Why Do I Care Who Won ‘American Idol’?

I don’t like TV reality shows. I’d much prefer a well-scripted drama, but there aren’t many of those on network TV anymore. So I watch reality shows, and I get hooked, hooked to the point that I will put the finale on my calendar and turn off my phones to avoid interruptions. My favorite used to be “Survivor” until the show became more about alliances and voting strategies than survival. Hey, is that castaway wearing makeup?

I have watched far too much of “Dancing with the Stars,” even though I can’t stand the judges. When a celebrity who was a lousy dancer won last time, I lost heart. When Derrick and Mark and Max quit, well, what was the point?

What? You don’t know who these people are? Where have you been?

I watch “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” even “Bachelor in Paradise.” The whole point of this franchise, besides making oodles of money, is getting young good-looking people to couple up. They’re immature, their words are scripted, and they make out constantly. If they survive to the finale, the couples get to shack up in the “fantasy suite,” where we assume they have sex. Maybe they just talk or play board games until the producers bring in breakfast and tell them to snuggle in bed for the cameras.

People get engaged at the end of the Bachelor/Bachelorette season, but the relationship hardly ever lasts because it’s a ridiculous way to meet a life partner. It’s sleazy, and most of the competitors are idiots, but I keep watching. Tonight I’ll be on my couch watching “Hannah B.” go on her first dates with the guys who survived last week’s initial rose ceremony. The previews promise “drama” in the house—a bunch of guys squabbling. Why do I watch this garbage?

Which brings us to “American Idol.” At least on talent shows, the contestants have to do something besides look pretty. And that grabs my interest. I sing, too. I’m way too old to compete, I don’t like most of today’s pop music, and the whole thing is just not my style, but I watch these singing kids, ages 16 to 27, and I listen to the celebrity judges gush over performances that are mostly so-so. Sometimes I scream at the TV: What? You liked that? It was terrible. They don’t hear me. All I can do is download the memory-sucking “American Idol” app on my phone and vote. Up to 10 votes per contestant. The person I vote for usually loses.

Last night was the “American Idol” finale. At three hours, it was about an hour too long, the final hour filled with “stars” I never heard of. Madison sang her brains out on Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” and then got eliminated, leaving Alejandro, the Latino musical genius, and Laine, the cute guitar-playing white guy. As usual, the guitar-playing white guy won. He sang his new single surrounded by the other contestants as confetti fell all over everyone. Will we ever hear of him again? Maybe. Some of the losers will probably be bigger stars. It would have been nice to have a songwriting Latino win. Oh well.

I didn’t take the phones off the hook this time. Too much family drama going on. But I ate dinner in front of the TV, and when I had to take a break to call my dad in the nursing home, I set up the TV to record so I wouldn’t miss a minute. When Dad said he had company and asked if I could call back later, I thought sweet, back to my show.

I know. I’m terrible. My father is more important than a TV show, but sometimes I need a break from worrying about him. If only he would watch, too, so we could talk about that instead of tubes, tests, and physical therapy.

It’s not just me. Millions of people vote for the contestants on “American Idol” and other reality shows. The results of these shows are all over the news. I have to be careful not to look at my phone after 5:00 because the shows have already aired on the East Coast, and Google is already sharing the results before we on the West Coast have a chance to watch.

Such big news. “Laine Hardy Wins American Idol” comes in above Trump threatening Iran with military action, Alabama outlawing abortion, and the fishing boat tragedy making headlines on the Oregon coast. It seems wrong. But maybe we need this kind of silliness to distract us from the grimmer events of life. Or maybe it’s just that I grew up sitting in front of the TV every night, and I don’t know what else to do to relax at the end of the day.

My dog Annie doesn’t buy it. Throughout the “American Idol” finale, she kept trying to get my attention by grabbing things that should not be in her mouth. First it was a paperclip. Then it was a big leaf off one of my plants. Then it was my embroidery, needle and all. She would come up in my face, eyes sparkling, lips smiling as big as they could with a full mouth, and invite me to give chase. Which I did, trading a treat for the forbidden item. She’s no fool. “American Idol?” Annie does not care.

So that’s my confession. I watch reality shows. How about you? Are you hooked, too? Which ones? “The Voice?” “Big Brother?” “Real Housewives?” How much of it do you think is real? If you watched “America Idol” this season, who were you rooting for? Can you even name last year’s winner?

 

 

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Don’t Interrupt; I’m Talking to Myself

I talk to myself. All the time. Sometimes I direct my words to Annie the dog, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit she’s not paying attention. She tunes in for certain key words—eat, cookie, walk, snuggle, beach. The rest is just bla bla bla, a continuous hum like the refrigerator. If she needs to pay attention, she’ll hear one of those special words or detect the jingle of her leash. Besides, she’s busy listening for cats, squirrels, bears and other invaders.

So, I talk to myself. People always say it’s okay as long as you don’t answer yourself. Well, I do answer myself. Right? Right.

I live alone. Maybe that’s part of it. In public, I usually keep my mouth shut. But sometimes, I forget, which causes people to stare at me.

What do I talk about? Everything. Why did my French toast turn out so badly Saturday night? Should have used better bread. What am I going to wear to church this morning? I don’t know. Black pants? Probably.

It’s a constant running commentary. Am I really addressing it to myself though? I wonder about this, just like when I write in my journal and wonder who I’m writing it for? Am I writing to myself? To God? To an invisible confidante?

I do talk to God sometimes. I pray, I chat. But it’s different. I stop and call His name and say what I’ve got to say, then return to regular programming.

I also talk a lot to people who aren’t actually here. Uh-oh, you’re thinking, she’s completely lost it. No, no. I think I’m okay, but I tell people things I wish I could tell them in person if they were here, if they would listen, or if I had the courage.

I’m a writer. I write down my thoughts all the time. I usually speak them as I write, which is a good reason not to write at Starbucks or the library. I’m just constantly verbalizing. Is this nuts? Or is this a good way to work things out in my head?

I found some discussion of the matter online.

  • In this NBC news report, the experts insist talking to oneself is not only normal but good for us—if we do it correctly. Who knew there was a right and a wrong way to talk to oneself?
  • “Talking to Yourself: A Sign of Sanity” by Linda Sapadin, Ph.D., says much the same. Talk to yourself, but watch what you say.
  • And this Lifehack piece insists that those of us who blab to ourselves are smarter and better off for doing it. Ha.
  • But this article on WikiHow gives instructions on how to stop talking to yourself. Now, that’s crazy.

Let’s get back to Annie for a minute. Do you think she talks to herself? Sometimes in the backyard, she barks and barks. I assume she’s either warning off marauding squirrels or trying to connect with the other dogs in the neighborhood, but what if she’s just talking to herself? Or barking because she likes the sound of her own voice? Annie, who are you talking to?

Right now, I’m talking to you, dear reader. Do you talk to yourself? Is it really yourself you’re addressing or someone else? Who? Or should it be whom? Either way, do you think this is a problem? Please comment.

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Dad update: Thank you all for your continuing concern about my father. He has made it through a whole week at the skilled nursing facility without a trip to the hospital. Fingers crossed. I’m back in Oregon and he’s still in the Bay Area, so our only contact is by phone—which kills me—but he sounds better than he has in ages. He still can’t get out of bed on his own, but he’s feeling better, which is something. He could use more visitors. Email or send me a private message on Facebook for details on where he is.

If You’re Going to Curse, Be Creative

Let’s talk about dirty words. I like them, you like them. We all know what they are. I’m going to try not to use them here. Much. I’m not talking about the “clean” dirty words like mud or dust or excrement, which the dictionary defines as “something that soils someone or something.” I’m talking about the real dirty words that start with A, B, F, P and S and the variations on religious words that shouldn’t be said the way some people say them. I’ve said them. I’ve said them all, but I’m trying to quit.

I’ve been a smut-mouth for years. Yes, I’ve mentioned it in Confession and gone out and cussed in the parking lot. But I’ve started paying attention to how it sounds. It’s ugly. Besides, I work at a church. So I’m trying to change my ways.

It’s difficult because the language is everywhere. In movies and on Internet TV shows like “The Ranch” or “Orange is the New Black,” it’s F this and A that and all the other words. The shows are good, but the words get in your head and come out your mouth. You start punctuating every sentence with the F word. Saying BS loud and proud or A-hole. OMG, did we say that out loud? The words slip out, and people stare, even when you say somewhat innocuous words like damn or hell or shit.

Some people think they get away with it by using cheater words, like darn, heck, jeez, sheesh, and dad gummit. Come on, we know what you really mean.

When I was growing up, my mother did not curse, but my dad’s dinner-table language was colorful. As he described his days on construction sites, he used the words. He also talked about dagos, wops, okies, etc. It was a different era.

My best friend’s mom didn’t curse either, but we’d hear her say, “Oh, suuuuuugar!” I grew up in an era when men cursed and nice ladies (except for my Aunt Gen) did not. At least not in public. As a young newspaper reporter, I covered meetings where the men would tell each other to watch their language because there was a lady present. But now everybody seems to use smutty language.

These days, I do my share of cussing, but I’m trying to be creative. I have a master’s degree in creative writing. Surely I can come up with something more original. One of my father’s favorites was “Son of a bitch!” It’s not that bad. A bitch is a mama dog. Nothing bad about a mama dog. It was more the tone, like violence was about to occur (not on people, thank God). “Son of a bitch” is a satisfying mouthful of words. But now I say things like “son of a burger,” “son of a bagel,” “son of a big foot (ew),” “son of a basketball”—sometimes I crack myself up and forget to be mad.

I found this great website that offers 101 substitutes for popular profanities. I’m gonna print these out and try some of them. I don’t think I can say “gee whiz” with a straight face, but “Oh, Foccacia?” That might work.

I grew up where blue language happened all the time. Around my father, I still feel free to say bullshit, hell, damn, asshole, etc. Not the F word or variations thereof; that seems to cross the line. But I’m used to at least the milder cusses.

I didn’t even realize what I was doing until I married a man with children, and he said, “Whoa, not in front of my kids.” What????

What is a dirty word anyway? What makes them dirty? We seem to like bathroom words related to urine, feces, or body parts in the lower regions. We use words about sex, not soft words like making love but hard words like F— or P—y. What makes these bad? Is it really the word or the intention behind it? What do you think?

I think we need to distinguish between vulgarities—the potty and sex words–and the religious words. The Second Commandment tells us not to take God’s name in vain, but our society is so full of it. People say, “God!” all the time. “Oh my God!” “Oh. My. God.” “OMG.” They’re not actually talking to the creator; it’s just words.

Seems like if we’re going to call the All-powerful’s name, we’d better be looking for Him to answer. In times when something major happens, I have said, “Oh my God,” but at that moment, I am looking to connect with Him. I need his help.

When people say, “Jesus Christ!” as an exclamation, it bothers me, especially when they’re not even Christians. Then there’s “Damn it” and its variations. What gives us the right to send people to hell? Only God can do that.

Maybe you don’t believe in God. Fine. Then why are you using His name?

At the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in March, I attended a panel titled “How to Curse on the Page and Get Away with It.” Like most writers, I am wary of getting too blue in my writing for fear of offending people. Sometimes I put the word in, then get nervous and take it out. And yet I want to be authentic. Real people do curse.

The panelists focused on the book On Cussing: Bad Words and Creative Cursing by the late Katherine Dunn (who also wrote Geek Love). While On Cussing includes a history of cursing, it also looks at how writers create characters. What those characters (and people in real life) say tells us a lot about them, about their backgrounds, their attitudes, and their personalities. Language can be used to heighten the tension in a story, saving the profanity until it just has to come out. If the character who never says a dirty word suddenly blurts, “Shit!” you know he’s really upset.

Just like when my very religious mom would shout, “Damn it to hell!” We knew to get out of the way because she was really pissed. Is pissed a dirty word? Oh suuuugar. I’m trying.

Check out this “Cursing Without Cursing” youtube video.

And here is a story about times when cursing is good for you. 

Where do you stand on language? Do you enjoy a good vulgarity or get offended when people use language that used to get our mouths washed out with soap? I welcome your comments.

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Thank you all for your kind words and prayers for me and my father. (See last week’s post). As of this moment, Dad is back at the skilled nursing facility in Los Gatos, California, doing quite well. He’s 97, so nothing is guaranteed, but we do have a moment to breathe and enjoy each other.

Dad’s woes lead me back to San Jose

Dad 43018BRemember those annoying commercials that show an older person on the floor saying, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up?” As kids, we used to make fun of them, but it’s not so funny in real life.

My father, whose 97th birthday is May 1, had been complaining of pain in his back and legs and of feeling more and more tired. On March 29, he had gone to the emergency department at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara, California seeking relief. They gave him extra-strength Tylenol and sent him home. He continued hurting. My brother suggested I come down from Oregon to help.

I thought I would only be gone a few days, but when I arrived at noon on April 3, I found my father in bed, unable to get up. He had run out of steam the afternoon before and had lain there ever since hoping someone would come. He was hungry, thirsty and soaked with urine. It hurt too much to sit up or roll over. I knew in that moment that all my plans for the month were meaningless. I needed to be in San Jose with Dad.

And so it began. I called 911. Paramedics and firefighters gathered in my parents’ bedroom of 70 years and carried my father to Kaiser Hospital. I followed. Part of me was still on the road driving south from Oregon, but now I faced Silicon Valley traffic, a jammed Kaiser parking lot and an emergency department that would become all too familiar.

As of this morning, my father has had five trips to the emergency department, seven ambulance rides, 12 days in the hospital, and five days in a skilled nursing facility, preceded by nine days of me taking care of him at home. We lived in that bedroom with its flowered wallpaper, Mom’s dresser still decorated as it was when she died in 2002, and the silver crucifix hanging over my father’s head. I fed him, cleaned him, and sat into the wee hours talking with him about the old days. But his condition wasn’t getting any better. On Friday, April 12, the pain got so intense he begged me to do something. I called the paramedics again.

The goal all along has been to get Dad out of bed and back to walking with his walker. The doctors—so many doctors—have not figured out the cause of his leg pain. Both legs and one hip have been broken, but he was getting along all right, until he wasn’t. After 13 hours in the ER that Friday, he was transported by ambulance to a skilled nursing facility (SNF) in Los Gatos.

After two days at the SNF, stomach problems led them to send him back to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with an inflamed gallbladder. Because of his age and condition, the doctors refused to do surgery. They gave him antibiotics and installed a tube to drain the bile out of his gallbladder. Soon they were also watching problems with his kidneys and liver and monitoring a cough for fear it would turn into pneumonia. Doctors and social workers kept taking me aside to ask what I wanted to do if it looked like he was dying. They didn’t trust his advanced directive, which says he wants them to do everything possible to keep him alive.

Last Tuesday, Dad was discharged from the hospital back to the SNF. I left for home on Thursday. That night, someone from the SNF woke me up to say they were quarantining dad and testing him for a gastrointestinal infection. By then I was closer to South Beach than to San Jose. I needed to catch up on my bills and see Annie for at least a little while, so I drove on. Saturday morning, they called to say he had tested positive for a very contagious infection called c.diff, and they were sending him back to Kaiser. That’s where he is now. As of yesterday, he seemed to be getting better.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had never called 911. Might he have just passed away in peace? He had no gallbladder symptoms. Some of his pain might have been related to the gallbladder, but not all. Might it have eased on its own? It’s hard to tell. He still can’t get out of bed. Every time he starts physical therapy, something happens to interrupt his progress.

I missed four weeks of this blog. I missed a lot of things, including Easter, the biggest event of the year for church musicians. I missed winter turning to spring here on the Oregon Coast. The trees that were bare when I left are all fluffed out with green leaves now, and the azaleas I thought were dead have begun to bloom. I missed a month of events I’d been looking forward to. I missed my haircut appointment. I traded walks in the woods for walks down the long halls of Kaiser Hospital.

I broke my toe, running into Dad’s walker in the dark, and got a cracked windshield on the Honda, which now has over 122,000 miles on it. A rock hit it on I-5.

It wasn’t all bad. It was warm and sunny in Santa Clara. I spent time with my family. Although I received 11 rejections for my poetry and essays while I was gone, I got one poem accepted and was offered a contract to publish my chapbook. I was in my father’s hospital room when the latter email came through. I’m not sure he understood what I was excited about, but it’s a very good thing.

As the weeks ticked away and every time I thought I could come home, something else went wrong, I knew I was where I was supposed to be, that this time with my father was precious. Life in Oregon would go on without me and I could catch up later.

I will probably have to go back to California soon. The phone will ring again. My father is old, and one problem leads to another. But he’s tough. Don’t count him out yet.

I am grateful for my brother Mike and Aunt Suzanne helping to share the burden. I am grateful for Fran, who came out of retirement to handle the music at Sacred Heart while I was gone, and my singers who carried on. I am grateful for my friend Pat, who gathered my mail and watered my plants, and my neighbor Pat, who gave Annie food and love, mowed my lawns, and generally kept watch over my home. I am grateful for the many, many people who have been praying and offering love on social media. It truly helps.

Before all this happened, I was feeling stuck in my writing, my life, and my faith. Not anymore. God is good, and I am blessed, no matter what craziness happens next. Boy, do I have a lot to write about now.

 

 

AWP–where everybody is a writer

Every year, AWP–Association of Writers & Writing programs–holds the biggest writing conference in the country. For the first time since 1998, it was in Oregon, at the Portland Convention Center, so I had to go. Could I afford it? No. Could I afford the time off from work? No. Was my touchy stomach up to the different diet? No. Do my feet have blisters on their blisters? Yes they do. But I don’t care. It was worth every blister, every $20 bill that went flying out, every frou-frou sandwich with ingredients I couldn’t identify, even worth that mouth-burning hot pepper I thought was a crabapple.

AWP was like a massive party where everyone I’ve ever known in my writing life-from Antioch, Fishtrap, the Tucson Festival of Books, Portuguese writers, Nye Beach Writers, Willamette Writers, my Facebook friends, editors who have rejected my work, editors who have accepted my work, and famous writers on whom I have massive writer-girl crushes—were all in one place. I’m not normally comfortable at parties, but I had found my tribe, and I was high on the love—and way too much iced tea.

I was able to walk up to booths and say “I have a story in that issue,” and have the editors say, “Yes! It’s so great to meet you.” To have young writers call me an inspiration. Me? To get a big hug from a grad school classmate I hadn’t seen in 16 years.

I heard there were 12,000 people there. There were more than 700 exhibits with publishers, editors, writers, and college writing programs selling thousands and thousands of books and giving away pens, candy, postcards, poems, and more. There were approximately 500 panel discussions spread over three days, plus all kinds of “offsite” gatherings. It was not possible to do everything, but I’m so pleased about what I did do. I saw my heroes from Creative Nonfiction. I attended a session led by poet Kwame Dawes. I heard readings by Ilya Kaminsky and Tess Gallagher. I saw Oregon poet laureate Kim Stafford in the parking garage and Luis Alberto Urrea wandering around the bookfair. We were all citizens of Writer World, a place where I finally felt at home.

Many of the attendees were so very young, but we older folks were well represented, too. All races and nationalities attended, including men in dresses and girls who dressed like boys. I saw some wild outfits I can’t believe anyone would wear in public. It amused me that everyone put on what they thought looked good. But never mind. We were all obsessed with words.

Unfortunately, one can’t wander around Writer Land forever, living on fast food out of paper containers. After the conference ended Saturday afternoon, I wandered through the exhibit hall. The tables were empty, and workers were busy rolling up the carpet. Where did my people go? It was time to go forth and tell our stories.

I think I did well coming home with only seven new books, a mug and a hat I bought at the Saturday market from a funky old lady named Anita who makes them by hand from scraps of vintage fabric. I spent Saturday morning walking around the Willamette River, which I could see from my room at the Marriott. I had to keep taking pictures because the view kept changing. Sunrise, sunset, boats, birds, bridges, Mt. Hood. Glorious. Exactly the vacation I needed. WordPress is not letting me post photos right now, but I will.

Unfortunately, my buzz was disrupted by worrisome news about my dad, so now I’m on my way to San Jose when I just want to be that writer girl. It sounds like it’s going to be a tough time. Say a prayer, okay?

And buy some books! With so many writers producing so many books, somebody needs to read them.

 

Remembering my favorite tax man

Fred11306Every muscle cramped from sitting in the same position too long, I hit “send” and looked up from my computer. It was nearly dark. My whole Sunday afternoon was gone. Dinner would be late. But my taxes were done, filed, on their way to the government. I’d get $81 in refunds, not the thousands I had hoped for. On the good side, I didn’t have to pay, and I was fairly sure I hadn’t made any mistakes.

I don’t go to a tax professional. I was married to one. Long before I met him, Fred trained to be a licensed tax preparer to supplement his income from his full-time job with the city of San Jose. He sent his kids out to spread flyers all over the neighborhood, and his neighbors became his first clients. He had a mobile practice, taking his big black case to his clients’ homes. In those pre-computer days, he filled out the forms in pencil and sent them to a company that processed them into printed tax returns. When the returns came back, he made photocopies and delivered them to his clients with big white envelopes to mail them to the Internal Revenue Service and the State of California.

In the ‘80s, he computerized his business, but electronic filing was still in the future. Remember the post office lines on April 15?

After we moved to Oregon, Fred continued to serve his California clients, traveling south in January in his blue Mazda pickup, the back filled with boxes of client files, all on paper, along with his trusty calculator, computer, and dozens of mechanical pencils. He turned a friend’s spare bedroom into his tax office and drove around the San Jose area doing returns at kitchen and dining room tables with clients he had been serving for decades. Working with Fred was much easier than going to an impersonal tax office. Many of his clients were also friends.

I helped by answering the phone, typing in numbers, making copies, and going to the post office. During tax season, Fred worked every waking hour. It took a special person to keep at it and to deal with nervous clients as he wrote down all the numbers and came up with good, bad or horrible news. It was so easy to make a mistake, so difficult to console a client who unexpectedly had to pay a large amount to the IRS, and so frustrating when their accounting system consisted of random papers in a shoe box.

It’s too stressful for me. I could never be a professional tax preparer, although the money is good. Taxes financed some wonderful vacations for us.

Once I started dating Fred, I never had to do my own taxes. I’m better with words than numbers. Fred trained me to write down every expense, keep every receipt, organize them by categories, keep track of mileage, and be ready with the numbers when he asked for them. I got good enough at filling out Schedule C for my “sole proprietor” writing/publishing business that I shared my knowledge in magazine articles for other writers.

When Fred’s Alzheimer’s became apparent, he had to quit doing taxes. The last time he tried to do our return, he made so many errors I wound up sitting at the computer redoing it while he stood over my shoulder questioning every entry. It was a horrible afternoon. The tax man couldn’t even do his own taxes anymore. Luckily, I had learned a few things.

The year after he died (April 23, 2011, right after tax season), I went to H & R Block, but they didn’t do anything I couldn’t have done myself, and it cost me $550.

No thanks. Fred used Turbotax for some of his clients, and that’s what I use now. It guides me through each entry and checks everything for errors. As organized as I think I am, I still have to scramble for information. What did I pay for the car registration? Where did I put that donation for music scholarships? How much interest did I earn from the credit union? Why is it saying I owe money? Damned government. Eventually it all falls into place. I hit “send” and take the dog for a much-needed walk, breathing in the crisp spring air, admiring the trillium blossoms that have just popped up beside the road, and forgetting about taxes for another year.

It makes sense that the tax deadline falls during Lent. It’s a good season to suffer.

The deadline is three weeks away. Have you done your taxes yet? Do you go to a professional or do it yourself? Do you know there are volunteers at the senior centers who can help you? Are you worried about how the numbers will turn out? Let’s talk taxes in the comments.

Now we know the smoke alarm works

Pellet Stove 12518BIt happened Saturday night. I was lolling on the love seat watching a video (McLeod’s Daughters, an Australian series on Amazon Prime that I can’t stop watching). I smelled smoke, but the pellet stove was offering nice orange warmth beside me, so that’s not so weird. Suddenly sparks flew past me like shooting stars. My eyes are a little freaky, with lots of floaters, so maybe it was nothing. I glanced at the stove. Yikes!

Flames were coming out where there shouldn’t have been flames, out the air holes at the top of the stove. Smoke gushed upward as the kitchen smoke alarm started wailing. My show had just reached a critical moment, but forget that. What should I do? Fire extinguisher? Ancient, and it would ruin the stove if it worked. Water? Probably not the right thing. I turned the stove off, unplugged it, and threw open the sliding door. The fire subsided. Whew.

Annie had been sleeping in front of the pellet stove. A spark fell on her leg. I screamed and brushed it off. She ran outside. If the fire hadn’t gone out on its own, if it had caught the carpet on fire, I guess I would have been running, too, standing outside barefoot in my grubby clothes holding the nearest guitar, my purse, and my trembling dog. Where was my cell phone? Probably plugged in with a nearly dead battery.

(Now don’t anybody tell my father about any of this, okay? He’s phobic about fire, and would lose his mind.)

Okay. So the fire was out. Time to assess the damage. I burned my thumb and index finger grabbing the hot rod that’s supposed to help clean out the ash, but was otherwise uninjured. Annie was fine. There were numerous black marks on the ratty mauve carpet where burning pellets had landed. The whole house reeked of smoke. But we were all right. I couldn’t sleep, so I cleaned out the pellet stove, making sure all remaining pellets were in the hopper where they were supposed to be. I didn’t turn it on though. What if it caught fire again while I was asleep?

I had to be gone most of Sunday. In the morning, I turned the stove on low, figuring I could watch it while I was getting ready. It seemed fine. But all day, I wondered if my house would still be there when I returned.

Our Willamette Writers meeting yesterday afternoon was at the Newport Library, where a display about emergency preparedness sits near the stairs. “Are you prepared?” the sign asks. Well, sort of. If I die, all the paperwork is in place for my brother to take care of my “estate.” If the tsunami comes, I’m above the danger level. I usually have some canned food hanging around, and my uber-prepared neighbors have assured me Annie and I can hang out at their house while Lincoln County sorts out its electricity, water, etc. But what if the reality is much worse than what I describe in my Up Beaver Creek novel? What if everything is just gone?

I do not have an emergency bag ready to go. I giggle remembering the E-kits we girls were required to have in our lockers at Blackford High School. I don’t remember what all it contained now beyond deodorant, sanitary napkins and pins. Maybe a needle and thread for clothing emergencies. This is different.

Last fall, I listened in horror to the news reports from California about Paradise and other communities where wildfires consumed thousands of homes. Most people had a little warning, but some had no time to pack, and some didn’t make it out alive.  With all the fires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes that have happened in the last year, it’s obvious we all need to think about what we would do.

If my fire had spread beyond the pellet stove, I would have had virtually no time. My classical guitar, my favorite, was close, as was my purse. I’d want my laptop, which was at the other end of the house. What about my unpaid bills and my financial records? I couldn’t carry a whole file cabinet. What about the photos stored in albums and on the hard drive of my desktop computer? What about clothes? Jewelry? Shoot, I don’t go away for a weekend without taking half my possessions with me.

While I was at church yesterday, I wondered if I would have to wear my St. Patrick’s Day green sweater for weeks if all my other clothes burned.

What about my pills? I’d be in trouble without them.

If I was home, I’d need to get the car out immediately. If the garage door opener didn’t work, I’d have to figure out how to disconnect it. I’ve done it before, but I don’t remember. I think I needed a ladder.

What if everything was suddenly gone? No backsies. Look, Marie Kondo, guru of cleaning out clutter, I’ve gotten rid of everything. For so many people, this is not funny because it has really happened. I was not prepared. I was lucky.

This time.

This Napoleon pellet stove insert is a lemon on the order of the bright yellow 1974 VW Rabbit I drove while I was living in Pacifica in the ‘80s. It was in the shop more than on the road, and I sold it before I paid off the loan. The poor fool who bought it took it to San Francisco for a test drive. He called to say he’d parked and turned it off, and now it wouldn’t start. I’d warned him the starter was bad. He still bought it! Yeah, it’s that kind of pellet stove. If it weren’t two months past its warranty, I’d demand a refund and/or a different source of heat. But if I keep the pellets where they belong, it should be safe enough.

Meanwhile, I think I need to start packing my emergency kit. Nobody knows what will happen or when. I have been ignoring that library display for too long.

The Red Cross offers a list of supplies to have on hand and a quiz to see how well you’re prepared at https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/survival-kit-supplies.html.

Here’s another resource: https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit

If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can buy an emergency preparedness kit at amazon.com. They really do have everything.

Are you prepared? Want to join me in getting our act together? Let’s do it.

Annie says, hey don’t forget my Milk-Bones.