Sheltering in Place Has Its Blessings

My house is not a bad place to be “social distancing.” It’s not like I’m stuck in a bomb shelter, a cave, or a jail cell. It’s a nice place with everything I need. Not only do I have food, shelter, and bathrooms with plenty of toilet paper and fancy soaps, but I have my dog, my musical instruments, my office, my WiFi, two TVs, a hot tub, and hiking trails galore.

I have paid lots of money to go write in places that weren’t half as comfortable. This is a great retreat house; it just needs a name. Alder Grove? Tall Spruce? Bear Haven? Robin’s Rest? Help me out here. Suggestions welcome.

Unlike some folks, I’m social distancing all the time. COVID-19 hasn’t changed that. Lacking husband, children, or nearby family, I am usually alone here. Except for my dog Annie, of course. She’s swell company, but her vocabulary is limited. So I’m kind of used to it. Also, I’m not bored. I have more to do than ever.

Most days, I still keep to my writing schedule, working till about 3:00, then going for a walk with Annie. Then a little more work, a little music, maybe some chores, dinner, and TV. Same old, same old. Except that I can’t go out to lunch, swim at the rec center, attend Mass with my friends, or hang out at the library. I can go to the grocery store, but it feels like walking into a war zone. Will I survive? We’ll see whether I get sick in the next two weeks.

I’ll be honest. Some days, I get depressed. I start to lose hope that this will ever end, that I will ever be with people, that anything I do is worth the effort. I worry that I’ll get sick and have no one to help me. But I come out of it after a few hours, look around and realize how blessed I am. Look at all the fun new things I get to do. For example:

  •  I can attend Mass online not only at my own church but at churches everywhere, even the Vatican.
  •  I can attend writing events online that would have been too far away to drive to and give myself a manicure while I’m listening to the speakers.
  •  I can watch concerts by my favorite artists performing from their living rooms. Have you discovered Facebook “watch parties?” OMG, there’s an endless supply.
  •  I can wear those clothes I wouldn’t dare wear in public.
  •  I have a good excuse to let my hair grow out.
  •  I can talk to friends on the phone for an hour at a time because none of us have anyplace to go.
  •  I can feel superior to those whining about being alone and say, “welcome to my life.”

I’m trying new stuff online, just like everybody else is. See me reading poems on Facebook and Instagram. I’ll be offering a song soon. I might try a video. And you can see me doing music at the St. Anthony’s video Masses for the last three weeks at Stanthonywaldport.org.

I know how lucky I am.

  • On the radio this morning, a pregnant woman talked about her fears of delivering at a hospital during this time of COVID-19. Will she be able to have anyone with her, even her husband? Will she or her baby catch the virus in a hospital full of people sick with it?
  • Friends with families in nursing homes are worried sick about them catching the virus. I am relieved that my father passed away before all this started. I can’t imagine how awful it would be for him with no visitors and no chance to come out of his room.
  • It has to be terrible for people who can’t visit their children or grandchildren or aging parents.
  • Those who work in “essential” jobs, especially healthcare, are in danger every day.
  • Those who have lost their income all of a sudden are rightly terrified about what’s going to happen.

God help them all. Let’s all pray for each other.

It’s just me and Annie here, and we’re okay so far.

Meanwhile, let’s all go to our rooms and play with our toys until the doctors say we can come out. Although we won’t gather for church on Easter, that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and come out of the tomb. We’ll get out, too, one of these days.

What are the good parts of this situation for you? Have you discovered some new ways of entertaining yourself? Please share.

 

Amid virus fears, we find new ways to reach out

St. Anthony faces

I lay in bed this morning long after I should have gotten up, listening to the news on NPR. Coronavirus, coronavirus, coronavirus. People dying, economy crashing, not enough medical equipment . . . Yikes. This morning, my Yahoo news feed led with “worldwide death toll more than 15,000. Dear God.

Yet I look out my office window and see the same trees and the same sky I see every day. I see my tulips and daffodils blooming in a riot of red, yellow and peach. I see a family of robins pecking at the lawn, which has grown lush and mossy from winter rain. Inside, it’s quiet except for the hum of the gas fireplace pouring out orange heat. My dog Annie dozes on the love seat. I’m not quite dressed yet, but there’s nothing unusual about that either. I have all day, no appointments, nowhere I have to go. If I stayed disconnected from the media, I would not know this was anything but another beautiful Oregon coast spring.

We have not been hit as hard here as other places, not yet. As of this morning, Monday, March 23, we have 161 known cases of the virus and five deaths in Oregon. But everyone knows these numbers are going to go up, way up. No one has tested positive here in Lincoln County, but very few people have been tested at all.

To the dismay of those Oregon coast folks trying so hard to stay apart from others, tourists, mostly young people, have come to the beach in droves, seemingly ignoring all the pleas to stay home and “shelter in place.” Some of the beaches up north have blocked access. Gov. Kate Brown is expected to close all the state parks today, on the premise that if they have nowhere to go, the visitors will go home. But that means we who live here can’t go to the parks either, and that hurts.

While I’m somewhat used to being alone, many are having a hard time with the isolation. My friend Bill is one of countless numbers who live in an assisted living facility, nursing home, etc. The residents are confined to their rooms. They are not allowed to go out, and visitors can’t come in. Their meals are left outside their doors. Sounds like prison to me. And yet, because they are the most likely to die if they get this virus, what choice is there?

Many folks who are not used to staying home are already experiencing cabin fever. I’ve got to admit I’m better equipped for this than my friends and relatives who are always on the go. Most days, I’m here by myself anyway. I’m just sticking to my routine—write until about 3:00, walk the dog, do chores, play music, watch TV. Same old, same old, except I can’t go out to lunch, and God knows I do love to go out to lunch.

Last week, I wrote this cheery post about surviving at home alone. Well, proving I’m human, that night I was singing a different tune when I got word that all of the Catholic churches in western Oregon were closed. No more Masses, potlucks, meetings, or Stations of the Cross. We wouldn’t even celebrate Easter together. I cried like somebody had died and then posted on Facebook about how lonely and miserable I was. My church was not only my spiritual home but my main social outlet.

But there’s good news in all of this. In response to my Facebook post, friends called and texted, and we connected more than we ever had before. Paying it back, I have been phone-visiting people, especially people I know are home alone, and we have had great talks. I’m experiencing more human connection than usual. I wish this virus had never happened, but I do see some good things coming out of it. I urge you to reach out by phone, email, letter, Facebook or whatever.

As for church, Fr. Joseph Hoang, our pastor at St. Anthony’s in Waldport decided he would videotape weekly Masses. Three of us did music for the first one. “Red” was altar server while his mom “Ice” operated the camera. We taped photos of the parishioners on the pews so we all felt less alone and Fr. Joseph had someone to preach to. I think we all got nervous with the camera on us, but it was wonderful.

Yesterday, I found countless church services online. I could “go to church” all day long. As it was, I attended two Catholic Masses and dropped in for parts of Lutheran and Baptist services. As the Internet keeps going, the possibilities for new types of connection are unlimited. What a gift. Back in the flu epidemic a hundred years ago, people were truly isolated. No TV, no Internet. Many didn’t have telephones yet. At best, they could write a letter or a send a telegram.

I worry about the same things as everyone else. How long will this go on? Will we not be able to get food and other necessities? Will people turn on each other? Will we break the Internet with everyone trying to work and go to school online? How many businesses will fold, and how many people will lose everything? More important, how many people will get sick and how many will die? Will it hit my loved ones? Will there not be enough doctors and nurses to help them? Will I get it?

Just a few weeks ago, we were living normal lives, and the news was all about Democrats and Republicans. My advice from last week stands. Turn off the TV, radio and Internet as much as you can. Connect with each other as much as possible. Get outside in nature. Find a project to pass the time. Pray. It will be over someday. Only God knows when, but it will.

How are you doing in this crazy time? Feel free to share in the comments.

 

 

 

Don’t Interrupt; I’m Talking to Myself

I talk to myself. All the time. Sometimes I direct my words to Annie the dog, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit she’s not paying attention. She tunes in for certain key words—eat, cookie, walk, snuggle, beach. The rest is just bla bla bla, a continuous hum like the refrigerator. If she needs to pay attention, she’ll hear one of those special words or detect the jingle of her leash. Besides, she’s busy listening for cats, squirrels, bears and other invaders.

So, I talk to myself. People always say it’s okay as long as you don’t answer yourself. Well, I do answer myself. Right? Right.

I live alone. Maybe that’s part of it. In public, I usually keep my mouth shut. But sometimes, I forget, which causes people to stare at me.

What do I talk about? Everything. Why did my French toast turn out so badly Saturday night? Should have used better bread. What am I going to wear to church this morning? I don’t know. Black pants? Probably.

It’s a constant running commentary. Am I really addressing it to myself though? I wonder about this, just like when I write in my journal and wonder who I’m writing it for? Am I writing to myself? To God? To an invisible confidante?

I do talk to God sometimes. I pray, I chat. But it’s different. I stop and call His name and say what I’ve got to say, then return to regular programming.

I also talk a lot to people who aren’t actually here. Uh-oh, you’re thinking, she’s completely lost it. No, no. I think I’m okay, but I tell people things I wish I could tell them in person if they were here, if they would listen, or if I had the courage.

I’m a writer. I write down my thoughts all the time. I usually speak them as I write, which is a good reason not to write at Starbucks or the library. I’m just constantly verbalizing. Is this nuts? Or is this a good way to work things out in my head?

I found some discussion of the matter online.

  • In this NBC news report, the experts insist talking to oneself is not only normal but good for us—if we do it correctly. Who knew there was a right and a wrong way to talk to oneself?
  • “Talking to Yourself: A Sign of Sanity” by Linda Sapadin, Ph.D., says much the same. Talk to yourself, but watch what you say.
  • And this Lifehack piece insists that those of us who blab to ourselves are smarter and better off for doing it. Ha.
  • But this article on WikiHow gives instructions on how to stop talking to yourself. Now, that’s crazy.

Let’s get back to Annie for a minute. Do you think she talks to herself? Sometimes in the backyard, she barks and barks. I assume she’s either warning off marauding squirrels or trying to connect with the other dogs in the neighborhood, but what if she’s just talking to herself? Or barking because she likes the sound of her own voice? Annie, who are you talking to?

Right now, I’m talking to you, dear reader. Do you talk to yourself? Is it really yourself you’re addressing or someone else? Who? Or should it be whom? Either way, do you think this is a problem? Please comment.

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

Dad update: Thank you all for your continuing concern about my father. He has made it through a whole week at the skilled nursing facility without a trip to the hospital. Fingers crossed. I’m back in Oregon and he’s still in the Bay Area, so our only contact is by phone—which kills me—but he sounds better than he has in ages. He still can’t get out of bed on his own, but he’s feeling better, which is something. He could use more visitors. Email or send me a private message on Facebook for details on where he is.

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?

Rest.

Ice.

Heat.

Yoga.

Rest.

Chiropractor.

NO chiropractor.

Drugs.

Walk.

Rest.

Lie on a bag of beans.

What?

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.