My Carr Fire Story #sometimesiwonder#aboutmyself


Sometimes I wonder about myself. And it’s usually after a strange dream. Take this morning. Before I woke up for the final time (if you’re over 50 or a genetic worrier, you will know what that means), I had a dream that I was at an air B&B with people I was supposed to know including a daughter and her friend. It was a weird place and we were all concerned about keeping it clean. At one point I did washing that included a bright red child’s jacket with fake fur around the hood with a load of whites. When I was ready to dry the still white towels I opened the top loading dryer (it was a dream, people) and found that it already had a bizarre collection of wet doll clothes inside. I couldn’t just turn on the dryer because around the perimeter were tiny pairs of shoes, Barbie Doll size but not heels—more like sensible shoes—loafers, sneakers, flats. I spent a lot of time trying to get the shoes out and keep them paired. It was absurdly difficult and I kept having to start over. Scenes of frustration are common in my dreams. Like my actual life doesn’t provide enough frustration, right?

Later in the dream someone mentioned Jimi Pegg and my mother appeared out of nowhere saying, “ What is it with that guy? You’ve always been obsessed with him.” It was nice to see my mother again, she looked good. Mom went on to say something about not giving Jimi my address. I was stunned. “You mean he came looking for me?” “Twice,” my mom said. I don’t remember anymore of the dream. That was the climax of the action, so to speak.

I wish I could say that Jimi Pegg was the one who got away, but a guy I dated for maybe 3 months in the fall of my sophomore year hardly qualifies. Still the hearts wants what …. etcetera. Mike, my husband who makes frequent appearances in my writing, occasionally mentions Karen Frank, the girl he walked home from school, carrying her books, for all of 8th grade. The next year she was dating seniors and Mike never did get that kiss for hauling her books. Do all of us have that pivotal person who inexplicably plays a large and recurring role in our memories? Because, I have to confess, that Jimi Pegg is no walk-on or cameo. He appears in my memories without warning or invitation and I have to think that’s significant or symbolic or something else profound.

I’m pretty sure that this dream was inspired by the Carr Fire that recently swept through the forest and homes where I live, taking with it our complacency and leaving us in gasping horror. If this seems like a stretch, it’s because you don’t know what it’s like to have your home threatened, to know that people, including children, have died, and to realize that the natural beauty you’ve taken for granted will never come back in your lifetime. Never.

Everyone in my town has a Carr Fire story and over 1000 of them end with “we lost everything.” Across the street a family of five is renting a home after losing theirs. last week the mom came over to borrow a safety pin because that’s how fundamental the loss is. Yes, they have clothes and some furniture and a house to rent but who thinks about buying a safety pin when you head to Target, again, for school supplies, dishes and condiments? After she left I tried to imagine only having time to grab your dog before shuttling your family to safety. I couldn’t do it and my home was directly in the path of the fire.

So here’s my Carr fire story. Mike and I were camping in Oregon when a forest fire turned into an inferno, decimating whole communities in minutes and moving relentlessly toward west Redding where we live. Friends took important papers, photos, mementos from our home to their living room to safety. When Sally called me that Thursday morning to ask if I wanted her to do this, I couldn’t think what to tell her to take. I couldn’t think but luckily she could. “What about those plates your mom gave you?” Ultimately Sally and Alex left with a truck and a car filled with evidence of our lives. Because that’s what photos are, right? They provide proof that your 6’4 lanky son was once a chubby infant, an intrepid toddler, a soccer playing teenager. Not that you would forget these things but you could never hold those albums or sift through the loose pictures in a shoebox again. To a person, everyone who lost everything is grateful to have survived and to have what’s important, their families. And people like me, who can’t drive into or out of our neighborhoods without seeing what their neighbors lost, feel an uneasy combination of gratitude and dread. I wonder if others walk around their houses looking at the things they left behind, aghast at what was forgotten. I know many of us have fire escape plans now. For awhile I thought I would find and purchase old suitcases and fill them with irreplaceable items, like the picture from 1875 of Mike’s great, great, great grandparents and the school yearbooks and keepsakes from Max’s father, who died 24 years ago this month. Max was 4 when Bruce died and his memories are stored in those pictures and videos. But I’m reluctant to buy anything right now. It seems selfish and insensitive because the last thing we need is more stuff.

So what I’m doing now is preparing pre-digital pictures to be scanned and saved on a thumb drive, which I will store in the Cloud and maybe an external drive. Of course this gives me the opportunity to revisit my life starting with the tiny black and white photo of me sitting on my Grandma Krupitzer’s lap. I watch my family age; I see friends I’ve lost in a variety of ways. I put aside pictures to give friends who lost their homes. I have lots of opportunities to weep although I don’t.

Today I’m taking a break from sorting pictures to write this. So far I have 1,876 pictures in 2 boxes. I was feeling pretty good and then I found another shoebox from 1995 and a huge box where I apparently threw pictures after I used them for other projects. In that big box are pictures I pulled out of albums for a high school reunion. And you know who will probably be in some of those pictures? Jimi Pegg. Maybe then I’ll cry.

A Short, Happy Camping Story #contacthigh?#probablynot

Seems like camping brings out the writer in me. Is it because of the enforced downtime or because the great outdoors inspires reflection? Maybe I’m high, the altered state we achieved just by crossing the border into OR. Not to cast aspersions on this border town on the OR coast, but Mike and I have noticed that there may be a correlation between the impressive number of marijuana businesses and the abysmal driving of the locals. By the time the third van has drifted in front of your car and the second person has crossed the highway without regard for laws or personal safety, you have two choices: stop driving or give into a contact high. I used to hear about contact highs at concerts but I thought that was from the smoke permeating the air. With the preponderance of edibles, the drifty, spacey feeling that overtakes one can only be from proximity to high-happy citizens. Even here at an RV Park that seems to be populated exclusively by retired couples with little dogs, there is a suspiciously laid back vibe in the air.

Yesterday I was sitting innocently outside the fifth wheel, enjoying the cool air (at 66 it was 40 degrees cooler than home) while crocheting The Project that Never Ends. A 70ish man and his small white dog stopped by to tell me how much he hates his fifth wheel, Direct TV and the people who sold him his fifth wheel and overcharged him on Direct TV. I’m continually amazed at the things people tell me. I must have an interested face because I can tell you my mind isn’t interested in listening to random complaints. The man and his dog kept looking around in a way that seemed paranoid to me. Ah ha! I thought, this man is stoned. (Does anyone say stoned anymore?) He wandered off in the middle of a sentence so I may be right. Another man congratulated me on our not hitting the Cougar trailer at the end of a row when we first came into the park. His mother did not achieve this feat and after meeting her I can see why. She was entirely too happy for an 85 year old with arthritis and too many grandchildren, her words not mine. She must’ve been hitting the happy gummies—no other explanation. The couple next to us have a Pomeranian named Mr. Lippy; I know this because they wear matching t-shirts with the name Mr. Lippy emblazoned on the back. All three of them. I rest my case….

All of this makes me wonder what effect the legalization of recreational marijuana will have on the more uptight folks of the northern Sacramento Valley. Somehow I don’t see a transformation from our current citizens to a dazed and happy population, wandering aimlessly, looking for people to talk to about nothing. Nonetheless, I think this is a great improvement on previous trips to Oregon, pre-legalization. In those days no one talked to me unless they wanted to ask me to attend their church. Having written all this I have to put forth a caveat. This weird sh*t only happens to me. Mike, with his genial Irish face and open demeanor gets the normal folks. For instance, the same man who bored me senseless with his griping talked to Mike about awnings—normal stuff. Here’s a perfect example of the different experiences Mike and I have with the same people.
Several years ago, we had an inconsiderate rat dig its way into a wall in our house and then die. You can talk about snakes and spiders all you want but rats are my phobia. If I believed in previous lives I would muse that an earlier self was attacked by rats or saw a loved carried off by the vicious rodents. But I’m pretty sure this is a genetic phobia as my mother and sister share it. Back to the story. Mike hired an exterminator who was jolly and nice, assuring us that it was no problem, not a big deal, he could take care of it. He was very reassuring and said he would make sure that any other rats would be “dealt with” and that he would seal the house to prevent further vermin incursions. I started to relax and then Mike left the room. The exterminator turned to me and said, “Of course you’ll always have rats around the house living this close to the river.” Before I could vomit or faint, Mike returned with a check and it was all hail fellow well met, sunshine and lollipops. In other words it was all good…until Mike left the room again. In fact Mike left the house and the mean exterminator man told me that in Red Bluff, a city ON THE RIVER about 30 miles south of us, a woman had been trying to get rid of the rats in her house for two years. Cue creepy music and muffled screams (mine). This is the way it went though the entire process. Mike leaves the room; horrible rat tales come in. I’m not sure Mike ever believed me but it’s true and now it’s in print. After the Rat Man had exterminated our house and left a lingering smell behind, we hired a guy to seal every opening, no matter how small, on the outside of the house. Why, you ask, did every tiny hole have to be sealed? Because Rat Man told me that a rat can squirm through a hole the size of a quarter and a mouse through a dime sized opening. Of course when this little tidbit was shared Mike was not in the room.

What I’ve learned from all this is to wait for strangers to strike up a conversation with Mike before I participate. By then the people have already established themselves as non-crazy and they can’t swerve to weird just because I’m there. Unless Mike leaves, of course. Today we went to a farmers market, hiked in Jedediah Smith State Park, and enjoyed a late lunch at the Fat Irish Pub. I participated in several conversations with very nice people. Fiona, our regulation little dog was with us and she’s a great ice breaker. If you’re one of my eleven faithful readers you know all about Fiona and you know that the nice dog act can be dropped in an instant. Luckily for me, today she was sweet and Mike didn’t wander off.

My Life as an Interpreter #dontleavehomewithoutme

Have you ever seen the “Friends” episode where Rachel is a bridesmaid and walks down the aisle with the back of her dress caught in her underwear? Of course she pulls it off (not literally) and ends up singing “Copacabana” or something like that with the band.

It wasn’t like that for me.

Yesterday in the lounge of the United Club (Houston airport) a man walked up to me and turned me around and pulled a piece of toilet paper out of the waistband of my jeans. A short piece, okay? He seemed to feel an embrace was in order but I wasn’t in the mood and I wasn’t that grateful. The man looked familiar, kind of like Kris Kristofferson. If it was you, Kris, I apologize. I’m slightly too young to have been your fan but still I may have let you hug me. Or not.

The man seemed sad or wistful or something new age-ish (he may have had braids) and backed away from me with his hands in the whoa! position. I said something about needing to blow my nose, which made absolutely no sense and he kind of snorted as if to say “I know that’s not why the toilet paper was hanging out of the butt side of your jeans.”

It kind of was. I went to the bathroom for the usual reason but also to get some tissue or toilet paper for the nosebleed I could feel coming. Did I store that paper in my waistband? No, obviously. But I did connect the events and shared the information in my usual stream-of-consciousness style. All of this makes me think about how one’s communication style may lead people to stop listening.

I don’t know when I began starting conversations in the middle, as opposed to the beginning where it would make sense. I have enough friends who can pick up the conversational ball, as it were, and fill in the blanks. This is not a skill my husband shares. He often looks at me blankly and says “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Kind of unfair because I can fill in the blanks for him. In fact, when we travel, I am his unofficial interpreter. I know exactly when and where this started: Madrid 2008.

I don’t speak Spanish. I should because I was fluent from age 2-6 when we lived in Spain. For a long time I had a wish/fantasy that if I went to Spain I would understand the language—it would all come back to me. Not so; in fact 4 years of high school French (also forgotten) actually interfered with my pronunciation of similar Spanish words. I had to overcome my lack of language skills quickly because when Mike leaves the U.S. and in some cases, California, he loses about half of his ability to hear and talk.

Mike is the opposite of the Ugly American. He is culturally sensitive and never verbally demanding or deliberately confusing. This translates into a particular way of communicating in Spanish, which he studied in college and where he achieved about as much fluency as I have in French. He repeats himself. But not at the end of a thought or after a response. No, Mike chooses a word or phrase to repeat a few times when asking a question. People don’t get that.

The problem became obvious when I stood by and listened to Mike and the very nice and extremely patient concierge (Alejandro) at our little Madrid hotel try to understand each other. Mike asked about getting a massage (not from the concierge but at the spa we had passed). There was something about bringing your own towel which we were told in English, the concierge being a typically multi-lingual European. Mike asked for directions (in Spanish) but he repeated the phrase for where is (donde es) several times. Alejandro looked at Mike blankly so Mike threw in a couple more donde es’s. At this point I’d had enough and I asked Mike’s question without all of repetitions, which Alejandro understood. And so I became the interpreter. Mind you, all I did was repeat what Mike said and sometimes I didn’t even know what it meant, but it worked. Little did I know that this role would be permanent and employed by Mike even in English speaking countries.

In Mike’s defense, he doesn’t do well with accents. Early in our relationship we saw “Emma” and Mike did not find the upper class English vernacular easy to understand. After about twenty minutes of Mike asking what they said and me whispering the American English version, I looked at him and hissed, “It’s your language!” After that he didn’t ask and I took Shakespeare off the list of plays we would see together. The embargo on interpretation of people speaking English lasted until we went to Scotland.

As a devoted Anglophile I’ve always read literature and novels set in England, Ireland and Scotland so I have some familiarity with the vocabulary and slang. Probably my favorite feature of electronic readers is the way you can look up anything by holding your finger on the word. That’s how I found out what Jaffa cakes and court shoes were. Look it up. Anyway, when we landed in Edinburgh, pronounced Edinburrrrr or something like that, we headed out to the taxi queue. Our driver epitomized the laconic Scotsman and uttered a total of three words, “What’re you after?” Mike turned to me with a look I can only describe as desperate. Luckily I’ve read a lot of Denise Mina and was able to reply, with equal terseness, “the George.” And that was it: he drove us to the George Hotel and when I asked him how much he pointed to the meter. None of those unnecessary, extra words.

My interpretive skills continued to be utilized throughout Scotland and south to Bath and London. Mike was best with people who spoke English as a second language. Go figure. Maybe they spoke more slowly? I was actually okay with the interpretive role in the UK because I love Brit lit and I found out not long ago that more than half of my DNA is British and Irish. So, on a molecular level, I was connecting with my people.

If only interpreting for Mike were limited to foreign soil. There are many places in this country where folks have specific and (maybe) difficult to understand accents. Maybe. I feel if you’ve ever watched American television you’ve been exposed to southern drawls, mid-west twangs and the interesting “a’s” of New England. But, come on, people, we’ve had a president from Massachusetts and another one from Georgia, not to mention Matthew McConaughey at all times. BTW, did you know that you can identify dialect in the United States by how people pronounce their “a’s?” But I digress.

Last night we arrived in Miami and I may have been a little impatient what with the toilet paper incident and flight delays. So when the nice young man at the desk gave us information, talked about the amenities and asked a couple of questions, I didn’t help either Mike or Joel (pronounced jo-elle). Nope, I let them talk and talk and not understand each other and acted like I was in my own little world. Of course I’ve paid the price. No sooner did we close the door of our room than Mike turned to me and said, “Did you get any of that?” Sigh.

Reading for Pain

You’ve heard of reading for pleasure but how about reading for pain? From the time I could read I’ve used books to escape from emotional pain. Let me be clear that I wasn’t escaping from anything more toxic than being a middle child in suburban America during the innocent early sixties.

My mother was a great reader and gave me her old Judy Bolton mysteries to read after I’d devoured the insipid Nancy Drews and cloying Cherry Ames stories. (I’ve often wondered about the psychological impact on female America from reading about those perfect girls. Not good I’m sure.) Anyway, Judy Bolton was complicated and smart and a little bitchy but in a good way. Setting aside that I couldn’t fathom anyone getting engaged at 16 (Judy and her friends did that a lot), I loved the mysteries because they were gritty and real and consuming.

I used to say that my mother never restricted my reading choices but now I think she was too busy raising and worrying about us kids to monitor what I was reading. Like reading “The Carpetbaggers” and “Valley of the Dolls” before I’d reached puberty. Confusing to say the least but the narratives were great. Aristotle said that plot is what compels us to read, although he said it more eloquently and in Greek. Humans need to know what happens next. It’s that simple and that complicated. It’s why the worst, most puerile made for TV movie will capture us as we scroll through the channels. It’s why Mike watched the entire, saccharine “Mistletoe Inn” Hallmark movie the other night while I frosted sugar cookies and swore. I had deliberately saved a mediocre and manipulative Christmas movie to play while wrapping presents and abusing baked goods. I can’t use a good movie, say “Love Actually” or “The Bishop’s Wife,” because I get pulled into the film. The same principle applies when I save a book by a favorite author for uninterrupted enjoyment or choose a book I can stop reading when I know I’ll be busy.

Of course reading has caused me pain as well.

Recently I sprained my good ankle. Long story about the bad ankle, but this was the good ankle. I did it walking down the single step in my ranch style home. I’ve always been clumsy and add to it I bruise easily. And I’m unlucky. It takes a certain talent to injure yourself when frosting sugar cookies. Who knew that red food coloring would stain my fingers so easily? Who knew that scrubbing those fingers would tear my skin? Now I know. I blame all of this on reading because I sprained my ankle and cut my finger while listening to audio books. David Sedaris has a lot to answer for. But I digress.

I’ve never been able to control my thoughts, which are scattered in a way that is hard to describe. For instance, right now as I write this I’m calculating my time and mentally reworking the long list of pre-Christmas errands and chores. I’m not using my injured right index finger and I’m elevating my right ankle. In a few minutes I’ll dress in jeans (with pockets) so I can listen to an audio book with my currently charging phone in my pocket. Sweats (my pajamas) have no pockets— a definite oversight of the manufacturers. I’ll plug in to a Jane Austen mystery, pack up cookies to deliver and not think about the things I don’t want to think about. See? Easy.

I won’t think about having a lot to do and not enough time. I won’t castigate myself for hurting my ankle and being so far behind on preparations for two consecutive dinner parties. I won’t fret about the weird mini seizure my beloved Fiona had a few weeks ago. I won’t feel guilty about not sending biscotti to various friends and family members. I’ll shove down the constant, inchoate fear about Mike and his health. Instead I’ll listen to a mystery read by a British narrator. Mysteries and British literature are my favorite and Jane Austen is my favorite writer (I’m not a crier but I wept when I was in Bath at the Jane Austen museum.) So this book, set in the early 1800s with Jane Austen as the main character is me pulling out the big guns. It takes this to quell my worries, shut down my mind for a few minutes, and get me through the Christmas season.

Why does everything seem worse this time of year? Is it because it’s the end of a year of natural and unnatural disasters that I hope never to repeat? Or maybe the overlay of memories of childhood anticipation and pure joy dull adult experience. Objectively I can say this has been a tough year: international threats and national scandals, a nightmare medical diagnosis for a relative, the death of a beloved student, infernos, wind, floods, and he who must not be named but always is. I grow weary of tweets and insincere outrage. So tired of thinking and worrying. So I read.

It’s my drug; I admit it. With the advent of electronic readers I am never without a fix. In line at the pharmacy? Listen again to ”Holiday on Ice”—hysterical. I don’t care if people eye me nervously when I laugh out loud at (apparently) nothing. On a boring freeway? “Britt Marie Was Here” makes those miles enjoyable. Waiting for the love of your life to return from another medical procedure? Well, it takes a really good writer for that: Elizabeth George, Ann Patchett or Ian McKuen.

Another benefit of this particular addiction is that reading in public discourages people from engaging you in conversation. If you listen to a book while simultaneously knitting or playing solitaire on your device, you can be almost completely impervious to the real world. I recommend it.

Aging Ungracefully–Again

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Apologies (again) to those of you who have already read this.  My connection to Facebook appears to be working again, and since my newsfeed is crammed with so-called anti-aging tips, I really wanted to get this on FB, where sometimes people share it. 😬

 

For Baby Boomers aging has become a process of lowering our standards for physical beauty. The great thing is, because we need reading glasses, we no longer see well enough to judge imperfections like scary neck or terminal crows feet. Personally, I like to choose one sign of aging to obsess about: in my case it’s the lines from the corners of my lips to the end of my face that make me look like an Eastern mystic–unless I’m smiling. This keeps me from other realizations, like scary, baggy eyes, and also allows me to contemplate solutions. I could have a synthetic filler shot into my face (maybe) or I can just smile incessantly. Lately my friends have been talking about the lifestyle lift and a couple of women I know have had one. My husband has exes and relatives who’ve had life style lifts and if he offers to pay for one for me one more time, I’ll have to schedule mine while I’m out on bail.

Not that I wouldn’t have one if it didn’t mean I couldn’t move my head or talk for a week. The women I know who have had one look great and in the case of my sister-in-law, who is two months older than I am, the result is amazing. Even though she looks 20 years younger, I still like her. And she has a lot going for her genetically. She’s a petite vegan who doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol, has never had children, and takes excellent care of herself. Well, if that’s all you have to do to look 42 instead of 62, I guess I need a time machine and different parents.

On the other hand, I was recently in a Houston airport and had the opportunity to see a group of women returning to Texas from Southern California. All of them sported the wind tunnel mouths that announce a recent and serious facelift. They had high, high cheekbones, eyebrows expressing permanent surprise, and pointy little chins. Still they looked happy or maybe it was just the upward stretch of their mouths.

There are so many things you promise yourself when you’re young and foolish. “I’ll never pressure my children, camp in an RV, dye my hair, buy a station wagon (an SUV by another name).” You tell yourself that you will age gracefully–ha! Do I have to confess that I drove my SUV to the dermatologist to “get work done?” And how can I claim to be sporting 100% original equipment when I have fake nails and tattooed eyebrows? I resisted the eyebrow tattoos until the morning I noticed the middle section of my left eyebrow was gone. Gone. I’ve also surrendered to the magic, retinol based potions that will firm, brighten, and tighten my skin. Since all beauty regimens are designed to be done before bed, I often skip mine in favor of binge watching Netflix or an Amazon series. And then I’m too tired to be beautiful.

I could give you a list of women who swore they would never have plastic surgery who have yielded to the collective desire to look good. Of course what looking good means is subjective. I obsess about certain lines on my face while someone else may focus on her neck or good old mid-drift bulge. I just don’t look lower than my face. And let me say this phenomenon is not limited to women. Oh no, men are also riding the youth train.

One thing I’ve noticed is that friends who are 10-15 younger than I are already investing in Botox. This would seem absurd except that my dermatologist told me that women should start Botox in their 40’s, fillers in their 50’s, and have lifts in their 60’s. Maybe they just take us out and shoot us when we hit 70.

All of this makes me realize it’s probably too late for me to artificially turn back time. Probably. Still the next time you see me I hope you’ll notice my extra long eyelashes and perpetual smile.

Aging Ungracefully #whendidigetsoold?

Apologies to my wordpress readers; I’m going to repost this since it didn’t connect with FB and that’s where my other 8 readers are. 😏

For Baby Boomers aging has become a process of lowering our standards for physical beauty. The great thing is, because we need reading glasses, we no longer see well enough to judge imperfections like scary neck or terminal crows feet. Personally, I like to choose one sign of aging to obsess about: in my case it’s the lines from the corners of my lips to the end of my face that make me look like an Eastern mystic–unless I’m smiling. This keeps me from other realizations, like scary, baggy eyes, and also allows me to contemplate solutions. I could have a synthetic filler shot into my face (maybe) or I can just smile incessantly. Lately my friends have been talking about the lifestyle lift and a couple of women I know have had one. My husband has exes and relatives who’ve had life style lifts and if he offers to pay for one for me one more time, I’ll have to schedule mine while I’m out on bail.

Not that I wouldn’t have one if it didn’t mean I couldn’t move my head or talk for a week. The women I know who have had one look great and in the case of my sister-in-law, who is two months older than I am, the result is amazing. Even though she looks 20 years younger, I still like her. And she has a lot going for her genetically. She’s a petite vegan who doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol, has never had children, and takes excellent care of herself. Well, if that’s all you have to do to look 42 instead of 62, I guess I need a time machine and different parents.

On the other hand, I was recently in a Houston airport and had the opportunity to see a group of women returning to Texas from Southern California. All of them sported the wind tunnel mouths that announce a recent and serious facelift. They had high, high cheekbones, eyebrows expressing permanent surprise, and pointy little chins. Still they looked happy or maybe it was just the upward stretch of their mouths.

There are so many things you promise yourself when you’re young and foolish. “I’ll never pressure my children, camp in an RV, dye my hair, buy a station wagon (an SUV by another name).” You tell yourself that you will age gracefully–ha! Do I have to confess that I drove my SUV to the dermatologist to “get work done?” And how can I claim to be sporting 100% original equipment when I have fake nails and tattooed eyebrows? I resisted the eyebrow tattoos until the morning I noticed the middle section of my left eyebrow was gone. Gone. I’ve also surrendered to the magic, retinol based potions that will firm, brighten, and tighten my skin. Since all beauty regimens are designed to be done before bed, I often skip mine in favor of binge watching Netflix or an Amazon series. And then I’m too tired to be beautiful.

I could give you a list of women who swore they would never have plastic surgery who have yielded to the collective desire to look good. Of course what looking good means is subjective. I obsess about certain lines on my face while someone else may focus on her neck or good old mid-drift bulge. I just don’t look lower than my face. And let me say this phenomenon is not limited to women. Oh no, men are also riding the youth train.

One thing I’ve noticed is that friends who are 10-15 younger than I are already investing in Botox. This would seem absurd except that my dermatologist told me that women should start Botox in their 40’s, fillers in their 50’s, and have lifts in their 60’s. Maybe they just take us out and shoot us when we hit 70.

All of this makes me realize it’s probably too late for me to artificially turn back time. Probably. Still the next time you see me I hope you’ll notice my extra long eyelashes and perpetual smile.

Dog and the City

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As part of our odyssey in San Francisco, the little dog has had to adjust to life in the big city. This means expanding her willingness to pee on basically any outdoor surface. SF is a dog friendly city and it’s rare to walk anywhere without encountering canine friends. Fiona is not really a dog person. When our grand-dog Hudson is around she favors me with pained looks that clearly ask who let the dog in. On SF sidewalks she approaches other dogs with deceptive shyness, ducking her head and wagging her tail, but she doesn’t mean it. If another dog invades her space she growls in a way that sounds really mean and a little crazy. Most of the dogs we encounter look surprised, and dismiss Fiona with an expression of tolerance. Unless the other dog is small. Then it’s a case of diva meets diva and the metaphorical gloves are off the paws. After mutual mean girl growling and obligatory butt sniffing, the dogs back off, nod austerely and go their separate ways, confident each has cowed the other.

None of this acknowledges the stress that changing residences has on Fiona. Or me for that matter. For instance, grocery shopping is even less fun than usual. There’s nothing like driving around for 20+ minutes, finally finding a parking space, and then enduring the visual onslaught of shopping at Whole Foods. Somehow we left that fancy store without the bone-in, skin-on chicken I needed for a recipe or the saffron which came with an easy payment plan. Whole foods don’t carry no high fat, low class chicken, no indeed. This experience and the resulting cost at check out- $45 for half a pound of Spanish cheese, La Croix sparking water, a dozen tulips (only $6) and some olive bar olives– was not as traumatizing a the trip to the Safeway close to where Mike gets treatment. I’ve never been in a grocery store where the toothpaste and q-tips are under lock and key and require concierge-clerk services to access. We got out of there pretty quick and, as usual, without everything we needed. We had better luck at Trader Joe’s where parking was relatively easy and the presence of familiar items was soothing. The embargo on chicken with bones and skin continued but the saffron was affordable.

Basically every expedition that involves our car is stressful. And that brings me to parking in the underground garage at the flat we are renting for two months. This gorgeous three story Victorian was a single family home at the turn of the 20th century. Now it’s three spacious condominiums in a lovely, quiet and very clean street in lower Pacific Heights. Pacific Heights proper is for the uber rich baby boomers like Diane Feinstein and Nancy Pilosi and (in the past) romance writer Danielle Steele. I imagine our place once housed a wealthy businessman, his wife, seven children, four servants (cook, maid, nanny, and valet), and a poor relation or two who helped with the children. The area under street level probably initially held a carriage with horses stabled nearby. Whatever the original intent for the space was, it was never intended to house three vehicles. The first weekend I stayed here, Mike was in Redding so I rented Enterprise’s smallest compact (a Corolla) and wished a smart car or a meter made cart had been available. With a pounding heart I pulled in, next to the ubiquitous gray Prius ( they are literally everywhere) belonging to the second floor couple. Getting out involved moving the mirror on the neighbor’s car and edging out, pulling up (don’t hit the bike in front of you), turning the wheel slightly (don’t scrape the shelf of paint cans) and jockeying back and forth until finally behind the Mercedes owned by the couple on the top floor. Then all I had to do is back straight out. And not scrape the wall (so pull in both mirrors) or hit the bush just outside the garage or gun the engine too much to get up to street level and shoot across the sidewalk into the street. Every time I see someone backing out of a garage in SF I watch. All of them are narrow, dark, and scary and I see lots of people edging out as I do. The truly brave or crazy back into their garages. Insane.

So all of this shows me that contrary to my fantasy of myself as natural born city dweller, I’m truly a suburbanite. I guess playing in the dirt with the Spanish kids in Zaragoza when I was five didn’t really make me a savvy urbanite. Still, for years, this fantasy of being someone whose ideal milieu was the big city has persisted. And I admit I love mornings like this where I walk the Little Girl to the patisserie and leave her tied up outside while I purchase scones and croissants. Fiona, however, doesn’t enjoy waiting for me and seemed pretty anxious by the time the three people in front of me spent an inordinate amount of time deciding which pastry to buy. “That one, no the one to the right, I mean left,” etc. For a city nationally ranked 7th for worst (impatient speeders) drivers, there are certain rites where lallygagging is expected. This is a town where everyone is a gourmand so all food-based decisions are approached with solemnity and caution. It is not unusual to hear a server breaking down a dish into each ingredient and then assuring the patron that yes, the sauce can come on the side, the pasta will most certainly be al dente, and no meat product will come within hailing distance of the quinoa. In other words, everybody is Meg Ryan.

Nowadays, Fiona and I walk Mike to a UCSF facility 6 blocks away and watch him board the shuttle for Mission Bay where he will receive radiation therapy. The little dog does not like this and stands on her hind legs, straining to see Mike as he disappears. Fiona also doesn’t care for the wind, but she’s adjusting. We all are. And in a few more weeks this medical odyssey will be behind Mike and we can go home where the little dog can access her safe place under the bed.

No More Hardwood Floors #prettysurethisisdogabuse#saveme

 

I recently read, well listened to, a young adult novel that was kind of a mystery, kind of a coming out story and totally unbelievable. The 15 year old narrator had the vocabulary of an Austen scholar and the insight of a licensed therapist. Somehow the first person narrator was also omniscient and able to divine the thoughts of everyone around him and reveal them through dialogue. So I wondered if I could peek into Fiona’s mind and give voice to her thoughts as we once again move her to a totally different environment. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t understand that Mike’s treatment for prostate cancer at UCSF is why we temporarily live in a lovely Victorian flat in Pacific Heights.

Mike and I “moved” in last week and then he went home to Redding to sit on a scholarship committee and pick up the little dog. So on Sunday they arrived after what must’ve been a 5 hour journey with many potty stops and breaks for refreshment (coffee and dog treats). Fiona loves riding in the car and slides into a Zen state where the journey, not the destination, is the purpose. So she often arrives looking dazed. This time, as she gazed down the long hall, she also looked irritated.

Planting herself on one of the runners, Fiona made her displeasure known. And here is where the reason she blatantly prefers Mike becomes clear. I walked her, okay pulled her, down the hall still on her leash past the gorgeous living room and into our bedroom where I had thoughtfully placed her favorite blanket on the bed. She glared at me. Then I placed her on the end of another runner, went into the family room and called her from about 6 feet away (she could see me). Her frown deepened and her glare intensified. I cajoled, offering high value treats. Her upper lip curled. At this point Mike appeared and picked her up and carried her around showing her the amenities.

“See, Fiona, there’s a little back yard where you can be outside.” No response. “Your bed is here and we brought your favorite toys.” Please. ” How about a piece of cheese?” Now we’re talking.

Cheese is her favorite food and being carried around like a princess is acceptable. That of course accounts for her smug expression and her clear message to me: I win.

Pouting, whining and sulking commenced but eventually I got over it and started devising methods to help Fiona overcome her distaste for hardwood floors. When her transport (Mike) is out, she has to walk on her own. Her always suspicious Yorkie eyes narrow and she refuses to look at me when we pass. She has been known to sit by the front door for more than an hour waiting for someone she can manipulate. That someone being my softie husband. Most of the time he succumbs to her pathetic “I am a friendless and destitute dog being left behind with a madwoman” look and takes her with him.

But I have my ways. If I act like she’s invisible, Fiona will make her presence felt. The desirable method is sitting on or beside me and acting like a cute little dog. Unacceptable methods include moaning by the door and barking incessantly at a perceived problem. Sometimes she takes exception to something out of place like a grocery bag that shouldn’t, in her opinion, be on the counter. Barking and whining interspersed with meaningful looks and licking of lips indicate she is hungry. Sneaking down the hall and hanging silently around the front door is a sign she needs a potty break. Go figure. While these may not be deliberate choices designed to drive me crazy I have my doubts. But we are both adjusting to the change in our circumstances, some of us more gracefully than others….

Da Blues #abriefinterludeforself-pity


Everything should be upbeat. We have the great flat in San Francisco–Pacific Heights for goodness sakes. We have the great physician at UCSF–he told us himself that his team is the best in the world. Everything at home is handled: mail, paper, plants, and upkeep (gardening, cleaning). Mike’s daughter is thrilled we will be in the city for two months. Max is planning to visit. It’s all good. Really.

And then: the reality of driving to yesterday UCSF for Mike’s radiation. The unease of living in a stranger’s home. Knowing that for the first time my damn peonies are producing flowers and I’m missing it. Wishing none of this was happening and knowing how fortunate we are to access these wonders—world class medical treatment, the support of family and friends, and the delights and distractions of my favorite city.

Sometimes I need to hunker down (briefly) in misery, to eat licorice and drink wine, preferably in bed. It’s not a wonderful combination but I will say that Chardonnay holds up best with soft, black licorice. Sometimes I need to read chick lit and not make dinner. Sometimes Mike and I need to wander around Noe Valley without purpose or plan, come back to the demanding little dog, and take naps, all three of us.

Tomorrow I will make Fiona walk a few miles even if it’s rainy or cold. I will cook tasty, nutritious meals. I will wash my hair and I will not make Mike watch The Voice with me.