Swimming Out of the Pandemic Bubble for Thanksgiving

I push my card key into the slot and open the door. I inhale the scent of chlorine, feel the humid air on my skin. I bend down to feel the water in the pool. Warm. There is no one else here. I strip down to my bathing suit and ease in. Oh! I love being in the water. If I could live my whole life in water, I would. I love swimming, even though I’m not very good at it. After two years, do I remember how? 

I do. I go through my routine of breast strokes, back strokes and front crawl. I feel the chlorinated water pushing against my hands, feel the buoyancy of my feet on the concrete bottom. I lean back and float, giving control of every inch of my body to the water. It’s the only place I ever let go. I hope no one passes by and thinks I’m dead.

I’m writing this on Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend. I have been overeating for days and wasn’t following my diet or my exercise resolutions before that. My old Walmart bathing suit is stretched out. I look like a turquoise walrus. My muscles remind me that I haven’t done these moves in a long time. My spine whispers, “You’ll be seeing the chiropractor this week.” But those are just body parts. My spirit is soothed and renewed.

I have had many firsts over the last nine days. My first trip outside Lincoln County, Oregon since Covid started. My first salad bar. My first elevator rides. I refuse to ride a boat, plane or train, but my car trip has placed me in contact with many people, mostly strangers, lined up at rest stop bathrooms, side-by-side tables at restaurants, in line at Target and other stores, and at the breakfast buffets in the motels where I have stayed. Is it safe? I don’t know. I have had three vaccine shots, the regular first two and a booster, but there’s a new variant floating around. 

I hadn’t seen most of my family in two years. The young great-nieces, nephews and cousins have grown from babies to little people with big personalities. They call me Aunt Sue or get confused and call me Grammy. They don’t remember me from before. But it is so exciting to get to know them now. 

The adults have changed, too. My brother has a full white beard now; he was clean-shaven when I saw him last. Some are heavier or thinner or look older. Some have changed jobs and residences. It was so good to see them, hug them, and talk, talk, talk, not over Zoom or Messenger or some other electronic program but sitting in the same room, hugging a child or a dog or drinking tea and eating pumpkin bread. 

I got to see my friend who moved to Livermore and be her “sis” again. Such a gift. 

I went home to San Jose and neighboring Santa Clara. I saw buildings that weren’t there before. I saw the monstrosity the new owners of my childhood home built in its place. I visited the cemetery where there are more names now on the wall where my parents’ ashes rest and around the loved ones whose bodies went into the ground. I was able to see and touch their gravestones and sit with them for a while. 

As always, getting away from home and the usual routine sparks new ideas and new resolutions. I’m going to lose weight, renovate my house, and get a grip on my schedule. I’m going to go back to the gym, do yoga, and swim at the rec center. I’m going to start calling my family and friends more often. But I can see it will take me a whole day just to go through my mail and figure out how much I spent on this trip. I’ll need to restock the refrigerator, wash my clothes and deal with all those work chores I put off because I was “out of town.” 

I’m writing this in my last motel of the trip, the Holiday Inn in Yreka. Nice hotel, but it’s in the middle of nowhere. Nothing else here but a truck stop where I got takeout Chinese food. The whole trip, I had hoped to swim. But the other pools were all outdoors, and it was too cold. When I saw this indoor pool, I knew I had to use it. 

Traffic has been thick the whole trip. I think a lot of people left home this holiday for the first time since COVID started. Will there be a new surge of people getting sick? It seems likely. So many people together, so many without masks. The pandemic is not over. We’re all tired of it. Mask-wearing is slipping. But we can never be sure we’re safe. I even wondered if somehow the virus could be in the water in that pool. It doesn’t seem logical, but I wondered.

It will be a long time before I can return to my home state, but I will treasure the memories and photos and the feel of that warm water against my body as I made my cumbersome way back and forth, the nearsighted, half deaf turquoise walrus full of Chinese food from the truck stop across the road.  

How did you spend Thanksgiving? Did you venture out of your COVID bubble? Tell us about it in the comments. 

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The Joy and Madness of Writing a Sequel to Your Novel

What happens to the characters in a novel after the writer types The End? Usually nothing. The author is finished, happy to leave things where they landed and move on to another project.

Unless it’s part of a series. Then you have to figure out what follows happily—or unhappily—ever after. Does the marriage last? Does the adorable child turn into a troubled teen? Who cleans up the mess after the big party? How do they rebuild after the bomb explodes?

Write a series, the marketing gurus advise. You’ll get more readers and have built-in job security. But make sure each new book stands on its own. Okay, but how?

The bookstores are filled with beloved series from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series and  Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to Sue Grafton’s alphabet series and Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who …” series. We collect the volumes of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Dune, or Jan Karon’s delightful Mitford stories about an Episcopal priest in a small town. We love revisiting our old friends in one book after another, but writing them is not as easy as you might think.

When I promised readers of Up Beaver Creek, published in 2016, that there would be a sequel, I had no idea how challenging it would be. I put it off for a couple years, then started writing the second book, working title Back to Beaver Creek, for National Novel Writing Month in 2019. I cranked out my 50,000 words, but I got lost along the way because I hadn’t taken time to think through the whole story before I started typing. Then life happened, and I didn’t finish it. I am determined to get it done this time, but sometimes I get very frustrated with the author I was when I wrote the first book.

Why did I say the initials P.D. stood for THAT? Why did I give her such a stupid car? Why did Rick behave the way he did? And what am I going to do with this other guy? Readers wanted romance, so now I have to find some. If you hear groans from my office, you’ll know what’s going on.

I am developing a great admiration for authors of book and TV series. The challenge is to remain consistent with what came before and find something for all of the characters to do or a way to get rid of them. I can’t change any of the names or identifying details. I can’t change PD’s job or the house she lives in without making it part of the new story. If her house didn’t have a fence before, it can’t have a fence now unless she builds one. I can’t change the voice, so I have to write this book in first person, present tense even though a big part of me wants to write in past tense this time. It’s a big jigsaw puzzle where you create the pieces and have to make them fit together. You can’t start sawing off the edges to force them into place. Readers who enjoyed the first book(s) will call you on it.

You should see my pile of notes, file cards, and clips, not to mention the bits and pieces on three different computers. But I love puzzles, and I love PD and her friends. After much stewing about it over the last few days, I think I’ve got the story figured out, and I think you’ll like it. But next time, instead of a musician, maybe PD ought to become a detective.

Check out these series by writer friends of mine: Susan Clayton-Goldner’s Detective Radhauser series and C. Hope Clark’s Edisto Island mysteries. So good.

Here’s some great advice on writing sequels:

https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/7-rules-writing-sequels

http://jennybravobooks.com/blog/writing-a-sequel

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I Thought I was Making This Stuff Up–Tsunami Novel Predicts COVID

It’s November, known to some of us as NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Hordes of writers commit to writing 50,000 or more words of fiction between November 1 and Nov. 30. That’s 1,667 words or the equivalent of about seven double-spaced pages every day, including weekends. I have started several times and pooped out, but in 2019, I spewed out more than 50,000 words for a sequel to my previous novel Up Beaver Creek. I didn’t finish the book. I had a bunch of pieces that didn’t quite go together. Then came COVID and a lot of other complications, including a nonfiction book that I did finish, so the sequel sat in a pile. Until now. This November I’m determined to pull it all together into a real novel. I’m not counting words. I find that doesn’t work for me. Sometimes an hour of thinking is more important than an hour of spewing random typing. But I am putting in the time.

I bring this up because one of the early chapters, written before any of us had heard the word COVID or had any inkling we’d find grocery store shelves empty of things like toilet paper and flour, turned out to be eerily prescient. In Up Beaver Creek, the long-predicted tsunami hit the Oregon coast, causing heavy damage and many deaths. Now we’re in the aftermath. Electricity is spotty, and supplies are low. When our heroine PD goes to the grocery store, this is what she finds. (No insult to J.C. Market, where I have been shopping for years. All is well there as far as I know, except they are missing a few items . . . )

The roar of a generator greets me as I get out of my car at the J.C. Market at 101 and Olive Street. Keeping the refrigerators and freezers going, I suppose. Since the Thanksgiving earthquake and tsunami, we have not had electricity, at least not that we could count on.

I open the door to dim lights and silence. No music coming through the speakers. Half the shelves are empty. Getting supplies is chancy these days. When something is in stock, we all want to grab a lot of it. But then somebody else would have to do without. We’re all learning to share. PD does not like sharing.

I pull out a cart, wincing at the noise as it separates from the others, and start down the vegetable aisle. Geez, not much there, hard to stay on my healthy-PD diet. Shriveled grapefruit, bruised apples, some artichokes I am sure have been there for a month. Pineapples, lumpy cantaloupes, potatoes, red onions, mushrooms someone probably gathered in the local forests—well, I could make something out of that. Meat? Brown-looking hamburger, questionable chicken, and a few whole salmon at $25 a pound. That’s the other thing. Prices are high. Supply and demand. When you really want an apple and you’re not sure you’ll see another one anytime soon, you’ll pay $4 for it.

Some enterprising folks have started braving the trip to less-damaged places in the Willamette Valley to pick up merchandise and sell it out of their trucks and car trunks. People line up to buy their wares. I’ve done it a time or two.

I toss a pound of ground beef and a sack of beans into the cart and hold my breath as I turn toward the paper aisle. Oh, thank God. TP. Not my favorite brand, just little four-packs of single ply, but hallelujah. $10? Whatever. At least I have a job to pay for it. Lots of people’s jobs got washed away with the tide.

It’s like that with everything. You can get something but not your favorite brand or flavor. Except for batteries. They haven’t had any of those in months.

And then she runs into a man who invites her to watch the sunrise with him . . .

Again, I had no idea a pandemic would hit us. I was just imagining what it would be like after a disaster. Who knew a whole different kind of tsunami was coming?

What do you think? Have you seen shortages where you shop? Do you expect things to get better or worse?

Have you read Up Beaver Creek? Books make good Christmas presents.

P.S. I’m getting my booster shot tomorrow. I tend to react badly. Wish me luck.

Liver Patties? We Don’t Eat Like That Anymore

When I was a newlywed in the 1970s, I picked up a copy of You Can Cook for 1 (or Even Two) by Louise Pickoff (Gramercy Publishing, 1961). I’m not sure why I bought it, seeing as how I had a husband to feed, at least in theory. He worked nights and was rarely home for dinner. His favorite meal was a beer and a loaf of rye bread slathered with mayonnaise. No wonder the marriage didn’t last.

Half a century later as I’m researching cooking for one, I remember this book. Could I possibly still have it? I do!

Oh Lord, how things have changed. Pickoff, a businesswoman who passed away in 2000 at age 87, mentions writing this book on a typewriter. As I was writing then, too. She could never have imagined this little hardback book would sell for $864 on Amazon today. I probably paid less than $5.

Inside, Louise also mentions:

  • Her standard breakfast is bacon, eggs and toast.
  • Under equipment, she says you need a can opener, and “the new electric ones are wonderful.”
  • She speaks of double boilers, electric skillets and electric ranges.
  • In her measurement chart, she defines a speck (less than 1/8 tsp.) and a pinch (1/4-1/3 tsp.).
  • To make fried chicken, dredge it in flour and cook in a cup (!) of shortening in the electric skillet. That’s exactly how my mother did it. It tasted great, but all that fat!
  • She speaks of minute steak, soup flakes, and powdered milk.
  • She uses cream in almost everything
  • She speaks of salad dressing mix. I remember we had a special bottle marked off with lines for oil, vinegar, and the seasonings that came in a packet. The best part was shaking it up and watching the ingredients swirl around like an early-day lava lamp.
  • Liver patties
  • Tongue!
  • Breaded veal cutlets
  • Canned tuna on toast with homemade white sauce—hello, home economics class.
  • Fried bananas rolled in cream, butter and cornflakes
  • Onion soup dip—sour cream and soup mix.
  • Whiskey balls made with vanilla wafers, Karo syrup, cocoa, pecans and whiskey
  • Spanish rice—add tomato sauce to boxed rice.
  • Cold meat sandwich—spread with mayonnaise, add meat, tomato slices and pickles.

I tried some of the recipes back in the day and left my reviews:

Individual Meat and Noodle Dish (ground meat, onion, bouillon cubes, noodles, ¼ c. wine): “Not too good” 9-14-78; Chicken in Cream (4 T. fat, minced onion, cream, thyme): Awful! 3-11-75; Canned tuna on toast (white sauce, cheese, spices, canned tuna): Yum! 2-2-79

There are no notations for the period after we got divorced and I truly was living alone, before I met Fred and didn’t need that cookbook anymore. Now that I’m alone again, I wonder if I should try more of these recipes. But there are more bad reviews than good, and the way we eat has changed. Some people just don’t cook anymore. Those who do avoid heavy doses of fat and sugar. Many avoid gluten, dairy, or meat. We worry about toxins coming off plastic containers and nonstick cookware.

We don’t expect to spend so much time in the kitchen, stirring homemade white sauce until it thickens, simmering meat on the stove for an hour when we can have it ready in minutes in a microwave or an Instant Pot. We can find recipes online that knock the socks off anything Louise laboriously typed back in the 60s.

But eating alone is still eating alone, and I like what she says about it: “You can wear what you want, and you can eat what you want . . . Quite often people ask me if I set my table attractively with flowers and candles. I must admit the answer is no. I live in an efficiency apartment, and I eat off the coffee table in the living room. I either put my china on a tray or a place mat. I use chip-free china, and I use silver that I have not used while cooking. In order to save on laundry, I use paper napkins. After watching the commercials on TV, doesn’t everybody? I refuse to comment on my table manners while eating alone. Just use your imagination!”

I may hate her chicken in cream, but Louise sounds like my kind of woman. I do eat at the table—unless there’s something special on TV—with Annie eating out of her bowl on the floor beside me. I get up and down a lot, serving myself from pots on the stove, fetching cookies for the dog, grabbing condiments, silverware and whatever else I forgot. And I read.

What food traditions from your past have drifted away or changed? Do you still cook the way you did in early adulthood? What food did you used to eat all the time that you don’t eat anymore for health or other reasons? For example, I grew up on baloney sandwiches on white bread with potato chips and onion soup dip, washed down with strawberry soda. I never buy any of that now. How about you?

Cooking a Tiny Souffle Just for Me

Last night, I made an itty-bitty soufflé in an itty-bitty casserole dish, using a recipe designed for just one person. It used wee amounts of carrots, sugar, flour, vanilla, etc. and required both the blender and the hand mixer. I ended up with pureed carrot all over my counters, a ton of dishes to wash, and nothing left over. It was all an experiment in cooking just enough for one hungry human.

A couple weeks ago, I asked my Facebook friends who live alone how they deal with cooking for one. I tend to make too much and then, not wanting to waste anything–and not needing to share with anyone–I pig out. My scale and my jeans are not happy. What to do?

People were full of advice: make a lot and freeze it in small containers so you always have something to heat and eat. Use smaller plates. Cook small amounts in tiny pots and pans. Sign up for a food delivery plan. Give the excess to the neighbors (my neighbors are all on special diets).

One commenter mentioned onedishkitchen.com, so I went there and found a wonderland of recipes designed for one person, cooked in doll-size dishes. I didn’t think I had anything that small until I took another look in the cupboard. Two 5 x 5 Pyrex baking dishes and a 5 x 7 casserole came with the “cornflower” set Fred brought when we moved in together. I’ll be darned. You can cook in those?

Intrigued, I got on the One Dish Kitchen mailing list, and the first recipe that arrived was this carrot soufflé. I’m not a big fan of cooked carrots, but I was enchanted by the idea of making something so small, about the size of the tiny cakes I made with my Betty Crocker Junior Baking Set in the 1950s. The kit came with tiny boxes of cake and frosting mix, tiny cake pans, cookie sheets, cookie cutters, a rolling pin and a flour sifter. It was all small, but it was the real deal. With my mother’s supervision, I baked tiny edible cakes and cookies. An important step in my domestic goddess training.

Now you can buy those kits on eBay. But there are modern versions for kids. The old package showed two red-headed white kids, the girl cooking and the boy watching. Now the kids are diversified and the boy might actually be cooking.

You can also buy tiny cooking-for-one cookware for adults now. It’s a thing.

Cooking for one is a challenge. A couple days ago, I mixed up some minestrone soup, ate it for two nights in a row, and had enough left over to fill three freezer containers. If we have some kind of disaster, I have enough soup to last for a week. Good thing it’s delicious. Could I have made the soup in a smaller amount? Perhaps, but I used a can of beans and a can of tomatoes and half a cabbage . . . if I split it up, what would I do with the rest? As it is, I’m looking at Cole slaw for a week to use up the rest of the cabbage.

The soufflé baked for 50 minutes. The edges came out burnt, I’m not sure why, but the inside was fluffy and big enough for me to have two modest servings. One Dish Kitchen has more recipes, pizza, desserts, salads, all kinds of things. But I’m kind of sad I don’t have any leftovers after all that work.

When my father was widowed and alone, he had a phobia of leftovers. He would use tiny portions of the cheese powder and noodles in the mac and cheese box, for example, to make just a little bit. Me, I’d cook and eat the whole box.

There has to be a middle ground between too much and not enough. When I first got married back in the early 1970s, I received two Betty Crocker Dinner for Two cookbooks. They’re designed for newlyweds, with sections on subjects like how to set a pleasing table, but they’re also full of recipes cut down to just enough for two. I was surprised to find I still have them on the bookshelf. If I blow off the dust, I can make enough for myself and a little to spare. I might have to adapt some of the recipes. Back in those days, nobody worried about carbs, cholesterol, or fat. Oh, Betty Crocker, how times have changed.

I’m still figuring out the cooking-for-one puzzle. Meanwhile, I cooked my first soufflé. Not bad. And now I know how to spell soufflé. 

How about you? Are you a make-just-enough or a make-a-lot-and-have-leftovers-for-days kind of person? If you’re alone, how do you handle the tendency to cook too much, not enough, or not cook at all?

More to read:

Betty Crocker’s Right-Size Recipes

The Ultimate Cooking for One Cookbook by Joanie Zisk of onedishkitchen.com

“13 things that make cooking for one so much easier,” USA Today. This is mostly stuff they’d like you to buy and that you probably don’t need, but they are intriguing.

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Sit or Stand: How Do You Keep Your Back Happy?

Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Charles Dickens wrote standing up. Virginia Woolf wrote standing up. I can write standing up. Right?

We’ll see.

Convinced that sitting all day at my computer was killing my back, I set out to create a more permanent standing setup than planting my laptop on a rack on top of my sewing machine cabinet in the guest room or occasionally on the kitchen counter. After much measuring, planning, online ordering, and office rearranging, I now have in my official office a standup working arrangement. My desktop computer is an old Windows 7 model with all the brains in a box on the floor. Some of my USB cables were not long enough, so I had to change to a Bluetooth-connected printer (thank you, Pat) and order a wireless keyboard (I had worn off the L and the N anyway). I had to move my clock and my calendars so I could sort of see them, and I’m still figuring out where to put my mug-warmer, so I can sip my tea while I work without spilling it on the keyboard.

All of this rearranging required much standing, bending, lifting and crawling, delightful for my back. If you recall, last week, I was mostly lying down staring at the ceiling or the sky. But I’m doing much better, I was careful, and I’m seeing the chiropractor again today for one more tuneup.  

Standing here, I can look out at my back yard. Sunrise was so beautiful. I can check email and Facebook while on my feet. But I get tired. I wrote this morning’s poem sitting on the loveseat with the dog, and I’m sitting in my new raised “drafting” chair as I type this. But when I feel like it, I’ll stand for a while. I wonder if one thinks differently, if one writes differently standing vs. sitting. Does the body assume a fight or flight stance? What do you think?

I haven’t had a job that required much standing since I worked retail in college. I do remember how great it felt to sit down on my breaks. Since I went into the newspaper biz in my senior year, I have always worked seated. This is a privilege not granted to all workers. Think about all the people who spend all day on their feet: waitresses, cooks, nurses, assembly line workers, bank tellers, hairstylists, teachers, and more. A lot of us don’t even notice that these workers are standing all day, but they are.

It doesn’t take much research to learn that even with supportive shoes, cushioned surfaces, and occasional breaks, standing jobs take a toll on the body. In fact, they’re just as bad for your back as sitting all day. Check out these articles:

Standing All Day at Work May Take Toll on Health, WebMD News from HealthDay

10 jobs that keep you on your feet

Standing All Day for Work? Here’s How to Avoid Pain and Injury

So what do we do? I can testify that sitting all day trashes your back, especially if you’re hunched forward concentrating like I tend to do. You also get “lithographer’s spread” (fat butt) as my late father-in-law used to say. Standing uses more calories, so I’m hoping to lose a few pounds, but I can already tell I’ll only be standing off and on.

Our bodies are made to move. I believe the only logical conclusion is to not stay in any one position too long. So now I’m standing as I write this last bit. Up, down, up, down, keep it moving. I set a timer to both force myself to stay on task and to tell me when to get up and move.

There are people who sit on big rubber balls or run on treadmills while working. Amazon offers what looks like a stool on a rubber mount that keeps moving around. I don’t have the coordination for that, but I applaud their creativity.

How about you? How much time do you sit? Have you worked jobs where you had to stand all day? How did you deal with that? How do you keep your back happy? I look forward to your comments.

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What Do You Do When Your Back Goes Out and You can’t Stay in One Position for More than Five Minutes?

For one thing, you don’t post on your blog for three weeks in a row because all you can think about is your back, and that’s boring. I’m still getting things done, just . . . differently.

My back has gone bonkers. I just spent my third weekend babying it. The only semi-comfortable position is upside down with my back flat on the floor, the bed, or the deck. See photos. The world looks quite different in reverse. The clouds are gorgeous. The ceiling looks like a new world I’d like to explore. The dog is intrigued. She sniffs. Hmm. What’s going on? Then she barks until I take her out for a walk where I moan for a block, then turn her around, saying, “Mama has to go lie down.”

Please don’t send advice. I’m drowning in it. I’m seeing the chiropractor every other day. I just want to share some of the quirky things this has caused me to do:

* Binged the 8-episode series Clickbait, a mystery-thriller that kept me guessing right up to the surprise ending, which I watched in the wee hours this morning. Highly recommended.

* Watched “The Starling,” a movie with Melissa McCarthy, and “An Unfinished Life” with Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez and Morgan Freeman. Both good. Put them on your list, too. I also watched some real stinkers, but I won’t mention them.

* Decided to rearrange my office again, ordered a table and a high-rise chair to go with my standing desk, coming Thursday, assembly required.

* Decided to digitize 50 years’ worth of sheet music and ordered a new tablet, coming tomorrow.

* Joined the Walmart shopping club for the free delivery.

* Sampled an online mandolin course, which now keeps telling me to start my first lesson.

* Shopped for guitars and cars. Now my computer is full of ads for both.

* Soaked in the hot tub for hours, trying out all the features on the control panel. If I could move my computer desk to the hot tub, I would stay there all day.

* Listened to a bazillion podcasts, most of them stupid.

* Zoomed countless poetry readings, changing location every few minutes. I honestly don’t know how I will ever sit still in a chair when COVID lets us meet in person again.

* Revised my memoir one more time, sitting, standing, and lying with my laptop on my belly.

* Planned landscaping and redecorating projects that I will undertake when I can move again.

* Continued playing music at church, where I was grateful Catholics change position a lot—sit, stand, kneel, walk up to Communion . . .  Stand up straight! I thought I was.

* Let the mail stack up and the dirty dishes wait.

* Thought about how maybe I can’t live here by myself anymore even though I love my place in the forest.

* Counted my blessings that I could still walk and move and plan even though it hurt. Lots of people can’t do those things.

Is it getting better? I’m honestly not sure. I’m not crawling around with two canes now, so that’s something. I can stand without screaming, but . . . I don’t know. I’m doing what I can to mitigate the effects of sitting at my computer all day, mostly by just not doing it. Hemingway wrote standing up, so I can, too. Meanwhile, the floor is calling me.

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The Day the Vacuum Cleaner Died

A Prose Poem

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The blue monster roars and the Labrador runs, slamming out the doggie door to hide under the pines. Why does her human not see the evil in its shining yellow grin, its long black tail, and its multiple mouths that chew and swallow everything, even live bugs and clumps of fur? Why does the woman not run and take shelter with the dog, quivering, skin against fur, until the monster goes away?

But wait. The beast has gone silent. The woman has it on its back. The woman curses as she pokes its innards with a long stick, a wire hanger, and then a plumber’s snake. Can the snake kill the beast? The dog is watching eagerly. Should she join the attack? She is old, and the monster’s hard skin would only hurt her teeth.

Look! The woman is dragging the beast out by its head, laying it on the patio deck. With her multi-headed screwdriver, she is taking it apart, pulling out its guts. She growls and grunts. She is covered with fur and dirt. She holds her back as if in pain, but she fights on.

At last, the beast is torn apart, eviscerated. Only the skeleton remains intact. The woman has slain the blue monster. Spent, she sits beside her kill as the dog, saved, runs across the yard, clatters onto the deck, and licks her savior’s dusty face.

**************

Yes, I killed it. Put it in the pile with all the mechanical things that have malfunctioned lately. Hot tub. Indoor-outdoor thermometer. The dehumidifier’s overflow light is on. The car’s service light is on. The Kindle warns of low battery. I found the watch I had lost for months, but the battery is dead and I can’t get the back off to replace it. I tried to move my window blinds from one window to another where the blinds were already broken and broke off the doo-hickey that holds them on. The computer keeps telling me it wants to install a new security thing that I’m afraid will destroy my online life . . .

I am a) not mechanical, b) not equipped with more than two hands, and c) so distracted I routinely forget I turned on the stove or the washing machine. I need a live-in helper. Not a husband or a lover. Not someone I need to take care of. I need someone of any age or gender who has the energy to see a problem and say, “I’ll take care of that for you” and then do it.

After waiting three days for three visits from a very strange pair of hot tub repair guys, one of them so crippled with a bad back I could feel his pain as he bent and squatted over the spa controls, they declared it healed. I put the hose in to fill it up Saturday morning, started writing and forgot it. It overflowed, and I had to drain the excess. Two days later, it overheated, the light flashing at 110 degrees. I played with the controls until it stopped, but now the water is 80 degrees and getting colder by the minute.  

I need a keeper. And a new vacuum cleaner. I think the old one choked on dog fur, which I pulled out of every orifice. Now it not only doesn’t suck up dirt and fur, but it won’t turn on. I killed it. Annie is overjoyed.

Have you ever hoped for a power failure to simplify your life? What mechanical things drive you nuts? Do you have a vacuum cleaner you love? What kind? Please share.

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Wandering Through the Rooms in my Dreams

Have you ever dreamed repeatedly about a house you have never lived in? I have. Usually it’s this elegant castle of a home where I keep discovering new rooms and there’s a secret door that leads down a flight of stairs to a plush sitting room I only show to special people. I have been there many times and wish I could stay.

But last night, it was a different house. Rustic. Splintered wood in need of sanding and paint. Some very old furniture that remained from a past owner. Fred and I were claiming it now. I don’t know if we had bought it or were about to.

Another woman might be obsessed with the kitchen or the bedrooms, but all I cared about was office space. Where will I write?

I had choices. First I claimed a small room off the living room. It had an ancient leather swivel chair and a vast wooden desk. I sat and spun. Oh, I could write here, I thought. But there was more to the house. We came to a huge office space in a refurbished garage. The windows were boarded up, but when we took off the covers, light poured in. This room had an enormous desk and rows and rows of shelves and plastic bins where I could store my books and my research. The garage door was still there, and I could open it on warm days.

I realized my husband, who had a tax preparation business, might want to choose one of these offices. I should not be selfish. When I’m writing, it doesn’t matter where I am. But as always, he was so generous he gave me my choice. I wanted the big one.

The living room was a shadowy blur. I never saw the kitchen or bedrooms or even a bathroom. Every inch of this house needed work, but oh, I wanted that office. Not only would I write, but people would come for salons and readings. I could taste the wine and the cheese and crackers.

In real life, I have a perfectly good office in a bedroom in my house in South Beach. It is crammed with my books and papers and the various tools I need for my work. Copies of my own books are stacked in Fred’s old office, along with mailing supplies. But the truth is I work all over the property, including the kitchen, living room, and back yard. Sometimes I write a word or two in the laundry room or the bathroom because the words don’t stop at the doorway where the dog lies waiting for attention. It’s odd that I don’t dream about my actual office. But I love those offices in my dreams. What does it mean?

Do you dream about houses? Are they places you have lived or places you have never seen? What rooms stand out for you? Where do you think this comes from?

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For something totally quirky and fun, look at these artificial “shadows” created by an artist in Redwood City, California. Some of us used it as a poetry prompt this weekend, but all you need to do is enjoy them.

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A Modern-Day Tale of Two Viruses

This afternoon I got tested for COVID-19. Part of me wanted the test to be positive so I would know why I have had this killer headache for four days, but most of me wanted it to be negative so I could continue my life without having to quarantine. I needed groceries! I didn’t feel too sick, so if it was COVID, the vaccine was working.

I wracked my brain as to where I might have gotten the virus. I wore my mask everywhere. Did I get it at church? Unlikely because I was isolated at the piano with my mask on. Did I get it chatting with the neighbors while walking Annie? Shopping for groceries at Fred Meyer? Picking up my library book? I know one friend who has COVID right now, but I haven’t seen her for weeks. Was it the writer I had lunch with on Thursday? Nah. Well, maybe.

But my test was negative. No COVID. I still have the headache and a slight case of the sniffles, but maybe it’s just a plain old cold. Remember those?

The guy who administered the test was not very friendly. I felt like a leper. To all those who test positive, I wish I could give you a big old hug.  Meanwhile, I’ll be more cautious than before.

COVID is not the only kind of bug I have been dealing with. I got hacked. Last week I received a direct Facebook message from a musician friend with a link to a video. “Is this you in the video?” she asked. Well, I’m in quite a few videos because our church music gets uploaded on YouTube every week and I participate at least once a week in a Zoom literary reading or open mic that is recorded. So I figured, sure, it’s probably me. I’d like to see myself—come on, who doesn’t? So I clicked. It just brought me an error message. There was no video. Oh well, I thought, and went on with my business until that evening when friends started bombarding me with messages asking if my Facebook account had been “hacked.” Meaning someone had invaded my account and taken control of it.

Some days, I wish we could go back to typewriters and snail mail. Typewriters and paper only receive what you put into them. They don’t interrupt with thoughts of their own. Nor can what you put into them be stolen by people who aren’t even in the same state or country as you are. Nobody ever got “hacked” writing with a pen or typing on a typewriter.

All of my Facebook friends received the same message asking about the video. Don’t click on it, I said, but for some it was too late. They clicked, and now they too will be spreading the virus to all their friends. I can only change my password, apologize and warn people to be careful. I could quit Facebook, too, but as a writer living alone, I need the company and the connections.

The next day, while walking Annie, I received a text message on my phone from my credit card company that my account was locked. Uh-oh. The virus had spread. There was a link to click to resolve the situation. It’s good I was not at home and Annie was pulling too hard for me to mess with my phone. I had time to think wait, this might be a scam. It was. At home, I checked my account, and everything was fine. I went on a password-changing frenzy for all of my financial accounts.

I hate that this world has gotten to a point where you have to be constantly suspicious, where you can’t just pick up the phone and say “hello” without making sure the caller is someone you know, where you can’t click on any link that comes your way or accept every Facebook friend request. Nine out of ten of the requests I get are from hackers posing as friends or from handsome widowed men who are not real. Within minutes after accepting such friendships, my messages start spewing garbage.

I think things have settled down in the Internet world for the moment. I have not sent anyone a direct message or a friendship request since Thursday night, so if you get such a thing, it is not from me. If you receive a link from someone you do not know or from someone you do know who would not usually send you a link, DO NOT CLICK IT.

Have you had a COVID scare or a positive result? Feel free to share how that went? Have you been hacked on Facebook or elsewhere on the Internet? We can talk about that, too.

If you’re isolating yourself these days, check out the science fiction mini-series “Solos” on Amazon Prime. In each episode, the single character is alone, either by choice or not, and some pretty spooky stuff happens. Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and Anne Hathaway are among the famous actors who appear.

In my isolation, I’m streaming a lot of shows. Best movie I have seen in ages: “Here Today” with Billy Crystal. Fascinating Renee Zellweger transformation: “The Same Kind of different as Me.” Dark and sure to make you cry: “News of the World” with Tom Hanks.

Click carefully, get your shots, and don’t go out without your mask. See you on Zoom.

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