so at home it’s strictly necessary calls and so as bad as it is to talk and drive, I call them whenever I’m on a quiet stretch of road. And Bud always answers and he always says, “Momma, it’s Betsy!” and she always says, “BUUUDD! It’s not Betsy!” which he knows full well but he says it to bait me because he is playful and because he knows that Betsy and I have had some bit of sibling rivalry over the years (which has dissipated beyond my wildest expectations this past week and leaves me embarrassed to remember). And so today, I reached for the cell phone and almost pushed their button when I realized they weren’t there and I couldn’t call and see what Emeril Live delicacy was being turned into the soup de jour by Bud for my mother’s tenuous digestive system. Will he ever enjoy cooking again? I don’t know.

The other thing was a tune started playing in my head, the way they do sometimes, and it took me about 4 minutes to put the words to it. The words were: “If you go out in the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise…”

It’s the tail end of winter here at Wit’s End, with just a hint of spring. There are still some small vestiges of ice on the lake, all around the corner where it’s sheltered from the wind and where the best bass hide in the water grass in summer time. I hiked through the woods to that shore of the lake and saw something very sparkle-y and noisy. The last ice was breaking up and being pushed up on shore by the wind and small waves. As I watched, this ice piled up on itself, some of the pieces pushing 6-8 inches on top of each other. And the sun was low in the sky so it was quite a lovely bit of nature in action.Ice_3

Here is the hint of spring. Before I got to the bench and then watched the ice, I stopped at the bog. You may remember from previous posts that Wit’s End sits on 300 feet of land that front Cedar Lake, a small private lake that is heavily protected by the DEQ because it is the headwater to the Red Cedar River and the Grand River watershed. To our great good fortune, behind us are 137 acres of protected wetland and woods. The wet part is actually only wet briefly each spring. There is an actual bog that exists for part of March and all of April and then it is gone until the next year. But this relatively small bog is the largest migratory area for Ambystoma maculatum in Southeastern Michigan and hence, the wetland is protected and no subdivision or any development, at least for now, can happen in our “100 acre woods.”Wetland

Here, in brief, is the story of Ambystoma maculatum. These little yellow spotted salamanders lay their eggs on the undersides of logs or piles of matted fallen leaves at the edge of certain bogs. The next year, as if by magic, precisely after the second major rain where the temperature is above 45 degrees the eggs mature and the first night the temperature rises above 50 degrees- BAM! (Bud calls Emeril Lagasse “that f-ing Portuguese” because of my mother’s fascination with the dishes he cooks and the way she pushed Bud to reproduce them in the far North woods- and then turn them into soup. Things like Beef Wellington Soup with Pureed Maple Sugared Acorn Squash)

Anyway, BAM! They all hatch simultaneously in the water and then they make a mad dash for the surrounding woods. In the woods they live on tiny worms and roly-poly bugs and burrow under leaves and branches and once they migrate you really can’t even find one no matter how hard you look. But on this one night- because they migrate at night- they are all out there scampering for cover. With their bright yellow spots.Ambystoma_maculatum_wallays_2

Here’s one more thing about Ambystoma maculatum. They taste bad. I don’t know this from personal experience but Sophie has reliably reported it to be true. Three times in her life I have brought her out to Wit’s End on the night of the migration and she has, like a homing pigeon, raced to the bog under cover of night and come scooting back with a present for me. A spotted salamander that tastes very bad. I can tell because even as she tries to hold on to it she is spitting and acking and shaking her head with alarm. It’s true. These little amphibians have a toxin on their skin that makes them repugnant to raccoons and possums and other creatures of the night, like Sophie, when she can escape from the cottage. I didn’t bring her this year.

Today, March 11, marks the one-year anniversary of when I started this weblog. Over 47,000 visits, 474 posts and 3900 comments. Even if I subtract a bunch of the early visits as mine many, many wonderful people have found their way here. How lucky am I? Thank you.

This last photo looked to me like a sign of love that some small creature of nature had carved in this fallen tree.Wormwood

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