A Gift That Helps More Than Charity

So this is the last day of 2018. I’m okay with that. 2018 has been a beast, but I’m full of hope for 2019.

As the year ends, my email inbox is loaded with pleas for money from charities and literary organizations. Last chance! Match these funds! Help us meet our goal! We can’t survive without you! I know that most literary magazines and writers’ organizations survive on volunteers and pin money, but I can’t give to everybody. They all make me feel guilty and uncaring. If the literary magazine goes under, it’s my fault. If the podcast goes silent, it’s on me. Know what I mean?

By the time I finish writing this page, I will have received five more emails asking for money. They all imply that if they don’t get it by midnight, something dreadful will happen. No. We’ll all be just as poor in the morning.

I get requests for money in the mail, too. This morning I threw away a plea from the local hospital and from the National Parks Conservation Association. I want the hospital to thrive. I love our national parks (And I hate that they are suffering under the current ridiculous government shutdown). I have tossed out pleas from the blind and the paralyzed, from veterans and Native Americans. Some of these agencies send me “gifts:” calendars, return address labels, greeting cards, tote bags, and more. Then they send me bills, asking whether I have gotten around to paying for those “gifts” yet. I don’t want them, I didn’t ask for them, and I don’t have to pay for them, but oh the guilt.

A year or so ago, I resolved to stop trying to give to everyone and focus my charitable giving on my church, feeding the hungry, and Alzheimer’s Disease, the cruel malady that took my husband. Once in a while, if I know the people involved and they really need help, I will contribute to a GoFundMe campaign. But I have to be stingy there, too. I might chip in for cancer treatment, but I’m not going to fund someone’s new house or trip to Europe.

Have you noticed the new Facebook practice of linking people’s birthdays to charity giving? It’s no longer enough to offer a loving “Happy birthday!” Now I have to give to their charity, too? Stop! Let me love you without getting out my credit card.

I sound like such a Grinch. But I’m not a mean person. I just feel that spreading my limited funds in a million directions doesn’t really help anyone.

Besides, there are lots of needs that don’t involve money. My aunt put it well the other night when we were talking about my dad. At 96, living alone, chained to a walker and unable to drive, he needs lots of help these days. Paid caregivers do things like cook meals, clean the house, and take him to the grocery store, the bank, or the pharmacy. But what he needs most of all, she said, is company. He needs someone to sit and listen to his stories, to make him feel not alone. That’s all. Just spend time with him.

Honestly, I need that too sometimes. The world is full of lonely people who just need someone to make them feel less alone, to show that someone cares. I will continue to delete and shred most of the pleas for money that come my way, but I want to reach out more, especially to those who are alone.

I have been working on writing something about people like me who are going through life as a party of one. But you don’t have to be a writer to notice the old man eating at the Pig n Pancake by himself, the woman with just a few items in her shopping cart at Fred Meyer, or the person who sits in church alone every week. If nothing else, smile, offer a hand, strike up a conversation. That’s worth more than all the free calendars in the world.

I hope and pray our new year is full of good things. After a couple weeks of storms, the sun is shining in South Beach this morning. I’m hopeful.

MY GIFT TO YOU: Email me at suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com by Jan. 31 and mention that you read this blog post, and I will send you a free paperback copy of Shoes Full of Sand or Unleashed in Oregon. Free. See my book page for details on the books.

Happy New Year to one and all.

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Merry Christmas from Unleashed in Oregon

Mom Lick’s earring tree
What Christmas stress?

I haven’t changed much, have I? Merry Christmas and thank you reading Unleashed!

Remembering a very special Dec. 17

So I’m lolling in the pink bathtub browsing through the antique store in my brain when I hit upon the fact that it’s Dec. 17. Oh! I say, my eyes popping wide open. Oh.

It’s the 35th anniversary of my first date with Fred Lick, who changed my life. We met at a Christmas party at my brother’s house. I was divorced, my latest relationship come to a disastrous ending. I had quit my newspaper job to sing with this country music show that was supposed to travel the country and make us all rich, but we only got as far as Redding, California before it went bankrupt. I was doing temporary secretary work, singing a few gigs with an accordion-playing friend, and living with my parents again. Everyone else seemed to be coupled and happily employed, and I felt like a 31 ½ year old loser sitting by the Christmas tree with my parents.

I went to the kitchen to get a drink. There was Fred, sipping wine by the refrigerator. He had been my brother’s boss in the San Jose Recreation Department—back before Mike became a hotshot lawyer and judge—and now they were friends. I had met him once before, but he was with his wife then and seemed so very married. Now, his marriage of 25 years had fallen apart. We started talking. It felt easy and right. He asked if he could call me. Suddenly everything looked bright and shiny.

On our date, Fred took me to Mirassou Winery to pick up wine he had ordered for Christmas—who buys that much wine, I thought—to dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and then to a video store to pick up a couple VHS tapes to watch at his cozy rented house in Willow Glen. One thing led to another and . . . we didn’t see the end of the second movie. Gasp. Should I tell you that?

That was the beginning. We knew right away that this was it.We were married in May 1985 in the amphitheater at Evergreen Community College by a Methodist minister. Yes, Catholic friends, it wasn’t in a church, but I know God was there. I’m sure God brought us together. The men wore Mexican wedding shirts, I wore an embroidered dress imported from Mexico and a garland of baby’s breath flowers in my curly hair. The music for the wedding came from a mix tape we made of our favorite songs. We held the reception in the backyard of the house we were renting on Ardis Avenue, using tables and chairs borrowed from the recreation department. Our friend Pat Silva cooked a Portuguese feast. Our favorite piano bar player Scotty Wright played my piano in the patio. It was wonderful.

Fred was the best. As most readers know, he died of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease in 2011 after nine years of that rotten condition. To the end, he loved me probably more than I deserved. And he gave me so much. I miss him all the time, especially during the holidays. But I am grateful.

Now, in my pink bathtub, I think about all he gave me, including this oversized house and enough money to keep living here, where I can loll in my pink bathtub with the big dog just outside the door and my office in the next room. But it’s not just tangible things. He gave me a love like I had never felt, and he taught me to love life. Life is good. People are good, he always said.

Where would I be without him? Still living in the one-bedroom apartment two blocks from my parents that I rented shortly after I met him, the one where ants kept invading and my elderly neighbor Vicki Schultz covered my counters with bay leaves? Or maybe I’d be far from there, having had to follow the newspaper jobs wherever I could find one. And what would I have done when the newspaper business started laying people off by the hundreds? I fell victim to several layoffs over the years, including the one at the Hayward Daily Review shortly after Fred and I were married. But thanks to Fred, I didn’t need a full-time job anymore. I could work part-time and write the books I’d dreamed of writing. And sing. Fred was always my biggest fan, happy to be my roadie and attend every performance.

Shoot, without Fred, I couldn’t even afford a microwave. I was lucky to have a car that worked some of the time. Ooh, flash back to that horrible temp job in Sunnyvale where my dad came to tow my dead, dented, primered VW bug with me in it behind his truck down Lawrence Expressway—oh my God. Fred, thank you for saving me.

I would not be in this house on the Oregon coast, where I can hear the storm-tossed ocean churning nearby. I probably would have stayed in California. I could have wound up in Paradise, the town that just burned in the massive Camp Fire. I interviewed for a job at the paper there ages ago. One of those destroyed homes could have been mine.

By the time I met Fred, I was sure I’d be alone forever, but I might have married someone else. I might have had children and grandchildren instead of just dogs. But surely we couldn’t love each other as much as Fred and I did. I have never met anyone as kind and smart and funny as he was. He wasn’t perfect, but that’s okay. We traveled, we sang, we laughed, we made love, we held each other when we cried. We were blessed.

Yes, we had a good first date. We used to celebrate two anniversaries, Dec. 17 and May 18. And now Dec. 17th has come again. It’s too early in the day for wine, so I’ll drink an orange juice toast and wish Fred a merry Christmas in heaven.

Now let’s buckle up. They say the storm coming later today is going to be a whopper.

***

Hey, you know what’s good to do during a storm? Read! If you want to read more about Fred and me, check out my books, particularly Shoes Full of Sand and Unleashed in Oregon

Why Dogs are More Fun Than Children

As I write this, I have been sitting with Annie up against my thigh for so long that my legs have gone numb, but I have no intention of moving. We are symbiotic creatures, attached to each other. I pause with my pen above the page. She’s having a dream. Her lips quivering, she bares her teeth and paddles her feet as if she’s running. I pet her long, tan flank. “It’s okay,” I whisper. After a minute, she opens her eyes, sees my reassuring face, sighs, and goes back to sleep. I go back to writing.

If Annie were a 10-year-old human, I guarantee she would not be snuggling with me here on the love seat. She would be squirming to get free, complaining that she’s bored, or asking for food. She might very well tell me that I look awful with no makeup and should not still be in my fuzzy bathrobe at 10 o’clock in the morning. Dogs just don’t do that.

Here are a few other reasons raising dogs is easier than raising children.

  • They love you unconditionally, even if you’re an idiot.
  • Dogs never get too old for snuggling.
  • You’re never too old to have a dog.
  • If you accidentally step on their toes or eat a whole piece of chicken without sharing, they forget about it in a minute. Dogs do not hold grudges.
  • Dogs never say, “I hate you.”
  • When you need some “me time,” you can shove them out the back door and they entertain themselves.
  • It’s perfectly fine to put a dog on a leash.
  • Dogs never need school clothes or new shoes.
  • Dogs don’t expect presents for Christmas or their birthdays. In fact, they don’t understand why we make such a fuss over certain days when ordinary days are the best.
  • Dogs won’t spend your money. They might eat it, but they won’t spend it, and they definitely won’t use your credit cards.
  • Dogs are much less fussy about their food. They’ll eat poop if you let them.
  • Dogs are always up for a race or a game of fetch.
  • Dogs never complain about your driving; they’re just happy to be in the car.
  • Anyone who has taken a child to the doctor, can testify that it’s a lot more fun to visit the vet’s office, where you can get an appointment right away, the waiting room is full of dogs, and there’s a cookie jar on the counter.
  • Dogs don’t enjoy wearing Christmas ribbons or reindeer antlers, but they will if it makes you happy.
  • While it’s a pain to take little kids out to eat, most restaurants won’t even let your pooch in the door. They don’t get it. When a toddler finishes eating, there’s food all over the floor. When a dog finishes, the floor is spotless, and the plates are so shiny you don’t even need to wash them. 🙂

So that’s my offering for today. Please share your own suggestions for why dogs are superior. And parents, don’t get in a snit. I love children and wish I had some, but I love being a dog mom.

Also, get yourself a copy of Pick of the Litter’s 2019 calendar. It’s full of wonderful pet pictures, much better than the usual dog and cat calendars. My Annie is the gorgeous tan dog in one of the small photos on the August page. Visit one of the local stores listed or order online by scrolling to the bottom of the page. It’s only $10. All the money raised supports the Lincoln County Animal Shelter.

Christmas is in two weeks. Ack! Happy holidays to one and all.

Wildfires teach us all a frightening lesson

On my way home from my Thanksgiving trip to California last week, I was paying my bill for lunch at the Black Bear Diner in Willows when I heard the woman behind me tell someone she was heading back to Paradise, the town that had just suffered the worst wildfire in California history.

I had to ask. “How did you make out?”

“Oh, we lost everything,” she said.

What do you say to that? “I’m so sorry?” Do you just reach into your wallet and give them all of your cash? Do you buy them a stuffed bear from the gift shop for comfort? I think I just shook my head and said, “Oh wow.”

The woman and her husband looked like any other couple having lunch. Who would guess that whatever they had in their car was all they had left? No one. But there they were, heading home to a pile of ashes.

They just have each other, along with the friends and family who survived, standing here on planet Earth asking, “Now what?”

The Camp Fire, as it was called, killed 88 people, destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings, most of them homes, and burned 153,336 acres.

I drove 1-5 to the Bay Area. The Camp Fire, still burning, was farther west, but its smoke spread throughout the state and was thick near that restaurant in Willows. I didn’t see the damage from that fire, but I did see some of the damage from the fires that happened earlier this year near Mt. Shasta and Redding. Like the Camp Fire, they burned thousands of acres. I passed miles of blackened ground and forests of burnt trees, their trunks black, their leaves and needles an odd shade of orange. It was frightening to see.

Fires have raged throughout California and done quite a number on its neighboring states, including Oregon. Look at this list of fires just this year, just from California.

At the same time the Camp Fire raged in Northern California, the Woolsey Fire tore through Southern California. Thank God the rain finally started, but the trouble is not over. A major blessing for the firefighters trying to contain the massive blazes, the storms also made recovery more difficult. Now, with nothing to hold the ground in place, people worry about flooding and mudslides.

I heard on 60 Minutes that the Camp Fire was growing at the rate of an acre a second. How do you prepare your home and possessions for that? You can’t. Some of the people who died were in their cars trying to get away. And some of them couldn’t stop to collect their pets. They just opened the doors and let them go.

For the most part, the newscasters have already moved on, but the damage remains. People who lived in Paradise are still seeking shelter, still waiting for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to bring trailers, still wondering how to remake their lives, which have been changed forever. They are mourning lost friends and family, lost pets and livestock, and a whole way of life. At this point, many don’t even have a mailing address.

As I drove home, I found myself looking at every house, every barn, every business that didn’t burn up, and feeling grateful. Eucalyptus trees, olive trees, pine trees. Mt. Shasta still standing. Klamath River still there. I returned to my dog and my home just as I left them. God, I’m so lucky.

My friends, while we make ourselves crazy buying gifts and doing all the things we tell ourselves are necessary this holiday season, let’s stop and think about how it might all disappear in a heartbeat.

Right now the sun has turned the tops of my trees golden against a blue sky. It looks safe, especially with all the moisture around here, but fire officials warn that fire could roar through here, too. Or we could have that tsunami we keep hearing about. Anything can happen at any time. Have you seen the pictures from the Alaska earthquake?

At Thanksgiving a year ago, my brother drove my dad and me around the areas that burned very close to his home near Yosemite. The fire came right to the gate of his housing development. When his family returned after evacuating for a week, his house was unscathed except for the smoke and the food that rotted in the refrigerator, but they have not forgotten the fear. This Thanksgiving, Mike showed me around his property. He has cut all the weeds to the ground and has been working his way through the trees, cutting away the low-hanging branches most likely to catch fire. He also showed where his creek flooded last winter, remaking the landscape. The rushing water left burnt logs from the fire on his land. He is trying to be ready when another fire comes.

The fire victims still need help. You can donate to the California Community Foundation Wildfire Relief Fund or the American Red Cross.

For more about the fires, read the Chico News and Review or the Paradise Post. Kudos to small-town journalists still putting out their newspapers in spite of everything.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed with everything there is to do, stop and look around. In the end, your only job is to stay alive, count your blessings, and be good to each other. The rest doesn’t matter that much.

Claiming a bigger piece of Oregon sky

Chain saws roar in my back yard. Usually occupied by birds, newts, and the occasional rabbit, today it’s filled with people. Five workers from Oregon Coast Tree Company, four men and a woman, have trimmed the wild laurel off my fences and woodshed, opening up a six-foot-wide stretch to the sun. They’re cleaning up now, cutting last chunks of wood, raking leaves and scraps, feeding branches into the wood chipper. Kip Everitt is up in my giant Sitka spruce, cutting dead branches.

They did most of the work yesterday, leaving stark cuts all along the fence. Amputations. It’s not that I didn’t like the laurels. Their leaves were beautiful, with pretty flowers in the spring. They were home to birds, bees, and squirrels. I feel bad for what we had to do. But in the rain-soaked ground beyond the fence, their roots let loose, and the trees fell against the fence and the woodshed. Soon their weight would push these structures down.

The laurels had been leaning for a long time, some of the branches bent nearly to the ground but beyond my ability to trim with my loppers and my pole saw. I’m terrified of chain saws, of anything with blades. I have a bad back and funky knees. My arthritic wrists hurt just sitting here typing. These workers are young and strong. They pick up giant hunks of wood like sticks. They’re also fearless. They stand on roofs and fences and perch in trees, their chainsaws like extensions of their arms. Plus, they have the gear to deal with what they cut. It would take me years to dispose of that much wood.

And Lord, they are fast. In about four hours, they have transformed my yard. They have to be fast. They are booked two months in advance, interspersing painting, power-washing and other jobs between tree gigs. Things will not slow down when the winter storms start knocking down more trees.

I hear a “Woohoo!” as Kip drops a big branch off the spruce. It bounces on the lawn.

I love having this drama to watch out my office window. Soon the crew will be gone, and quiet will return. Annie and I will walk around the yard, absorbing its new look. For years, the area under the laurels has been covered with leaves. I gave up raking, declaring it a newt habitat. But now I’m thinking about planting something in the newly open space, a hedge perhaps, maybe rhododendrons. The newts have plenty of habitat outside the fence.

I don’t want to compete with nature, but sometimes I have to defend my space. Trees still surround my home like tall, wise guardians. With luck, they will remain standing when the big winds come again, and the robins will build new nests in the spring.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Me and Tom Hanks Selling Our Books

WW authors at Wordstock
Kerry Blaisdell, Jack Estes, John Dover, and Sue Fagalde Lick at the Portland Book Festival      Photo by Gail Pasternack

 

It’s 5 p.m., and the Portland Book Festival is winding down. Where once one couldn’t move for the crowds, now there’s space between the bodies. Formerly known as Wordstock, the festival has once again drawn thousands of book lovers to the Portland Art Museum and surrounding venues. Everywhere you turn, someone is giving a talk, reading from his or her books, offering services for writers, or selling books. People bring their babies and their kids, hoping to turn them into readers. Food carts line up selling tamales, pizza, donuts, and other goodies.

In a world where half the people say they never read books, it’s wonderful to see so many celebrating the written word, even if they wander around in a word-stoned daze, making it hard to move. We stand in line for the readings and talks, for food, for coffee, to buy books, and to use the restroom.

Now, with the festival ending in one hour, it’s getting easier to breathe, but it doesn’t bode well for sales. With several other Willamette Writers authors, I have drawn the last shift for selling and signing my books. My book bag is heavy coming in, but I hope it will be much lighter going out.

We stand behind the table, behind our piles of vastly different books and exercise our best selling techniques. Debby Dodds flashes her technicolor smile and plays her connections with seemingly everyone in Portland to sell her young adult novel, Amish Boys Don’t Call.

Jack Estes, whose wonderful books are about soldiers, shouts out, “Do you know any veterans?” because, well, who doesn’t, and tomorrow is Veterans Day. Sometimes the question backfires. People are like “What? Why?” Plus, people don’t give Veterans Day gifts. Maybe they should.

John Dover, creator of the “jazz noir” Johnny Scotch series, plies his local connections and offers readers a good time with his books and stories. Kerry Blaisdell hands out free calendars to lure people to her urban fantasy novel, Debriefing the Dead.

Me, I pass out postcards with the cover photo from Up Beaver Creek. “Would you like a pretty picture, something to look at and de-stress?” Mostly women accept it. A few turn it over, read my pitch and come back to take a look at the book. Success.

Since our table sits under the Willamette Writers banner, we give out information about the organization, about the various branches, our program for young writers, and our literary magazine the Timberline Review.

But it’s a tired crowd, with going home on their minds. It’s getting dark outside. Their bags of books are already too heavy. Many don’t even glance in our direction. Some dart in to grab the leftover Halloween candy set between the books. And some stop to chat. And chat. And chat. I want to scream, “Move on. You’re blocking my books. I don’t want to carry these damned things home.” Just as I wanted to scream when I was on the other side perusing the booths, “Pass on the right!” and, “If you’re going to stand still, get out of the way.” But I don’t scream any of those things. I smile and offer up pretty pictures.

My photo technique works. I sell a book. The buyer hands me a credit card. It’s the first time I’ve used the credit card app on my phone. Will it really work? It did when I practiced at home, but . . . Look! It works! I hand her my phone. “Finger sign here, please.” How crazy is that? In a minute, I get an email saying $15.00 has been deposited into my account. Magic. Somebody else buy a book. Let’s do it again!

Up until this year, I have not accepted credit cards. Cash or checks only. But that’s old-fashioned. Now we all have our little card readers on our phones. Zip, zoop, sold.

That one sale is it for the night, which is as good as any of us except Debby does, but as John Dover notes, this is not about sales. It’s about shaking hands and making connections. It’s about getting people to take our cards and our swag so that they might go home and order our books or at least remember our names.

It’s also about being with other authors after the solitary process of writing our books. We compare notes. Best and worst selling experiences. Bookstores that treat authors well or treat them badly. Places we might give talks. Favorite flavor of Ghirardelli chocolate squares. (Mine is mint.)

And it’s fun. I think of myself as shy, but I have spent the day talking to strangers, putting myself “out there.” “Hey, you need another book!” I hear myself shouting. I’ve turned into a huckster.

Afterward, walking the six blocks to the parking garage, my bag is no lighter than it was coming in. I couldn’t resist purchasing one more book from a Facebook-only friend I finally met in person. I don’t mind. My feet hurt, but my heart feels good.

It has been a long day, which started with standing in line with approximately 2,000 people for over an hour in 36-degree weather outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall to see and hear Tom Hanks talk about Uncommon Type, his new book of short stories. The ticket price included a copy of his book. We grab our books from the thousands piled on tables in the theater lobby and cuddle them like kittens. Tom Hanks does not have to stand behind a table with postcards and chocolate bars trying to get people’s attention. It helps if you’re an Academy Award winning actor.

Tom Hanks’ hour-long talk was fabulous. It was funny, sweet, loving, and wise. I’m in love. We all are. Last night, I dreamed about Tom and his big gray dog walking up my driveway. I greeted them like old friends, casual, not star-struck at all—until my sweet Annie dog turned into Cujo and attacked his dog.

I’m so sorry, Tom. Would you like a pretty picture of Beaver Creek?

***

  • Fun fact: Back in the early 90s, Tom Hanks spent a night camping in an Airstream trailer on my grandfather’s property at Seacliff Beach, California. Or so says my father, who is not impressed with all this book nonsense, but thought it was pretty nifty that I got to see Tom Hanks.
  • The Coast branch of Willamette Writers meets this coming Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Newport Library. Rachel Barton will lead a free poetry workshop. Everyone is invited to join us for lunch at the Chowder Bowl at 11:30 that day where we can chat and fill up on chowder. PM me or email me at coast@willamettewriters.org if you’re coming to lunch so we can save you a seat.
  • I just discovered this is my 500th post! That’s a lot of blogging.