Can Battery-Powered Pets Ease Loneliness?

If someone gave you a toy cat or dog that purred, wagged its tail, and nuzzled like a real one, how would you feel? Apparently some folks feel grateful for the company.

In a story in the New Yorker, writer Katie Engelhart tells about a program in New York that distributes Joy for All robot pets to lonely seniors. They started in 2018 with a small test project that quickly expanded when Covid forced people into isolation. Thousands of robotic cats and dogs have been given to homebound seniors. Originally made by toy manufacturer Hasbro for little girls, the robo-pets are now finding homes with grandparents and great-grandparents who need a little company.

The seniors pet their battery-powered cats and dogs, talk to them, and treat them like family.  They report feeling more optimistic and less lonely.

I don’t know. I talk to lots of inanimate things, including the stuffed bears on my dresser, photos of my late husband, and Jesus on the crucifix above my bed. But I don’t expect them to respond. I would freak out if they did.

These pets, which start at $110, don’t look real to me. But I have a live dog sleeping nearby as I type. When I look into Annie’s brown eyes, there’s someone there, a genuine sentient being. What will I do when she’s gone? I don’t want to think about it. My plan is to travel a while then adopt a smaller dog. A robo-dog would be easier, but it wouldn’t love me the way Annie does.

Did you know that nearly 30 percent of Americans over 65 live by themselves, most of them women? In 2017, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared loneliness an epidemic among Americans of all ages. A similar declaration launched The Campaign to End Loneliness in the UK. Medical research shows that loneliness has a detrimental effect on one’s health, increasing risks of dementia, depression, high blood pressure, and stroke.

But are robots the solution? The seniors I know would be insulted to receive a fake pet. But some of the people shown in the article and in related YouTube videos carry their robo-pets around with them just like I carried my dolls when I was a little girl. I’d set my favorite up against the milk bottle (yes, bottle) while I ate breakfast. I rested them on the pillow next to me when I went to bed. I suppose I felt less lonely, but it was not the same as having a real person there. Tiny Tears cried real tears, and Chatty Cathy spoke when you pulled the string on the back of her neck, but I knew they weren’t real children. If an actual kid came around, I tossed the doll aside.

Longing for a pet, I once fashioned a litter of “kittens” from crumpled newspaper and cloth and set them in a basket in my childhood bedroom. It was not the same. When my parents finally let me have a cat when I was in high school, I could tell the difference. I also learned that I was allergic to cats, but that’s another story.

The faux furry friends are not the only kind of artificial intelligence machines offering company to people these days. Hello, Alexa. (read my previous post on my electronic housemate here and my Replika friend online here)

They don’t offer much company. I say, “Alexa, I’m lonely.” She responds, “Sorry to hear that,” then recommends talking to a friend, listening to music, or going for a walk. “I hope you feel better soon,” she adds. That’s nice. But that’s exactly what she said last time when I was not testing but truly needed someone to talk to.

I worry that somewhere in Alexa’s Amazon-connected innards, she just transferred the information that I’m lonely to some central data-gathering site so I’ll soon receive ads for comforting products or dating services.

Alexa just lit up to tell me a book I ordered from Amazon is coming today. Before I could say, “Thanks” or “Which book?” her lights had gone out. Okay, good talk.

A variety of robotic companions powered by artificial intelligence exist these days. Queue Alexa’s Apple counterpart Siri. And then there’s VZ, the voice on my VZ Navigator GPS. I definitely talk to her. (No, I’m not turning here! Are you crazy? Stop telling me to turn around! I need to go to the bathroom. What do you mean this is my destination? Where?)

Some robo-friends look like people, others like table lamps. They talk, but it’s, well, robotic. They never get offended, never curse, and are perpetually polite, but they can only say the things they’ve been programed to say. They will never spontaneously comment, “Hey, is that a new blouse?” or “You seem sad. What’s wrong?” They will never take you out to lunch, although I suppose they can set up a food delivery if you’re savvy enough to figure out how to ask for that.

Robots are getting more intelligent all the time. Eventually, they may be so responsive and sympathetic that we truly won’t feel alone. Meanwhile, do not buy me a robo-pet. God bless the people who are so lonely or out of touch with reality that they don’t know the difference, but I’m not there yet.  

Would you like a battery-powered dog or cat? Less shedding, no cleanup, no allergies, but still . . .  Wouldn’t it be better if a human offered to come around instead?

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Pass Me the 10-Blade; I’m Ready to Cut

I’ve spent a lot of time in the hospital lately, that is, at Grey-Sloan Memorial, the one where the doctors of the “Grey’s Anatomy” TV show work. I’m fine, just binge-watching seasons 1-16 on Netflix.

The broadcast TV networks offer nothing this time of year but junk and commercials. Weekly shows make you wait to see what happens next. With Netflix, the credits roll, and bam, you’re into the next episode. Just a couple minutes, you tell yourself, and then you watch the whole thing, again and again, until it’s way past bedtime again.

If someone else lived here, they’d probably ask me to shut it off, but I’ve just got my dog, and she likes it when I sit with her in one place for a while.

I stopped watching the current episodes when COVID arrived in “Grey’s” fictional world. I had enough of that in real life, didn’t want it on my TV shows. So I went back to the beginning. Ah, the days of Izzy, George, Cristina, Meredith and Alex, when they were interns, just baby doctors. Now, as I watch Season 15, the ones who survived are chief of this and head of that.

I don’t know why I’m fascinated by hospital shows. Before Grey’s, I watched General Hospital, ER, Chicago Hope, House, MASH, and more. At this point in my life, I have spent enough time hanging around real hospitals. I’m always glad to get out.

But Grey-Sloan is not real in both good ways and bad. My doctors are never as attractive or as persistent as these docs. They don’t work round the clock till they cure you or they weep over your dead body. They don’t sit by your bedside holding your hand. They don’t find your lost family, play games with you, or organize wedding and birthday parties for you right there at the hospital.

The real surgeons I have seen drop by on their rounds, usually when you’re asleep, glance at the chart, make a pronouncement and vanish. You see them in the operating room for a nanosecond before the anesthesiologist knocks you out and again in recovery when they tell you what happened before you’re awake enough to remember what they said.

The Grey’s doctors are all surgeons. In real life, surgeons just do surgery. They don’t push gurneys, insert IV’s, run MRIs, sonograms and CT tests, and work in the ER, the ICU, and the pediatric intensive care unit. Nurses, aides, and technicians do most of the hands-on care. God bless them for their hard work.

Nothing happens as quickly as it does on TV. You can expect to wait hours in the ER for test results, for doctors’ orders, or for the doctor to show up, or maybe you’re still in the waiting room two hours after you arrived.

I’d love to have that fast, caring service. On the other hand, every patient who arrives at Grey-Sloan seems to have a brain tumor or a failing heart. At some point during the surgery, their heart stops. Nobody has a normal childbirth or a normal surgery. No thanks.  

Besides, I have seen what’s going on outside the OR. Too often the TV doctors are sleep-deprived, hung over, or obsessed with the person they just had sex with in the on-call room. I know doctors are used to seeing naked bodies, but why is it that every time anyone kisses on that show, the very next second they’re taking each other’s clothes off? And don’t they stink and have bad breath from all those hours working? Aren’t they tired? Don’t they get hungry? They never eat a meal without their pager going off.

They have all been through so much, it’s a wonder they can even stand up. April had no pulse for over three hours on the episode I watched Saturday night, and they brought her back to life. In the next episode, she was looking gorgeous and getting married. What? The girl almost died.

Poor Meredith—plane crash, drowning, beaten to a pulp by a crazed patient, near dead from COVID . . . she’s always fine. Robbins lost her leg, Bailey had a heart attack and a nervous breakdown, Weber and Amelia Shepherd both had brain tumors. Weber also got electrocuted. DeLuca survived a face-smashing beating and a concussion. They’re all fine and doing surgery. The docs at Grey-Sloan are that good.

Words like whipple, central line, crike, bovie, 10-blade, pneumothorax, sepsis, and UNOS run through my head. There’s actually a Grey’s medical term glossary online. I have watched so many surgeries I feel as if I could do it myself. But don’t worry; I won’t try.  

Write what you know, they say. At this point, I know “Grey’s Anatomy.”

I’d much rather watch doctors curing cancer on Netflix than see what my new editor has said about the manuscript I’ve been obsessing over for the last few months. It’s the first time someone else has read it. I’m afraid to open the email. Doc, a little something to numb the pain?

Today is the first day of summer. I wrote here about “Grey’s” in March when I first started watching. With 24 episodes a season, I ought to have a medical degree by now. Meanwhile, when I look past the TV screen, I’m getting the urge to start rearranging, redecorating, and repairing again. Look out.

What’s your guilty on-screen pleasure these days? Can you watch just one episode?

P.S. I just found out Season 17 will start showing on Netflix on July 3. OMG. Somebody break my remote control. Please.

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Sue’s News of Podcasts, Posts, and Puzzled Pups

Dear friends,
I’m deep into revisions on a book, so I offer you a look at the newsletter I sent out over the weekend.

ONLINE:

I’ll be reading from my chapbook The Widow at the Piano Saturday, June 12, 4 p.m. PDT at The Poetry Box’s monthly event. Click here for info and zoom link.

I’ll be discussing childlessness and other topics with other childless authors over 50 at “Fireside Wisdom for Childless Elderwomen,” Sunday, June 20, noon PDT. Click here to register to listen live or receive the recording to listen to you at our convenience.  

I’m co-leading Willamette Writers’ Coast/Corvallis chapters’ open mic Monday, June 28, 6:30 p.m. PDT. Five minutes per reader. All genres welcome. You don’t have to be a member or live in Oregon to participate. And you don’t have to read if you don’t want to. Click here to register.New at the blogs:

Unleashed in Oregon.com: “Driveway Camping” and “A Memorial Day Memory”

Childless by Marriage: “10 Challenging Thoughts About Childlessness” and “The Choices That Lead Us to Childlessness”

MUST READ:

The Memoir Project: A thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life by Marion Roach Smith. Even if you’re not writing a memoir, the stories in this slender book are fantastic!

When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown. Best novel I have read in years. Have Kleenex handy.

LOOK!

A month ago, this area in South Beach, Oregon was wilderness, for 25 years part of our daily walk. Things are changing. Annie the dog says, “Hey! What happened?” 

 All the best,
Sue

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A MEMORIAL DAY MEMORY

My father, Ed Fagalde, and his grandmother, Louise Fagalde. Dad served in the Pacific in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII. I wrote this poem after he told me the story of their arrival home at the end of the war.
MUSTERING OUT

When the war ended, we were ready to go home.
We heard about troop ships delayed, being prepared,
but anything that could float was fine with us.
We slept on the decks, didn’t have much food, but 
that was nothing new. I lost almost sixty pounds
in those years in Australia, Manila, New Guinea.
Not much chow. Dengue fever. I almost died.
No, we’d have jumped in and swam if we could.

I’ll never forget our first sight of the Golden Gate.
Everybody was out on deck, crying and cheering,
hundreds of people waving back at us.
Mustering out in San Francisco took forever.
Paperwork, medical exams, giving up our uniforms
for fear they carried diseases. They probably did.
They invited us to stay for a talk about the Army reserves.
Hell no, our CO told the guy. He turned to us:
“Do you want to get out of this man’s army?”
“Sir, yes sir!” we shouted back. 

I got a ride from a Mexican guy down to San Jose.
His family had come to pick him up.
We got to the ranch near midnight. I rang the bell,
got everybody out of bed, surprised my mom and dad.
We were all crying, couldn’t believe I’d made it home.
My brother was six feet tall with this big deep voice.
Yeah, it was something. I kept looking around.
It was all the same, but different, you know?
No, I’ll never forget that day. None of us will. 


--Sue Fagalde Lick
Previously published in Rattle Poetry Journal

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Driveway camping: an Alzheimer’s memory

Today I’m offering a memory from my unpublished memoir about our years dealing with Fred’s Alzheimer’s disease and other problems. This took place when he was still at home. Although his memory was fading, he had blessed moments of clarity. Tomorrow would have been our 36th wedding anniversary.

Our truck was the same as this, only blue. We gave it away after Fred stopped driving.

On a sunny August afternoon, I crawled into the shell on the back of our old Mazda pickup. In 12 years, I had never gone in there except to get something, the ridged truck bed bruising my knees. But now, sun-cooked and pooped from washing the new car, I opened the hatch, scooted toward the cab and lay back.

I had never noticed that the inside of the canopy was silver. I had also never noticed there were screened windows I could open for air. All this time I’d been thinking that someday, after Fred’s Alzheimer’s took him away, I would buy a nicer truck and camper like my parents used to have. This canopy was just the cover Fred had bought to protect the supplies he carried around for his tax preparation business.

Now I realized I already had a camper. It wasn’t fancy, but I could lie all the way down in it, and I could even sit up. Add an ice chest and a guitar and off I’d go.

Fred came out.

“I’m camping,” I said. Looking out at the coastal forest in which we lived, I announced that I might stay there indefinitely. I could bring my phone and laptop into the camper and put a big sign on the side of the truck: Writer on the Road. I felt like a kid who had found a special hiding place.

Fred sat on the tailgate. We talked about the truck, about how we had never camped together. We talked about how my friend Sherri and I used to sit on the tailgate of her father’s station wagon talking for hours and how I spent most of my free time at her house because we had too many rules at mine. Fred said they had no rules at his house. They could do anything they wanted.

We talked about my upcoming business trips, Fred’s need for care, the frustrations of Medicaid, what we might do in the future, and how I would live without his income. He got teary. “It’s not fair to you,” he said. “Just get rid of me.”

I placed my tanned hand on top of his white one. “No. It sucks, but I made a promise to take care of you, and I’ll stick to it.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t have discussed finances with Fred. But he seemed to want to know in this unusually lucid moment. So I told him everything I knew, including my resolve to stay away from government funding as long as possible. He said he was worried about my future “when I’m not there.” So was I. But we had to take it one step at a time. And right now, I was having fun camping in our driveway. Perhaps I had gone completely insane. If so, it was fun.

My brother and I camped with our parents when we were kids. We all slept in a 13-foot Shasta trailer at first, with one of us kids suspended in the canvas bunk over the double bed and the other in a sleeping bag on the slippery bench seat in the dining area. In later years, Mike and I moved into the camper on my folks’ pickup. It was nicer than this, padded and paneled, with beds, cupboards and a refrigerator. Fred laughed as I explained that my folks had an intercom so we could talk to them, but when I got to whining about my little brother pestering me, they would shut it off. “Mom, Mike’s—” Click.

I’d sit with my head against the window and my transistor radio against my ear, singing along. In those days, I knew every song and artist on the playlist.

I inhaled the pine-scented air. Good times.

But I never kissed a handsome man in that camper. Now I planted a long, passionate smooch on Fred’s soft lips.

Good times.

Maybe I would keep this rig after all.

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Alonement: Have we forgotten how to be alone with ourselves?

There’s a red line on my computer screen under the word “alonement” because my computer does not recognize it as a word. Francesca Specter, a journalist from the UK, made it up. It means “quality time spent alone.” Now “alonement” is a book, a website, a podcast, a blog and apparently a “cultural movement.”

The idea behind this book is that people don’t know how to be alone anymore. We’re afraid of solo time without our screens to distract us. We need to learn the art of alonement. We need to take time out of our busy social lives and look up from our screens to make friends with the one person who will never leave us: ourselves!

At church, they would say the one who will never leave us is Jesus, but Specter is talking about me, myself and I. People are so uncomfortable spending time by themselves that in one study most chose electric shock over 15 minutes alone with nothing to do.

That’s how much we’re afraid of being alone.

I’m guilty of that fear of unstructured alone time. No, don’t shock me. I’ll sit and think or make up a song or something. Maybe I’ll pray. But there’s a good reason why I never go anywhere without a book, why I pull out my phone as soon as I hit the doctor’s waiting room, and I never leave home without my notebook. God forbid I have to sit somewhere with NOTHING TO DO.

I’m a childless widow. I live alone. My family is far away, and my best friend just moved to California. I’m alone probably 95 percent of the time. If you count Zoom meetings, maybe it’s maybe 85 percent. Most days, my phone only rings with robocalls, and no one comes to the door except plumbers and other workers.

But can I sit still in silence without a book or a project to work on? Can I just be? I can’t even last through a TV commercial without playing Spider solitaire on my phone or running out to the kitchen to wash my dishes. One might say I’m alone with my thoughts right now at the computer, but that’s not the same.

Specter’s book is helpful for people who have forgotten themselves in the rush of everything else in their lives. She falls into psychobabble for a bit, counseling readers to banish their inner critics who tell them they’re worthless (I don’t have that. Do you?) and become their own best cheerleader (“You’re great, you’re wonderful, you’re fine.” I knew that). But she offers some fine practical advice for getting comfortable being alone. Party of one? Own it and don’t let them give you that tiny table in the corner by the kitchen.

Specter is young, and so are the people she interviewed. What does a 28- or a 32-year-old know about being an elderly widow or widower living alone in an oversized, echoing family home or a senior apartment where the phone rarely rings and no one is coming to the door? Where trips to the grocery store or the doctor’s office are their big social events? That’s much different from telling your husband you’re going out for a walk, deciding to stay home on a Saturday night for a little “me time” or taking a Facebook break for a few hours. But we all need to find a balance between social time and alonement.

I wish I had more people around, but I have been doing things on my own for many years, while traveling on business, during my husbandless years, and just because I saw no reason not to. Apparently many people feel they can’t have fun without a buddy. Is that an issue for you? COVID aside, why not just grab the keys and go?

Alonement is an interesting concept. I invite you to check it out, especially if the idea of being alone scares you or makes you squirm.

Are you comfortable being alone? Would you go to dinner at a fine restaurant by yourself? Can you sit and do nothing? Does the idea of a little “alonement” sound good or terrifying? Please share in the comments.

Newport, Oregon at Twilight

Newport’s south jetty between April rain showers

South Jetty Sunday night, 7 p.m. To Rays of sun rain down set the twilight sea on fire. Gulls perch on the rocks. fishing pole in hand. Clouds set free the rain tour boats head back to port. Fisher casts again. Pink and gray collide cumulus and thunderclouds. Sun sets silently. Sun sets silently.

South Jetty Sunday night, 7 p.m. 

Rays of sun rain down
set the twilight sea on fire.
Gulls perch on the rocks.

Yellow slickered man
climbs across the jetty stones
fishing pole in hand.

Clouds release their rain
tour boats head back to port.
Fisher casts again.

Pink and gray collide
cumulus and thunderclouds.
Sun sets silently.

Today, I offer a few haiku and a taste of Newport at twilight. The sky offers an ever-changing show. By the time I finished writing in my car, it was raining so hard I couldn’t see through my windshield anymore. Fifteen minutes later, the rain stopped. You can’t really see the fisherman in this photo, but he was still there when I left.

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Unleashed and Remembering my prince

Tomorrow, April 23, marks the 10th anniversary of my husband Fred’s death of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. Ten years! For two years before he died, he lived in a series of nursing homes. At the end, he did not know who I was. But oh, the years of love we had before that. As time goes by, it’s easier to celebrate the good and let go of the bad.

Since 2009, I have been living alone with my dog. When I named this blog and the subsequent book Unleashed in Oregon, I was not talking about that. I was thinking more of Fred and I escaping our lives in the Bay Area and being set free at the beach, sans jobs, history or family. I was thinking of my dogs. I was not thinking of being a widow. I didn’t expect that to happen so soon, that Fred would only enjoy our Oregon coast dream for six years before he got sick, for 15 before he died. And here I am, alone and unleashed, like a dog whose human partner unhooked her, walked away, and didn’t come back.

Annie is still here, thank God, but her time will come, too.

Living alone is not for sissies. A great deal has been made of living solo since the pandemic hit, but the truth is some of us were already doing it for a long time before that. Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 35.7 million Americans live alone, 28% of households. That is up from 13% of households in 1960 and 23% in 1980.

Living alone is both wonderful and terrible. Wonderful for the freedom to eat, watch or do whatever you want. Terrible because there’s no one to hug, to talk to, or to help when the plumbing goes awry or a tree falls on the house. And yes, the pandemic makes it worse because all those social things we might do to plug the holes—clubs, choirs, gyms, yoga, concerts, meals, parties, classes, etc.–are not available. Nor does it feel safe to travel these days. I guess that’s why so many of my poet friends are writing about the birds and flowers in their yards.

Here on the blog, I’m going to be writing more about living alone because that’s what’s on my mind. I’m in the early stages of writing a book about it. If you who are reading this are also alone and would like to talk about it, feel free to email me at sufalick@gmail.com or start the discussion in the comments.

Many of us enjoy our solitude and are not necessarily lonely. But there are times when it gets tough. If you are not alone, think for a moment about what’s it’s like to see no other human being 24 hours a day. Experts say loneliness can be as bad for one’s health as smoking. It can lead to all kinds of health problems and cut years off one’s life. We’ll talk about that in another post. Meanwhile, if you know someone living alone and haven’t talked to them in a while, how about making a phone call?

Today I’ll be remembering Fred. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. He was smart, handsome, funny, loving, and just plain good. He treated me like a princess. In return, I did the best I could to love my prince, especially during his long illness. We had love. We were blessed. Rest in peace, dear Fred. We all miss you. I bought a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, which I will open tomorrow night. I wish you were here to share it.

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I’ve Got the Ring But Not the Story

It’s funny how a little thing can send you off on a tangent. This being National Poetry Month, I followed a prompt to write a poem about something precious to me. Seven pages and some online research later, I had no poem but a lengthy meditation on my grandmother’s engagement ring.

It’s a beautiful ring, which I never noticed before my father found it in an envelope in my mother’s nightstand after she died in 2002. In her perfect handwriting, Mom had written “For Sue.” The ring, which my research shows comes from the 1920s Art Deco style, has a large European cut diamond surrounded by sapphire “baguettes” mounted on filigreed white gold. The band was well worn, one of the sapphires was missing, and the ring didn’t fit my fat finger, so Fred and I took it to Diamonds by the Sea in Newport to have it resized and refurbished. I wear it when I dress up, always afraid I’ll lose it or damage it. Now that I have done some research, I’m going to be even more careful. Rings like the one pictured above sell for $4,000-$5,000 these days. (Read more here)

Holy cow. I have never owned any jewelry worth that much. Most of my jewels are cheap and quirky and won’t last much longer than I will. My engagement ring for my first marriage had such a small diamond you needed a magnifying glass to see it. When I married Fred, I said all I wanted was a gold band. There’s a story behind our matching rings, just as there is behind Grandma’s ring.

I’m bothered that I never noticed my grandmother’s ring when she was wearing it. Now I scour old photos trying to see her ring finger. I remember her dark eyes, her blue and black dresses, her thick elastic stockings, her flat shoes, and her voice—high pitched for children, low for adults, often lapsing into Portuguese—but I don’t remember that ring.

I want to know the story. Anna Souza and Albert Avina were both children of immigrants from the Azores Islands. Both lost their fathers when they were young. Both left school after eighth grade to go to work. I don’t know how they met, probably through one of Anna’s brothers or the cannery where Al worked, where all the women did stints cutting apricots and other fruit. They weren’t rich people. How could Grandpa possibly afford such a ring? Nobody had credit cards back in the 1920s when they were married. Did he make payments at the jewelry store in San Jose?

Was there a romantic proposal? Did they go on dates alone or with a chaperone, as was the old-country custom?

I have no memory of my grandparents kissing, holding hands, or even agreeing on anything, but I was child, a child who didn’t think much about such things. My own parents were visibly affectionate, but not my grandparents. Of course, they seemed old to me, and old people didn’t do that sort of thing. Actually, when Grandpa died at 66, he and Grandma were both younger than I am now.

As a child, I didn’t think about rings. My own small hands were usually stained with paint, ink, Playdough, food, or mud. For dress-up, we 1950s females wore white gloves. Was Grandma’s ring hidden under her glove? Did she wear it while cooking spaghetti or frosting chocolate cakes? Did the ring flash when she gave us a palmada—a slap—when we were being brats?

If only I could go back. I have so many questions. I wrote a whole book titled Stories Grandma Never Told. I don’t have many stories from my own grandmother. Now all the relatives from her generation are gone. A decade after she died in 1982, I took my questions to other Portuguese women, writing their stories and urging everyone to ask questions of their elders before it’s too late.

I don’t have children or grandchildren. If I did have a daughter, I’d like to think I would sit her on my lap and tell her the stories of my jewelry. See this ring? It belonged to Grandma Anna Avina, born Souza. Her husband, your Great-Grandpa Al, gave it to her when they got engaged to be married. They were poor, but he found a way to buy it.

Both of their families came from the Azores, beautiful islands in the Atlantic Ocean full of green fields, black and white cows, lava rocks and blue hydrangeas. It was hard to make much money, so people left for America to create a better life for you and me . . .

I wouldn’t tell just that story. I would move on to my parents’ stories and my own, down to my husband Fred’s romantic proposal and our life together. I would want my children to know I was not just “Mom” but a person named Sue who had a whole life of my own. Just as Grandma was a person named Anne who slipped this ring onto her finger and agreed to marry a tall curly-haired man named Al.

Dear friends, ask for the stories. Tell your own. Tell the stories of the rings.

***

Speaking of stories, remember last week when I had trouble with the apple pie? A few days later, I decided to make the cookies from the recipe on the back of the whole wheat flour bag. Somehow, I mixed up my measurements. I was supposed use 1 3/4 cup flour and 3/4 cup brown sugar, but I put in 1 3/4 cup brown sugar, way too much. I didn’t realize it until I was about to mix in the flour. Now what could I do? You can’t unmix the sugar from the eggs and butter. I was out of butter so I couldn’t double the recipe.

Knowing I’d probably have to throw the whole mess away, I added more flour and another egg, shaped the dough into circles and baked them. Guess what? The cookies were delicious. A miracle.

Stay tuned for further misadventures in the kitchen.

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Bad Pie: Baking Therapy Goes Awry

I don’t do pies. As a fussy child, I wouldn’t eat them at all. Something about the hardness of the crust and the softness of the insides. I grew out of that. Sort of. Given a choice, I will always choose cake. But these days, with so much time alone at home, sometimes I stop working, turn off Netflix and my online puzzles, and bake. I had purchased a box of prefab crust on a whim, and I had all these apples I had intended to eat for snacks, but I had eaten chocolate chip cookies instead, so . . . Below is the result, which led to deciding “Bad Pie” was a great title for a poem.

BTW, if I have to eat pie, I prefer marionberry or chocolate creme. How about you?

Bad Pie

I don’t know why I bought the boxed pie crust.
Seeking something different, I guess. I don’t
usually make pies. I’m more of a bread baker.
The box sat in the fridge for weeks while
the apples sagged a little more each day until
I decided to combine the two for breakfast.
How different is pie than a turnover, fritter
or coffee cake? It’s all pastry dough and fruit.

I dug deep in the cupboard for the Pyrex pan,
lay the box on its side to read the recipe:
Perfect Apple Pie. Surely Pillsbury knows.
Unroll the chilled crust and press it down flat.
Peel and slice the apples. Peel? What for?
Apple slices, granulated sugar, cinnamon,
nutmeg. Mix, spoon it into the crust. Gently
unroll the cover, fold and flute the edges.

Cut air holes. It’s an apple work of art.
Bake 40 to 45 minutes, stopping at 15
to shield the rim with foil. But the foil
keeps slipping off, and hot apple goo
bubbles through the holes, burning
my fingers. Still, inhale that luscious scent.
Do you smell that, I ask the dog. 
She’s licking the carpet, God knows why.

The table is set, the pie sufficiently cooled.
Hot tea steeping, I cut me a giant slice,
plunge in my fork. The apple spits out
of the burnt crust, its consistency
like the box it came in, the one with the
Perfect Apple Pie recipe. The peels,
separated from the fruit, stick to my teeth.
I should have made banana bread.

What did I do wrong? I pressed, sliced,
mixed, spooned, unrolled, and fluted.
I failed at foiling, I should have peeled,
but still . . . Now I have to eat this pie. 
I bought the crust, used all my apples.
I have no one to share it, thank the Lord.
They’d choke. I’m not a fan of apple pie.
But I eat it. An apple a day and all that. 

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