My friend Francine, a former French teacher in Colorado, retired the same year as I did. She and her husband Harvey moved to Las Vegas, where they followed their passions. Harvey sells high-performance German automobiles such as Audis. Besides substitute teaching regularly, Francine also plunged into show business. She has been an extra in many films shot in Vegas and if she’s not acting, she is a production assistant. I have watched her in Rush Hour II, The Hangover, and Up In The Air, for example. She’s also a model who recently had a full-page spread in a national magazine. She has learned so much about Vegas that she can give a marvelous tour. My traveling friends and I can vouch for that. Below you can see a photo and the commentary she wrote about her most recent experience:

This is what I was up to last night. Resting up today! I’m the skinny one (wearing gray leggings) in between the blond and the dark-haired gal just before we let the bikini gals onto the pool deck. I was production assistant.

All day yesterday and last night, I worked as a PA on the Cosmo-Nivea 2010 Bikini Bash on the pool deck of Planet Hollywood. There were big wigs all over the place and media coverage from all over the country. Mario Lopez was the announcer and MIDI Mafia was the group that performed. I was hired as one of only seven people to wrangle the hundreds of bikini-clad women at precisely 7:30 pm to form the letters “NIVEA” and then “COSMO.” There were photographers on top of the roof filming it all. I was assigned to the “O” and the “I.” We “Wranglers” wore headsets and took orders from the director who told us exactly when to get all the gals into position for the photo shots. No easy feat, but it all came off without a hitch. All the other members on my team were with the LVCVA, (Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority). It was my fellow-actress friend and colleague who was project manager for the entire event and it was she who got me the job. It was a privilege and an honor to have been hired for such a key position and I hope it’ll lead to more jobs with them. Coverage of the entire event will appear in the August issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. Can’t wait to see it.”

Here’s the link if you want to see the stars and bikini-clad women involved:

Francine is in photo # 10.

I am sharing this with my readers for several reasons. One is that I’m very, very proud of her accomplishments and indomitable spirit. She does whatever she needs to do to get where she wants to be. Secondly, even though life has dealt her some severe blows, she remains constantly positive and encouraging to all she meets. She says thank you for what she receives. She has fun. She makes everybody laugh.

The most important reason for my sharing Francine with you is to show us all an example of what life in retirement can be. When you know your passions and then live them, you are a happy person and you make others happy by association.

Recently, I met a former male colleague of mine by chance at our post office. I asked how he was and he said, “Not happy. I don’t like retirement. You can play with grandkids and play golf only so long, and then what?”

This problem does not compute with me. Before I retired from teaching, I made a list pages long of what I wanted to do with my life once I actually had time to have a life.

Exercise was first on that list. I started with water aerobics and since have added Zumba Dance. I do yoga and sometimes Qi Gong. Moving oneself is such a wonderful celebration of being in a body.

Garden. Our house had nothing when we moved here except a quarter-acre vegetable garden spot and a strip up the front walk and across the front for flower beds. Now there are the west, east, north, shop, and herb flower beds. There are numerous trees. The garden spot now sports wildflowers and a variety of berries besides a plethora of vegetables and a hidden square inside a hedge of giant sunflowers. From the garden I preserve what we eat all year, either through canning, freezing, or dehydrating. From that I make gifts to give throughout the year to friends and family. What we can’t use, I give to our local Salvation Army foodbank.

Travel. I took students to France, England and Spain while still teaching, and two graduating students took me to Ireland. I’ve been to Greece with my daughter. I’ve been to Mexico with my son. I’ve been to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia/Cape Breton Island, Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, California, Nevada, Canada and Costa Rica with my husband. My friend Cecilia and I have been to Mexico, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arizona, South Carolina, and Quebec. With my childhood friend Janis, I have been to Boston and San Francisco. With my Burns, Oregon friend Roseann, I have been to California, Savannah, Mexico (where we learned to speak Spanish), Boston, New Orleans and the Cajun country. I have been to visit my friend Martha in Georgia, and together we traveled to North Carolina. I have visited my friend Jerry in Los Angeles. I love to travel because I learn so much and meet such interesting people.

Hint: a great way to travel is through the company that used to be called Elderhostel: Exploritas. Not only do you see the sights but you are educated about them by experts beforehand. One price takes care of food,lodging, and travel expenses and arrangements for the entire trip. I have met amazing people by traveling this way. I learned about this company from my friend Myrla who went to a music gathering every summer. Because of Exploritas, I looked forward to being 50.

Music was on my list. I could already play a few chords on the guitar, so I decided to try something else and I took up the violin. Then my violin teacher left in the middle of the night for parts unknown and my bow was left dangling in the breeze. Almost two years ago, I saw the local music store was offering mandolin lessons and being someone who loves bluegrass, I signed up to get me some learnin’. I am finally learning music and I have fun. Best of all, I get to sing.

I love singing. My brother and my nephew both have karaoke set-ups so there’s a lot of singing going on when our family gets together for birthdays, anniversaries and general merriment. I’m a believer of sound therapy. I know that singing and chanting keeps me mentally and physically healthy.

Write. I was able to pick up my freelance career which I had to drop in the 90’s due to teaching and I wrote again for small magazines. I also have been writing poetry, short stories, collaborating on screenplays, and just recently, have finished revising my middle grades novel and will be showing it to publishing agents in August.

Pay attention. I don’t sit much, but when I do, I sit with purpose. I breathe. For a year I wrote a poem a day about what I saw when I paid attention and you know what? I fell in love. What a miracle every day is! Now if I see something beautiful when I’m driving somewhere, I can stop and look deeply.

Have fun. Every day. I do.

My “to-do” list is so long, I haven’t even got to the end of it and I think that’s the way life should play out.

For at least ten minutes my colleague and I listened and spoke about his predicament. He had mistaken his career for who he was, and when he retired, he was left with no framework. He had no idea who he was. That’s why I encouraged him to seek out his passions because I know that once he finds them, he’ll know who he is and what to do. In the meantime, I suggested that since he’d been a coach, and I knew the YMCA always needs coaches, perhaps that would be a good place to start. Service to others is always a good place to start.

Francine knows that, which is why she still substitutes, why she is often a production assistant, and why she was successful herding hundreds of women into the letters “I” and “O.” I’ll bet she was hilarious doing it.

Below is a photo Harvey took of Francine when she got home. She had been given one of the bikinis in thanks for her work and so she modeled it for all of us to enjoy.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come most alive because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman


The day after I brought my husband home from the hospital post heart attack, our oven died. First, though, it tried to kill me. As if I didn’t have enough trauma in my life already.
When I touched the “Off” spot on the digital control, a spark flew out and knocked me across the room. Well, not totally across the room because our kitchen is wide, but I flew some distance while shouting “Holy Shit!” an involuntary response having nothing to do with a working brain. Pain and shock delivered in a single WHAM! The control panel’s dark face stared back at me and my finger and hand tingled. I’d just been tasered by my oven. I took umbrage.
Have you ever thought about how much you bake or how much you take using an oven for granted? We lived three months short two days with no oven and I am now well aware that I do not enjoy the caveman lifestyle of supper in a pot night after night. Now that I think of it, I do believe at least cavemen had a spit and they roasted their meat. Since we live on the Oregon coast and the months involved were February, March, April, and May, obviously in the downpours a campfire has not been possible. We couldn’t even get our burn pile of dried, pruned twigs to stay lit for long. So forget the rotisseried roast. Besides, red meat was off our menu anyway, given previous circumstances.
The next day, post-jolt, while I was away exercising and grumbling and complaining about post-traumatic stress, my husband called the local appliance coroner who pronounced the oven control truly zapped and revealed the price of a replacement unit–$600. That was a cruel thing to do to a man recovering from a heart attack. Then, he delivered the second punch. We were 22 days over our year-long warranty. Achhh! Or, “Shit!” without the “Holy.”
However, he redeemed himself almost immediately by revealing this brand and year of stove seemed to be plotting homicide all over the US. Many households have been attacked as ours was and the company wanted to keep the story of these nasty ranges under wraps. The oven coroner suggested that when we contacted the company to order the replacement control unit, we should mention not only that the unit tried to kill me and nearly succeeded, but that we understood from our repairperson the zappance was a common occurrence with this model range. The repairperson lay on the floor and read the model number and serial number to my husband, who wrote it on the blank space for such in our stove manual.
I must insert here an important fact that will later play a major role: my husband cannot hear well without his hearing aids and he probably wasn’t wearing them at the time he was transcribing numbers.
When I returned from my exercise and grumblefest, I was given the number to call concerning the ordering of the part. I must insert here that I also cannot hear well, especially on the phone, even when it’s on speakerphone mode. Also, I despise making calls of this sort but it was one step up from being dead on my kitchen floor and my husband needed rest, having his own sticker shock of the day from which to recover.
I called the customer service number the oven coroner had written. The person who answered was genderless. I could not determine if I was speaking to a male or female, not that it matters, but what did matter was that he or she had been gifted with an accent that I could neither decipher nor understand. I speak three languages and have taught two of them but the accent was more than I could decode. Also, even with the phone on speakerphone mode, I could barely hear hisher voice.
Back and forth went endless repetitions, first, on my part and then,on hisher part. Name, address, phone number, place of purchase. Neither of us was having much fun.
“I am so sorry to inform you that your warranty is out of date and you will have to purchase the part yourself,” I was told.
“Yes, I know we are two weeks past the warranty, but our repairperson told us that these ranges are having the same problem all over the United States. He said that your company would probably want to comp us the part. And I did get badly shocked.”
Silence, half a minute long. The unstated implication of lawsuit understood. Long enough to turn pages in the Manual of Appropriate Response.
“Very well, Ma’am, my supervisor has informed me that the control unit will be sent to you, but you will be responsible for the labor and installation.”
“Yes, I understand that. Thank you.”
“What is the model number of your range?”
I shouted the numbers and letters my husband had written in the manual to the person on the other end of the line and heher informed me that no such numbers existed. He read to me the numbers and letters that he thought should be the correct ones.
“Just a minute, please. I will go look again.”
During this exchange my husband stood in the kitchen in a stupor, stymied by not knowing what to do to improve matters.
“You didn’t write the numbers down correctly,” I hissed at him.
Once he realized that I was going to have to lie on the floor and look in the warming drawer at the numbers through whichever segment of my trifocals worked, if any, he went somewhere and retrieved a teensy, six-inch long,1/2 inch in diameter, paint-spattered flashlight and handed it to me. I know we have bigger, more efficient flashlights in the house like the one I have next to my bed with which to bop a burglar should it be necessary. This trainer-model flashlight was pathetic.
Aiming its feeble light and trying to see the number-letter series, I wrenched my neck up and down to peer through each tri-focal lens to find the one that would reveal the numbers clearly to me. Once I found the correct lens, then I had to remember the series, juggle the paper, pen, and flashlight so I could write, and record the numbers and letters. By this point, I was so peeved I almost cried.
I recited the series to himher and they matched up with what heshe had.
Then I listened to the part number for the control unit and wrote it in the manual.
“We will send this part to you and then your service provider will install it. It will take about four weeks.”
“Thank you so much.”
Ha-ha-ha-ha! That is the cruel laugh of Fate.
We patiently waited five weeks while for meals I prepared soup, stew, spaghetti, ravioli, and sautéed bits of vegetables, fish, and chicken. I used a crock pot. I used an electric frying pan which I had to dig out of a cupboard in the garage and wash. What I could not use was the oven.
At the end of week five, I called the company customer service number.
This time I could tell gender—a woman answered. I explained the problem to her.
“Now what is it you want to be replaced?” she asked.
“The digital control unit for the range.”
“We don’t have units here.”
“I can give you the number.” I read it to her.
“Oh,” she said, understanding. “That’s a part. We don’t have units, we have parts.”
I thought bad thoughts. Something along the line of IDIOT!
“When can I expect my part?” I asked.
“We don’t send the part. You have to give your number to the registered licensed service provider in your area and they order the part from us.”
“I was told it would be sent to me. That’s why we waited five weeks now.”
“Oh, no. We never send parts. I can’t imagine you being told that. Would you like me to look up the name and number of your licensed service provider?”
I live in a rural town on the coast of Oregon. There is only one provider for miles and miles.
“Very well.”
Yep. I was given the name and number of our only licensed service provider. I thanked her, and moved on to the next step, which was like starting the process over again. Sisyphus, I feel your pain. I called the service provider.
I explained the entire proceeding up to this point to the woman on the phone.
“Who came out to look at the stove?”
“I don’t know. Someone from your shop. I wasn’t home.”
“Could your husband describe him?”
“He’s at work and he never pays attention to appearance anyway, so I doubt it.”
“Well, we have no record of anyone from this shop having been out to your house. Let me check around and I’ll get back to you.”
“Wait! Here’s the part number so you can get it ordered.” I read it to her.
The weekend came and went.
Tuesday I called. Again. A different woman. The same conversation.
“We will have to send someone to look at the stove before we can order the part.”
“I gave you the part number to order. Do you have it there?”
“Yes, but we have to have someone look at the stove before we can order the part.”
“Someone already came out here the day after it happened. We know it doesn’t work. We have the part order number.”
“We have no record of being there, so…”
“When can someone come?”
I was given a date and time a week later during which neither of us would be able to be home. I gave instructions for where to find the key. In the meantime, I asked my husband if he remembered the person who came that first time, what he looked like or his name. He remembered the name.
On the appointed day, someone came I know, because little dust blobs were all over the kitchen floor, reminders that pulling out an appliance from the wall to clean under it is not high on my list of housecleaning priorities.
Plus, now not even the top of the stove, the gas part, worked because the repairman had unplugged the stove. On top of the stove was a yellow sticky note with a message to call “Duane.” Oh. I’d thought perhaps his name might be “Godot.”
I called the number but it wasn’t Duane. It was the clerk. I told her the first repair person’s name.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “He doesn’t work here. His wife works where you purchased the range and he’s an out-of-work contractor who’s picking up odd jobs with them.”
One mystery solved. He was not a registered licensed service provider at all.
“Duane found the part that needs ordering is different from the one you were told,” she said. “We’ll get that ordered for you. It will be about a week.”
“And now not even the top part of the stove works,” I told her.
“We have to unplug them for safety issues. We don’t want something to go wrong and blow up. You can plug it back in if you’d like, but we have to leave them unplugged after we inspect them.”
Oh. Great. Our gas stove top with the electric-generated spark could have blown up the stove, our house and us. Why did the first person not tell us to unplug the stove?
A week later, after using a propane lighter to turn on the burners, I called the shop.
“Is the part in?”
“Let me go check,” she said. Returning, she said that nothing was in yet but that she was expecting a shipment that afternoon.
I waited another week. Meanwhile, each time I lit the propane gas burner with a propane lighter, I kept wondering what if the latter ignited the gas in the former? The only thing different in our situation from camp cooking was that there was a roof over our heads. And I was not a happy camper.
I called the licensed service provider once again.
“Just wondering if our part was in yet.” Same song, third verse. Could get better but it always gets worse.
“We’re expecting a shipment today, so we’ll call and let you know.”
That night my husband decided he would go to the actual licensed service provider shop in person the next day. He stands 6’4” and people tend to take notice when he walks up to them. Things happen when he needs them to. He went. Things happened. The part had arrived. Everyone concerned made arrangements. We had to leave for a weekend event, so the key would be left under the mat.
All weekend away we dreamed of what we would do when we walked in the door and saw a working stove top and oven once again.
When we opened the front door, we raced for the kitchen. Nothing.
My husband called the licensed service provider the next morning. Normally even-keeled, he was now not a happy camper either.
“Heh-heh,” the clerk said. “Duane ordered the wrong part part but he thinks he has the right one in stock. We’ll call you back.”
No, the right part was not in stock and would need to be ordered. Why would we think otherwise? This whole oven incident reminded me more and more of that old movie where a couple buys a house only to find everything that could go wrong with a new house does go wrong.
A week later, my husband called to inquire whether the proper part had arrived. It had and arrangements were made. My husband told them distinctly where the key would be, since once again, we would be gone.
All weekend away, we dreamed of what we would do when we walked in the door and saw a working stove top and oven once again.
When we opened the front door, we raced for the kitchen. Nothing.
Yes, I have written those two same paragraphs before.
Immediately, my husband called the licensed service provider.
“Duane looked everywhere for the key and couldn’t find it,” she said.
“Hmmm, that’s strange,” my husband said, “because I told him it would be under the mat and I’m standing here looking at it right now.”
Once again, arrangements were made. I would be gone but my husband took the afternoon off work to receive Duane just in case that pesky key vanished again.
When he arrived home at noon and walked in the kitchen, awaiting him was a lighted digital oven control, burners that lighted with the electric spark, and an oven that worked. Like a Ninja on a stealth mission, Duane had found the elusive key where it had lain under the mat five days in a row and done his work while we were both away.
We did a happy dance all around the kitchen. We celebrated with baked pork chops and brownies that night. All was well with the world, finally. Sisyphus rolled his rock all the way to the top of the hill and it stayed there.
I don’t actually touch the control pad with bare fingers, though. I use the end of a plastic spoon. I’m not going to tempt fate and go through this torture again.
I won’t tell you the name of the appliance company from which you should never buy this model of gas cooktop/electric oven range, but my husband calls it “Friggin’ Dare.” It’s a subsidiary of Electrolux.
And I won’t tell you the name of the licensed service provider shop either because it’s the only one in town and with all the “Friggin’ Dare” appliances we have purchased in the last three years, we need a good working relationship. In fact, Duane has been here so often we actually consider him one of our family. He’s seen our dust bunnies and he knows where the key is. Most of the time.

Reid Bailey

On my left wrist is still the blue mark made when Reid Bailey attacked me with his pencil in a moment of 7th grade goofiness and the tip tore through the skin and then broke off in my flesh. Who knew that even after I dug it out, the graphite would leave blue residue? Who knew it would still be here 52 years later to remind me of the man who isn’t, the man who lived to be only 28 years old?
Our 46th high school reunion is fast approaching, and on our website and amongst classmates, old photos are being exchanged and re-examined. I found in my attic old photos from the pencil stabbing days, and there’s Reid again, reminding me of his amazing, indelible self.
He was tall, ornery, and funny. His forehead went wrinkly when he lifted his bushy eyebrows. In his dark brown crew cut, wearing buttoned-up short sleeve shirts or tee shirts, there wasn’t anything Reid couldn’t do. He hunted, a necessity in Eastern Oregon at that time when most boys hunted and families needed meat. I got in trouble one time for letting Frankie Slyter and him hunt birds on my dad’s farm. In high school, he was an athlete in more than one sport.
Reid was whip smart. At the beginning of Mr. Gregory’s geometry class each day while he was taking roll, he threw out math problems for us to solve in our heads. “5 plus 7 minus 2 divided by 5 times the square root of 9 plus the circumference of a circle with a radius of seven equals…” I’d still be on the 5 plus 7 minus 2 part while Reid would have the answer almost before Mr. Gregory stopped talking. How did he do that?
He must have read a lot because he knew a lot and most days went head to head in debate with our social problems teacher who was happy to argue with us, he said, as long as we had researched our point of view. Nothing made Reid back down. If he had a point of view other than the one presented, he spoke up. I looked forward to social problems class just to see what Reid might argue about.
I knew Reid for seven years and had often been to his home, for 4-H leather crafting, and especially when Mr. Lovely, our 7th and 8th grade teacher, wanted to listen to the world series so he took our whole class to the Bailey’s home just across the street for a field trip.
Reid was the kind of male you might wish your father, husband or son to be, a combination of every perfect male ingredient. Only he wasn’t perfect. He must have owned some secret pain none of us knew about. Because why else, with so much going for him, would he choose to take drugs to the extent that drugs finally took him? Where did it go, that element in him that made him take on adult authority and challenge in the classroom when he knew he was right?
The last time I saw him, at our ten-year high school reunion, he was clearly troubled. The number 11 was etched between his eyebrows, interrupting the eyelift wrinkles. He’d gotten off drugs and worked as a drug counselor. His wife either was still an addict or had overdosed by this time (my memory is hazy here) so he was the sole caregiver for his children who didn’t want to leave his arms, not even during the reunion photo taking.
I can’t help thinking what the world lost when he died. Space travel, computer design, medical advances. We were poised at the starting gate of so many developments, then, so much innovation. With his death, all of Reid’s potential, his marvelous intelligence was sucked into the black hole of nothing.
52 years after the pencil attack, I am struck with the realization that we don’t go “poof” all at once when we die. Oh, whatever inhabits our vessel goes immediately, but the rest of what belonged to us, the remnants of our lives, can remain for a very long time—our hair, the imprint of our body on the bed, the smell of us in clothing, old photos, and one tiny blue dot on an aging wrist.


You may have noticed I have not posted anything new for a long, long time. Here’s my apology.
Since February 16th, the date of my husband’s heart attack, I have been caught up in a maelstrom of unfortunate circumstances.
First, the heart attack. Then the oven control unit zapped me across the room and melted itself. As of today, the part is still not repaired. (Never buy a Frigidaire.) Next, our friend Chuck died of an infection, overnight. My father, who is on oxygen, spent two nights in ICU, passing a gallstone while suffering from pneumonia. My friend Georga had a stroke. Our beloved cat, Cher, died last Friday.
I have become my own Charybdis, a zombie-like maenad. In this state, I have not been able to write.
In other words, I’m in shock, sitting in the midst of a shitstorm that appears to be never-ending.
My head is full of things I want and need to say but just as I get prepared, enjoying a quiet moment with my fingers poised over the keyboards, something else happens. I’ve had trouble focusing, feeling like Karen of the Dead.
I have squeezed this much out tonight in a brief moment of rally but who knows what tomorrow will bring? We are going to have to make do for awhile, you and I, with these brief, rallying moments. They may be all I get for some time.