Halloween photo sparks memories

Halloween at TimberwoodA few days ago, Facebook showed me a photo from 2010 of me and my late husband Fred at a Halloween party at the Timberwood Court memory care facility where he lived most of the last two years of his life. He looks disoriented. I look weary, and my glasses are askew. I wore an orange hoodie, the same one I wore this Halloween, and I can see orange and black decorations in the background. I remember bowls of candy,  somebody’s kids in costumes, and “The Monster Mash” playing in the background. The merriment was forced. Most of the residents had no clue what was happening.

After we said goodbye, I drove home through Corvallis. The trees were so brilliant with fall colors that I had to stop and take pictures. I walked the promenade along the Willamette River among kids in costume, couples strolling, and bicyclists speeding by. Mostly I stared at the river. It was always difficult to come out into the world after a visit to Fred, especially on holidays, which he used to enjoy so much. I didn’t know this would be his last Halloween, but I did know Halloweens were not the same anymore.

My mind goes back to 1997. Halloween occurred just a few days after Fred’s father died suddenly of a stroke. Perhaps it was unseemly, but we decided to go ahead with Halloween at Fred’s mother’s house in Newport. Fred’s brother and his wife were there, and we brought our dog Sadie. Mom Lick had a cold and stayed in the back room while we “kids” took turns handing out candy. In that neighborhood behind the Fred Meyer store, folks block off the streets every year and hundreds of trick-or-treaters come seeking candy. That year, they came in such a steady stream that we never really got to close the door. One of us had to hold the dog to keep her from bolting outside while the other tossed mini tootsie rolls in their bags or plastic pumpkins. It was cold and windy, but it was fun. Fred talked to all the kids, praising their costumes. Friends who knew my father-in-law had just died seemed surprised to find us doing the Halloween thing, but Mom insisted. She hung up her spooky stuffed monkeys in the window, set out her pumpkins, and we did Halloween as usual. We continued the tradition for another four years, until she too passed away.

It was a nice change from Halloween here in the woods where it’s so dark and spooky nobody ever comes trick-or-treating. I hang up orange lights, light a candle in a pumpkin and buy candy just in case, but always wind up eating it myself. I just finished last year’s bag of little Hershey bars. Now I have Tootsie Pops. You know what? They still taste great, especially when you get to the chocolate in the middle.

Our weather usually changes to winter in October. This Halloween, just before dark, it started raining like a hurricane, coming down so hard it looked like the ocean was coming to get us. I imagined the scene at many homes where the kids were set on going out and the parents were just as set on staying dry. Downtown was set up for the usual Deco District festivities where merchants hand out candy, but I didn’t see a single kid there. In Mom’s old neighborhood, over a hundred souls braved the storm. You’ve got to be tough growing up on the Oregon coast.

Growing up in San Jose, my brother and I did the typical Halloween thing. I remember smelly plastic masks, scratchy store-bought costumes and embarrassing homemade ones. I remember going door to door with our Halloween bags while Mom or Dad watched from the sidewalk, making sure we said “thank you” at every stop. As we collected Three Musketeers bars, Life-Savers, suckers, candy corn and other wonders, we never worried about the weather or had to cover our costumes with raincoats, gloves and hats. We also never worried about running into bears or cougars in the dark. Different worlds.

This Halloween, I sang at the 5:30 Mass, ate a late dinner and watched three episodes of “Gilmore Girls” on DVD. In the glow of my orange Halloween lights, Annie snored in the big chair and I contentedly sucked on a chocolate Tootsie Pop.

I hope your Halloween was good. Now it’s time to brace ourselves. It’s standard time, and winter is here. Will it be a trick or a treat? Wait and see.

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Life and death of a mushroom family

It’s mushroom season on the Oregon coast. My yard and the woods around us are full of them. This week, I’m sharing photos of mushrooms Annie and I found on our walk. The whole series of photos took place in less than a week. These are Coprinus comatus, also known as Ink Cap mushrooms. They’re edible, but you have to catch them quickly because they blossom and die in only a few days.

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They started out as vertical white bulbs, a big one and several others in a row.
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On the second day, the big mushroom had opened and turned black and the little ones were opening like little black-rimmed umbrellas.
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On the fourth day, they were beginning to sag and one had fallen down. By the fifth day, all had fallen, their blooming over. What’s left has merged into the pine needles.

The strange world of legal marijuana

Marijuana, grass, weed, ganja, pot*. The dried leaves and female flowers of the hemp plant. Smoke it, make brownies, cook up a medicinal omelet. Get caught with it and  go to jail. Test positive for it, and you lose your job. Start with grass, and pretty soon you’re taking heroine and cocaine. Mellow stoners walking around in a daze, scarfing down junk food because the weed gave them the munchies? Sneaking a joint out back?

That’s how it used to be, but now it’s legal in Oregon. We voted for it, and it passed. Last summer, stores here started selling medicinal marijuana to those with prescriptions. On Oct. 1, they started selling pot for recreational use. Anyone over 21 can walk into a store and buy a quarter ounce of leaves to use as they wish. The headline on the front of Friday’s News-Times proclaims: At Long Last, Retail Pot. The photo shows a line of middle-aged people walking into Pipe Dreams Dispensary in Lincoln City to buy pot in broad daylight. We have four marijuana stores in Newport, eleven in Lincoln County. No more dealers sneaking baggies to customers in the dark.

Saturday, driving home from Portland, I saw one of those tall skinny balloon guys wiggling in the breeze next to a building all lit up with Christmas lights. It had a lighted green cross. At first I thought it was some kind of church. But then I read the letters on the side of the rubber guy: marijuana.

It is so strange. All our lives it was illegal to use it or have it. A felony. Now it’s being advertised like cars and computers.

While I was at a meeting in Portland, all of us working on our computers, one of the guys, long-haired, about my age, shared his expertise on the subject. He and his wife went to one of the marijuana shops on the first day, sniffed the various types of leaves and each purchased their limit. They planned to bake it into cookies. While you get a rush from smoking, you get a longer, more mellow experience when you eat it in a brownie or a blondie, he said. Whatever was bothering you before does not bother you once the marijuana kicks in, he added with a smile.

Strange. Talking pot recipes.

I think back to parties and picnics where I got a whiff of that sweet smell and felt the thrill of violating the law. I remember an outdoor Willie Nelson concert to which my brother and I took our mom in 1980. She sniffed the air. “Is that marijuana?” Mike and I looked at each and laughed. “Yeah, I think so,” I said, breathing it in, hoping for a tiny high.

Then there was the whole Stan situation. Back when I was in college in the ‘70s, I was living at home and dating this guy named Stan because I really liked his friend Jack. Wherever Stan was, Jack was. Stan was very weird, possibly stoned all the time. He wore paisley shirts and striped pants, had this odd high laugh and green stuff growing on his teeth, but I had almost convinced myself I was in love with him. One night while Mom and I were watching TV, she turned to me during a commercial and asked if any of my friends smoked pot. I said yes, sometimes, but I never did. Well! The TV went off, my father was called in, and I was ordered to stay away from Stan and all his friends.

Stan came over to plead his love for me and his status as an upstanding citizen. I remember him sitting in the big chair by the window, talking in his spaced-out high-low voice while I sat on the edge of the sofa wringing my hands. Soon he and Dad were both shouting and then Stan was out the door, driving away forever. I hollered something at my father, probably my usual, “You just don’t understand!” and ran to my room sobbing.

All because of marijuana. And now it’s legal. I have no idea what happened to Stan or Jack, can’t understand now why I wasted a minute on either one of those guys. But I was 19 going on 12.

Yesterday I passed three marijuana stores on my way home from church. So strange.

Recreational marijuana is now legal in Oregon, Washington and Colorado. There are still restrictions. See marijuana.oregon.gov. (!) You can only buy a quarter ounce of dried leaves and flowers per person per day, but you can possess up to eight ounces. You can’t smoke it in public. If caught, you get a citation, like a traffic ticket. An article in Sunday’s Oregonian reported that you still can’t have or use pot on any of the state’s college campuses because the colleges get federal funding and it’s still illegal nationally. But if you get caught, you probably won’t go to jail.

A guy at our Friday jam session said he’d never tried pot, but maybe now he will. I’m thinking the same thing. It sounds nice. And if you can combine it with brownies, hallelujah!

If my mother were alive, she would be amazed. At this point, my father just shakes his head.

Ah, Oregon.

* The word “pot” came into use in America in the late 1930s. It is a shortening of the Spanish potiguaya or potaguaya that came from potación de guaya, a wine or brandy in which marijuana buds have been steeped. It literally means “the drink of grief.” –-blog.dictionary.com/pot-marijuana

Running away to Neskowin

DSCN3995Some days I just have to run away. If I had a regular job, I’d have to stifle that impulse, but as a writer working from home, I can jump in my car, drive to the highway and decide to go either north or south. Last Thursday, with my car finally back from the body shop, I chose north.

I needed to get reacquainted with my Honda Element, sometimes known as The Toaster, after almost two weeks driving the black bomb, a low-slung Toyota Corolla that was fast, quiet, fuel-efficient and had a great stereo. In comparison, the Toaster feels like a truck. Now it’s a truck with many shiny new parts. Since the accident, I had become a very nervous driver. I needed to get over that.

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A riot of nasturtiums at a house in Neskowin

Thursday’s adventure started in Depoe Bay, where I joined the tourists watching for whales and taking pictures. It was a gorgeous day, the waves wild and many shades of blue. As I stood outside the whale-watching center with my camera, a stranger said, “Look over there. A whale. You’ll see his spout in a minute.” To be honest, I never saw it, but it felt good staring at the waves, resting my eyes after too many hours staring at a computer screen. Workers at the center keep a tally of whale sightings. Folks had already seen eight by 11:00 that morning. They counted 11 the day before.

From Depoe Bay, I continued north to Lincoln City. School may have started, but we still have plenty of tourists, many of them driving gigantic motorhomes. Slow. But I wasn’t in a hurry. Ooh, Robert’s Bookshop. A goldmine, but I had already purchased at least a dozen books in the last month. The outlet stores. Didn’t feel like shopping. Library. Again, too many books. Antiquing? Yes, but later.

I have grown fond of the Pig n Pancake restaurant in Newport, housed in the old city hall building. So when I saw the Lincoln City P n P, I decided to eat there. The place was jammed. Noisy. It wasn’t a dining experience; it was a feeding trough. Party of one? The hostess led me to a tiny table barely big enough to get my body behind and slapped down a menu. The next party was too close for comfort. And I thought: no. I walked out, got back in my car and kept driving north.

I did a lot of grumbling to myself about how if my husband were still alive, this trip would be a lot more fun, and nobody would stick us in a corner. He loved these field trips.

I was thinking I’d go to the Pelican Pub in Pacific City, but first I came to Neskowin, a tiny beach community where I sang during a 2014 garden tour. That day, running late and fixated on the gig, I didn’t notice the Cafe on Hawk Creek just off the highway. But I saw it this time. It looked cute and uncrowded.DSCN4003

I walked in, the hostess took one look at me and said, “Two?” Um, no. But that was the only negative thing. She sat me at a big wooden table, and I sank into a soft-cushioned seat. I ordered the chicken club sandwich, but this was not the usual three slices of bread with lunch meat chicken, bacon, tomato and lettuce. This was a giant hunk of fresh-baked chicken, fat slices of bacon, tomato and onion and cole slaw on a ciabatta roll. Heaven on a plate. I sipped my iced tea, read my book and luxuriated in great food. The waitress left my bill but assured me there was no rush. The meal fed my soul as well as my body.

I had gone far enough. Backtracking to Lincoln City, I spent the next couple hours wandering the aisles of the Little Antique Mall at the north end of town, where I scored some 1930s sheet music and vintage handkerchiefs. I love looking at old stuff and listening to old music.

I got home in time to catch some sun on the deck and quality time with the dog. All in all, a great runaway day. Now that the toaster had a little dirt and few more miles on it, it was time to go back to work.

Woman and Dog in the Woods

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So many things on my mind. Health problems, car accident, an argument with a friend. After dinner, I sink into the backyard spa and let the hot water steep me like a tea bag, soaking out the crazies as daylight fades around me. While I soak, Annie runs around the yard, barking at dogs she hears in other yards, grabbing a yard-long tree branch and carrying it around, then settling down to chew on it like a peppermint stick.

When I get out, not ready to go into the house, still avoiding the telephone and email, I wrap myself in my big towel and sit on the grass. Annie comes running and sits beside me. I wrap my arm around her. Suddenly we feel like IMG_20150902_184515698[1]a couple, Annie and me, partners in this challenging life of childless widowhood in the woods. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this big yellow dog. I know she won’t live forever. But she’s here now, and that’s what counts.

Whatever I do, she’s nearby, watching, listening, waiting for a chance to share my food, walk with me, or lie beside me on the love seat while I read, write, talk on the phone, or just pet her and tell her I love her. When she leans her 80 pounds into me, I feel something inside me sigh and relax.

Earlier, we walked our usual walk down 98th Street and into the wildness area beyond the houses. Suddenly Annie froze, ears up, listening. I didn’t IMG_20150904_100542760[1]hear anything. I was ready to plunge on through the salal and blackberries, but Annie turned us around. Tail down, she led me swiftly back to the road. I still didn’t see any danger, but she did, and I trust her superior hearing and smell. Often she has sensed someone or something long before I noticed. It was probably just a deer, but when Annie says, “Let’s go,” we go, just as she obeys when I pull her out of the way because a car is coming or I see potentially poisonous refuse on the side of the road. These days when the bushes are full of ripe berries, she eats from the lower branches and I eat from the upper ones. We’re a team.

Thank God for Annie.

Crunch! Car Crash Changes Plans

IMG_20150828_153133529[2]I was expecting to write a very different post today, but . . . life happened.

I was all dressed up and heading to Corvallis for a Timberline Review literary magazine event. Traffic on the coast was terrible. I just wanted to get out of Newport, which was flooded with tourists. I was on Highway 20, but still in town, when my phone rang. I know. I should have ignored it. But it was my dad, and I was afraid something was wrong, so I made a sudden turn into a parking lot to answer the phone. At least that was my intention. Bang, crash! I lost control of the car, hit something on my left and was headed for a fence. I did not know until the other car pulled in beside mine that my car had been hit from the rear. The driver was local, uninsured, and in tears. Her tiny black dog was hysterical.

The front of the passenger side of her car was smashed, the headlight in pieces, wires and such dangling, radiator leaking. My back bumper was damaged. But where did the piece of car lying on the pavement come from? Big piece. It took me a while to figure out it came from the front, where the real damage was, where I ran into a metal post.

People came running out of the nearby candle shop. Someone swept up a big pile of glass and car parts from the street. We were both shaken but apparently not hurt. Our air bags did not deploy (the recalled ones I didn’t have replaced yet). A fire truck came, followed by a police officer, crew-cut, shades and all. He filled out a report. I told him I turned abruptly. I was willing to take all the blame, but the officer insisted that the law says that if the other driver hit me from behind, she was following too closely, so she would be cited and I was in the clear.

My Honda Element is drivable, but it needs repairs. The estimate is $3,000, with possibly more showing up when they take things apart. I have Cadillac insurance. State Farm will pay for repairs and a rental car, and I will be okay (although my bumper stickers are toast.) The other car, an older Honda Accord, was towed to the same place I took my car. The woman doing my estimate looked out the window and said, “Oh, that’s totaled.” It’s not fair. It’s not right. I’m sure the other driver needs her car as much as I need mine, and I doubt that she can afford a new one.

My phone has a new name: “that f-ing phone.”

It’s a knee jerk reaction for me. Phone rings, I grab it, I look away from the road to see who’s calling, and if it’s family, I answer it. Not anymore. I’m turning the phone off when I drive so I won’t even know if anyone calls.

It happened so quickly. I sometimes think about what I would do if I were about to get in an accident, how I would try to protect my face or my hands. But there was no time for a thought or a word. I just knew I was hitting things and had to get away from the fence that was coming right at me. Since then, I keep hearing the crunches and seeing that fence over and over in my mind. Driving scares me now.

When I was done with cops, insurance and repair people, I called my father. He gave me a good tongue-lashing. I deserved it. “Let the damned phone ring,” he said. “Call back later.” It turned out he was fine, just calling to see how my medical tests had turned out. I get those results this afternoon. Fingers crossed.

Today I am aware of how blessed I am, so blessed I feel guilty. I’m not rich, but I have enough. I can afford a nice car and good insurance. My body still works as well as it did before the accident. I can still write, play and sing my music, walk the dog, and go to lunch with my friends. Not everyone is so lucky.

Dear friends, turn off the phone. It’s not just texting, it’s telephone calls, email, checking the weather, fiddling with the GPS and all the other features on our Smart Phones. It’s hard to resist their allure, and you cannot safely use the phone and drive at the same time. When I slowed to turn off, I didn’t even know there was anyone behind me. I didn’t look. My attention was completely on the phone. Smart phones are smart, but sometimes we people who use them are idiots. A phone call can always wait. Always. Minus the phone, I would have spent my evening eating hors d’oeuvres and listening to poetry. Instead I was filling out a report for the DMV. It’s not worth it.

Next week, I promise, even if the house burns down, God forbid, I will offer a blog full of happiness and beauty. Or dog pictures, which are the same thing.

Leave me a message at the beep.

I Should Have Listened to My Mom

When you visit the doctor’s office complaining of chest pains and pressure, people tend to panic. Even when you tell them you’re pretty sure it’s gas. Driving to Portland, stuck in traffic, thinking I should have gone to the ER because it hurt pretty bad, I sent up a prayer for God to tell me what to do. He sent me a giant burp. Which made me laugh and say, “Thank you!” But doctors still think, HEART ATTACK. And I kept thinking of how Rosie O’Donnell described her own heart attack and how women experience heart attacks differently from men.

But I was on my way to a conference in Portland, middle lane of I-5, cars not moving. I was going to teach a class, pitch to agents, represent the Timberline Review, attend workshops and network, network, network. Meanwhile people from my church kept dying, and I would be playing music for a funeral the day I got home. I had received a scary recall notice for the car in which I was sitting. I had nonstop music activities, Writers on the Edge president duties, and a troublesome situation with a certain someone in my life. Plus I had to leave my dog behind. A little stress?

I don’t do well with stress. Neither did my mother. As I took my troubles to Google that night in my hotel room, I suddenly remembered the night she went to the hospital with similar pains. Forever after, whenever my brother and I misbehaved, my father would scold us with the words that our mother was sick because of us. Dad never beat us, but he sure could pour on the guilt.

Anyway, Mom’s pains were exactly where mine finally settled, top of the stomach just below the ribs. There’s this valve there, the pyloric sphincter, that was the source of her troubles.  When I read the name, I sat back on my cushy bed and thought, “Oh my God. That’s exactly what I have.” Yes, I’m a little bit of a hypochondriac, but I think this will turn out to be the diagnosis. It’s a chronic pain at the entrance to the stomach that happens when it doesn’t open and shut properly. Like mother, like daughter.

When we’d start to get upset, Mom used to say, “Don’t get your bowels in an uproar.” She wasn’t kidding.

So I showed up at the doctor’s office a week after the original pains had settled below my ribs. She went into hyper-drive, ordering an EKG (normal), chest X-ray (normal), blood and urine tests (normal), and an ultrasound (not till Thursday). She put me on Prilosec, one pill every morning, and took me off foods like spices, tomato sauce and—say it ain’t so!—chocolate. A week later, I’m feeling better. I’m probably going to live.

Meanwhile, Annie had to go to the vet. She had a fungal infection in her girl parts. For the last 10 days, I’ve been hiding antibiotic pills in her food and massaging said parts with cream. Fun! She feels better, too. Or at least she has stopped licking down there. Now I think she has fleas.

After the conference, I rewrote my entire novel in two weeks and sent it to two agents who were interested. Cross your fingers. I have a pile of Timberline Review submissions to read, another pile of authors to consider for the Nye Beach Writers Series, songs to prepare for church and for the kids in religious education, another book to finish writing, and a dog that wants to walk at precisely 3 p.m.

Stress? What stress? I saw my shrink on Wednesday. She upped my meds and had me do breathing exercises. In, out, in, out.

Too much information? I know. I was going to write about the fires destroying huge swaths of the western U.S., including big chunks of Eastern Oregon. The smoke has made its way to the Willamette Valley and points west. Terrifying. None of my troubles compare to this. Please pray for rain.

And if you have chest pains, don’t wait a week to go to the doctor, even if you have a busy schedule. It might be gas, but it might not. I was lucky.