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.

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


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.