I missed the BIG Oregon Coast storm

It’s raining sideways. I’m not even dressed yet and we have already had thunder and hail. The weather guys are predicting high winds through tomorrow and rain for the foreseeable future. Apparently the Oregon Coast has not gotten the word that it’s spring.

A little over a week ago, I was in San Jose, California with my father. I experienced rain and wind most of the trip down, but it felt as if the weather stopped at the Santa Clara County line. No rain in San Jose. The clouds threatened to break loose, but they didn’t until just before I left and then only a few reluctant drops. 

Shortly after I arrived, I got online and discovered that I had made it out of South Beach just in time. A huge storm had walloped the coast, not only with rain and gale-force winds but snow. I wasn’t here to see it, but we had six inches in our yards. Six inches at the beach! Insane. Schools were closed, events cancelled. Electricity, Cable TV and Internet connections went down. People were stuck on on Cape Foulweather for hours. Some had to abandon their cars overnight. All the roads out of here were closed by snow and fallen trees. I could not have gotten out if I left a day later. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Was my house okay? Were my trees down? I would have to wait a week to find out.

After lots of Dad time and a visit to my brother’s house near Yosemite, I drove home through sun, then snow, then rain, determined to get as far as I could the first day. I white-knuckled it over the Siskyou Pass, where the snow made it hard to see but the road was still clear. I assumed that I once I hit lower ground, the snow would be history. But in Medford, where I stopped for the night, it was snowing hard as I checked in and went to dinner at the Black Bear restaurant next to the Best Western (nice place, but don’t order the stuffed chicken).

By morning, the weather had turned to rain. It dogged me all the way home. On the coast, trees and pieces of trees littered the roadsides. New cuts on the branches showed where workers had chainsawed them enough to let traffic go by.  As I turned onto my street, I saw that a fallen tree at the corner blocked half the road, leaving just enough room to pass. I held my breath as I approached the end of the block, then let it out in relief My yellow house was still standing, its gutters a little more bent, but the roof and walls intact.

My neighbor rushed out to greet me. “You missed it,” he said. He told me how he lay awake listening to trees snapping and falling all night. A huge branch just missed his house. He spent all day cleaning up his yard.

Branches hung limp from my 10-foot-tall juniper hedge, broken from the weight of the snow. My hebe bush hung out over the sidewalk, and sections of my rosemary bush lay on the ground. My daffodils had wilted, their one bloom in shreds. But my blue hydrangeas, on their way to blooming, looked fine. Inside, the house was cold, but otherwise as I left it. Out back, small branches covered the lawn. Annie would have lots to play with. The hot tub cover had sailed across the yard, the wind tearing its straps right off. But overall, things were okay.

As rain pattered on the skylights above my kitchen, I knew that it would soon feel as if I never left. And now, with today’s rain and wind, I feel right at home.

California trip renews old memories

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I have just returned from a trip to San Jose, California to visit my father. It was a journey through two lifetimes of memories, mine and my dad’s. Now that I’m home, I’m still trying to believe that my long-awaited trip has come and gone.
My father, Ed Fagalde, is 89. I just turned 60. We are both widowed. We both order senior meals now, and we had a fun conversation comparing our prescriptions. We are lucky that Dad is still able to live on his own and doesn’t seem nearly as old as he is. Wherever we go, memories of our spouses go with us. I can see Mom in her chair by the window, hear Fred laughing at a joke.
Dad is a storyteller. Boy, does he like to talk about the good old days. We both grew up in San Jose. Dad grew up on the Dorrance Ranch, where his father was foreman. They raised prunes, cherries and other crops. Driving down Curtner Avenue between Monterey Highway and Meridian Road, he noted that we were in the middle of the ranch, which extended for hundreds of acres. He pointed to trees that were there long before the area became a suburban housing tract.
Everyplace we went, I had my own memories to match my father’s. “We had a big well here,” he said as we crossed the intersection near St. Christopher’s Church. I went to church here the first couple years Fred and I were married. He wired that building over there when he worked for Sure Electric. I interviewed the people who worked there for the San Jose Sun.
We drove through Saratoga, where I was editor of the Saratoga News, and Los Gatos, where I wrote for the Weekly-Times, had cheeseburgers and fries at a Burger Pit just like the one we went to almost every weekend when I was a kid, then headed east to Almaden, which brought back memories of my days writing for the South Valley Times. Dad’s memories went back much farther.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, San Jose had two working quicksilver (mercury) mines, the Almaden and Guadalupe mines. Dad’s grandfather and father worked at the Guadalupe mine, and his mother taught at the school there. Both mines are long closed now. In fact, the Guadalupe mine site is a landfill site now. As the road narrowed, we drove through miles of oak trees along Los Alamitos Creek, past the houses of the wealthy and the eccentric, past a dam and a county park with trails leading to the mining sites. Dad recalled riding that steep road on bicycles with his cousin Irene. Going up was tough, but going down was really exciting. He pointed to where there used to be a dance hall, a picnic area, a swimming pool. He told how his grandfather, who was more comfortable with horses than cars, took driving lessons from a local guy in exchange for breaking two horses.
These days, the road leads to a big white building that has been a dance hall, a bar, a theater, and a restaurant. I did a story there, too, can’t remember which paper it was for. Now it’s a museum.
The sign said the museum was closed, but there were cars in the parking lot, and Dad insisted we knock on the door. Surely they’d just send us away, I thought, but no. When Dad shared some of his history, Ranger Mary Berger let us in for a private tour of rooms decorated to look like 1850s parlors and other rooms full of information about the old days of Almaden. She described a busy schedule of activities we might enjoy. Meanwhile, Dad told her a few things she didn’t know about Almaden.
It was the highlight of a week full of memories. We visited my brother at his hilltop estate near Yosemite, talking, eating and watching basketball on TV as the rain cascaded down outside. I had lunch at an ultra-modern restaurant in Newark with my stepdaughter and dinner with my aunt at La Paloma in Santa Clara.
All too soon, it was time to say goodbye, warmed by memories made new by sharing them. 
For more information about the Almaden Quicksilver County Park and Mining Museum, visit www. parkhere.org and click on “History Here.” 

Don’t Tell Me I’m Too Old for a Birthday Party

It’s all Mom’s fault. Every birthday, I woke up to find my bed covered with gifts and cards. I got to wear new clothes to school and eat whatever I wanted for dinner. We had company, cake and singing, and I felt like a princess.

Somehow, now that I’m a grownup, it doesn’t happen quite that way. The plumbing backs up, clients want their work on time and don’t care if it’s my birthday, and most of the family kind of forgets that hey, it’s my special day.
Hello! It’s March 9th. It’s my birthday.
It seems as if once you pass a certain age, you’re not supposed to celebrate birthdays. At least not so that anyone would notice. Just another day, says my brother. Don’t you dare tell anyone it’s my birthday, says a friend at church. One year closer to death, says another gloomy friend. I don’t have birthdays anymore, yet another friend responds when asked if this might possibly be her birthday.
Not me. I want to celebrate. I’m still alive, still healthy, still doing what I want to do. Sure, I’m older, but I don’t feel any older. I think a birthday is an important occasion, time to look at yourself and your life and thank God for the good things and resolve to get rid of the bad things. It’s a time to say, “Hoorah, I have passed another milestone.”
 It’s the beginning of a whole new year of life.
I still have fantasies of the family gathered around, torn wrapping paper and presents at my feet, and chocolate cake on a plate in my lap–with big frosting flowers so sugary they make your teeth hurt. I want to see the lit candles in the dark and hear everyone singing to me.
Me, me, me. I recently discovered that large groups of Christians and others don’t approve of birthdays. There’s the “me, me, me,” factor, selfish, spoiled and ungodly. But also, the whole cake-and-candle tradition began as a pagan rite to ward off evil spirits thousands of years ago. Since Jesus never mentioned birthday parties in the Bible, we have no scriptural basis for having them. Furthermore, keeping track of birthdays smacks of astrology, a kissing cousin of witchcraft.
Holy cow, but my saintly Catholic mother started it. If Mom baked the cake with her own hands and lit the candles and sang “Happy Birthday” to me, how could it be bad? She wasn’t singing to chase away evil spirits; she was singing about how she loved me. And maybe celebrating having gotten this accident-prone offspring through another year of life.
In our American culture, kids get birthday parties. We also throw parties for adults celebrating the so-called milestone birthdays: 21, 40, 50, 65, 80, 90, 100. For the years in-between, things sort of fall apart. You don’t get a party, unless you’re like our departed friend Robert who used to throw himself a whopper of a fiesta every year, with tons of food, a huge crowd, and hangovers that lasted for a week.
The rest of us mark our birthdays with sedate lunches, cakes at the office, and a few cards–some of which arrive a week or more after the actual birthday. Now we also get e-mail cards from those family members who will never get their act together enough to actually buy, sign and mail a real card. Last year, I received one with three pigs singing “Happy Birthday” to the tune of “Funiculi Funicula.” I read it, I laughed, it was gone.
Over the years, I have developed certain birthday rituals. My favorite is to run away for the day, then go out for dinner and cake that evening. On a typical birthday when Fred was still here, I drove north up the coast. I did some shopping at the outlet stores in Lincoln City, took myself to lunch, visited the quilt museum in Tillamook and walked on the beach. At Cape Lookout, I stood high over the Pacific Ocean and blew soap bubbles from a red plastic bottle of Mr. Bubble, watching them float into the sky and disappear into the clouds. I thought about my life, counted my blessings, and made some plans. Then I came home and pigged out on chocolate with my faithful husband, whom I had programmed for a month to either honor my birthday or sleep with the dog.
Aside from lunch with friends, I don’t know what I’ll do this year, but I do know that it’s supposed to be a special day. Mom always said so.
Perhaps it’s unseemly to celebrate one’s birthday as if one were still a child. Perhaps it’s even sinful. But I don’t believe it. God gave us this life, and if he grants us another year, I think it would be ungrateful not to celebrate as hard as we can.

Don’t miss my birthday book giveaway!

Tomorrow is my birthday. To celebrate, I am offering free books. Yes, free. I have a giveaway for my latest book, Shoes Full of Sand, going on at goodreads.com. For tomorrow, March 9, only, I will offer the ebook versions of Shoes Full of Sand and Azorean Dreams for free. And I will give a free copy of any one of my four in-print books to one lucky person who comments on any of my blogs on March 9. I will collect the names and draw the winner on March 10.

The books are Stories Grandma Never Told, Azorean Dreams, Freelancing for Newspapers, and Shoes Full of Sand. Read about them at http://www.suelick.com/Products.html.

Happy reading!

Walking the Bayfront in a post-tax haze

Almost all of the snow had melted at the edges of Bay Street as I walked the Bayfront yesterday in a daze. I had just come from having my taxes done. It was the first time I had ever paid someone to do my return. My late husband Fred was a licensed tax preparer and started doing mine shortly after we met. When he became incapacitated, I used Turbo Tax to do it myself.

But this year, with Fred having died and a trust, Medicaid and other issues to deal with, I decided I needed help. As it turns out, this year’s return wasn’t much different from the others. This would be our last joint return, but otherwise it was money in and money out as usual.

I was in shock for a lot of reasons. It was hard doing this without Fred, talking so much about him being dead and going over the expenses from the early months of 2011 when he was so sick. It was difficult having to enumerate all of my writing expenses, medical expenses, and charity deductions, to pull together a whole year of life that was often fogged by grief. And then I was gobsmacked to discover the preparer’s services would cost me $550. I have to pay $350 to the state of Oregon, less than I paid last year. But I am getting a refund from the federal government. Next year, as a single woman with a lower income and fewer pieces of paper, the whole process will be simpler. I think I’ll go back to doing it myself.

Doing taxes is a profitable gig. Tax money took Fred and me on many wonderful vacations to places like Portugal, Costa Rica, Canada, and Hawaii. Our trips, like our wedding, always happened after tax season. During tax season, Fred worked like a madman, rarely coming up for air. Our phone rang constantly with tax clients wanting to set up appointments, ask questions, or find out when their returns would be ready.

I have often wished I had the aptitude to prepare other people’s tax returns myself. There’s money to be made, and I like numbers, but they just don’t behave when I deal with them. I’m a words and music girl. Besides, tax returns are stressful. I used to feel the tension in Fred’s clients, just like I felt it in myself yesterday as I sat in the tax office, anxiously watching the preparer type numbers into her computer. Would I have to pay? Would they accept my deductions? Would I have all the numbers and forms I needed?

Coming out of the tax office, I gulped air and headed for the Bayfront. Despite the morning’s surprise snow shower, the sun was out. The street was fairly deserted, but I passed a family staring into the candy shop, men smoking outside the fish plant, and a young woman smoking outside the Bay Haven tavern. Glass art, kites, tee shirts and geegaws of all sorts sparkled in the gift shops. Late afternoon diners lingered over pizza and beer at Rogue Ale and shrimp melts at Local Ocean. I stood at the rail outside the Noodle Cafe and stared at the big white NOAA ships anchored across the bay. Cormorants and gulls glided by in the bright sky. I noticed an empty crab shell on the deck and wondered how it got there. Then I walked past Port Dock I restaurant, closed for storm damage repairs, to where the sea lions usually congregate on floating docks. They weren’t there. It’s winter on the Bayfront. I zipped Fred’s old jacket tight around me against the cold wind and walked from one end of the Bayfront to the other, the sun in my eyes slowly burning away the post-tax-appointment haze.

In my mind, I have already spent my refund four different ways. May your taxes turn out as well.