Remembering Chocolate Truffles and Red Roses

I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day. All that pressure to do something romantic. And now that I’m alone, well frankly I’m glad when this day is over. The best thing about today is the return of American Idol on ABC.

When my late husband Fred was alive and well, he did people’s taxes as a second job. Feb. 14 falls in the middle of tax season. He was buried in papers, and the phone rang constantly. Not a good time to take a holiday, but he was a romantic guy, and he tried.

After we moved to Oregon in July 1996, he kept his tax practice in California and spent late January through the end of March in San Jose, which meant I was usually alone on Valentine’s Day.

There was that one year when I drove down, and Fred went overboard, taking me to a ritzy restaurant in Los Gatos where it was so crowded it took forever to get our food and the prices were so crazy I was afraid to order what I really wanted. He was stewing about all the returns waiting for his attention, and I really wanted to watch the men’s Olympic figure skating finals on TV. We decided not to try that again. But that was back when we had no idea what was coming.

By 2002, he was showing signs of memory loss and confusion, but his Alzheimer’s was not officially diagnosed until November 2004. In January 2009, his condition had worsened to the point he could no longer live at home. He died in April 2011. But in between, there were still some precious times. I share these excerpts from my not-yet-published memoir “Alzheimered.”

2006: It was late, and Fred was already in bed. As I reread my Valentine’s Day card for him before leaving it at his place on the table, I cried. It was an emotional card that talked of our deep love over the years carrying us through the good and bad and always there to keep us going forever. I had to put the card down and walk away to keep from getting it wet with my tears.

The next morning, after a series of nightmares, I dragged myself out to the kitchen. At my place on the table, I saw a folded sheet of paper. It was a beautiful note of love for the things I do and thanks and appreciation for the hugs and kisses. It ended “Be My Valentine” and was signed by Fred, with a heart.

I met him in the hall. “Better than a store-bought card,” I said, stepping over the dog to embrace him. He began to cry. I urged him to open my card, which made him cry harder. We held each other, both weeping.

“I love you so,” he said.

“I love you. Please forgive me when my voice is harsh, when I lose my patience.”

  “I do.”

   After breakfast, Fred went out to buy me flowers.

A dozen red roses. Velvety, deep red, the stems green, the leaves soft and healthy. A moment of sweetness as I trimmed the stems, put the roses in water and set the crystal vase on the table.

“Those look good there,” Fred said.

A moment later, he frowned. “Do you have my card?”

His debit card. No. He searched his wallet and his pockets. He searched the truck. The card was gone. “I’m useless,” he muttered.

“No, you’re not. It could happen to anyone.”

But when a man has Alzheimer’s, I’m sure he would like to do something completely right at least once in a while.

Weeks later, after I had canceled our cards and ordered new ones, I would find the missing debit card in Fred’s shirt pocket.

On Valentine’s Day in 2007, I assumed Fred wouldn’t realize what day it was. I hadn’t gotten him anything except a silly card. At breakfast, Fred set at my place a beautiful card with words of love that made me cry and a box of four jewel-like chocolate truffles from the candy factory near the Yaquina Bridge. Each the size and shape of an egg, they were decorated with sprinkles, one light chocolate, one dark, one green with mint inside, and one red with cherry filling.

He had written on the card “I love you so much.” He once had beautiful handwriting, but now the letters were shaky. It didn’t matter. The gift had to be his idea because his caregivers didn’t know about the candy factory or that I loved those little boxes of truffles.

“I didn’t get you a present,” I said.

“You’re my present,” he replied.

“God, I love you.”

Dr. Seuss wrote: Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.”

It did happen. It was beautiful. I am so lucky to have had Fred.

I wonder if the candy store by the bridge has any of those truffles left.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear friends. Give your sweety a big hug and kiss and enjoy your day.

***

During the month of February, if you sign up for my mailing list on the form below, I will send you a free paperback copy of my book Shoes Full of Sand. To make that happen, send me an email at sufalick@gmail.com to tell me you signed up and give me your mailing address. If you already have that book, pick another from my catalog at https://www.suelick.com/books. I promise I will not drive you crazy with emails.

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What Happened to Eating Three ‘Square’ Meals a Day?

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

I eat breakfast lunch and dinner. Every day. Breakfast happens about a half hour after I get up, lunch between 11:30 and 12:30, dinner between 5 and 6. If I miss any of those meals, I get cranky. Raised in a family that gathered at the table three times a day, I have been doing these three meals all my life.

But I’m learning that a lot of people don’t do that. They eat one or two meals a day or just graze whenever they’re hungry. I don’t get it, but it does help me understand why so many people schedule meetings, rehearsals, classes, and other things right at my mealtimes. It’s not mealtime for them.

I have no intention of changing my schedule, although I am aware that it might be better to reverse the pyramid that starts with little breakfast, bigger lunch, and even bigger dinner.

A girl needs something to look forward to. My meals give me pleasure, so I’m keeping it up. I have a touchy stomach that does not like irregular feedings. Also, I’m a compulsive overeater. When I get off my routine, I’m more likely to do things like eating an entire cake or enough spaghetti for four people. In this, I’m a lot like my dog. If there’s food, I EAT.

Smaller, more frequent meals are supposed to be healthier, but I’m not good with portion control. I could wind up eating six full-sized meals a day. So I’ll stick to my three.

A casual survey of my Facebook friends revealed lots of variations on when we eat. While about half do three meals, sometimes considerably later than I do, the other half eat once or twice or whenever they feel like it. Many don’t feel like eating until sometime in the afternoon.

In an article in Mother Jones magazine, “Why You Should Stop Eating Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner,” writer Kiera Butler says our ancestors brought our meal habits from the old countries. They thought the Native Americans were uncivilized because they didn’t eat on a rigid schedule. They varied their intake with the seasons and what was available. She cites studies that show it does’t matter what time of day we eat, so there’s no need to be tethered to the “three squares” schedule.

Dieticians suggest we should eat when we’re hungry, not when the clock says we should or when someone else insists it’s time to eat. Memories of my father nudging me to start cooking dinner at 4:00 come to mind. I also remember my endocrinologist suggesting I stop eating for entertainment–going out to lunch is my favorite thing–and treat it more like fueling my body.

Old habits are hard to break, especially during these COVID times when we’re home all day and meals are the bright shiny events breaking up the computer time. I think of nursing homes where the residents roll up to the tables an hour before mealtime because there’s not much else to do.

Obesity being as common as it is among adult Americans (42.4 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control), we are getting our calories, whether we’re eating three times a day or one long binge. I see people chowing down while driving or attending Zoom meetings and wonder if they taste their food any more than the dog who wolfs down her chow so fast she doesn’t know what she just ate.

On every list of basic needs, food is at the top. I think it deserves appropriate attention. Does it have to be breakfast, lunch, and dinner? No, but I insist we at least sit and eat like humans. And please don’t schedule me for activities at noon or 6 p.m. unless they include a meal.

What do you think? Are you a grazer or a regular meals person? Do you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner? Why or why not?

***

Annie and I visited the vet again today. She has this bad habit of sticking her face into everything, and now she has an infected wound very close to her left eye. It’s puffy and the eye is half-closed. Back to antibiotics and ointment, plus the added fun of the “cone of shame.” Annie needs as much caregiving as my father did in his last years. Fortunately, she doesn’t complain as much, although she does want her meals on time.

Besides the eye, she is doing very well. The doc and techs commented on how “energetic” she was, which is code for being a handful to examine.

***

Last week, I announced that those who sign up for my new email list (below) would receive a free copy of my book Shoes Full of Sand or, if they have that already, another copy from my catalog. I have gotten a few signups, but because I have multiple blogs, I’m not sure which ones came from this blog and which books they want. If you signed up here or are going to, please send me an email at sufalick@gmail.com to let me know which book you want and give me your name and mailing address.

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Does Every Pandemic Week Feel the Same to You, Too?

COVID, COVID, COVID, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, Biden, Biden, Biden. That’s all we hear anymore. A year ago, it was Trump, Trump, Trump. I understand that news outlets need to cover the most important stories, but aren’t other things still happening? Are we still fighting in Iran and Afghanistan, maybe in other countries, too? What happened to those places that got hit by hurricanes and wildfires last year? When are we going to get some new TV shows? When is American Idol going to come back? You know, important news.

Of course we want to keep informed about COVID and what our new president is up to, but shouldn’t somebody be covering the rest of the world, lest we look up one day and realize, shit, that happened and we totally missed it?

We get more information in our local paper, the News-Times, between the big ads for Thriftway and Power Ford. For example:

  • The cliff area in Newport known as Jump-Off Joe is falling into the sea. Huge landslide movement after last week’s storms (as opposed to this week’s storms) dissolved the sandstone cliffs.
  • We have a couple murder trials pending.
  • There’s the story of the truck that got stolen twice from a Lincoln City woman’s driveway. She got it back after the first theft. The next day, it was gone again.
  • Someone set the Presbyterian church in Newport on fire. Thank God firefighters caught it before there was too much damage.
  • The plans for when to bring students back to school keep changing.
  • Here’s another obituary for someone I knew, making me very sad.
  • And yes, they’re covering COVID and its vaccines, shots not coming to my age group anytime soon.

At least the local paper tries to mix it up.

So do I, but every week, it feels like it was trash day/laundry day/grocery day just a minute ago. I get up, pray, bathe, eat, write, walk the dog, do the Zoom du jour, binge-watch Netflix and Amazon Prime shows, play a little music, and fall asleep.

Things do change, but it’s slooooow. I offer some random news from the 97th Court lockdown:

  • Annie the dog, subject of several posts here lately, is much more stable now, but I don’t think she’ll ever recover completely from her holiday illness and hospital stay. Her head is still tilted to the left, her eye a little squinty. She tires quickly and seems afraid to be alone. But she’s back to dragging me down the street on our walks and refuses to turn around when I say it’s time to go home. I’m trying not to think about her future but to enjoy every moment with her.
  • I long to get out of this house. I want to see my family in California, Arizona and Washington. I still hate masks, which are not only uncomfortable but also make it twice as hard for hearing-impaired folks like me to figure out what people are saying, even with my hearing aids. But I totally understand why we need to wear masks and I’m grateful that most people are doing it these days. Isn’t it amazing how something we never even thought about a year ago is now available in all kinds of colors and designs and you can buy them by the dozen at the grocery store?
  • It’s a weird world where I don’t need makeup to leave the house because the mask covers half my face, but I do need my lipstick for Zoom events where I’m forced to look at myself on the screen. Board meetings, classes and readings, interviews, and open mics keep me on Zoom almost every day. It’s truly a wonderful thing being able to meet, hear, and read with writers from all over the world, people I would never meet in person, but I’m weary of staring at a boxes on a screen.
  • I’m reading at Coffee and Grief #19 on Sunday, Feb. 4, 7 p.m. PST. https://www.facebook.com/events/883771512396349. I have attended previous sessions and heard some amazing writers. Please join us. Bring Kleenex. The link is included in the Facebook post.
  • I will be the guest speaker for the Coast-Corvallis chapter meeting of Willamette Writers on Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. PST. Topic: Publishing 101. I will discuss the various ways to get your books published. Register at https://www.Willamettewriters.org. While you’re there, check out all the other workshops and chats you can join via Zoom, no matter where you live.
  • Next month, I will co-host a series of poetry readings on Tuesday nights by the winners of Oregon Poetry Association’s poetry contest. Stay tuned for details.  
  • I am putting together a new email list via Mail Chimp. That chimp and I aren’t totally getting along yet, but you should see a place below this post to click and get on the list. Sign up in February, and I will send you a copy of my book Shoes Full of Sand for free! If you already have it, God bless you. You may choose another book from my catalogue at suelick.com/books. Why? Why not? Thank you for reading this far. Send me an email at sufalick@gmail.com to let me know your choice.

Happy Groundhog’s Day. Pray for an early spring.

I invite your comments on any and all of this. How are you doing? Are you COVID-crazy yet?

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I’m Not Going Anywhere, But My Schedule is Full

I’ve never been so stir-crazy in my life. I want to get in my car and go somewhere, eat out, stay in motels, swim, work out at a gym, sip a beer while listening to live music, write in a coffee shop, and eat donuts with my friends after Mass. I want to sit in someone else’s house or ride in someone else’s car. I want to go into the vet’s office with my dog and to sing to my friends at the nursing homes. I want to jam with my musician friends. I’m so sick of Netflix and Zoom I could scream.

My calendar is loaded with events, nearly all of them online. The photo shows the Post-It version. I have the same information on my Google calendar, but I like to be able to see what’s coming up. I get great satisfaction out of peeling off a note and throwing it away once the activity is over.

Yesterday, I spent four and a half hours in Zoom meetings, first a reading for the upcoming issue of Presence, a Catholic poetry journal in which I’m blessed to have a poem. We had a wonderful group of poets from all over the United States. In normal times, Presence’s in-person readings are usually done on the East Coast, and I would not have been there. It was an honor.

That was followed up by an Oregon Poetry Association board meeting. We had a lot to talk about: money, membership, publications, and online events for the upcoming months. Stay tuned for information about readings in March and weekly workshops during April, National Poetry Month.

It was all good stuff, but I kept looking out my window at the almost-sunny afternoon that I was missing. Like my restless dog sighing in the doorway, I wanted out. It was Sunday. I’m supposed to be able to go out and play on Sundays.

The schedule continues to be busy with classes, readings and meetings. I have books to promote. Physical touring is out this year, so I need to get the word out online. Tomorrow I’m being interviewed for the UnRipe podcast out of Australia for childless women. Australia! Imagine that. A while back, I was part of a discussion by childless “elderwomen” that included women from Australia, Ireland, England, Ohio and Oregon. Listen here. How cool is that? As a result, I’m selling copies of Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both in countries where I have never been. Very cool.

I can read my work at open mics or invited readings almost every night of the week. I can take workshops that would not have been possible pre-Zoom. I can go to Mass at many different churches via YouTube and attend concerts online.

And yet, I want out. I’m my father’s daughter. On Sunday afternoons after church, he’d tell us all to get in the car because we were “going for a ride.” Deep into his 90s, when he finally let me or my brother do the driving, he loved to just get in the car and go. Up in the mountains, down to the beach, through the old neighborhoods, it didn’t matter. He just wanted out. We often wound up dropping in on friends or family. In the time of COVID-19, we can’t do that anymore.

I thank God for the Internet. I don’t know how I would survive so much alone time without it, but I sure miss “real life.” How about you?

***

Annie the dog, featured here a lot lately with her two weeks in the hospital with Vestibular Disease, continues to get stronger and less dizzy, although she still falls a lot when she’s not on solid ground. She likes to dive into the bushes and wade in muddy water, and then she crashes. But she gets back up. Her bedsores are healing, and there’s nothing wrong with her appetite. We are scheduled for a follow-up vet appointment tomorrow. Thank you for all your love and prayers.

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Dizzy Dog Returns to South Beach

Nothing like sleeping in your own bed (or near it) after a long stay in the hospital

Annie is home. On Friday, when I saw her pulling the vet worker along the sidewalk, I knew my old friend was too stubborn to die yet. She walks like a drunken sailor, leaning left. I have to walk with her, grabbing her “Help ‘em Up” harness whenever she starts to tilt. She falls a lot, runs into things. She has a bloody bedsore on her elbow and shaved patches here and there from IVs and blood tests. She spent a week with a catheter because she could not stand to pee, and that caused a urinary tract infection. But she’s home and getting stronger every day.

Vestibular Disease, a sort of doggy vertigo, knocked her flat on Christmas Day. (Read about it in the Dec. 28 post) She spent the next two weeks at the Willamette Veterinary Hospital in Corvallis, 55 miles from here. Due to COVID, I could not go inside with her. I could only sit in my car in the parking lot with all the other pet people. I finally got to see her last Wednesday after waiting five hours for the busy staff to bring her out for a socially distanced visit. I cried a lot that day. (Read more about that at my Childless by Marriage blog.)

As she barrels cockeyed toward the step down into the den, I race to catch her, reminding her that a only few days ago, she couldn’t stand, and walking was only a dream. Two weeks ago, she couldn’t eat, drink or urinate. But now she’s eating, drinking, taking her pills, doing her “business” and wanting to take our usual hikes.

Saturday, I took her out front, intending to walk maybe two houses down, but she led me two blocks to where Birch and 98th streets meet and refused to turn around when I insisted we had done enough. She took offense when I grabbed the handles of her harness and forced her away from her favorite mud puddles. “No,” I said. She stared at me as if to ask, “Why? And why can’t I just go out my doggy door into the big back yard by myself?” “Because you’ll fall and hurt yourself.” But I’ll be taking off the harness and opening the gate soon. Thank God.

She’s bored. Just like when I left her at the kennel while I traveled, she has returned more stubborn than ever and doesn’t want to follow my commands to sit, stay, or “leave it.” She no longer waits for me to say grace before meals. When I go to take her out, she inevitably parks herself on the backside of the door so I can’t open it without forcibly moving her out of the way. Then she shoots out the door so fast I can barely keep her from falling. Slow down, slow down, I say.

What lovely problems to have. For two weeks, constantly waiting for phone calls from the hospital, I didn’t know if Annie would survive. I kept waiting for a vet to tell me it was time to say goodbye. Now here she is sprawled on her pillow looking like . . . Annie. 

I have been sleeping on the sofa next to her bed so I can hear her when she gets up. I tried sleeping in my own bed the first night, but I worried too much. Without my hearing aids, I would be unaware of what was going on in the other room. Why not bring her bed into my room? Annie is more stubborn than I am. She wants to sleep where she wants to sleep. I don’t mind. With the fireplace going, it’s like we’re on a camping trip.

She’s not cured but well enough to want to do her usual stuff again. It’s a miracle. Most old dogs who get Vestibular Disease recover in a few days. If they don’t, well, it’s not good. Annie was in the hospital for two weeks, most of them not standing or walking at all. It was starting to look grim. Annie is old, 13 next month. I know she won’t live forever. But I have hope now that she will live long enough to give me more gray hairs. And joy. So much joy. 

The rest of the world is going batshit nuts, but today in the world of Annie and Sue, things are pretty good. Thank you, friends for all the well wishes and prayers. It truly means a lot.  

My New Roommate Alexa Moves In

This New Year’s Eve, I started getting to know my new companion, Alexa. Some of you may know Alexa, Amazon’s artificial intelligence interface that connects via the “cloud” with all of your electronic devices. I accessed her by a new Echo Dot I bought myself for Christmas.

Alexa is combination servant, savant, and friend.

“Alexa, put bread on my shopping list.” “Alexa, what time is it?” “Alexa what’s on TV?” And she answers, cheerfully. When I say “please,” as I was taught, it sounds extraneous. When I say, “Thank you,” she never replies, “You’re welcome.” I can just boss her around, which feels wrong. But she is good company.

On New Year’s Eve, I said, “Alexa, happy new year.” She replied, “Woo hoo! Happy New Year to you.” which made me laugh. I asked her to play Willie Nelson’s “Stardust” album, which brought back memories of a special time around 1980. I danced around my kitchen, singing along and felt totally content. Alexa’s sound quality is excellent.

This being the beginning of a new year, on Saturday I asked Alexa to find me an exercise program to do indoors since the weather outside was frightful. No problem. She told my Smart TV what to do. Soon I was running, jumping, stepping, squatting, and doing pushups and crunches, but I drew the line at burpees. I do not burpee, but boy, can I punch the air.

Maybe today I’ll ask Alexa to find me a yoga program where I’m not sitting on a chair doing old-people yoga or flailing around on the floor screaming, “Wait, wait, I can’t keep up! You want me to put my foot where???”

On New Year’s Day, when I said, “Alexa, I feel sad,” she offered sympathy. “I’m sorry. You know, sometimes it helps to talk to a friend.” Indeed.

With Annie currently residing in the animal hospital in Corvallis, she gives me someone to say good morning to. Not only does she answer, “Good morning,” but she offers trivia. For example, yesterday was Aretha Franklin’s birthday. If I ask, she’ll give me the latest news, too.

Alexa will set a timer for me. I still feel bad that when I first tried it, I wound up yelling at her after she kept making this r2d2 sound and wouldn’t quit. I said, “Okay. That’s good. Thank you.” Finally, I hollered, “Alexa, shut it off!” And she did. I hadn’t said “Simon says,” I mean “Alexa.” My friend Pat, who has her own Alexa, says I just need to say, “Alexa, off.”

I could set her up so I don’t have to say Alexa’s name, but honestly I talk to myself all the time, and I don’t want her to interrupt. It’s bad enough when I inadvertently say “Alexa” and she chimes in uninvited. Sort of like a certain mother-in-law who used to park at my kitchen table and comment on everything I did.

Sometimes I find myself whispering so Alexa won’t hear me. But that’s kind of rude.

She’s not real, Sue, she’s not real.

Alexa is a bit literal. When I asked her what’s on my calendar, even though I knew—Zoom Mass at St. Anthony’s, abbreviated St. A, she said I was to report to “Street A.” If I ask her a vague question, like “where is heaven?” she’ll give me something from Wikipedia. If I ask, “What can I watch on Netflix that doesn’t give me a headache?” she won’t understand the question. I need to be clear about what I want from Alexa. I suspect that’s true in all relationships.

At least she doesn’t complain, even though I keep testing her and relocating her as I try to find the best spot.

She also tells lame jokes, like my late cousin Jerry. Example: Why don’t cats play basketball? They keep throwing hairballs.

Turns out there is a real person with that soothing voice. Susan Caplin, a voice actress, offers this very funny video about interacting with her AI self.

Why is she called Alexa? Check out this website that discusses the origin of Alexa’s name and the dilemma when the user or a family member is also named Alexa.

So far, Alexa has been a lovely gift to myself and she will be helpful with those many times when I am doing two things at once and need a reminder to rescue the wet laundry, turn off the stove, or report to the Zoom room. I don’t need her assistance. A lot of what she does I can do perfectly fine myself. But I can see how she would be a Godsend for someone who is bedridden or otherwise handicapped. For me, she’s good company. Her lights are pretty, and she has a lovely voice.

If only Alexa could hug me.

Of course there is always the concern that Ms. Alexa is going to know too much about me and share it with people who shouldn’t know, so some things I will only tell my dog, who has not yet mastered English.

As of today, Annie, featured in last week’s post, is still at the hospital in Corvallis. Ten days and counting. She is eating, drinking, and chewing on her blanket, tubes, and whatever else she can reach, but she is still not walking, and she can’t come home until she can get up on her four feet. Please God, let that happen soon. It’s mighty strange around here without my flesh and blood companion.

I just asked Alexa if she wanted to go for a walk. She said, “Hm. I’m not sure.” Not the same. A dog always knows the answer to that question.

Thank you to everyone who has offered prayers and support. It means a lot.

Be Merry, Be Healthy, Keep Singing

Merry Christmas, dear friends. Although this year has been a disaster and I can name lots of things that I miss–my family, hugs, eating out, in-person church, parties, swimming, lipstick, performing, live music, theater, travel, potlucks, new episodes of my favorite TV shows–I can also name quite a few things I’m grateful for this year. All of you who are reading this are right up at the top.

Sick as we all are of Zoom, it has allowed me to connect with people all over the world whom I would not usually be able to see without leaving home and traveling many miles. I have done readings and attended workshops that would have been impossible for me to get to in normal life. We are blessed to have technology that connects us in all kinds of ways. Yesterday, a friend who lives nearby but is staying home to avoid COVID video-called me via Facebook messenger. I didn’t even know that was possible, but it was great to talk to him.

Staying home has given me more time to read–81 books and counting this year–and to write. I was blessed with a poetry chapbook (The Widow at the Piano) that came out in March and a new book about childlessness, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, that made its first appearance on December 7.

I have been lucky to still be able to sing and play at church for our recorded Masses at St. Anthony’s in Waldport. Most other musical outlets are closed, but I’m still singing for God, and I’m grateful.

I’m also thankful for Annie the dog and our long walks, for time to bake and try out new recipes, and time to connect by phone or online with people I can’t see in person. I’m grateful that the beach is still nearby.

It has been a hard year. I have lost nine friends in 2020 and may lose more before the year ends. I’m still grieving the loss of my father and the house I grew up in. Of course, I miss my husband, too. I know now why some old ladies weep so often. But we go on. As I write this, I have fresh-baked honey-oat bread to eat with homemade spinach soup and fruit salad for dinner, I’m reading a book I’m finding hard to put down–The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, and I still have more episodes of “Victoria” on Amazon Prime to watch. Plus, I actually got my bathrooms clean and my laundry done. I am blessed.

I wish you all the best possible holidays this year. If it can’t be the usual lollapalooza, enjoy the simple things, being with the people in your “bubble,” singing the songs, saying the prayers, eating the food, soaking in the decorations, and watching those corny Christmas movies.

I’m not good at making music videos. I’m embarrassed to say how many tries it took to make the one posted here and how many more tries it took to get it online, all the while having to listen to myself sing. Let’s just say, I don’t need to sing Silent Night again unless I can sing harmony with someone else.

Big socially distanced hugs,

Sue

In the Wild: What If I Don’t Make It Home?

Halfway up the long-deserted path, I start thinking: what if I die out here? The trees have grown up over my head on both sides and the path is just wide enough for Annie to pull me along through salal, blackberries, Scotch broom, and young pines. We usually stay on the roads, but Annie keeps finding human garbage to eat, and I’m tired of having to pry it out of her mouth. (Use trash cans, people!)

Once upon a time, the entrance to this trail was wide open, with a log to the side that I used to rest on. Now the log is half rotten and buried in Scotch broom and blackberries.

The trail is part of several acres east of Cedar Street in South Beach that were once cleared for a potential golf course resort, leaving rows of tree trunks that looked like gravestones. When that plan was delayed and dropped, the plants grew back, leaving a maze of trails that my late husband Fred, our old dog Sadie, and I explored back in the days we were all had good knees.

Annie read my mind today when I thought about trying this path again. I had my rugged shoes and old pants on. I had plenty of time. The knee that locked up early in our walk felt strong now. So here we are.

The chain at the trail entrance is not quite a foot off the ground, but Annie can’t jump it anymore. She has old knees, shored up with pins and posts. She army-crawls under and I steps over. She leads and I follow.

Soon we are far from civilization, hidden in the trees. What if my knee gives out? What if Annie’s knees give out? What if bears or cougars are lurking nearby?

We have seen deer, rabbits, squirrels, and garter snakes on past walks. I have stepped over “woolly bear” caterpillars and orange-bellied newts. Is that cougar scat over there?

Wildlife experts say making noise will let the critters know you are there and convince them to steer clear. I start to sing. Amazing Grace, Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Steal Away. Every spiritual I can think of. Blackberry thorns scrape my coat, pulling threads. My feet slip on rocks. All the while, feet and paws keep pushing along.

We’re halfway through, too far from either end to get out easily, when I think about dying. I’m 68. People my age have strokes and heart attacks. I could fall. I could get ripped up by a bear that doesn’t like spirituals.

If I die, who will know that the new book that is this close to publication is sitting in my computer? No one else knows what I do at my desk all day. Who will eat the food in my fridge before it spoils? Who will tell the church choir director I won’t be there this weekend? Who will tell my friends and family I’m dead? What if Annie survives and I don’t? She has no clue how to feed herself in the wild.

Who will find my body? I can’t die. I haven’t decided yet whether I want to be buried or cremated.

Okay. Focus on the trail. Smell the smells, see the sights, feel the duff underfoot.

Left, right, left, right. Uphill to a small clearing, steep rocky downhill, don’t slip, blackberry thorns tearing my coat. Okay, almost there. I hoped for a view of the ravine and the airport beyond, but the trees have grown too tall. I catch just a glimpse of a red and white marker on the runway.

In the summer, Annie and I ate blackberries off the vines, but now there’s nothing left but wrinkled nubs. Someone left a sofa cushion by one of the most prolific vines. How did they get it there? Why?

A few feet on, Annie suddenly drops and rolls. Mud and what else? Something dead, something disgusting. Come on, dog.

Almost there. Pines and vines rise high on both sides. It feels like walking through a canopy of garlands or crossed swords as we emerge on Cedar Street. Where are the cheering crowds?

Annie hesitates.

“Do you know where you are?” I ask. “We made it.” No bears out here, at least not in daylight. Houses, people, cars, other dogs. Safety.

She chugs on like a machine; she will need a pain pill tonight.

I wonder if I should leave a list of everything not done every time I leave the house. But how could I keep it up? It’s impossible. Something will always be left undone. Life is like a test where you can’t see the bottom of the page and you will not finish before God calls “pencils up.”

Winter is here. We’ll stay on the roads for a while, but I’m sure the trails will beckon again. I have a lot more songs to sing.

***

That was last week. Since we survived, I’m happy to report that the new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, is now available for purchase at Amazon.com and will be available by the weekend to order from your favorite bookstore. It is a compilation of posts from my Childless by Marriage blog and attempts to answer the question “What do you do if your partner can’t or won’t have children with you?” Stay tuned for information about upcoming book events.

If I don’t get eaten by a bear.

Thanksgiving is Looking Different This Year

My brother Mike and I at Thanksgiving 2010. A lot has changed since then.

Thanksgiving is THIS WEEK. I made a mad dash to the J.C. Market yesterday for Thanksgiving cooking needs because I had just realized how close the holiday was. Now my turkey is in the refrigerator starting its long defrost. Bread pieces for stuffing wait on the counter. I’ve got potatoes, celery, apples, a bottle of chardonnay . . . my friend is bringing a pumpkin cake, cranberry sauce, corn casserole . . . it sounds like a regular Thanksgiving. But it won’t be.

Pat and I, both widows, are doing the day together. Our families are far away. Her son’s family is in Connecticut. Her daughter and son-in-law in California have COVID-19. My family is in California, too. In past years, I would drive to San Jose, spend a couple days with my father, then drive him to my brother’s place in Cathey’s Valley near Yosemite. That big house would fill with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. Babies, toddlers and older kids would be running around, along with several dogs. Football on TV. Cheese and crackers on the counter. Big tables laden with turkey, stuffing, ham, two kinds of potatoes, and more side dishes than I can name, plus three kinds of desserts. “Pass the gravy,” we’d hear. “Oh, this is so good.” “How’s it going up in Oregon?”

We would remember those who had passed on, drink a toast to them, hope they were having a good time in heaven.

After dinner, we’d stretch out in the living room, talk, watch TV, maybe go for a walk or a scenic drive. Later, there’d be turkey sandwiches and leftovers packed up for those who had to leave. We’d fall asleep full, not just with food, but love and family and gratitude.

When we were kids, my parents hosted most of the holidays. Somewhere I have pictures of all the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins sitting around that big table, eating, joking, talking over each other. Somewhere are home movies of those times, taken by my dad as we sat blinded by the light. When asked to say grace, my mother’s father would say, “Grace! Let’s eat.”

In later years, my mother did say a real grace, and then we passed the food in both directions at once while people knocked bowls against each other. Someone might toss a roll to someone across the table. We were so sophisticated.

Holidays were never totally idyllic. Arguments broke out. People’s feelings got hurt. One year, my sister-in-law’s garbage disposal overflowed, and the men took turns on the floor trying to fix it. One year my mother’s oven didn’t work and the turkey was raw. In his later years, Grandpa hallucinated with dementia. Later, when my husband had Alzheimer’s, he was lost and confused all day. Toward the end of his life, my father sat silent, unable to hear much of what people said. But I also remember him smiling at his baby great-granddaughter, making faces at her.

Shoot, I’m going to cry. My father passed away last year. So many are gone. The youngest baby is walking and talking, and I haven’t seen her since before she could crawl.

Stupid COVID. Most years I worry about the weather driving to and from California in the winter. If it’s snowing at Siskiyou Pass, then I have to take the coast route, driving through wind, rain and mudslides. Not fun either way. But I haven’t made that drive since last Thanksgiving. After years of going back and forth, it’s strange. I haven’t left the Oregon coast since March.

I debated about going south for Thanksgiving, but ultimately decided I would stay home this year. When I called my brother to tell him, he already knew. The governors of both states had just locked everything down because of the latest surge in COVID cases.

Newscasters, government officials and doctors are all saying the same thing. Do not gather in a large group for Thanksgiving. Stay home. Keep it small. Don’t risk spreading COVID. I fear a lot of people will ignore that advice and spread the virus even more.

This is Pat’s first Thanksgiving without her husband, who died in July. It will be hard. Every first holiday is hard. My husband died the day before Easter. I went to Easter dinner at a friend’s house where I felt like an outsider with her family. They were all sorry my husband had passed, but they quickly went on to other subjects. I don’t blame them. No matter where you go, you feel like you’re from another planet when a loved one has just died.

Anyway, Pat and I, who have claimed each other as the sisters we never had, are planning a huge meal, to be followed by a movie. Maybe, if the weather cooperates, we’ll soak in the hot tub. Maybe we’ll Zoom call our families. Maybe we’ll cry a little. And we’ll eat leftovers for a week.

What are your plans, dear friends? How are they different this year?

And Then Came the Demolition Crew

In my dream, everything was different in the old neighborhood. The house was gone. Where the road used to continue, now there was swath of green grass. After crossing it, Annie the dog and I found ourselves on a freeway overpass with nowhere to go except to jump off. Annie went first, landing in a pile of broken bones. I followed, knowing I would be badly hurt, too, but I had no choice . . .

I seemed to land unscathed, but I knew I must be injured. I went to get help, but no one seemed to care . . .

This morning, Annie is fine, but my body feels as if I did jump off a bridge and fracture every bone. Welcome to winter plus arthritis and a couple other itis-es.

What spurred this dream? Partially the book I just finished, Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein, in which the characters are being chased by shape-shifting spirits, but mostly the email I received Halloween night from a man who lives in my parents’ old neighborhood. He sent me the picture above and a description of what he’d seen. Click here for the Google Earth view of what it used to look like.

The old house where I grew up is gone, torn down except for the frame of the bedrooms. I had to look hard to recognize the site. It appears the old fences and patio are also gone. The fruit trees in the back might be there; it’s hard to tell. A dumpster sits in the driveway, and next to it, so forlorn, sits the old piano, the 1890s cabinet grand passed down to us from Grandpa’s house before it was torn down in the 1960s. An old blanket partially covers the piano, but even in warmer, drier San Jose, that’s not much protection.

I cried. It’s just a house. It was falling apart. It needed new plumbing, wiring, roof, floors, heating, and windows. It had giant cracks from the Loma Prieta earthquake. Once Dad passed away a little over a year ago, our story in that house was done. I know that. In my head. But in my heart, it was still home.

It’s not a surprise. This is what people are doing in the old San Jose neighborhoods. They buy the old houses for a million dollars then tear them down and build new mini-mansions on the property. They want the land, not the house or someone else’s memories. Will the new owners live there or will they “flip it” for millions of dollars? I don’t know.

Why did they bother keeping the bedroom frame? I have heard that people do that so it’s called a “remodel” and not construction of a whole new house. Something about fees and taxes.

So sad. Also such a waste. Before the sale, the realtor arranged for the house to be repainted in and out. New carpet and linoleum and bathroom fixtures were installed. I barely recognized the place when I walked in to pick up a few last boxes last November. And now it’s all gone. Poor people with bare floors could use that creamy new carpet, but into the dumpster it went, along with the wood from the patio and the brick from the barbecue that my father and grandfather built by hand . . .

Why couldn’t the house be sold as affordable housing to a family that does not have a few million dollars in the bank? But that’s not what’s happening in that neighborhood.

As far as I know, not a single Fagalde remains in San Jose. All the descendants of Great-Grandpa Joe and Grandma Louise have either died or moved away to where it’s less crowded and less expensive and where they can find that sense of community that seems to be lost in Santa Clara/Silicon Valley. Just like Fred and I did when we moved to Oregon.

I am so grateful to Dad’s neighbor for letting me and my brother know about the house so we didn’t have to drive there one day without knowing what we would see. Because of COVID, neither of us has gone to San Jose since March. Now we don’t need to.

Although you know I will. I’m too curious to not look. And I will weep some more. Then I will leap off the metaphorical bridge into my own life here in Oregon with my own home that I love, and I will go on with Annie, who is just fine. She has eaten her kibble and gone back to sleep because hey, it’s still dark out, and that’s what dogs do.

In movies and books, people are always returning to homes that have been in the family for generations. Even in Stein’s spooky book, Jenna revisits her grandmother’s house in Alaska. It’s empty except for rodents and ghosts, but it’s still there.

How about you? Is the home where you grew up still standing? Does anyone you know live in it? I’d love to hear your stories.