The stories this old blue stool could tell

IMG_20180302_085515703_HDR[1]Sitting on my loveseat snuggling with Annie, I notice the blue stool sitting by the window near the piano. It’s all wood, a perfect height for playing my guitar—although last night I played Bach and Hayden sitting on the floor and now my back hurts. I have had that stool since 1974. My first husband Jim’s mother gave us that one and its twin for our newlywed apartment. The stools were orange then. Perched by our kitchen counter, they matched the orange “love” hanging I put up in the kitchen and the orange lamp an aunt gave to me. I probably sat on them when I talked on the orange wall phone hanging nearby. It was 1974. Orange was in.

I’m not sure how I got the stools in the divorce. They came from Jim’s mother, and we divided things along family lines. But I took them. It’s possible my friend Arley and my brother didn’t know they weren’t supposed to go with me and just loaded them in their vans. It’s also possible Jim didn’t care what I took. He wasn’t around when I packed up, taking all the bedroom furniture, leaving him nothing but a pile of blankets and clothing and the busted-up wicker hamper. I took the yellow Formica kitchen table, too. What came from my parents’ house went back to my parents’ house. We weren’t married long enough to acquire furniture together, and I was too broken-hearted to be generous.

Did I take both stools? I don’t remember. I only have one now. I have a vague memory of the other one being broken, but was that after the divorce or before? Let’s say before.

The thing I remember most is trying to strip off the orange with some kind of chemical in my parents’ patio. For some reason, I suddenly hated the color orange. I planned to repaint the stool with blue spray paint. The paint-stripping chemical just made bubbles in the paint. I tried sanding it by hand, making minimal progress. I worked at it for hours. Then my father took pity on me. He brought out his electric sander and de-oranged that stool in a hurry. He showed me how to spray on the paint, and voila, I had a blue stool. It’s a rich color-crayon blue that has lasted almost 40 years, through 10 different homes. Even now, its blueness feels like a victory, me claiming my own color, my own life.

The stool came in handy in my Pacifica post-divorce apartment, where the main furnishings in my living room were a desk and a beanbag chair. I used an upside box for an end table.

The stool went into storage when I left to sing with the Billy Vogue Country Singers and came out again when I got another apartment in San Jose, just before I married Fred. After that? I probably used it at the counter in the house on Madison Drive. But where was it on Safari Drive? Where was it in in Lincoln City, in Newport? It’s scary that I don’t know. It’s like I can only access the memories I knit into stories or poems.

After we bought this house in South Beach, the stool became a nightstand in the guest room. I bought a blue lamp to match. When I slept in there after Fred got sick, the stool held my clock, notepad, water, and pills. I no longer saw it as something to sit on. Nor did I seriously consider buying an actual nightstand.

The stool stayed in the bedroom until a few months ago. My back had gotten persnickety. Everywhere I sat to play my guitar was too soft or the wrong height. After pricing stools made for guitar playing (expensive!), I realized I already had the perfect stool pretending to be a nightstand. I traded a TV tray for it.

Now the stool sits by the front window, its blueness clashing with the green and mauve décor chosen by the previous owners. Sometimes I sit on it to play guitar. Sometimes I perch on it to look out the window, feeling the cool air that sneaks in despite the double panes of glass. Sometimes I pile music books on top of it, then scold myself and remove them. The stool is for sitting.

Is a stool just for sitting? Can’t it also be a table, a shelf, a symbol or a work of art? This one has lived so many lives, outlived so many people. I haven’t seen Jim since 1981. His parents are both long gone. So is my mother. So are Fred and his parents. The cats that used the stool to jump from the chair to the counter back in that apartment on Vermont Street crossed the rainbow bridge long ago.

Jim is still going, as are Arley and Mike, my movers back in the days when you could fit all of my possessions into two vans. Dad is hanging on at 95. Do any of them remember the stool? I doubt it. But it’s still here, calling me to come sit and play.

Do you have things that have stayed with you a lifetime, that have meaning a person can’t see by just looking at them? Please share.


Technology takes away our surprises

IMG_20180223_084948404[1]Nothing surprises us anymore. Not so many years ago, when the phone rang we had no idea who was calling. There were no displays, no numbers flashing on a screen, just the cold hard plastic phone. We picked up the receiver and said, “Hello?” a question in our voices. Family, friend, colleague or stranger, we had no idea. If we didn’t answer the phone, we would never know, especially back before answering machines and voicemail. In fact, if we weren’t around to hear the phone ring, we would never know that it had. Does the phone still ring if there’s no one to hear it?

It was up to the caller to identify him/herself. I have always been chicken about cold-calling strangers. But now the phone identifies me before I have a chance. For example, I call my friend Pat’s house, and before I can spit out, “Hi, this is Sue,” her husband John says, “Hi, Sue. How are you?”

This can be good and bad. Back in my newspaper days, we didn’t always want people to know the press was calling. Sometimes we could get more information if we pretended to be ordinary people. Now the phone blows our cover. You’d be surprised how many people with seemingly nothing to hide don’t want to talk to reporters.

I have five landline phones, two with caller ID. I will run through the house to my office or kitchen to see who’s calling before I pick up the receiver. Caller ID may not give a name, but at least I have a phone number with an area code that tells me where the call is coming from. Newport? Okay. Florida? I don’t know anybody there. San Jose, where my father lives? Uh-oh. And then there’s “anonymous,” which 99 percent of the time is Dad.

Once I see who it is or might be, I have a choice: Answer it or not. If I’m not around the phone when it rings, I can still see who called, even if they don’t leave a message, so I can always deal with it later.

My cell phone also tells me who is calling. I can look and say, “Hello” or nope, don’t want to talk to them. Or I can tell yet another stranger that this is not the Sanchez family. I guess they had the number before I got it.

The only hiccup in this system comes from robocalls. Those clever robots have figured out how to call me with what appear to be local numbers. I look at the number, see South Beach or Newport and think: I don’t know that number, but it’s local, so I should answer it. It might be a friend or someone from church. “Hello?” Here comes that chirpy voice wanting to offer me a new credit card or a resort vacation. Grr.

The other night when I called my father, he didn’t answer the phone. This always scares me. While I leave a message and wait for him to not call back (he rarely notices the blinking red light), I go through the litany of possibilities: He’s in the bathroom, he’s outside, he’s talking on the cell phone, someone took him out to dinner, or maybe he’s lying on the floor and nobody will see him for days. If you have elderly parents, you know the drill.

But Wednesday night, he called me back. He said my call was the seventh that evening. The others were all salespeople, but he had to answer them because he didn’t know who it was. By number seven, he had decided to ignore the phone and finish washing his dishes.

Dad does not have caller ID. He has barely graduated from dial phones to push buttons. Plus Caller ID costs a few more dollars. Yes, I put his number on the “do not call list,” but the calls come anyway. My father still lives in the age of surprises. His cell phone will tell him who’s calling, but in letters and numbers too small for him to see. The landlines in the kitchen and bedroom tell him nothing. This drives me crazy because I’m not used to surprises anymore.

The phone isn’t the only non-surprise these days. For example:

* I get an email every day from the postal service showing me pictures of the envelopes that will be delivered to my mailbox. Today it’s a charity plea from the National Parks Conservation Association, plus the local newspaper. If you want this service, sign up at

* When I submit stories or poems to publishers, I immediately get an email that they have arrived. Sometimes a rejection shows up the same day. Before online submissions, I had at least a few days of suspense while the work was traveling through the mail.

* If I go out to lunch and use my debit card, the charge appears on my online bank statement before I get home.

* We don’t have to wait for the morning paper anymore to know about the latest shooting or presidential tweet. It’s on our phones, pads and computers. I have to avoid the Internet if I don’t want to know who won “Dancing with the Stars” or any competition that has already aired on the East Coast because the results go online before we can watch the show on the West Coast.

Sort of like my mother’s mother, who could never keep a secret.

No surprises. That’s kind of sad.

I welcome your comments.

Copyright 2018 Sue Fagalde Lick

And they poured out their joy in song

She looked a little dowdy in her white Salvation Army shirt and blue skirt. Her guitar was too loud as she strummed it in plain down-strokes, but oh the joy in her face as she closed her eyes, smiled, and sang of her love for God in a clear, high voice that could have been an angel’s. Her name was Corrin. Her husband Nathan, a fuzzy-faced man also in Salvation Army garb, sang along behind me. The Holy Spirit was there, I swear.

Corrin was one of several acts at the Christian music festival and potluck held Saturday at First Presbyterian in Newport as a benefit for Inter-Christian Outreach. I was the opening act because I had to scoot to Sacred Heart to play piano for the 5:00 Mass. Like Corrine, I played alone. Getting our choir together for Mass is challenge enough; with their busy schedules, an extra performance requiring extra practices was not going to happen.

I played guitar and sang “Pescador de Hombres (Lord You have Come)” and “Alleluia! Give the Glory.” My voice was better at the dress rehearsal. My throat felt dry after the long wait for the show to begin. But it was all right. Used to singing from the corner or at the piano, I stood up on that polished wood altar in front of the fancy organ, the grand piano, and all kinds of sound equipment facing an audience of mostly Protestants and represented the Catholics. The words to the refrains for my songs appeared on giant screens behind me, and people sang along. We didn’t have as much of a crowd as I had hoped. The other performers made up most of the audience, but we all sang and shared the joy.

I introduced the next act, the group from Newport Christian Church, some of whom I knew from the monthly South Beach open mic. They had fiddle, bass, and guitar. Two women sang harmony in the middle. A tall barefoot woman sat on a box drum and kept the beat. None of them dressed up, but they led with a prayer and finished their songs with heartfelt amens. They were good. Tight. In tune. Filled with grace.

Even better was the group from First Baptist. Such harmony! They had several guitars, a young man on a box drum and another man on the piano. They sang without sheet music, one of the altos often raising her hand toward heaven. I didn’t know the songs, but I found myself singing along anyway.

Then came Corrin, followed by First Baptist’s Hispanic group, all dressed up in red and black, including a little girl who played a massive white tambourine. They had guitar and piano, too, with one man and five women singing. Their sound was a little shrill, but they too seemed to be filled with joy, the older woman closing her eyes as she sang.

As I left to play at my own church, four girls in flowy white costumes did a liturgical dance. I knew a collection and a sing-along would follow. Then folks would adjourn to the hall where plates of cookies, vegetables and fruit awaited.

It was warm at First Pres. I was sweating under Mom’s teal sweater and shaking a little as I snuck out with my ratty duct-taped guitar case, breathed in the cool air, and drove to Sacred Heart. As I put up the song numbers, Father Palmer sat in the back room hearing confessions. Gregorian chant played through the speakers.

Catholics are different. They are not comfortable showing their faith or talking about it outside of church. We don’t know the same songs the Protestants share. We do chants and our “services” are the same every time. We don’t do Christian rock songs that go on for 10 minutes. They don’t fit into the liturgy, and in Fr. Palmer’s view, they’re not appropriate. There’s comfort in the familiar routine; we always know what to expect, but sometimes I worry that we’re lacking the joy I saw in the others at the concert.

SB open mic 7917CThat joy doesn’t exist just in church. Yesterday we had our monthly open mic and jam session at the South Beach Community Center. A friend  of mine who tried it last month declared it too noisy, but I loved it. This month, we had two mandolins, a ukulele, a cello, two fiddles, three guitars and a saxophone. Renae Richmond, who announced her retirement as our leader, traded among her mandolin, flute and harmonica. We all sang and played on everything we could. Sometimes it came together beautifully. Sometimes it was just a joyful noise, not always in tune or in time but full out. My fingers and my strumming arm are weary. My vocal cords, too, but it doesn’t matter.

We sat in a circle around the green rug in the center of the hardwood dance floor. Spencer, the Beckers’ dachshund, visited everyone then dozed at Randy’s feet. We sang bluegrass, Jackson Browne, Keb Mo, Rod McKuen, a jazzy “Summertime,” old-time fiddle tunes, an original, “Worried Man Blues” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” It was raucous and wonderful. It didn’t matter if you screwed up. In fact, it was almost required.

Some of us just met while others have known each other since the turn of the 21st century. People have died, babies have been born, and marriages have begun and ended. We just keep playing. It’s never the same two jams in a row, and that’s the glory of it. Like a big soup into which you add whatever you have, whether it’s delicious or so-so, you can’t quite duplicate it ever again.

The South Beach jam takes place on the second Sunday of the month from 2 to 5 p.m. at the South Beach Community Center on Ferry Slip Road across from Pirate’s Plunder.

To find out more about Inter-Christian Outreach, click



Don’t be afraid to sing. Whatever voice you have, it’s the one God gave you, so to Him, it’s beautiful.


Copyright 2018 Sue Fagalde Lick 



This old lady watched the Super Bowl

I watched the Super Bowl yesterday. Yeah, so? Didn’t everybody? No.

I don’t usually spend my Sundays watching football. I’m busy playing music, doing chores, walking the dog, napping or . . . well, anything. I don’t do football. I have never been to a professional football game. Gasp. But in recent years, I watch the Super Bowl.

I watch for the commercials, the halftime show, and yes, the game. Now. Thanks to my late husband Fred.

I didn’t grow up watching football. My father didn’t show any interest at all. My mother listened to Giants baseball on the radio, but on Sundays after church, we didn’t settle in front of the TV to watch a bunch of big men chase a little ball. We did yard work, we visited relatives, or we “went for a ride” to the beach, mountains, or a lake. We did not sit in front of the TV.

My first husband wasn’t into team sports either. He preferred hunting, fishing, or hiking. Plus, in our poverty-stricken life, we couldn’t afford a TV.

But Fred was different. He was, how shall I put this, a fanatic. He had played in high school and junior college, and he grew up watching the games live or on TV with his mom, dad and brothers. Throughout our marriage, he watched college games on Saturday, pros on Sunday, and Monday night football. Born in Los Angeles, he rooted for Southern California teams, especially the University of Southern California Trojans and the Rams, sticking with the latter even after they moved to St. Louis. The Raiders got some attention, too. But if they weren’t on, he would watch any team play anywhere.

A few weeks after our first date, back in 1984, Fred took me to a Super Bowl party. I didn’t know our hosts. I didn’t understand the game. Longest four hours of my life. But if you’re a football wife, you learn to appreciate the game. You start watching the schedule to know when he’ll be glued to the TV. You start figuring out the rules so you can follow what the commentators are babbling about. You understand that you can either join him or amuse yourself. It doesn’t matter as long as you don’t talk or block the TV screen.

Normally a quiet man, Fred would get loud watching football. I would hear him shouting, “Go, go, go!” or “No! Damn it! You idiots!” He’d pound the arms of his easy chair in frustration and pout if his teams lost.

The TV sits pretty quiet on Sundays now, but not yesterday. I watched the New England-Philadelphia Super Bowl game from before the kickoff to the awarding of the Vince Lombardi Trophy. I ate my dinner—salad, pasta and turkey meatballs–on a card table in the den. I was in such a hurry to cook the pasta that I opened the bag too fast and spilled “wagon wheels” all over the floor. For Annie, it was like a piñata bursting. Crunchy treats everywhere. Not good for her, I know, but she beat me to them and the commercials were almost over.

I didn’t just watch the game. There’s a lot of time between plays. A football minute lasts forever. They can even stop the clock for a timeout. If only we could do that in real life. I washed, dried and folded three loads of laundry, updated the chemicals in the hot tub, and sorted through a stack of old sheet music, playing a lot of it on my guitar. But I wore Fred’s old blue Ram’s shirt and found myself shouting, “Go! Go! Go!” and “No! I don’t believe it!” I even pounded the table a little.

I rooted for New England. I didn’t really care, but my friend Pat and my grandfather both came from Massachusetts, so why not? By halftime, I did care. They almost won, didn’t they?

The Super Bowl is more suspenseful than the Hallmark movie I could have watched on the Lifetime channel. Plus I was part of the collective consciousness, watching the same thing people were watching all over the country. When the Eagles sacked Tom Brady and grabbed the football, if you listened real hard, you could heard cheers and gasps all across the United States. I like being part of that.

There was no Super Bowl until I was 13 years old. What did the NFL do at the end of the season before that? I have no idea. Perhaps you readers could enlighten me.

Maybe someday I’ll even join or host a Super Bowl party. I’ll put on the regalia, eat the nachos and drink the beer. Or not. But yes, I watched the Super Bowl. Fred would be proud.

How did your Super Bowl Sunday go? Did you go all football crazy or ignore the whole thing?


When you’re all alone, take a ‘selfie’!

Sue selfie Jan 2018Let’s talk about photographs. Of ourselves.

I recently got my picture taken for the church directory. This ponytailed kid young enough to be my grandson put me through all the poses he’d been instructed to use for women: sit, stand, tilt your head, smile. Afterward, he took me into the other room for the big sales pitch. These guys don’t make their money on church directories. They make their money selling photo packages for the folks to give to their friends and families. The sample photos all showed happy couples and moms and dads with their kids, no singles like me.

I wasn’t planning to buy any fancy framed photos. Four years ago, I bought a CD containing all the shots and used them as author publicity photos. I thought I might do that again if the pictures were good. Just in case, I got my hair cut and put on eyeliner and my mother’s blue scarf. But I hated this year’s pictures. My smile was fake, and I never realized I had so many wrinkles.

The photographer insisted on flipping through the options anyway. I felt like I was at the eye doctor: which do you like better, 1 or 2, 3 or 4? None. I picked the least obnoxious shot for the directory.

“Don’t you want to give copies to your children and grandchildren?” he asked.

“I don’t have any,” I said.

“Oh!” Apparently it never occurred to him that someone my age might not have anyone who was interested in putting her picture on display. It’s one of those things people who are not alone don’t think about.

I don’t get my photo taken very often. Not a single picture of me was taken at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I received Christmas cards full of photos of kids, dogs, and retired couples on cruises, the same stuff I see on Facebook. But I had no pictures to send.

I’d be invisible but for selfies, pictures I take of myself, and I’m terrible at them. If I manage to get my whole face in the picture, it shows my frustration or it’s at such a weird angle that I delete it right away. Once in a while when I’m dressed up and feeling attractive, I’ll try again. Sometimes I succeed. My new Facebook profile photo is the latest effort. Was my nose always so big? Don’t answer that.

I prefer to pretend I’m gorgeous and 25 years old. A little self-delusion is healthy.

Sitting on my desk waiting to be scanned are two of my parents’ photo albums from the early days of their marriage. I love going through them, seeing how young and attractive they were, studying pictures of my brother and myself as we grew up. Mom and Dad documented everything with their old-fashioned box cameras, shooting eight or twelve pictures to a roll in black and white, saving the prints in their albums. Most of the pictures look as good now as they did 60 years ago. I don’t know what will happen with today’s digital photos stored in our computers.

But I’m straying off course. As a widow with no kids, I have no one to be photographed by or to take pictures of. Nor do I have someone to inherit the photos when I die. My selfies are a temporary fix.

What is the purpose of “selfies” anyway? Although some of my Facebook friends seem to post new selfies every day (Ego? A need for FB friends to compliment them?), it seems like most people use them to shoot pictures of themselves with someone else. It’s like those old-time photo booths you can still find at theme parks, where two people squeeze in and make goofy faces at the camera. Now, one person holds up the cell phone, they get close together and make goofy faces.

If my parents had had “selfies,” maybe there wouldn’t be so many pictures of my mother standing alone in front of a monument or a tree or a museum. She and Dad would both be standing in front of the monument or tree or museum.

Cell phone selfies, a 21st century phenomenon, are not the first instance of people photographing themselves. Ever since we had cameras, people have been devising ways to run around in front and get themselves in the picture. I tried putting the camera on a tripod, setting the timer and dashing around to pose. The pictures were always awful. There’s also the mirror method, in which you point your camera at your reflection in a mirror, but they always show a camera in your face and your features come out backward. Only recently have we had cameras designed to turn the lens on ourselves. The cameras are embedded in our cell phones, tablets and laptop computers.

“Selfie” is a relatively new word. The rumor is it came from an Australian guy who bashed his lip and took a picture of it to post online. He called it a “selfie.” The word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. I keep thinking that grammatically, it should be spelled selfy. How do you conjugate that thing? To selfie? selfying, selfied, had selfied?

I hate staring at myself while taking a selfie. I look ugly. Why does my mouth move so weird? Why don’t the sides of my hair ever match? The old way of getting your picture taken and not seeing the results for at least a week had some definite advantages.

I need to work on my selfie technique. I found some good advice online: Avoid shadows, use natural light, hold the camera at your eye level, don’t over-pose, and feel free to edit the picture—but not too much. Chin down, tilt head slightly just like that church photographer told me to do. Actually just like every photographer my whole life has told me to do. Here’s another new word: Smize. It’s when you smile with your eyes while keeping your lips and teeth neutral. It’s supposed to be sexy. When I try it, I see a bad case of RBF, resting bitch face.

My selfie technique needs work, but if I want a picture of myself, rather than going to the young punks who want to charge me hundreds of dollars for the privilege, I’ll hold up my cell phone, strike a pose and do it myself-ie.

I found a YouTube video on how to take a perfect selfie. Well sure, with her face . . .

Here are some other links about the selfie phenomenon:

“How to take a good selfie: 12 selfie tips to consider”

“History of the Selfie: a Photo Phenomenon” 

“Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie” 

Do you take selfies? Alone or with others? When? Why? How do they turn out? Do you have any advice or special techniques to share? Feel free to share your own selfies, the good ones or the embarrassing ones.



Psst! Wanna read a novel that’s not out yet?

I’m doing something that really scares me. I’m inviting people to be “beta readers” for my unpublished novel, Up Beaver Creek.

The experts say that’s the thing to do before you independently publish. So I’m sending out copies and asking people for their honest answers to questions about the book, things like: Do you like the title? Can you identify with the main character? Do you get confused or bored? Have I got the setting right? Do the events that happen sound real? This story takes place on the Oregon coast, and I live in fear that my fellow Oregonians will tell me I’ve got it all wrong.

The thing is, I feel done with the book. I put it through the critique group wringer, rewrote it several times, pitched it all over hell and gone, and I’m more than ready to have it out in the world. With today’s technology and Amazon’s Createspace, I could make that a reality this week. But the experts say I need to get feedback and do a final rewrite first. What if I don’t want to know? Too bad.

Writing is a crazy business. If I were a plumber, I wouldn’t invite people to come look at my work and tell me whether or not they like how I did it. Unless the pipes burst or the sink overflowed, I’d pack up my tools, collect my money, and never look back.

Being a newspaper reporter was a little that way, too. You write it, turn it in, and move on. Once in a while, someone might object or you might get special praise for a particularly good story, but in general, I just moved on to the next assignment.

But in this book biz, your work is forever being analyzed, reviewed and criticized. You revise, revise, and revise again. Before you publish, you do your best to make sure it’s as close to perfect as possible. I’m not just talking about typos, although every single one is an embarrassment. No, I mean the whole story overall. Does it make sense? Will the reader finish thinking, “Huh?” “That was lame,” or “Wow, that was good”? We want the latter, of course.

Your family and friends will usually tell you it’s wonderful, even if it isn’t. Hence, the beta readers. The name comes from the high-tech world where programmers release a beta version of a new program to outside people who will test it. The alpha version could be compared to the first draft, which the programmers test in-house.

I could still use a few more readers. It’s a novel, a light-hearted one which should be fun to read. The questions are not difficult. Beta readers will receive a finished copy of the paperback and their names will be listed in the acknowledgements. If you’re interested, click on for the enrollment form. To read an excerpt from the book, click on

This is a lot like letting people see me without makeup. Or maybe more like inviting strangers to comment on my face. No way! But a book is just words. They can be changed.

Thank you for being here. I welcome your comments.



Ding-Dong, the Pellet Stove is Dead

45f2e-dscn3711Let’s talk about heat. I didn’t think too much about it growing up in San Jose. The old-time gas heater embedded in the floor between the living room and the hall poured out sufficient heat to keep us warm in our three-bedroom tract house. It was also a great place to spy on the grownups because we kids could look through the grill from the hall and see what was going on, especially on Mom’s canasta club nights. The only drawback was our marbles falling through the grate and into the depths when we were shooting them across the brown tweed carpet. Bang, rattle, rattle. Quick, get it out before Dad catches us.

No, we didn’t think much about heat. The outside temperature stayed above 70 degrees most of the time, and it rarely rained. The heater would come on with a gentle whuff, and all was well. Deep inside, the blue flame of the pilot light kept burning. Almost 70 years later, it still works. The fireplace, also a trap for errant marbles, was mainly for entertainment, not for warmth. It hasn’t been lit since the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.

In San Jose, we thought more about avoiding heat. The temperature crept into the 80s, 90s and 100s from late spring through fall, but ours was a low-tech house. Air conditioning? Open a window. Turn on a fan. (Don’t touch the fan, it will cut your hand off.) That old house with its minimal insulation soaked in the heat. Still does. When I walked in last summer to visit my father, it was so hot I wanted to walk right back out. The only place I could find any relief was on the front porch, and even that was relative. At night, I’d sleep uncovered and backwards, feet on the pillow, trying to get my head as close to the window as possible. My hair almost touching the dusty screen, I was still sweating.

But here on the Oregon coast, heat is an issue, not like in the places where houses and cars are buried in snow. I don’t know how folks in the Midwest and East Coast stand it. Our temperature is more chilly than cold, I guess, miserable, but not life-threatening. When I woke up this morning, it was 46 outside and 62 inside. No big deal, just turn on the heater, right? Ah, but in the forest where I live, heating is funky. Natural gas lines do not reach this far, and few houses have whole-house heating systems. Or cooling systems, as if we ever need that. We have baseboard heaters, cadet heaters, plug-in portable heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces, and pellet stoves. Most houses, including mine, have firewood stacked high and deep for the winter. Shops selling pellets have a hard time keeping them in stock.

With all of these heat sources, a body has to think about heat. Chop the wood, light the fire, fill the pellet stove, turn it on, clean it out, buy more pellets. Turn on the little heaters or not? Don’t forget to turn them off lest you burn the house down. We think about heat all the time. We turn on NPR in the morning, listen to the weather report and groan.

I’ve got five different thermometers in the house, one of them an indoor-outdoor one. I’m constantly checking. Is it warm enough inside? Should I turn something on or off? How cold is it outside? Do I need a coat and gloves or just a hoodie? Dare I sit out on the deck and read my book? Is it going to freeze? Should I cover my pipes? Will I be able to drive to church or the store if there’s ice on the road?

Heat. For years, I have been posting about and cursing about my pellet stove. Yesterday, a repairman declared the old Quadra-Fire dead. Unplugged forever. May it rest in peace, amen. How many hours have I stood in front of that thing reading, writing, thinking, playing my guitar, or gazing out the window, usually with my feet straddling the dog. I singed the back of my old bathrobe getting too close. If I could add up all the time I’ve spent feeding it and cleaning out ashes and half-burnt pellets, it would probably come out to a couple of weeks. If I added up all the time I have spent waiting for repairmen to fix it, it’s probably a year. But now that it’s done for, I’m sad. Forever hopeful, I had just bought 15 bags of pellets and given the stove a name: Charlie. I probably jinxed it.

When Kevin from Airrow Heating pulled it apart yesterday, he exposed the ruined heat exchange mechanism as well as an information panel that said the stove was installed in 1992, six years before Fred and I bought the house. Twenty-five years and change, a longer-than-average lifespan for a pellet stove.

I have ordered a new one, opting to stick with the devil I know rather than try a different system. It’s coming a week from Thursday. It’s going to cost far more than I can afford. I’m going to be doing some fancy financial footwork for a while. A miracle infusion of cash would be helpful.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a patchwork of little heaters that make it almost warm enough. My body is adapting. Right now I’m overly warm in my bathrobe, and my office thermometer says it’s 62 degrees in here. At a jam session Sunday night, I got so hot I had to strip down to my tee shirt.

Am I doing the right thing ordering another pellet stove? I don’t know. But I will never take heat for granted again.