Lost and Found (part 1)

(My short story, Lost and Found, is being posted in five parts over five days. This is part 1)

Eleanor was a rule follower. She kept both her house and herself neat as a pin; everything in its proper place. Her late husband preferred a quiet and ordered home, so she did too. After Douglas passed away three years ago, Eleanor found that her day to day life hadn’t change very much. Sure, she missed him, but her routines remained the same and she was satisfied with her own company. One day was pretty much like the other. Quiet and ordered; just as she liked it.

Soon after the funeral, Douglas Jr. suggested that Eleanor might be happier moving in with his family. He worried that she would become lonely and that the house would be a burden. Over the following three years, his suggestion had turned into prodding, and, lately, into pressure. Eleanor didn’t want to leave her home but had started to think that maybe he was right. She wanted to feel useful again so perhaps moving in and helping her son and daughter-in-law take care of her grandson, Max, was the right thing to do.

Eleanor had finally decided to tell her son that she would move in when, suddenly, the country went into lockdown. Although she prided herself on following through once she made up her mind, she found herself secretly relieved. Despite the coronavirus pandemic turning the world topsy-turvy, her life could go on as it was. Douglas Jr.’s position with his company was deemed “essential,” but his wife, Wendy, was able to stay home with little Max. Given Eleanor’s age, they decided that she’d be safer sheltering in her home.

Because Douglas Jr. wasn’t sure how long his mom would be on her own, he made sure she was well-stocked with groceries and gave her a lesson on using Zoom so he could check in and see how she was doing. Eleanor thought this was completely unnecessary since she was perfectly capable of shopping for her own food and had no need to be checked in on. In fact, during the first several Zoom sessions they had, Eleanor found herself quite irritated. Not only did Douglas, Jr. keep asking how she was doing (perfectly fine, thank you very much), but she found herself losing the thread of the conversation because she was distracted by her image on the screen. Did her face really look that tired and wrinkly? Was her hair, usually well-coiffed and tidy, beginning to unravel? As Douglas Jr. prattled on about how she needed to remain safe in her home, she started to calculate how long she could go before getting her hair cut and styled.

After obediently remaining at home for three weeks, Eleanor noticed that she was starting to run low on groceries. She knew that Douglas Jr. would shop for her if asked, but she didn’t want to impose. Her list had all the usual items on it, so it would be easy for her to get in and out quickly. Her late husband hadn’t appreciated spicy foods, “foreign” ingredients, or complicated recipes. He preferred a simple weekly menu (chicken on Mondays, beef on Tuesdays, pasta on Wednesdays, etc.), and she didn’t see a need to change it now that he was gone. Uncomplicated and familiar; Her grocery list would almost write itself.

Before she could venture out, though, she needed to make a mask, so she set up her sewing machine, found some unused fabric and elastic, and got to work. After a few attempts, she managed to stitch one up and tried it on.

“Humph,” she thought, “if not for the purple and pink flowers on the fabric, I’d look like a bandit. No one will recognize me, and that’s just fine.”

Eleanor wasn’t sure what the rules were for mask-wearing. Was she supposed to wear it in the car, or just when she entered the store? Since she didn’t want to get into trouble, she decided to put it on before leaving the house. If—God forbid—she got into an accident, she didn’t want to risk being cited for not wearing a mask at the scene. Best to be careful.

With her shopping list in her purse and her new mask on her face, Eleanor started to drive the four miles to the nearest grocery store. Her husband had always driven during their marriage and, even after three years on her own, Eleanor still wasn’t completely comfortable behind the wheel. She carefully checked, and double-checked her rearview mirrors, and paid strict attention to the posted speed limit. She didn’t care if another car tailgated her or tried to get around; her biggest concern was driving in a safe and lawful manner.

(Thanks for reading! Comments have been disabled until the last part has been posted.) Click here to read Part 2.

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Gulp Fiction

WordPress tells me that I have written well over 300 posts since I started my blog seven years ago (on September 5, 2013, to be exact). Over my working career, I must have written thousands of marketing briefs, business plans, status reports, press releases, and many, many other business-related documents. What I haven’t written a lot of—or really any since graduating from college—is fiction. 

I enjoy reading fiction and have always admired those who can rummage around in their imagination and find a story. I know several writers of fiction who say their heads are full of characters and plots and they are only limited by the time they have to write it all down. As much as I would have liked, my brain never worked that way, so I figured I’d stick to non-fiction.

Then, late one night, when I should have been sleeping, an idea for a story came to me. It started as just a foggy outline of a character, but I couldn’t get her out of my head. Realizing that she wouldn’t leave me in peace, I powered up my iPad and started to write.

Over the next several weeks, I worked on my story; flushing it out, noodling every word, trying to bring my main character—someone who I was becoming quite fond of—to life.

Almost 4,500 words later my short story is complete, and I thought it would be fun (and a bit unnerving, hence the “gulp”) to share it on my blog. Because my posts rarely exceed 500 – 600 words each, I will break it up into several chunks: five parts posted over the next five days. After posting, each part will be archived in my new Short Stories and Poems tab on my menu bar (yes, I’m expecting more creative inspiration as time goes on). If you’d rather not read a post from me five—actually six, counting this one—days in a row, you can wait until Saturday to read them all together.

I look forward to introducing you to my good friend, Eleanor, and her story, Lost and Found.  

Adjusting Our Comfort Levels

My husband and I were very strict about our personal isolation when Covid-19 started to be a thing. We planned our meals carefully and took advantage of shopping services when we needed groceries. We limited our interactions with friends and family to phone calls, emails, texts, and this new thing we’ve all learned about called Zoom. When we ventured out back then—for a walk or a drive—it was eerie how few people we encountered.

As time has progressed and more has been learned, we have adjusted our behaviors somewhat. We are still very careful about our interactions; we avoid crowds and don’t go anywhere we can’t control our physical distance from others. Anyone who thinks this whole thing is overblown or even a hoax, isn’t someone we choose to be around.

Although we still prepare most of our meals at home—same as pre-virus—we do get take-out from a few favorite restaurants now-and-then. We’ve enjoyed several driveway happy hours with small groups of friends, and I’ve attended a couple of book club meetings held in a member’s large backyard. We now go early-morning grocery shopping a couple of times a month at a small, local store and have ventured into Home Depot once or twice for needed supplies. We still take advantage of curbside pick-up when we can but, occasionally, we need to actually enter a store (we are the ones wearing both masks and gloves).

Happy hour with neighborhood friends.

What we hadn’t done up until a couple of weeks ago, is to travel more than a few miles from home—and certainly not overnight.

Then, some good friends of ours (Kathy, of SMART Living 365, and her husband, Thom) invited us to visit them during their stay at a mountain cabin. The cabin—one they have rented every summer for many years—is located in a small community a little over two hours from our home. It is nestled among the pine trees, features a large deck and, best of all, has a guest cabin on the same piece of land—just perfect for a two-night stay.

Physically distanced, socially together.

After six months of restricted movement and limited social interactions, we decided that spending a couple of days in the mountains with—physically, but not socially distanced—friends was worth the extremely small risk. We knew that they were as careful as we are, and their generous offer came with the understanding that we’d all do what was safe and comfortable.

Kloe (can you see her?) leads the way up the hill.
Between a rock and… another rock.
The red branches and green foliage of a Manzanita tree contrasts against the clear blue sky.

After so much time staying close to home, our short mountain get-away was rejuvenating . The vistas were gorgeous, the company warm and welcoming, and the conversations lively and thought-provoking. Although these last six months haven’t been the challenge for us that so many others have faced, we found that a change of scenery, new paths to explore and, most of all, spending time with good friends, was just the balm we needed to help sooth our souls.   

happy to get away.

Desktop Travel

A few weeks ago, I wrote that my computer had died and needed to be replaced. Although I wasn’t happy about the inconvenience or expense, I have discovered a silver lining (and, don’t we all need a few extra silver linings these days).

Sometime early last year, I took on the challenge of culling and organizing my digital photos. It took me several weeks to go through them all, delete duplicates and disappointments, and finally create eight distinct topic folders under which my images could be filed. Full disclosure that one of the eight folders was titled “Miscellaneous” but… whatever. I was awfully proud of myself when I finished and have been careful to keep everything mostly organized since then.

Until…

When setting up my new computer, old files were transferred from my two back-up hard drives to my desktop. Although this was done by a “professional,” the way the transfer was made pretty much set me back to square one. Suddenly, my new computer was full of all the duplicates and disappointments I had previously gotten rid of and there were multiples of everything, including several copies of the eight organized folders.

Someone less anal and terrified of losing anything probably would have just kept one complete set of the eight folders and deleted everything else. Not me. I had to go through everything once again to be sure what I was keeping and deleting was what I wanted to keep and delete.

I have finally finished the job and the images in my Pictures folder are all organized in their correct folders. No duplicates and very few disappointments (not every photo is a winner but some of the less-than-perfect ones can still be quite loveable).

I knew the task would be time-consuming; what I didn’t expect was how uplifting it would be. I got to travel again to Cuba, Canada, and Mexico, enjoy a cross-country road trip with my girlfriend, visit the Pacific Northwest and Atlantic Northeast, tour San Francisco and Key West, and get my kicks on Route 66.  

I also was able to travel back in time and enjoy dinner parties with friends and family, summer gatherings on our deck, and celebrations – large and small – with absolutely no social distancing, masks, or BYOEverything.

It was glorious.

If you are like me and have a lot of pictures filed away on your computer, I encourage you to do some time travel of your own. Just because flights have been canceled, travel delayed, and planned get-togethers put on hold, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a trip down memory lane.

It might be a good time to organize your photos and make sure everything is backed up, too.

Purple Reign

In many areas of the world, changing foliage colors signal seasonal transitions. Even if we don’t experience it where we live, we’ve all seen pictures of maples, oaks, and dogwoods showing off their gorgeous autumn leaves. Although I’m happy enough not to have to deal with ice and snow, I do envy those who get to enjoy the glorious reds, oranges, and yellows that signal the coming of winter.

Here in Southern California, our autumn foliage doesn’t look that different from our summer or winter foliage, but we do get a magical burst of color this time of year. As spring transitions into early summer, the purple blossoms of the jacaranda tree begins to appear on the skyline and light up our streets. At first, just a few bell-shaped flowers dot the bare branches but, seemingly overnight, the tree’s canopy is covered in a vibrant violet-blue cloud.

Although the jacaranda is our city’s official urban tree, it is not native to our area.  Originally from South America, they are said to have been introduced here in the early 20th century by the locally renowned horticulturist, Kate Sessions.  Fortunately for us, our climate proved ideal for the jacaranda and it has flourished here ever since.

Jacarandas can be found all over San Diego, including downtown, La Jolla, and in Balboa Park. We are lucky to have several beautiful jacarandas on our block and, not too far away, a whole neighborhood is lined with the trees. I don’t know the history behind the mass planting, but it appears that every house on the street has at least one of the trees in its yard.

As spring warms into summer, the tree’s ephemeral blossoms start to fall, creating a lavender carpet on the lawns and sidewalks below. Pretty soon, green fern-like leaves begin to appear on the branches, and the once vibrant tree starts to blend into its surroundings again. If we are lucky, we may get a smaller bloom in the fall but, most likely, we will have to wait until the following spring, when the magic of the jacaranda tree reigns again.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Good thing I have a lot of time on my hands.

My computer had been hinting at its eventual demise for a while. I chose to ignore it. Then, two days ago, it finally decided to give it up. I guess 9 years of service, which included a major operating system update, was about all I could expect.

The bad news (if the blue screen of death wasn’t bad enough) is that, nowadays, getting a replacement quickly isn’t going to happen. I’m not sure where all the components are coming from, but I’ve been told not to expect anything before the first of July. The good news is that I have a laptop that I can use in the interim. My document and photo files are (fingers crossed) backed up on an external hard dive and sprinkled around on various cloud services.

Although I like to think of myself as pretty flexible (I like to think of myself as much younger and fitter too), this new state of affairs is making me nervous. I was perfectly happy with my old desktop. It was set up in a – to me, anyway – logical fashion. When I get the replacement, I’ll have to find someone to transfer everything over and hope that any changes will be minor.

And, speaking of changes…

Another change that I haven’t embraced is WordPress’s new Gutenberg block editing system. Many bloggers have already made the switch. Not me. Just like the death rattles from my computer, I’ve chosen to ignore the multiple and increasingly less subtle urgings from WordPress. The Classic Editor has worked perfectly fine for years.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Oh, wait…

So, here I am, on my laptop, trying out the new editor. If you aren’t a blogger or if you use a different blogging platform, this may not seem like a big deal. But think back to the 90s, when you may have made the transition from WordPerfect to Word. Both were word processing applications, but they were very different. Although I’m sure I struggled a bit when my company made the switch to Word, I worked through it and have never looked back. I’m hoping for a similar result.

If you are reading this, the change was a success!

GratiTuesday: A Chance to Reassess

I just paid our latest credit card balance online. Nothing unusual about that. The balance was a little less than normal, but then it normally fluctuates throughout the year, depending on travel, annual payment due dates, and household purchases. What caught my eye was the line-by-line list of credits and expenses.

First, the credits. In addition to last month’s payment, there were two credits for events that we had signed-up for but were cancelled.  Both were annual gatherings we had been looking forward to, but each fell victim to the virus. Although I am grateful that we received full refunds, I feel sorry for all the people who had put so much time, effort, and money planning the events only to have them cancelled.

Please don’t judge us by the relative size of the boxes.

Now, the purchases. Almost every one of them were for items that were delivered to our home – either electronically (like Netflix and our digital subscription to the New York Times), or were brought by truck. Amazon made the bulk of the deliveries, but food items were a close second. There also may have been a few deliveries of wine.

Our credit card statements from just a few months prior look completely different. I guess I had never really examined the statements before; once I verified all charges, I paid the balanced and moved on. Now, looking closer, I can see some interesting patterns.

As expected, most of our purchases from before were made in person. I was surprised, though, how often we went to various grocery and big box stores. Missing a specific ingredient for a meal or need an item for a project? No problem. Because most of these stores are just a few miles away, it was easy to get in the car and pop over. And, if these errands happened to occur around lunchtime (which they often did for some incomprehensible reason) why not stop for a bite to eat?

Although I don’t consider myself a big clothes shopper – especially since I retired – I apparently liked to visit those types of stores now and then ( 🙂 ). Not a lot – and the purchases were fairly moderate – but enough that it made me wonder what exactly I was buying things for. It’s not like my closet is in danger of emptying out anytime soon.

There has been a lot of discussion about possible positive changes our society might make after all this is over. Although I don’t hold out a lot of hope for world peace and the end of greed and corruption, I am grateful that our credit card bill has revealed a few personal changes I’d like to make.

I don’t miss all the running around doing errands, but I do miss the lunches out. But, rather than grabbing a quick bite in between, I’d like to make that time together the focus. And with better food. Too many of the lunches involved ordering at a counter.

I’m a little surprised that I don’t miss shopping for clothes. With the weather warming up, I would have visited the mall at least once over the last two months. The fact that I haven’t missed that particular indulgence makes me think maybe it wasn’t the clothes. Maybe it was getting out for a few hours to be alone with my thoughts. Going to a park or visiting a museum or gallery would provide the same “me time” without the price tag.

Everything being cancelled this year has brought home the importance of taking advantage of opportunities when I can. There were more than a few things I meant to do but had put off… until it was too late. I don’t want to feel those regrets again.

How about you? Do you anticipate any personal long-term changes based on your experience over the last few months? Is there anything you hope to do more of – or less of – in the future?

GratiTuesday: Simple Pleasures

Despite the current global crisis, it wasn’t too difficult to find things to be grateful for this week. Although I’d love to snap my fingers and make this all go away, I have found that – just like before – it’s often the simple pleasures that give me the greatest joy.

Masks Made

I am not an accomplished seamstress, but I do have a sewing machine and plenty of unused fabric. After watching a few YouTube tutorials, I was able to make several cloth masks for my husband and me, as well as for friends who don’t have the same resources.

Food Delivered

We recently signed up for home delivery of produce and other food items and had our first box delivered to our doorstep today. It’s not the cheapest way to go, but these regular deliveries will cut down on our need to go to grocery stores.

Smiles Provided

Like a lot of people, I’ve been spending way too much time on my computer. Fortunately, in between the worry and stress, I’ve found moments of laughter and reasons to smile. Here are a couple of my favorites (with links), in case you’ve missed them:

John Krasinski, the actor, delivers good news from around the world via his in-home Some Good News “studio.” He has recorded two episodes so far and they are delightful. I guarantee his news will make you smile.

Although the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles may be closed, they have found a way to encourage people to remain engaged with art by challenging their social media followers to recreate a work of art with objects found around their homes. The submissions are wonderful and often hilarious.  You can find the results all over social media, but here are a couple of links with examples.

The Iris (J. Paul Getty Museum blog)

My Modern Met

 

Sunday Stills: Spring Flowers

It seems like it has been spring here in Southern California for several months. I started to notice buds on trees back in February and then the March rains brought forth even more. Now, in early April, just about everywhere I look, Mother Nature is showing off with displays of colorful blossoms and heady scents.

For her weekly Sunday Stills photo challenge, Terri Webster Schrandt has asked us to “blow up WordPress and the rest of the Internet with gorgeous flowers!” Since most of us are sticking much closer to home, this week’s theme encourages us to find beauty in our neighborhoods, in our yards, or on our balconies.

The pictures that I’m sharing are from my yard and from walks around my neighborhood.

Lemon tree blossoms

Grevillea

Pineapple Guava

Aloe arborescens

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If you have images of your own, please share them with us by linking to your post on Terri’s blog. As she said, it “will be like we are sending each other wonderful bouquets.”

Sitting on the Deck of Bidet*

This is a reblog of a post from back in 2015. In light of the current toilet paper shortages, I thought I’d rerun it as a public service. You are welcome.

Like many Americans, I was first introduced to bidets when I traveled through Europe. It took me awhile to gain the required coordination and I never felt completely comfortable using one. The challenge was, after using the “regular’ toilet, I had to, with pants still down around my ankles, shuffle over to the bidet to experience the cleansing wash of water focused on my nether-regions.  I remember feeling rather silly but certainly fresher and cleaner. Once back home, I don’t think I gave bidets a second thought. I was 28, what did I know?

None of the bathrooms on my European travels 30 years ago were this nice, but you get the idea. Image from archiproducts.com

Over the years I would see them in higher-end homes, but, even if I was tempted, I certainly didn’t have a bathroom big enough to hold two toilet-sized fixtures. Besides, bidets really seemed like an extravagance that was unnecessary in my life.

Then, several things happened that helped to change my mind:

  • As I’ve gotten older there have been things other than just my skin that have, let’s just say, loosened up.
  • Unlike the bidets I found in Europe, there are now toilet seat-integrated bidets — sort of a “one-stop-shop” on which to plop. What used to require not only a bathroom large enough for two fixtures, but also extensive re-plumbing, now takes up no extra room and can be installed in a few hours by a handy homeowner.
  • A dear friend whose opinion I value greatly speaks of her integrated bidet in terms that can only be described as worshipful adulation.
  • And, well, Costco.

After doing some, um, product testing at my friend’s house and a bit of online research, my husband and I began to think that getting a bidet might not be a bad idea. When we saw the integrated seats for sale at Costco, we figured the time had come to shit or get off the pot buy one. Now, we are converts.

Do you still have a conventional toilet? I shake my head in pity for you.

Is your toilet seat as cold as ice when you first sit down? My naked bum is welcomed by a soothingly warmed seat (especially nice for those middle-of-the-night sojourns).

When you are finished doing the deed, do you reach for dry toilet paper that (let’s be honest here) doesn’t do the job very well? Then, you use more and more tissue (at the risk of clogging up your plumbing) trying to remove all evidence? My tush is treated to a cleansing warm-water spray that leaves me feeling fresh and clean.

Ah-ha, you say, at least I don’t end up with a wet end! Well, actually, neither do I: after my bidet completes the rinse cycle, it finishes up by gently blow-drying my derriere with warmed air.

Oh, did I mention that it has a remote control?

I admit that our bidet has totally ruined me for regular toilet seats. Although not a fan of using public restrooms anyway, I now have an even stronger incentive to keep it together until I get home. If these things were portable, we would take ours with us on our travels. Having to use conventional toilets for an extended period is almost too much for my tush to tolerate.

Sales in America are tiny compared to the rest of the world but these integrated bidet seats are slowly gaining acceptance. There are several manufacturers (Kohler, Toto and Brondell are just three) and a variety of features available in different price ranges. As consumers start to appreciate the advantages of bidets (including better hygiene care for the disabled and elderly), I’m confident that they will become mainstream here too.

In the meantime, to those of you who haven’t promoted your potty yet, what are you waiting for? Relieve yourself of that seat that just sits there and treat your gluteus to maximus luxury. I guarantee that your bum won’t be bummed.

The seat of power in our house.

* Sincere apologies to the ghost of Otis Redding.