Unleashed in Oregon blog book is born

Unleashed PB coverWell, I did it. Soon I’ll be holding a paperback book copy of Unleashed from Oregon: Best from the Blog. It will have tangible form, unlike these weekly blog posts in cyberspace, which could disappear if something happened to WordPress, Wi-Fi or the Internet. It will also put together related posts from various times and places to create a new story.

What’s in it? You’ll find the answers to these questions and more. What is a Californigonian? What was waiting by the door that night? What possessed us to adopt two puppies at once? How is playing the piano like ice skating? Why stay in Oregon when it rains all the time and the family is still back in California? Chapters will look at the glamorous life of a writer and the equally glamorous life of a musician, true stories from a whiny traveler, being the sole human occupant of a house in the woods, and dogs, so much about dogs.

With over 500 posts published over the last 10 years, I had to leave a lot out. Frankly, many of those posts deserved to be left out. They made sense at the time, but now not so much. The photos in the book are black and white because the cost of color photos was prohibitive and this isn’t a coffee table book. I refuse to charge people $40 a copy. I wanted it to be fun and inexpensive. And it is.

Putting Unleashed the book together has been a challenge. The cover I loved for the e-book didn’t work for the paperback, so they’re different. Choosing the posts, finding the files, and finding the original photos (I need a better system!) took time. Remind me not to try formatting another book with pictures. Also remind me to use a real camera instead of my phone. Getting photos, page numbers, and headers to line up, yikes, but I think you’ll like the result.

Unleashed in Oregon book coming soon!

The Unleashed blog has been going for 10 years now, with more than 500 posts. 500! No wonder I’m tired. In celebration, I am putting together a Best of Unleashed in Oregon book. I am revising and reorganizing my favorite posts so that you and I can find them all in one place. The text isn’t quite ready yet, but today I have a cover. Guess who’s on the front? Annie. Of course. The e-book will be available soon at a very reasonable price, to be followed by the paperback in plenty of time for Christmas. Thank you, readers, for sharing this journey with me.

The blog is not over. I plan to keep posting here, offering new stories and photos because this life in Oregon offers new revelations every day.

Drum roll . . . Here’s the cover.

Unleashed cover




Morning on the Willamette River

I did not know there was a path along the river behind the Super 8 Motel in Corvallis. Last time I was here, everything was covered in snow andbadcb-dscn3690 ice. I walked cautiously in my boots, afraid of slipping, my fingers freezing despite my gloves as I snapped pictures in a quiet wonderland covered in white. The temperature was about 12 degrees. Even the edges of the Willamette River were frozen.

A rogue snowstorm had caught western Oregon by surprise. I was on my way home from San Francisco, where my father had just had heart surgery. There, it was cold but clear. When I landed at the Portland airport, I found my car encased in snow. I had trouble starting it, and my tire warning light was on. My feet slipped on the icy pavement. But I got onto I-5, drove south on partially cleared roads and took the turn onto Highway 34 toward the coast. That road had not been plowed. I crept along in a line of cars sliding all over and vowed to stop at the first motel I found. That was this Super 8 in Corvallis. For two days, I was snowed in, not daring to drive the rest of the way home. I walked along the river, and I walked into the town, enjoying the local stores and restaurants that were still open. Everything was quiet. No cars. All sounds muffled by snow.

This morning is IMG_20150216_081430223a different story. The snow is gone, and the sun is shining. It’s still cold, but no danger of frostbite. I walk slowly, still favoring the ankle I sprained in December. Cars and trucks roar by on Highway 34, exiting at second street, stopping at the traffic light. Along the river, the trees and shrubs are still winter bare, but now I can see the dirt. I can also see the litter, including evidence of drug use. Crows squawk at me from the trees, and a squirrel as big as a cat whooshes by. A homeless guy shouts good morning and mumbles something about fog. Fog? A jogger runs by in yellow shorts, and an old lady urges her equally old golden retriever along.

Without the snow, it’s a different world. I’m not as charmed by the all-carb motel breakfast and tea in a Styrofoam cup or the bathtub stopper that growls unless you hold it down with your foot. I’m all too aware of the work and meetings facing me back on the coast, all needing my attention today. I cannot claim a snow day.

But as I watch the river flowing by and the sun shining off the blue water, I’m glad I decided to stop here on my way home from a meeting in Portland and not just so I wouldn’t miss any of the three-hour “Bachelor” marathon on TV.

There’s something about a river that feels like a prayer.

The best gifts may not be under the Christmas tree

I was going to write a whiny post about not having any Christmas presents. It would start, “The only gifts for me under my Christmas tree are the ones I bought and wrapped for myself.” I would explain that the main gift-givers in my family have all died, my remaining family lives far away, I have no kids, the younger folks in my family don’t seem moved to send presents to good old Aunt Sue, my friends are all traveling this Christmas, etc. Woe is me. While that’s all true, I have realized I’m an idiot.
I have so much, and I am so blessed. Grief over my late husband is hitting me like a sledgehammer this year, but I’m writing in a house filled with so much great stuff I can’t possibly need anymore. I want it, but I don’t need it. I have numerous musical instruments and piles of sheet music, books, food, clothes, computers, keepsakes, nice furniture, a car, a dog, work I love, enough money, and a healthy body.
It’s time I reached out to help other people instead of whining about myself. Know what I mean?
I was already beginning to see the light when I started reading a new book I downloaded yesterday with the help of a Christmas gift certificate. It’s called Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found and was written by Rebecca Alexander with Sasha Alper. Alexander is losing both her sight and her hearing, due to something called Usher’s Syndrome, a rare genetic glitch. She was a teenager when she was told she would eventually be both blind and deaf. It’s a great book, and Alexander doesn’t seem to feel the least bit sorry for herself. Imagine what it would be like not even being able to see the Christmas tree.
Look around. Listen. Thank God if you can see and hear.
Meanwhile, I might not have a lot of presents under the tree but I have presents everywhere else. You, my readers, are one of those gifts. Thank you and Merry Christmas to all.

Where Does One Go After Z?

In April, I participated in my first A to Z blog challenge. I wrote 26 posts based on the letters of the alphabet, blogging every day but Sunday. The organizers have asked us to reflect on the experience. It was good, it was exhausting, and it took time away from my other writing, but I’m glad I did it.
Having an assignment and knowing somebody will read it gives great comfort to this old newspaper reporter who spent years cranking out stories on deadline with little question about what to write next, only worries about getting to the end of the list. Of course, with the blog challenge, I could quit any time. It was tempting. April, like every month so far this year, was fraught with challenges, including plumbing issues, the Easter music marathon, and being sicker than I’ve been in years. But I didn’t quit. Most of the time, I had written two or three posts in advance and just had to post them, but even when I got to Z with nothing written and was miserably sick, I got up and blogged.
Having to write something that fit the letter of the day sent me in directions I would not have thought of on my own. Weed whacker? Dog ears? Milk-Bones? It led me to what I think is some good writing. The challenge also brought me some new online friends. We are now following each other’s blogs and cheering each other on.
It was fascinating to see how other bloggers used the same letters. So many great ideas. One blogged about cheeses, a different kind for every letter. Another blogged about movies. Yet another wrote a short story every day. Some posted pictures, others travelogues. The challenge is over now, but I urge you to do some blog-hopping from the A to Z site and see how many ways those 26 letters can be used.
If you look to the right side of the screen, you’ll see links to my A to Z posts here at Unleashed in Oregon. On Wednesdays, I posted at Childless by Marriage and on Fridays, I took my traveling blog show to Writer Aid. If you missed any posts, they will remain archived indefinitely. And if you’re a writer looking for inspiration, try going through the alphabet.
Have fun. Annie and I are going to take a nap.

U stands for unleashed–or is it unhinged?

Fred with Annie (tan) and her brother Chico a few years ago on the deck

U stands for unleashed, as in Unleashed in Oregon. Sometimes “unhinged” might be a better assessment. Last Monday, for example.

Exhausted from my Easter festivities, I was ready for a long, deep sleep, but no. At 2:38 a.m., Annie started barking, and she was still barking off and on five hours later. She seemed to have found a critter trapped under the deck. Whatever it was scratched her face during the night. Or else she scratched it on the lattice along the base of the deck. The intruder couldn’t be very big. I had seen a rat sneak in and out a couple times at twilight, but Annie hadn’t seemed to notice. We occasionally had squirrels. I suppose a cat or small raccoon could have gotten in there if it was determined enough. Whatever it was, Annie was still barking, and I was still awake when it was time to get up.

Sleep-deprived or not, I had a busy day that included a business meeting and providing music for a funeral, but first I crawled around on the wet grass in my bathrobe trying to see what was under the deck. I saw nothing except a muddy spot where Annie had tried to dig her way in. I thought about shooting some water through there, setting a trap, or calling the exterminators. What I wanted to do was ignore it, but if Annie was going to keep barking, I’d never get any sleep and the neighbor would eventually select a rifle from his vast collection and take care of both Annie and whatever she was barking at. Somehow, like our recent adventures with plumbing and yard work, we would handle it. Once I inspected the deck, Annie seemed satisfied for the moment and went to sleep. Now the rain has returned, and Annie is staying in her warm bed during the night. Me too. But the invader is probably still around.

When Fred and I moved to Oregon in 1996, we unleashed ourselves from our families, our home, our jobs, and everything that was familiar. Looking back, it strikes me that we were like dogs who smelled something good way up the road, chased after it and found ourselves in an unfamiliar place with no way to get back. So we started new lives here. It was indeed very good, although we missed the old lives sometimes.
Now that Fred is gone (three years ago yesterday), I am even more unleashed. No husband. No newspaper job. In theory, I’m free to go wherever I want, just like the dog when she slips out the gate and runs into the woods. But also like the dog, I don’t want to wander too far from home. I want my Milk-Bones (see M is for Milk-Bones) and my iced tea. Of course some of my family thinks I’m just unhinged.
This blog is about my adventures with Annie in our post-Silicon Valley lives. We are unleashed and running free in Oregon. Metaphorically speaking. They’ve got leash laws up here, just like most places, and my dog is too much of a wackadoodle to unhook just anywhere.
U stands for a whole lots of “un” words. Unlikely, unbelievable, unwanted, unplugged, underdog and so many more. It also stands for ugly, ubiquitous, utopia, and umbrella, something we don’t use here because it would just blow inside out. And it stands for Under the Deck, where something lives.
U is for Unleashed in Oregon, where I plan to keep blogging long after the A to Z Challenge ends next Wednesday. My alphabetical posts are distributed among my various blogs. Here is the schedule:

A Newsletter–A is for Annie
B Childless by Marriage–B is for Baby
C Unleashed in Oregon–C is for Crate
D Writer Aid–D is for Deadline
E Unleashed in Oregon–E is for Ear
F Unleashed in Oregon–F is for Fur
G Unleashed in Oregon–G is for Gunk
H Childless by Marriage–H is for Harley
I Unleashed in Oregon–I is for I-5
J Writer Aid–J is for Job
K Unleashed in Oregon–Key is for Keys
L Unleashed in Oregon–L is for Lick
M Unleashed in Oregon–M is for Milk-Bone
N Childless by Marriage–No is for No, I Don’t Know Children’s Songs
O Unleashed in Oregon–O is for Oregon Everything
P Writer Aid–P is for Prompts
Q Unleashed in Oregon–Q is for Question
R Unleashed in Oregon–R is for Rhodies
S Unleashed in Oregon–S is for Shoes Full of Sand
T Childless by Marriage–T is for Talk
U Unleashed in Oregon
V Writer Aid
W Unleashed in Oregon
X Unleashed in Oregon
Y Unleashed in Oregon
Z Childless by Marriage

More than 2000 other bloggers have signed up for the challenge. For more information, visit a-to-zchallenge.com You might find some great new blogs to follow. I know I will. Visit Writer Aid tomorrow to find out what V stands for.

Step One: Set Up the Tent

Thank God no one can see me, I think as I wrestle on my front lawn with a pile of poles and slippery cloth that any minute should spring upward into a dome-shaped tent. But it doesn’t. I’ve always hated the junipers that block my view of everything, but now I am grateful. After an hour, I have nothing but a pile of parts and sore, grass-stained knees.

I’ve never set up a tent before. With my first husband, John Muir reincarnated, I was always the helper, the one who held stuff while he sipped a beer with one hand and put up the tent with the other. I don’t know how he got it off the ground; he just did. Before I knew it, we were hammering stakes into the dirt and barbecuing rib-eyes on the roaring campfire. My specialty was washing the dishes.

Husband number two wasn’t much of a camper. Motel 6 was too rustic for him. But we did try it once. Again, I don’t know how the tent got up. I just remember falling off the air mattress all night and threatening to sleep in the truck if he didn’t start a fire to keep us warm.

So now, husband-free, here I sit surrounded by poles, plastic-cloth and useless directions. If they wrote them in English, e.g., insert the ridiculously long black pole into the black sleeve to the left of the door, stuff it all the way through and insert the ends into the i-hooks, I might get it. But no, it’s slide short tent pole TPOL-374BK through pole sleeve of corresponding color. Do the same with second tent pole TPOL-374BK. Then insert long-cross ridge pole CPOL-393GR through pole sleeve of corresponding color. Hello, all the poles are long and I have three colors of poles and two colors of sleeves. Insert ends onto pin-rings at base of tent and snap J-hooks over short tent poles. What’s a pin-ring? And what J-hooks? I don’t see any J-hooks. Hook them onto what anyway, the hard part of the pole or the stringy thing between the sections of pole?

Okay. I think I’ve got it right. I lift the whole pile of cloth and poles and realize I can’t get all the poles into their holes by myself. My arms aren’t long enough. As soon as I get one side, the other comes out. This is where I used to come in, I vaguely remember. I was the one who held stuff while the tent-maker went around sliding part A into part B. Zoop, zoop, zoop, dinnertime.

I look around. The neighbors are all at work. I’d be too embarrassed to ask the super-hunter across the street for fear he’d laugh at my cheap tent. The other neighbors wouldn’t know any more than I do.

Sweating and weary, I let my tent fall like a deflated Mylar balloon while I run into the kitchen for a beer. That part of the camping tradition I can do.

Now I have to figure out to get the tent back into the bag.

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