Blessings Overflow During ‘NotMom’ Trip

IMG_20171006_113139494[1]I was sitting at the corner table at the Portland airport Radisson’s Lakeside Restaurant yesterday, devouring my pancakes, eggs and bacon when I saw someone who looked familiar a few tables down. As the woman and her companion got up to graze at the buffet, I realized I knew them from church. I had traveled across the country and was still 150 miles from home, and there were Ron and Sandi from Newport. After we all had a chance to eat our last pig-out meals before heading home to real life and diets, I joined them for a wonderful visit.

Ron and Sandi had been to Colorado and New Mexico. They were very interested when I told them I was returning from the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio. Sandi’s situation is similar to mine. She’s a stepmother, but never had her own children. I shared some of what I had learned.

It was a long and expensive trip, but worth it. I returned feeling stronger, prettier, and far less alone, with my notebook full of writing ideas. The high is fading a bit now in the rush of mail to read, bills to pay, clothing to wash, and work to get done. Rejections and deadlines loom, and I’m in charge of choir practice tonight. When I called Dad, he was full of the usual complaints—but he’s okay, and he was glad I had a good time.

This morning, the dog greeted me with kisses as I finally stirred in my warm, soft bed. Out the window, I saw evergreen trees and gray sky. No more big-city views of downtown Cleveland and Lake Erie out my window at the Hilton. What a beautiful city it is, full of   old buildings and fascinating public art.

There was a scary moment when I went walking Friday night. I was crossing a street at a crosswalk with a blinking warning light for oncoming cars. I walked right into the side of a car that had failed to stop. It took the breath out of me, but I was not injured. The driver apologized, and I staggered back to the hotel to sit shaking for a few minutes. It could have been all over in Cleveland before I even had a chance to give my speech. The picture above could have been the last one ever taken of me. But no, God was watching out for me. I took some deep breaths and went back to the conference.

This was not like writers’ conferences, where everybody is trying to get published. There, it’s all about what we do. But here, it was about who we are and how we live. I made about a hundred new friends as we sat around sharing how we happened to not have children. We came from as far as New Zealand and as near as Cleveland. I shared my session on aging without children with Gisele from Montreal. I met the fabulous Jody Day from the UK. Our accents varied, but we had this giant thing in common: we were all “NotMoms.”

God, how we talked. We discussed our families, our periods, our friends who are obsessed with their kids and grandkids, the stupid things people say to us, and so many other topics that we don’t usually feel we can talk about with other people. All the workshops were really discussions, with the women in the audience offering as much as the women up front.

We got drunk. We wore our pajamas to watch a documentary film called “To Kid or Not to Kid.” We ran around with giant bingo cards looking for women with various qualities to fill in the squares. I was the NotMom who played an instrument. Our keynote speakers taught us and inspired us. They made us laugh, and they made us cry. We talked about the hard stuff, the tragic stories of trying and failing to get pregnant or trying to get people to understand why some of us never wanted children. We asked each other whether having stepchildren means we’re not childless/childfree. It’s not the same as having our own, we agreed.

We gave standing ovations to Karen Malone Wright, founder of the NotMom organization, and her assistant Laura LaVoie, who made the conference happen. It was top-notch all the way. We pledged to come back next time and stay in touch in-between.

I also happily signed copies of my Childless by Marriage book and met readers I previously only knew online.

The hardest part was saying goodbye and walking out with our suitcases at the end. But I was blessed to spend the first leg of my trip home with Audrey from Olympia, Washington. We had met at dinner the first night, and now we discovered we were seated next to each other on the plane from Cleveland to Houston. I am so happy to have her as a new friend, along with so many others.

From Houston, I was finally on my own for the four-hour flight to Portland. That was a long one, with a lot of turbulence and a crying baby. But back in Portland, there were Ron and Sandi from Newport, making me see how the circles of my life intersect. I am so blessed.

In a bit of ironic timing, my step-grandson Brandon and his wife Ashley gave birth to a baby boy early this morning. Welcome, Kayden. I wish Fred were here to share the news.

Thank you all for being here.

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Where Does One Go After Z?


In April, I participated in my first A to Z blog challenge. I wrote 26 posts based on the letters of the alphabet, blogging every day but Sunday. The organizers have asked us to reflect on the experience. It was good, it was exhausting, and it took time away from my other writing, but I’m glad I did it.
Having an assignment and knowing somebody will read it gives great comfort to this old newspaper reporter who spent years cranking out stories on deadline with little question about what to write next, only worries about getting to the end of the list. Of course, with the blog challenge, I could quit any time. It was tempting. April, like every month so far this year, was fraught with challenges, including plumbing issues, the Easter music marathon, and being sicker than I’ve been in years. But I didn’t quit. Most of the time, I had written two or three posts in advance and just had to post them, but even when I got to Z with nothing written and was miserably sick, I got up and blogged.
Having to write something that fit the letter of the day sent me in directions I would not have thought of on my own. Weed whacker? Dog ears? Milk-Bones? It led me to what I think is some good writing. The challenge also brought me some new online friends. We are now following each other’s blogs and cheering each other on.
It was fascinating to see how other bloggers used the same letters. So many great ideas. One blogged about cheeses, a different kind for every letter. Another blogged about movies. Yet another wrote a short story every day. Some posted pictures, others travelogues. The challenge is over now, but I urge you to do some blog-hopping from the A to Z siteand see how many ways those 26 letters can be used.
If you look to the right side of the screen, you’ll see links to my A to Z posts here at Unleashed in Oregon. On Wednesdays, I posted at Childless by Marriage and on Fridays, I took my traveling blog show to Writer Aid. If you missed any posts, they will remain archived indefinitely. And if you’re a writer looking for inspiration, try going through the alphabet.
Have fun. Annie and I are going to take a nap.

X is for Xerox

X is even worse than Q for finding words to write about, but Xerox is one. Of course it didn’t used to be a word. It was invented as a trademark for the machines and the process that did xerography. Definition (hold on, this is pretty complicated): a process for copying graphic matter by the action of light on an electrically charged photoconductive insulating surface on which the latent image is developed with a resinous powder.” Um, what?

It’s a photocopier. Show of hands: How many remember when there was no such thing as a Xerox machine? What did people do when they couldn’t walk up to a machine, put their paper in, push a few buttons and make as many copies as they wanted in a couple minutes? Just before photocopies, teachers made dittos, those awful blue things I grew up in with elementary school. But most people didn’t have ditto machines. They used carbon paper, wrote or typed it (on a typewriter) again and again, or paid to have it printed on a printing press for which each letter or punctuation mark was set in lead type. Clearly, people didn’t find themselves nearly as buried in paper as they are now because it was hard to get a copy. The person who had the paper with the information on it had the power. And, it was pretty hard to make illegal copies of documents, art work or anything else.

Also, nobody could make copies of their faces or their butt cheeks when life got boring.

When the first copy machines were installed, people got pretty excited. I was working at the Milpitas Post when we got ours. It used that nasty slick paper on which the print smeared, and it didn’t work half the time,but it was a start. Was it a Xerox brand machine? I don’t know. Probably.

Back in the old days, nobody had their own Xerox machine. They made copies at work or at a shop like Kinkos. Starting in the 1990s, Fred and I had a series of copiers in the house. He needed one for his tax business, and I used them for my teaching and writing activities. After Fred retired and I killed the last copier, a genuine Xerox machine, I decided I didn’t really need it anyway. I can make copies with my scanner and print multiple copies with my computer, both machines that weren’t around when I was growing up.

The corpse of our old Xerox machine is still here if anyone wants to help me carry it to their house or to the dump. I’m guessing it weighs about 80 pounds. I wonder if I could take out the guts and use it to store wine or DVDs.

Xerox is a trademark, which is often used incorrectly as a noun–the machine or the copies the machine makes–or a verb–to make photocopies. Ideally we should use the name Xerox only when we’re talking about an actual Xerox brand machine and say “photocopy” the rest of the time, but hey, X words are hard to come by.

It was this or write about my collection of foot and ankle X-rays. Forgive me if I’m rambling, but I’m sick today and don’t want to quit the A to Z challenge with only three days left. If today were the W day, my word would be “wretched” for how I feel. But the alphabet goes on.

X stands for Xerox. For more information about Xerox, visit Xerox.com or Wikipedia. Only two more days left in the April A to Z blog challenge. Come back tomorrow to find out what Y stands for and stop in at Childless by Marriage on Wednesday for the grand finale with Z. Will it be zucchini, zigzag, or zippity doo dah? Even I don’t know yet.

My alphabetical posts have been spread among my three blogs as follows:

A Newsletter–A is for Annie
B Childless by Marriage–B is for Baby
C Unleashed in Oregon–C is for Crate
D Writer Aid–D is for Deadline
E Unleashed in Oregon–E is for Ear
F Unleashed in Oregon–F is for Fur
G Unleashed in Oregon–G is for Gunk
H Childless by Marriage–H is for Harley
I Unleashed in Oregon–I is for I-5
J Writer Aid–J is for Job
K Unleashed in Oregon–Key is for Keys
L Unleashed in Oregon–L is for Lick
M Unleashed in Oregon–M is for Milk-Bone
N Childless by Marriage–No is for No, I Don’t Know Children’s Songs
O Unleashed in Oregon–O is for Oregon
P Writer Aid–P is for Prompts
Q Unleashed in Oregon–Q is for Question
R Unleashed in Oregon–R is for Rhodies
S Unleashed in Oregon–S is for Shoes Full of Sand
T Childless by Marriage–T is for Talk About Childlessness
U Unleashed in Oregon–U is for Unleashed in Oregon
V Writer Aid–V is for Virus
W Unleashed in Oregon–W is for Weed-Whacker
X Unleashed in Oregon
Y Unleashed in Oregon
Z Childless by Marriage

E is for …. Ear!

As you might guess from the photo, this post in our alphabetical journey from A to Z is about my dog Annie’s ears. Big, aren’t they? Also prone to infection in this damp climate. But those ears can really hear. Even when she appears to be sleeping while I’m cooking dinner, her ears are cocked, ready for the least sign that there’s something for her to eat. If she hears me gasp and say, “Oh no!” it means I dropped something. Annie to the rescue, hoping it’s meat or cheese and not carrots or cauliflower. She’ll nibble at those and leave the remnants all over the carpet, but a little chicken or cheddar instantly disappears.

As I age and my ears age with me, I appreciate how well Annie can hear. She can be sound asleep in my lap, but if a dog barks a  half mile away, she’s up and out the door to bark back. Often on our walks, she’ll stop and look and I’ll say, “There’s nothing there.” But a minute later, I’ll see a car or some other people walking or a dog. A few times we’ve seen deer or horses, and once, without Annie, I saw a bear, but I have learned that if the dog suddenly freezes or tugs me in the opposite direction, there’s something there. After all, dogs can detect a much wider range of sound than humans. Their ears have 18 different muscles and move in far more directions than ours can. They are able to hear sounds up to four times as far away.

As I mentioned, Annie’s ears are prone to infections. Apparently it’s a common thing with Labs and other dogs with flop-over ears. We have made several trips to the vet to have the ears swabbed out and medicine poured in while three people struggle to hold the dog. I have finally learned how to wash her ears and watch them for signs of infection. If they start looking red and raw, I start putting medicine in. If I do it just before her walk, Annie will almost stand still for her treatment. Sometimes when her ears are red, it has nothing to do with infection. Did you know dogs’ ears turn red when they get excited? It’s like blushing, I guess.

E could stand for elephants or excitement or elevators, but this time, E stands for ears.

A Newsletter–A is for Annie
B Childless by Marriage–B is for Baby
C Unleashed in Oregon–C is for Crate
D Writer Aid–D is for Deadline
E Unleashed in Oregon
F Unleashed in Oregon
G Unleashed in Oregon
H Childless by Marriage
I Unleashed in Oregon
J Writer Aid
K Unleashed in Oregon
L Unleashed in Oregon
M Unleashed in Oregon
N Childless by Marriage
O Unleashed in Oregon
P Writer Aid
Q Unleashed in Oregon
R Unleashed in Oregon
S Unleashed in Oregon
T Childless by Marriage
U Unleashed in Oregon
W Writer Aid
X Unleashed in Oregon
Y Unleashed in Oregon
Z Unleashed in Oregon

More than 1300 other bloggers have signed up for the challenge. Check out the list at kmdlifeisgood.blogspot.com/p/under-construction.html. You might find some great new blogs to follow. I know I will. Come back to Unleashed in Oregon on Monday to find out what F stands for.

Books are alive and thriving in Lincoln City, Oregon

Those who predict the demise of books should have been at the Northwest Author Fair in Lincoln City, Oregon on Saturday. I joined 49 other authors packed into long tables outside Bob’s Beach Books to sell our books, schmooze with potential customers and network with other authors. My table happened to be next to the cash register. People were lined up buying stacks of books all day. Not necessarily my books . . . but books.

The day started with drizzle but soon changed to hot sunshine. Nonstop traffic passed nearby on Highway 101, and shorts-clad tourists toured the nearby antiques shops and stopped to browse the books. They brought kids who were bored and kids who liked to read, and quite a few brought dogs that socialized under the tables. I sat two tables over from popular author Phillip Margolin, and the fans surrounded him, buying new books and bringing bags of old ones to be autographed.

At my table, lots of people admired my book covers, especially the picture on the front of Stories Grandma Never Told (shown), but not too many actually bought my books. That’s okay. I enjoyed talking to them, and many took information they may use later to buy the books from me or someone else. Meanwhile, I was taking mental notes on what kinds of book they were buying. We had a little bit of everything at the tables–poetry, history, philosophy, memoirs, children’s books–but what people were carrying out by the dozen were genre fiction–mysteries, suspense novels, romance, fantasy, stuff like that. The woman next to me, Bernadette Pajer, did quite well with her Seattle-based mystery novels. In general, I saw that people wanted to buy books that looked familiar and accessible.

How do we convince casual readers that there is good stuff to be read in books that don’t have dragons, sexy women or men with guns on the cover? That one can read literary stories, essays or even poetry for fun? Or should I just write more fiction? When I offered freebies last year for both my novel Azorean Dreams and my memoir Childless by Marriage, the novel got far more takers than the nonfiction book did. I have a new novel on the way. We’ll see what happens.

A couple of people asked me if my books are available as e-books. They prefer to read on their Kindles or other e-readers. Yes, four of my books can be purchased (cheap) as Kindle e-books. Stories Grandma Never Told is the exception. It’s so packed with photos that I don’t know how to translate it into e-book form without making a mess of it. That leads me to thinking about a future in which all books are sold in electronic form. Would we have author fairs then? What would we put on our tables? How would we autograph our e-books? I don’t think we have to worry about that for a while. The printed book is definitely alive and thriving in Lincoln City, Oregon.

If you missed the fair, Bob’s has copies of all our books, along with lots of others. When I browse the shelves at Bob’s, I want to buy everything. And Bob’s Beach Books is owned by the same family that operates Robert’s Bookshop, the biggest used-book store I’ve ever seen.

Why not read a book today? It’s good for you.

Where everybody knows your name


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Everybody seems to know me around here. If they don’t know me from church, they know me from various writer events or they’ve seen me singing at the annual garden tours or the Toledo street market. They know me from yoga class or the Alzheimer’s support group or the dog park or the grocery store. Maybe I interviewed them for some article for some newspaper, or maybe they took a class I taught at the community college.  They’ve certainly seen my name and picture in the local newspaper. It’s not hard to make that happen. They publish pretty much everything people send in, unlike the papers I used to work for that were more stingy with their ink.
Take yesterday, when I hosted a talk about my new book Childless by Marriage at the South Beach Community Center. Attendance was disappointing, even though the Beavers and Ducks games were over. But this one woman came in, and I exclaimed, “I know you. What’s your name?”
It turns out we know a lot of the same people involved in local music. I have heard her sing and watched her play bells. I’ve read about the antique business she runs with her husband. She knows me from Sacred Heart, from the garden tour, and from the newspaper.
If you want to be anonymous, go live in a big city. In a small town, it’s impossible unless you hide in your house and never do anything. Many of the most active people I know moved to Oregon from California and immediately got involved. We Bay Area transplants just love the way people connect in and around the towns on the Oregon coast.
It’s the way it was when my father was growing up in San Jose. Living on a ranch on Dry Creek Road along the edges of Campbell and Almaden, his family knew everyone around them, and everybody knew the Fagaldes. It’s hard for him now to accept the way things have changed. When he goes out, he’s usually surrounded by strangers, many of them speaking languages other than English. The old-timers are dying off, their ranches turned into housing tracts. It’s a lonely place, even with nearly a million residents. People stand so close together sometimes that they touch and yet they don’t speak or acknowledge each other’s presence. Not here. Thank God.
We’re short on stores and long on rain, but after a while, everybody knows who you are.

My berry-picking dog


Our daily walks are journeys of discovery. Last night Annie and I saw a calico-colored mouse, dead but totally intact, with its feet in the air. Tonight it’s gone. I thought I saw a really long garter snake under my bushes. Annie dove down to smell it and looked up, confused. It was a snake’s skin without the snake in it. Probably about two feet long. Now I want to know, where’s the snake that left its skin behind?

There’s always something to see. We’ve seen eagles and deer, dead birds and sea lions. Early in the year, we found three-leaved trilliums signaling the beginning of spring. Orange-bellied newts slithered slowly across the street. As the trilliums turned from white to pink to purple, scotch broom painted the landscape yellow. 
Then came the rhododendrons in pink, red, white and yellow. Now it’s purple foxglove, white and yellow daisies, buttercups–and berries.
While I was on vacation and Annie walked with the dog-sitter, my pup learned to pick berries. Now I can’t get her to stop. I’m too busy laughing anyway. She’s particular about her berries. Nix on the thimbleberries. Huckleberries are a last resort. She goes for the blackberries and salmonberries (which look like salmon-colored blackberries).
I admit to snatching the occasional ripe blackberry off the vine, nibbling it delicately as red juice drips down my fingers. But Annie has no patience for delicacy. Nor does she seem to care whether the berries are green or past their prime. She will pass up every other plant and plunge her face deep into the bush, grabbing as many berries as she can, swallowing them whole, then looking up at me with a crazed grin. What a miracle; you can grab food right off the bushes.
I think the miracle is that she hasn’t gotten sick or cut herself on the stickers. She’s one good berry-picker. Are you looking for a picture of the berries? She ate them all.
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I try not to advertise here, but I have a new book out. It’s called Childless by Marriage. Mostly memoir, it is about how women who wanted to be mothers never have children because their husbands or partners are unable or unwilling to bring a baby into their lives. The chapters talk about the decision not to have kids and the grief that follows, birth control, step-parenting, the “mom club,” old age without children, and, of course, being a dog mom. Find out more at http://www.suelick.com/Childless.html.
I have several other books out, including Shoes Full of Sand, Stories Grandma Never Told, Azorean Dreams, and Freelancing for Newspapers. Click hereto read about them. All are available at Amazon.com in paperback, and all but Stories Grandma Never Told are also formatted for the Kindle e-reader.
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End of commercial. I like coming here to get away from the business of selling books. The blackberries and salmonberries are almost done. Poor Annie won’t know where to find snacks on our walks when the berries are gone, but I’m sure she’ll find something.