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

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Playing the Funeral Circuit

Why is it that as soon as I sink into a hot bubble bath I get ideas? But for you, I got out, tracked water and bubbles all over my carpet and passed by my window naked—hi neighbor!—to get this down because God forbid I relax when there’s an idea buzzing around my head. Here goes.

Most of you know I’m a musician. I sing, play piano and guitar and write the occasional song. I have played here, there and everywhere, but these days, in addition to playing the Masses at Sacred Heart Church, I play the funeral circuit. Most of your major showbiz performers play clubs, fairs and concerts, but funerals? Not so much. Me, I check the obits as soon as the newspaper arrives so I can plan my life.

I always hope nobody I know has died. Beyond that, I hope nobody Catholic has died. Lots of people in our rural coastal community are not having services these days. It’s expensive, their families live elsewhere, and who needs all that commotion? Many others opt for non-church functions, such as potlucks, barbecues and other gatherings at local lodges, restaurants, or people’s homes. I have played for funerals/celebrations of life at community centers and funeral homes, for the religious and the nonreligious, but with my music minister job, most of my funerals are Catholic. I always feel relieved when I read that the Baptists, Presbyterians or Lutherans are taking care of things.

I  usually have only a few days to plan, especially if there’s going to be a body in a casket instead of ashes in an urn. We start with a phone call. I’m always nervous about talking to the recently bereaved. I’m afraid they’re going to fall apart, but most of the time they’re calm and just want to take care of things.

Ideally, they either have a list of songs they have picked out from the church hymnal or they let me pick the songs. We have a pretty standard list to work with. Frequently, they want the dreaded “Ave Maria.” It’s a gorgeous song. I want it at my funeral, too, but it’s a bear to play, so I never suggest it. I cannot sing it and play it at the same time, and I have been saddled with soloists who come in at the last minute. It’s not always pretty. I still feel bad about the guy whom I assured I would lower the pitch and I forgot. That poor fellow was hurting trying to get those high notes out.

Sometimes they want a choir, sometimes just me singing, sometimes no singing at all. Whatever. I’m easy. Although the next time somebody wants me to play “Wagon Wheels” on my guitar at a funeral, I think I’ll decline. Or “You’ll Never Know.” Scratch that one, too.

I just did a funeral in Waldport at a tiny church that is not my own with a priest whose ways I did not know. The people planning it picked songs out of the air that I was sure the priest would veto. Nope. This priest is easy-going. I hit musicnotes.com, downloaded the songs and was half-way to learning them when the person arranging the funeral changed the song list. Yikes. “Wind Beneath My Wings” in church? Really? Okay. First time in history the bread and wine were consecrated to a Bette Midler hit.

Like mortuary workers, you have to have a funeral wardrobe to play the funeral circuit. Black is still the standard. I own a lot of black slacks, skirts, shirts, jackets and sweaters. In other performing situations, you go for the bling, but not at funerals. No sequins, red scarves, or sassy hats. The folks in the pews may wear anything from jeans to black cocktail dresses, but my job is to be invisible.

In a standard Catholic funeral Mass, I play about 12 pieces of music, including four or five full-length songs and various Mass parts such as the psalm, gospel acclamation, and Holy, Holy. Before the Mass, I play instrumentals for about 15 minutes, all songs designed to console the bereaved. Then the Mass starts with its usual sitting standing kneeling sitting kneeling bowing sign of the cross aerobics while the non-Catholics sit looking confused.

Funerals are naturally emotional. People may be crying, sobbing, fighting to hold back tears, or grabbing for the Kleenex box in the front row. More often than you might expect, they are calm, especially if the person who died was old and had been sick for a long time. The worst funeral I ever played was for a 21-year-old man who died of a brain tumor. His hysterical fiancée had to be taken outside, and the front rows were filled with sobbing young men. I struggled to keep my eyes on the sheet music and think about anything but death.

There’s usually at least one baby ratcheting from giggles to tears and back to giggles or a toddler running up and down the aisles. That’s okay. It helps us all know that life goes on. And yes, somebody’s cell phone inevitably goes off during the service.

Family members giving the eulogies nearly always choke up, which causes the rest of us to do likewise. I get teary, too, missing the person who died if I knew him or thinking about my own loved ones who have died or may die soon. I also get the willies when there’s a casket, usually placed very close to the piano. I start picturing the body inside.

When my husband died (five years ago this month), I sat in the front row while my choir and his friends from the barbershop chorus sang. I was dying to jump up and join the music, but my dad was next to me giving me the sit-and-be-quiet look. I would much rather be the musician than the bereaved. I don’t want a front row seat for that show.

The funeral circuit isn’t so bad. My name is on the program, I get paid, and sometimes at the reception afterward, I get cake. But if you’ve got a gig where I don’t have to wear black, I’m available.