Housecleaning story

I mentioned in my post about cleaning
out Bonnie’s house
that there were more stories than fit
into one post. Here’s one of them.

Part of what I needed help with was just carrying all the old
papers out to the trash. Of course a lot of people who came to
“help” were really more interested in snarfing things, and I
didn’t have a problem with that. But I think most people did
manage to take a couple of bags of trash out along with the
books and CD’s and kitchen equipment they were taking.

However, one day I arrived and there were two bags of wet paper
smack in front of the front door. I moved them enough to open the
door, and later had to stop my 86 year old mother (a dedicated
snarfer of books, objets d’arts, and plants) from trying
to take them all the way to the trash. They were really heavy
enough that my shoulders felt it the next day after moving them 10 feet to
the trash cans.

I wrote the mailing list:

A couple of undesirable things seemed to have happened between when I
was last there on Thursday and when I arrived yesterday afternoon:

For those who have been inhabiting some alternate universe and
have just arrived in this one: the current climate of New England
has a fair amount of rain in the summer months. Therefore, it is
unsuitable to leave paper outside exposed to the elements. Please
put paper trash into plastic bags before taking it out.

One of the points of this exercise is to remove large amounts of
stuff from the house. Therefore, it is counterproductive to leave
things in front of the door.

The culprit replied:

Sorry, that was partly my fault. There was a large pile of paper trash
blocking the door when I tried to leave. I had to put it outside in order to
close the door.;-) I was exhausted by the time I noticed that problem and
didn’t have the energy to try to bag it.

Someone who had been there while she was opined that if there
was trash blocking the front door, she was who had put it there.

So if you’re dealing with this kind of housecleaning problem, be careful who you get
to “help”. If a volunteer has any kind of history of creating
messes and then leaving them for other people to clean up, you
want to direct that person’s energy elsewhere.

End is in sight

Of the executrix gig.

I just printed off the statement of income, expenses and
deductions that the lawyer for Bonnie’s
estate needs to file the estate taxes. Yesterday I sent what I
believe to be the final check to the IRS to cover the tax mess she
was in.

If you ever have to do this, you should be more organized about
keeping records than I was. I put everything relevent in a box,
but it ended up being a lot of stuff to sort through to find the
numbers I needed. I had a good spreadsheet about the instruments,
and about the amounts of money that went between my checking
account and hers while I had power of attorney, and between my
account and the estate’s account after I was appointed executrix.
(A lawyer isn’t going to say directly that you should do this, but
I figured out from what he did say the day after she died that I should back date a check
to before she died and put it in my account so that I’d be able to
pay bills in the weeks between her death and my appointment as
executrix. So most of the funeral expenses came out of my
checking account, but it was mostly money that had been in
Bonnie’s checking account.)

But all the stuff about donations and sales of things other
than instruments should have been in the spreadsheet and were
instead in the box.

I think I have to produce an accounting of some sort before I
can pay any money to the legatees, but I’m hoping it won’t make me
feel as helpless as the tax statement did. I’m not sure why,
because I do my own taxes fairly easily, but it reminded me of when
I first went to school and had to do workbooks. I was young for
my grade, and clumsy at writing but facile at talking, so it
always seemed that there was nothing like room enough to really
answer the questions, so you had to not only figure out the
answer, which was easy, but figure out how to fit it into the
space they gave me, which usually seemed impossible.

So even after finding the cool new LaTeX class, I had to take
lots of deep breaths and assure myself that this really isn’t
anything I couldn’t do, and if I really couldn’t find the numbers,
I could just make up something plausible, and finally it’s in the mail.

The marginpar command in the tufte-handout class
is in fact a good feature for something like this. I had a list
of items like:

  • 4 boxes of books to Haverhill Library sale
  • 25 bags of clothes to Big Brother Big Sister

and I put marginal notes in explaining how many pounds in a box or
a bag.

Cleaning out the house of a deceased person

I’ve been thinking about this experience because of writing up
the summary for the IRS of what we sold and donated. There are
other good stories to tell, but here’s the email I sent to the
list of Bonnie’s friends about a month after she died:

Subject: [Bonnienews] deadlines

I have been officially appointed executrix of Bonnie’s estate, with
the power to sell things, and specifically real estate.

I am going to be signing an agreement with a realtor, who will be
hiring some men with a shovel and a truck to clean the place out,
starting Monday, July 7, three weeks from today.

If there’s anything in Bonnie’s house that you want to save from the
shovels, you must remove it before then.

As far as I know, I have already removed all the instruments. There
is a rumor of there being a set of handbells, and I think it’s
possible there are some small things like recorders and viol bows that
I haven’t found yet. I found a drawer full of double reeds, so if
there are more of those, it isn’t clear I need them. If you’re
helping clean out and find anything like a musical instrument or part
thereof, give it to me.

An antique dealer has looked at the house; he is buying a desk, and
giving us some assistance with getting two large items to an auction
house.

There are a few items of possible antiquarian interest that I’d like
the dealer to see before I give them away. There’s a mantle clock,
some dolls that look older than Bonnie, a statue of a horse, the
family silver…

We have made major progress in finding and boxing the music. Some
music has been removed; there is still a corner full of boxes; there
are probably a few boxes not in that corner that we haven’t yet looked
at, but we’re on track to have found most of the music. We will need
to move it somewhere for further sorting. I have several volunteers
to help with this; if you also want to help with it, let me know.

The other obvious thing that would be a pity if it goes into the trash
is the collection of scholarly books. (Old English, Middle English,
Old Icelandic, Mediaeval History…) There are people who are
interested in sorting this and finding a destination for it; we may
still need help with transporting it to that destination.

Anything else that would be of use to you, you are welcome to. If you
have a way to take it somewhere and sell it, please do so. If you
make hundreds or thousands of dollars, it would be good if you would
deduct a commission (possibly a large one) and return the rest to the
estate, but if you make only 10’s of dollars, please keep it, and if
you like, donate some of it to a charity of which Bonnie would have
approved.

There is some fairly nice old furniture; there’s a small refrigerator
that works, there’s an upright freezer that works, several fans that
work, there are quite a lot of mystery novels and other books; there
are CD’s, DVD’s and video tapes; gardening equipment and supplies…

If you have young friends who are starting their first apartment and
don’t have all the stuff they need, you might consider seeing if they
want to spend a couple of hours helping out in exchange for everything
they want to snarf.

The clothes and the kitchen stuff can be put in bags and boxes and
donated. If you feel like helping with the bagging and boxing, the
assistance would be appreciated. Anything not in bags and boxes by
the deadline will be trashed.

Please note that I am asking for assistance, not advice. If I had a
year, I could take care of all of this, and everything useful would
get to someone who could use it and everything saleable would get put
up for sale. I don’t have a year; I have three weeks. So the things
that are important to me or to Bonnie’s friends who have time to help
will get taken care of, and the other things won’t.

All my life I’ve heard stories that start, “X had such a wonderful
collection of Y, but it disappeared when he died…” I now have more
sympathy with the executors who get blamed for the disappearance.
Some of them may not have tried as hard as I have to get the friends
and family to take care of the things they care about. But likely
they all tried a bit, and if the people telling the stories had said,
“Would you like me to come pack up the collection of Y and put it in a
safe place until you have time to deal with it?”, the collection would not
have been lost. So if you’re thinking of telling those stories about
the terrible executrix of Bonnie’s estate, think about asking to help
now, instead of telling the story later.

I will generally be there on Wednesday and Thursday, and other times
by appointment. Once you’ve seen the lay of the land, I can tell you
where the spare key is and you can go any time that’s convenient to
you, but the first time you go, you should have a guide (me or one of
the other people who’s been helping regularly) to where the sorted
piles are.

In the end, we didn’t end up hiring the men with the shovels —
the real estate agent found enough things wrong with the house
that she decided it should go to someone who wanted to do enough
work that some extra shoveling wouldn’t bother them. So we
actually had until the sale of the house in mid-September to clear
things out.

RIP, Senator Kennedy

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Ted Kennedy since he died
a couple of days ago. I grew up in Massachusetts, so via the
miracle of television, he’s spent a lot of time in my living room,
even though I didn’t know him personally, and I only remember once when
we were in the same (large) room together.

Many other people have been analyzing how his work in the
senate shaped America as we know it today. I’ll just tell you a
couple of personal stories.

Chapaquiddick

The speech he gave where he offered to resign is the other
television event I remember from the summer of 1969, besides the
moon landing.
It was a well-delivered speech, and an effective piece of persuasive
writing. The person who is usually credited with writing it,
Theodore Sorenson, was proposed as head of the CIA in the Carter
administration, but the appointment was withdrawn. I remember one
of the arguments against it being that he had written that speech,
which may have contained some lies, and certainly didn’t tell the
whole truth. At the time, I was surprised that the opposition
would have been stated that way, since I don’t see how never
having told a lie or suppressed a truth can possibly be a
qualification for being head of an intelligence agency.

Money from an insurance company

The only time I actually called on him for help as a
constituent, his staff was quite effective. I had been using what
was then called Harvard Community Health Plan (HCHP), one
of the original
manged care organizations, for my health care for about 15 years.
I had been fairly satisfied with the care I’d received, but once I
became a contractor and no longer had my coverage paid for by my
employer, I found dealing with their billing organization
increasingly annoying. The last straw was when they wrote that
they were cancelling my policy because they hadn’t gotten my check
on time. (It had actually crossed that letter in the mail.)

I went into a frenzy of letter writing, and wrote to their
billing that they
weren’t cancelling me, I was cancelling them, and wrote letters to
the two doctors I had a relationship with explaining what was
happening.

When they didn’t return the check I’d sent after a month or
so, I wrote to Senator Kennedy, explaining the situation. In
fact, I was more concerned that he be aware that individuals were
having this kind of problem retaining coverage than that he get me
my check. I had both a diabetes and an asthma diagnosis at this
point, and I suspected HCHP of cherry-picking, and also of not
really wanting to deal with billing individuals. His office sprang into action and called both the
HCHP billing office and the Massachusetts Insurance
Commission.

Less than a week after writing that letter, on the same day I got a letter in
the regular mail from Senator Kennedy’s office saying what they’d
done, and how I should follow up if I didn’t receive my check in a
week, and an express delivery of the check from HCHP.

Cancer diagnosis

I heard of Senator Kennedy’s cancer diagnosis while I was on my
way to pick up Bonnie’s
belongings from the hospice two days after she died. I remember
wondering how much difference it would make that he was richer,
more powerful, and maybe more knowledgeable about the health care
system than Bonnie had been.

The answer seems to be quite
a lot.
He was getting out of bed most days until the actual
day he died; he was at home with his family and friends and dogs
until the end; and while the brain surgery did affect his vision
and motor skills, he continued to do what he loved doing,
including sailing and writing letters until almost the very end.

Of course, it may well have been just the luck of the draw that
his surgery left him relatively unimpaired and Bonnie’s left her
unable to speak or move her left side, but it may well also have been a
difference in quality of care. If it happens to me, I hope I get
closer to the kind Kennedy got than the kind Bonnie got.

Taking financial responsibility for the dead or dying

Starting to work on Bonnie’s estate taxes yesterday reminded me
of how difficult it was when she was heavily sedated and I had to
take over the power of attorney so that her bills would get
paid.

I don’t mean the difficulty of feeling bad because your friend
is dying or of visiting someone in the hospital who isn’t able to
respond to you and not knowing what to do about that.

I mean the set of completely pointless obstacles the banks and
other financial institutions put in the way of letting someone
with a valid power of attorney get access to the resources they
need to do their job.

This didn’t appear in the first week — I took the copy of the
power of attorney Bonnie had signed to the bank where she had her
checking account and showed it and my driver’s licence to the bank
officer and she told me how to sign the checks and what the
password on her online banking was, and then I was able to use the
checking account. This is the kind of nuisance I had expected it
to be when I signed up for the job.

Unfortunately, the checking account didn’t have very much money
in it, and the next thing I had to do was get money out of her
retirement account.

I had assumed this would be the same kind of nuisance —
Bonnie’s retirement account was at Pioneer Investments
in downtown Boston, where Bonnie had worked as a phone
representative for the last decade or
two of her working career, so I thought I could just go there and
show them the power of attorney and they would give me her
money.

Unfortunately, Pioneer isn’t actually a consumer level
financial services firm — they really expect to sell their
products to you through a broker or your employer. So they don’t
have an office with people like the bank officer who can look at
your power of attorney, and you have to do it through the
mail.

Now of course, the people who talked to me on the phone about
what I needed to send them had several ideas about what I needed
to do. One option would have been to have her sign their
specific
power of attorney form. This would have been
possible for a while in March or April, after she woke up from the
surgery, and
before she stopped being able to move a pencil. It’s possible that if you’re thinking about this for
someone before they get into the state where they need you to do
it, you should just have them get the power of attorney from the
institution that holds most of their resources. But really, the
one the lawyer wrote for Bonnie should have been enough, and I
started this while she was unconscious, and didn’t really finish
until she wasn’t able to write any more.

What they eventually decided I needed to do was to send a
certified copy of the POA along with a guaranteed
letter describing what I wanted them to do. This guarantee is
something a bank manager needs to do for you, and he or she is
stamping your letter with something that says he believes you are
who you say you are.

So I assumed Bonnie’s bank, which was convenient to the
hospital I was visiting her at and her house, which I was visiting
from time to time, would do this for me, and I went there to ask
them to do it.

The first person I talked to called the central office, which
said she needed to see one of their statements before she could
guarantee my letter. Finding anything in Bonnie’s house wasn’t
easy, but I eventually managed to find a statement and went back
to the bank. The officer I had talked to was getting out her
seal, when her supervisor got involved in the transation, and gave
it as her opinion that they couldn’t guarantee my signature
because I wasn’t their customer.

She was really unpleasant about this — I even offered to set up a
small account so that I would personally be a customer and she
wouldn’t even listen to me. It was very clearly a “We don’t want
to do business with you,” reaction. It really happened before I’d
done or said anything at all to her, so it couldn’t have been
personal. The only theory I could come up with was that she was
assuming that Bonnie and I were in a lesbian relationship and she
didn’t want to have anything to do with that.

I really meant to write a letter to that bank explaining to
them why Bonnie’s money all disappeared from their bank shortly
after that. That kind of customer service really can’t possible
be the bank policy, and there may be people there who want to know
it’s happening. I haven’t done it yet, but maybe I will. I
didn’t write some of what I thought I should to the doctors, either.

I could of course have gotten the guarantee from my own bank,
but their nearest office is downtown, and I was still using a
crutch after hip surgery. So instead of going there I
decided to try the bank around the corner first. They were very
nice, and were happy to guarantee my signature after I set up an
account for Bonnie with the money from the bank I didn’t like.

So then I had to struggle some more with Pioneer, because I
hadn’t really understood their account numbering system, and I
asked to withdraw $15,000, which was much less than she had in all
her accounts, but more than was in the specific account whose
number I had copied off a statement. I think I had two
conversations with first-line people and it was after some yelling
and screaming at the second one (who was saying something
completely different from the first one) and some “May I speak to
your manager” that they finally sent me the money.

When I had to do roughly the same thing after Bonnie died, of
course I had the tame bank manager around the corner to guarantee
the signature, and I’d figured out what part of the account number
to copy. I’d also decided that mentioning my lawyer couldn’t
possibly hurt. So that went quite smoothly.

In case you have to do this, here’s the letter that worked:

I am enclosing certified copies of the Death Certificate and my
Decree of Temporary Executor in the estate of
Bonnie J. Rogers, one of your shareholders.

I would like to close out all the Pioneer funds she owned, which
are under the account number xxxxxxxx.

Please do not deduct taxes from this money. The TIN for the estate is
xx-xxx-xxxx.

Please send the check to me at:
xxx Xxxxxx
Cambridge, MA 02139

If you have a problem with this request,
please send a copy of your response to my lawyer, *redacted*, at:
xx X St.
Rockport, MA 01966

Thank you for your assistance,

Tufte-inspired LaTeX class

One of the things I do when I’m putting off doing a piece of writing
because I won’t enjoy it is figure out a new way to publish it
so that it will at least look good.

I ran across the Tufte LaTex
package
on the comp.text.tex newsgroup yesterday and
downloaded it. It really does look nice, so I’m writing the
summary of income, deductions, and expenses for the Estate of
Bonnie Rogers using it.

It’s inspired by the books of <a href="Edward Tufte,
whose design lots of people, including me, admire.

I think the package may be a work in progress, but so far the
quick outline I threw up of my document does compile and look
pretty good. I base my judgement about the work in progress on
both the question on the newsgroup and the fact that the
sample-book gives me errors instead of a PDF file on my
machine.

There probably isn’t much point using the Tufte style
if you aren’t going to have marginal notes and figures, but for
this purpose there won’t be any trouble writing marginal notes
like “Ted, you have the paperwork for the sale of the house, so
your guess about which items are expenses is better than
mine.”

Another piece of distraction I found was downloading the free

Bergamo Std font
from fontsite.com. So then I
had to google things about how to use open type fonts. The
magic word for Ubuntu is that after you’ve unzipped the fonts
into a suitable directory, such as /usr/local/share/fonts, you
say:

fc-cache -f -v

Then if you want to look at them on the screen, Abiword seems
to
support open type fonts better than openoffice. I had to change
permissions on both the directory and the fonts before I could
use them.

The Color of Magic

This
DVD
is actually two episodes made for TV of the Pratchett
novels The Color of Magic and The
Light Fantastic.

Like Hogfather,
which was made a couple of years before The color of
magic
, it’s very faithful to
the
book
, and very inventive visually. This is unsurprising
because Pratchett himself was involved in the production. (He
even had a bit part in The color of Magic.) Not
everything in these movies looks the way I’d imagined it when
I read the books, but you aren’t going to find images that are
explicitly contradicted in the books.

I was watching with two friends, one of whom is also a
Pratchett fan, and the other hasn’t read any of his books. The
non-fan gave up and went home before the end of the first
episode. I had been wondering even before that happened whether
this movie was suitable for someone who hasn’t read the books.
Not that the books aren’t confusing and inexplicable in places,
but readers of speculative fiction are more used to that than
watchers of movies.

Also, although these were the first two books Pratchett wrote
about Discworld,
they probably aren’t the best place to start even for a reader.
I got started with Men
at Arms
, based on my principle of getting the longest book
on the library shelves at the moment, when I don’t have better
advice about where to start. When I loaned Bonnie one to start
with when she was first in the hospital, I picked Maskerade,
because of the music and overweight prejudice themes,
although when she liked it, I brought her Hogfather
pretty soon afterwards.

In general, the reason to start this series somewhere in the
middle is that Pratchett did get better. The later ones depend
an awful lot on character and plot development earlier in the
series, but the middle ones not so much, because there’s a lot
less character and plot development in the early ones.

So if you’re a Pratchett fan, you’ll probably enjoy these
movies. If you aren’t, watching Hogfather might
give you some idea of whether you might want to be one, but
you probably shouldn’t bother with The color of
Magic
until you’ve read at least some of the books. In
general, reading the books is better than watching the movies,
good as they are.


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Psalm 137

I’ve posted to the Serpent
Publications Blog
what I’ve been doing about that site.

One of the items was to add the rest of the verses Clement
Marot wrote for Psalm 137.

It was actually Bonnie who always complained about the idea of
singing the rest of the psalm because she didn’t want to sing
about bashing the babies against the stones in the street. I
thought about her when we were singing the Estocart
setting
last night, and was glad she wouldn’t complain if I
set the other verses, but then when I read them, I was sad because
she would have enjoyed singing them.

Here they are:

Estans assis aux rives aquatiques
De Babylon, plorions melancholiques,
Nous souvenant du païs de Syon:
Et au milieu de l’habitation,
Où de regret tant de pleurs espandismes,
Aux saules vers nos harpes nous pendismes

Lors, ceulx qui là captifs nous emmenerent,
de les sonner fort nous importunerent,
Et de Syon les chansons reciter:
Las, dismes nous, qui pourroit inciter
Nos tristes cueurs à chanter la louange,
De nostre Dieu, en une Terre estrange?

Or toutefoys, puisse oublier ma dextre
L’art de harper, avant qu’on te voye estre
Ierusalem, hors de mon souvenir:
Ma langue puisse à mon palais tenir
Si je t’oublie, et si jamais ay joye,
Tant que premier ta delivrance j’oye.

Which might mean something like:

While we sat by the shore of the River of Babylon, we cried
sadly, we remembered the land of Zion: And in the middle of our
new living quarters where our sobs flowed forth, we hung our
harps on the green willow trees.

Then, those who had led us into captivity pressed us to sing
the songs of Zion: Alas, we said, How can we make our sad hearts
sing the praises of our God in a strange land?

Now and forever, may my right hand forget the art of a
harper, before I see you, Jerusalem, erased from my memory: May my
tongue stick to my palate if I forget you, and if ever I have
joy before your deliverance.

Apparently it’s a long tradition of leaving out the rest in
public readings and performances. In the New International
Version, the part Marot didn’t translate goes:

Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-

he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

I think it’s important to remember that it isn’t just songs
about not singing songs that war produces, but people who actually
want to kill babies.

One third down

I started this project of posting something to my blog every
day on February 25, four months ago. So if it ends up being a one-year
project, it’s one third done.

I have been successful at making a post every day. The only
one that was a real “I can’t post today” post was last Saturday.
And I really was over half way done with a fairly long and
difficult post
which I really did post the next day. John Scalzi, one of my
role models for doing this, is known for posting a picture of
his cat when he doesn’t feel like writing, but he’s also done,
“I don’t feel like writing today” posts.

You as readers can tell better than I can how well it’s worked
for entertaining the readers, but there do seem to be some
readers. I started keeping track of how many hits things have
gotten in April sometime. And it looks like even the most
inconsequential posts get a couple of dozen readers, and the
ones that get hit by a search, or have been pointed to in a
large mailing list, get hundreds.

Speaking as a writer, it has done some of what I wanted it to
— I now know a lot more than I did a few months ago how to pick
a subject I can write about in less than an hour, and how to
polish the 20-30 minutes of writing into coherence and then stop
and publish.

I was thinking it would be possible to see what the blogging
has done for my writing by reading the blogs from the Boston
Early Music Festival two years ago
and this
year.
Actually, there wasn’t as much difference in quality
of writing as I’d hoped for. The editing was definitely better
this year, and I think I’m more comfortable letting my
personality come out now. The quantity was definitely more two
years ago, but I remember that quantity as being very
difficult. This year I just decided it wasn’t possible to blog
and do 11 PM concerts and do morning concerts, so I just didn’t
do anything in the morning.

One disappointment about the blog as a way to connect with
people is that there really isn’t as much feedback as with the
other kinds of internet writing I do. If you post to a mailing
list or email a friend, it immediately becomes obvious if you haven’t
made your point. If you write a post on your blog, it’s quite
likely that you won’t get any comments at all. But it looks
like my audience has doubled in the last four months, so maybe
if I keep going I’ll eventually get an audience that
comments.

In terms of using the numbers of readers as a guide to what to
post about, it’s pretty inconclusive. It looks like of the easy
categories, the ones about food are read more than the ones
about the garden. The ones about using technology are also read
pretty often, probably because it’s something that people are
used to using google as a way to find answers for.

Another thing I hoped to accomplish was writing about my
experiences being involved in Bonnie’s death. That has
certainly happened more than it would have otherwise, but less
than I expected. This is partly because I still don’t have the
knack of breaking that subject up into small enough topics that
I can make those posts easy ones. Maybe I’ll get better at
it. Or maybe I’ll clear more time for hard posts, but that
doesn’t sound very likely. I’m still in the throes of the Serpent Publications
website
redesign, and when that’s done, I’ll have to move on
to redesigning this site.

The posts about books and movies are usually pretty easy, and
seem to get read fairly often. For the
most read one, about Little Dorrit, I
took the precaution of taking brief notes over the week or so I
was reading the book, so I ended up with several interesting
things already written. I should try to be more organized about
doing that.

One surprising thing is that none of the people who actually
know me personally seems to read the blog regularly. This
actually makes it easier — I don’t use anyone’s actual name
when I write about them, but I certainly sometimes say enough to
make it clear to someone who knows my friends who I’m talking
about.

So, Gentle Reader, do let me know what you think. If there’s a
topic you’d like more (or fewer) posts about, let me know. If
you’d rather have pictures of Sunny or the garden than “I can’t
post today” posts, let me know. If I’m being completely
incomprehensible about something, tell me and I’ll try to clarify.