Not Your Usual Graduation Present

IMG_20150315_224323314_HDR[1]If parents are going to give their kids something big for high school graduation, it’s usually a car, right? Maybe it has bald tires and the seat covers are torn, but it’s got four wheels and the engine is sound.

Or maybe they write a big check or buy you tickets to Disneyland. Or ?????

Me, I got a sewing machine. And I was thrilled. It was 1970, still the days of long hair, short skirts and psychedelic colors. After two years of home ec classes, I was making most of my clothes. That machine, a putty-colored Singer Stylist with—ooh—a zigzag setting, was way better than a car. I had been sewing on my mother’s old machine, which had been my great-grandmother’s. My folks had converted it from treadle power to electric. I can still feel the rocking of that treadle under my feet and the cold steel of the wheel in my right hand. It worked well, but now I had my own sewing machine that I could use in my own room, and I couldn’t wait to get going.

Hour after hour, I laid out patterns on the kitchen table, cut the fabric, pinned it and sewed it on my Singer. My sewing raised objections from the family during prime time because in those antenna-TV days, sewing machines and other appliances wreaked havoc with the TV picture and sound. But I sewed and sewed. I loved the colors, red, green, yellow, blue, and the fabrics, cotton, corduroy, velvet, satin. My clothes were always unique. Even if I used the same patterns as other girls and even the same fabrics purchased from the old House of Fabrics, I never combined them in the same way.

In more recent years, I used the machine to make the quilted wall hangings that hang all over my house. I saved bits of fabric for decades, knowing someday I would use it.

I used that sewing machine for 44 years, through 11 moves and two husbands. The initials I stitched inside the necklines changed three times, and still I sewed. In recent years, I didn’t using the sewing machine as much. I was busy with family and work. Losing my mother and mother-in-law, both avid needlewomen, took away some of my sewing mojo. Plus the machine was getting old and cranky. Finally, a couple weeks ago, after doing more cursing than stitching trying to make it work, I decided to look into new sewing machines.

The result? I’ve got a new Brother sewing machine sitting in the bedroom I am now turning into my sewing room. It’s computerized, it has 60 different stitches, and has push-buttons for everything. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to work it, that it would be too complicated, but somehow, the basics are still the same. When I started sewing, my hands knew exactly what to do. And that machine hummed and sewed like . . . a Cadillac.

I don’t know what I’m going to make yet. But I can’t wait to find out. And the old sewing machine? I don’t know what do with it, but as I told my 92-year-old father the other day, it sure served me well, better than any old car would have.

Did you get a big present for high school graduation? What was it? Please share in the comments.

The Glamorous Life of the Writer, Again

So here I am in Medford, OR, wearing nothing but my bathrobe because my clothes got all wet between the exhibit hall at the Expo Center and my car. But I kept my books dry, of course. The plan was to not have any books left over, to go home with a lot more space in my car, but no, this fair was a bust. In fact, we quit two hours early, and by then a third of the authors had already packed up and left.

Wouldn’t you know I’d try the Oregon Book and Author Fair on its first year at the Expo Center? The previous venues, hotels and libraries in town, not only attracted crowds, but they were actually warm. We had been warned about the heat being inefficient in the exhibit hall, but actually it was nonexistent. It was about 50 degrees inside, colder and raining outside. The concrete-floored hall was vast and ugly.

We were arranged at long tables with dozens of authors, who gamely put out books, postcards, brochures, bookmarks, pens and candy. One guy, who writes haiku books, wore a clown hat. Another wore a sweatshirt that said, a “Ask me about my book.” One author brought a model of a spine for her book on scoliosis. Another had model wagon trains. One had balloons.

All to no avail. There were no customers, except the authors themselves. I did my part; I bought five books and a hot dog. But I did not sell a single book. Even the one lady who assured me she would buy a book failed to show up at my table.

I did trade one of my books for another woman’s book. There was a lot of that going on. And I made some good contacts, I think. This Portuguese woman promises to get me on her TV show. Another author plans to invite me to her upcoming book fair, which she promises will have a lot more going on.

My tablemate, Jim Henson—not the Muppet guy—is a delightful man, full of jokes, stories and encouragement. We made plans to meet in Newport for the open mic at Café Mundo.

It’s not all a loss, unless you’re counting dollars. Let’s see, miss a weekend of work, drive 500 miles, pay for the dog to stay in the kennel . . . no, it doesn’t pencil out. But if you think of it as a life experience, it’s not so bad. I talked to lots of people, got to see the fall colors here in Medford, and I’m still enjoying the amenities of a really great hotel: giant-screen TV, microwave popcorn, pool, spa, fitness center, hot buffet breakfast, free newspapers, a heavenly bed, and an escape from the responsibilities of home. Of course, I have to eat breakfast with strangers, and the clock radio suddenly burst into loud music at 4:10 a.m. And there was that flat tire near Roseburg, but hey, it’s an adventure. I’m writing, I’m reading, I’m swimming, I’m watching TV, I’m going out to dinner. And I have a new badge that says I’m an author.

Anybody want to buy a book? Or two or three? Christmas is coming. Visit–or the back of my Honda.

Well, La De Da

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A parade, pies and pups filled the streets of Yachats (pop. 749) yesterday for the annual La De Da parade. With temperatures in the high 60s and a sweet breeze, hundreds of people from all over hunkered along the sides of the roads for the annual parade that is like no other.
Instead of precision marching bands, we had the umbrella drill team with actual umbrellas, a little girl in a wagon celebrating her fourth birthday, seniors doing tai chi, a string quintet playing in the back of a pickup, dachshunds wearing hot dog buns, belly dancers, ecologists dressed as trees, fire trucks, tractors and more. Marchers tossed candy and passed out cartoons and real estate ads.
Poodles, labradoodles, spaniels, greyhounds and every other kind of dog marched or panted on the sidelines, dressed, like their owners, in red, white and blue or tie-dye.
Once the parade had made its circuit from the Yachats Commons—a former school that is now city hall, community center, concert venue and everything else—down past the Lion’s Club and around the bend to where the road overlooks the rocks and crashing surf and back, the crowd dispersed to eat barbecue at the fire department or pie at the commons and shop at booths set up all around. Then they went home to rest up for Fourth of July fireworks over the bay at dusk.
My friends and I adjourned to the Salty Dawg Saloon in nearby Waldport: great burgers, sports on the TV, sea shells embedded in the tables, and a giant photo of James Dean in the ladies’ restroom.
This does not happen in Silicon Valley.
I hate to advertise, but I must. My new book, Shoes Full of Sand, is out in paperback this week. If you like this blog, you’ll love this book. Click here to read about it.

Thank you, I think

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At my birthday party a couple weeks ago, a friend handed me this incredibly ugly plant. It wasn’t from him, he was quick to point out, but from another friend who wasn’t there.
This plant was three feet tall and about five inches around, held up by a green metal stake. I thought: What use is a plant that needs its own little crutch to stand up? I already have relatives like that.
Anyway, it had two leaves and one stalk holding what might turn out to be a flower. I was told it was an amaryllis.
Where would it fit in my house? Nowhere. But of course I said, “Oh, thank you. Wow.” Does this friend not know me at all? My plants are like me, short and squatty, and they have to be tough to survive. I’m glad the gifter was not there. I don’t have a poker face. My mouth was saying “Oh!” (happy) while my eyes were saying “oh” (dismayed).
Could I accidentally forget it? My friend made sure it went home with me. When I tried to get it in the car, it hit the doorframe. When I got it leaned back against the seat like a passenger, my dash lit up, saying, “side airbag off.” Yeek. This plant needed a car seat of its own.
I had one of these tall skinny plants before. Somebody sent a kit. You put this thing in this pseudo-dirt and water it. I did. Two leaves sprouted up. They grew and they grew and they grew like the plant in “Little Shop of Horrors”. I had two ridiculously long leaves, but it never ever blossomed. The leaves kept growing until one day they got so heavy they fell over and turned brown. We said, “Oh good, it’s dead,” and threw the plant out.
Now I have this one. At the party, the resident cat kept sniffing the dirt (is it dirt?) and started gnawing the leaves. At home, I have to hide it where the dog won’t eat it, thinking it’s celery. Someplace where nobody will see it.
I have minimal luck with houseplants in general. I mean I had to ask whether this one goes outside or inside. My friend Pat mouthed “inside.” Pat is the one who noticed my pot full of dead leaves, said, “Oh this needs some love,” plucked off the leaves, gave it some water, and by the next week it looked like a new plant. All I do for my plants is throw water on them. I buy plant food, but it rots, forgotten under the sink.
When the leaves fell off a big plant I inherited from my mother-in-law, I had to take a picture and put it on Facebook to find out what it was and what to do. Oh that’s a bla-bla-bla, people said. Water it, put it in the sun, and say a prayer. It survived. Who knew? I thought it was dead.
When people give me a plant, it’s like, “Oh, that’s nice.” It will last a week or two longer than cut flowers. I’ve got an African violet dying in the pot right now. I feel so guilty.
I don’t even handle cut flowers properly. Pat noticed there was no water in the vase holding my get-well flowers a while back. She shook her head and added water. Did I sprinkle in the food or preservative or whatever that powder was that came with it, she asked. No. Was I supposed to? I make her sigh a lot. I just stick my cut flowers in a vase and leave them on the table until all the petals fall off.
So, when I got this three-foot-tall strange-looking plant, the plant lovers in the crowd oohed and ahhed while I thought oh no. But maybe I was wrong. This thing is damned tall. In fact, I think it has grown another foot since I brought it home. And guess what? It bloomed. Two gorgeous red flowers appeared a few days after my birthday. They were so heavy the plant fell off the table, but it survived. In fact, I think another flower is on the way. Maybe this relationship will work out after all. Maybe this plant will live forever. And bloom . . . exactly. . . once.

Wrapping up the old year

Rain started last weekend and continues unabated, accompanied by winds that rattle the chimes out back and threaten to sail the hot tub cover and garden furniture all the way to the beach. Annie pokes her head through the doggie door and decides she doesn’t need to go potty yet. At church Sunday, the hail pounded on the roof so loudly that Father Brian had to pause in his sermon. He looked up at the ceiling and said, “Oh, great.” But that’s the Oregon coast in winter.

It was a good Christmas, although I have been sick the whole time, with lots of coughing and achiness. I’m feeling better today. I am grateful for the many friends who invited me into their homes for the holiday. I was blessed with wonderful presents, receiving far more than I gave. Now it’s my favorite time of year, when the pressures of Christmas are over, but we still have the lights and the leftovers and a little time off.

I have begun a list of things that happened in 2010. I thought I didn’t do much this year, but when you add it up, it was quite a full 12 months. For example, I played music for more than 100 church services, attended nearly 100 yoga classes, walked Annie nearly 300 times, filled two binders with new writing and finished two books that I hope to see in print next year, I gave up my sweet dog Chico, attended three writing conferences, made two trips to California, drank more than 700 cups of Red Zinger tea, ate more than 300 muffins, joined Oregon Coast Therapy Animals, got new tires on the car and a new garage door opener, drank over a thousand glasses of iced tea, drove to Albany to see Fred at least once a week all year, ate at least 25 turkey-avocado club sandwiches at the Red Door–and yet kept off the weight I lost in 2009. 

What about you? I’ll bet if you start making a list, you’ll find this year was more eventful than you thought. You’ll also discover that even if the bad things stick out in your mind, there were good things, too. Try it.

Happy New Year!

Seeing Stars

I studied the stars Thursday night, trying to memorize how they looked that night. I knew I would never see them quite the same way again. Not the stars, not the clouds, not the book I was reading or my own face in the mirror. In the morning, Dr. Haines would operate on my left eye, replacing my cloudy, cataracted lens with a new one and removing a growth on the front of my eye. After 42 years of counting on my glasses to give me 20-20 vision, I didn’t know what I’d be seeing.

Melodramatic? Yes, I know people go through the cataract surgery all the time and come out happy. But this was MY EYE, and this was happening about 20 years sooner than expected.

The adventure had begun last spring when I went in expecting to get new glasses and found out my nascent cataract had advanced to the point that it was ready for surgery. I’m too young, I protested. It turns out you can get cataracts at any age, although most people are in their 70s and 80s. The doctor suggested we wait six months to see if the other eye would catch up. It hasn’t yet, but the left one had to be done. While he was in there, he would remove the pterigium, a fatty growth that had been hugging up against the brown of my eye for 20 years.

Multiple doctor’s appointments, a slide show at the hospital, days of eye drops, eyelid scrubs, stop wearing makeup, no food after midnight, and there I was at the hospital, IV in my hand, numbing drops in my eye, rolling into surgery, staring at the lights above me, three deep breaths . . . waking up in recovery with a humongous patch over my eye.

The scratchy-sore pain didn’t start for a few hours, and the pupil stayed dilated until well into the next day, but I started getting surprising glimmers of vision. Saturday morning, I could see the clock on my nightstand without glasses. I could see farther with my “operative eye” than I could with the other. I could even see the computer sometimes without glasses. As predicted, I could also see new wrinkles on my face and dust in my house.

The eye still hurts and it’s blood red in places. My vision fluctuates, and of course my other eye is still super nearsighted, so I won’t be seeing 20-20 till I get new glasses in a couple weeks. I’ll probably be inserting eye drops until Christmas.

In the old days, folks who had cataract surgery had to lie perfectly still for weeks, but things have changed. I asked the doctor when I could go back to yoga class. Tomorrow, he said. But no headstands. I nodded, as if I could actually do a headstand.

Annie, my dog, keeps staring at my face, apparently wondering what’s up with the glasses on/glasses off business. I stare back, naked brown eyes to naked brown eyes.

As for the stars, they were a bit muted last night, but coming out of the doctor’s office Friday afternoon, I saw the most beautiful sunset I ever saw. With two eyes.