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.


Bad back: rest, ice, yoga, beans?







NO chiropractor.




Lie on a bag of beans.


Everybody’s got advice for the person with the hurting back. That last suggestion came from my dad, who said Grandpa believed in the bean cure. Well, at least that wouldn’t give me indigestion, I responded. Anyway, I don’t have a bag of beans.

Back issues run in the family. My parents went to a chiropractor named Dr. Roy. I think he was about a hundred years old by the time he retired, and God knows what methods he used back in the olden days. I was in my 20s the first time my back went out. It happened after I lifted an enormous amplifier out of the back of my VW bug. I began a long acquaintance with Dr. Birdsong.

The last week has been a real bag of beans, thanks to my wonky back going full-out ballistic. I’m writing this standing, with my laptop on a file cabinet. Wait, my legs are tired. Now I’m sitting on a stool. Soon, I’ll be lying down. On my back. On my side. On the other side. There is no perfect position. Finishing this, I’ll be back at my desk, feeling my thighs go numb. And yes, this is an ergonomic chair! Back to Dr. Schones in two hours.

What did you do, everybody asks. I don’t know. Dr. S. says I waited too long to come in for an adjustment, making me ripe for this grand subluxation (where the bones shift out of alignment). I do know that most days the week before, I sat scrunched up at my desk for hours, fascinated by the project I was working on. Come the weekend, I cleaned house on Saturday and went on a yard-work binge on Sunday. Mowed, trimmed, cut, raked, swept, watered. I was so proud of myself. Monday morning I could not move.

In the worst of it, I had a hard time standing, especially from a sitting position. Ask my dog. I hollered every time at the red-hot pain of trying to unlock the muscles and bones that kept me from straightening up. Suddenly all those sit-coms where a character suddenly can’t move were not the least bit funny. I tried going sideways. I tried coming up from my knees. I tried sliding from a high seat to my feet.

Watching me get dressed would make a fun video. I sympathized with my dad, who had me putting on his socks and shoes after his hip replacement and who still can’t bend all the way down. A week earlier, I was doing yoga, but now I could not bend down or lift my feet up. I considered going barefoot, opted for flip-flops. These are the times that make living alone a challenge. If only Fred were still here to help me with my shoes, lift me up when I needed to stand, and say, “Oh, Babe,” when the pain brought tears to my eyes.

I canceled most activities. I watched far too much of the political conventions and the incessant TV conversations about Trump vs. Clinton. I read, I wrote, and I snuggled with my dog. I penned poems about the fragility of the human body. I prayed for healing.

I am healing. I have been going to the chiropractor. I have been icing my back. I have been trying to keep moving so that I don’t freeze up. It still hurts.I worry that it will never be right again, but Dr. S. assures me I just need to get everything in alignment and let the muscles and tendons get stronger. After today’s adjustment, I’ll feel the raw pain again, I’m sure. But every time I can freely move from sitting to standing, I celebrate. I have been through this before, and I’m sure it will happen again. It’s in the genes. Grandpa lay on beans. Dad went to Dr. Roy. My favorite thing is to lie on my back on the deck with my legs right-angled over the hot tub cover. Takes the pressure off my back. But it’s hard to type that way.

Have you heard the warnings about sitting too long? Google it, and scare yourself. We are a sedentary culture. We don’t move enough, and we pay for it. I see far too many young people limping along with hurting backs. Writers and other computer workers try various options. Standing desks. Kneeling desks. Treadmill desks. Timers to make them get up at regular intervals. Perching on an exercise ball. I love to write and revise. I love getting so involved I forget about time. But my body is paying for it.

Annie is enjoying my lazy life. Wherever I settle, she collapses next to me. It’s very comforting. Until she pretzels herself and licks her bottom. Nothing wrong with her back. She only sits when she wants me to give her food. And she nags me when it’s time for a walk. Dogs are definitely smarter than we are.

If you’re sitting right now, get up and be grateful that you can. If you can’t, I sympathize. I’ll share my hot tub with you.

Just hold the beans.


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.


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.