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.

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Would you cross America by covered wagon today?

Longtime journalist Rinker Buck, suffering from a late-middle age slump, got a wild idea. He would travel the Oregon trail the way the pioneers did in the 1800s.


Longtime journalist Rinker Buck, suffering from a late-middle age slump, got a wild idea. He would travel The Oregon Trail the way the pioneers did in the 1800s. He would outfit an authentic covered wagon, hitch up a team of mules and traverse the country, starting at St. Joseph Missouri, traveling through Nebraska, Wyoming and Idaho and ending in Oregon. This being the 21st century, he would have to figure out how to deal with the freeways, shopping centers and homes that had been built over the old wagon ruts, but he was determined to do it. The result is Buck’s new book, The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, published this year by Simon and Schuster.

Rinker Buck had planned to go alone, but when he asked his brother Nick for help getting ready, Nick insisted on going, too, and bringing his little dog Olive Oyl.” Both men were dogged by demons from their past and sought the “Oregon Trail Cure.” The result is a tale that’s a blend of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. It’s funny, poignant and suspenseful. The Bucks have their share of mishaps, along with a big dollop of luck, and I find myself riding with them all the way, falling in love with the men, the mules and Olive Oyl.

Of course in modern times when a covered wagon shows up on the road, people lean out of their minivans to take pictures with their smart phones, but there are still long passages of pastures, mountains and deserts with no one around for miles. Their days on the trail fill the brothers with a joy I can feel right through the pages.

Buck writes in an easy-reading style that carries the reader along. When justified, he lets the f-bombs fly. When they screw up, he says, “I really screwed the poodle this time.“ But he also describes the scenery in lines that sound like poetry. Throughout the book, he includes information about all aspects of the pioneer journey. We learn about mules, wagons, the people who died on the trail, and the entrepreneurs who gathered at the “jumping off” places to sell the travelers all kinds of necessities and junk for the journey. We learn about the Indians and the Mormons and the big role they played on the trail.

They had their share of adventures, but of course the Bucks’ trip in 2011 wasn’t as rugged as it might have been back in 1850. They had planned ahead and had contacts waiting for them. They had transcontinental communication as long as they could charge their cell phones. Trail enthusiasts rushed to help them, feed them and honor them as celebrities. They were unlikely to catch cholera or smallpox. There were no Indians. But there were still long sections with dust, mud, broken wheels, no cell phone reception, no water and nothing but Hormel chili to eat. They could have called it off at any time, but they didn’t.

Most of my ancestors came from Europe. They either came directly to California by boat, took the train across, or traveled up from Mexico with horses and wagons when the Spanish ruled the land. There’s one branch of the family that might have crossed the country by wagon, but I haven’t found any information on that yet. Me, I’d never have made it out of Missouri. As soon as they told me I’d couldn’t take all my stuff and couldn’t have iced tea with my lunch, or maybe not even have lunch, well, I’d be going home. I like my creature comforts.

My husband, our dog Sadie and I did our own migration from California to Oregon, detailed in my book Shoes Full of Sand. We did it in a Ryder Truck. On a freeway. But there were breakdowns, hunger, heat, and desperation. For all three days. And sometimes all we had to eat were donuts. I retrace that trail several times a year in my Honda, and I keep meeting new Oregonians who have followed the same path, perhaps completing the migration that began long ago when their ancestors moved to California. We’re all pioneers in our own way.

Read this book. It’s great.

This is my kind of tea party

IMG_20150131_150700963[1]An ocean of hot tea, plates of itty-bitty sandwiches, sugar cookies shaped like teapots, and sorbet eaten with doll-sized spoons, plus books–what’s not to like? Saturday I was one of the guest authors at the annual Samaritan House tea in Newport Oregon. The tea raises funds to support our local homeless shelter. The ladies who organize it go all out, and it shows. The tables and walls were decorated with books and antique tea cups. The programs, thick with ribbons and more teacup images, included recipes and bookmarks to use on our next reading adventures. The beautifully crafted treats included cucumber sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, orange lavender polenta cakes, black olive and rainbow chard bars, and little teapot figures created with green grapes and frosting.

IMG_20150131_152111126[1]Held at First Presbyterian Church, the tea sells out early every year. Middle-aged and old ladies and young moms bringing their little girls jam the fellowship hall. They doll up in flouncy dresses and big hats decorated with feathers, flowers, and lace. It’s a scene right out of Great Gatsby–if it was cast with our friends and neighbors. The atmosphere is loud, giddy with too much sugar and caffeine, and generous. In addition to the tickets, the tea-goers bid on a silent auction, buy the books and teacups decorating their tables, and donate cash to the cause.

The theme varies. This year as part of “Tea and Tomes,” six authors were invited to display and sell their books and give brief talks about their work. We shared a table and swapped stories from our publishing adventures. It was fun getting to know each other and showing off our books. Besides me, the authors included: M.C. Arvanitis, author of middle grade and young adult fiction; Patsy Brookshire, author of the novels Threads and Scandal at the Willamina Quilt Show; Deborah Lincoln, author of the historical novel Agnes Canon’s War; Deborah H. Trusty, author of The Kid from Valsetz, a biography of former Newport city manager Don Davis; and Karleene Morrow, who wrote a novel titled Destiny and How to Write a Novel. Morrow passed away recently, but her friends brought her books and told her story.

Many of the people at the tea knew me only as the girl behind the piano at  Sacred Heart Church, which was where I had to go right after the tea, to play for the 5:30 Mass. They were surprised to see how many books I have published. I had five at the table, Childless by Marriage, Shoes Full of Sand, Stories Grandma Never Told, Azorean Dreams, and Freelancing for Newspapers. Info on all of them at http://www.suelick.com/Products.html.

For those who think I’m amazingly talented, I tripped over the microphone cord after my talk. I also dropped one of my little sandwiches face down on the carpet. Nobody’s perfect.

The photo above shows me on the right and my friend Pat Stern in her fancy hat.

Have a cup of tea and read a book. It feels good.

Coming Soon

 

Sue singing

Welcome to Unleashed in Oregon. This blog has actually been going since 2007 on another site. I am planning to move it here by Jan. 5. It will be more attractive and have lots more fun features. Meanwhile, you can read the existing blog at http://unleashedinoregon.blogspot.com or my other blogs, http://www.childlessbymarriage.blogspot.com and http://writeraid.net.

What is Unleashed in Oregon? It’s the site where I let loose my creative side with stories about my travels and my life as a Silicon Valley transplant living on the Oregon Coast. My dog Annie appears often. One of these days, she’s going to just shove me aside and write it herself.

I am a writer/musician and dog-mom. My recent books include Childless by Marriage, Shoes Full of Sand, and Stories Grandma Never Told. My “day job” is working as a music minister at Sacred Heart Church in Newport, Oregon. I sing, play the piano and guitar and lead the choirs, which is a lot like herding cats. And there’s Annie, the latest in a string of big yellow dogs. You’ll love her.

There’s a lot more about me that you can find out at http://writeraid.net/about.

What will I blog about next year? I don’t know yet, but I look forward to it, and I hope you do, too. I’ll be spending the next week decorating this site with all the headers, widgets, and links it needs. I generally post on Mondays, so see you on Jan. 5.

Happy holidays!

Sue Fagalde Lick