Distracted Catholic confesses via poems

Cover-Front-WidowPiano(web) 2Happy new Year! That greeting falls a little flat this week in view of events in the Middle East and the wildfires in Australia. The parties are over, and the weather is wet, windy and dark. Bleh, right? What’s left to look forward to?

I have something: a new book! The Widow at the Piano is another poetry chapbook, following fast on the heels of Gravel Road Ahead, which came out in October. The two are quite different. Gravel Road Ahead follows my Alzheimer’s journey with my late husband. Readers say they have found it comforting and inspiring.

The Widow at the Piano, subtitled Confessions of a Distracted Catholic, is bound to get me in trouble, although early readers have pronounced it smart, sassy, touching and funny. You see, it’s about being Catholic and playing the piano at church. Any time you get into politics, money or religion, folks are bound to get their dander up, and I’m expecting there will be those who don’t love this book.

That scares me, but I don’t think I have ever published anything that is so “me.” In my years in journalism, we could hide behind our allegedly impartial reporting. In my novels, I could say, “That’s not me.” This book is absolutely me, and I’m bound to take criticism personally.  Oh well, that’s what happens when you’re a writer.

I know I’m not a perfect Catholic. This book lays it out there for the world to see, how sometimes when I pray, I wonder if anyone is listening; how sometimes when I look like I’m praying, I’m analyzing the flower arrangements or wondering what the priest is wearing under his vestments; how sometimes I’m thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch when I’m supposed to be thinking about the body and blood of Christ. Distracted! That woman at the piano is the same woman who goes into the kitchen to put the kettle on for tea, finds three other things to do and returns to her desk fifteen minutes later without having started the tea.

And yet, it’s a love story, too. God knows, I love doing music at church. As a widow coming to Mass alone, it gives me a place among all those couples and families. The liturgy is magic, and so is the music. I don’t work anymore at the church I wrote about. I’m at another church playing and singing for free and loving it. I’m considerably less distracted. But one of the virtues of the Catholic Church is that the Mass is the same all over the world, so in a way it doesn’t matter which specific parish I’m writing about.

The Widow at the Piano is available for discounted pre-orders now and is scheduled for publication on March 15. If I were you, I’d order a copy just for the gorgeous cover publisher Shawn Aveningo-Sanders of The Poetry Box has selected. It’s piano porn for those of us who love images of musical instruments.

I will be looking for opportunities to do readings and talks as much as possible in the coming months for both the Widow book and Gravel Road Ahead. Contact me at sufalick@gmail.com if you’re interested. I will be at the Author’s Fair being held next Saturday, Jan. 11 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Newport Public Library.

I started writing poetry as a little girl. I remember carrying around a little spiral notebook that fit in my pocket, writing sing-songy rhymes with a fat pencil with a big eraser. My skills have matured a little since then. Although I have published poetry in various journals and won some prizes, it has taken 60 years for my poems to appear in book form. Suddenly I have two poetry books within six months. So exciting.

I was sitting by my father’s hospital bed when I got the email that Finishing Line Press wanted to publish Gravel Road Ahead. “Dad, they want to publish my book,” I said, my head spinning a little with shock and surprise. Very ill and not a literary guy, he probably said something like “Good” and changed the subject, but it was a big deal for me. Dad is gone now, but I am grateful that in a year of tremendous loss, God sent me these two gifts.

And now I offer them to you. Here’s a teaser from The Widow at the Piano:


I’d say, “Excuse the mess”
He would. He might even
share the couch with the pit bull
and rub her balding belly
as she lies on her back, submissive,
which I probably ought to do, too,
but no, I’d be fixing my hair,
putting my laundry away,
offering Him coffee or tea,
and wondering if He was really He
or if I just let a bad guy in,
someone who would rape, rob, kill
or whip out a Kirby vacuum to sell.
But no, the guard dog’s upside down,
wide open to His blessed hands,
and she knows. She knows.

As we pray for peace and safety, I hope my words can offer some comfort or at least a few minutes of distraction. Just don’t forget the tea kettle.



Santa Brings the Gift of Easy Heat


It was a Christmas miracle.

I had little hope. I had been waiting since September when I first got the idea and made the the initial call to replace the evil pellet stove fireplace insert with a gas fireplace insert. My father had been urging me for years to convert to gas. I always told him I couldn’t afford it. Now, in the wake of his death, I realized one day that now I could.

I had been fighting the pellet stove for 21 years, almost a third of my life. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have witnessed my struggles. For example, check out https://unleashedinoregon.com/2018/01/16/ding-dong-the-pellet-stove-is-dead. It was not just buying and hauling the 40-pound bags of pressed wood pellets, using a bag a day during the winter. Every couple weeks I’d show up at Copeland’s Lumber in Newport, surrounded by male contractors and home renovators, and ask for 15 bags. $84.75. It never changed. A couple of muscular men would load them in the back of the “Toaster,” sometimes two bags at a time, but those men didn’t come home with me. It was pretty good exercise moving 600 pounds of pellets into the garage and then bag by bag into the living room.

The original Quadrafire insert required frequent cleaning, as ash and sawdust piled up. It was a messy job. Annie fled as soon as I brought the shop vac in. It also required frequent repairs. Igniters died. The ceramic pot cracked. Because this was our main source of heat, we spent weeks in a cold house waiting for parts and repairmen. Yes, we had portable heaters, but they never got the house warm enough. Finally the 25-year-old pellet stove died for good. I called Airrow Heating in January 2018, thinking maybe I could get some kind of electric heat installed.

Airrow is all about ductless heating systems. I couldn’t afford it. I opted to buy another pellet stove. The evil I knew and thought I could afford. The Napoleon model from Canada, which the Airrow guys–not pellet stove specialists–ordered for me, got terrible reviews online with good reason.

Within the first week, the faux bricks behind the fire cracked. WitPellet stove 12518Dhin the first year, the igniter had to be replaced three times. The buildup of ash and rock-hard clinkers was extraordinary. When I tried to vacuum it out, ash spread through the room. It’s still in the crevices of my piano. I breathed it in, and my hands, arms and clothes were blackened.

Toward the end, the pot kept filling up with half-burned ash. Then it overflowed like a volcano, creating little fires where there was not supposed to be fire. One night I was reading on the love seat nearby when a spark landed on my arm. Sparks were flying everywhere. In a panic, I unplugged the beast and beat out all the sparks, leaving black burn marks on my carpet and a rapidly cooling house. Not fun.

IMG_20191031_104811320_HDR[1]That pellet stove cost $6,000, almost as much as the ductless system I could have had. I should have just left the fireplace open and used electric heaters. Or burned wood, like many of my neighbors. One of the hazards of living alone is that you have no one to counter your possibly bad decisions. I regretted every day with that pellet stove.

When the pellet stove died yet again soon after Dad’s funeral, I said, basta, enough. It was less than two years old, barely off the warranty. I didn’t care. I called Coast Hearth and Home. The owner came out to measure and suggest options. Soon I was signing a contract for gas fireplace insert. The insert itself was not as expensive as I feared, but I knew it would be a big deal. We do not have natural gas in this part of the woods. One must buy or rent a propane tank and keep it full. One must also run a gas line under the house from the appliance to the tank.

This turned out to be a long process of multiple visits by the gas company, the Coast Hearth guys and the county inspector. You need permits for all these things. I quickly learned the meaning of “green-tagged” and “red-tagged.” Green tag good, red tag bad.

The Coast Hearth guys, the only such company in the area, are super busy this time of year. The propane company, Ferrellgas, is based in the Willamette Valley, and its workers only come here one or two days a week. They book two to four weeks ahead. I needed to get a ditch dug. I needed to get inspections. The gas guys delivered the tank, but I had to wait two more weeks for a different guy to put propane in it. At last, my set-up was green-tagged. But then, when everything was finally assembled, there was a gas leak. Red tag. Back and forth. Fireplace guys. Gas guys. I got to know them quite well. 

On Christmas Eve, Roger from the gas company came. I told him the leak had been fixed. He said, no it’s still leaking. I will not cry, I told myself, envisioning the process going on until at least New Year’s. But then Roger went out to the truck, got his toolbox, and set to work. I was his only coastal customer that day, and he was not going to leave without getting the fireplace going, even though he said according to company rules he was not supposed to do this.

And it worked. Green tag! The portable heater that kept knocking out circuit number 13 is now unplugged, and we are warm. The fireplace glows with blue and gold flames. There’s no crackling of real wood, no burning wood smell. The flames always look the same, but it is beautiful, and when I go out, I will not come home to a cold house because the stove is out of pellets. No more coal-miner face and hands from cleaning the pellet beast.

I gave away my last seven bags of pellets to a grateful neighbor who gave me a bottle of champagne in exchange.

I’m writing this on Christmas Day. It has taken four months to reach this point. Last night Annie was stretched out by the fireplace, soaking in the warmth. Thanks, Dad. You’re right. This is better.

Merry Christmas, one and all. Be warm and happy.

Musical Instruments, Big and Small

Sue and Harmonica

Our father left my brother and me money. He left us his house. He left an enormous quantity of photos without names on them. He left a pile of paperwork that dates back well into the last century. I filled my car twice with things I wanted to keep: the St. Francis statue I gave him eons ago, my grandmother’s tea set, some of Mom’s jewelry, the crucifixes from the walls, books, movies on VHS tape and DVD, the wooden bears and the howling wolf that I gave him for Christmases past, new sheets that had never been unwrapped, Christmas ornaments, an unopened carton of oatmeal—so much. But there was a lot more to be tossed or given away. Imagine if you were taken out of your home by ambulance and never returned. After 97 years of life and 70 years in that house, Dad left a lot of material things, as well as a lifetime of memories and experiences.

Two items were of particular interest to this musicaholic: Grandpa Fagalde’s accordion and Dad’s harmonica. One is a huge beast, and the other can fit in my purse. I don’t know the history of either instrument, but they live with me in Oregon now.

We had never seen the accordion, weren’t even sure if Dad had it anymore, but my brother found it in the back of the middle bedroom closet in a black case. Since I traveled to the funeral by plane and couldn’t take it home then, Mike stored it at his house, where I claimed it at Thanksgiving. Inside that black pressboard case sat a marvel of engineering and music. It made noise as soon as I touched it, getting me in trouble because Mike’s grandchildren were napping. But I knew nothing about playing accordion, including how to keep it quiet when you weren’t playing it. I thought it just stayed mute until you did something.

IMG_20191216_083728640[1]What can I compare to putting on that accordion? An iron lung? A divers’ air tank? I don’t know. It’s awkward, and it’s heavy. I remember an old friend who had played accordion all his life. His chest and arm muscles were massive. Now I can see why. But I got it on—once I figured out which way was up. Keyboard on the right, buttons on the left.

The 2 ½-octave piano-style keyboard was familiar. I couldn’t see it very well, but once I found Middle C, I could play a tune. But what about the bellows and all those buttons, dozens of buttons? And why did just a few of them have dimples on them? Were they damaged, or were they supposed to be that way?

What kind of accordion was this anyway? Hello, Google. It was a Hohner Tango IM,  worth about $800 today. Grandpa, a frugal wheeler-dealer, probably got it at some secondhand shop. He would not have paid that much. Or maybe he inherited it from someone. Although he told lots of stories, he never told that one, nor did he ever play it when we were around.

Oh, my shoulders. It took me four tries to get the accordion back into the case. Later, I ordered a “how to play the accordion book” from Amazon. Okay, so you play the piano notes, pump the bellows in and out, and push the buttons for the bass notes. They are lined up by key–bass note, major chord, minor chord–but you can’t see them, so it’s all by feel.

I managed to oom-pah, badly, in C, doing two-line songs like the ones on which I learned piano 60 years ago. Musicians know the kind of song, one note at a time, with titles like “Trapeze Waltz” and “Country Picnic.” It went: bellows OUT, C note, C bass, C chord twice, bellows IN, F note, F bass note, F chord, OUT, C note . . . I could feel the power of the bellows, like big lungs breathing in and out, but oh my shoulders, my back, my neck. Not having an in-house chiropractor, I couldn’t play it for long.

Suddenly the piano seems so easy, and the guitar feels blessedly light

My brother poo-pooed the idea, but I really think the accordion was made for a man-sized person with bigger shoulders and a longer torso. Me, it filled from chin to hips. But I’m interested. If I could master this beast, I could take it where I don’t have a piano to play. I would never need to amplify it because it’s naturally loud, a party in a box.

Dad’s harmonica weighs almost nothing. It’s a Marine Band 14-hole model, key of G, a few notes longer than the 10-hole harmonicas that I bought for myself. I don’t know where he got it, although I suspect he bought it during WWII. Did he while away his few spare hours playing it in his tent in Australia or the Philippines? I like to think so. He rarely played it at home. When he did, we kids came running, excited. A harmonica can sound like a party, too. He never played long, but those minutes of music were magic.

Now I have that harmonica in its well-scuffed original red cardboard box, which says Marine Band No. 365, made by M Hohner Germany. It was in the dresser drawer with Dad’s tiny black-and-white photos from the war years.

This instrument I can play. I have had one live lesson and gone through several harmonica books. Instead of the three things you have to do at once on the accordion, you do two on the harp, blow and suck (or draw), and not at the exact same time. Each harmonica is set for a different key, so you can’t go far astray no matter what note you play.

On Thanksgiving, after the grandkids went home, I played my greatest hits on Dad’s harmonica:”O Susanna,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Silent Night.” I can also do “Jingle Bells.” I never practice, and I generally don’t use sheet music for the harmonica. I just breathe in and out and see where the music goes.

I like the idea of playing an instrument I can keep in my pocket. It’s no coincidence that in my novel Up Beaver Creek, someone gives my protagonist PD a green harmonica and she carries it in her pocket after the disaster. I got one just like it in the church choir gift exchange the year I was writing the book. We were at Lee’s Wok. It’s surprising how few people in a restaurant want to hear me play “Jingle Bells” on the harmonica. But to me, it’s magic. Harmonicas don’t even go out of tune. Dad’s must be at least 75 years old, and it sounds fine.

Playing the harmonica is a very intimate thing. It’s in your mouth, right? That’s why that one group lesson I took at California Coast Music Camp was frustrating. The teacher couldn’t see what we were doing with our lips, teeth and tongues. He could only go by the sounds that came out. I spent the whole class trying to “bend” notes, that wah-wah sound you hear when people play the blues. It’s not easy, especially if you’re not playing a “blues harp,” which has thinner reeds that bend more easily. Oh yes, there’s a lot of engineering goes into this little thing.

This website with lots of info about harmonicas warns people to NEVER accept a harmonica that someone else has played because it will harbor whatever diseases they had. But this one came from my father, flesh of my flesh and all that, and whatever germs were in there died long before he did.

I have also learned the hard way that you need to play it with fresh breath and no lipstick.

Harmonicatunes.com gives some history of the harmonica. I would not have guessed that it started in China thousands of years ago. In the 1800s, it moved into Europe, especially Germany, and from there it migrated to the U.S. The Marine Band model, like this one, was introduced in 1896, the year my grandfather was born.

As the site notes, those who think this is just a fun instrument for people who can’t play real instruments are wrong. Check out the recording on the site. It sounds like a fast-moving fiddle, but it’s a harmonica. I’m not quite up to that level yet. Want to hear my “Jingle Bells?” What do you mean, not again?

Can I take it to church? Has anyone heard of liturgical harmonica? Why not?

I have been storing my harmonicas, all 10-holers, in a tin rectangular Campbell’s soup can, but now I need something bigger and softer. I will be looking to buy or make one soon.

And maybe I need to get a Sherpa to hold the accordion while I play it. Imagine the fun a body could have playing both at once: keys, buttons, in and out, blow and suck all at the same time! Hey, Grandpa and Dad both lived into their late 90s. It’s worth a try.

Years ago, when I was flying to Los Angeles for grad school, I had tucked a harmonica into my carry-on. The TSA agent, who hailed from another country, pulled me aside and took out the harmonica. “What is this?” she asked.

“A harmonica.”

She showed no recognition.

“A musical instrument. Do you want me to play it?”

She didn’t want to hear “Jingle Bells either. I suppose on the X-ray, it looked like two flat blades. It took a while to convince her it was not some kind of weapon, although I suppose, in a pinch, you could disable people with those high-high notes. She let me take it on board, but I have not carried a harmonica on a plane since.

I have carried my “harps” in my car. On those long stretches of I-5 between Newport and San Jose, I play a tune now and then. It only takes one hand, and I can still watch the road. Is that distracted driving? I hope I never have to explain it to the Highway Patrol. They really wouldn’t want to hear “Jingle Bells.”

I definitely won’t be playing an accordion and driving at the same time. I promise.

Thanks, Dad, for some very cool Christmas presents. I’ll miss you this year.

Writing Here, There and Everywhere

I’m back. Back home and back from my NaNoWriMo blog sabbatical in which I endeavored to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The annual National Novel Writing Month competition draws hundreds of thousands to compete in this madness, and many succeed.  https://www.cartridgepeople.com/info/blog/nanowrimo-statistics

I wrote 55,000 words. I’m not getting all the NaNoWriMo prizes because I divided my words between two different projects, a nonfiction book that’s still in its early days—17,023 words–and a sequel to my novel Up Beaver Creek—38,130. Add them together, and I’ve got 55,153. That does not count all the other stuff I wrote during the month, including journal entries, new poems, and posts at my Childless by Marriage blog. This word factory produces many products.

I don’t know why the competition takes place in November. It’s such a busy month. Why not pick January when we’re all revved up with New Year’s resolutions, there’s not much else happening (okay, yes, the Superbowl), and there are 31 days instead of 30?

This November was extra crazy. Of the 30 days, I spent 15 away from home. I drove approximately 2,000 miles, bringing my Honda Element up to 130,000 miles. My travels took me to the Portland Book Festival, Ellen Bass’s Fire and Ice poetry workshop in Scott’s Valley, California, a night in Santa Cruz and a day at Seacliff Beach where I spent much of my childhood.

I followed that with three days in Santa Clara writing, catching up with family, and saying goodbye to my childhood home, which has been cleaned out and sold. From Santa Clara, I drove to the outskirts of Yosemite for Thanksgiving with my brother’s family. When I left there on Saturday, because I-5 was blocked with snow, I had to take the long way home, extending my usual California-Oregon drive from 13 hours to 18, much of it in the rain.

Between trips, I prepared for installation of a gas fireplace and a propane tank at my house. I sold copies of my recently published chapbook Gravel Road Ahead and read the final proofs for the next chapbook, Widow at the Piano, which is coming out in March, took Annie to the vet and started giving her four different medicines every day for arthritis and an ear infection, and said goodbye to my job at Sacred Heart Church.

Through it all, I wrote. I had treated myself to a new laptop, a small ASUS with super-long battery life, so I could write wherever I was. I wrote on motel room beds and desks, in coffee shops, on my brother’s sofa in front of the TV, and in the commons at Oregon Coast Community College. I wrote sitting, standing and lying down. I wrote when I knew what I was going to say and when I didn’t, nudged by the counter at the NaNaWriMo website to reach my daily goal and keep the line on the graph going up.

I joined two of the NaNoWriMo write-ins at a new local cafe (Wolf Tree, near the college). I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write with other people around, but it was great. We all focused on our own stories, taking bathroom and snack breaks as needed, and the words poured out.

But for the need to get dressed, I might do all of my writing in coffee shops. Or bars, depending on my mood.

As the end of the month neared, other writers started reporting on Facebook that they had “won” NaNoWriMo, reaching their 50,000-word goal. A week ago, I knew I wouldn’t meet that goal on my novel, although I would make it with both my projects combined. That’s okay. My 38,000 words is a lot of words. It’s 152 double-spaced pages, halfway to a completed novel. My protagonist PD and her friends have already gone through a lot, with more to come. I will keep going, although maybe not at the same breakneck pace. I will go back to taking Sundays off. I will let myself read fiction again. But this novel that was only a maybe, possibly, I’m-not-sure kind of thing is real now. And my other project has a good start.

I plan to do NaNoWriMo again. It’s exciting to write so much so quickly and with such great camaraderie as writers all over the world do the same thing. Not every novel written during NaNoWriMo gets published or even finished, but it’s fun to go into an imaginary world and let the words fly.

Anyone who writes fiction knows all the writing does not take place on the keyboard or the page. Your mind keeps working on story problems. Yesterday, while I was driving through the rain between Eureka and Crescent City, California, I suddenly had such a great idea I was shouting and banging the steering wheel. Yes! That’s perfect! That’s how PD is going to ID the bad guy. Of course! Other drivers might have suspected I drank more than orange juice and green tea with my breakfast.

Kudos to our regional NaNoWriMo leader Nikki Atkins, who finished her 50,000 way early while acting in two different plays at the local theater. For years, she has kept local writers inspired with her enthusiasm and support. How could anyone not succeed with Nikki cheering them on?

So I’m home. Back with Annie. Back at my desk. Back with a pile of receipts for all the money I spent. Back with 163 emails to read. Back facing the six pounds I gained this month eating at restaurants. Back hoping that today, finally, the work on my new gas fireplace and the propane tank outside will be completed, and we will have real heat.

But also back with the glow that comes from setting forth to write something good and succeeding.

I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was satisfying. Christmas is only three weeks from Wednesday! I’m not ready. Are you? Here’s a thought. Buy everyone on your gift list copies of Up Beaver Creek so they can be ready when the sequel comes out. Have a great week.




Shall I Tell You About My Weekend?

IMG_20191027_113156516[1]Shall I tell you about my mammogram on Friday, which I followed by overeating—salmon wrap and fries–at Georgie’s and then going home and staining my upper deck till my back cried “uncle.” And then, despite the radio and the newspaper predicting sunshine, it rained and turned all the “Mountain Ash” stain to mud-colored soup?

Shall I tell you about the play I went to Friday night at the PAC, “Tiny Beautiful Things,” based on Cheryl Strayed’s book? So good. Four brilliant actors playing many parts. I’d recommend you go, but the show closed Sunday. Read the book; you’ll like it.

Shall I tell you how I only made it to Friday before I started eating the “thumbprint” cookies from Market of Choice that I had put in the freezer to save for an upcoming meeting? They just kept calling to me, like the haunted cello in the book I just finished reading—Everything You Are, by Kerry Anne King. Read that one, too.

Shall I tell you about how Saturday, after a little writer work, I went to the KYAQ Electric Blues Jam with my folk guitar, checked out the collection of mostly men playing electric guitars, each with their own amps, and decided I had better just listen while I ate pizza? Or how I watched the piano player, wishing I could play like that?

Shall I tell you about doing the music for yet another Saturday Mass at Sacred Heart all by myself—and fluffing some of the words and notes—because my choir was banished for holding hands during The Lord’s Prayer (the weekend after my father’s funeral) or how I have given notice because this priest who preaches forgiveness cannot seem to forgive them and let them sing?

Shall I tell you about how I cried during Mass on Sunday—where I had just two lovely singers left—because I don’t really want to leave, but I can’t stay either? Should I brag that I didn’t miss a note as I mopped at my tears?

IMG_20191027_142534933[1]Shall I tell you how my neighbor pressure-washed my house and deck for free so I could do the staining? In the process, a porch light, outdoor thermometer, and the covering on my back door, all old and weathered, fell apart, so I bought a new porch light which he installed yesterday, and a new indoor-outdoor thermometer, which works great. I’m still trying to figure out what to do about the door.

Shall I tell you I bought more stain yesterday so I could start over, and, after the neighbor finished with the porch light, I redid the whole thing, praying there was still enough daylight for it to dry when I finished at 5:30? There was not. Some of the stain was wet last night at bedtime, and all of it was iced over this morning. It looks like it might be all right, but next year, I’m starting early enough to find a pro to take care of the deck.

Shall I tell you about how the neighbor’s new motion-detector light (for bears and burglars) shines directly into my bedroom or how it was so cold in the house that neither Annie nor I could sleep? Should I tell you how after cleaning out a ton of burnt pellets that remind me of burnt popcorn and listening to the pellet stove wheeze like a dying human while offering no fire, I declared it dead (again) and dragged in the plug-in heater that makes it only slightly warmer while my new thermometer tells me it’s 37 degrees outside and 57 inside?

Shall I tell you that I’m seeing flashing lights that might be a migraine, or perhaps I’m going blind? But it’s Monday, the eye doctor is in Eugene, and I have to write anyway.  At least the sun is out, and Annie loves me. Dad is in heaven and not hurting anymore, and if my mammogram results are okay, I’m alive and healthy, so what am I whining about?

No? That’s what I thought.


I’m planning to participate in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month in November. That’s where crazy people try to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, which comes out to about 1,600 words a day. I plan to take a vacation from the blog so I can focus on my NaNo book. After reading this, you might agree that I need a vacation.

Bundle up, and don’t forget to reset your clocks on Sunday or you’ll be an hour early to church.


Piano from the 1800s needs a new home

img_20190824_0814447681.jpgWhat do you want to do about the piano at your father’s house? Everyone asks me because I’m the only one who plays piano. I taught myself to play on that piano. It ought to be mine, right? But wait. I already have a piano.

The piano is a Kranich & Bach cabinet grand, patented 1886. Take the baby grands we’re used to seeing on concert stages, turn them sideways, and that’s what this is. It’s a beautiful thing, and if it weren’t so God-awful out of tune, it would offer a big, rich sound. The keys are ivory and intact, the pedals are sturdy, and there is a delightful round stool that you spin to adjust the height. As kids, my brother Mike and I had a good time spinning on it at Grandpa Fagalde’s house until some grownup made us stop.

But we’re not children now. Grandpa is long gone, and now our parents are gone. We’re cleaning out the house they bought in 1950. As I understand it, Grandpa got the piano from his boss, Jack Dorrance, when he was the foreman on the Dorrance ranch in San Jose. Jack had show business aspirations. His family had more than one piano. At some point, this one may have provided music in the little theater he built on the ranch. I suppose my parents brought it home when Grandpa retired to the beach.

I didn’t have piano lessons. I envy people who did. My father apparently thought Mom, who did have lessons, could teach us. But taking lessons doesn’t necessarily mean you can teach. She showed my brother Mike and me where Middle C was and gave us her old books to teach ourselves the rest. Mike lost interest, but I started a lifelong obsession with pianos, really anything with keys. I learned the notes. I played through the one-hand exercises, moved on to two, three, and more notes at a time. I practiced counting four-four, three-four, six-eight.

Not having lessons means I never learned proper fingering, and I can’t do scales worth beans, but I can make music. I even get paid for it these days as a music minister at Sacred Heart Church.

As an adult, I didn’t have a piano for a long time. I sneaked into the practice rooms at San Jose State. I grabbed time on my parents’ piano when they weren’t around. For a while between marriages, I rented a piano, feeling bad for the guys who had to get it up the stairs. Mostly I played guitar instead because it was cheaper and more portable. Also, it was the ‘60s and everybody was playing guitar.

My late husband’s wedding present to me was a piano, a Wurlitzer spinet, not as fancy as the old cabinet grand, but mine, and I could play it whenever I wanted. Fred knew the way to my heart. That instrument is scarred now from our many moves and three decades of hard use, but it sounds good, and it’s my piano. Do I want to replace it with the old Kranich & Bach, forgetting for the moment the cost of fixing it up and shipping it to Oregon?

After my father died, I came home, looked at my piano and knew that’s the one I want to keep, not the antique that was never really mine. But somebody needs to keep it and love it. My brother and I have asked around about the value of such an old, elegant piano. It seems it’s not worth much money in this digital world. It was not a deluxe model, plus musicians are going for electronic pianos these days. I play one at church, and I love all its many features, but there’s nothing like the feel and sound of a real piano.

That old Kranich & Bach is a beautiful piece of furniture, mostly used as a rack for family photographs in recent times. Is there someone lurking in the family who secretly wants to play piano? Does anyone remember how Grandpa used to bang out songs honky-tonk style with no training at all?

Grandpa Fagalde was always buying and trading musical instruments. Remember the pump organ in the garage? In his day, pre-TV, pre-Internet, everybody played music. Families would bring out their instruments after dinner and jam. And every house had a piano. Tune it? Not in the years since I’ve been around. I have friends who won’t perform on a piano that has not been tuned THAT DAY. I guess folks weren’t so picky a hundred years ago.

I can see this piano in an Old West saloon, the kind with swinging doors, floozies entertaining cowboys, and the stranger leaning on the bar, saying, “Whiskey!”

Where do I find that saloon?

The piano is in San Jose. If anyone has a yen to adopt it for their home, a museum, a school, a senior center, or anywhere it would be played and loved, let me know at sufalick@yahoo.com. I would be willing to pay the cost of making it sound its best again if somebody wants to give it a good home.


Are you afraid to do things alone?

Ingall, Christine. Solo Success! You Can Do Things on Your Own. St. Albans, UK: Panoma Press, 2017.

I find this book annoying. Who ever said I couldn’t do things on my own? The author begins with the assumption that the aging female reader is suddenly alone via divorce, death, or an empty nest and has no clue how to do things on her own. She assumes the reader is terrified to go out for coffee, see a show, or even take a walk by herself.

Seriously? Okay, I do know women who whine, “I have nobody to go with,” but I don’t think most of us are that helpless. Nor do I think we need page after page about how to make a list of things we’d like to do and more pages of congratulations after we do them. The few pages offering practical tips for various activities are helpful. Don’t carry a handbag on your walk, for example. Do carry a leash, even if you don’t have a dog, so people will think you do. Bring a book to read when you’re dining alone. Overall, the book is shallow, extremely British, and makes assumptions that are not true for most of us.

Or are they? I have been doing things on my own since college. My work as a newspaper reporter required that I venture out with just my notebook and camera for company. But I never thought “I can’t go because I have no one to go with.” Sometimes I would rather not go alone, and sometimes the lack of a companion expecting me to show up has led to me deciding at the last minute to stay home. But I can venture out on my own and I do. I don’t have a husband, children, or nearby family, and my friends are married and busy, so off I go.

Movies? (The very British Ingall calls it “cinema.”) My first husband was never around. I got in the habit of going to movie matinees alone. Remember the Century Theaters in San Jose? Cinerama? There might be a dozen people in the theater for an afternoon show. It’s easier to immerse yourself in the movie when you’re not competing for popcorn or the armrest with the person beside you. Sure, there’s nobody to talk to about it later, but at least you get to see the movie on the big screen.

Live theater is less comfortable, especially before the show and during intermission when you’re alone and everyone around you is in a couple or group. Read the program and relax. They’re really too busy talking to each other to pay you any attention.

As for dining out, some places are more solo-friendly than others. Feel free to reject the tiny table in the corner and ask for a better spot where you have room to read or check your email while you’re waiting for your food. If you sense you’re getting poor service because there’s only one of you, go somewhere else next time.

Walk alone? I do it, but I avoid walking in the dark. I keep my hands free and my eyes open. I have my phone ready to dial 911. Usually Annie is enough discouragement for human predators, but when she’s not with me, I know I have to stay alert. Have I had any bad experiences? Yes.

  • I was grabbed at night at an ATM in San Jose (don’t go after dark!). I cursed, punched the guy, and ran. Luckily he seemed to be too stoned to follow me.
  • One night after an assignment in downtown San Jose, a guy followed me several blocks as I headed toward my car. I made a quick change of direction and scooted into the newspaper office, where there were lights and other people. My mistake that night was carrying so much camera gear I couldn’t run or defend myself.
  • A guy in San Francisco came up behind me asking for sex. I told him to F— off and merged into the crowd crossing the street.

Stuff happens. As with a mountain lion, make yourself as big as you can and yell. A good “Fuck off! can be quite effective. But again, use common sense about where you walk alone and have a plan to get help if you need it.

Last week I wrote about joining the Newport Recreation Center and swimming alone. I am used to swimming alone in motel and hotel pools. Often I’m the only swimmer and keep expecting the “pool police” to kick me out. But what am I supposed to do, go knocking on doors asking people if they want to swim with me? No. I just swim.

The author of this book makes a big deal about being afraid of being “visibly alone.” Is that an issue? Do people look down on folks, especially women, traveling through life alone? I guess I have felt that sometimes. But I’d rather travel alone than not at all.

How about you? Do you feel free to do things on your own? Not just grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments, but fun things like going to shows, eating out, traveling, or going for a walk? What would you not be comfortable doing alone? Why?

Do you have any advice for people flying solo?