New Novel, Seal Rock Sound, is Here!

Book cover for Seal Rock Sound shows a rocky shoreline, dark clouds reflecting on blue water at sunset.

Seal Rock Sound, the sequel to Up Beaver Creek, has officially been published. PD is back.

PD Soares survived the death of her husband, relocation to Oregon, and the disasters that occurred shortly after her arrival at her new home up Beaver Creek Road. But she and her friends survived. Now she can relax and pursue her music career and maybe even a little romance, right?

Wrong. New challenges are coming like sneaker waves. Can you love a man who doesn’t love himself? What is wrong with her mother? And how do you recover when the town that calls itself “the friendliest” proves not so friendly after all? Our red-haired, piano-playing heroine is tough, but is she tough enough?

Book cover for Up Beaver Creek shows a creek running through dense bushes and trees, all very green and blue.

Of course she is, but it won’t be easy.

I’m already making notes for the third book in the series because I just can’t let these people go.

This is my 12th book. Does it get easier to produce a book?

No.

That’s probably not what you want to hear. “Oh, sure I just pop them out like pancakes.” Maybe not pancakes. My pancakes are always burnt or half raw. Let’s say muffins. I’m good with muffins.

Here’s the thing. With each book, I am more aware of the mistakes I need to avoid, more conscious of the pitfalls of careless editing or shallow research. With a sequel, it’s even trickier because every detail has to be consistent with what I said in the previous book. Were Donovan’s eyes blue or green? Which one of Janey’s boyfriends helped her move? Did the house PD and Janey shared have a fireplace, wood stove or radiator? Conflicting details can destroy a good story.

My years of newspaper writing make me a faster writer than many. I don’t agonize over every word or spend an hour writing and rewriting one sentence. I spent too many years knowing I just had to get the story finished by deadline. There was no time for angst or perfection. Now I’m learning to break that habit.

I used Allison K. Williams’ book Seven Drafts this time, and I think I will use it with every prose project from now on. Because I did the seven drafts, this may be the best writing I have ever turned out.

Each draft asks the writer to look at ONE aspect in depth. For example, one draft is devoted to making sure the story makes sense in the order it is written. Does every chapter serve a purpose? Is something missing? Is this chapter too short or two long? Does this scene belong in this chapter or another one or do you need it at all? Do the beginnings and endings of each chapter grab the reader’s attention and make her read on?

Another draft is devoted to characters. Are they all necessary? Who are they? What do they want? What conflicts are they dealing with?

We move on to setting. Can a reader who has never been there see it clearly? Does the time and place play a role in the story? Oregon coast winters are wet and windy. How does that affect what happens to PD and her friends?

After dealing with the larger issues, the drafts get down to unnecessary words, vague language, and words we tend to overuse. This is where we make the writing sing.

All these drafts take a long time, but they pay off.

Once the writing and rewriting are done, production begins: formatting, layout, cover design, drafts, proofreading. It is amazing how the human eye works. Several people proofread this book, and we all found different typos.

Finally the moment comes when you click “publish” and order author copies. You pray this book baby has all its fingers and toes, that the pages aren’t upside down and the cover looks as good in person as it looks on the screen, that the page numbers are where they’re supposed to be, and you don’t see any big ugly mistakes. When your first copies arrive and you see that your book is all right, you hold it to your bosom and weep.

You’re done now, right? Wrong. Now you have to sell it. And that’s a whole other chapter.

Next time you pick up a book, whether it’s in a bookstore, at the library, or in a bin at the thrift shop, consider what it took to turn an idea into this product you hold in your hand. If you’re a writer, don’t let that stop you. Just take it one step at a time.

You can order both Up Beaver Creek and Seal Rock Sound in paperback at your favorite bookstore through Ingram, the distributor used by most booksellers, or in paperback or ebook formats at Amazon.com. I am available for readings and talks live or online. Tell your friends.

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Is That You? You Look Different on Zoom

I parked at the community center in Keizer, Oregon last Sunday, climbed the stairs to the little theater where the Mid-Valley Poetry Society reading was happening and did a double-take. Is that T? And J? And  . . . ?

Oh my gosh. It was surreal. Many of the faces were familiar, but I had only seem them on my computer screen on Zoom. They towered over me or were smaller than I expected. They hugged or held back. They limped or bustled. It was like going into a blind date where you have only seen a photograph. In person, they look different. “John?” “Sue?” 

As people venture out of their pandemic hideaways, suddenly we’re three-dimensional, without the flattering lighting, the carefully arranged backdrop, and the option to turn the camera off. Now they can see all of us. When they saw me, did they think she’s heavier than I thought, and I didn’t know she wore glasses? 

I have made wonderful friends on Zoom, including people from all over the world. I feel like I know them, but it’s not the same. It’s a snapshot, not a rounded picture. As I learned last month when I attended a poetry convention in Ohio, meeting on Zoom is not like eating breakfast with other poets, noting how they choose cereal and fruit or pile on the pancakes, whether they are chirpy or sullen in the mornings. It’s not like meeting in the hallways, elevators, or swimming pool. Sure, you still get the words of the speakers, but you don’t connect as people. Mostly you’re staring at your own stupid face wondering why your hair looks so bad. 

Zoom has its advantages. I have talked to people in the UK, Australia and Dubai, as well as across the US,  whom I could probably never meet in person. It’s COVID-safe, much cheaper and easier than traveling, and somewhat anonymous. But we’re becoming a nation of screen people. Even when someone is standing right in front of us, we’re staring at our screens. We’re raising a generation of young people who don’t know how to socialize, how to sit with someone, look at them, and converse. They only know how to Zoom, and that’s sad.

I also discovered that performing in real life as opposed to Zoom is a whole different thing. My two poetry chapbooks were born during the pandemic. I have done readings on Zoom to promote them but none offline. When you’re reading on Zoom, you’re more focused on the technology and your own face than the audience. Because they are muted, you can’t hear if they laugh or cheer or gasp.  Nor can you hear any applause, just maybe catch a glimpse of waving hands. 

You don’t even know whether they’re listening. If you look at all the people in their squares, many are moving around, playing with their pets, or checking their phones. You’re background noise. I’m one of the worst offenders. I can’t sit still when I’m at home with an endless to-do list. And who’s to know if I’m checking email or washing dishes while I listen to your poems? 

But in the theater, meeting room or living room, the audience has to sit and pay attention. The performer can look out at them and see them listening. When I read at the open mic last weekend, the applause was like a loud rain after a long drought. So beautiful. I had to deal with a tricky microphone and blinding stage lighting, but just to stand there and proclaim my poems and feel my words going into the air felt so good. You don’t get that on Zoom. Now I’m longing to get up there with my guitar and sing. Church has been my only gig since March 2020.

I attended a conference in Ohio last month. It was a hybrid, in person and on Zoom. Giant screens showed the people attending online. They could see where the camera was aimed, but they couldn’t see all of us. They didn’t taste the food. They didn’t sit at the tables while we did the cut-up poem exercise, fighting over the scissors and glue sticks and laughing at the mess we were making. I ended up with a poem I liked. Did they? And who was there to admire it?

Sitting in the courtyard drinking wine, lounging on soft chairs close together and really listening to each other’s poems was a whole different experience from hearing them online. 

We don’t even realize everything COVID has taken from us. We have lost loved ones in the pandemic, yes, but we also have lost a way of life. It’s not over. This may only be a temporary break before we go back into isolation. The news is full of rising case numbers and new variants. Some cities are reinstating mask mandates. We all want the pandemic to be over. It isn’t, but we’re pouring out of our houses. We’re traveling, we’re meeting, we’re hugging. Stop? It’s like trying to put ketchup back in the bottle.

On my trips to California and Ohio last month, I found myself surrounded by strangers, mostly without masks. I had no way of knowing whether they were vaccinated, whether they were infected, whether they had just been with someone who was sick. If we get COVID, we get COVID seems to be the philosophy now. 

I suppose there’s a limit to how long we can sequester ourselves in fear before we have to crawl out and see what’s left, see who is left. 

Meanwhile, what a gift to walk into a room, see someone you’ve grown to admire on Zoom and fall into a hug. Oh my, they’re so tall. They’re so real. They’re so three-dimensional, with arms, legs, clothing, and warm skin. It’s not the same. It’s wonderful. 

Are you meeting Zoom friends in real life? What is it like for you?

Read about it:

“The Rise of Deja Zoom: Meeting Your Virtual Friends IRL” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/12/deja-zoom-pandemic-friendships-virtual/620869/

“Dating Over Zoom? Don’t Be Surprised If Those Online Sparks Fizzle in Person” https://theconversation.com/dating-over-zoom-dont-be-surprised-if-those-online-sparks-fizzle-in-person-138899

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Can’t I Just Talk to a Human Being?

Photo by Tim Douglas on Pexels.com

All I wanted was a sandwich, a glass of iced tea, and a temporary escape from the airport crowds. This restaurant seemed like a good place to set down my bags and sit awhile.

I slipped into a booth and looked around. No menus, no servers. Instead, a plaque with a QR code was glued to the table. Diners were instructed to scan the code with their phones, click on the website that appeared and order there. At that point in my travels, I was so tired of computerized machines that I left and went to the other sit-down restaurant near my gate. Same thing. Three workers chatted in the corner. I walked up to them and shouted over the ear-hurting music. “How do I order?”

“Oh,” said one, we ‘opened’ that table over there. Just scan the code and order on your phone.”

I walked out of that place, too. When I’m hungry, I get cranky.

I had plenty of time. My flight from Columbus, Ohio to Charlotte, North Carolina was delayed. I had received two text messages about it.

I wound up eating a microwaved egg sandwich at Starbucks because I could order from an actual human. It wasn’t good, but their iced tea was fine. I sheltered in a leather chair typing on my laptop about the frustrations of an app-centered world.

I’m starting to fall behind. I don’t have blue-tooth earbuds in my ears, although I do sometimes talk to myself out loud. I have a laptop and a smart phone, but sometimes, oh horrors, I write with a pen on paper. And I failed at both Uber reservations and airline pre check-in.

The convention center didn’t have an airport shuttle. I tried to schedule an Uber ride, which meant downloading an app on my phone that I will have no use for at home. When I tried to set up my pickup, it seemed to be working. I paid $48 for a “medium-quality” car to arrive at 10:15 a.m. A map came up on my screen. I had already given them my name, location and destination. Was that it? I hoped so.

I hauled my bags out front and waited. And waited. I watched a mama robin feed her chicks in a nest above the bricks at the entrance. I said goodbye again to new poet friends who wished me a safe trip. I watched families arrive with children in bathing suits. 10:15. 10:20. 10:30. 10:45. Two friends from New Mexico came out. They had an Uber booked. They knew the name of the driver and the make of his car. I knew nothing. Clearly I had screwed up. My friends invited me to squeeze in with them. Whew. On my way.

When I tried to check in for my flights, Columbus to Charlotte and Charlotte to Portland, I couldn’t make it work. Unlike every other passenger flashing his/her phone, I checked in at the airport and presented the wrinkled paper boarding pass I got out of the machine. Failing the seat-reservation function, I wound up in the dreaded middle seat on the six-hour flight to Portland. I couldn’t figure out the app to watch a movie, but I had a book to read.

Back in Portland, I was not yet free of apps and screens. My car, which had been parked at a hotel park-and-fly lot (booked online), roared like it was about to explode. Thieves had stolen the catalytic converter, the doo-hicky underneath that filters exhaust emissions. I called AAA road service. They texted me an app to watch their progress on my phone. I watched them drive in the wrong direction but had no way to tell them. Two hours later, “Ray” arrived and drove me and my car to Corvallis, using his GPS to guide him on the most circuitous route.

Portland Police Department’s non-emergency line is so busy they won’t even let you wait on hold. You file your report online. After I called my insurance company, I was bombarded with emails and texts about my claim. I thought I rented a car online, but when I got to Hertz, I had done it wrong, so we had to start over. I was so frustrated I cried right there in the waiting room at University Honda.

My rental car, a 2021 Ford Escape, had so many computerized controls, it took three Hertz employees to help me figure out how to shift into reverse so I could get out of the parking lot.

I’m home now. I’ve got my car back, my good old, not-so-computerized car. I know it’s a virtual world these days. I’m writing this on my computer. Like everyone else, I’m forever checking my phone, but sometimes I just want to put the damned thing down. Sometimes I really need a kind human to ask, “How are you? What can I get you?”

Some interesting reading about online ordering in restaurants: https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-mobile-ordering-restaurants-0913-biz-20160912-story.html

https://www.foodandwine.com/fwpro/post-pandemic-dining-role-of-cell-phones

Had a run-in with an app lately? Please share in the comments.

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As Old Trees Fall, New Life Begins

Once so thick only a snake or rabbit could squeeze between the trees and shrubs, the wooded property beside mine fell prey to bulldozers in June 2022. In 12 days, it went from heavily forested to bare land, exposing my house and leaving robins, garter snakes, and white-tailed rabbits to find other homes. The new owner plans to build a house and eventually plant some new non-native trees.

For every tree that fell, I ached. It was a life ending. At the same time, I marveled at the increasing view of the sky and the sunset, of the moon and stars. I felt a warm comfort that my new neighbors arrived just a few days after I told God how worried I was about aging alone in my isolated house and put my future in His hands. Instead of being hidden away where no one could hear me if I called for help, I can now be seen by anyone coming down my street. When I walk on my deck now, instead of a wall of trees, I see my neighbors’ houses and all the way to the next road. I am exposed. No more naked hot-tubbing. When I wander out in my nightgown, people can see me. It’s a trade-off. The animals are adapting, and so will I. After all, someone cleared my property back in 1967 to build my house, and someone razed the orchards to build the neighborhood where I grew up. It’s what happens.

Yesterday, a big truck took the bulldozers away. The workers were gone. No more noise. In this lull before construction on the new neighbors’ house begins, Annie and I walked the cleared property, adding our footprints to the tracks of the heavy equipment. We found remnants of past lives: beer and soda bottles, pieces of shingles, a bit of rope, a flat football. We found the lid that blew off my compost bin in a storm years ago. We found a garter snake curled in the leaves that remain on my side of the property line. A gray and white bird I had never seen before sang from a tree in my yard, and a turkey vulture circled lazily in the warm air.

There was a particular alder tree I had asked the neighbor to save. No, he said. It has to go. The trunk remains, reddish gold. I counted the rings. About 35. It was a young tree, but as the neighbor said and as I could see from the fallen branches, it was rotten inside and would not have stood much longer. Its sister tree on my side of the property line reaches slim and leafy into the June sky. A yellow warbler darts between branches. So be it. Life is a book with many chapters. You can’t know the whole story unless you turn the page.

I still startle at the sight when I drive into my neighborhood. I will miss the blackberries I picked and baked into cobblers and muffins in past years. I will miss the rabbit that snuck out of the bushes for brief visits, but I also love the late-day sun that pours into parts of my house that have ever seen the sun before. Life goes on.

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Old Tape has Me Dancing in my Den

If you can’t name these artists, you’re probably too young to remember them–or what came before DVDs

Sammy! Liza! Frank! 

Once upon a time, everyone would know who I was talking about, the same folks who wouldn’t think it odd that I watched these once-beloved performers on a VHS tape last night. Yes, I still have a machine to play them.

Home-recorded off a PBS show in 1989, the tape featured Sammy Davis, Jr., Liza Minnelli, and Frank Sinatra. I didn’t even remember I had it until I got desperate for entertainment and started sorting old tapes.

I no longer wanted most of them. I threw away a bunch of homemade tapes and set aside some store-bought ones to give away, but this one I settled in to watch. 

I’m keeping this tape till I die. Oh wait. I don’t have to. The same show is online at https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0443514/. You can buy it on eBay, watch excerpts on YouTube, and look, Amazon has the VHS tape for $40. Who knew this bootlegged tape might be worth something someday? 

From my late teens on, I had a major crush on Sammy Davis, Jr. Lord, this tiny black man could sing. And dance. And act. I saw him perform live at the old Circle Star Theater in San Carlos, California. I stayed up late to watch his short-lived talk show on a fuzzy black and white TV in the ‘70s. I bought every album he ever made–on vinyl–and sang along at the top of my lungs. 

One would think I’d be over it by now. I’m not. Last night, I was still blown away by Sammy’s voice and the way he threw himself into every song. I also noticed how skinny he was, how he smoked and coughed between songs. I knew he would die of throat cancer three years later. But I was still in love after all these years. 

Then came Liza, last seen in a wheelchair at the Academy Awards, barely able to speak, seeming confused. But here she is in all her spangled glory with a powerhouse voice that reminded us of her mother, Judy Garland, but also was pure Liza. I knew every word of her songs, too.

Frank was next. My mother told tales of teens going berserk over him in her day. Now, older and rounder, his voice not as smooth, he rode on past glory. He smoked and drank while he was singing, but still. This was Frank Sinatra

I knew they were all primadonnas. I knew Frank and Sammy were both dead and Liza was in bad shape. I knew they had sung the same songs, told the same jokes, and made the same moves hundreds of times, but it didn’t matter. They were entertainers, and I was entertained. 

Anyone glancing through my windows would have seen a 70–year-old woman singing and dancing and floating back to 1989 when she was young, curly haired and svelte, married to the man of her dreams, and doing well in her own singing and writing careers. To relieve those days for an hour was such a gift. 

I resorted to my dusty tapes because everything I find on TV or online these days turns me off. I’m tired of gore, cursing, shallow values, and mean-spiritedness, especially with all the tragedies happening in the world these days. And the music–it’s just not up to the standard of Sammy, Liza, and Frank. No “American Idol” can sing like this. Forget reality shows, game shows, and cop shows–give me some good singing and dancing, acting that goes down deep, or comedy that is really funny, not just trading insults. 

Maybe someday I’ll digitize my favorite tapes. Probably not. I can get most of the content online. Meanwhile, on rainy Sunday afternoons, you may find me pretending it’s still the olden days, singing from the Great American Songbook and dancing in my purple sneakers. Call it corny. Call me old. It makes me happy. 

Do you still have any VHS tapes or machines to play them on? What tapes will you save forever? Who were your old-time show-biz crushes? 

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Finding Old Friends at the Thrift Shop

Hey, those are my books! The familiar covers stood out among the new arrivals at the humane society’s Pick of the Litter thrift store in Newport. Stories Grandma Never Told and Childless by Marriage, the two books I’m most proud of, now sat among the other titles discarded for one reason or another. They didn’t look as if anyone had read them. Did the people who had them before not even bother to look inside? Were the books brought in by family members after a loved one died? Did they somehow gravitate from the local bookstore that closed without paying me for the books it had on consignment? 

Once $18.95 and $15.95, they could now be had for $1.50 each. In perfect condition. Ouch. Maybe I should buy them and sell them again. On the other hand, maybe someone who couldn’t afford them before will buy them now. Maybe I should sneak in an autograph. Or would that be too pitiful?

Our books are our babies. We spend years writing them, and then someone reads them in a day. Or doesn’t read them at all. Once your manuscript is published, you cannot control how it is received.You aim as carefully as possible, but an unseen wind may blow them to someone who doesn’t want them, someone who takes them to Goodwill or the thrift store or, God forbid, throws them in the trash. Some people don’t even read books. The Pew Research Center says roughly a quarter of Americans have not read a book in the past year. That’s hard for me to imagine, but it’s true.

Getting people, even avid readers, to read your book is a challenge. More than one million books are published every year in the United States alone. Why should they read yours? The trick is making sure someone hears about your book and knows where to get a copy. Which is why it sometimes feels as if we spend a little time writing and a lot of time marketing.

Pre-Covid, I spent many hours at tables and booths hawking my books. Sometimes I sold quite a few copies, but sometimes sales were slow. Sometimes people stood there for 20 minutes reading parts of a book, then set it down and walked away.

But maybe when they got home they thought, shoot, I should have bought that book. Maybe they told a friend, hey, I saw this book the other day I think you would like.  

What’s the secret to book sales? Being famous helps. When Tom Hanks spoke in Portland a few years ago, the audience bought hundreds of copies of his book of short stories, Uncommon Type. I never saw so many copies of one book in one place, and they rapidly disappeared because the author was Tom Hanks. It’s a good book, but even if it wasn’t, they were buying it because he was a famous movie star. 

If you’re not Tom Hanks, you tell as many people as you can about your book, hope they spread the word, and let it go. Yes, it hurts to spend years writing a book and have people reject it with barely a glance or to find it among the books at Pick of the Litter. But you know what? Every famous author’s books eventually wind up at a secondhand store priced at almost nothing. I have purchased many a beloved book cheap that I might not have bought when they were new. They might have been a little wrinkled, but they were still good. It’s the story that counts.

I can take comfort in my recent trip to the Nye Beach Book House where I was piling up used books by John Grisham and Maeve Binchy when a man said, “Hey, that’s you.” I whipped around to see he was holding a copy of my novel, Up Beaver Creek, looking from the photo on the back cover to me.

“Yes, it is,” I said.

“What’s it about?”

I told him. The bookstore owner overheard us and started raving about my book. The man, visiting from Alaska, bought that copy of my book and took it home. 

I remember being thrilled to find my books on Portuguese Americans in the New Bedford, Massachusetts library when we visited there. And I was surprised when an excerpt from Stories Grandma Never Told was translated into Portuguese and published in a magazine from Portugal. I know people in Australia, India and the UK have purchased copies of my books. And people right here in Newport will buy them at Pick of the Litter.

You can’t control where the physical book will go once you send it out into the world. So I pat my books at Pick of the Litter, say, “Good luck, friends,” and move on to see what other treasures are there for me to buy. 

If you’re local and get to Pick of the Litter soon enough, you may be able to get these books cheap. If you really want them, I’ll give you copies for free. I just want my babies to find good homes. 

Do you buy used books? After you have read them, do you donate books to thrift stores or pass them around to your friends? Do you think less of a book when you find it on sale at a secondhand store or do you think hooray, I have always meant to read this

Writing books is a crazy way to earn a living, but I keep doing it. A sequel to Up Beaver Creek is coming soon. Meanwhile, visit https://www.suelick.com to see a list of my published books and download my Blue Hydrangea Productions catalog.

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Car Repair Appointment Turns Into a Party

Back in the pre-Covid days when I spent a lot of time cruising I-5

When I take my Honda to Sunwest Honda in Newport for repairs, I plan for a long sit in the waiting room. I bring a book to read and work to do. I have written poems, researched articles, and caught up with my emails in that little room with the leather sofas, coffee machine, TV, and racks of brochures. Stranded without my car, I turn Sunwest into my office away from home. If one or two other people are there, it doesn’t matter. They barely look up from their phones. We mind our own business.

Not this time. When I took my aging Honda Element in on Friday to see why it was getting more and more difficult to start, I walked into a party. Five women, a man, and two toddlers filled the room. I squeezed into the only seat left as the little girl said “Hi!” and the boy showed me the magazine he was mangling. The children talked to everyone, so the grownups talked to each other. 

I considered the work I had hoped to get done and scolded myself: You’re always complaining about being lonely. You are surrounded by people here. Enjoy it. 

 “Looks like Sunwest is going to make a lot of money today,” I said. The adults laughed. The kids were busy crawling up and down the furniture and grabbing brochures off the rack. 

Soon I knew that one woman worked at the Dollar Tree and had six grandchildren, that two of them were waiting for oil changes and two had lived in Colorado, where smog checks are mandatory (they’re not in Oregon). We learned that all of us hate keyless ignitions and none of us are ready for electric cars. The Dollar Tree lady doesn’t have a smartphone and doesn’t do email. But she talks to everyone she meets.

One by one, the service manager called people by name as their cars were ready. With each departure, we said goodbye like old friends.

I was the last one. I paced around the room, walked through the showroom where one red truck was parked, and looked out the window at the rain on the empty lot until I finally heard “Mrs. Lick?” 

The problem was the battery, years past its expected expiration date. $231. I paid and pet the dog hanging out with the staff, a gorgeous black and white male that smelled Annie on me and decided I was part of the family, too. 

I remember the San Jose days of waiting in a long line of cars at dawn, handing my car over to a rude guy with a clipboard and going home because it would be a long time before they got to my vehicle. Not here. I made my appointment online, choosing to come at 10 a.m., and I was out the door in time for lunch. Plus I got to pet a dog. Small towns rock.

On my way out,  I ran into a salesman. “When are you going to sell me a new car?” I asked.

His eyes lit up. “Are you looking for a car?”

I explained that I was kind of looking. I gestured to my 2008 Element with 144,700 miles and a new battery. I had planned to buy a new car a couple years ago, but with Covid, I wasn’t driving anywhere. Now people are traveling more despite Covid, but there are no new cars in the showroom or in the lot. “Supply chain” issues. The manufacturers can’t get the computer chips they need to make the cars. [Read: “The Car Market is Insane” ]

Selling cars must be a miserable job these days with everyone in crisis over Covid and inflation and no actual cars to sell. The salesman couldn’t just walk over to a shiny new sedan and say, “Well, this little beauty. . . ” or “Would you like to take a test drive?” He told me the process these days is to decide what you want and order it. They will call you when it comes in. Yes, but what if I hate it?  What happened to kicking the tires and looking under the hood? I slid the guy’s card into my pocket and climbed into my dusty, dog–fur-coated Element. 

I’ve got a new battery to wear out. No hurry buying a new car when I can party with the others keeping their old cars going. 

Although there was hand sanitizer at the door, we weren’t wearing masks or talking about Covid. My arm was still hurting from my second booster shot. With luck, we’ve all had our shots, and they do their job. 

The slogan at the entrances to Newport claims our town is “The Friendliest.” I agree. It is. But I’ll still bring my books just in case no one shows up. 

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Sleep Study: A Most Unnatural Night

A voice in the darkness: “Sue, your sleep study is over.”

No. I didn’t sleep. “What time is it?”

“About 6. I’ll come in to remove your wires. Then you can shower and go home.”

But . . .

Bright lights. Soon Dawn, the sleep technician, was removing wires, ripping tape off my face, chin, neck, chest, and legs, and ungluing wires from my matted hair. It hurt. That tape is a good substitute for hair removal wax.

I had had a pain in my throat all night. Maybe it was from snoring, she suggested. She said I snored all night.

But I didn’t sleep. How can anyone sleep while attached to dozens of wires, with a light flashing every few seconds and a voice coming through the speakers? Dawn came in twice to reattach wires that had come loose, one on my leg and one on my hair, and again when I started to get up to use the restroom.

I had taken a sleeping pill at 10 p.m. and another at 2;30 a.m. They didn’t seem to do anything. But here she was telling me it was over and I had slept.

“We’re going to go through the exercises we did when you went to sleep. Look up and down five times. Look side to side five times, using only your eyes. Pretend you’re grinding your teeth for 10 seconds. Clear your throat. Flex your left foot five times. Do the same with your right foot.”

I wanted to cry. I wanted to sleep. But she was waiting for me to shower and get out of there. She did not understand I don’t get up like that. I ease into my day with orange juice and prayer and a peek at my email . . .

“Do you have any juice?” I asked. She brought me apple juice. I hate apple juice, but at least it was cold and sweet.

The queen-sized bathroom had a handicap-accessible shower, meaning no ridge to walk over or to keep the water in and a detachable nozzle on a hose. In lieu of soap, Dawn handed me a bottle of Johnson and Johnson body wash/shampoo.

Most of the tape and glue came off in the warm water, although two hours later, I still had cheek creases where the nose piece crossed my face. I dressed in yesterday’s clothes and filled out forms that evaluated my experience and asked if I felt all right to drive. In reality, I didn’t. I was still trying to crawl back into that sleep I didn’t have.

If I had read the materials that came with my “sleep aids,” I would have made other arrangements. Those are some strong drugs. They warn that you may do or say things while on them that you will not remember afterward. But I checked yes, and when Dawn asked if I was sure I could drive, I replied that if I took a taxi, I would have no way to retrieve my car. So yes, I would drive. Out of the hospital, over the bridge, down the highway and into the woods to my yellow house behind the big hedge.

And I wept. I cried in the car and I cried in my living room as I greeted the dog. At least she seemed fine.

Why was I crying? It was uncomfortable and invasive. I had no one to keep me company or give me a ride or take me to breakfast. Dawn was kind and considerate and extremely skilled, but I still felt as if someone had beaten me.

The sleep room is on the second floor of the new hospital in Newport. The accommodations are brilliantly designed. The room is cozier than many motel rooms, with a double bed, two nightstands, a TV, and a private bathroom. The bed is adjustable, there are unlimited blankets, plug-ins for electronics, and a big swivel chair where they sit you to hook up the wires. “The electric chair,” I said. Dawn didn’t get the joke.

I wasn’t the only one doing the sleep study. A man was waiting when I arrived. As Dawn took him past me to the elevator, I joked, “I guess we’ll be sleeping together tonight.” He turned all red and stuttered something about his wife. Hey, I was kidding.

I didn’t see him again, but I wondered off and on how he was doing.

With every step of the process, I had to wait for Dawn to finish with my sleep buddy, so I had time to watch “American Idol” on TV relatively undisturbed, even when she was hooking me up.

The lights-out part was harder. It was very dark except for a foot-wide infrared light and that flashing white light that felt like I was having my picture taken every few seconds. And that voice.

Every time I moved, I wondered what wire I was disturbing, but Dawn said they wanted me to sleep in all positions.

I kept waiting to relax, but I never felt it. Then it was, “Sue, your sleep study is over.”

It’s like those dreams where you find yourself taking a final exam after you forgot to come to class all semester.

Did I pass? I still don’t have the results. Dawn knows, but she isn’t sharing.

After my sleep study, I fed the dog, had a long cry, ate my homemade bread-and-grapefruit breakfast, and reported to my office.

Where I fell asleep.

Did you miss last week’s post about sleep studies last week? Click “Sleep Study will Show What the Dog Already Knows” to read it.

Some of you have already shared your sleep study experiences in the comments here or on Facebook. Keep them coming.

Here’s a question: If you were prescribed a CPAP breathing machine for sleep apnea, did you get one? Are you still using it? Does it keep you awake?

Happy snoozing, everyone.

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Sleep Study will Show What the Dog Already Knows

I’m not a great sleeper. I don’t know how anyone ever managed to sleep beside me when I was sharing my bed. I snore, I make frequent trips to the bathroom, and I have wild dreams. I also have restless leg syndrome (RLS) which gets so bad some nights I’m walking the halls in the dark, trying to shake out my twitches. Sometimes I listen to the radio or take a hot bath at midnight. Even the dog wishes I would just go to sleep like she does. I’m trying. 

 Clearly my night sleep is not giving my body what it needs. I sit down to write in the mornings, and I doze off, my pen leaving a black streak on the page. I read by the fireplace or in the sun, and I doze off. I’m streaming a TV show and wake to find three episodes have gone by.

In college, I slept through most of my astronomy class, much of my art appreciation class, and just about any class where they turned down the lights. I even slept through one of the “Lord of the Rings” movies. Those impromptu naps give me the deepest, most wonderful sleep. But I also get really sleepy driving the car, and that’s not good.

So, tonight I’m having a sleep study. They will see if I have sleep apnea, sudden intermittent cessations of breathing frequently experienced by people who snore. I probably do. It runs in the family. Have I ever awakened myself with my snoring? I have. Not fun. Yes, I know my heart could stop and . . . you’d never read my next book. 

They will also look at the RLS and any other weird stuff I do in my sleep. I will be attached to an assortment of sensors. I will have stuff taped to my body and glued in my hair, and the technicians will observe me, monitoring my brain, nervous system and muscle activity, as well as breathing and heart function. 

You know that icky feeling when you wake and find someone staring at you? Now my insurance is paying for me to have strangers do that. 

I am supposed to arrive without makeup and wearing a COVID mask, put on pajamas, which I don’t usually wear (I’m a nightshirt girl), and go to bed way earlier than usual. Meanwhile Annie, who follows me around all day, is going to panic. Where’s Sue? She never came home

I’m hoping the “sleep aid” they prescribed knocks me out. But if I’m knocked out with a sleeping pill, how can they get an accurate picture?  And how will they know when I’m in the various stages of sleep?

Such questions kept me awake last night. I could fall asleep right now typing at my desk. But the instructions for today say NO NAPS. I also have to limit my caffeine. Come on!

I’m thinking the first thing I’ll want to do when they unstick me and let me go at 6 a.m. is take a nap. 

After I apologize to my dog. They should just ask Annie. She knows how I sleep. She spent last night next to my bed. Now she’s sacked out on her bed, running in a dream. 

Maybe I’m just part dog. 

My neighbor says he got partway through his sleep study, tore everything off, and stormed out, saying “To hell with this.” I don’t plan to do that, but I sure am looking forward to being done with it. 

Have you had a sleep study? How was it? Did you get the answers you needed? Would you want to do it again? 

Here’s some interesting info from the Mayo Clinic. Did you know the official word for a sleep study is “polysomnography”? There you go.

Send your comments. I’ll be awake. 

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Am I the Only One Who Still Eats Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner?

Photo by Rania alhamed on Pexels.com

I’m a dinosaur. I eat three meals a day at approximately 7 a.m., noon, and 5:30 p.m., just like my parents did. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If any of those meals does not happen, I am not happy. And it drives me nuts that groups I belong to keep scheduling activities at meal times. Clearly I’m out of sync with the rest of the world. 

According to numerous sources, including this article from the New York Post–“Nobody Eats Three Meals a Day Anymore”–my habits are passe. I’m so old, I still want three square meals. Get over it, some might say. But I like my three squares, and I’m old enough to declare that I refuse to give them up. I also thank God I am able to buy all the food I want in a world where that’s not true for everyone. 

Do you know how the term “square meal” came about? It comes from the British and American Navy sailors back in the 1700s and 1800s. They were served their meals on square trays, hence three squares. I’ll bet there was some serious complaining if they didn’t get those meals. 

In my house growing up, you could set your clock by breakfast, lunch and dinner, same time every day, never skipped and always together. In his later years after my mother died, my father spent half his time preparing meals. When I was visiting, he’d look at the clock. “4:30? Aren’t you gonna start dinner?” Later, in the nursing home, meals were the main event of the day. People wheeled up to their tables early.They didn’t have much else to look forward to.

But nowadays, somewhere between half and three-quarters of Americans don’t go by the three-meal plan. Instead they eat one or two big meals at some point and snack the rest of the time.The Post article explains that they’re too busy for extensive meal preparation or to sit down with family and eat. The meal most likely to be skipped is lunch. Instead, people snack in the afternoon. Many eat while running errands, even while driving their car. How is that satisfying? 

Lunch is my favorite thing! I need that break and that boost of calories and caffeine. 

I don’t do snacks. As a compulsive overeater whose snacks can quickly get out of hand, I need to eat my scheduled meals then get away from the kitchen. When people host events that include brunch or eating in the middle of the afternoon, I don’t know how to fit that into my schedule. Is it a late breakfast? An early dinner? I’m confused.

Dieticians tell us it’s best to spread our eating throughout the day. Breakfast is essential, but then if we could do four or five smaller meals, it might be better than three big meals, but those meals can’t be chips or a burrito devoured on the run. 

I’m beginning to understand why so many activities take place at noon or 6 p.m., times I normally reserve for eating. Sometimes I eat during Zoom meetings, but I keep my camera off because watching people chew on Zoom is disgusting. How is everyone else content to meet when it’s time to eat? 

In this, as in many other aspects of life, I think dogs make more sense. I got home a little late on Saturday, delaying dinner, and my Annie followed me around the house barking until she got fed. It’s chow time. No excuses.

How about you? Do you eat three meals a day at approximately the same times? Why or why not? When do you eat? If you used to eat “three squares” and stopped, what caused you to change? If you have grown children, is their eating schedule different from yours? I look forward to some meaty comments. 

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