Unleashed in Oregon book coming soon!

The Unleashed blog has been going for 10 years now, with more than 500 posts. 500! No wonder I’m tired. In celebration, I am putting together a Best of Unleashed in Oregon book. I am revising and reorganizing my favorite posts so that you and I can find them all in one place. The text isn’t quite ready yet, but today I have a cover. Guess who’s on the front? Annie. Of course. The e-book will be available soon at a very reasonable price, to be followed by the paperback in plenty of time for Christmas. Thank you, readers, for sharing this journey with me.

The blog is not over. I plan to keep posting here, offering new stories and photos because this life in Oregon offers new revelations every day.

Drum roll . . . Here’s the cover.

Unleashed cover

 

 

 

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Choking in Smoke as The West Burns

IMG_20170905_184257376_HDR[1]As I get ready for church choir practice, it seems unusually dark for 6:30 p.m. I leave the porch light on for the first time this summer. The reason for the darkness becomes clear when I turn west toward Highway 101. “Oh my God!” At the post office, I stop the car and fumble for my cell phone to take a picture.

The sun hanging over the ocean is red-orange, discolored by the smoke from the wildfires burning in Oregon and throughout the western United States. Unlike the eclipse two weeks ago, I don’t need special glasses to watch it because the light is muted, not bright enough to hurt my eyes.

My photos don’t do it justice. I turn north toward Newport, frequently glancing left at this sun so like a harvest moon but redder and on the wrong side of the road. When I look again in the church parking lot, the sun, still an hour from sunset, is nearly hidden in smoke.

When we come out, it’s dark. I see neither sun nor moon. There are no stars. There is only smoke.

Unlike the eclipse, this sky show does not bring me joy.

We are over a hundred miles from the closest fire yet the smoke has turned everything gray since Saturday. In brief moments when the sun breaks through, it tints everything a strange orange color. My nose keeps running. I miss my blue summer skies.

But this is just the smallest taste of it. Inland, where the fires are closer and the temperature has been in the 90s and 100s, ash rains like snow. The smoke is so thick it’s not safe to breathe. Like heavy fogs, it covers everything but without the cool refreshment of fog. And the fires, my God. Judging by the photos, all of Oregon is burning. And not just Oregon. Fires rage in California, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. See the map here. The fires are so big the only hope of putting them out anytime soon is a monster rainstorm to rival the one that flooded Texas and neighboring states with Hurricane Harvey.

Not long ago, my brother Mike’s home was threatened by such a fire burning around his home near Yosemite. His family was ordered to evacuate. They stayed with my niece in Merced, but Mike kept returning to his mountaintop home to check on its status and protect it from looters. At the same time, Mariposa, the town where he works as a superior court judge, sat in the fire’s path, evacuated but for a few people helping to care for the firefighters. The historic courthouse could have gone up in flames. In the end, his home and his town were spared, but the blaze, labeled the Detwiler fire, destroyed 63 homes and burned more than 81,000 acres. The miles of blackened landscape come within 200 yards of Mike’s property, a constant reminder of what could have happened. They’ll never forget the fear or the taste of smoke in their mouths. But fire season isn’t over. Another fire is burning today near Yosemite.

The biggest fire in Oregon right now is in the Columbia River Gorge. It is burning on the Pacific Crest Trail, around Multnomah Falls, and even across the river in Washington. It was started by kids playing with fireworks, a stupid, horrible thing. A cigarette reportedly sparked the Mariposa fire. Lightning started many of the other fires. Some say the fires are a natural process, designed to clear out the forests and start fresh. People and their buildings don’t fit into that equation. Nor do people help when they ignore firefighters’ pleas not to burn ANYTHING.

It has been a crazy year. After four years of drought, California experienced epic rains. So did Oregon. Day after day after day. Then came weeks of extraordinary heat. The result: wild growth of grasses, shrubs, and trees that make perfect fuel for fires. Now we’re burning.

Out my window, it’s as gray as any winter morning, but the grayness is smoke, not moisture. I like sunshine. I like to sit out in the sun, to bathe in its warmth. I dread winter. But today I’m praying hard for rain to put out the fires and clean the air, to give us back our sun and moon and to help all those people losing everything to the flames. If you are in the path of the fires, floods or hurricanes, you are in my prayers.

What is it like where you are? Are you or your loved ones in danger? How are you coping?

 

Eclipse: Sky Show Doesn’t Disappoint

12887800 - full eclipse of the sunI woke up Monday to fog. Great, I thought. I won’t see the eclipse, only the darkening and lightening as the moon passes over the sun. The naysayers were right.

“Come on, Lord,” I prayed.

He heard me. He heard lots of us. The sun burned it off just as the moon started taking bigger and bigger bites out of the sun. By 9:55, it was getting darker every second. As the shadows dimmed, I felt a physical thrill high in my chest that I can’t accurately describe. I wished my late husband Fred were here. I wished my neighbors were outside with me. I wished I were at a party with lots of people. But my plan had always been to stay home, and my back, out of whack again, seconded the motion.

As the moon slid over the sun, I walked down my street, seeking other people to watch with. I found only a flock of chickens and a black cat, all huddling in place. I noticed the fog hung very close, ready to cover our houses again. I went home, feeling like the last person on earth. No one here! Later I would learn that my neighbors had gone east to escape the fog.

So it was just me, standing in my driveway with my eclipse glasses. It got darker and darker till the sun was just an orange sliver around the moon. The street light came on, a slightly lighter orange. Cold, I pulled the red blanket out of my car and wrapped it around my shoulders. The chickens cackled then hushed. And suddenly . . .

The moon lay right across the sun, a black disk with a silver halo. I heard people shouting. I shouted back. I grabbed for my phone to take a picture, although what I saw in the viewfinder was just a round glow. After my second shot, a blast of sun burst through. More shouts. It started getting light. The street light turned off. The sun began to show on the right side of the moon. The fog crept eastward. A plane flew over. Standing in my garage huddled in my blanket, I cried.

I went in to warm up for a minute. The dog followed me around, nervous.

“Come on.” By now the sun was above the trees, so we could see the rest of the show from the back yard. Little by little, the sun reappeared. I watched until the edges of the orange ball were completely round again. I felt the sun’s warmth on my shoulders. Reluctantly, I took off my cardboard eclipse glasses. Annie sniffed them and tried to eat them. “No!” I hid them in my pocket.

I will never see anything like this again. I wish I had remembered to look for Jupiter and Venus and for the weird shadows that were expected. But totality came and went so quickly.

Afterward, I look around at the trees and the grass and the sky. Nothing seemed the same.

While I watched the total eclipse in South Beach, Oregon, my father and my aunt were just arriving at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara, California, for an appointment with his orthopedic surgeon. (Some healing of his broken leg, but it’s very slow). Traffic had stopped completely. People got out of their cars. Doctors, nurses and patients were gathered in the parking lot with their eclipse glasses, looking at the sky. One of them handed Dad his glasses. He took a look. He was interested but not impressed. Ah, but he didn’t see the “totality,” that moment when the moon completely blocked the sun. That’s what I won’t forget. The rest was a lot like the lunar eclipses I have seen, but totality, oh my God.

The eclipse entered the United States on the Oregon Coast just a few miles north of where I live. As I wrote last week, thousands of visitors were expected. Stores stocked up on eclipse T-shirts and other souvenirs. Some asked their employees to stay overnight and work extra shifts. Police and fire departments called everybody in, and the National Guard was on standby. Signs went up: no beach access, no camping here, no fires anywhere. Stay off the roads, we were told. Traffic will be stuck in total gridlock. The Lincoln County commissioners declared a state of emergency in advance.

But it didn’t happen. The crowds did not come here. For us, it was another y2k, the disaster that didn’t occur as 1999 transitioned into 2000. The streets of Newport, Depoe Bay, and Lincoln City were deserted. Hotels suffered mass cancellations. Businesses saw fewer customers than they would on a normal day in August.

Now everyone is debating over why people didn’t come, why they went to places like Prineville and Madras in Central Oregon. Were they scared away by overblown predictions of horrible crowds and ridiculously high prices? Or did they simply decide not to take a chance on the coast’s ever-changing weather, the one thing no one can control?

We could easily have missed it. The day after the eclipse, we were fogged in all day. The rest of the week was a mixed bag, some fog, some sun, some clouds. Now when the sun is out, I keep wanting to look at it. I want another show. But it just sits there, glowing, while the moon finds its own place in the sky and the waves roll in and out as usual.

Besides the glasses, I have another souvenir. No, it’s not a T-shirt. As the world darkened, I walked through my garage and ran into my big steel dolly, leaving a cut and a bruise just below my right knee. I’m kind of proud of it.

Text copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017

Photo Copyright: johanswan / 123RF Stock Photo

Eclipse-o-Mania hits the Oregon coast

IMG_20170817_111230377_HDR[1]I drove cautiously to the edge of Highway 101 as if driving into a war zone. Would I see an impenetrable line of cars? Would tourists crowd the roadsides, strewing trash and lit matches into the salal and blackberries? Could I possibly get to Newport in one piece? Judging by what I was seeing on the news and reading on my computer, no.

But yes. Yesterday, already suffering from cabin fever, I ventured to the post office and the jetty, and it was fine. The gulls and cormorants bobbing in the blue ripples of Yaquina Bay did not know or care that the solar eclipse is coming on Monday. The surf lapped against the rocks, fishing boats cruised in and out, and the sun peeked shyly through the morning clouds. The only unusual sight was a truck delivering portable toilets to the area where the jetty meets the beach.

Eclipse-o-mania. Depoe Bay, just north of here, is supposed to be the first place in the continental U.S. to see the moon completely cover the sun when the eclipse happens on Monday morning.  The “path of totality” will continue southeast through Oregon and on across the country. Over a million people are expected to come to this state, thousands of them to the coast, to see the eclipse. Officials predict traffic jams and shortages of food, gas, and cash. Eclipse-watchers will stream onto private property looking for places to camp. We may lose electricity and cell phone coverage. Or not. Will this be like y2k, when nothing really happened?

For weeks, we have been warned to stock up on supplies and plan to stay home from Aug. 17-21. The roads will be impassable, we’re told. Businesses and government offices are planning to close on Monday. Stores, restaurants, and motels that serve tourists are putting their employees on extra shifts and urging them to sleep over so they won’t get caught in traffic. Police and firefighters are working overtime. The National Guard is on standby. The county has declared a state of emergency.

It’s as if a tsunami, a snowstorm and Woodstock were all happening at the same time. The eclipse will begin at 9:04 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Totality, starting at 10:16, will last for two minutes. It will get dark. The birds will hush. Night animals will come out. And then it will start to get light again. By 11:15, it will be all over, except for the traffic jams.

Meanwhile, life goes on. When the moon slides over the sun, my dad will be on his way to Kaiser Hospital for a doctor’s appointment. Other people will be at work and not even see it. Me, I’ll probably retreat to my office and write.

We don’t really know how many people will come to the coast for the eclipse. If I were traveling to see it, I’d go somewhere else. We have a 50 percent chance it will be too cloudy to see anything. Whatever we can see, I’ll be able to watch from my backyard with the eclipse glasses I picked up at the community college. Don’t look at the sun without them, ophthalmologists warn. The glasses are so dark the sun is the only thing you can see through them. It looks like a little orange dot.

My father can’t understand why people would travel great distances to see the eclipse. Neither can my 96-year-old friend Doug, who says he’s seen them before. No big deal. The next eclipse will be in 2024, and it won’t be here. I hope to see it, but I’m not making any extra trips out of South Beach. I vaguely remember a previous eclipse in 1970. It got dark, it got light. No big deal in San Jose, not like the craziness happening here. I don’t even know if we got out of class to see it.

The mania had already started last week when I went to the Fred Meyer store to buy groceries. It was a madhouse, jammed with people stocking up for the big event. Yesterday, a friend posted pictures on Facebook of empty shelves where the milk should be. Did I stock up? I have bagels, grapefruit, tea and cookies. Annie has two boxes of Milk-Bones. We’re ready.

I have seriously thought about walking to town if I can’t drive. Four miles to the bridge, three more to church. News outlets are showing photos of bumper-to-bumper traffic, but not here. Not yet. Maybe not at all.

The eclipse will happen. But whether the crowds will come and whether it will be cloudy or clear, we don’t know. The human show may turn out to be more mind-blowing than the one in the sky. Meanwhile, the gulls bobbing in the bay and the dog at my side don’t know or care.

Has eclipse-o-mania hit where you live? Would you travel to see the eclipse?

Hanging out in the Alternate World of Nursing Homes

A world exists in the midst of our own that many people are not aware of. It’s a world none of us want to live in, but it’s not so bad to visit. I’m talking about nursing homes, assisted living facilities, memory care centers, whatever you want to call them. Buildings with old people in wheelchairs and walkers, staff in matching shirts, institutional meals and alarms on the doors. The kinds of places where old people land when they can’t stay at home anymore–if they can afford them.

Long before I had family living in these places, I sang in them with the Valley Chorale in California. We didn’t pay much attention to the residents back then. We just wanted to know where to dress, where to set up, and where to plug in our amps. We performed in our silky dresses and jeweled shoes to a sea of white hair and glasses, absorbed their applause, shook a few hands, changed clothes and went out to dinner.

It’s different when someone you love lives there. I started frequenting nursing homes when Grandpa Fagalde started living in one after a series of strokes. He was 94, and it was a shock the first time I saw him in a wheelchair, saying things that didn’t quite make sense. It was easier to sit at the piano and sing than to sit with him for the hour or two I visited at lunchtime or after work. But I came regularly and gradually became part of the family there. I greeted the staff and the other residents. They grabbed for my hands and sought my attention.

Toward the end, my grandfather didn’t know who I was. He knew only that I played music and that I would listen to him for a while. It was heartbreaking to see my grandfather this way, but while I was there, I could forget about my job as a newspaper editor, the errands I need to do on the way home, the teenage stepson who was driving me crazy, or the odd noise coming from under the hood of my car. It was just these old people in their limited world.

I never guessed that fifteen years later I would be visiting my husband Fred in a nursing home. He had Alzheimer’s Disease. He stayed in four different places before he died, but the longest was at Timberwood Court in Albany, Oregon, 70 miles from where I lived. Occasionally I played music there, too, but mostly I hung out with Fred and the gang. We watched TV, ate ice cream, batted a big rubber ball around, sang with visiting musicians, and went on field trips in the little bus. Some days, I would sit on the couch resting my head on my husband’s shoulder, even falling asleep sometimes.

I got to know the names of all the other residents and the family members who visited. I knew the staff. I would walk into the offices to demand things I needed for Fred—a haircut, his lost shoes, a doctor’s appointment. I was part of the Timberwood family. Yes, the residents had dementia. They screamed, they fought, they got sick and died. Some constantly begged to go home. But most made sense at least part of the time, and day after day, it was a beautifully furnished oasis from the rest of the world, unaffected by winter storms, summer heat, or the news on TV.

Beyond the coded-lock door, we were all safe and within shouting distance of an aide who would take care of everything. Fred soon forgot he had ever lived anywhere else. When his physical health failed, he moved to another facility that was not pretty at all. It was much more like a hospital. The hiatus was over.

This year, I found myself hanging out at another nursing home with my father. He wanted only to be back at his own house taking care of his own stuff, but I fell easily into the nursing home rhythm at Somerset. Here’s the living room, the dining room, the courtyard. Here are the aides in matching shirts. Here’s the office. Write Dad’s name on his clothes, hang them in the closet, make sure he has his meds. Get everything set up, then sit with him. Talk, listen, be. Meet the other family members doing the same thing.

Janet, the daughter of one of Dad’s housemates, arrives every day at 11 a.m. and leaves at 4 p.m. It’s like her job. She feels enough at home to go into the kitchen and help herself to coffee and cookies. She joins in the activities. Her sister handles the bills and such, but Janet is the one who has become part of the Somerset family.

It was different for me this time because I live 700 miles away. I visited in concentrated doses. Three days, a week, two weeks. But I got to know and care about the other residents and staff. I liked walking in to a chorus of “Hi, Sue.” I liked that there was someone waiting for me, even on days when my father was El Groucho, as my mother used to call him. While I was at Somerset, I could do nothing about work, home repairs, the needy dog or the emails calling for my attention. All I had to do was sit in the courtyard or the living room talking to my father. When it was time to leave, time to face traffic and take care of business, part of me didn’t want to go.

But of course I had to. These places are only pleasant to hang out in when you have the option of leaving. I didn’t have to eat their food, follow their schedule, or wait an hour for help going to the bathroom. I could walk out on my two strong legs whenever I wanted to. That’s the difference. For the residents, it’s a pretty prison which is eating up their life savings.

Nursing homes are a business where they charge a fortune and often give less than wonderful care. We can only hope our loved ones end up in the good ones. But sometimes since Dad went home, I find myself missing those people and those places where I could just sit and be. Also, I miss the Somerset dog, a white fur ball named Sonny.

When it’s my turn to move in, I hope I can be one of the ones who accept it with grace and smiles. I hope I still have enough working brain cells to make the best of it.

Just Give Me a Plate of Hash and Eggs

20750606 - a frying pan with corned beef hash and eggsI seem to be a food peasant. A plebeian. Totally lacking in culture, even if do have a master’s degree.

I splurged on a slightly expensive hotel on my way to California two weeks ago. It was about a thousand degrees out, and I was exhausted from planning, packing and driving all day. I dreaded what lay ahead in San Jose, and hell, I deserved it. Too beat to leave the building, I ate dinner in the adjoining restaurant. Mostly I just wanted cold air and a cold drink.

A hostess dressed in a silky black dress and wearing far too much makeup for off-stage led me to a small table against the far wall, one of those places they put people who dare to come in alone wearing faded jeans and a T-shirt promoting a literary magazine.

A waiter dressed in black and packing a snooty attitude handed me the menu. Holy smokes. All the entrees cost at least $20, nothing included. And there was nothing ordinary. All chipotle this and cream sauce that. As I pondered, a different black-suited waiter brought me a basket of cold French bread, a tiny bowl of ground nuts, and a plate on which he poured olive oil and a swirl of balsamic vinegar. How are you supposed to apply them to the bread? Where’s the butter? Yes, I’m a peasant. The oil made my lips feel greasy.

A couple specials were written on a blackboard in chalk. I couldn’t read them. Glare, plus half the words were in French.

When a third black-suited waiter arrived to take my order, I asked him to tell me about the specials, and I chose the steak and linguine after asking, “How much?” $22. Fine. It came with steak slices carefully arranged in a half circle, the odd-tasting sauce decorated with peppercorns, bits of red bell pepper and flakes of aioli cheese. Laid across the plate was the big spoon in which I was supposed to swirl my noodles, something I never do at home.

Folks at the next table were all dressed up and raving about the food. I savored the memory of the hamburger I had eaten for lunch at the Apple Peddler in Sutherlin, Oregon.

I hate to admit it, but on the road I usually seek out the familiar chain restaurants: Denny’s, Apple Peddler, IHOP, Black Bear Diner, Elmer’s. I already know what they have and know I can read, write or stare into space and not feel out of place. Plus when you order pasta, you get a salad, too, even off the senior menu. Sometimes you even get dessert.

Maybe it’s how I was raised. Mom was not an adventurous cook. Slab of meat, potatoes, canned veggies, white bread. We went out to eat at the Burger Pit or got takeout raviolis from Pianto’s. I never tasted any kind of Asian food until I was in high school. A lot of foods—Swiss chard comes to mind—I never saw until I got married. Heck, I had never used a salad bowl. Kabobs? Tofu? Quinoa? Are you kidding? Homemade bread? Why? And booze? At our house, it was canned beer, screw-top wine or highballs, and only for special occasions.

As an adult, I like to create with food. I make some weird salads and Boboli pizzas and freely adapt recipes. But apparently, I’m not as sophisticated as I thought.

At the fancy restaurant in Redding—Redding, off I-5, where the locals still wear cowboy hats—you can watch the flames as a chef deglazes a pan with his favorite liqueur. You can order almond-encrusted halibut with apricot horseradish, pan finished pork tenderloin—free range, of course—with creamed pan jus, apple burrata crème fraiche and fresh sage, or pulled chicken with smoked gouda, carmelized bacon and onion jam on artisan bread. They’ve got peach bourbon bread pudding for dessert.

Can I just get a turkey sandwich on whole wheat with lots of mayonnaise and a scoop of vanilla ice cream?

Sigh. I have such a plebeian palate. On the way back to Oregon, I stopped at my usual place in Yreka, a little cheaper, best bed ever, and across the street from Poor George’s. The lone aproned waitress, limping with a broken toe, served me hash and eggs and biscuits and gravy–$11—and told me the saga of her pit bull who ran away and just came home. She even showed me the dog’s picture on her phone. That’s my kind of restaurant.

***

For those following the Dad saga, I helped my father move home from the nursing home and hired a homecare agency to help him with meals, cleaning, errands and such. So far, he’s not getting along very well with his caregiver, but he’s happy to be back in his own house, walking very carefully with his walker.

****

Text copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017

Photo Copyright: markstout / 123RF Stock Photo

The dirt on soap: bars vs. liquid vs. cream

6244101 - man washes hands by the green soapWhatever happened to plain old soap? I’m talking about bar soap: Ivory, Dial, Dove, Irish Spring, or the Sweetheart brand my mom used to buy. You pick it up and rub it on your hands or face or your whole body, depending on what you’re up to, swoosh it around, and rinse it off.

I grew up watching commercials for these products. You want Ivory because it floats. You want Dial because it gets you clean. You want Dove because it has cream in it, and you want Irish Spring because a gorgeous Irish woman says it will make her man smell manly.

As for Sweetheart, I never saw an ad. I think it was the store brand, but I liked it, and I loved the way it had raised writing and scallops all around the oval rim. A little whittling, a little glitter, and you had an art project. Now you can buy it as “antique soap” on Ebay.

I think our Sweetheart soap was usually pink to match the bathroom tiles. Soap came in colors in the ’50s and ’60s, just like toilet paper. You could buy everything to match. Now it’s all white, and bar soap seems to be going out of style.

Back in the dark ages, we had powdered soap. I loved the way the scratchy Boraxo soap felt on my skin when I washed my hands at school. Anyone remember Ronald Reagan’s “Twenty Mule Team” Borax TV commercials? Here’s one you can watch. I don’t know what mules had to do with soap, but when you washed with that stuff, you were CLEAN.

Oh, and remember Lava? It was mud-colored and felt like it had sandpaper in it. If you used it every day, it would take your skin off. You used Lava when you got really dirty, not just averagely dirty. It’s what construction-worker dads like mine used after work.

Then liquid soap came along. I like the decorative containers, although I find the pumps frustrating. When the bottle is full, you get more soap than you want, and when it’s half empty, you have a hard time to getting it to spit out a few drops. You can certainly buy all kinds, white creamy soap, orange anti-bacterial soap, scented soaps like the coconut-lime soap I bought for the kitchen because the green color matched my décor. But I’m still using my bars of Ivory soap.

Yes, bars get gooshy. They shrink and fall apart as they get used up—but I never feel as if liquid soaps get me clean. Bacteria builds up on the soap, you say? I just read a scientific study that says bar soap is no more germy than liquid soap. Visit “Pros and Cons of Liquid Soap.”

Besides, I live alone. All the bacteria on my soap is my own bacteria.

Anyway. Now there’s this thing called “body wash.” I have a growing collection received for birthday and Christmas gifts. Because I’m a woman of a certain age, I guess folks don’t know what else to buy me and figure I’ll like the pretty packages of soaps, “crèmes” and lotions. I don’t know what to do with them. I’ve got this green puffy thing on which I can pour “body wash” and rub it all over my body. It feels good, but is it getting me clean? And why do I want to smell like ginger or mandarin oranges? I just want to smell clean, as in no smell.

Soap is rumored to dry out the skin while the creams and gels add moisture. But they also make you feel greasy. I don’t want to come out of the shower feeling like I need another shower to get clean.

Do people think I spend all day slathering stuff on myself in the shower or massaging pseudo-soap into my face? I’m a get wet-lather-rinse-get-out kind of girl. Give me a good old bar of real soap and a washcloth and I’m good to go.

If you’re looking for the perfect gift, don’t send me shower gel that smells like cookies. Send me actual cookies.

How about you? Bar soap, liquid soap or shower gel? Why? What’s your favorite brand and flavor?

Check out this article: “Body Wash shower gel or bar soap?”

Photo Copyright: mallivan / 123RF Stock Photo