Oh My Gosh, It’s a Human!

It happened again yesterday. We were walking our usual woodsy jaunt down 98th Street when my dog Annie suddenly froze. Now, if she were a normal dog, she would have seen another dog, a squirrel, a skunk, a deer, or maybe, God help us, a bear or a cougar. But no. It was a rare human sighting. She dragged me toward the human, a man I know from his mailbox and personalized license plates is named Ed and lives with Di. They do something with rocks. They’ve got them piled everywhere, and sometimes I hear the polisher going in the garage. They have a dog named Shasta, but Annie didn’t care about that.

Ed was out there minding his rock business when he heard me urging my dog to “come on” to no avail. Everything she learned in puppy school goes out the window when she sights a human. Half Lab, she actually points. And then she starts pulling me toward the human. Her 75 pounds triples in force when coupled with determination. Depending on the human, I may let her have her way, but sometimes I can tell they are not in the mood for a close encounter of the canine kind. I have tried to explain this to Annie, but she can’t believe that a human exists who will not love her.

To my knowledge, no human has ever mistreated her, so she has complete trust in humankind and is certain every person will love her. Lord, if only we humans felt that way.

I had never actually been in Ed’s yard, and I could tell he was busy, but Annie would not be deterred. Several neighbors have teased that my dog takes me for walks. They may be right. Soon we were up close to Ed, who kindly pet my dog’s white snout and asked what everyone asks these days: how old is she? 12 ½. Going on 2. He pet her, I eyeballed his polished rocks, which were beautiful, and then we went on.

On Cedar Street, we encountered the neighborhood kids. “Can we pet your dog?” Sure. Try getting out of it. Annie is not sure what kids are, but she likes them.

To be fair, I always want to pet their dog, a corgi named Winnie. She comes waddling over when I call. Annie ignores her completely. Then again, most of the humans who want to pet Annie ignore me completely.

One of those is Mr. Johnson, a neighbor in his 90s who takes a daily walk. He carries a cane but doesn’t use it. He wears nice slacks and a button-down shirt. He reminds me so much of my dad that it hurts. He misses his old dog, Blackjack, so he calls Annie over. Calls her “boy”. Tells her he loves her. Tells her she’s a good boy. She does not correct him.

Our neighborhood is loaded with dogs. Annie doesn’t care about them. I know all their names. Getting a chance to pet them lights up my day. But Annie is starved for human company. Maybe she gets tired of just me. Even before COVID, it was just me and Annie. The rare people who come into our house usually come to fix things, and I have to haul Annie out of their way because if she’s not sniffing their bottoms when they bend over, she’s stealing their tools.

If I take her out in the world, it’s with me alone, unless she’s going to the vet, which she loves because there are other people and they have cookies.

She craves human company. All day and night, she stays near me. I call her the dogstacle because I’m constantly having to step over her. Maybe I’m not enough for her. I am pretty boring, spending hours staring at computer screens. But think about it. All day long, she stares at one human. In her world, there is just one. Then we go out, and holy moly, there’s another one.

It’s like seeing another sun.

As for other creatures, she may notice. She may even chase, but it’s not the same as sighting a human. Although she does freeze at the sight of garden gnomes and inflatable Santa Claus balloons. They scare the bejesus out of her.

Do you have a people-crazed dog or is mine the only one? Feel free to share your dog stories in the comments.

Evacuate Now? What Would You Take?

Disaster piles on disaster. Pandemic, riots, hurricanes, fires. Stay home, we have been told for the last six months. Wear your mask. Avoid crowds. Except for quick runs to the grocery store and the doctor’s office, we have been “sheltering in place.” We miss our friends and family, we miss going out, we ache to travel, but we’re okay

Last week our shelter was threatened. Wildfires, fueled by lightning, low humidity, and temperatures over 100 degrees, raged all over the West, right where COVID has been having a field day. California, Oregon and Washington get fires every year, but not right here on the coast. Until this year.

We woke up on Tuesday, Sept. 8 to orange sky, hot wind, and the taste of ash on our tongues. The sun was bright red, and it was dark in the middle of the day. The light reminded us of the 2017 solar eclipse, except it didn’t go back to normal. A freak hot windstorm caused fires not only inland but up and down the coast, the worst just north of Lincoln City, 25 miles up the road from here. The winds had knocked down trees and power lines, adding to the trouble. Our cell phones didn’t work, we had no Internet access, and the TV offered nothing but “snow.” Here in South Beach, we had electricity, but the lights were flickering.

As the day went on, the fire up north spread into Lincoln City, population 7,000. Everyone from SW 12th Street north was ordered to evacuate. That includes thousands of homes, the outlet stores, Lakeview Senior Living, and the hospital.

The evacuees were bused to Newport, four miles north of me, because we were still okay.

But we were nervous. On a Facebook video interview, an older man sheltering at the rec center told a frightening story. His dog woke him in the wee hours. He opened the door and saw flames 20 feet away. His car wouldn’t start. He and the dog fled on foot through the forest in the dark, stumbling over logs and debris, somehow finding their way to Highway 18, where they were picked up by firefighters and taken to a shelter. “I have nothing,” he said. “I don’t even have my wallet or my phone. But I’m alive.”

Dear God. A friend whose home a little south was not in danger, packed her bags just in case. Other friends had already been told to leave, not knowing what will be left of their homes when they return. I didn’t pack, but I started making a list.

I looked around my house. What would I take? I love everything in this house. So many memories, so much work. While sheltering here, I have been fixing it up. Just last week, I painted the shed out back. I was about to paint my deck. I planned to renovate the laundry room.

I can gather medicines, toiletries, clothes, my guitar, laptop, and a few binders of music and writing. That’s no different from packing for a trip. I can pack the dog’s things in the car. She’d be overjoyed to be going for a ride. But what about my pictures, Fred’s shot glass collection, my antique glass, the Bibles and prayer books passed down over 100 years, the writing stored on my desktop computer, the binders and notebooks, a lifetime of work? What about my clothes, shoes, hats—so many hats? Could I leave my houseplants, some of them with me for more than 40 years? My piano? Dear God. There’s a history in every item.

I know. It’s just stuff. I have insurance. I can replace things—the things that are just things. But the things that are not just things cannot be replaced. When you’re alone like me, sometimes I feel like all I have is this house and what’s in it. My house is safe this time, but my heart breaks for all of those people who have lost everything to the fires. We can try to put a positive spin on it. At least they’re alive. They can rebuild. It’s a fresh start. But it will never be the same.

On Thursday, the weather turned cooler and wetter, making it easier to control the flames around Lincoln City. The air here is still smoky, but it’s less orange now, mixed with ordinary fog. In other parts of Oregon, the fires continue to grow. Small towns have been wiped out. Thousands of people can’t go home. What did they take with them? What will they miss the most? What will they wish they had taken? Will they ever feel okay again?

And what about COVID-19? Suddenly people have been forced out of their houses, people who have diligently avoided seeing even their own children. Now they’ve been thrown together in shelters with people who may have been quarantining, who may have been ill. Will cases of COVID spike in the next few weeks?

Black soot clings to the spider webs on the side of my house. White ash covers my deck and hot tub. The neighbors and I make jokes about Armageddon, but we are not laughing. Our properties are surrounded by trees and brush. We know how easily everything can burn and that we are not immune.

Friends from far away message me on Facebook. They have been watching the news. Are you all right? I’m okay, I tell them. Sick of the smoke, but I’m okay.

But not as okay as when I thought trouble couldn’t reach me.

Please pray for everyone dealing with the fires. Pray for a hard Oregon rain to put the fires out and wash away the smoke. Let the rain reach all the way into California and everywhere else that’s burning. Help wherever you can.

I welcome your thoughts and fire stories in the comments.

Little House in the Back Yard

The shed as it looked when it snowed in Feb. 2019

It was just an old shed made of scrap wood. It had holes in the front and gaps between the shingled roof and the tops of the walls. Squirrels, rats, and spiders hid among the garden tools, cracked pots and bits of wood. The old door that wouldn’t stay closed looked as if something had chewed the bottom, and rain poured in with every storm. And yet I liked it.

The shed reminds me of the playhouse in my childhood friend Sherri’s back yard. Same raw walls, concrete floor, pitched roof. That shed had a couple windows. We hung pictures on the walls, set knickknacks on the two-by-fours, and spied on the boys next door through a hole we could reach by standing on a box. We played dress-up, held tea parties, and enacted scenes with our dolls in that playhouse. As teens, we sipped Cokes and had long talks about important things like white Beatle we loved best. I don’t know now if Sherri’s dad built that shack as a playhouse or for some other purpose, but it was our hangout. Maybe that’s why 40 years later, I’m so fond of the shed in my backyard.

I mostly use it to store garden tools, but at one point when my late husband was still around, I tried using the shed as a writing hideout, setting my laptop on a TV tray near the door. The shed had no electricity and was too cold most of the year. Still, it remains an option.

I recently exchanged the blinds in my bedroom for curtains. Now, when I look out, I have a clear view of the shed. Day after day, I saw that beat-up door and those pitted gray walls. I’m always looking for a project. What if I got a new door and painted the shed?

So I did. John the handyman found and installed a new white door with a real knob. It shuts with a satisfying click. I got in line with the construction guys at the paint store to buy primer and a blue-gray exterior paint, and then I set to work. I am not a neat painter. I soon had it all over my tee shirt and sweats, my hands and my hat. When I rollered the part I couldn’t reach with a brush, it splattered on my face and even got on my teeth when I screamed. But as they say in the commercials, I “got ‘er done.”

I fussed over every spot that didn’t get its share of color. It’s just an old shed, a friend said. Yes, I know. And the truth is, it doesn’t look that much different, just a little brighter, a little neater. The wood on the west and south sides is still pocked by wind, rain and hail. The roof edges still look like they were nibbled by raccoons. But it was one of the most satisfying things I have done in ages. I was out in the sun, getting lots of exercise. The repetitive motions–dip the brush into the paint, slap it on the wood, over and over–allowed my mind to wander and work things out at the same time as I was making something ugly and stained bright and new.

When I got done with the shed, I still had paint in the bucket, so I decided to try painting the battered white table on my deck. I had tried unsuccessfully to get the stains off, but maybe I could paint over them. If the paint didn’t stick, it didn’t matter. I planned to buy new patio furniture next summer anyway. It worked! It looked good. I was tickled pink. Or blue.

I had moved all the furniture to the grass for John to stain the deck—some paint jobs are not that fun, and I really made a mess of it last year. [see previous post] Annie seemed to approve of the new arrangement as she took her place on the lounge on the grass. Once I had showered off the paint and  put on fresh clothes, I joined her on the other lounge. Together we enjoyed our new location and admired the fresh paint on the shed.

What should be our next project, I asked the dog? She rested her nose on her paws and sighed.  

Watching Old Movies and Sitting Still

Nathan Lane and Robin Williams in “The Birdcage”

Thanks to COVID-19, our network TV shows are gone, replaced by endless game shows, weird Zoom “best of” conglomerations, and reruns of shows I didn’t like in the first place. Since COVID hit, I have watched news and reruns of “The Big Bang Theory,” “Friends,” and “Sex and the City.” I did watch four seasons of the BBC series “Being Erica” via Amazon Prime, then turned around and watched some of it again, but I crave something new. The Democratic and Republican conventions, gag-inducing as they were, at least offered fresh content.

Now, I don’t watch TV all day. I work hard at my writing, read constantly, walk the dog every afternoon, and do my home and garden chores, but there comes a time when a person gets tired and just wants to be entertained.

The new TV season should be starting in September, but mostly it’s not. Production companies have gone on indefinite hiatus until it’s safe for people to get together again. As a musician with limited outlets these days, I feel for all those actors who have nowhere to act. At least I can still sing at church and in my living room.

This has been a weird season for me, not just because of COVID. I have restless leg syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease. The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation describes it as a neurological syndrome that “causes an irresistible urge to move the legs or other parts of the body, often accompanied by unusual or unpleasant sensations that may be described as creeping, tugging or pulling.” It’s torture.

This is why you may see me getting up in the middle of a meeting, class or concert to stand in the back of the room or do yoga on the floor. I may be squirming in my chair, kicking off my shoes and massaging my feet, trying to stave off the inevitable need to get up. You cannot sit still, not for five minutes. At night, you can’t sleep because your legs keep wanting to move. Some people call us “Nightwalkers” because we’re up walking around at all hours, trying to get our legs to relax. Sometimes a hot bath helps. Sometimes nothing helps.

Experimenting with new medication in July led to the worst flare-up of my life. The side effects were bad, and it made my symptoms worse instead of better. Instead of mostly happening at night, it was 24/7. At its worst, I couldn’t sit, even to eat or play a song on the piano. My legs kicked involuntarily and threatened to give out when I was standing or walking.

That period led me to try CBD, aka a marijuana concoction which allegedly will not get you high but will make you feel better. I may be one of the few people my age who had never smoked pot, but there I was in the cannabis store choosing the raspberry gummies. The CBD didn’t stop my legs from acting up, but I felt a lot more mellow about it. Now I’m on a new drug that so far works great, but I can’t mix it with pot or alcohol. It’s a worthy sacrifice if it lets me be still.

Read more about restless legs syndrome at the RLS Foundation website, on the RLS Facebook group, or on my friend Judy Fleagle’s blog post on the subject. If you have this, too, I’m so sorry. Let’s stand in the back of the room together and dance.

Now that I can sit still again, praise God, I got the urge to watch something on my TV. But what? Old movies and older movies. I caught part of a 1957 movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. So corny. I watched a rerun of “Knocked Up,” in which Kathryn Heigl as a budding TV news personality who gets pregnant after a one-night stand. It’s dumb, but amusing. However, two of my favorites were on this weekend, “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “The Birdcage.” Such great acting, love, music, drama. It felt so good to just plotz on the couch and go back to favorite places with favorite people. Annie the dog, who follows me everywhere, was delighted that I stopped moving for a while.

There are real consequences of the pandemic—people dying, jobs lost, fear and loneliness. When I think about people dying in hospitals and nursing homes alone because their loved ones are not allowed in, it breaks my heart. But we all crave entertainment, and that has suffered, too. Oh, to sit in a darkened theater and watch the magic happen again.

God bless you all. I hope you’re well and at peace in this time of tremendous unrest and uncertainty. We’ll get through this. How are you entertaining yourselves? What movies can you watch again and again and never get tired of them?

HISTORY IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW

The Republican National Convention started this morning, and four nights of prime-time coverage begin tonight. I’ll be watching as much as I can, not because I’m a fan of President Trump and his fellow Republicans. I’m likely to do a lot of foul-mouthed talking back to the TV screen, but I’ll be watching. I know some folks are advocating that nobody watch so the convention gets poor ratings, but I think we should pay attention. Here’s why I’ll be watching:

1) I’m curious about how they’ll do it in this Zoom era. For the most part, the Democrats did a great job putting everything online except the “parking lot” rally at the end. Folks were masked, distanced, and polite. I did gag a bit at the Zoom montages that one radio commentator called a blend of infomercial and “We are the World.” A bit much. But it was swell to see the roll call vote coming from each state and territory rather than a crowded auditorium. I loved hearing the speeches without constant interruptions for applause, shouts and demonstrations. Bringing all of Biden’s primary opponents together in unity on the screen made me feel good about this country. I’ve been watching political conventions since LBJ was the Democratic nominee. This year’s Democratic National Convention was more entertaining than usual. The Republicans are doing a combination of online and in-person events. We’ll see how that goes.

2) I grew up in a family of news watchers, and I spent too many years as a journalist to ignore breaking news. I’m fascinated, even if I don’t have to write it up for an impending deadline.

3) This is history happening before our eyes. Last week, we saw the first black woman nominated for vice president of the United States. We saw prominent Republicans publicly endorsing the opposing party’s candidate instead of their own. We saw the candidates speaking to a camera in an empty auditorium. I don’t know what the Republicans will come up with, but I do know it will be unlike any previous convention.

All that said, as I watched the inspiring speeches last week, I kept thinking that the people who needed to see all this were not watching. The same will be true this week. It’s boring, they’re busy, the candidate they don’t support is not worth listening to. The timing is inconvenient, too late on the East Coast, too early on the West Coast. True, but you’d make the sacrifice to watch the summer Olympics, the Superbowl, or the finals of American Idol.

Too many Americans don’t vote at all. For most elections, the turnout is less than 50 percent. It goes up to about 60 percent for presidential elections. Why isn’t it closer to 100 percent? Of those do vote, too many people will vote based on rumor, innuendo, paid advertising, and what their buddies say, none of which is necessarily based on fact. Democracy depends on an informed electorate. To be informed, we need to listen to both sides, even if one side makes our skin crawl. I won’t tell you how to vote, but please pay attention to both sides, make up your own mind, and vote.

Sorry to get all serious on you, but these are serious times. Besides, if you don’t watch, you won’t understand what they’re talking about on Facebook. Keep up, friends.  

Stay well, wear your mask, pray for everyone dealing with wildfires and hurricanes. Annie-the-best-dog-in-the world says hi.

Faces without COVID Masks are So 2019

mask embroidered
Seen on Facebook today. Why wear an ugly mask when you can wear this? Click here.

Remember back in March when the idea of wearing masks was new, and nobody who didn’t work in a hospital, doctor’s office, or construction site had one? That seems so long ago now. As we’re closing in on six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel almost nostalgic for those days when I searched Google for ways to make my own mask out of whatever I had on hand. I remember trying to fold my old brown bandanna into a mask of sorts. It didn’t work out quite the way it did on YouTube. I looked around for old tee shirts, scarves, anything that would work in a pinch if I had to leave home.

 

It all happened so suddenly. A week before everything shut down, I took a mini-vacation through western Oregon with not a thought of masks or that in a week the places I was visiting would be closed. How spoiled we were then, walking around with bare faces, breathing freely, touching each other, hugging, shaking hands, eating from buffets, sitting so close our thighs touched. Oh man, are we still in the same year? The same century?

I also have vague memories of President Trump’s impeachment hearings, which seemed to be the biggest news at the time. I listened to the testimony for hours, day after day. And what came of it? Nothing.

We still have the same president, who declared early in the pandemic that he would not wear a mask, that he didn’t think it was a good look for him. Now, 5 million U.S. cases of COVID-19 later, he’s wearing a mask, too. Gold-plated and diamond encrusted, I imagine.

When I look at the old black and white photos of the 1918 flu epidemic, everyone seemed to be wearing plain white masks, likely just repurposed handkerchiefs. But this is 2020, and nothing is that simple anymore.

My first mask came from my friend Phyllis, who had switched from making pillows and stuffed animals for hospitalized kids to making masks. May I have one, please, I asked. She left it in a baggie on her screened porch for me to pick up, lest we make contact and infect each other. I left her a copy of one of my books in return.

For a little while, masks were as hard to buy as toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but within a few weeks, they were everywhere. Church ladies gave them away. Crafters started selling them online. My chiropractor started selling masks with his logo on them. Suddenly masks weren’t just masks. These little cummerbunds for your face were blank billboards to advertise your products, flaunt your talents, or promote your causes.

Via Facebook, I ordered a mask with a keyboard and music notation on it so everyone would know I was a musician. The company that does my postcards, mailing labels and such has offered to put my publishing company logo on a mask. I could have masks made with each of my book covers if I wanted to. Or maybe one with all the books!

Any day now, the charities that send me calendars and return address labels will start sending out masks. Here are your Christmas labels and your Santa Claus mask.

On Saturday, my friend gave me a mask with dogs on it. I can’t wait to wear it. Wait, did I just say that? I remember the first time I wore a mask to the grocery store, the blue one with pink flowers from Phyllis. I felt self-conscious and claustrophobic, like I wasn’t getting enough air. By the time I got to the car, I was shaking. I tore off the mask, drowned my hands in sanitizer, and sucked in oxygen, sure I was going to get COVID-19 anyway.

Now, it’s almost like a bare face is not completely dressed. I no longer need to wear makeup to go out. People can’t see it, and it stains the mask. Makeup is for Zoom meetings, not for in-person encounters. But I do try to match my mask with my outfit, just as I do my earrings, shoes, and purse.

I have six masks now, one for almost every day of the week, not that I go out every day. Masks do need washing, (by hand, not machine. I learned the hard way), and if you have eaten something potent, the mask will send your breath back in your face. Onions bad. Mints, good. Mexican for lunch? Wash that thing.

Masks have one drawback I could not overcome: singing. Some of my singing friends manage to sing with their masks on, but I couldn’t do it. When I launch into a song, the first thing I do is take a giant breath, and my mask choked off the air. It also slid around with the movement of my jaw. Most of us have heard horror stories about church choirs where COVID ran rampant. Singing (or shouting) reportedly pushes out more invisible virus droplets than other activities.

People watching our online Masses complained that the few of us who have been doing music were standing too close—farther than usual but not six feet–and not all of us were wearing masks. I ordered a face shield from Amazon last Tuesday. It arrived on Thursday. I look like a space monster in my shield, and it trashes my hair, but I can breathe and sing at the same time. The plastic bounces my voice back at me, and I can’t get at my own face to push my glasses up or take them off, to eat or drink, or to scratch my nose if it itches. But I can sing safely, so it’s worth it. As a bonus, I can wear lipstick and smile again.

When I take the shield off and let the wind fluff my hair, it feels so good. Was it only March that we could do this all the time? We had no idea how lucky we were.

How are you doing with masks? Do you have any special ones? How do you feel wearing them? Have you graduated to a shield? What will we do with these things when the pandemic is over?

 

What treat will come in the mail today?

WIN_20200803_11_17_42_ProIt’s like Christmas every day around here. Last Monday, the mail carrier brought me a book, bubble envelopes and what I thought would be a flowing yellow blouse that turned out to have no sides. Poncho? Vest? Alb? I don’t know, but it’s pretty.

Another day, my mailbox held sky blue curtains I ordered to replace the broken blinds in my bedroom. For $31, they’re cheesy and don’t quite reach all the way across my windows, but they’ll work. The new blind-free view revealed my beat-up garden shed that really needs a new door and a coat of paint. Home Depot delivers!

This weekend, I ordered more bubble envelopes, another book, and three online auction items that I could totally live without. I have been ordering new stuff almost every day of the COVID pandemic shutdown. Normally I hate shopping, but this is so easy, and who doesn’t need something bright, shiny and new about now?

Some of what I have ordered: a crazy-colored cardigan (shown in photo), two pairs of earrings, a dog ramp, mandolin music, books, books, and more books. And then there was the ocarina. Shaped like . . . an ibis head? . . . it’s a musical instrument that sounded so beautiful on the video I had to have one. Turns out it plays like a recorder with the holes all turned around, and it’s extremely difficult to play in tune. Did I need to learn another instrument? Let’s see, I have one piano, one keyboard, three guitars, two mandolins, a ukulele, countless harmonicas and recorders, a couple kazoos, two tambourines, and my grandfather’s accordion. Uh, no.

Some of my orders have been things I needed, office supplies, for example. The dog ramp seemed essential after the last time I tried to lift 75-pound, bad-knees Annie into the SUV, couldn’t do it, and we stood in a parking lot staring at each other for a long time before I mustered the heave-ho to get her in. I’m still working on training her to go up the ramp and not around it.

Most of what I have ordered could not be found in local stores, even pre-COVID. This is a small town. Staples moved out. Our music store has downsized to a cubbyhole. I’m not thrilled about the clothes at Fred Meyer, plus I haven’t even looked there in the coronavirus era. Like most of my friends, I buy the groceries I need, get out ASAP, and sanitize the heck out of myself and everything that came out of the store.

But day after day at my computer, here’s Facebook–which knows everything I ever Googled or peeked at in any online store–dangling pretty things in front of me when I should be working. If I click on them, they keep coming back. You know you want them. You know you want them. Just give in and click “buy.”

That’s how I got the crazy cardigan. One day, after many viewings, I said, “If it shows up again today, I’m buying it.” It did, and I did. It took almost two months to arrive, and it’s even gaudier than it looked in the picture, but I kind of like it.

I just love getting packages. In my childless, widowed, orphaned state, I don’t get much for Christmas or my birthday, but why wait? Click, and it’s mine. I don’t have to touch any actual money, so the cost doesn’t sink in.

I think COVID has made us all a little nuts in this regard. A few Sundays ago, when in normal times I’d be at church, I posted on Facebook: “I will not buy anything online today, I will not buy anything online today, I will not . . .” One friend after another commented that she too was buying all kinds of stuff online. Many had bought something already that day. I held off, but on Monday, I was back at it.

I love the mailman and the UPS man—they are men in my neighborhood. Some things take forever to arrive—I’m still waiting for my iced tea machine replacement pitcher which I really do need–but other things, wow. Those bubble envelopes were here the next day. I can’t imagine how Amazon did that.

All this shopping seems to be a crazy COVID side effect. Not only are we at home and online way more than usual, but I think many of us have a feeling of why not enjoy ourselves now. We could get COVID and die next week.

What have I ordered today? Bigger bubble envelopes for my bigger books (which I would be delighted to mail to you. See suelick.com.)

Self-indulgent? You bet. But we all need a little dose of happiness these days.

So, how about you? Are you buying more than usual online? Is this the Internet equivalent of the Home Shopping Network? What’s the best or weirdest thing you have bought during the pandemic?

Sometimes You Just Need More Hands

It sat in a bag on the floor of my garage for years, along with six bags of sand. After our Writers on the Edge group folded four years ago, as the last writer standing, I inherited this folding booth we bought to sell books at the Farmer’s Market. Get it out of my garage, said the woman who used it last. So I moved it to mine.

The bag looks like a golf bag, even has wheels, which is reasonable because the dang thing weighs more than my 75-pound dog.

One day while cleaning my garage during the COVID shutdown, I decided to take it out and set it up in my back yard. It would be fun to sit under the canopy enjoying the shade on a hot summer day.

This turned out to be another thing that’s nearly impossible to do alone, especially with my exceptional mechanical ability. It took me two days to set up my tent. Plus an extra trip to the chiropractor. I’m still celebrating replacing the spark plug in my lawnmower. I have a broken window blind hanging catawampus and a kitchen cabinet door also hanging awry. I ordered new curtains yesterday. Screwdriver in hand, I stared at the cabinet door for a while and decided I’d better call a professional.

But okay. Setting up this booth couldn’t be that hard. Other writers did it. I slid it out. White legs, blue cloth top. I carried it out to the far reaches of the lawn while the dog watched, curious about what her crazy housemate was up to now.

One two three four legs on the grass. Great, now push and lift and . . . nothing. There must be a trick. Were there instructions in the bag? No. Wait. A sticker on one white pipe said, “To open, hold and lift here.” I held, I lifted. Nothing moved, except maybe the beginning of a hernia. I pushed, I pulled. I raised the legs. I lowered the legs. I turned the whole thing sideways and upside down. It remained about four feet by four feet and about up to my neck as the cloth top flapped in the breeze.

Sweating, I ran in to trade my sweatshirt for a tank top and to check YouTube for instructions. They were there. YouTube has everything. So here’s these two guys in khaki pants and polo shirts, one on each side. They pull apart, lift up, and bazinga, there’s your booth. Apparently, this requires two people.

BUT I found another video for how to do it alone. Here we go. This guy put the booth up in his patio. He kept saying it would be easier with two people, but he seemed to have no problem. Legs, legs, legs, legs, get underneath, push, fasten down your canopy, and bazinga, here’s your booth.

Okay. I went outside, tried to get underneath. Lifted, pushed. Nothing moved.

I kept having this fantasy of someone showing up at my gate. They’d call, “Yoo-hoo!” and I’d answer “yoo-hoo!” back and invite them to help. We’d get it up, so to speak, in a jiffy, then sit in the shade on my plastic chairs, sipping iced tea or beer, whichever suited my helper.

It’s very quiet out here in the woods. Visitors are unlikely during these COVID times. I saw nobody but the dog, a butterfly and assorted bees. I surrendered. I toppled the structure, stuffed it back into the golf bag and shoved it under the table on my deck.

Meanwhile, I got my clippers and my leather gloves, forced open the stuck gate the gardeners had somehow forced open the other day and started clipping bushes like a madwoman, tossing vines onto the dog hovering nearby. She refused to move. Gosh, I was best entertainment she’d had in weeks. Somewhere under 20 years of wild growth was a raised garden bed bounded by yellow-painted brick. When we first moved in, I grew strawberries there and tried to grow vegetables—they were eaten by critters. Maybe I could try again. I was feeling the urge to garden.

Something bit my arm. Something snagged my leggings. I knew it was ridiculous trying to push back the forest. I didn’t care. I needed to accomplish something, preferably outside, away from the Zoomputer. When the compost cart was full and I could see a nice clear patch of dirt and enough brick to sit on, I decided to take a break. I couldn’t get the gate to latch so I stole a green bungee cord from the golf bag and wrapped it tight around the posts. Then I lay on the cool grass with the dog. It felt so good I considered staying there forever—or until winter, whichever came first.

How did you spend your Sunday?

 

Zooming in on What We’re Not Supposed to See 

“Zoom” used to mean fast fast airplanes and fast cars, that noise kids make while moving their toy vehicles across the floor. Zoom, zoom!

“Zoom” also signifies making things closer, like I just did so my old eyes could read what I’m typing.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “zoom” thus:  

1. a: to move with a loud low hum or buzz

    bto go speedily: ZIP cars zooming by on the highway

a: of an airplane: to climb for a short time at an angle greater than that which can be maintained in steady flight so that the machine is carried upward at the expense of stored kinetic energy

3. ato focus a camera or microscope on an object using a zoom lens so that the object’s apparent distance from the observer changes—often used with in or out

bFOCUSZERO: used with in trying to zoom in on the cause of these problems

4to increase sharply: retail sales zoomed

It’s fun to say. Say it with me. Zoom!

But these days, to Zoom means to attend a meeting from home via the Zoom app on your computer, tablet or phone. The other people see you, you see them arrayed in boxes like a photo gallery (or the old Hollywood Squares TV game show), and you talk. It’s not normal or natural, but it’s better than not meeting at all. No driving, no social isolation, no masks.

So where did this kind of zoom come from? San Jose, like me.

Wikipedia says Zoom Video Communications was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, a former Cisco VP who launched his meeting software in 2013. (To read more about Eric Yuan and the origin of the Zoom app, click here.) No surprise, Zoom has made tons of money, especially since the pandemic hit. I mean, who isn’t using Zoom for business, hobbies, or family connections? My brother uses it in the courtroom. My friend Karen Zooms with the family. Our church Zooms for Bible study. Students of all ages are taking classes via Zoom.  We are Zoomin’ all over the place.

Among my old film-camera gear gathering dust, I have a zoom lens, a long lens that lets the photographer get up really close. Think spies and sleuths watching people from their cars or from behind a fence. Or birdwatchers getting pictures of that tiny red-headed finch. Or a portrait photographer getting so close you can see the pores in the subject’s skin.

That’s a little too close. But you know what? That’s how close we’re getting on the computer version of Zoom.

Zoom allows us to stare at people in a way that would be rude in real life. Often facing each other’s faces for an hour or more, it’s hard not to notice every little thing—glasses, freckles, hairdos, is that a zit? I caught glimpses of myself last night as I watched a recorded Zoom meeting. Good Lord, the wrinkles, the bad hair. What was I thinking when I chose that blouse? And then I sneezed. Online. And blew my nose. Gross. The only consolation is that everybody else looks just as bad.

Members of Willamette Writers, Oregon’s statewide writing group for which I co-chair the coast branch, met the other night to prepare for our upcoming conference, July 31-Aug. 2. (Usually in Portland, it will be all online via, you guessed it, Zoom. It should be amazing. Read details at the website and consider attending.) We discussed backgrounds and lighting. You need a plain background, a light that shines on your face, and the camera slightly elevated for a more flattering view. You need to turn off the phones, background noises, kids and dogs. In other words, you need to recreate a TV set in your own home.

I Zoom from all over my house, as well as out in the yard. I’m still seeking the ideal spot where I’m comfortable and can see and be seen. The other morning, I thought the trees were a fabulous backdrop, but I was told I needed to turn around so the sun was shining directly on my face. Then I couldn’t see the computer. It might work on a foggy day like today, but it’s too cold.

I’ve Zoomed in my office, Fred’s old office, the living room, and the kitchen. The other night, caught in a tight schedule, I did an impromptu cooking show as I made my dinner while Zooming. I have not yet Zoomed from my bedroom, but it could happen.

I’m loving this chance to peek into homes I will probably never see in person. It’s like someone stripped away the walls to show us what’s inside. I see pictures, trophies, plaques, and books. I see desks that make me jealous. I see doors and wonder what’s on the other side. I catch glimpses of cats, dogs, spouses, and children.

Again, I’m staring. If we were meeting in person, the homeowner would probably ask, “What are you looking at?” They might be embarrassed that that ratty old chair is what caught my attention or that I’m reading the titles of the books stacked on their desk. I’m a writer. I’m nosy. I’m looking at all these “settings” and getting ideas.

I’m typing in my den right now. If someone caught me on the Zoom camera, they’d see no makeup, uncombed hair, and that behind me on my chair are pants that I washed yesterday but haven’t gotten around to hanging up yet. They’d see the out-of-control plant that still has two Christmas ornaments on it because I didn’t notice them before I put the boxes away. They’d see a huge fog-softened spruce tree out the window. They’d see me, my life. In all this COVID-19 isolation, I admit that I want to be seen, wrinkles and all.

How is the Zoom world going for you? Love it? Hate it? Have you found the ideal Zoom location? Have you given in to the temptation of buying a Zoom light or tripod? Do you have a most embarrassing Zoom moment to share?

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Reveal at Unleashed in Oregon

Good morning. I have something to tell you. Better sit down for this.

Okay, (clears throat, takes a deep breath), I have another blog. That’s right, when I’m not here, I post elsewhere for a whole different family of readers at a blog called Childless by Marriage. How long has this been going on? Since 2007. Since our days at Blogger.com with its funky templates. Yes, I have been cheating on you. I even have a Childless by Marriage Facebook page, too. Gasp.

Why am I telling you now?

Unleashed PB coverBesides being completely devoid of ideas for Unleashed in Oregon today, I have been working night and day on a “best of” collection from the other blog, and I’m almost finished. The posts are gathered and edited, and I’m working on niggling details like links and type faces. I know, I know, I did a “best of” collection for Unleashed in Oregon a couple years ago. (Click here to buy a copy. Please.) It was a lot of work, and I swore I would never produce another book full of photographs.

The Childless by Marriage blog book does not have pictures, but whittling more than 700 posts and their anonymous comments down to approximately 300 pages . . . Mucho work.

The new book is tentatively titled Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both. The focus is on couples where one partner is unable or unwilling to have children. Sometimes they already have kids from another marriage. Sometimes they never wanted them. Sometimes they have fertility problems. That leaves the other partner having to decide whether to leave in the hope of finding a babymaking partner or accept that they will never have children. It’s a lot more common than you might think. One in five women reach menopause these days without having children. I’m one of them.

Childless by Marriage cover smallThe posts talk about why one’s partner might not want kids, whether to stay with them or leave in the hope of finding someone who does want children, dealing with the grief of never having children, coping with the clueless questions people ask about our lack of children and the equally clueless suggestions people offer, looking ahead to old age without children, and more. Think Ann Landers or Dear Sugar, except I ask the questions and readers provide the answers.

ACincrate2I don’t have a cover to show you yet. At first, I was going to use the puppy picture that has topped the blog for years, but readers say no, not right for the book, and I agree. Ideas are welcome, and if you are/know a great cover designer, let me know.

The blog accompanies an already-published book from 2012 titled Childless by Marriage. I’m thinking a new edition of that book might be in order. We’ll see.

So, I have been cheating on you with another blog and the book that has become my major COVID shutdown project. (I also cleaned out the garage.) I invite you to visit the Childless by Marriage blog and give it a read. I post there on Wednesdays. You might even want to order a copy of the Childless by Marriage book. Why not?

When it comes to books and blogs, I’m afraid I can’t be monogamous. So many ideas, so little time. Stay tuned to see what comes out of this computer next.

Thanks for reading. Question: Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to more babies or fewer? Why?