Steel Magnolias—It’s a Classic #forsomanyreasons#getoutthekleenex

I’m a multitasker, not in the sense that I can do two things at once but in the sense that I can’t articulate  a thought without a mental interruption that I sometimes share with a confused listener.  My husband says that I start every conversation in the middle.  I won’t lie…it’s probably true and I don’t think it’s helping my communication skills.  This makes me wonder why I agreed to direct a play after a 30 year hiatus.  A successful play that became a beloved movie.  A play during the time of Covid.

I lost the Covid 19 in 2020 and have so far been able to sustain the loss (Noom if you must know).  Last week, which was about a month before the play opens, I had a donut for breakfast and a hot dog for lunch.  While meeting with my co-director (Marla Frost O’Brien) yesterday evening I popped open one of the snack attack tubes for some faux barbecue Pringles chips.  In my defense there are about 20 of the cardboard “cans” on set.  We’re covering them with stickers that replicate 1980’s AquaNet hairspray cans.  Other, younger people are peeling the stickers and placing them on the containers.  What little hand eye coordination I ever possessed deserted me years ago. 

In December when Marla proposed this co-directing project for Riverfront Playhouse, it sounded like a good idea—doable.  Marla and I have directed together before and we share a similar style.  Or we did.  Marla has maintained the ability to express a coherent thought.  I have brought my confusing, three ideas in one sentence style into the mix and it is only the talent and patience of the six actresses and Marla that have gotten us this far.

I should’ve known, right from the start, that the virus would be a factor in the production of this play. In January we had a great turnout of masked and about 60% vaccinated women at auditions.  Our six actresses perfectly represent Shasta County’s response to the pandemic.  Three are vaccinated and boosted, three are not.  The unvaxxed ladies have had the Omicron variant.  For the first 3 weeks of rehearsals we never had the full cast.  This is a vigilant group so anyone, vaxxed or not, stays home after exposure or symptoms.  Since this is the very contagious variant that many believe all of us will inevitably get, Marla and I have an extra layer of tension as opening night approaches.  

A few days ago, as I took the stage for an ailing actress (headache and aches, oh my!), I wondered if I would end up playing one of the parts and for the first time I felt real fear.  We don’t have understudies.  Think about it.  More people, more people who can get sick. Marla and I and our patient male stage manager have played every role at some point.  In my “day” I could’ve played any of the roles; today I cannot pull off three-four of them.  I don’t know if I’ll ever act again but I certainly can’t direct and act.  I’m not even sure I can memorize.  And this is a tough play for memorization.  Everyone has a lot of lines and since the play was written by a man who clearly understood the free range nature of women’s conversations, the dialogue doesn’t always follow a logical progression.  In other words, the women talk like I do.  Dear God.

Maybe you aren’t familiar with community theater and don’t understand that directing means overseeing every element of the play.  The director(s) design the set, approve and in our case, shop for, costumes and props, help with publicity, and cajole actresses into wearing wigs and/or painting their hair.  And that list doesn’t include taping the stage floor with markers for rehearsal and getting flattened by a stage wall falling on you.  Because that’s what happened to me a week ago.  I wish I could say that the “flat” (the term for stage walls) was in the old style, which consisted of muslin stretched across 1×2” frames. Nowadays the flats are constructed with a 4×8’ sheet of plywood reinforced by a 2×4” frame.  Let’s just say that when it smacked me on the head and shoulder, it got my attention.

The first thing I thought of was that it was a good thing I had a massage appointment the next day.  There were many good things, in fact.  My time in the ER was blessedly short and X-rays and a CT scan showed neither breaks or bleeds. By the next evening I was fine.  In the chaos after being “flattened” (theater humor), I was surrounded by horrified set builders and Marla.  What I noticed most was the self-induced pressure I felt to be okay.  Thirty years ago I would’ve ditched the ice pack after 20 minutes and got back to work. (I didn’t say I was any smarter 30 years ago.)  Today I have a little better understanding of the limitations of my body.  

Inevitably these reflections reminded me of how the play underscores the issues of health and happiness.

“Steel Magnolias” is the only play I would’ve come out of retirement to direct.  And the more time I spend with it, the more I appreciate the honesty in Robert Harling’s tribute to his sister and to the strength of women.  The simple language is poignant and it exposes loss in a way that makes my throat tighten and eyes sting.  I have no emotional distance from the stories of these women; every rehearsal reminds me of friends I’ve loved and friends I’ve lost.  You may have seen the movie with its powerhouse cast but any good play with the immediacy of live performances is better.  Our cast and crew are amazing.  And Riverfront Playhouse needs the community to fill the seats and bring it out of the darkness of the pandemic. Is this a not-so-subtle suggestion that you should see the play? Sure. But it’s also a play worth seeing because it’s so funny, because the talent is stunning, and because it makes me cry at every rehearsal.

The Hard Way #slowlearners#neverlearn

Be warned: this is one of those embarrassing and confessional blogs.  I tend to do things the hard way, a lifelong and inexplicable pattern.  And, for some reason, when it comes to RV travel, Mike participates in this frustrating activity. The current trip is a stunning example of how “some people” never learn.

When we bought the second fifth wheel in 2009, I was still working at a demanding job and had little interest in taking care of another thing, much less a trailer.  We didn’t use it much and I can barely remember it.  There was a fifth wheel before—a Bounder, I think—that I can’t remember at all.  Each time Mike decided to sell an RV I was thrilled.   Each time he decided we should buy another one, I was resigned.  Fast forward to 2016 when we drove our truck to Michigan to buy our third fifth wheel, a 29 foot Cougar, with (let’s be honest) some appealing features.  We arrived in Muskegon in what felt like winter to us.  It was March and the wind off the nearby lake was brutal.  Everyone, and that includes my brother, my best friend, and the people at Lakeshore RV, advised us to spend a couple of days nearby getting used to the new trailer.  That way we would have support for any problems and local experts to answer questions.  Did we listen? No.

Mike wanted to “get going” and to be honest, I was ready to leave Muskegon’s unreasonable weather.  We “got  going” in the worst windstorm since the 1890’s, and, in Ohio, hit a post that nearly took off the left side of the fifth wheel, which I had insured at 8:00 that morning. (See “Neither Wind nor Snow” for a recounting of that disaster.  It’s funny now, really.)

It’s hard to believe that two people with three degrees and ten credentials between them did not apply the hard earned knowledge of 2016 when they bought a Class B motor home in August. Once again, multiple people recommended a trial run—a couple of days at a local campground, near home, where we could learn the unique features of the “Bee” and work out any issues.  Even after our friend Bob pointed out problems with the tank valves and we had the necessary repairs done, even after that we didn’t try out the Bee before leaving.

So… it serves us slow learners right that the inevitable problems occurred when we were on the road, without resources, much less expert advice.  (At this point the expert advice might’ve been something like “ Don’t buy any more RVs.”) I should interject here, that I’m actually excited about the Bee.  By the third fifth wheel and post retirement I had started to embrace the advantages of self-contained travel. I grew quite fond of the 3rd fifth wheel, not fond enough to give it a name but fond enough to live in it for three months in 2019 when Mike had a stem cell transplant.  Still, Mike and I decided that pulling a fifth wheel was a young(er) traveler’s game and we passed on the last Cougar to Mike’s son Brian.  What excites me most about the Bee is that I can drive it.  So in an emergency I could rush Mike or Fiona to the hospital even if our Honda Fit tow car was still hitched to the Bee.  Speaking of the Fit, known to us as the Bit, it drives exactly like my old Honda Civic, purchased circa 1978.

The first disaster came on the second night, near Spokane, Washington.  It would’ve happened the first night but we dry camped at a rest area in Oregon.  Of course we arrived late and tired at the Northern Quest RV resort—a gorgeous campground.  The next day we planned an early start and a long drive to Glacier National Park—our first long stay.  So a problem with the Bee wasn’t really in our schedule.  

I usually wake up first and make coffee.  Since the journey from the “bedroom” to the “kitchen” is about two steps, it wasn’t long before I realized the rug was soaked.  Remember, we’re in the Bee and I’m not a plumber and we have a dog, so I immediately freaked out that this was some sort of black water malfunction or a lot of dog pee. In (loud) dulcet tones I informed Mike of the problem.  Further investigation revealed the liquid was water and the source seemed to be under the refrigerator. We used up our extra towels to sop up the water, threw them in the shower, and got on the road.  At the West Glacier RV Park, Mike removed the grill under the fridge, tightened up some fittings and—voila!—problem solved.

Two days later I looked in the shower where I stored my “advanced” toiletries in a small, canvas duffle bag. It was floating in about five inches of water.  No idea how long that had been going on but the the water, from whatever source, had also soaked the bathroom rug, part of the comforter, and encroached on the “dining room” another two steps away from the kitchen.  

I know what you’re thinking.  Don’t these people take showers? Doesn’t Erin use moisturizer daily? Yes and no.  We took lovely hot showers in the campground bath house, and, no, I don’t apply all of the potions every day.

Clearly this problem was bigger than the fittings under the fridge, where, oddly, there was no water.  Since it was the weekend and since La Mesa RV doesn’t answer their phones anyway, we were unable to ask for advice.  Mike had been online reading tips and watching YouTube videos and something made him check the capacity of our grey water tank.  Much, much smaller than in any of our fifth wheels.  Draining the tank also drained the water from the showers floor and another round of sacrificial towels, rags and rugs took care of the rest of the water.  Okay, we were set!

I think it was the next day that Mike discovered the leak around the base of the toilet where you really don’t want a leak.  Four days post toilet leak we have determined that it’s the seal and that it’s intermittent and not leaking anything bad.  We will live with this 3rd leak until we get to Maryland and my brother Mike, an experienced camper who can actually fix stuff.  Hopefully he’ll teach Mike how to replace the seal.

The water siege continued when I left a large water bottle on the bed with an apparently loose lid.  Luckily it was hot in Billings, Montana.  I hung the soaked bedding all round the Bee, mainly over the seats and steering wheel, but also off every hook and corner.  I made the bed with the spare sheets and the dog blankets.  The next day everything had dried and I remade the bed.

Wouldn’t this be a good place to stop the catalog of catastrophes?  Yes, it would and no, I cannot.  A couple of days ago in Billings where I did three huge loads of laundry, I purchased a hand vacuum.  Prior to that I had been sweeping the ubiquitous gravel with a telescopic broom that’s a pain in the ass to use.  Target had many choices, but I carefully chose a basic, not great, hand vacuum, suitable for lazy college students.  I know college students were its target consumer group because it had cute sayings on the box like “pick up your clothes first” and “only picks up small items, not underwear or beer spills.” Okay those weren’t exactly what it said but in a motor home this size you learn to break down and dispose of boxes immediately.  As weak as the electrical pull of the hand vac was, it managed to shut down much of the Bee’s electrical system when we were camping at the KOA in Rapid City, South Dakota.  We had lights but no way to charge devices, use the toaster oven, the foundation of cooking, or run the microwave, the second string of cooking.  I had already, several RVs ago, discovered that using the coffee pot or the toaster oven with the plug in heater caused a fuse box breach. However, this time, throwing the switches didn’t restore power.

There ensued then a sadly typical series of errors with Mike and me playing the leading roles in a situation comedy.  One of us decided that a fuse needed to be replaced so the other one immediately pulled out the first fuse.  Two attempts to put a new fuse into a tiny, deep and dark space resulted in two fuses forever lost in the abyss.  Then one of us decided to pull out the big silver things next to the fuses to make it possible to replace the fuse that was perfectly fine in the first place.  Surprisingly that worked.  It did not restore electricity, however, so part two of the comedy involved a thorough search for the GFI plug both inside and outside the Bee.  We still had cellular so Mike googled the problem and we were repeatedly assured that the GFI plug would be near the refrigerator or in the bathroom.  It isn’t.  We gave up and went to bed, knowing that there would be no coffee or portable heat in the morning.  Mike, ever hopeful, decided to boil water on the stovetop to make pour over coffee when he noticed the microwave light was on.  Yes the problem had magically fixed itself when we went to bed and stopped messing with the system.  We still don’t know where the GFI switch is and I don’t even know what GFI stands for.

This morning we are at the Flying Goose RV Park on the shores of Lake Imogene resting under the alders and elms of Fairmont, Minnesota.  It’s nice here, beautiful and quiet.  There is only imaginary internet access so who knows when this will get posted or where we will be. If we’ve suffered enough, maybe the Bee will behave.

Just in case you think no one is watching, listening, following #buckleupconspiracytheorists

This morning I woke up before the man and the dog and decided to watch a video by one of the crochet bloggers I follow.  Before the video played I had to sit through an ad, usually for something that’s easy to skip.  This ad was different, catching my attention by highlighting digestive problems.  I’ll spare you any specific reference to my digestive issue; suffice it to say that it’s exacerbated by travel.  Gut health is the goal and sugar is digestive enemy #1, closely followed by processed foods and so-called health and diet foods.  (Sorry if this ruins the 22 minute video for you).  

I don’t know if these informational videos that lead inevitably to the purchase of a miracle pill are becoming more intellectual and science-based or if I’m becoming more gullible and stupider.  Regardless, I listened to the whole thing and ended up purchasing the smallest, “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back” amount and having it sent to my brother’s house.  That way I can start experiencing gut health while on this trip!  Doesn’t that sound like a good deal?  The truth is, a lot of the information shared by the lovely “doctor to the Hollywood stars” made sense.  I already know sugar is addictive, leads to cravings, and makes you fat.  I know this because I’m alive and living in the United States, where sugar is added to everything.  Just like I know I don’t drink enough water and I know having a donut for breakfast is unhealthy.  So why listen to this sales pitch?  Because I am currently having that digestive problem!  

After checking the sugar content of my yogurt (none, that’s why I add honey), I decided to finally watch the yarn video.  Guess what popped up?  An infomercial on arthritis, something else I’m experiencing more often (like every day).  I let the video play as I started this blog and I’m delighted to tell you that, from the 3 minutes I listened to, it’s obvious that sugar is once again the culprit.

You probably think this piece is heading toward confessional yo-yo dieting anecdotes but it’s not.  (It could but that’s another blog entirely.)  What struck me as humorous is how my phone “knows” which ads to feature.  Have you ever seen a Facebook ad for an item—say shoes—that you’ve been thinking about buying pop up on your newsfeed?  I have and, at first I thought FB sold my information, including the year I was born (bastards) and that’s why comfort shoes, makeup tricks for women (way) over 40, and dresses that “make you look younger” were the featured ads on my feed.  There was also an ad for adult diapers which really made me mad but, luckily, only appeared once.  Well, FB probably did sell my information and so did the other mass market monopolies.  Still, I don’t think that’s the extent of the surveillance.  I think “they” are constantly monitoring us.

You may not realize it but your smart phone isn’t only smart for you.  It’s basically a GPS system that’s automatically your “friend” and therefore privy to your location.  My theory is that every conversation we have, every place we go, and every preference we express is somehow electronically saved, put into an algorithm, and immediately shared with the big three in my life (Apple, Google, and Amazon).  That’s why Amazon can recommend products for me when I open my Amazon Prime app.  It’s why I decided to switch to a Mac after 25 years of using a PC (a decision I regretted for most of 2020).  It’s why my iPhone, iWatch, iBuds, iPad, and computer are networked and, in my opinion, working together to figure me out!  One time Max and I were talking about those robot vacuums and if they really worked.  Max mentioned that he really needed a hand vacuum for his car.  We were sitting close to each other and both of us had our phones (of course).  Within a day or two, Max started getting pop up ads for hand vacs and Amazon kept recommending different robot vacuums. and suggesting that hand vacs make nice gifts.  I blame that one on Alexa. She’s in the kitchen and she’s nosy.

But think about it,“they” know where you are and are able to record anything you search.  And how often do you ask Google for information?  Every time you search the cast of a show you’re watching on Netflix or Prime or Apple, that information is absorbed by Google and Netflix, etc. and your preferences are noted.  So let’s say you decide to search for airfares to Hawaii and you happen to be sitting in your family room in Redding, CA.  That night your newsfeed on FB features moo-moos for the mature woman and several airlines start sending emails.  The coup de gras comes when Apple offers a steep discount on iPads and the background of the ad is a beautiful, tropical island.  Don’t be naive—this stuff happens.  And I don’t care.  There’s no point in worrying because it’s far too late to avoid being known by every algorithm on earth and maybe beyond. Sometimes I’m annoyed but many times I’m happy to be manipulated.  After buying tickets to a Luke Bryan concert several years ago, both iTunes and Amazon music started suggesting other country artists,  Stub Hub let me know when another, mainstream country music star would be appearing in venues within 200 miles of my location.  I kid myself that I recognize the tactics and am therefore immune.

All of this makes me laugh when I think about the large number of conspiracy theorists in my community.  Some people won’t get the Covid vaccine because (pick your favorite) it’s a live vaccine with evil intentions, you’re being microchipped, or it’s part of a government plot to take away your first and second amendment rights, not to mention your right to privacy.  Well, here’s a newsflash, folks, you have no privacy,  You handed that over years ago when you bought your first smart phone or googled something on a computer.  And even if you don’t have any smart technology of your own, you better not stand or sit near anyone who does.  Oh, yes, it’s that real.

Maybe you’re old enough to have memorized Christmas carols when you were a child, back when you believed in Santa.  Do you remember that Santa “knows if you’ve been bad or good?”  So when you think about it, this lack of privacy could be worse.  At least Amazon isn’t evaluating our intentions and sending the goon squad to our homes. Yet.

I have been writing this on my Mac—a risk, I know.  In a few minutes I will read this aloud to my husband because I always do.  And this information will be noted and maybe used.  I might even get put on the “bad list” in the event that Santa is a conspiracy theorist.

At last-a road trip #escape#relaxingsortof#notgood at hashtags

I’m sitting on the bench seat of our dinette in the newish class c motor home we bought recently.  Not incidentally I’m in West Glacier RV park, contemplating a dark cloud hovering over the hills that surround us.  I’m trying to remember what it is I had to finish or who I was supposed to contact or what online task I’m forgetting.  Because there is something.  Something that was plaguing me before we left Redding three days ago.  Something that had me on edge and made me sort of rude and abrupt, definitely abrupt.  It wasn’t finishing some  online banking because that’s on my calendar and it popped up the moment I fired up the Mac.  It’s not on the calendar because it’s so important, I couldn’t possible forget it.  Except I have.  As so often, I’m trying to figure out how my mind works.  This has been a life-long and somewhat fruitless pursuit.  What I can see is that I’m following the pre-road trip pattern that has been mine as long as I can remember.

Before we left Redding, an escape from heat and fire and Covid breathing citizens, I had driven myself and others crazy trying to get “things” ready and “things” finished.   On my list of stuff to finish was staining the deck posts and planting a winter garden.  Also getting my real I.D., changing all my passwords, and keeping dental and medical appointments.  And most importantly doing whatever it was I needed to do to make it possible to wear shoes that aren’t sandals.  I have endured three visits to a very nice podiatrist who has stuck needles into my right big toe and pared away the offending, ingrown nail that makes pressure unbearable. The last time was the miracle visit.  At last I could wear sneakers.  This ecstasy lasted until yesterday when a casual push on the nail shot pain up my toe to my teeth (a slight exaggeration).  There is hope because a friend of mine introduced me to Altra walking shoes, which have a toe box, so wide and high that my toe floats, untouched and happy, in Bozo the Clown shoes. I will don these later and begin the hikes and photo shoots at Glacier National Park, a place I’ve wanted to visit for years.  A place that everyone I know has apparently already visited and shared pictures and stories that make me smile gently as I writhe inwardly with envy.  I don’t know what it is about this particular goal, but I started getting a clue yesterday as we drove from Spokane through Idaho and into Montana.  California has magnificent and virtually every kind of terrain.  Still, the magic of climbing into mountain weather, seeing autumn colors on the way up and dry rolling hills on the way down is hard to describe.  For 29 miles or so we drove next to the banks of Flathead Lake, bigger than Tahoe and incredibly clean.  That’s what happens when there are fewer people to mess it up.  Right now I’m not too fond of people in general.  That’s what comes of living in the county with the highest number of Covid cases in the state.  I feel like we are escaping with our lives as well as our little dog.

This long introduction is leading to something important I need to relearn and retain.  Why is it that at home I feel compelled, driven to accomplish?  When we were trying to leave on Saturday and Mike was finishing up the last minute things he had put off until the last minute (a pattern I can’t understand even after 26 years), I cast about frantically and found things to keep me physically busy.  Since the raccoon that likes to stroll through our garden had started up his nocturnal wandering, I erected a barrier of plant supports to keep him out. This was so I didn’t scream at my husband because, really, what difference did it make when we left?  Mirroring my anxiety was Fiona, the eponymous dog of this blog.  As is her habit she followed Mike around ruthlessly, hovering in the doorway as he finally dealt with correspondence which could have been dealt with last week (just sayin’).  She perched in the shotgun seat of the motor home for hours as Mike loaded up his clothes (yes, he waited until Saturday morning to do this) and hitched up the tow car. 

Somewhere around Weed we decided to “go with the flow” of the trip.  Whatever happens happens and it’s all good.  You may be thinking that it’s impossible for a type A nut, such as myself, to relax to this extent but you would be wrong.  For example, I’m sitting at the dinette, surrounding by what I would characterize as a huge mess.  There are dishes and supplies piled on the tiny counter.  The table is almost invisible and the unmade bed hides the little dog from view.  I’m taking pictures of this because people who know me will not believe I haven’t put things away and straightened up.  In one picture you might notice the towel under the refrigerator.  This is because we have a leak of unknown origin that soaked our rug the night before last and continued to leak when we set up camp yesterday.  Mike turned off the  city water that seems to have been the source of the leak so at least we know what system to examine.  Not that the two, least handy, people in the world will be able to do anything about it.  But we will have to find someone who can fix it and convey what we do know. 

There is going to be rain so waking up the princess for a walk/run is a priority.  Yesterday and, apparently, today, the dog is sleeping in on our bed (it’s hers, too) cocooned in the comforter and finally getting the sleep she missed at night when we disturb her slumber.  At home she does not tolerate twitching feet or clearing throats.  She flounces from the bed after issuing a growl that is half warning and half disgust, jumps down to the bench at the end  of the bed and onto the floor where her personal bed lies.  At home she goes on a nightly walkabout, securing the perimeter, having a drink of water and a snack, and finally returning to our bed.  Fiona’s policy is to be the last one up but at home it’s only a few minutes after the humans rise.  Here she will apparently stay in bed all morning.  She didn’t voluntarily get up yesterday; around 11:00 I dragged her out for a walk.  This attitude of laise faire is so appealing that I’m considering following her doggy lead and truly relaxing.  I’m already halfway there.

I have discovered what will drive me from the cozy warmth and clutter of the RV—a senate hearing.  Yesterday Mike had the hearings playing–loudly–on his iPad.  Apparently his idea of escaping and mine are different.  Time for another walk.  

By the way, I finally remembered the critical task and I’ve decided I’m not going to do it. So there.  Another step closer to really relaxing.  As I recall from the last time I was on a long trip (Feb 2020), the next step moves me away from home mentally as if the fact that I’m not there gives me permission to quit feeling responsible for so many things.  I suspect that some mental/spiritual healing needs to take place.  Just now, watching an overfed crow try repeatedly to perch on a lovely, crimson sapling, I wondered how long he would try before giving up.  I think there’s a metaphor there.

Here’s to All the Ladies #nopointinstoppingnow

Christmas day is over with its particular 2020 weirdness and there were many opportunities to overdo it.  I make no apologies for decorating our home.  The men in my house silently appreciate my efforts or that’s what I tell myself.  Actually I put up a tree and scatter around reminders of Christmases past because I like them.  I turn on the outside lights and the tree lights every night and early in the morning because I’m the first one up.  Everything stays up until January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, Twelfth Night, Three Kings Day, or whatever you want to call it.  I have fond memories of this day.  When I was a young child, living in Spain in an apartment with people from Spain, the US and other countries I celebrated throughout the month of December.  

On December 6th, I put the wooden shoes, given to me by a Dutch neighbor, outside our door and lo and behold, they were filled with candy and small toys the next morning.  St. Nicholas Day started the festivities.  On Christmas Eve, our family opened presents, whether we were in the US or not.  I think this was a tradition from my mother’s family, and I think it’s German in origin.  I’m not sure how it was explained that we received our presents early, but I’m sure it was and it seemed perfectly normal to us.  Maybe it was a time management issue for Santa.   Oddly stockings didn’t appear until Christmas morning.  Maybe Santa doubled back.

In Spain, December 25th was primarily a religious holiday and presents weren’t exchanged until Three Kings Day.  I remember a parade where the kings marched through town.  They were huge and glittering with jewels.  I think there must have been a papier mache structure placed on the shoulders of the kings which created their tall and imposing presence.  Since we were in Spain, we celebrated also.

You can see how Christmas has never held the charm and power of my early memories.  On some level, I don’t expect too much of Christmas, which gave me an advantage this year.  Even so, I made way too many cookies, subconsciously expecting friends to drop by and family to sit down to a big dinner followed by a platter of the best cookies.  It’s probably why I bought a prime rib for three (there is no such thing) and am planning to deliver leftover beef to a friend later today.  I knew the score when I decorated and baked, but I persisted. Now I wonder how much of this activity is programmed into me.  This is something I’ve thought about a lot during the Covid-19 days and months.

Like cooking, cleaning has dominated my thoughts and movements during the last 9 months.  Not having the distraction of a job, I looked at my house more critically and saw dirt everywhere. There were the many stages of cleaning: bargaining when I tried to enlist my husband and son in the deep cleaning process.  Denial when I decided the house was “clean enough.” And finally acceptance when I began the new (cleaning) deal.  First I went through closets and cupboards, deciding what brought me joy (not much by May) and what I would donate or throw away.  I filled my little SUV twice and am on a first name basis with the woman who runs the animal rescue second hand store.  I offered a first look at clothes to friends and my sister, and every now and then I get to see something I once owned walk by or appear in a photo.  I foisted—there is no other word—bread baskets with metal leaves (very Autumn) on a friend.  Hey, they were really cool; I just never used them.  The value in this process was realizing that I didn’t have the life of a professional educator with 62 employees and 900 students anymore.  Yes, the retirement parties were a clue, and yes, I donated suits and blazers to an organization that helped women who were trying to get jobs.  But all that was fairly superficial, nowhere near the purge of April and May.  

When I cleaned out closets and cabinets, I also cleaned the shelves, floors, and doors.  This eventually led me to the reorganization phase.  Everything in the linen closet is in a cloth box; off season blankets, shams, bedspreads, and seasonal towels either hit the road or were packed into those plastic things with zippers the you get when you buy blankets, sheets, etc.   And those shelves are neat. And everything is accessible—to me—because I’m the only one who needs to get into that closet.  On the rare occasion that someone with a Y chromosome needs a towel or something else from the linen closet, he is accompanied by me.  I will not have my organization messed with.  I will not!

Later (September-October) I tackled the kitchen.  First there was an orgy of ordering on Amazon. In the process I acquired way more pan racks, pasta containers, and spice drawers than any human being requires.  Then I pulled everything out of the drawers and cupboards.  Everything.  This was followed by another purge and another trip to the animal rescue store. I cleaned and disinfected, read “The Joy of Tidying Up” (again), and reorganized.  It was a bit cruel for my husband since he does the dishes, but he retaliated by leaving on the counter anything he couldn’t find a place for.  Over time that excuse hasn’t worked as well for him and things are looking good in the kitchen. He seems to be genetically incapable of dealing with the snapware but I can work around that. I’m always in the kitchen anyway, usually spot cleaning the hardwood floor, which shows every drop of water, smidgeon of dust, and tiny food particle.  If this floor is ever replaced, I will have a beautiful laminate with a busy pattern installed.  Just saying.

Speaking of always in the kitchen…I started the quarantine by preparing three meals a day.  I don’t do that anymore but I’m still cooking too much.  I don’t know how to stop. And I’ve figured out why I’m compelled to cook, clean, and constantly reorganize.  First, I’m in the age group of women who demanded equality and earned the opportunity to do everything. By everything, I mean have a full-time job and do the majority of the cleaning, cooking and child rearing chores.  We had it all, all right.  I laugh, I mean cry, when I think how I saw my mother as drudge because she was stuck at home doing all the housework.  By the time my sister was in school my mother could deal with the house in a couple of hours and have the rest of the day free.  She had good female friends and they got together frequently to bowl or shop or play bridge or take weekend trips. My mother used to say that she was a “second class citizen.” I’m not completely sure what she meant by that , but I think it had to do with her putting up with my father’s expectations that she would do everything.  Looking at it from my perspective it seems like a pretty good deal if someone else is bringing in the money.  I don’t think I know a single woman in my age group who “stayed at home.” All of my friends juggled career and home, and if they “only worked” part time, they paid for it later by retiring later or poorer.  Either way, we all scrambled and we’re all paying for it now.

I think the urge to clean is in our DNA, put there by our mothers.  The girl children were enlisted to do the menial chores while the boy children had to do manly things like paint or change the oil.  It is a rare man who can’t out wait his woman when it comes to housework.  I literally cannot bear a mess (thanks, Mom) and so I end up cleaning way before any man I know would be bothered.  The other thing that drives me to newer and more ridiculous heights of housework is my in-box. Everyday “Southern Living”, “Better Homes and Gardens,” that bitch from “One Good Thing”, Martha Stewart, and every company I’ve ever bought from sends me at least one email about housework.  Today Jilly from OGT (not really a bitch, probably a very nice person) emailed her hints for tidying the kitchen in 15 minutes.  I’m not kidding.  In the past month, she has shared 31 uses for WD-40, 9 surprising problems you can solve with good old white glue, the 11 best reasons to never throw out a ripe banana, and the answers to the top 9 searched cleaning questions.  I’m still not kidding.  She emails every day, including Christmas, and I’ve saved all of the ones I just listed.  Even worse, I’ve read most of them.  

Today Martha weighed in with 3 herbal infusions to sip all winter long and a DIY cardigan to keep you warm.  She must’ve been having an off day because there was nothing about the Pantone color of the year (a favorite topic of hers). Her other favorite thing is to send recipes for cakes that a professional baker would find difficult to make.  One thing I am grateful for is that Martha’s relentless tips for Christmas activities have stopped.  No longer am I plagued with ways to fabric wrap gifts or assemble those 39 make-ahead casseroles.  Thanks to Martha, I now have the royal family’s Christmas pudding cake recipe.  I can die happy now.

Also today I received emails about deals at grocery stores and sales from Grove, a company that sells a lot of organic cleaning products. I found out that I’m probably arranging the furniture in my living room wrong.  In case my imagination completely fails me, “Southern Living” shared funny Christmas quotes worth repeating, and cute and clever Christmas captions for Instagram. “Better Homes and Gardens” shared the 50 most popular dog names from 2020. There were no references to the pandemic, but I think Ollie and Luna should thank their lucky stars they weren’t named Covid and Virus.  

Is it any wonder that I feel inadequate when it comes to homemaking (I believe that’s the term). Somewhere in the sea of “helpful” emails is the occasional message from “Calm.” It’s usually a reminder to slow down, meditate, listen to some music, or a soothing bedtime story.  I have the Calm app and it’s a great way to turn off the hectoring voices in my head and go to sleep.  I’ve accepted my fate and I know the frenzy to clean and cook won’t abate until I can once again get out of this house and see people.  Because the isolation is the hardest part, and even my close and intimate relationship with Martha Stewart doesn’t meet that need.  Hang in there, ladies, and, for God’s sake, slow down.

A Response #notpretending #toknowmorethanyou #or anyone else

Today I wrote a response to an article published in a news cafe, an online news source to which I subscribe. I hope the link above will take you to Doni Chamberlain’s well-written and insightful article. Her words inspired many community members to respond thoughtfully and sincerely. It’s no surprise that virtually all of us have reacted to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths and many of us have opinions about current circumstances. For what it’s worth, here’s mine.

It’s gratifying to read your article, Doni, as well as most of the responses because your powerful observations and well defended position speak to the truth I see. There have been times during the last couple of months where my rage and fear, both inspired and inflamed by the “mask haters,” have overwhelmed me with bitterness and incomprehension. How hard is is to wear a mask? To put others before yourself? To think that “just in case the masks aren’t part of a larger left wing conspiracy, maybe I’ll wear a mask and cancel that family birthday party?” The answer must be “pretty damn hard;” otherwise why has something that seems so obvious, so small a sacrifice, become a battleground? While I would personally love to kick non-mask wearing butt, I can see that this issue reflects a much deeper problem, an essential divide and lack of respect on both sides,

I think we already know that very few of the folks who won’t wear a mask in Shasta County are going to change their behavior. Those of us who do can cast our “votes” by boycotting non-compliant businesses and supporting those that do comply. The reverse is also true. What I see is a near future of behaviors that fan the proverbial flames of outrage, again on both sides.

Where are the psychologists and spiritual leaders in this debate? Why aren’t we looking for the basis of these actions? It seems to me that both groups are motivated by fear. To me, not wearing a mask is short-sighted, selfish and dangerous. To “them” wearing a mask is weak, unpatriotic and dangerous. The rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths is proving different things to both sides. And the lack of inspirational leadership at all levels from local to national isn’t helping. As hard as it is, as awful and purposeless as it seems, (God help us) we need to start trying to understand each other.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” — Winston Churchill

Musings on Masks #notreallyontopic#maskisametaphor#mybrainhurts

When I wear a mask, I’m operating under two premises.  I’m protecting you by covering my face in case I’m contagious.  Also, in my heart, I feel safer from you in case you sneeze in my face while exercising your God-given,Constitutional right to not wear a mask and risk my life.

One thing I think no one would argue (but I’m naive that way and of course someone will always argue): the issue about wearing or not wearing masks is really about something else.  And that something else may vary from person to person.  I’ve spent the last 6+ years moving around this country to various medical communities in an attempt to keep my husband alive.  So, yeah, I wear a mask. You probably have a different reason. But I will say that it’s ugly the way people have gone crazy on social media about the mask issue.  It hasn’t been pretty, folks, and it may be hard for some of us to look in the mirror when (if) this is over.

And speaking of the mirror, here’s where an eye mask would come in handy.  Today I looked down on my newly showered body, something that admittedly I have a lot more time to do, and saw my mother’s legs.  It was inevitable but I think I could’ve ignored it for a few more years were I not trapped in my home with a freezer full of drumsticks (the ice cream kind).  I can still get into all of my clothes but now they leave marks on my body.  I could weigh myself, something I NEVER do (it’s a policy of mine) but I don’t want “getting on the scale” to be listed as my cause of death.

Some people say that the world will never be the same.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  One way I think things could improve is by slowing down our acquisition of STUFF.  The irony here, of course, is the reality that the USPS and UPS folks are now my best friends.  But even as I purchase more so-called essentials online, I am filling my guest room with the detritus of my life.  The stuff falls into various categories but a big one is all the things I bought when I was working and had 72 people working for me so I gave big parties.  So the roaster/three dish warmer is leaving my cupboard, where it has sat silent and hulking since 2012.  Also heading to the animal rescue thrift store are the griddle, the large and small punch bowls, many serving plates, extra utensils, and candles, candles, candles.   I also don’t need the 36 plates and 36 wine glasses I bought for fundraising events.  And the vases. I REALLY don’t need the 100+ vases I’ve received or collected in case someone asks me to do the flowers for his/her wedding.  No one has asked me to do more than a flower arrangement since 2014.  And for that wedding I decorated a dozen ball jars with lace, burlap and pearls and bought four large vases and pitchers, all of which I still have. I have to admit that most of these things may still “spark joy” because I loved giving those big parties and helping friends with theirs.  Part of me wants to keep the plates in case Molly needs them again for her Christmas Eve party with her grandma who hates paper plates.  Grandma passed I don’t know how many years ago so I guess the plates can go. 

We live in a very large house built in 1958.  It’s not a mid-century gem with cool, carefully preserved  glass bricks, interesting room dividers, and plaster walls.  Rather it’s a ruthlessly redecorated and renovated ranch style home that was stripped of personality and “beiged” into a paneled, neutral nightmare in the late 1980’s.  So, many of things I’ve acquired or spent money on have fallen into the category of redecorating.  And if I hadn’t gone through an inexplicable “farmhouse” period, there would be fewer ball jars and bread boxes to donate.  Right now I’m having two plaid chairs recovered to fit in with the bohemian/mid-century style I aspire to but never achieve.  If I hadn’t already ordered fabric and paid for the reupholstering before the quarantine, I wouldn’t do it now.  I would donate those damn chairs or just cover them since Mike is unnaturally attached to them.  The most embarrassing thing about this purge is that this house has tons of storage and we have used it all. The second most embarrassing thing is that I know better than to load myself down with all…this…stuff.

When I was six my family moved from Spain, where my father was stationed, to Maryland.  None of my toys and prized possessions made the trip stateside.  Gone was the doll with the handmade bridal dress and trousseau, gone were the china dogs my dad brought home from the countries he flew to, gone was the tiny silver tea service a friend of my parents had brought me from Germany.  You might assume that this scarred me for life and maybe it did.  As a child I had no collections because I knew what happened when you collected things.  As a young adult I could put all of my possessions in my car and move in a day.  As a new teacher I emphatically resisted the lure of classroom decor, even as students repeatedly gave me macrame owls.  I finally put one up in my classroom just to ward off future owls. I once moved into a classroom with an entire wall of windows covered with macrame curtains (I guess that’s what they were).  I called the previous, now retired, teacher whose room it had been and asked if he wanted the “hideous macrame coverings.” Guess who made them? Yup, another moment in faux pas history. 

So, anyway, when did all this “travel light” philosophy go down the drain? Partly it was because of my students.  I would purchase stuff and put up bulletin boards in the summer and then I was done.  For the year.  My students, depending on their level of kindness, would either ask me if “anything was ever going to change” in my room or bring me things to put up on my walls.  But the main reason my resistance to acquiring things broke down was marrying a collector.

When I married Mike in 1995 I was already lugging around literal baggage from my deceased husband who (no exaggeration) saved everything he ever owned.  Mike seemed to be fairly unencumbered, but that turned out to be misleading.  Just like how he told me he wasn’t addicted to sports, but that’s another story.  Early in our marriage I found out how much Mike liked antique furniture and books.  Okay, I had antique bookcases so that was good.  But then the collecting started.  First Mike was interested in Art Deco because I had a lamp and a mirror he admired.  So he started collecting Art Deco clocks and then radios.  That expanded into any clock or old radio including large, floor models (we have three).  There have been other obsessions, I mean collections, but they all have one thing in common.  They never go away.  Even worse, I have been lured into participating.

We were visiting friends in Seattle and I purchased a beautiful blue and gold tea cup and saucer.  I casually mentioned that maybe (maybe is the operative word) I would get tea cups from places we visited.  It seemed like an innocent remark.  The following month was December and for Christmas Mike presented me with a large collection of antique tea cups and saucers in both traditional and demitasse sizes.  I think there were more than 20.  After that my sister foisted—I mean generously gave—me the cups my mother had foisted on her.  At that point I had 30+ cups and no place to display them.  Plus I didn’t want to display them.  I started a collection of tea things for the daughters of one of my friends and, among the teapots, cozies, and spoons, I managed to offload some of the cups.  But the majority of them are stored in a sideboard and never see the light of day.  

Today I find myself in house full of things that somebody else will hopefully like, use, and then pass on to another person, thereby extending the time before it arrives at the landfill.  And that is why my guest room is crammed with donations and why I will keep adding to the piles. I’m at the point where I don’t want anything unless I can eat it, drink it, or plant it.  And after 73 days of being in my house or yard, I am overwhelmed with a lifetime of buyer’s remorse.  When I take these things to the thrift store I will be happy to give and a little ashamed of all I have.  And I will be wearing a mask.

My So-Called Decorating Style #don’tgointothegarage#bohemianmidcenturynightmare#makeitstop

I’ve had bad experiences with decorators. Several years ago Mike and I hired a consultant to give us advice on dealing with the overwhelming beigeness of our then new home. We were doomed from the start. Turns out this very same decorator had guided the former owners of our house into neutral paradise about 15 years before. As we walked around the house she asked if we had known the previous owners who “had such great taste.” Uh, oh. She examined Mike’s collections of vintage and antique radios, clocks and books and cringed at the sight of the blue and pink floral sofa and love seat. (I was with her there, those Laura Ashley nightmares had come with Mike when I was too besotted to bar them from my house.) As we returned to the living room to hear her verdict, Mike “remembered “ he had forgotten to lock the door to the school and dashed out. Most of the rest of the visit is a blur but I do remember her saying that we had some interesting “things” and it was time to get some furniture. About the time she suggested putting up a half wall and creating a “receiving area,” I knew she had completely misread us. When I pointed out that wasn’t our style, she told me we didn’t have a style. Prophetic words as it turned out.

Nevertheless,I recently had an epiphany about my decorating style. Whenever I take one of those quizzes that’s supposed to identify your style I get something like “elegant beach cottage” or “casual eclectic traditional.” Real helpful. Recently I was sitting on one of the navy wingbacks admiring the new rug and how well it works with the gold leather couch and repurposed walnut mid-century coffee table and antique end table and burnished gold and glass display case. You see the problem. So I decided my style is bohemian, which seems to mean anything the hell you want it to mean. Pretty sure that people who acquire things just because they like them and then put them all together are bohemian. That’s my story/excuse. I guess the big question is why I care about having a style. I blame it on media. (I blame everything on media; it’s the one thing I have in common with he-who-shall-not-be-named.)

Everything from magazines to television to Amazon shows us what we should do. The more things there are to do, the more things we take on. A case in point: remember when you were a kid and company came to stay? I know my mom put clean sheets on the pull out couch for my aunt and uncle. As for the kids (at least 6), they slept on floors and were lucky if carpet was involved. There was a lot of cooking going on while the guests were sightseeing in D.C., but usually an aunt or uncle stayed around to help. My mom stressed because that was her personality but the whole event was so casual, so relaxed for everyone else. Now there are endless Pinterest boards and online articles about “getting ready for company” — entertaining could be a full time job. And let’s face it, nowadays we don’t have 8 people coming to visit; it’s usually a couple, right?

This whole “creating a comfortable, inviting space” for visitors has bled into parties. I admit my guilt here. I enjoy setting the table with my French tablecloth and napkins, white dishes, and crystal. Then I put (the piece de resistance) sprigs of lavender (that I grew) on each napkin. If I’m feeling really French, I’ll include lavender in the meal. Sometimes, usually around Christmas, I’m feeling very British so I make puddings (dessert) like millionaires shortbread and Victoria sponge. Actually I haven’t made a Victoria sponge (layer cake) yet but I’m addicted to the Great British Baking Show, so it’s just a matter of time.

All of the preceding, not very funny prose brings me—finally—to my point. The more we find examples of how other people do stuff better, the more we up our own games. This applies to virtually everything, including cooking, decorating, dressing, gardening, the list goes on. You can say it’s always been this way and that’s true. When Old Ma Smith tasted Old Ma Johnson’s superior cornbread, she was inspired. Maybe she just made better cornbread for her family, or if she was competitive maybe she entered her cornbread in the county fair, knocking Old Ma Johnson’s entry down to second place and losing a lifelong friend. Who knows? What is different today is that we are constantly bombarded with examples of improved whatever (see list above). In the past only friends and acquaintances motivated us in that particular way. And you know what? We didn’t have to work as hard as we do now.

When are people going to realize the cost of our “conveniences?” Let’s trace the evolution of the garage door that used to be pulled down by a rope, thereby providing a little upper body toning. The electric garage door opener ruined all that and led to all sorts of crimes and misdemeanors. Garage doors became fancy so the garage itself became another area that needed decor—color coordinated tool chests, shelves and cupboards, and perfectly clean, preferably painted, concrete floors. My poor husband would be happy to improve our garage. His dream would be a garage with finished, painted walls and ceiling, IKEA units and a work table that is perfectly empty with the exception of an artistically angled hammer. Unfortunately he’s married to me so practically the only garage amenity we have is the automatic opener that we can operate from our cars. Poor Mike. He has attempted to upgrade our un-sheet rocked walls and exposed rafter ceiling with standing cabinets (unpainted particle board, alas) and various rolling, metal tool chests. Currently he’s contemplating building a shed on the south end of the garage to provide the space to store the boxes, bikes, and camping equipment housed in the garage. He thinks this will make his garage “pretty.” It won’t. Sorry Mike, but the garage needs a complete makeover beginning with a Pinterest page followed by decisions about style and bringing in the guys from “Queer Eye” for the finishing touch. Since I’m always updating my so-called style inside the house, the garage is destined to remain functional rather than beautiful.

By the way, here’s an update on my official style. It’s Minimalist Mid-Century Traditional Bohemian. And if you don’t believe me, check out my Pinterest page.

Allergy Attack #timingcouldhavebeenbetter

Once in awhile, about every two to three years, my body screams stop and I listen. I tend to forget that my allergies can lay me out, moving from their usual spot in my sinuses and taking over muscle groups, temperature control, and digestive functions. This only occurs when I achieve the magic combination of fatigue, stress, dramatic changes in barometric pressure, and bad timing. So instead of hanging out at the hospital with Mike and providing relief from boredom, I’m in bed in the hotel room, under the covers because I’m cold, watching “Say yes to the dress” and weeping. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this show—it’s my first time—but it is your typical, manipulative, formulaic, so-called reality show. There’s the bride, obviously, and among the cast of characters is a relative or friend who is opinionated and kind of snarky. For some reason everyone listens to Ms. Bitter Unmarried Sister or Mrs. Holds the Purse Strings, or Mrs. My Son is too Good for You so Try to Look Like a Princess . There are men at these showings but they fall into two categories: indulgent daddy and daddy who is appalled at the low cut dresses his little girl is trying on.

You may be wondering how it is that I’ve figured all this out. Well. Apparently this show is on for (at last count) 3 consecutive hours. The producers make a genuine effort to include (very) different kinds of brides. My favorite so far is the body builder who chose a dress to accent her arms and shoulders and orange tan. There have been many enhanced breasts, really scary, but I think if I take another decongestant I can stop the flashbacks.

Almost as horrifying as some of the dresses are the constantly repeated commercials. Dr. Pimple Popper heads the line up, with a veritable buffet of lumps that you never wanted to see. I’ve been forcing fluids so this commercial allows me to take bathroom breaks every 11 and a half minutes.

So why am I still watching this? It’s a cross between horrified fascination and waiting for the inevitable tear jerker element to surface. There’s often a sob story (dying relative, horribly burned relative) but what gets to me is when the bride finds THE DRESS. It’s not my fault; I’ve been conditioned to tear up during sentimental commercials. The first (manipulative) station break I can remember is the commercial where the soldier comes home from WWII and the whole family is having a hamburger at McDonald’s for some reason and then the returning hero shows up. Yes, McDonalds that opened in the 1960s, which, hello, is two decades after WWII ended. Did that knowledge stop me from tearing up? No way! It was a soldier and there was sad music playing. I was overcome with patriotism, sentiment, and irritation that I’m so easy.

Okay, I’ve had a surfeit of unreality and now I’m going to turn off the tv before there’s a news break, drink some more tea, and attempt to sleep sitting up.

Several hours later. My no-fail treatment for allergy attack (decongestant, nose spray, vitamin C, herbal tea, red vines, and mindless television) has worked and I should be fully recovered by tomorrow morning. Now that I can breathe, sleep seems like an option. I’m going to skip the two hour documentary on Ted Bundy (yikes), power down the electronics, turn off the lights and thank God for world class medical treatment.

Just spoke with Mike and he is counting down to his last two infusions. He called to see how I was feeling and to say good night. Did I marry the right man or what?!!

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.