Tiny notes of happiness bring smiles

Three years ago, I wrote things that made me happy on tiny slips of paper and put them into a jar. The object was to do it every day and then read them when the year was over. I’m a little late. That was 2015, and now it’s 2018. But these multicolored pieces of paper still make me happy. Three years ago, I was getting over a badly sprained ankle that I injured between Christmas and New Year’s. (read the blog posts about that here and here). My father had survived his heart surgery and had not yet broken his hip. Like now, I was playing and singing at Sacred Heart and plugging away at my writing career. Annie and I walked these coastal woods most days. Her muzzle wasn’t all white then. The tree had not fallen on my fence and house. And gosh, Medicare was way in the future.

I’m thinking I’ll write little happy notes for this year, too. I can start with this morning’s beautiful pink sunrise. Or maybe last night’s full moon. Or the moment after yesterday’s walk when Annie and I visited with our neighbor Pat and the dogs Harley and Cooper. Three big dogs to pet at once and a friend to talk to: Heaven. Even in the midst of horrible times, we can still find little things to be grateful for.

Here are some of the things that made me smile in 2015.

The ankle:

* First sun in winter. First soak in the hot tub since my injury.

* Buying my own groceries despite limping in with a crutch

* Walking to the end of the block

* New ankle brace arrived. Put shoe on, was able to walk almost like a normal person.

* A real dog walk on my sprained ankle, and it didn’t feel too bad.

* Walking on two good feet.

Food!

* Ham and eggs

* Tuna melt at Fishtails

* Turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce and iced tea

* Big salad with slices of linguica on top, Portuguese sweet bread on the side

* Marionberry pie with vanilla ice cream at The Chalet

 * Fresh-baked peanut butter cookies

Writing

* Kind words from an editor who called my novel a feel-good book and my writing masterful

* Reading my poems to the kids and parents in Siletz, feeling like a rock star

* I won a writing contest!

* Reading poems I wrote 34 years ago and finding them good

* Sitting in the sun writing a poem

Music

* Creating a choir of strangers for the World Day of Prayer and making beautiful music from a few pages of words and notes

* Singing full out with mandolin, fiddles, and guitar all in perfect harmony at the South Beach jam

* Feeling the power of my fingers on the keys of a perfectly tuned piano

Miscellaneous

* Laughing with Dad on his 93rd birthday

* Stunning quiet of the coastal forest in soft spring sun. Moss-wrapped fir trees

* The first perfect pink camellia blooms appear on my neighbor’s bush

* Shiny new library books

* Nice repairman makes dryer hum

* Admiring the lawn I just mowed

* Reading and dozing in the loveseat by the fire with Annie sound asleep in my lap

* Spinning out on ice and surviving

* A great night’s sleep

* Doc says I’m healthy

Instead of a jar, this year I’m using a tall, sturdy box with sayings about dogs printed on it. A gift from a friend came in that box, which makes it all the more special.

Join me in saving those little moments. When life gets tough, we can reach in and remember that there are good things to celebrate every day. You’re welcome to share your “moments” here.

Happy New Year to everyone.

Sue

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Every woman has a “me too” story

Christmas was swell. Thank you to everyone who helped make it bright and shiny this year. And now, as we ease into the new year, I have decided to add my bit to the raging sexual harassment conversation.

I have had a lot of bosses in my life—my first editor, Jan, who taught an innocent intern some choice swear words; Pat, who coached me through my divorce; Erle, who threw things at us when he was displeased; Bill, who worried about everything, and Tom, who worried about nothing. But I will never forget Chuck.

I was 23, newly married and newly graduated from journalism school. It was the age of long hair and short skirts. Chuck, probably in his 50s, published a trade newspaper for the appliance and electronics industries. I didn’t have great interest in those subjects, but I needed a job. I showed up in my best mini-dress, and he hired me immediately as his editor. I would be the only employee. In addition to writing articles, taking photos, proofing ads, and delivering copies of the paper to our advertisers, I would also be expected to attend evening events with him. I was so excited about the editor part I glossed over the rest.

Our first event was in San Francisco. I rode with Chuck in his Buick. I was supposed to take pictures and write a story. We walked into a cocktail party full of men in suits. Chuck slipped his arm around my waist and introduced me to his friends. Then he led me to the bar and asked what I wanted to drink. “Water,” I said. I was on a diabetic diet and not drinking at all. Besides, we were working. He narrowed his eyes, then sent me off to take a picture. I had trouble with the dim lighting and the unfamiliar camera with its huge flash attachment. As I struggled to get my shots and write peoples’ names on my steno pad, Chuck waltzed over, exchanged a laugh with his cronies about his new assistant and handed me a glass. I took a sip. Vodka. I set it back on the bar and walked away. He scowled at me.

Chuck hung close to me all evening, often touching, making it appear to his friends that I was his date, while I kept trying to do my job. The event was the kickoff for a new brand of recording tape. The topic was dull and incomprehensible to me, but I took notes, took pictures, and tried to form a story in my head. Chuck was trying to form a different kind of story.

He took me to a restaurant afterward. I sat in the bench seat opposite him. He got up and sat next to me, so close we were thigh to thigh. “I’m hard of hearing,” he said. I moved away; he moved closer. I have no idea what we ate. I don’t think I was hungry. I do know that I protested the vodka stunt and that he spent most of the meal lecturing me about how I needed a better attitude, that I would not get full pay until my attitude improved.

“I just want to keep this professional,” I said. “I’m married. I just want to do my job.”

I worked hard. Most days, Chuck wasn’t in the office. Instead he left cassette tapes on which he had dictated instructions and stories for me to type up. I could hear the clinking of his glass in the background. His speech would become increasingly slurred until I could barely understand him. I diligently did my editorial tasks and continued to insist I was not interested in a personal relationship. I loved my husband. Chuck was old, ugly, and a drunk. After that first time, I insisted on driving myself in my beat-up VW to interviews and events. Chuck did not like that.

I never did get full pay. After five months, Chuck walked in one day after lunch and fired me. Officially he had decided he needed a secretary more than an editor. But we both knew the real reason.

It was the ‘70s. I didn’t know how to file an abuse claim. He didn’t physically harm me. I moved on to a much better job.

Every woman who worked in those days had to put up with sleazy bosses and co-workers with sex on their minds. I have had men come on to me during interviews and while I was walking down the street. I’ve had men try to get me drunk and try to get me naked. It was “normal” behavior and male bosses would side with their male employees if we complained.

Now, women are coming forward, exposing what men did to them in the past. I applaud their courage. Wrongs are finally being righted. Call me politically incorrect, but I also grieve for the otherwise wonderful men whose lives are being ruined over their horny transgressions of the past.

At this point, I wouldn’t go after Chuck or any of the other men who acted improperly in the past. I managed to dodge and joke my way through relatively unscathed. Chuck is probably dead now anyway. But as the crusade goes on, I do want to add my voice and say, “Me too.”

How about you?

Let’s hope that in 2018 men and women finally learn how to respect each other.

I wish you all a year full of peace and blessings.

Here’s my bloggy Christmas card to you

Earring Tree 1217Twas the blog before Christmas, and I can’t send Christmas cards to the whole world, although God knows I have received enough cards and mailing labels from charities to card several countries, so this is my Christmas card to you.

How the heck are you? If I haven’t heard from you since last Christmas, are you still alive and living in the same place? If you haven’t heard from me, well the phone works both ways, you know. Oh, wait, I mean, gee, I hope you’re all right.

I don’t know if you send cards. A lot of people don’t, but I have all these cards and I bought stamps, so I might as well send them out and let you enjoy the pretty pictures. I’m struggling to remember who’s Christian and who bristles at a hint of religion. Is this dog picture okay? A cottage in the snow? Peace or puppies? Virgin Mary or Santa Claus? Should I have bought Christmas stamps instead of flags? Who cares, right?

Are Christmas cards even a “thing” anymore? We were talking about this at choir practice the other day, and we’re all wavering. We receive fewer and fewer cards, we all have too much to do, and how important is a printed card with our signature on it anyway? Plus those newsletters full of information about other people’s great vacations and kids we don’t even know just make us feel bad. It all goes in the recycling bin eventually—unless you’re like me and keep cards for fear the person will die and that’s the last signature we have of theirs . . .

Anyway, the cards are ready to mail. The gifts are on their way, even that one I had no clue how to wrap. To that relative who doesn’t want to exchange gifts with me anymore, tough. I’m still sending presents because I want to. If you don’t buy anything for me, fine. Last week, I received an amazing box at my doorstep from a Secret Santa with seven, SEVEN, little wrapped gifts inside. They may be the only presents under my tree. I was so grateful I cried. I need to do the same thing for somebody else next year.

You have no idea how many people are alone like me during the holidays. That’s the subject of my next book, people living alone. I don’t mean people who sleep alone but are in constant contact with their kids and grandkids. I mean really alone, with no family anywhere nearby and no neighbors dropping in like on every TV sitcom. People who may not see other people for days or weeks. If you’re alone like that and willing to be interviewed, let me know.

Speaking of books, it’s not too late to boogie over to Amazon, look me up and order some or all of my books. They have this two-day delivery thing. They’ll even gift-wrap them. Click here to see what’s available, including my latest, Unleashed in Oregon: Best from the Blog.

Annie and I are well. We’ve got a few dents and rattles, but keep running like fine old cars. Annie had surgery in May for not one but two torn ligaments in her back right knee. She has healed well. My dad broke his leg in March. Shattered is a better word. His leg has not recovered; he’s still rocking the walker. After stints in two different nursing homes, he’s back at the house with intermittent caregivers whom he plans to fire any day now.

A massive tree from my neighbor’s yard destroyed my fences and trashed the gutters on my house last April. That led to months of upheaval, but now the fences are fixed, the gutters have been replaced, the trunk of the fallen tree remains next door like a weird statue, and I have a bigger chunk of sky to look at.

I didn’t go to Europe or a fancy resort, but I did go to Cleveland in October to speak at the NotMom Summit. I visited San Jose seven times, and made a few jaunts to Portland. My Honda Element turned over 100,000 miles, and now it’s up to 106,000. I bought new tires, and the service light has been on since Thanksgiving.

I’m still writing most days, got a few poems and two essays published this year. I’m co-chair of the coast branch of Willamette Writers. Check us out on Facebook. I exceeded my Goodreads goal of reading 60 books, and I’m still going. You don’t know about Goodreads? Click it and get on board.

I’m still playing piano, singing and leading choirs at Sacred Heart Church in Newport and going to the song circle in Waldport on Fridays. Still playing guitar in spite of my arthritic hands.

I turned 65 in March and signed up for Medicare. I had my interview for Social Security earlier this month and will start receiving full benefits in March when I turn 66. Thank you, Uncle Sam. President Trump, keep your paws off my money and my medical insurance. I earned it.

What else? Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Walking the dog. She’s a relentless personal trainer who keeps me exercised in sun, rain and snow. I wore out another pair of shoes, and the replacements hurt, so I’m still looking for the ideal footwear for all-terrain hikes. Mowing the lawn. Feeding the pellet stove. Blogging here and at Childless by Marriage. Trying to sell my memoir, novel and a book of poems (Hey publishers, they’re really good).

I re-watched “Wild” on TV last night. Still love the Cheryl Strayed book and the movie starring Reese Witherspoon. I’m binge-watching “Grace Under Fire,” a 90s sitcom about a divorced woman with three kids and her lovable friends. They give me comfort in hard times. TV Christmases always turn out happy and loving in the end, even if everything is a mess at the beginning of the episode.

The days pass, you know? Suddenly it’s Christmas again, and I haven’t been nearly as good a friend as I should have. But I’m trying. I appreciate every one of you. I wish you a joyous Christmas or whatever you celebrate and a new year full of blessings and love.

Love,

Sue and Annie

Dear Hitchhikers, I am Not Heartless

I-5 112116CToday I am sharing with you a poem I wrote on my recent trip to California. I see hitchhikers often. I never pick them up, but I wish they could hear what I’m saying and thinking as I whiz by. Do you stop for hitchhikers? Why or why not? Please share in the comments.

DEAR HITCHHIKER

Sitting, standing, squatting
with your backpack, guitar, dog,
I see you. I want to stop.
I’m not a heartless woman.
You can’t hear what I say
as you breathe in my exhaust:

I’m on the freeway, fool,
going 70 miles per hour!
Are you nuts? I can’t stop here
with cars on every side. I’m just
trying to stay alive.
Go stand somewhere else.

Are you too lazy to stand up?
Or too worn out to even try?
I’m only going down the road.
That’s not much help to you.
Besides, my car is full of stuff,
Groceries and clothes and such.

Oh gosh, you look so tired.
And what a darling dog.
You might be fine, you play guitar.
But what if you have a knife?
Or a gun? Or drugs?
I don’t want to die today.

I know you see my big old car,
and then you see old gray-haired me.
You look on down the road.
Old ladies never stop, and yet
you’re someone’s little boy.
Perhaps someday I will.

Copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017

Old Cypress School Brings Back Memories

IMG_20171122_134613513[1]Walking the streets from my childhood home on Fenley Avenue to Cypress School is different now. I’m taller, and I’m not carrying schoolbooks. I walk alone, my best friend Sherri moved to Texas, most of the other kids on the block gone, too. New people, mostly young Silicon Valley workers, live in the homes I pass. Some of the early 1950s houses have been replaced by mini-mansions or apartments. Cars line the streets and fill the driveways.

The dozens of baby boomer kids who walked to Cypress every morning are senior citizens now. So is our school. Cypress became a senior center in the early 1980s. My late husband, Fred, helped supervise its development and oversaw the staff as a supervisor in the San Jose Recreation Department. Where once the space was full of children, now it welcomes seniors for lunches, stitchery classes, concerts, and other activities.

People rent the big multi-purpose room for private events. We had my 50th birthday party and the celebration of life for my aunt and uncle there. That room has so many memories: tumbling and trampolining, eating cafeteria spaghetti on long fold-down tables, playing a wicked stepsister in a Girl Scout production of Cinderella, singing with the school choir, sitting through assemblies and movies. I can feel the dusty green linoleum under my bare legs as we sat on the floor playing jacks or doing lessons in our skirts and saddle shoes.

IMG_20171122_134704284[1]

Much later, when it was a senior center, I sang and played guitar for the seniors. I did concerts in that room with the Valley Chorale. I played music at my birthday party, too, which was the last event my mother attended before she died of cancer.

While the multi-purpose room is still full of life, more than half the school was demolished years ago, replaced by a senior apartment complex occupied by elderly Asians. Only the front wing with the offices, kindergarten, shop and home ec classrooms remains. The other classrooms and the field where I used to run and play are long gone.

I walk to Cypress now for exercise and respite from taking care of my dad, who still lives in the house on Fenley Avenue. On this particular day, there’s a warm breeze. I hear Lee Greenwood’s “IOU” playing on someone’s stereo. I hear hammering and voices from the apartments going up across the street. An elderly Vietnamese man shuffles by as I sit on the bench outside the multipurpose room. Through the window, I see chairs lined up facing the stage. A sign proclaims “Happy Thanksgiving.”

It’s so quiet I hear the dry leaves falling from the trees. I wish I knew what kind of trees these are. Liquidamber? I know they’re not cypress. I know they weren’t here when I was a child lining up in this parking lot for red and yellow alerts in anticipation of nuclear attacks. With a yellow alert, we supposedly had time to go home. In a red alert, we were to take shelter under our desks or under a bench outside. More than half a century later, we know those moves wouldn’t have done us any good if the bomb hit, but we diligently gathered while our teachers took roll and assured us we would be all right if we followed instructions.

I attended Cypress School from first through eighth grade. A red line across the playground separated the big kids from the little ones. All those years, it was a safe place filled with children’s voices, the smells of paste and pencil lead, and sun shining through the big windows. It feels odd to be here now and realize I could walk in and sign up for senior citizen programs. No one seems to question my being here, my wrinkles and graying hair all the qualification I need.

Like my father, I feel driven to share my memories. I want to tell people: This is where we played four-square, this is where we lined up for lunch, this is where the P.E. teacher tried to teach us the foxtrot, this is where I got my first period, this is where Mr. Blackwell encouraged me to be a writer . . . I expect our longtime principal Mrs. Blyther to come out of the office. I can almost smell the spaghetti, the best I ever tasted. I expect to hear the bell ring any minute, calling me to class.

But the hammering continues. The leaves fall. The light is fading, and my father will be wondering where I am. I snap some pictures on my cell phone, and start walking home.

Text and photos copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017

 

Thanksgiving Drive Shows Us How Lucky We Are

IMG_20171123_141503571_HDR[1]If things had gone differently last summer, we might not have been eating Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s house in Cathey’s Valley, California, down the hill from Yosemite.

The massive Dewiler fire, which came roaring through so fast people barely had time to get out of the way, burned up to the back gate of Mike’s housing development. It threatened to destroy the town of Mariposa where he works and forced him and his family to evacuate for a week, not knowing if they’d have a house to return to. The food in their refrigerator rotted while they crowded into my niece’s house with the dogs and the kids. Mike stood on Hornitos Road watching firefighters set backfires and helicopters drop retardant.

For over a month, they breathed smoke. Ash covered everything inside and out. The power poles and lines burned, so they didn’t have power for another week. When the fire was completely out in October, CalFire reported that it had burned 81,826 acres, It destroyed 63 homes, 67 minor structures, and one commercial structure. Mariposa survived, as did most of Cathey’s Valley, but the fire was huge, and no one who experienced it will ever forget.

It was only one of the many wildfires that ravaged the West this year. This one reportedly started with a gunshot that probably caused a spark and set the wild grass on fire.

While Thanksgiving dinner was cooking, Mike took Dad and me for a ride to see the burned area. It took a minute to recognize the damage. Nature is already starting to repair itself with hints of green grass sprouting up everywhere. The power company has replaced the damaged poles, and road workers have rebuilt the fences along the area’s narrow hillside roads. Much of the charred wreckage has been cleared away. But the burned ground is smooth, dark, and marbled-looking, and the trunks of the oaks are charred, their remaining leaves an odd shade of orange. Some of the fence posts are black. You round a bend and see a chimney sticking up. Down the road, a new mobile home sits where a house used to be. Around the next curve, a house that was saved sits surrounded by burnt ground.

Big signs along the road thank the firefighters for their help. First responders from all over the state fought that mega-fire.

Outside the burnt area, the yellow grass grows tall enough to hide my niece’s dachshund. Cows graze as usual. Wild turkeys that escaped Thanksgiving scurry through the oaks and pines looking for food. Alpacas soak in the mild sun at the alpaca farm down the road. Life goes on there, but for many miles, it will be years before it looks or feels anywhere near normal.

We had a lot to be thankful for as we gathered around the table to eat the food prepared by my sister-in-law and my niece and watched my niece’s baby taste his first stuffing and pumpkin pie. I wonder what the folks who weren’t so lucky were doing.

The day after Thanksgiving, Mike put a new chain on his chainsaw and went out to cut brush and fallen trees. Anything that might burn near the house has to go. One hopes it will never be as bad, but in that hot, dry country, fire is as expected as the rain falling here on the Oregon coast.

Ode to My Battered Hiking Shoes

IMG_20171110_115424233[1]Every afternoon, an hour or so after the dog starts picketing my office, sighing in the doorway and nudging my hand off the computer mouse, I put on my walking shoes. It drives her crazy how long I take getting ready. I’ve got to put on the shoes and sweatshirt, find my glasses, lock the doors, get my keys, my phone, my handkerchief, two poop bags, and her leash. Hesitate. Do I have it all? Have I left something plugged in or turned on? By then, she’s howling at me and jumping up and down. I hook on her leash. She grabs it, shakes it as if to kill it, and runs to the door. Extending the anguish, I insist she sit and chill for a minute. Then . . . okay, let’s go!

We walk on paved and graveled roads and grassy trails through the woods here in South Beach. Sun, rain or snow, we go. It’s hard on the feet, hard on the shoes. I have just worn out another pair. In gratitude, I wrote this poem.

ODE TO SHOES

Drying on the hearth, these twenty-dollar

boots from Big 5 Sporting Goods

have holes among the waffle treads

that let my socks get wet.

The rubber toes are falling off.

Worn brown laces won’t stay tied.

They sacrificed themselves to guard

my tender white and helpless feet.

My puppy has her leather pads,

soft fur thick between the toes,

nails that grip the graveled earth.

Puzzled, she watches me grab my shoes

to walk through rocks and branches, mud,

newts and salamander guts

Oh, praise these battered hiking boots.

We’ve got a couple miles left.

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

Text and photos copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017