Road Trip

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At 7:15 a.m. I am introduced to my sturdy rental steed—a Nissan Versa. Cherry red—should be handy for cops to spot, itching to give out speeding tickets. My enabler, the counter girl (she is a girl with such a giggle) gives me the 45-second tour of the inner workings of the car. Whoosh, out of the parking lot I go.

I’m starting a road trip down to the Bay Area of California from Bellingham, Washington and back. Google says I’m in for a 1600+ mile trip. I “need” to see two old friends before I just don’t do solo road trips anymore.

Before I head really south I have a meeting with my client. I write grants for their 1.5 million dollar most-worthy preservation project of an 1892 Victorian-rare for Quilcene on the Olympic Peninsula. Rare these days, for most anywhere.

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And, then lunch with my daughter. At my hosts that evening, several servings of red wine into sharing funny stories, I knock over my glass, soaking a good portion of my dark blue jeans that I will be wearing for the next two days.

By the middle of Day One, as the temps creep up into the high 80’s, the aroma of red wine emanates from my crotch. I quit at Grants Pass even though my frisky Nissan likes to go 75 and has more pep than I do.

Day two—cutting across Oregon, I leave I-5 for the coast. Within a few miles south of Crescent City (no tsunami today, thanks) a herd of elk lounges in the meadow. Cars are barely off the road, passengers out gaping, and cameras clicking. There must be 75 lady elk and a few lesser dudes in the background. elkThe foreground is dominated by a male elk with a rack as big as my car. I slow down to look and my head feels heavy in solidarity with what it must be like for him to turn and gaze at the babes!

And, then within another few miles I come upon a funky, leftover 60’s town of five or so day-glow painted buildings drenched in colors only the very stoned can appreciate. At the end of the town is a bar—open, by the way—called The G Spot! And then a few more miles down 101, the Trump signs begin.

My time in Novato, California with my friend Justine is sweet in so many ways. Lazy mornings in jammies drinking coffee with toast, memories, histories, current events, and general astonishment that we are THIS OLD! I look at her and am struck by the deepest understanding that neither one of us will be here forever. I see the table and the chairs empty.

It is too damn hot to do much—days in the 90’s when even modest walks leave us limp as rags. One day at the beach is all it takes to recover and then mercifully, the weather breaks.

Next stop, up the dreaded I-80 (10 lanes of driving into hell—I think of Dante) and on to Chico, California where the temperature hasn’t broken. My oldest friend, Joan, from the early 1970’s and I hike an other-worldly lava trail carved by a river until we too are limp and pink faced from the heat. We are possibly the sisters, in spirit, we always wanted and never had. More memories, catching up, laughter, and a connection back to one of the most important people in my life-past or present. She’s become an incredible photographer and charming geek.

The next morning it’s cool and autumn-gold on our walk. I feel a seasonal sadness, maybe from how long it might be before I see her again, and can barely make myself drive away.

Back in my tiny world of the Nissan, I slip in disk 8 of Tana French’s Irish detective novel In the Woods. in-the-woodsThe narrator is great company, respectful of my need to be untethered from my daily life and duties in a way only endless highway miles provide.

My last night on the road is at the Best Western Plus in Salem, Oregon. The plus escapes me, but in the Denny’s where I get a discount as a guest of the motel, a codger of uncertain intent ambles over to my table where I am reading the paper.

“Me and my friends can’t stand to see a woman eating alone and wonder if you would like to join us.” I look over and there are three more cute codgers grinning at me.

“That’s very nice of you to offer, but I’m too tired to chat.” I must look pathetic. “Thank you, though, for the invite.” He gives me a sympathetic pat on my drooping shoulder and returns sans babe—me!

Life suddenly becomes . . . amusing? Surprising? Simply kind.

The last leg of my trip involves not being mowed down by edgy, balls-to-the-wall city drivers starting outside of Portland (in the pouring rain, early dark departure) until I start to see the signs for Bellingham.

The familiar roll of the highway, the forested mountains, Lake Samish have all slipped into my passenger seats for the last sixteen miles. I am tired, grateful for a safe trip, missing my two friends, and full of that indescribable feeling when you are almost home!

Some Thoughts on Aging

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Hey, Gramps. What’s it like?

grandpa mugMany years ago I asked my grandfather when he was in his late 70s if he minded getting old. Only someone in their early 20s could ask such an innocent and also insensitive question.

“Well,” he said, taking his time to prepare an answer since he was rarely asked anything in our family, “Once you get used to hearing yourself creak, it’s alright.” Sometimes when I can’t get up from sitting cross-legged on the floor without pre-planning, I stop—was that a creak I heard?

Why Did I Come In Here and Other Mysteries

And then there’s the word game—now you know it, now you can’t think of it no matter what, then the next day, it arrives like a firefly flitting by in the early night sky. Just try to count on it sticking around though and you quickly go through the same dreary exercise—the flash and then it’s off to wherever fireflies, words, and names go. granny 3

My mother, at age 85,  claimed that she was down to about 50 names. But then, most of the ones she couldn’t remember weren’t that big of a loss-the Nixon cabinet, former Senators now pimping for large corporations or dancing with the stars. She still knew me and all of the family members and was sharp, oh so sharp. I think she was simply deleting her trash files-but, it still bugged her.

The Obits. Great, I’m not in there today! 

I’m not a regular obituary reader or follow the celebs in AARP magazine to check on birthdays. As for the obits—I find my eyes drifting to the birth year of the newly departed and have “a moment.” Ooh, so close to mine. Best get busy. And, full disclosure, I scan the dates now and then of famous or infamous people and notice that damn, some of the people I assumed were my age-aren’t. Oh, joy! Jane Fonda is older than I am! For the rest of us regular folks, we just keep aging like a good cheese and hope that whatever comes our way we will be able to manage.

For me, I’m still working hard and hoping even harder to be discovered at this late date as a worthy writer with a debut novel. I love the word “debut.” Makes me think of prom dresses and corsages!  corsage

I can still stay up in my Pilates class, can take long walks, and keep it together on most days. On the days I can’t, I read a book, try to find out what’s up with me by writing, or just sit quietly with whatever loss I feel and let it be.

My Feeling Is This: If you don’t spend some time with your own mortality, death is going to come as a  big shock!

And there’s climate change and running out of clean water. I do what I can about recycling, drive a Honda Civic, don’t take long showers, and eat as local as possible. To be honest, when I read an article in the paper about our assured demise (at our own selfish hands) I stop, do the math, and if it’s when I’m over 100, I feel a strange relief. Then, I do the math again, think about whether my girls are likely to be alive, notice that helpless to keep them safe forever feeling that has been there since bringing them into this crazy world, and hope for the best.

A Very Shaggy Dog Story

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I was out for a walk with a friend and her dog

The afternoon was so beautiful it was like walking through a fine, landscape painting. We made time to go through the checklist of all things dog—throw the ball, wade in the creek, shake. Then it’s our turn. We continue on to the boardwalk on the Bay and coffee. We have a long stretch of masters/mistresses carrying the eponymous poop bag. Thank you for picking up after your dog.dog poop

And then, there is the inevitable dog version of “getting to know you” and the required sniffing of the butts, etc.

We bi-peds stand around making conversation; meanwhile glancing down more than once at what is happening below our knees. It’s like an accident—shouldn’t look, can’t help it. There were so many dogs out yesterday doing their thing a childhood memory of my father came floating in after many years.

dog buttsMy First Mutt

When I was in third grade, we got our first series of mutts, Nellie by name, so you can see she wasn’t a classic anything. Dogs in our neighborhood were never on leashes, but I was afraid Nellie might run off. I looped my jump rope through her collar and off we went. I’d never walked a dog before and every nose-to-nose encounter we had with other dogs left me red-faced mortified.

little gir and dog

At dinner that night I asked my father why dogs did this. I was a bundle of curiosity about why things were as they were and this dog business wouldn’t wait. I was expecting something more science based since he was a lawyer.

The Party at the Castle

“Well,” he said, “when God put dogs on earth” . . . okay, I knew that something was up since he never talked like this . . . “there was a grand gala at the castle and all of the dogs were invited. Since it was a very formal occasion, the dogs were asked to temporarily remove their bare butts and put them on one of the hooks in the great hall.

“Because they didn’t have electricity in those days, the castle ballroom was illuminated with thousands of candles. With all of the dogs dancing on their hind legs, thousands of tales wagging, things got out of hand, candles were knocked over, a fire started, and soon it turned into a terrifying blaze. The castle had to be evacuated immediately and so all of the dogs ran out, grabbing any butt they could. And that’s why. . .”

One More Time

Out for a walk today with my daughter, we witness the usual butt business and I am reminded again of this story. I take time, giving her the full Monty of detail that my father gave me. We both laugh so hard we almost spill our to-go coffees. Her grandfather, my dad—locker-room raconteur and staid intellectual rolled up into the same confusing person. I will never put all of the puzzle pieces of you together, Dad. Butt-I still laugh at his tale.

Since I never got an answer as a child and my Dad is deceased, I asked Google: Why do dogs sniff butts? There are a lot of inquiring minds out there wanting to know—over 52,000 hits on the topic. My favorite answer is this one from the “Dr. Doolittle” movie given to a young boy—“it’s their version of a handshake.”

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The Marriage of Fact and Fiction

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It takes a long time to go from research > writing > endless revisions > beta readers > more revisions > an agent > editor > a publisher > marketing before a novel arrives at your bookstore. It’s not often that an author can do this using a current topic. But this novel is so opportune – Jennifer Haigh’s Heat and Light is right on time. Heat and Light

Starting with the blurb on the cover by my favorite author, Richard Ford, I was sold by his praise. Only a few pages in and I was hooked spending way too many nights reading just one more chapter. One of the single best measures of the success of a book in my mind.

Heat and Light is about farmers and neighbors barely making it who lease their land for fracking to a myriad of subcontractors they never meet. It’s about the people in the town and how they come to realize what is happening to their land and their health. It’s also about the boom/bust workers who come for the well-paying jobs. The conflict and tension between the two populations is one of the key stories of our time.

Jennifer Haigh  Jennifer Haigh manages to help the reader decide for themselves—is it worth it? Some folks in the novel are getting rich, some are suffering, and those in the middle have yet to decide if they made a good decision or not. Depending upon where you live, this could be a decision you might have to personally make or advocate for or against in your state.

Whether, as a reader, you love or hate or are indifferent to fracking, you will be held by her fine writing, her level of research, and the ability to make interesting (late into the night) a complicated industrial procedure. I couldn’t believe that I read every word.

 

Heat and Light is another book that uses geography and culture as vibrant characters in the novel. The human characters are all well developed and have their own story arc, but there’s something about our natural resources that aren’t given a voice the way that Jennifer Haigh is able to do. She has other books that I am looking forward to reading as well. It’s so exciting to find new authors that can marry fact and fiction so well. Heat and Light does that and so much more. Read it and you’ll see what I mean.

We’re just learning about the pros and cons of fracking. This link might shed some light on why we are still mostly in the dark.

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/06/09/whistleblower-epa-officials-covered-toxic-fracking-emissions-years 

The Cat and the Hat

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It’s fun, really it is.

If you’ve attained the magic age of 50 or beyond, you too can have a colonoscopy. In short: the doc knocks you out, puts a camera up your colon, and has a look around checking for polyps.

Admittedly you are under house arrest the day before, restricted to the loo for some number of hours to prepare, fast so long you could eat the plastic flowers on the pen when you finally get to the doc’s office, and other dubious experiences.

Of course, if you don’t have insurance coverage (never mind a horrendous deductible) or cash, you have to pay  out of pocket for this invasive, early-detection colon cancer exam—that’s how we do it here in America.

Question – How  can a doctor do this all day long?

Answer – Butts are a high-priced specialty item on the American healthcare menu.

Here’s how lucrative it is. A report released by the International Federation of Health Plans revealed that a colonoscopy in the U.S. averaged $1,185. The same procedure in Argentina costs $413. In Switzerland, it runs about $655. In fact, colonoscopies provided a compelling case study in a June 2013 New York Times article, “The $2.7 Trillion Medical Bill.” Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the article stated that 10 million people get the procedure each year, adding up to more than $10 billion in annual costs.

The Alternative

The alternative is a DIY procedure—the fecal sample kit—along with the good news. These tests are not only routinely performed in other countries, they’ve also been proven to be just as effective for early detection by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force.

Why am I bringing up this subject? Because my latest keystone kop’s adventure of “getting the sample” will hopefully make you laugh yet consider this affordable option. Here’s the basics from the American Cancer Society—my underlining: Collecting the samples: Have all of your supplies ready and in one place. The kit will give you detailed instructions on how to collect the samples.

Here’s How it Went for Me

  • At the lab, a guy answering the phone while also helping me asks “Do you want a hat?” I’m picturing maybe a ball cap with I did it! above the brim. “Sure,” I say and he throws into a LARGE bag this plastic hat that fits over your toilet bowl.  I don’t find it something I might want to wear, not even in the rain, and alas it’s a no-return item.
  • Day One (of the three day process) – no problem with the supplies, directions, or my readiness to provide said sample. Day Two – same, things are going swimmingly. Day Three – almost there when our cat, Violet,  paws open the bathroom door and spies the tissues on the floor. Wow – great fun sliding around on these! And ends by sitting on them! Eventually she gets bored and leaves while I’m about to pass out waiting to provide my last day’s worth. I’m done.
  • Two problems – One – what if the lab finds cat hair in my sample? Two – it’s Sunday and it’s not to be mailed back to the lab (like my old lab’s policy) but delivered IMMEDIATELY to the closed lab! All that for naught as my granny would say.

I am happy to report that the second attempt was successful and now hip to the lingo, I pass on the hat. I planned my 3 days accordingly and delivered my kit back to the lab on a Friday and met a friend for coffee to celebrate.

Unfortunately we were in a crowded coffee shop and my story of the first try with the cat, the tissues, etc. had us both gasping while the man next to us (trying not to listen, but who can pass up a story like this?) fails to turn the page in his small paperback until we regain our composure and go back to talking about writing and books.

The lab results come back negative, which is positive – good news until next year.

One more thing – I like to find graphics for these blogs. Trust me on this – the Google Images for stool sample kits just didn’t have that much appeal. So here’s the only image I think you might like to see – Violet, our cat!

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Source of the data: International Federation of Health Plans 2012 Comparative Price Report and a June 2013 New York Times article “The $2.7 Trillion Medical Bill,” using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A Lot of Pissed Off Women

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Last week I spent the afternoon with a female relative. She’s strictly—no, foaming at the mouth rabid—for Hillary. “It’s time for a woman president,” was pretty much her non-stop mantra during the time we spent together. “Okay, but why be so pissed off about Bernie Sanders?” was my question. “She’s got balls,” she roared. This strikes me as the ultimate irony and the very heart of what the women’s movement was about.

In the car coming home I heard an interview with Nancy Jo Sales whose new book, American Girls, is a sobering expose of how hypersexualized and social-media ruled girls are today.  Oh, girls, I thought, shocked and saddened at the same time.

Waiting in my mailbox was a Netflix disk—“She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.She's beautiful 1

Mary Dore has made a riveting documentary that imho should be a required graduation requirement from high school—for teens—especially girls. It opens shortly before Betty Friedan’s landmark book The Feminine Mystique and pulls together some of the heroines from our suffragette past and the 1960-1970 women’s liberation movement. MY Movement!

I finally got to “meet” the women from the Boston Collective who compiled Our Bodies, Our Selves—my textbook for years. I revisited the women’s consciousness raising groups—one of them saved my life! Sharing my feelings with other women was like a rebirth.

Some parts were funny—how clueless and/or oppressive so many men were when the “women hit the streets”—hanging on to that peaceable time before women got “uppity” about work, sex, and their reproductive rights. Some parts were personally moving; my tears spilled. Going back to that time when who I had been told to be no longer held for me was tender and revealing.

shes-beautiful-shes-angry-62How do these three “listening” experiences fit together? They show me that the women’s lib movement is not and cannot be over. In fact, much of what was gained has been either lost or is under grave threat—especially reproductive health. We are still fighting for what we wanted then—equality at work and the right to choose—any and all choices. And, not to be lectured to by a bunch of men—CEOs, expert panels, academics, media personalities—about what’s good for us.

Here are links to the website and the trailer for “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” 

http://www.shesbeautifulwhenshesangry.com

http://www.musicboxfilms.com/she-s-beautiful-when-she-s-angry-movies-131.php  

The Living – Again

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The Living

Whenever I wanted to toss in the pen (actually the keyboard) I reread Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. If you are a writer and you haven’t read it, give yourself a gift for the holidays and darkest nights of the year and read it. This is the line I always race to find:

        “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time.”

Now I have a new appreciation of Annie—dare I call the winner of the National Humanities Medalist in 2015 by her first name?

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She no longer responds to fans or emails, yet she has become my companion on the almost daily morning walk and when I am learning about my new home town – Bellingham, WA.

In 1992, while living on the San Juan Islands, Annie wrote The Living. It is the fictional history of where I live and describes the four linked, newly settled communities on Bellingham Bay and the beliefs and interconnections with the Nooksack and Lummi tribes.

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I’ve never had the joy of reading a fine work of fiction and walk the very streets and paths where the novel takes place. Even though the story is set in the late 1800’s, the feel of the landscape, the boom and bust times, and the wisdom and the spirit of the Lummi and Nooksack are palpable today.

Once again the Bay, greater Bellingham, the tribes, and the natural wonders that abound here are threatened by the push from BNSF railroad and the oil/coal industry to use this as their dangerous and dirty refinery and export terminus for Asia’s energy needs.

Bellingham

The Living is rich in all of the elements that make a novel memorable—hardship, achievement, violence, and love—no matter the setting. In my case, the setting is not fictional, it is where I live, and and accompanies me on my walks into town and out on the abundant trails. It is still the living—part of a rich past, part of a threatened future, and a joy to live here each and every day.

              May you find fine writing and enjoyable books about where you live.