Isolation leads to trip down memory lane

What did you do for Easter? Bet you didn’t go far from home. Me either. The highlight of my day? I cleaned out the cabinet in the hall bathroom, something I may not have done for, oh, a decade or longer. It was like opening a time capsule.

It’s a deep cabinet, not the one just under the sink but beside it, two shelves down low so you have to half lie on the floor to get the stuff out, which explains why I hadn’t cleaned it out in a long time. I can GET DOWN, but I don’t want to get down on the bathroom floor. It was time. Things were falling out when I opened the doors, and I had no idea what in there. Tired of staring at my computer screen, I had just enough sunshine, caffeine and Easter chocolate in me to tackle the job.

Out tumbled years of memories, stuff I don’t know why I kept, and things I didn’t know I had. For example:

  • A steamer! I had totally forgotten I had it. I first used steamers during college when I worked at the uniform shop at the old Valley Fair shopping center. We sold uniforms for nurses, waitresses, and other professionals. Remember when nurses all wore white dresses? One of my jobs was to steam out the creases in the newly arrived uniforms. The steamer worked so well I bought myself one to use on the gowns I wore to sing with the Valley Chorale for 14 years back in San Jose. Gowns, crystal earrings, jeweled sandals, makeup . . . I felt so gorgeous in those days.
  • Three boxes of hair ornaments from when I had long flowing dark-brown hair. I found barrettes, clips, and scrunchies, pretty things that make me want to grow my hair long again, even though I think it looks better short. Maybe it will happen. With all the beauty salons closed, my hair is already growing out of shape. I could go through the awkward phase while we’re in isolation. Maybe I’ll even give myself a home perm. Looks bad? Who’s going to see it?
  • Nail kits of various sorts, including free ones from a charity for the blind and the worn leather case of tools that Mom used on us when we were kids. I brought it home after Dad died last summer. I remember sitting on the side of the bed while she cut my tiny nails. She often cut them too close, and it hurt, but a lifetime later, I learned while cutting my husband’s nails at the nursing home that it isn’t easy cutting someone else’s nails short but not too short.
  • Suntan lotion galore. I confess I rarely remember to use it until my skin turns pink.
  • Two wrist braces from my various sprains and strains. I had wondered what happened to them. Annie, age 12, and her brother Chico (no longer with us) were headstrong adolescent dogs when they knocked me over on the concrete out back and I landed on my right hand. I had planned to take Chico to the Blessing of the Animals at church. I went to the ER instead. I have learned that if a dog is coming at you like a speeding freight train, get out of the way.
  • A full bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a can of Off! bug spray, and a can of Wizard air freshener, gardenia scent.
  • Several wrapped toothbrushes, a half dozen travel-size tubes of Crest toothpaste too hard to squeeze, and several dozen of those floss-on-a-stick things that Fred liked to use. Stocking stuffers?
  • Enough disposable razors to keep me smooth till I die at 105 and some blades that go with razors that disappeared long ago.
  • Two zipper bags with eye drops and “fit-over” sunglasses from my two cataract surgeries in 2010 and 2011. One eye was done before Fred died April 23, 2011, the other after.
  • An expired night light. When my late husband Fred was ill with Alzheimer’s, he got lost at night looking for the bathroom. Nightlights helped. I also have more recent memories of my father’s house, which was lit up like a football stadium at night. The light didn’t bother him, and during those last awful nights at his house when I was up and down giving him pain pills and answering his calls for help, they were useful. But I tossed this one in the trash. It’s just me now, and I like it dark.
  • A big basket of gauze, tape, bandages, and ointments left over from various injuries. Dad kept a similar basket of first aid gear on the dresser. Because he was taking blood thinners and his skin was like tissue paper, the slightest cut bled like crazy and required serious bandaging. His arms were covered with half-healed cuts. So far, I have been lucky and haven’t needed these things, but you never know.
  • Blow dryer, curling iron, a dozen attachments I have no idea how to use.
  • Hotel soaps from trips all the way back to our visit to Portugal 30 years ago.
  • A Styrofoam pipe cover with chew marks from when my puppies got hold of it at least a decade ago.
  • A face mask, probably purchased to help with my allergies to pollen, dust, fur, feathers, various fabrics, and oh, just about everything. I already have a beautiful cloth mask a friend made for me, but now I have options.

I filled a garbage bag with the throwaways, moved some items to more appropriate locations, and slid the rest back in with room to spare. We’ll see what’s there in 2030.

Meanwhile, Jesus is risen, and I’m off the floor. Hallelujah.

How did you spend your Easter Sunday in this strange, strange year?

Amid virus fears, we find new ways to reach out

St. Anthony faces

I lay in bed this morning long after I should have gotten up, listening to the news on NPR. Coronavirus, coronavirus, coronavirus. People dying, economy crashing, not enough medical equipment . . . Yikes. This morning, my Yahoo news feed led with “worldwide death toll more than 15,000. Dear God.

Yet I look out my office window and see the same trees and the same sky I see every day. I see my tulips and daffodils blooming in a riot of red, yellow and peach. I see a family of robins pecking at the lawn, which has grown lush and mossy from winter rain. Inside, it’s quiet except for the hum of the gas fireplace pouring out orange heat. My dog Annie dozes on the love seat. I’m not quite dressed yet, but there’s nothing unusual about that either. I have all day, no appointments, nowhere I have to go. If I stayed disconnected from the media, I would not know this was anything but another beautiful Oregon coast spring.

We have not been hit as hard here as other places, not yet. As of this morning, Monday, March 23, we have 161 known cases of the virus and five deaths in Oregon. But everyone knows these numbers are going to go up, way up. No one has tested positive here in Lincoln County, but very few people have been tested at all.

To the dismay of those Oregon coast folks trying so hard to stay apart from others, tourists, mostly young people, have come to the beach in droves, seemingly ignoring all the pleas to stay home and “shelter in place.” Some of the beaches up north have blocked access. Gov. Kate Brown is expected to close all the state parks today, on the premise that if they have nowhere to go, the visitors will go home. But that means we who live here can’t go to the parks either, and that hurts.

While I’m somewhat used to being alone, many are having a hard time with the isolation. My friend Bill is one of countless numbers who live in an assisted living facility, nursing home, etc. The residents are confined to their rooms. They are not allowed to go out, and visitors can’t come in. Their meals are left outside their doors. Sounds like prison to me. And yet, because they are the most likely to die if they get this virus, what choice is there?

Many folks who are not used to staying home are already experiencing cabin fever. I’ve got to admit I’m better equipped for this than my friends and relatives who are always on the go. Most days, I’m here by myself anyway. I’m just sticking to my routine—write until about 3:00, walk the dog, do chores, play music, watch TV. Same old, same old, except I can’t go out to lunch, and God knows I do love to go out to lunch.

Last week, I wrote this cheery post about surviving at home alone. Well, proving I’m human, that night I was singing a different tune when I got word that all of the Catholic churches in western Oregon were closed. No more Masses, potlucks, meetings, or Stations of the Cross. We wouldn’t even celebrate Easter together. I cried like somebody had died and then posted on Facebook about how lonely and miserable I was. My church was not only my spiritual home but my main social outlet.

But there’s good news in all of this. In response to my Facebook post, friends called and texted, and we connected more than we ever had before. Paying it back, I have been phone-visiting people, especially people I know are home alone, and we have had great talks. I’m experiencing more human connection than usual. I wish this virus had never happened, but I do see some good things coming out of it. I urge you to reach out by phone, email, letter, Facebook or whatever.

As for church, Fr. Joseph Hoang, our pastor at St. Anthony’s in Waldport decided he would videotape weekly Masses. Three of us did music for the first one. “Red” was altar server while his mom “Ice” operated the camera. We taped photos of the parishioners on the pews so we all felt less alone and Fr. Joseph had someone to preach to. I think we all got nervous with the camera on us, but it was wonderful.

Yesterday, I found countless church services online. I could “go to church” all day long. As it was, I attended two Catholic Masses and dropped in for parts of Lutheran and Baptist services. As the Internet keeps going, the possibilities for new types of connection are unlimited. What a gift. Back in the flu epidemic a hundred years ago, people were truly isolated. No TV, no Internet. Many didn’t have telephones yet. At best, they could write a letter or a send a telegram.

I worry about the same things as everyone else. How long will this go on? Will we not be able to get food and other necessities? Will people turn on each other? Will we break the Internet with everyone trying to work and go to school online? How many businesses will fold, and how many people will lose everything? More important, how many people will get sick and how many will die? Will it hit my loved ones? Will there not be enough doctors and nurses to help them? Will I get it?

Just a few weeks ago, we were living normal lives, and the news was all about Democrats and Republicans. My advice from last week stands. Turn off the TV, radio and Internet as much as you can. Connect with each other as much as possible. Get outside in nature. Find a project to pass the time. Pray. It will be over someday. Only God knows when, but it will.

How are you doing in this crazy time? Feel free to share in the comments.

 

 

 

Quarantine Tips from an Expert on Being Alone

tulips 31620So much has changed in the last week. Heck, in the last few days. And it keeps changing. I’m talking about the Coronavirus, of course. Two weeks ago, I debated about going to Texas for a conference and decided not to go, more because of so many speakers and publishers pulling out than for fear of getting sick. The conference went on without me, and I hear those who attended had a good time. But now, every gathering is being canceled.

My calendar is full of cross-outs: meetings, open mics, concerts . . . Restaurants are closing or offering only takeout service. Alas, no more writing sessions at Starbuck’s. Even a lot of churches have closed, although ours is still open, so far. I have three appointments scheduled for this week—chiropractor, hearing aid specialist, and taxes–and I’m expecting to receive notice any minute that they are canceled.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the income tax deadline got postponed?

People have raided the grocery stores, leaving empty shelves as they gather far more supplies than they could possibly need. I still need to buy some groceries. I’m hoping there’s something left at the market.

Last week, the theme song was “wash your hands.” Now it’s “stay home.” Especially if you’re over 65 or in poor health. My hackles go up at the age limit. Yes, I’m 68, but I’m healthy and I come from people who live into their 90s. I’m thinking I might be able to get away with going out because most people think I look younger than I am. Is that cheating? It’s not the age, it’s the mileage that counts.

Once I take care of business, the prospect of staying home alone does not worry me. I’m here alone most of the time anyway. It has been 11 years since Fred went to the nursing home, nine since he died. I have a wonderful house in a beautiful setting. I have my dog Annie. I have a schedule of writing, music, dog-walking, home chores, and meals that I stick to because it gives me a framework for my days. I’m good with long periods of solitude, although I don’t want to do it all the time.

Over the years, I have learned how to cope. So, for those of you for whom this is a new experience, let me offer some tips for getting through this time of “social distancing.”

* Give yourself a project, something that will fill your time with something enjoyable and worthwhile. Write that book, paint the living room, make a quilt, plant a garden, build a gazebo, start a podcast. It doesn’t matter what it is, but you need something to get you up in the morning.

* Stick to a routine. Sure, take a day or two to stay in bed or slump around in your PJs eating junk food, but then, get up, make your bed, shower, get dressed, eat three healthy meals, and work on your project. Watch some TV, but don’t watch it all day. Read that pile of books you’ve been meaning to read. Go to bed at a reasonable hour.

* Don’t obsess on the news via TV, radio, or Internet all day. Check to see what’s new, then TURN IT OFF. Nonstop Coronavirus reporting, with politics sprinkled in, will make you nuts. Play some music or try a little silence. If you’re absolutely losing it, watch a movie or read a novel that will take you to a whole other world.

* Go outside, even if it’s raining or snowing. Look at the sky, the trees, and the spring flowers starting to bloom. Watch the birds. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Everything is still the same out there, isn’t it, even if the newscasters are talking Armageddon?

* Exercise. Walk, run, do yoga, dance, mow the lawn. Your gym is probably closed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep moving. It will help both your body and your brain.

* Communicate. Use your telephone to talk to at least one other person every day. Use the many other ways we have to connect as well. Text, email, commiserate on Facebook or Twitter. You can even write a letter; the Post Office is still open. You may be physically alone, but you are not the only one going through this.

* Pray. If you believe in a higher power, do the best you can to take care of yourself, then ask God to handle the rest. So much of it is beyond our control, so let go already.

* If you are still healthy, thank God, and make the best of this unique time when we are freed from many of our usual obligations.

If you’re in isolation with other people, you can follow these tips, too, but you also have the advantage of being able to talk, play a game, or do a project together. Of course, you may also drive each other nuts. Time to take a walk. Last I heard, Mother Nature is not closed.

It’s a crazy time. I don’t know what will happen by next week. I only know that out my window the spruce and alders look the same as always. My tulips and daffodils are blooming, and Annie is asleep on the love seat, completely relaxed. As always, I will write, play my music, and love my Annie dog.

Stay well. When this is over, let’s meet for a massive group hug.

I’m Waiting for “The Fix-It Guy” Again

Figuring out how to do things myself can be daunting, disheartening, and dirty. But even worse is waiting for people to come fix the things I can’t do by myself. I’ll bet I have wasted at least a month of my life waiting for the “guy” d’jour. It’s never a woman. A woman might be on the phone setting up the service call, but so far, it has always been a guy who does the actual work.

If he shows up.

The current problem started Wednesday night when I came home from church choir practice. My electric garage door decided it could no longer go down all the way. I pushed the button, walked down the sidewalk, and heard a boom, then watched in amazement as the door rolled itself back up. What? I pushed the button again and watched the door go down to about four feet from the ground and bounce back up. I moved stuff in the garage in case the sensors were detecting something in the way. I did it again. Boom, up. Well, shit.

It was dark in my garage. The fluorescent light is burned out. It’s a long one, I’m thinking eight feet, which is farther than I can reach. I keep imagining glass all over the floor when I drop it. I backed out the car, plugged in an old lamp, dragged the ladder to the center of the garage and disconnected the electric opener. I figured I would close the door manually. But it wouldn’t go all the way down even as I pushed it, scared I would smash these piano-playing hands. I noticed a hanging cable, torn at the bottom. I don’t know how it works, but that was the problem for sure.

I left the door two feet open, certain I’d be greeted by raccoons and other critters in the morning, and adjourned to watch videos and forget my troubles. In the morning, I called the guy and looked for critters. None so far. That I could see. But any human could duck under there and get into my house. There’s no lock on the inner door to the laundry room. The dog would stop them, you say? Ha. She’d welcome them with kisses and tail wags.

First thing Thursday morning, I called the garage door guy. He said he would come about 1:30 p.m. to fix my garage door. Okay, fine. I had a lunch date in Lincoln City, but I dashed home to be here for him. No guy. I waited till 4:00, then called him. I got his voicemail. I left a message. He did not call back. Well, he’ll be here first thing Friday morning, I thought. The perpetual optimist. About 10:30 Friday, I left another message. At 2:00, I forwarded my landline calls to my cell phone and took the dog for a walk, hoping he’d be here when we got back. Just in case, we wouldn’t go too far.

No sign of him.

Four calls later, plus a Saturday call to another garage door guy, it is now 11 a.m. on Monday, and I’m still waiting. I have other things to do. I’m hoping publishing this will cause him to magically appear.

On Saturday night, my neighbor managed to forced the door almost to the ground. He may have broken it in the process, which would be unfortunate, but I needed the door to be shut. Of course now nobody can go in or out, but . . .

The fix-it guys do not seem to understand that when a person lives alone and is as anxious as I tend to be, she (or he—my dad was the same way) gets up and dressed early just in case, holds off on going to the bathroom, eating, or getting involved in anything useful. We’re constantly listening. Is that him? No, it’s the heater. Is that him? No, it’s the neighbor going to work. We keep looking out the window. We make the dog nervous with our pacing. We get a stomachache, for Pete’s sake.

Why? Because if he calls or comes to the door when we’re on the toilet, in the shower, walking the dog, or outside for one minute dumping the trash, he might turn around and go away. When you live alone, there is no one else to answer the phone or open the door. No one else to write the check. No one else to say, “This is where we seem to have a problem.”

It’s even worse for people with regular jobs, who have to take time off to wait for “the guy.” Why can’t they give me a time and stick to it—or at least call if the schedule changes? When I arrange to play music or do an interview, I set a time, and that’s when I arrive.

In the past, I have waited for electricians, plumbers, stove repairmen, washing machine repairmen, tree trimmers, stump pullers, fence builders, gutter replacers, ditch diggers, propane tank fillers, telephone repairmen, cable TV installers, and yes, garage door guys. I have a lot more work that needs doing here, but I’m tired of waiting for the guys.

Should I call again?

Fr. Joseph talked about temptation yesterday at Mass. Well, I am tempted to hate this no-show Joe. I’m trying not to. Clearly this is a one-man operation, or there’d be somebody else answering the guy’s phone. Trying to run a business alone isn’t easy. He probably took on more work than he can handle.

Maybe he got hit in the head by somebody’s garage door and is lying unconscious in a hospital. I would feel terrible if that were true. But he probably just ghosted me. That’s a trendy term I have never used before, but I’m starting to see its usefulness.

Meanwhile, do I have time to go to the post office? Let me check outside again.

Readers, how do you deal with waiting for “the guy?” I welcome your stories and comments.

Shall I Tell You About My Weekend?

IMG_20191027_113156516[1]Shall I tell you about my mammogram on Friday, which I followed by overeating—salmon wrap and fries–at Georgie’s and then going home and staining my upper deck till my back cried “uncle.” And then, despite the radio and the newspaper predicting sunshine, it rained and turned all the “Mountain Ash” stain to mud-colored soup?

Shall I tell you about the play I went to Friday night at the PAC, “Tiny Beautiful Things,” based on Cheryl Strayed’s book? So good. Four brilliant actors playing many parts. I’d recommend you go, but the show closed Sunday. Read the book; you’ll like it.

Shall I tell you how I only made it to Friday before I started eating the “thumbprint” cookies from Market of Choice that I had put in the freezer to save for an upcoming meeting? They just kept calling to me, like the haunted cello in the book I just finished reading—Everything You Are, by Kerry Anne King. Read that one, too.

Shall I tell you about how Saturday, after a little writer work, I went to the KYAQ Electric Blues Jam with my folk guitar, checked out the collection of mostly men playing electric guitars, each with their own amps, and decided I had better just listen while I ate pizza? Or how I watched the piano player, wishing I could play like that?

Shall I tell you about doing the music for yet another Saturday Mass at Sacred Heart all by myself—and fluffing some of the words and notes—because my choir was banished for holding hands during The Lord’s Prayer (the weekend after my father’s funeral) or how I have given notice because this priest who preaches forgiveness cannot seem to forgive them and let them sing?

Shall I tell you about how I cried during Mass on Sunday—where I had just two lovely singers left—because I don’t really want to leave, but I can’t stay either? Should I brag that I didn’t miss a note as I mopped at my tears?

IMG_20191027_142534933[1]Shall I tell you how my neighbor pressure-washed my house and deck for free so I could do the staining? In the process, a porch light, outdoor thermometer, and the covering on my back door, all old and weathered, fell apart, so I bought a new porch light which he installed yesterday, and a new indoor-outdoor thermometer, which works great. I’m still trying to figure out what to do about the door.

Shall I tell you I bought more stain yesterday so I could start over, and, after the neighbor finished with the porch light, I redid the whole thing, praying there was still enough daylight for it to dry when I finished at 5:30? There was not. Some of the stain was wet last night at bedtime, and all of it was iced over this morning. It looks like it might be all right, but next year, I’m starting early enough to find a pro to take care of the deck.

Shall I tell you about how the neighbor’s new motion-detector light (for bears and burglars) shines directly into my bedroom or how it was so cold in the house that neither Annie nor I could sleep? Should I tell you how after cleaning out a ton of burnt pellets that remind me of burnt popcorn and listening to the pellet stove wheeze like a dying human while offering no fire, I declared it dead (again) and dragged in the plug-in heater that makes it only slightly warmer while my new thermometer tells me it’s 37 degrees outside and 57 inside?

Shall I tell you that I’m seeing flashing lights that might be a migraine, or perhaps I’m going blind? But it’s Monday, the eye doctor is in Eugene, and I have to write anyway.  At least the sun is out, and Annie loves me. Dad is in heaven and not hurting anymore, and if my mammogram results are okay, I’m alive and healthy, so what am I whining about?

No? That’s what I thought.

***

I’m planning to participate in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month in November. That’s where crazy people try to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, which comes out to about 1,600 words a day. I plan to take a vacation from the blog so I can focus on my NaNo book. After reading this, you might agree that I need a vacation.

Bundle up, and don’t forget to reset your clocks on Sunday or you’ll be an hour early to church.

 

Are You Sure There’s Nobody Else at Your House?

I just completed a U.S. Census Bureau test questionnaire. The paper I got in the mail said it was required by law. Online. I don’t know how they expect people who don’t have computers—and some don’t—to get this done. But me, I’d rather take a quiz than work, so I logged in.

It didn’t take long. The first part was frustrating because it didn’t seem to believe me when I said I was the only human living in this house. It kept coming back in different ways. Is there another person living there? Is someone else staying with you? Are you sure there’s nobody else there? Maybe I should look in all the closets and under the beds. Should I count my dog? A quarter of U.S. homes are occupied by one human person. Get with the program, Census.

Other than that, they were obsessed with my nationality. I always stumble over this because I’m white AND Hispanic, not white OR Hispanic. I’m a California hybrid of Portuguese, Spanish, Basque, French, and German. There’s no box to check for that. They also wanted to know if I own or rent my home. Sure, I own it, along with whatever mortgage company is handling my loan this week.

When you think about it, my situation would seem extraordinary to someone from a hundred years ago. A woman living alone in a big house in the woods? No husband? No children? Is she a witch? Should we take her into our home and care for her until she recovers her senses? (senses, census, hah) Who will bring in wood for the fire? Who will pay the bills? Who will protect her from bears, wolves, and bad people? Surely she will be raped, robbed and murdered.

Balderdash. She will eat bagels for breakfast, lunch and dinner if she chooses and play the piano in the middle of the night. She will greet rabbits and robins in the morning and crow back to the neighbor’s rooster. She will sit on her deck and survey her estate and thank God it’s 2019.

The controversial citizenship question did not appear on the version of the census questionnaire that I received. In this test version, some respondents get that question while others don’t. It will be interesting to see whether it shows up on later versions. What do you think? Does the Census need to know one’s citizenship status? Could answering that question be dangerous for those who answer that they are not citizens?

*****

Lick_Sue_Fagalde_COV_EMWe are one week into the advance sales period for my upcoming poetry chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead. This is a collection of poems that follow my journey with Fred through Alzheimer’s disease. Early readers report that they laughed and cried and certain lines have stuck with them. The print run depends on selling enough pre-publication copies. Please click here and order a copy today. My offer from last week stands. If you can get yourself to Lincoln County, Oregon and show that you purchased a pre-pub copy, I will take you out to lunch anywhere from Lincoln City to Yachats for an equivalent price. I’m serious. So click here and start thinking about where you want to eat.

Also, if you want to order directly from me and work out payment and delivery later, just email me at sufalick@gmail.com and let me know how many copies you want me to set aside for you.

P.S. I hate advertising my work. I’d much rather be writing, but this is part of the deal these days. I wonder if Mark Twain ever did this. I just read yesterday in the Writer’s Almanac that Twain was the first writer to submit a typewritten manuscript to his publisher. It was Life on the Mississippi, submitted in 1883. I suppose shortly after the typewriter was patented in 1868, the first “typo” was invented. Followed by the eraser and “Wite-Out.”

Have a great week. Buy my book. Check under the bed for people hiding from the Census.

 

 

Don’t Interrupt; I’m Talking to Myself

I talk to myself. All the time. Sometimes I direct my words to Annie the dog, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit she’s not paying attention. She tunes in for certain key words—eat, cookie, walk, snuggle, beach. The rest is just bla bla bla, a continuous hum like the refrigerator. If she needs to pay attention, she’ll hear one of those special words or detect the jingle of her leash. Besides, she’s busy listening for cats, squirrels, bears and other invaders.

So, I talk to myself. People always say it’s okay as long as you don’t answer yourself. Well, I do answer myself. Right? Right.

I live alone. Maybe that’s part of it. In public, I usually keep my mouth shut. But sometimes, I forget, which causes people to stare at me.

What do I talk about? Everything. Why did my French toast turn out so badly Saturday night? Should have used better bread. What am I going to wear to church this morning? I don’t know. Black pants? Probably.

It’s a constant running commentary. Am I really addressing it to myself though? I wonder about this, just like when I write in my journal and wonder who I’m writing it for? Am I writing to myself? To God? To an invisible confidante?

I do talk to God sometimes. I pray, I chat. But it’s different. I stop and call His name and say what I’ve got to say, then return to regular programming.

I also talk a lot to people who aren’t actually here. Uh-oh, you’re thinking, she’s completely lost it. No, no. I think I’m okay, but I tell people things I wish I could tell them in person if they were here, if they would listen, or if I had the courage.

I’m a writer. I write down my thoughts all the time. I usually speak them as I write, which is a good reason not to write at Starbucks or the library. I’m just constantly verbalizing. Is this nuts? Or is this a good way to work things out in my head?

I found some discussion of the matter online.

  • In this NBC news report, the experts insist talking to oneself is not only normal but good for us—if we do it correctly. Who knew there was a right and a wrong way to talk to oneself?
  • “Talking to Yourself: A Sign of Sanity” by Linda Sapadin, Ph.D., says much the same. Talk to yourself, but watch what you say.
  • And this Lifehack piece insists that those of us who blab to ourselves are smarter and better off for doing it. Ha.
  • But this article on WikiHow gives instructions on how to stop talking to yourself. Now, that’s crazy.

Let’s get back to Annie for a minute. Do you think she talks to herself? Sometimes in the backyard, she barks and barks. I assume she’s either warning off marauding squirrels or trying to connect with the other dogs in the neighborhood, but what if she’s just talking to herself? Or barking because she likes the sound of her own voice? Annie, who are you talking to?

Right now, I’m talking to you, dear reader. Do you talk to yourself? Is it really yourself you’re addressing or someone else? Who? Or should it be whom? Either way, do you think this is a problem? Please comment.

************************

Dad update: Thank you all for your continuing concern about my father. He has made it through a whole week at the skilled nursing facility without a trip to the hospital. Fingers crossed. I’m back in Oregon and he’s still in the Bay Area, so our only contact is by phone—which kills me—but he sounds better than he has in ages. He still can’t get out of bed on his own, but he’s feeling better, which is something. He could use more visitors. Email or send me a private message on Facebook for details on where he is.

MY MIND WANDERS INTO THE LAND OF ‘WHAT IF’

Thiel Creek 12218BSometimes I think about moving back to California. Hold on, coastal friends, I’m only thinking. If you know me, you know I think about a lot of stuff, but keep living the same life.

On those days when I’m tired of the cold, I yearn to live someplace warm, someplace where I could grow tomatoes and roses and sit in the sun in February. When I talk to my father and think about how much better his life might be if I were there to help him, I think I need to be in San Jose. When family members get together without me, I think what the heck am I doing up here alone in Oregon? That’s what my family thinks, too. They don’t understand why I’m still here now that my husband is gone.

If not San Jose, maybe I could relocate to Merced, near my brother’s family and not too far from Dad. It’s warm there. Okay, in the summer, it’s damned hot. It’s cow country, conservative, possibly sexist, and my allergies would probably go nuts. But they do have a Catholic church where I could sing. There’s a writer’s group I could join, a community college where I could teach, and all the stores we don’t have here. I could make it work.

But after 22 ½ years on the Oregon coast, I’d have to start over, wouldn’t I? Here, I run into people I know everywhere I go. When I step out the door, my neighbors wave hello, and it continues in the nearby towns up and down Highway 101. Friday night, for example, I went to listen to friends playing music at Canyon Way, an old bookstore where two of its rooms have been transformed into a nightclub. My friend Renae, outside grabbing her last pre-gig smoke, hugged me on the way in. My friend Debbie found me a seat with Twylah, a woman I hadn’t met yet. We had seen each other all over town, and now we are friends, too. I got many handshakes, hugs, and smiles. I came alone, but I didn’t stay that way. I can’t imagine this happening in San Jose.

On Sunday, after playing music at two Masses at Sacred Heart, where I knew almost everybody, I attended the Oregon Music Teachers Association concert at the Performing Arts Center. I had friends on stage and friends all around me. Again I came alone, but I didn’t feel alone. Of course I also got drafted to sing at an event this week, but that’s okay.

When I think about the crowds in the vast theaters in big cities, I get nervous. Talk about feeling alone. I probably wouldn’t know a soul, and I’m not the kind of person who chats easily with strangers. And yet I know all these wonderful people here on the coast. In a small town, that happens. Even if we don’t know each other, we talk in line at the J.C. Market or in the waiting room at Grove Veterinary Clinic.

When Fred died, my father and brother were amazed at how many people came to the funeral. The chapel was full. Friends sang and took care of the food, so I didn’t have to do anything. I was not surprised. That’s how it is here.

In Oregon, people know me as a musician and a writer, the identity I have carved out for myself. That and Annie’s “mom.” They know I worked for the News-Times, taught at the college, have published books, performed at various events, and sung and played at Sacred Heart for years. They know me from yoga class, the Central Coast Chorale, the Nye Beach Writers Series, Willamette Writers, and the vet’s office. They see my name in the paper. They know I used to be married to Fred. Except for the part about being married to Fred, most people in my family don’t know any of that, although Facebook helps.

How many of our families really understand who we are?

Back in California, I’m Ed and Elaine’s daughter, Mike’s sister, his kids’ Aunt Sue, and cousin to a bunch of people who barely know me. It’s sad but true. I love my family and wish I could spend more time with them. Commuting to San Jose to be with Dad is exhausting and expensive. I wish the family would come here sometimes. I-5 does go both ways. They have their reasons.

Sometimes I truly hate the weather here. Cold, wet, windy, icy, bleh, but oh, when the sun shines, it’s glorious. I love the ocean. I love the trees. I still look around and say, “It’s so beautiful!”

I always get this feeling when I cross the border back into Oregon that now I can breathe and be myself. I didn’t grow up in a family that sang together, attended poetry readings or plays, or considered the arts a worthy investment of time. I was the odd one, but here, I have found my tribe. Also a place with no yellow jackets, no poisonous snakes, no poison oak, and no real traffic, except the occasional slow-moving motorhome.

A week from Saturday, I’ll be 67 (yikes!). Do I want to start over again? I don’t think so. I might move into a smaller home nearby with less maintenance. I wouldn’t mind a vacation to somewhere sunny and warm, preferably with a handsome man who could pay for it all. But this is where I live.

The house across the street from my father, built around 1950, an ordinary post-war tract house, just sold for $1.5 million dollars. It’s nuts down there in San Jose. So when I think about moving, I’m just thinking, not doing. No worries.

The Joy of Eating Whatever You Want

IMG_20181025_075416678[1]Ferrari-Adler, Jenni. Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007.

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant is the title of the book I just finished reading. It’s a collection of essays about eating alone. The writers describe the meals they eat at home by themselves when no one’s looking, as well as their experiences dining alone in restaurants. Many of them are excellent cooks, but when they’re on their own, they may not bother to cook at all. Picture writer Ann Patchett standing in her kitchen eating saltine crackers or Nora Ephron in bed with a bowl of mashed potatoes. On the other hand, Holly Hughes daydreams about salmon dinners eaten without her husband and three kids interrupting with complaints that they would rather have macaroni and cheese. Then there’s Laurie Colwin, who thrived on eggplant, fried or stewed, hot or cold. MFK Fisher, known for her food writing, found that her friends were reluctant to feed her because they couldn’t meet her standards, so she’d wind up at home eating a can of soup. It’s a delicious book, beautifully written, often funny in that way of bittersweet truth. It also includes recipes.

Since I lost my husband, I have thought a lot about eating alone. (See my essay “Learning to Feed Myself,” published in Voicecatcher.) To be honest, I love cooking for myself. It has its challenges. Produce sometimes rots before I can eat it all, and every time I buy salsa, it grows fur in the jar. How do I buy enough but not too much?

I usually end up eating the same entree for three or four days because it’s difficult to cook just one portion. For some people, this is a bad thing. My father, for example, doesn’t do leftovers. He will actually throw away food if his caregivers make too much. Not me. I like what I cook, and having leftovers means less work the next day. I often announce out loud to the dog and the air, “This restaurant serves great grub.”

I believe in eating three good meals a day. I would never be happy with a few crackers eaten on the run. Nor am I likely to be skinny as long as I stay healthy. My tastes run to ordinary comfort food, although I experiment occasionally. When I got divorced ages ago and moved into my own apartment, I couldn’t wait to make myself a tuna noodle casserole. Somehow over the years, the men in my life have never loved this conglomeration of canned tuna, mushroom soup, noodles, peas, Swiss cheese, and slivered almonds, but I could eat a bucket of it by myself. Add a salad, and there’s dinner.

I avoid packaged foods. I eat a lot of chicken, pork and fish. I’ll make myself a meatloaf and eat meatloaf sandwiches all week. Last night, I tried a recipe I saw on Facebook for Sausage and Apple Stuffed Acorn Squash (thanks, Wiley). I didn’t even know acorn squash was edible, but I tried it. If I failed, there was no one around to complain. But it was wonderful. I’ll be eating it for days. I served it with leftover broccoli into which I had thrown some leftover boiled potatoes, which sounds weird, but it tastes fine.

I like throwing things together. On nights when I’m out of meat, dinner might be just a big bowl of rice cooked with leftover vegetables, a handful of mixed nuts, and some cheese. I might wrap it all in a tortilla for fun. Or I might mix everything together in a salad. I can do whatever I want because I have no one else to please.

I bake for myself. Breakfast today was half a grapefruit and a big oatmeal-blackberry muffin. I have homemade peanut butter chocolate chip cookies in the cookie jar. Who does that? I do. I like my own cooking, I prefer to have control over the ingredients, and I don’t need to deprive myself just because there are no other humans on the premises.

I serve my meals on my blue and white Currier and Ives dishes at my dining room table, complete with a tablecloth and a cloth napkin. This week, I bought myself a dozen roses at the grocery store to decorate the table. Why not?

Some people hate to eat alone, but eating alone can be a treat. You can eat anything you want, however and whenever you want.

How about you? How often do you eat alone? What do you feed yourself? I’d love to read about it in the comments. And do check out this book. It’s delicious.

If You Give Us the Tools, We Can Do It

43947533 - red tool drawerKitchens are for girls, garages are for boys. Girls sew, boys saw. That’s the way it was when I grew up. While I was in the home economics class learning how to poach eggs and set a proper table, the boys were in the classroom next door learning how to take apart an engine and make small wooden shelves. While Mom helped me with my knitting, Dad showed my brother how to change the oil on the Buick.

That’s the way it was back in the ’50s and ’60s when I was growing up. Girls needn’t worry their pretty little heads about so-called men’s work. The man of the house would do it.

Bull pucky. What if there is no man? Or what if a woman wants to do it herself? All she needs is the skills. God, I wish there was a shop class I could take now.

Last week, I installed a new toilet seat. I took apart my sink to unclog it. My pellet stove requires constant attention. With my husband gone, no kids, and no money to pay someone, who else is going to do these things?

It has been a week for mechanical difficulties. On Wednesday, seven days after I came home from my trip to San Jose, I realized my “landline” phone had not rung in ages. I don’t get a lot of calls, but this seemed strange. I tried calling myself with the cell phone. My phone started to ring then cut off. Being me, I did this about seven times before I decided I had to call the phone company.

Yesterday, a nice man spent two hours here checking all my phones and wires. He had to get at all five phone jacks, which meant moving my dresser, crawling under my desk, and getting right in the middle of my mess, while I watched, helpless and embarrassed. I could have done most of what he did.

In the end, he fixed a short in the wires and determined that two of my five phones were dead. I sang “Taps” and put them out for the garbage, then pulled ancient “princess” phones out of a drawer and watched him plug them in. I put “buy phones” on my to-do list. Why does one person have five phones? Part of it is that with my fading hearing I can’t hear the phone ring if I’m not nearby. Part of it is just that once upon a time there were more people here.

The phone guy was observant. He asked about my guitars. He commented on the giant Styrofoam image of Fred from his retirement party. He talked about his own retirement plans. I kept talking about “we.” “We” had two businesses, “we” moved the phone jacks. I never mentioned that “we” is just me now. He might have figured it out from the shrine in the bedroom.

After he left, I set out to work on the lawnmower. Last Friday it worked fine while I mowed the front lawn. Since then, it huffs and it puffs, but it won’t start. I tried adding gas, checked the oil, turned it upside down and shook it, unscrewed the top and stared inside, and watched a video on YouTube. Okay,  the problem could be fuel, compression or spark plug. I decided the spark plug was the culprit. Apparently you’re supposed to change them once in a while. Timidly, I pulled off the rubber do-hickey and exposed the white end of the spark plug. Now, how does a body get that thing out of there? And what is this business about “gapping?”

Too much. I walked across the street to ask my neighbor. He wasn’t home, but the dog was overjoyed to see me. Unfortunately, the dog does not have hands.

Hey, YouTube.

A YouTube guy with a long beard and southern accent described the process. You get your 3/8 ratchet and your 13/16 socket and pull out the plug and . . .

Wait. What?

Somewhere in the garage were sockets and ratchets. I opened drawers till I found them lined up in their little boxes like my crochet hooks in different sizes. But which one is for spark plugs?

Later. It was almost time to start making dinner. It was going to rain soon. I still had a section of jungle I needed to weed-whack. I pulled out the weed trimmer. It hummed, but it didn’t cut. I checked the string. How different is it from thread in a bobbin? Not very. I straightened that sucker out, pushed the switch, and shouted in jubilation as the weed parts flew. No wonder guys like power tools. I cut and cut, even when the rain started pelting my hair and darkening Fred’s old green shirt. I finished the job and went in to make dinner.

I pulled a package of rolls out of the freezer. The bag broke. Bread and sesame seeds littered the floor. Seriously? My language scared the dog.

Yesterday, I conquered the weed-whacker. Today I will conquer the spark plug. If I can change a guitar string, I can do this.

Men, share your tools with your wives and daughters. We’ll show you how to bake a cake and run the vacuum cleaner. Women, go out to the garage and refuse to leave until the guys show you how to do what they do. Don’t just bring them a beer and go back to the kitchen. You need to know this stuff.

I welcome your comments.

Photo copyright: peeranat / 123RF Stock Photo

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My new novel Up Beaver Creek is coming soon. The interior pages are complete, and the cover is in progress. It will be available next month. Meanwhile, check out my Amazon page for other books you might want to read. I’ll be outside working on the lawnmower.