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

***

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.

Advertisements

When you’re all alone, take a ‘selfie’!

Sue selfie Jan 2018Let’s talk about photographs. Of ourselves.

I recently got my picture taken for the church directory. This ponytailed kid young enough to be my grandson put me through all the poses he’d been instructed to use for women: sit, stand, tilt your head, smile. Afterward, he took me into the other room for the big sales pitch. These guys don’t make their money on church directories. They make their money selling photo packages for the folks to give to their friends and families. The sample photos all showed happy couples and moms and dads with their kids, no singles like me.

I wasn’t planning to buy any fancy framed photos. Four years ago, I bought a CD containing all the shots and used them as author publicity photos. I thought I might do that again if the pictures were good. Just in case, I got my hair cut and put on eyeliner and my mother’s blue scarf. But I hated this year’s pictures. My smile was fake, and I never realized I had so many wrinkles.

The photographer insisted on flipping through the options anyway. I felt like I was at the eye doctor: which do you like better, 1 or 2, 3 or 4? None. I picked the least obnoxious shot for the directory.

“Don’t you want to give copies to your children and grandchildren?” he asked.

“I don’t have any,” I said.

“Oh!” Apparently it never occurred to him that someone my age might not have anyone who was interested in putting her picture on display. It’s one of those things people who are not alone don’t think about.

I don’t get my photo taken very often. Not a single picture of me was taken at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I received Christmas cards full of photos of kids, dogs, and retired couples on cruises, the same stuff I see on Facebook. But I had no pictures to send.

I’d be invisible but for selfies, pictures I take of myself, and I’m terrible at them. If I manage to get my whole face in the picture, it shows my frustration or it’s at such a weird angle that I delete it right away. Once in a while when I’m dressed up and feeling attractive, I’ll try again. Sometimes I succeed. My new Facebook profile photo is the latest effort. Was my nose always so big? Don’t answer that.

I prefer to pretend I’m gorgeous and 25 years old. A little self-delusion is healthy.

Sitting on my desk waiting to be scanned are two of my parents’ photo albums from the early days of their marriage. I love going through them, seeing how young and attractive they were, studying pictures of my brother and myself as we grew up. Mom and Dad documented everything with their old-fashioned box cameras, shooting eight or twelve pictures to a roll in black and white, saving the prints in their albums. Most of the pictures look as good now as they did 60 years ago. I don’t know what will happen with today’s digital photos stored in our computers.

But I’m straying off course. As a widow with no kids, I have no one to be photographed by or to take pictures of. Nor do I have someone to inherit the photos when I die. My selfies are a temporary fix.

What is the purpose of “selfies” anyway? Although some of my Facebook friends seem to post new selfies every day (Ego? A need for FB friends to compliment them?), it seems like most people use them to shoot pictures of themselves with someone else. It’s like those old-time photo booths you can still find at theme parks, where two people squeeze in and make goofy faces at the camera. Now, one person holds up the cell phone, they get close together and make goofy faces.

If my parents had had “selfies,” maybe there wouldn’t be so many pictures of my mother standing alone in front of a monument or a tree or a museum. She and Dad would both be standing in front of the monument or tree or museum.

Cell phone selfies, a 21st century phenomenon, are not the first instance of people photographing themselves. Ever since we had cameras, people have been devising ways to run around in front and get themselves in the picture. I tried putting the camera on a tripod, setting the timer and dashing around to pose. The pictures were always awful. There’s also the mirror method, in which you point your camera at your reflection in a mirror, but they always show a camera in your face and your features come out backward. Only recently have we had cameras designed to turn the lens on ourselves. The cameras are embedded in our cell phones, tablets and laptop computers.

“Selfie” is a relatively new word. The rumor is it came from an Australian guy who bashed his lip and took a picture of it to post online. He called it a “selfie.” The word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. I keep thinking that grammatically, it should be spelled selfy. How do you conjugate that thing? To selfie? selfying, selfied, had selfied?

I hate staring at myself while taking a selfie. I look ugly. Why does my mouth move so weird? Why don’t the sides of my hair ever match? The old way of getting your picture taken and not seeing the results for at least a week had some definite advantages.

I need to work on my selfie technique. I found some good advice online: Avoid shadows, use natural light, hold the camera at your eye level, don’t over-pose, and feel free to edit the picture—but not too much. Chin down, tilt head slightly just like that church photographer told me to do. Actually just like every photographer my whole life has told me to do. Here’s another new word: Smize. It’s when you smile with your eyes while keeping your lips and teeth neutral. It’s supposed to be sexy. When I try it, I see a bad case of RBF, resting bitch face.

My selfie technique needs work, but if I want a picture of myself, rather than going to the young punks who want to charge me hundreds of dollars for the privilege, I’ll hold up my cell phone, strike a pose and do it myself-ie.

I found a YouTube video on how to take a perfect selfie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbqIQcKNE7E Well sure, with her face . . .

Here are some other links about the selfie phenomenon:

“How to take a good selfie: 12 selfie tips to consider”

“History of the Selfie: a Photo Phenomenon” 

“Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie” 

Do you take selfies? Alone or with others? When? Why? How do they turn out? Do you have any advice or special techniques to share? Feel free to share your own selfies, the good ones or the embarrassing ones.

 

Some things you just can’t do alone

I’ve been thinking a lot about doing things alone. After all, I’m alone most of the time. It’s me talking to the dog the way Tom Hanks talks to Wilson the volleyball in that movie where he’s stranded on an island. At least the dog wags her tail, and I have discovered that if I wink at her, she will do her darndest to wink back, usually with both eyes. She will also yawn if I yawn. But if I start making funny faces, she just stares at me like I’m nuts, which is totally possible.

Anyway, I’m alone a lot. This April, it will be six years since I became a widow. It’s already eight years since Fred went to the nursing home. After so much time, being alone feels like my default situation.

No, don’t get all sorry for me. I do that enough for myself. Besides, I love not having to deal with another fussy human’s needs. Today I’m on a scientific quest which could lead to a longer project in the future. Let’s explore what you can and cannot do alone.

It’s like having two hands or just one. When I sprained my wrist a few years ago, I discovered it’s almost impossible to open a can, cut meat, hook a bra, or play the guitar with one hand.

You can play the harmonica with one hand or even no hands. You can eat a hamburger and fries with one hand. You can drive with one hand, preferably the right hand so you can turn the key and shift the gears. But open a bottle of beer? Not unless you smash it on the edge of the sink and drink around the jagged glass.

You can make love with one hand, but two hands are better.

All those one-handed things can be done if you have another person to help you. But what if you don’t? Let’s look at what you absolutely cannot do alone.

  • Get a hug
  • Make a baby
  • Sing a duet
  • Play football
  • Get a decent picture taken
  • Play Frisbee
  • Play Marco Polo
  • Water ski

Search online and you’ll find religious sites that eventually get to the fact that you need God. Agreed, but God won’t help me move my megaton TV to the other room (hint, hint) or hold the ladder while I clean the gutters.

You’ll also find various inspirational sites and go-get-‘em women’s sites that urge you to try going to a restaurant or a movie all by yourself because somehow it will make you a better person. No it won’t, but at least you’ll get to eat all the popcorn.

Some things you CAN do alone, but it’s not a good idea. I have done most of them.

  • Move furniture bigger than you are.
  • Eat an entire large pizza.
  • Hold a wine-tasting party.
  • Go hiking or rock-climbing
  • Drive way out into the wilderness where there’s nobody but bears and the guys from “Deliverance” and your cell phone doesn’t work.
  • Soak in a hot tub until you fall asleep and stay asleep until the rain wakes you up.

A lot of things, like eating out and going to a movie are just not as fun alone. Here’s an amusing page that talks about things you can do solo but would probably rather not.

And some things are good to do alone:

  • Think
  • Read
  • Sleep (actual sleep, not sex)
  • Pluck, shave, wax, nuke unwanted hairs.
  • Learn to play the violin.

I need your help with these lists. Add your suggestions in the comments. I really want to get a comprehensive list going, and Annie is no help at all. Wait, yes she is: Here’s something you cannot do alone: Get snuggled by someone who loves you. Annie, here I come.

Dad’s 94th birthday full of surprises

Dad42911People can be rude, annoying and selfish, but sometimes they can be so very, very good.

Yesterday was my father Ed Fagalde’s 94th birthday. I couldn’t be in San Jose to help him celebrate. I worried that he’d be spending the day alone, that even though he says, “It’s just another day,” he would be sad. But people stepped up, people you wouldn’t even expect.

Yes, Dad’s cousin called from Texas, my aunt took him to lunch on Saturday, and my brother’s family took him to lunch on Sunday (Thank you!). Yes, I sent a gift, which arrived on his doorstep on time. But nobody expected a neighbor he barely knew to call to wish him happy birthday and invite him to come over. And nobody expected what happened when he went to dinner alone at his favorite restaurant, the Country Inn on Saratoga Avenue.

Eating dinner alone at a restaurant can be daunting. You find yourself surrounded by couples and families while you have no one to talk to. I always bring a book, but Dad just eats in silence since Mom died in 2002.

Not this time. The manager joined him at the table, saying the staff could run the place without him. They talked like old friends. Indeed they have been seeing each other at the restaurant for many years. At dessert time, seven workers sang to him and brought him a candlelit slice of cake that was so big he brought most of it home to enjoy later. And when he asked about his check, he was told the meal was “on the house.”

It wasn’t over. At church yesterday morning, even though it was First Communion Day and the place was packed with little girls in white dresses and little boys in suits, the congregation honored my father. He didn’t expect it. He’s not active in church activities. He sits in the second to last row with a young family with three kids who have claimed him as an extra grandfather. They’re the only ones who know his name. He had just come back from the restroom when a woman up front told him not to sit down. She announced that it was his birthday, and over 500 people applauded him. He was thrilled. The priest asked how old he was—94—and how long he had been coming to St. Martin’s—65 years. San Jose is a big city. It’s easy to be anonymous in the crowd. But not this time. People recognized and honored him. That was the best gift anyone could have given him.

Last night on the phone, Dad said someone asked him how he kept going so long. Eating and sleeping, he said. When you stop doing that, you’re done.

Dad still lives on his own in the house where I grew up. Since he broke his hip in 2014, he can’t move like he used to, but he’s an independent cuss and he has good genes. His father lived to 98. His cousin made it to 96. We all know that things could change at any minute—or not. Meanwhile, I am blessed to have him, and I am so grateful that people paid attention this year. It matters.

Look up and notice the people sitting alone. Say hello. They might be great people like my my father.

Happy birthday, Dad.

The Hydrangea Nearly Won

DSCN2510

Last week I was whining about the dead hydrangea bush I was having a hard time removing. Actually “hard time” is putting it too mildly. I dug and chopped and pulled at that thing for weeks. I kept coming back to it like a dog trying to get at a rat under the house, digging and pushing and bending, nicking up my piano-playing hands. It was thoroughly dead, its branches turned to bamboo. I blame the freeze of 2014, plus the blackberries that grew up around it and choked it to death. I had given it two whole seasons to recover, but it didn’t.

IMG_20160412_110723903[1].jpgTwo weeks ago, I saw that this job was getting too big for me and contacted a gardener. After a week, he had not responded, and it was bugging me, so I dug and chopped and tugged some more as my good shoes got crusted with mud. The branches that were too thick to cut kept scratching me. I went at it with a hatchet. The branches laughed. I tried to cut it with my loppers. Nyah, nyah, they said.  I gave up for a while, but I’m not one to quit on things. I did a search on YouTube and watched a guy named Bob demonstrate the proper technique. Okay, I can do this, I thought. I didn’t own the fancy spade that he had, but I did own a spade.

It was working. Then I got down to the last mega roots, thick as parsnips. I chopped with my hatchet. I dug with my spade. I grabbed and pulled with all my might. I could hear roots popping. Progress. But then with one of those mighty heave-hos, I heard my back popping, too, and thought, uh-oh. Time out.

I threw myself on the grass in a sweaty savasana and let it go. It was hard. I knew I was close. I also knew I didn’t want to end up in the hospital.

The gardeners finally contacted me on Monday. They would charge $40 to get the plant out. Fine. Late Wednesday afternoon, they came. Three guys, two speaking mostly Spanish. One of them grabbed my rusty spade that was still leaning up against the wall. He shoved it down into the ground hard about three times, pulled on the plant and it came out, roots and all. Just like that. He carried the corpse to the truck. They smoothed the dirt, and they were done.

I was so close! I almost had it. Just a little more upper body strength and it would have been my victory. It should have been. After all, I am the founder and CEO of Blue Hydrangea Productions. That was my glorious standard for my company. I loved it when it was blooming and I should have been the one to perform the final rites. But no. Because I’m a freaking girl. I thought they would bring fancy equipment to dig and cut. Wrong. They used my rusty old spade that I found in the shed after I watched the YouTube video. Not fair!

Two minutes! They should have paid me for doing all the prep work. I should have had Annie help me. If that dog can bite through an allegedly indestructible Kong or a log from the woodpile, why can’t she take down a dead hydrangea?

Everybody says I should have called them in the first place. They also say I need to hire a gardener. Mowing the lawns kills me. My lawn is like a golf course. Huge. But there’s wonderful satisfaction in watching that lawn get neater with each row I cut. So, not yet.

Any day now, I’ll be planting a new blue hydrangea, all by myself. And I took down a dying rosebush yesterday in five minutes. Thank you, YouTube.

Lawnmower one, widow lady zero

I keep looking in the mirror, expecting to see the skin around my right eye turning colors and my right cheek puffing up. That’s where the defeating blow landed. That’s how my glasses got bent so they hung half off and half on my face. That’s what led me to sit on the grass and cry, hugging my dog like a giant teddy bear. You’d think I was 4 instead of almost 64.

What am I talking about? One of the joys of being widowed is inheriting all the home and yard care, unless you have the money to hire someone. I’m thinking that guy in Lady Chatterley’s Lover would be great. For those who haven’t read the D.H. Lawrence book, Lady Chatterley’s husband was paralyzed from the waist down and could not make love. They were rich and had a large estate, cared for by the “Gamekeeper,” Oliver Mellors. Although a man of few words, Mellors was very expressive in other ways, including keeping Lady C very happy. It was quite a racy book for 1928. Now, I don’t have any game to keep, just lots of trees, unmowed grass and a house that’s too big for me, but I wouldn’t mind having a Mellors to take care of the property–and me, too. Or a woman who knew her way around a tool belt.

Anyway, back to the lawn. The rain had finally stopped for a couple of days. All the neighbors were off to work. It was just me and the pooch. After several winter months in the shed, the lawnmower was not working properly. It coughed, smoked, cut a stripe or two in the grass and quit. Over and over. God, how I wished some burly man would come striding up to the fence and say, “Hey, little lady, what seems to be the trouble?” And then he’d come in and fix the damn thing and mow the whole lawn while he was at it. But no.

My mechanical knowledge is limited. I know how to cook, write, play music, and sew. That’s pretty much it. If the tire light comes on in my car, I take it to Les Schwab. If the toilet leaks, I call a plumber. When the cord on the old lawnmower broke a year or two ago, I bought a new lawnmower. Know what I mean? Now I’m not saying this is true of all women. I know lots of women who could wrestle that lawnmower into submission. But not me.

I tried what I knew with the lawnmower. Oil? Check. Gas? Check. Spark plug? Still there. I flipped the lawnmower over, looking for obstructions underneath. I poked around with a screwdriver. Nothing. I pulled the cord. Nothing. I did that about 10 times with the same results. It sputtered and worked for a minute, gushing out smoke and coughing until it died.

I tried pushing the lawnmower up vertically to look underneath, and that’s when it happened. Bam! I lost my grip and the handle crashed down on my face.

Four days later, I don’t even have the satisfaction of a good black eye, although my cheek still hurts and I do have a giant bruise on my upper arm where the handle hit on the way down. Some part of me wants to have a visible injury so people ask about it and admire this poor brave little widow. Yeah, right.

But that’s not the end of the story. On Friday, I was about to load the lawnmower into the car to take it to Sears for repairs. I decided to yank the cord one more time. And guess what? The lawnmower roared into action. As I shouted hallelujahs, I decided I’d better mow the front lawn before the mower changed its mind. Forget Sears. Yes, I was overdressed for lawn-mowing, and I couldn’t see because I wasn’t wearing my mangled glasses, but I mowed it.

The drama wasn’t over yet. On the far side of the driveway, water had been standing dog-knee deep for several days. I thought we had just had more rain than the ground could absorb. But post lawn-mow, my neighbor wandered over and we both ended up staring at that water. It was flowing. This was not rainwater. We had a leak. Pat called the water company while I dashed into town to get my glasses fixed. The optometrist told me I needed to think about buying new ones. They were getting old and brittle and could not take much more bending before they broke. You see, this was about my fifth time having it done. Great. New glasses. No vision insurance.

Back home, I found the street blocked with Seal Rock Water Company trucks and machinery and a half dozen water company guys, including one chest deep in a hole in my front yard, a hole that didn’t used to be there. The only good news was the problem was the connection to my neighbor’s water, not mine. Since I couldn’t get to my house anyway, I went off to my weekly jam in Waldport for a couple hours of music. When I came home, the hole was filled with rocks, and the men were gone.

End of story? Not quite. Last night, I discovered the toilet was leaking. Stop!

Also, my glasses hurt my sore face.

I’m still waiting for Lady Chatterley’s Lover. He was handy.