It’s all about the dog these days

IMG_20170601_163600329_HDR[1]Life these days is a dance with a pooch, le pas de chien, the “pas de dog.” My partner, Annie, 74 pounds of Lab and pit bull love, is rocking a blue inflatable collar, a back right leg shaved from her privates to her ankle, and a three-inch incision closed with 13 staples. A surgeon in Springfield, Oregon, 100 miles from here, rejiggered her leg to fix torn anterior cruciate and meniscus ligaments. Annie spent two nights in the doggy hospital while I prepared for a long spate of caregiving, stocking up on groceries, washing her blankets, and clearing my schedule for two weeks of full-time Annie.

Annie gets 12 pills a day, organized in days-of-the-week pillboxes. Getting the pills down has been a challenge. I tried pumpkin (nope), peanut butter (yes), meat loaf (God, yes) and shoving it down her throat (projectile spitting). Yesterday a friend brought two packages of pill pockets from the pet store. Remember Rollo candies? They look like that except they’re made of flavored dough into which you insert the pills. Annie loves them. Pill time is now fun time.

Ask me what’s new. It’s all about the dog. It’s all about keeping her from licking her stitches for two weeks and keeping her from running, jumping or playing for eight weeks. Because she can’t fit through the doggie door with her big collar and I don’t dare let her loose in the massive yard with its multi-level decks, it’s about taking her up and down 97th Court on a leash every few hours and letting her into the dog pen whenever I think about it. She does surprisingly well on three legs, occasionally letting the injured leg down. She never complains of pain, but she does complain about being confined. The pen is bigger than many backyards, but she keeps going to the gate and whining.

It’s about me sitting in the dog pen with her because if she can’t go out, neither can I. It’s about watching her constantly, waking up in the night and listening for her moving around, jumping up from my desk to make sure she is all right. It’s about sitting on the floor with her head in my lap, telling her what a great dog she is.

It’s all about the dog. We are on retreat together. I’m enjoying the quiet time to read, write, practice yoga, and do my chores. Annie likes that we’re together 24/7. I like that the weather has been perfect so we can sit outside. There’s nothing like spring on the Oregon coast. The sky is cobalt blue, the robins and doves are singing, the neighbor’s rooster is crowing, and the rhodies are blooming. The air feels like a warm caress.

Annie’s X-rays look very much like my Father’s broken-leg X-rays, the hardware bright white against the gray of the bones and flesh. But Annie will be walking long before Dad, who is not loving his time at the nursing home. Meanwhile, like Dad, we go from room to room, go outside to sit in the sun, take pills, eat meals, sit quietly counting the days.

This morning, when Annie woke up at 4:40 a.m., I was not ready to be awake. I gave her food and water and took her out for a piddle. Then, God forgive me, I fed her a sedative in a peanut butter pill pocket and went back to bed. When I woke up three hours later, she was sound asleep, praise God. It’s going to be a long couple of weeks.

I thank all the friends who have offered their prayers, encouragement and pill-giving advice. This is not my first time through dog knee surgery. Our old dog Sadie had surgery on both of her knees. You can read about it in Shoes Full of Sand. It was harder in some ways. We didn’t have the inflatable collar, just the plastic cone, and I didn’t get much sleep. But it was easier because I had my husband Fred to help me. Now it’s just me and the pup doing our pas de dog.

***

Amazon is currently offering my Shoes Full of Sand book at half price. Click the link and give it a read.

 

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It’s Knees to Me–Annie preps for surgery

IMG_20150902_184515698[1]I stared at the X-ray of Annie’s knee, feeling a wave of déjà vu. Only two weeks ago, I was looking at my father’s X-ray, which showed his broken leg bone and the plate installed to secure the pieces. Annie is going to have a plate, too, same shape, just smaller, to deal with her torn anterior cruciate ligament. The only difference is that she will be able to walk afterward. Also, she’ll have to wear a cone on her head to keep her from biting her stitches.

This took me back to the early 2000s when our old dog Sadie had surgeries for torn ACLs in both knees. You can read about that adventure in Shoes Full of Sand. In those days, Newport’s Dr. Jay Fineman did the surgery at his office, using sutures and the remnants of the ruptured ligaments. Things have gotten fancier now. Dr. F. has retired to other vet ventures, and his successors don’t do this surgery on big dogs like Annie, so we had to go out of town.

It was the longest drive Annie ever took, all the way to Springfield, 100 miles each way. The dog didn’t understand what was happening as I rushed around getting ready. Why was I putting her blankets in the back of the car? Why was I urging her to “go potty?” When she gathered that we were going for a ride, she got so excited she leaped into the car on her own. Torn ligament? What torn ligament? As we drove past her regular vet’s office, she started shaking, but then we passed it. Wow! Where are we going?

I drove Highway 20 to Philomath, turning off at Mary’s River Park for a rest stop. Oh boy! This is where we’re going! I wish. It’s a nice park with picnic tables, trails, the river, and a vast grassy area. Annie pulled me this way and that, so excited I hated to have to tug her back to the car after she did her business, but we had an appointment down the road.

Springfield, just east of Eugene, is the home of “The Simpsons” on TV. Nice houses, big trees, a peaceful atmosphere. Oregon Veterinary Referral Associates, the fanciest veterinary hospital I have ever seen. Exuberant Annie dragged me to the reception desk. I struggled to fill out forms, hold the dog, and answer the incessant questions of a pixy-haired child beside me who kept asking me what my dog’s name was. “Annie.” “What’s her name?” “Annie.” “What’s her name?” The girl was one of twins, about four years old with matching haircuts and matching dresses. Each had a small stuffed dog that Annie found very interesting. Their mother and grandmother waited with them. I suppose their real dog was inside.

Annie had to greet every human and animal that came in. When a small snub-nosed critter that was all head and minimal body entered, my sweet dog went all Cujo, knocking over my water and scaring the kids. Luckily, the nurse called us in about then, taking us the long way around to avoid the other dog.

In an exam room with a black rug over a white linoleum floor and bench seats all around, Annie raced toward the counter, sure there must be dog treats there. Not at this place. They keep them in a drawer. On with the exam. Pulse, temperature, feel her up. Check the X-rays. Annie was so active that I hoped for a minute that this doctor, a gorgeous woman I’ll call Dr. C., might say she didn’t need surgery. No such luck. She brought out the visual aids, including a fake leg bone that Annie was dying to chew on and pictures to show exactly what would be done. After the surgery, Annie will be able to walk right away, although I’ll have to keep her from running or jumping. In eight weeks, she should be fully healed. (If only this vet was taking care of my dad’s leg. We don’t know when or if he’ll be able to walk again. For at least the next month, he’s been stuck in his wheelchair in the nursing home.)

The doctor went out, and her blue-scrubs-clad assistant April came in to schedule the surgery, give me instructions, and go over the estimated costs. Oh my gosh. Big numbers. Did I look a little pale? Annie wasn’t worried. She lay on the rug, facing the counter, waiting for cookies and for a chance to get out of there.

Finally, my purse stuffed with papers, my head stuffed with information, we pushed out into the sun and took a walk around downtown Springfield. What a great place. Of course I was looking at the buildings, and Annie was sniffing the bushes. Maybe we should move here, I said. I say that about every town I like.

Then it was back on the road. One hour 55 minutes, no stops. I encouraged Annie to relax on her blankets in the back, but no, she had to see what was going on and she wanted to be close enough to touch me. The seat belt alarm kept going off as she perched on the passenger seat. Toward the end, she looked a little queasy.

When we get home, she will sleep, I thought. Ha. I accidentally left the screen door unlatched while I was unloading the car. Suddenly a tan dog-shaped bullet came flying by me. Annie, free at last, zoomed across the street, where she ran and played with Harley, the giant yellow Lab. Then she plunged into the trees and shrubs of the undeveloped property next door. I could hear her rustling around in leaves. Oh well. The doc said she couldn’t tear her ligament any more than it was already torn.

Eventually she worked herself into a dead end. I opened the newly repaired gate on the west side of our property and she walked in. She collapsed on the love seat. I collapsed beside her. Soon she was dreaming, her feet moving, her lips puffing in and out. I pet her knobby knee and leaned my head on her flank.

Knees again.

Robo-Guy Just Doesn’t Understand Me

I’m writing this while listening to “on hold” music that sounds like the record is stuck and somebody needs to move the needle. I try not to do non-writing business during my writing time, but if I wait until later to call my insurance company, I’ll lose my courage, so now, while we have sun and hail happening at the same time (craziest winter ever), I dial the 800 number and encounter Robo-Guy.

Now, Robo-Guy and I have a problem. He does not understand what I’m saying. I think I’m speaking English. I’m enunciating as hard as I can. And yet he doesn’t seem to get me. He keeps spitting out a list of choices, none of which apply to my situation. Specifically, I’m turning 65 on Thursday, I have gotten a pile of stuff in the mail from Medicare and Blue Shield and I don’t understand how the two insurances interact. Do I have a Blue Shield “supplement plan” plus Medicare or what? This is not on Robo-Guy’s list, the same list I saw online before I decided I would have to use the telephone.

Every time I start to mutter to myself, he stops and restarts his list. I must be silent unless I can say something that’s on the list. BUT IT’S NOT ON THE LIST.

I take a chance. I say “Medicare supplement.”

“Did you say benefits?”

“No.”

“My mistake.” He repeats the list.

I repeat “medicare supplement.”

He says, “Did you say benefits?”

Head slap. “Yes.” I’ll say anything that gets me to a human being.

So I get one. I immediately forget his name. Dennis? We’ll call him Dennis. I give could-be-Dennis my information. He puts me on hold. The line goes silent. Am I still connected? Oh! There he is. My plan does not show me having Part D. Part D? But he’s not the right guy, which I knew because I picked a “wrong” choice to get to a human. Would I like to be connected to the other guy? Yes.

Commence the loud hold music. I start to scribble because I am unable to sit and do nothing and the music cannot be listened to. Why is loud annoying music considered better than silence?

Oh! Dennis. He’s still working on it. Hold on.

Why not give us news, information, quizzes, gossip, the Beatles, anything but this noise? How about, this is brilliant, how about employing professional “hold chatters,” friendly people who will talk to you while you’re on hold. You could talk about anything: work, kids, recipes, the weather, frustration with your in-laws. Kind of like therapy. I think it’s a great idea, as long as they’re live people.

Hey! Dennis has delivered me to Erica, who actually makes jokes. She’s going to check which is my primary and which is my secondary insurance. She giggles. “Who’s on first, who’s on second?” She actually remembers the old comedy routine. I love Erica.

Now I’m back on hold. The music didn’t miss a beat. For anyone calling government, insurance or financial institutions, always use the bathroom first and come supplied with coffee, tea, or whiskey and something to do because it’s going to take a while.

Erica is back. I’m listed as a “PPO retiree.” Okay. Blue Shield is still my primary insurance and Medicare is secondary. Is that what it’s supposed to be? Shouldn’t it be flip-flopped with Medicare primary? Somebody who is older than me and understands this stuff, please explain in plain English?

Erica offers to transfer me to another person. I can’t take anymore. “Not today,” I say. I may be over-insured, but going into my birthday, at least I am covered. I am double-blessed with insurance from my late husband and from Uncle Sam. I know a lot of people struggle to have any kind of insurance at all. I am lucky to have had Blue Shield all these years via Fred. On my own, I’d be at the mercy of the Affordable Care Act, which our president wants to abolish.

I’m still thinking about Robo-Guy. Oddly, I feel guilty, like I screwed up our conversation. He wasn’t even real, but he sounded so real, so anxious to please yet so perplexed by what I was saying.

So, tell me about your Robo-Guy experiences. Does he have trouble understanding you, too?

***

I wasn’t going to write about my upcoming birthday anymore. So I’m turning 65. Get over it, right? Right. But let me close with two important reminders about the upcoming anniversary of my birth (Thursday, Thursday, Thursday).

1) Some of my local area friends are joining me for lunch at The Chalet in Newport on Thursday at noon. Contact me if you want to come, too, so we can get a big enough table. No presents or even cards are necessary. I’m still thinking I will end the day at The Drift Inn in Yachats, where the music begins at 6 p.m. Let me know if you want to join me there, too. In between, I might go for a long hike if the weather is decent. If not, maybe I’ll do a little antiquing.

2) The Great $6.50 Birthday Book Clearance Sale will continue through the month of March. You can buy copies of Shoes Full of Sand, Freelancing for Newspapers, Childless by Marriage and the original edition of Azorean Dreams for only $6.50 each, including shipping. That’s less than half price. The next two customers will also get a free copy of my limited edition chapbook The Dog Ate It, my gift to you. Do not go to Amazon for this sale. This is strictly between you and me and Paypal.

 

 

 

 

No, these aren’t Christmas trees

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I squinted to read the orange sign up ahead as Annie dragged me up 98th Street. Even with glasses, I can’t always make out the letters. Logging? Wait. Logging?

The road splits by the big house with the twin Blue Heeler dogs who always howl when we pass. The upper road, 98th Court, is graveled and wild. The lower road, dark and tree-shaded, is mostly paved. After a short straight stretch, it makes a 180-degree turn at the blue house where Annie and her siblings were born.

Up ahead, I saw massive trucks and bulldozers. I saw men with hardhats. I saw that the trees enclosed in that big curve in the road were gone or lying in the bushes waiting to be moved onto log trucks and taken away. Jagged stumps remained, some of them several feet in diameter. It smelled like Christmas. The road was several inches deep in mud and sawdust. In shock, I pulled out my phone and took pictures. I asked a flagger stopping traffic what was going on. Something about the airport approach was the most he could say. We live a half mile south of the Newport Municipal Airport. Apparently the trees were in the way.

Tree-lover that I am, I tried to wrap my head around the fact that we grow all kinds of plants and harvest them. Why not trees? These trees are spruce, hemlock and red alder. We cut down evergreens for Christmas trees, put them up in our houses, cover them with decorations and throw them out two weeks later. How is this any worse? People clear space in the forest to build their houses, their cities, and their airports. And yet, this felt so vicious, so lacking in respect for trees that had been in this forest much longer than we have.

Beyond the work site, the forest remains untouched, dark, cool and green. We walked a ways and gazed across Thiel Creek. So beautiful.

It was getting late, and Annie was starting to limp again. This year, she has begun battling dysplasia and arthritis. Her spirit is willing, but her hips disagree.

I saw a tall, slim woman coming toward us. A new neighbor who lives on 98th Street, she was coming to see the trees, too. She was nearly in tears. It’s like killing animals, she said. Trees are sentient beings. She told me about a meeting happening Monday at 1 p.m. at the airport. I said I’d be there.

We gathered around a table in the upstairs meeting room at the airport, neighbors who knew each other and neighbors who were meeting for the first time. We ranged in age from 60s to 90s. Emotions ran high, as they will when one’s property is threatened. I felt for Melissa Roman, the public works official trying to explain the situation. People got red-faced, standing and yelling. Their voices shook with barely contained tears. How could you do this? You’re ruining our neighborhood! How come nobody warned us? It’s all about money, isn’t it?

The poor woman was just trying to do her job. When you mix cities and nature, there’s always a conflict, she said, exhibiting great patience when I would have been in tears. She’s doing her best.

Here’s the deal. One of the airport’s two runways has been remodeled and the navigation system upgraded. Although earlier environmental studies didn’t show a problem, when planes actually got ready to start flying off that runway, the trees on the 3.14-acre section around which 98th Street curved blocked the navigation equipment. That land is private property, owned by a local developer. The city negotiated a plan in which Integrated Resource Management—foresters, not loggers, she stressed–would cut down the trees. Once the logging is finished, they will cover the remaining slash with plastic until spring, then burn it. After allowing time for the land to recover, they will plant new trees. They will also repair the road where their trucks have damaged it.

For those who mourn the death of the trees, at least they are going to a good cause. At the last minute, arrangements were made to send the logs to the Siletz River for a salmon habitat restoration project. Much better than the wood chipper.

I can live with all of this, but my house doesn’t overlook the destruction, nor do I have to drive through the trucks and mud every day to get to work. Plus, well, if you buy a house near an airport, you have to expect to make some concessions. This isn’t half as bad as what I have seen in San Jose and other big cities where entire neighborhoods were leveled.

However, just when people were starting to calm down, Roman dropped a bomb. In the years since the airport was built in 1944, our few blocks of houses have been exempted from the requirements of the “Maintenance Protection Zone” in which we sit. Not anymore. Within the next year, the city will be asking us for easements on our property to cut down trees that rise higher than they should be in the airport area. Although most of us live on county land, because the airport is in the city of Newport, they have power over the situation.

Ooh, that made people mad.

As long as I live on my land, nobody’s cutting down my trees, said one resident.

I’ve been taking care of those trees for over 40 years, said the very old man beside me.

Me, I thought, well my trees need some thinning out, and if the city will pay for it . . . What can I say? I love my trees, but I also worry about them falling on my house.

Throughout the two-hour meeting, I took notes because that’s what I always did as a reporter. I also tried to steer the conversation away from attacks on Roman, who was doing her best. I can see both sides. We need the airport; we love our trees. It’s a bitch being the person from city hall that everybody hates. The old trees were beautiful. The new trees will be, too.

About 10 years ago, I interviewed the previous airport manager for an article for Oregon Business Magazine. He talked about plans to cut down trees. I was shocked. I asked questions, I did research, and I mourned the passing of the forest. Back then, trees were cut, but they grew back, and these will, too. Meanwhile, Santa will find it much easier to get to our chimneys on Saturday night.

Merry Christmas, my friends!

P.S. You can read about the airport-forest situation in the last chapter of my book Shoes Full of Sand. The ebook is only $2.99, and the paperback is also reasonably priced.

P.P.S. This is my first attempt at a slide show here on WordPress. Let me know how it works for you.

 

 

Despite Death, Halloween Goes On

Today in honor of Halloween, I’m sharing an excerpt from my book Shoes Full of Sand. Only five days before the holiday, my father-in-law, Al, had died suddenly of a stroke. But my mother-in-law, Helen insisted we carry on with Halloween as usual. Almost two decades later, Helen and my husband Fred are gone, but the memory remains. Here’s how it went:

helen-and-al-lick
Helen and Al Lick

Halloween found us at Helen’s front door, watching as my sister-in-law Harriet handed out candy, making a fuss over each child and each costume. She crouched down, creating a physical barrier so our dog Sadie couldn’t get out. Fred stood watching from between the stuffed monkeys his mother had placed in the window. His brother Condé sat in a chair in the corner, brooding and drinking. I moved between the door and the kitchen, where I was cooking chicken for dinner. Helen sat in the back room, watching “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” on TV. During the commercials, she came out, squeaking with laryngitis, laughing at the kids.

Every year, the police blocked off the neighborhood east of the Fred Meyer store for Halloween. Hundreds of children came through. Although her husband had just died, Helen didn’t want her house to be dark on Halloween. So we carved pumpkins, helped decorate the house and gathered in the living room to hand out candy.

About 7 o’clock, Janet from my church showed up at the door with her daughter Heather.

“Janet!” I called over Harriet’s head.

She looked confused. She had heard that my father-in-law had died, but we lived on the other end of town. She had no idea that my mother-in-law lived on Crestview or that we would be celebrating Halloween. Now she didn’t know what to say. “Um, Shirley told me what happened,” she said.

“I know. Hi, Heather.” The shy three-year-old clung to her mother’s pants. Just the Sunday before, we had had lunch together after church with Shirley and Georgia, all complaining about our aging parents. At the time, my in-laws needed a little help, but they were in comparatively good shape. Now the cloud of death hung over the house in spite of the Halloween decorations.

More kids were coming up the driveway, so Janet went on down the street. I felt guilty. Guilty for making her think of death in the midst of trick-or-treating, guilty for not mourning quietly instead of celebrating Halloween.

A teenage girl came to the door when Helen was nearby. “Didn’t you and your husband just move in?” she asked.

Helen nodded but didn’t elaborate. They had only lived there for two months.

Sometimes I missed the old-fashioned mourning customs. I didn’t know what was appropriate. Should I dress normally in my usual reds and pinks or wear dark colors to church? Should I play the piano or be silent? Dared I laugh? I longed for the comforts of everyday life, but was I dishonoring my dead father-in-law if I watched my favorite TV show and enjoyed it? If I went out to lunch with my friends as usual? If I talked about what happened and didn’t cry?

The stages of grief are muddled. On that first day, we wept and then we went numb. I felt neither hunger nor the need to use the restroom. I know only that when a masseuse came through the hospital cafeteria offering massages, I kept thinking, no, I don’t want anyone to touch me. A human touch might have broken through the wall I had built around my feelings.

Helen accepted a massage. “Ah, that feels so good,” she said as the woman kneaded her neck and shoulders. With her husband dying upstairs, was this wrong? Would saying no to the massage have changed that sad fact?

We held no funeral or memorial service for Al. His body was cremated, the ashes destined to be placed at the Newport cemetery. Instead of a service, Helen held an open house, but only a handful of people came. My in-laws hadn’t lived in Newport long enough to meet anyone except their landlord, Al’s doctor and a few of my church friends.

But on Halloween, hundreds of children came to the door, with no idea that there was anything different at this house where grownups stood in the doorway passing out candy than at any other house on the block.

Somebody egged our car outside the folks’ house that night, probably the teens that Helen had turned away at the door after she ran out of candy. We had left the car window open, and egg was dripping down the back of the seat. Sadie jumped in and licked it up. Dogs and teens figured it was just an ordinary night.

For the rest of the world, it was.

Al would have gotten a kick out of the little kids in their costumes. He might even have chuckled at the teenagers and their eggs, remembering his own youthful adventures. He loved life and wanted more of it. Our best tribute would be to enjoy our own lives, every single day of them.

I hope Janet understood that we weren’t being crass on Halloween. We who are still alive have to take the comforts that life gives. Sometimes those comforts include a cherry Tootsie Pop and a six-year-old girl in an angel dress yelling “Trick or Treat!” at the front door.

Copyright 2011 Sue Fagalde Lick

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Twenty Years in Paradise

Annie at South Beach 22315C

We are gathered here today to ponder me being in Oregon for 20 years.

On July 26, 1996, Fred and I left our home in San Jose, California to start a new life in Oregon. He drove a Ryder rental truck, and I followed in the Honda with the dog, my guitars and my Chatty Cathy doll in the back seat. We had no idea what we were getting into.

I had never lived more than an hour away from my family. I had never lived in a small town. I had never lived where it rains 80 inches a year. If we had not moved, I would never have known that the whole world is not like San Jose. Attention suburbanites: There’s a whole other world out there.

For years, we had vacationed on the Oregon Coast and batted around the idea of moving here. After Fred retired from the city and his youngest son graduated from high school, it seemed like we were free to go.

It happened so quickly we didn’t have time for second thoughts until it was too late. Our house sold in five days. We’d expected it to take months. Suddenly we were quitting our jobs, packing and saying goodbye. If I had to do it again, I probably wouldn’t. Certainly if I had known everything that would happen—my mother’s death, Fred’s long illness and death, me ending up alone—I would have stayed on Safari Drive amid the smog, gangs and traffic roaring right behind us on Santa Teresa Boulevard.

I loved my newspaper job and our house. I loved the music groups I belonged to and the church where I played guitar every Sunday. I had finished my term as president at California Writers and had just been elected vice president of the Santa Clara County chapter of the National League of American Pen Women. Life was pretty good. But the money we made at our various jobs wasn’t enough and the Oregon coast called to us. Up here, we could live by the beach in a more affordable house. I could write and play music. Fred could volunteer at the aquarium. As for the rain, we’d buy raincoats.

So, 20 years. Nearly one-third of my life. If we divide it up, the first third was growing up, the second being a young professional, and the third starting over in Oregon.

Let me toss out a few more numbers:

We lived in Lincoln City one year, Newport one year, and South Beach 18 years. I have been walking dogs along Thiel Creek for 18 years. Six days a week, 1.5 miles a day, times 18 years=2,496 walks and 3,744 miles or all the way across the U.S. and partway back. Add the miles we walked in Newport and Lincoln City, and we’re at least back to Utah.

I have made approximately 50 trips back to San Jose, mostly by car. At 1,400 miles a trip, say 45 trips, that’s 63,000 miles and about 90 overnight stays at the Best Western Miner’s Inn in Yreka, California. I should get a gold plaque or something.

I was 44 when we arrived. Fred was 59, younger than I am now. Later this year, I have to sign up for Medicare. What???

Oregon has given me a lot. Six published books. My MFA degree in creative writing. Twenty years as a church musician. I get to spend my days writing and playing music, which has always been my dream. I have a house with a large, private yard only a block and a half from the Pacific Ocean. I can go to the beach or walk in the woods whenever I want. The air is clean, the traffic is minimal, and the temperature rarely gets over 70 degrees. Of course, we don’t have a shopping mall, serious medical issues require a trip to Corvallis or Portland, and full-time jobs are hard to find, but there’s online shopping, I don’t mind a trip to the valley, and I don’t need a full-time job. I’m already working full-time at work that I love. In other words, we got what we came for.

A week ago Sunday, I attended a concert at Newport’s Performing Arts Center. Walking through the lobby, I kept running into friends from music, writing and church. Lots of smiles, lots of hugs. We knew just about everybody on stage as well as in the seats. I have spent many hours in that auditorium, in the audience and on the stage. I felt this huge sense of belonging as my friend Pat and I settled into our seats. I would not get that kind of feeling in San Jose in a massive venue where everyone was strangers.

Fred and I lived together here for almost 13 years. He spent two years in nursing homes and died five years ago. He absolutely loved Oregon, never had a moment of regret. Over the years, we have lost many family members, including my mother, both of Fred’s parents, Aunt Edna, cousin Jerry, cousin Candi, cousin Dale, Cousin Irene, Uncle Bob, and more. We have also welcomed Candace, Courtney, Riley, Peyton, Keira, Clarabelinda, Kai and Kaleo, Eddie and Wyatt, and more. The cycle of life includes our four-legged loved ones. We lost our dog Sadie in 2007. We gained Chico and Annie in 2009, then I lost Chico in 2010.

My dad, now 94, has survived heart surgery, a broken wrist and a broken hip. My biggest regret of this Oregon journey is not being close to him all the time instead of just a few days or weeks when I visit. When he complains about crime, traffic and heat in San Jose, I encourage him to join me up here, but he is firmly rooted in the city where he was born.

Over the years, I have thought about going home. I miss my family. I get tired of the endless cold, gray winter days. Why am I in this big house alone now that Fred is gone? Most widows seem to move close to their families, usually their children.

But I stay. Why? The opportunities for connections with writers and musicians are huge here. I am allowed to play, sing and lead the choir every week at church even though I have no music degree and I am not a concert pianist. Yes, there are more opportunities in big cities, but you’re one of a crowd.

I might have better luck finding a new man (do I want one?) somewhere else, but when I sit writing on my deck with the dog sleeping at my side, warm sun on my face and a light breeze tousling my hair, I don’t want to leave. It’s peaceful here.

Lots of other people have moved to the Oregon coast since Fred and I came. I’m an old-timer now. California retirees are still falling in love with the place and moving in. But we are unlikely to see our population grow to the point that it’s a problem. Our weather is too challenging, and there’s no easy way to get to the rest of the world–tough roads, minimal bus service, no plane or train service. Also, jobs and housing are scarce. Good. Keeps the riff-raff out.

I like this place where I know lots of people, where the rain has dirt to sink into, where strangers wave at me and Annie as they drive by in their pickup trucks, where I hear the ocean at night instead of freeway noise and sirens, where I can slip away to the beach in five minutes if I feel like it or doze on my loveseat with the dog sleeping beside me. Driving over the Yaquina Bridge into Newport, I look down at the blue waters of the bay, the white boats bobbing there, and the green hills around it and am still awed by how beautiful it is.

On our anniversaries, Fred and I used to ask each other if we were willing to stay together another year. We’d click our wine glasses and pledge not just a year, but forever. It’s time to ask myself that about Oregon and this house. I can’t pledge forever or even a year. Things happen. But for now, I’m staying. It’s home.

***

You can read the story of our journey to Oregon and what followed in my book Shoes Full of Sand. Follow this blog to continue the story.

Unleashed 19 Years and Counting

Nineteen years ago, Fred and I moved from San Jose, California to the Oregon Coast. Literally driving off into the sunset, we caravaned north with a rented truck carrying most of our possessions and a Honda Accord carrying me, the dog and my instruments. We had some problems along the way. You can read about it in Shoes Full of Sand. (Only $2.99 for the Kindle version.)

I have been here almost a third of my life. When we arrived, I was only 44, had all black hair and no arthritis. Fred was a youthful 59, and our dog Sadie was only a year old, full of energy.

So much has changed over the years. Fred and Sadie are gone. It’s just me and a dog named Annie, who is already 7 ½ years old. Both of Fred’s parents and my mother have died. So have both my uncles and all of the older generation of my family, except my father, who by some miracle is still going on his own in San Jose at age 93. My brother, who started as a recreation leader the kids called Mr. Mike, became a lawyer and then a judge in Mariposa County Superior Court. His kids are adults now.

I have often thought about going back to California. If I were on my own that first winter, I would have. The rain and wind never stopped. I was cold, miserable and homesick. But Fred loved it here, and we stayed. Now, in this unusually dry summer, I crave the rain. When the temperature gets over 65 degrees, it’s too hot for me. But when it’s in the low 60s, I lie out on the deck and soak in the sun. Come December, the days will be short and sunshine will be only a memory.

Much has happened since we sold our house in San Jose and moved to Oregon. In the U.S., we’ve gone from President Clinton to Bush to Obama. The attacks on 9/11 made terrorism a household word and led to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as undeclared conflicts in other parts of the Middle East. We started a new century. The Internet took over our lives. We got e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. We bought Kindles, Smart phones and iPads. TV screens became flat and wall-sized. Gluten-free became a thing. Saying “a thing” became a thing.

Back in San Jose, the population zoomed to over a million people, crime soared, and traffic became an impenetrable wall. The house where I grew up, a three bedroom, one-bath house with no dishwasher, no central heating and no WiFi, is valued at more than $700,000. Studio apartments there cost more than my mortgage here. Santa Clara Valley became “Silicon Valley.” It’s too crowded, and more people keep coming.

I have kept busy over the years: Five books, an MFA, transitioning from writing articles for newspapers and magazines to writing essays, poems and blogs, something no one had dreamed of in 1996. A job playing, singing and leading church choirs. More new friends than I can count, friends who feel like family. I co-founded the coast branch of Willamette Writers and am now president of Writers on the Edge.

Did it turn out the way we planned? Not all of it. I wanted to write, play music and walk on the beach. We wanted to live in a small town with no crowds where people get to know each other. We got all that. I am blessed. But I never expected to do it alone. With Fred gone, maybe I should have gone home. But to what? To who? The Oregon coast is my home now.

What will happen in the next 19 years? I don’t know. I don’t think I want to know. Today the trees are standing tall, there’s blue in the sky, I have a meat loaf sandwich waiting for lunch, and Annie’s asleep on the couch. Later today, I’m going to jam with other musicians, and later still, I’ll watch the finale of the Bachelorette. Will she choose Nick or Shawn?

What were you doing 19 years ago? Where did you live? What has changed for you since then? Please share in the comments.