Author: Michele LaFollette

Pandemic Prose

The Kindness of Strangers

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Dear Reader:

I love to shop, for everything, including groceries. I linger in the aisles. I don’t rush the process. I read ingredient labels and check expiration dates. I sample cheese in the deli and watch sushi being rolled. I smell, thump and squeeze. Sometimes, I’m so moved by produce displays that I snap photos. I talk to strangers waiting in line and get to know the checkers at my regular stores.

In short, I enjoy the grocery store… not so much during a pandemic, though. I hopped onto Instacart the first week of our stay at home order and I haven’t looked back. I’ve now taught two neighbors how to use the site…over the phone. Imagine me as a Tech Consultant!

There’s one particular shopping experience that I’ll never forget. It came during the second week of shut down. It was 10 p.m. and I couldn’t stop worrying about one of my beloved neighbors. She is more than a decade older than me and fits firmly in the high risk category for serious illness with coronavirus. She doesn’t shop on-line much for anything and the idea of  buying groceries without leaving her house was a bit revolutionary. I’d spoken with her earlier in the day after she’d come back from the market. She couldn’t get eggs and she was planning to go out the next day and find them at another store. I didn’t want her to do that!

At that point in time, it was hard to find eggs. I was determined, though. I opened my laptop and placed an order. The website was accepting orders for 2 dozen eggs but it remained to be seen if I’d actually get them. At 10:30, I was notified that Celestial (I took her name as a good omen) would begin shopping my order. I’d kept it small, but I still reached out to her and asked that she pull the eggs first, as they were for an elderly neighbor. Her reply came back quickly, “there are no eggs!”

Twenty minutes later, I received a text saying she would drive to another store that she thought might have the eggs if I could wait. Sure…where was I going at 11 o’clock?!

Celestial lives with her mother, she explained later in text, and she wanted to help me help my neighbor. She intended to pay for my items out of her own pocket. But, when she reached the checkout counter, she realized she’d left the house without her wallet. That was when the gentleman in line behind her stepped in and paid for my two dozen eggs and two bottles of precautionary cough syrup.

I owed a stranger about $30 and I reached out the next day to thank him and arrange to reimburse him.

This was his reply:

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Don’t you just love it?! I’ve always been a person who believes in the kindness of strangers. And, I love it when that belief is reinforced. I went to bed that night with a smile on my face.

Gotta run now, I’m placing my 10th Instacart order.

Hugs,

Michele

P.S. My dear neighbor now loves Instacart as much as I do!

 

 

 

Grief and Loss, Pandemic Prose, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

Prozac in the Time Of Pandemic

Dear Reader:

I woke today to find, with a quick look at my social media feed, that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week . How appropriate, I thought as I swallowed one 20mg Prozac with my morning coffee. That’s not the first time I started my day with a little help, but it’s the first time in nearly a year.

I’ve had an on again/off again relationship with Prozac for twenty years. I filled my first prescription a month after learning of my younger brother‘s terminal cancer diagnosis. At the time, I didn’t have the luxury of pondering the merits of antidepressants. It was necessary.

I was a stay at home mom with a four year old daughter. I had to function reasonably well so that I could take care of my girl. Children can really help to clarify things in life. Decisions become easy.

I did express concern and ask my doctor about how I’d get off the medication when the time came. But, it’s the type of question that you ask even though you know there isn’t a good answer. My brother was given three months to live. He lived for a year. I needed both counseling and pharmaceutical help during that year and in the year that followed.

I don’t remember when I made the initial decision to stop taking the meds, but l remember other moments through the years when I either resumed use or discontinued use. Life goes on and there are challenges along the way. I have consistently believed that I should take the meds only if I need them. I experiment.  If life seems stable, I try to live without Prozac. Sometimes it works.

I have learned that, for me, a regular schedule of very intense activity can affect me positively both physically and mentally. During the time that I lived in Carmel and worked with Jonathan at Zone Fitness, I was able to remain drug-free.

Upon my arrival in Sacramento, I slipped into depression and had to resume my meds. In November, we celebrated one year in our new home. I was beginning to make friends with my new city and I felt better. I had established a new fitness program. My daughter was set to graduate in December with a job in…wait…can you believe it…Sacramento. Life was good.

That brings me to three days ago when I started to cry a lot. The week had brought a few minor interpersonal irritations, news of the death of one of my daughter’s favorite teachers and an injury to my right leg. Plus, there’s this pandemic! Maybe, I was feeling exactly as I should?

I paused and pulled out the old familiar tool box.

  1. Am I reluctant to leave the house?
  2. Has my personal grooming ritual fallen off?
  3. Am I schlepping around in sweats and napping often?
  4. Am I retreating from social life?

Yes! Yes! Yes!

The threat of COVID-19 has changed so many things including the criteria for determining if I need medication. But, I didn’t need to take a deep dive to find my answer. I knew the answer at a gut level. And, I am blessed to live with a man who has known me since I was 16 years old. I had only to ask the question: do I seem off?

I am a woman who has everything: a loving spouse, a wonderful daughter, and a beautiful home. I also have a mental illness. I am depressed.

In the past when I’ve written about this topic, people have commented: “Oh, how brave of you!” I’m still not sure how to respond when I hear that. I can, of course, see that the comment is meant to be a compliment. But, it makes me sad, nonetheless. Why I wonder is mental health still a taboo subject? If I said I was suffering from high blood pressure (I’m not), you might say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” But, I don’t think you’d call me brave for revealing it.

I don’t think I’m “brave.” But, the fact that there are people who do, keeps me coming back to the subject. I feel compelled to share my story if it helps anyone. Today, I decided that I need to take care of myself. Adding Prozac back into my daily routine is one way to do that.

Best,

Michele

Creativity

3 Years of Blogging; 4 Reasons to Blog

Portrait of Katherine Mansfield by Anne Estelle Rice

Looking back, I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.

–Katherine Mansfield    

Dear Reader:

I’m old. I started my blog when I was 57 and I just turned 60. I majored in journalism in college and learned to write on a typewriter. My work would come back from my professors full of comments and corrections written in red ink…the proverbial blood bath.

I so greatly anticipated receiving editorial criticism. It gave me direction. It presented a challenge and I love challenges. I’d set to work cutting and pasting, in the old-fashioned way, with scissors and tape. I did not conserve paper. The wastebasket was always full of twaddle. Final copies included a dot or two of white out to conceal typographical errors. I expected to re-write everything multiple times.

The shorter the piece, the longer it took to hone it. It’s much more difficult to communicate a clear message in a concise way. I was taught to take every piece I wrote and start by crossing out, with a pencil, every other word to get a sense of how it might be pared down. 

One did not share her work with anyone other than an instructor or editor until it had been revised and re-written numerous times. It wasn’t as simple as having a thought, writing it down and sending it out into the world.  

After my only child left the nest for college, a younger friend suggested that I start a blog, I chuckled. I’m a perfectionist. Writers should edit and re-write. How could I possibly maintain a regular blogging schedule and still turn out readable copy at a level that I felt comfortable with?

I’ve been a blogger for three years now. I’m renewing and refreshing my site with the help of a young consultant who has probably never met a typewriter. As I review the entirety of my posts to bring clarity and focus to the pink shed, I’m struck by the pride I feel for what I’ve created.

I’ve found errors …awkwardly phrased sentences, an extra space here and there and more than one grainy looking photo. But, life is like that. Imperfect. My blog is imperfect and I’m okay with that!

I’ll continue to send my letters to you dear readers for these very good reasons:

  1. Blogging gives me an emotional and creative outlet.
  2. It provides an opportunity for me to enhance my technological understanding and skills.
  3. The blogging community is great.
  4. It’s wonderfully fun!                                                                                                                         

I love discovering quotations from accomplished writers who acknowledge the difficulty of the art form. Katherine Mansfield was impressive and yet she dared to honestly talk about the craft of writing. I respect that.

We can not all be best-selling authors or famous bloggers, but that’s not an excuse. There’s no reason to hold back. Share what’s in your heart. Life is short. Life is precious. We must see that now. Have the courage to create a perfectly imperfect masterpiece in the genre of your choice. I promise, you’ll feel good about it.  

Hugs,

Michele

 

 
Flowers, Inspirational Women, The Color Pink

Coco Chanel’s Favorite Flower in My Favorite Color

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Dear Reader:

Coco Chanel loved camellias. And, so do I. She favored them in white and turned them into a recognizable branding phenomenon. The white bloom is both simple and elegant and fit her artistic aesthetic perfectly. Certainly, Coco was the ultimate arbiter of good taste, but a girl loves what a girl loves. I must humbly state my case for the pink camellia: everything is pretty in pink!

The camellia plant is an evergreen. It typically flowers late winter into early spring. So, as we approach the end of the season, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite gifts from the garden.

My life is a very good one. My gardener lives with me! Meet the man who brings me flowers. Up to this point, he’s only agreed to have his hand featured on my site.

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Tell me, dear reader, do you love the camellia? White or pink?

Hugs,

Michele

 

Family, Friends and Neighbors

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Dear Reader:

I’ve collected quotations since I was a teenager…the wise words of others who seem to know exactly how I feel. There are bits of paper, handmade notebooks and beautifully printed books scattered among the shelves and drawers in my pink room. And, there’s an entire category of my blog devoted to the brilliantly pithy thoughts of others.

There are a few quotations that are so special that I can recite them verbatim. There’s one that I can still recall reading for the first time. It’s also the first words to appear when one googles “quotes about motherhood,” so it must resonate with many other parents.

“Making the decision to have a child — it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Elizabeth Stone

I encountered that quotation for the first time a few days after my only child, my lovely daughter, was born. A friend had given me a journal for mothers that included space for my own entries along with the wise words of other parents. I’ve still got that gift, 23 years later! I never wrote a word of my own in the book, but I read all the entries.

Certainly, I didn’t have a lot of time for writing in those early days, but I think the pages were left blank for another reason, too. My feelings about my baby were too deep to convey. Initially, I fell in love with her tiny toes and chubby thighs. I cherished the moments the two of us shared in the dark of the night in the rocking chair in the corner of her nursery. I marveled that my husband and I could create such a beautiful little thing.

And, then my baby grew. It was still hard to put into words the depth of my joy and awe. She kept me busy. She was quick and curious and into everything. One night after she’d gone to bed, my husband and I child-proofed all the cabinets. The next morning she screamed in protest when she found she couldn’t open them.

It was about that time that I went back to work leaving her at a day care center run from a small family home in my neighborhood. The mother/daughter team who looked after her had been in business for more than 20 years. I could see the surprise in their faces the day they told me that they had to take extra measures to keep my daughter from getting out of the playroom. Apparently, no other child had challenged their security system in the same way.

Shortly after that, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to miss a single one of her escapades! I quit my job and never looked back. I was a feminist and a stay-at-home mom and I knew that I was blessed.

It’s still hard to put into words how I feel about my daughter. I feel inadequate to the task. But, I’ll try. My daughter is a capable, accomplished adult with a college degree and a job. But, it is her personal attributes that are most impressive. The curiosity she displayed as a baby and toddler are still evident, but she is a composed, quiet and thoughtful woman. She is, most of all, the kindest person I know and for that I could not be more grateful.

In years past, I visited my daughter in San Luis Obispo to celebrate Mother’s Day. She was attending Cal Poly University and those trips were such fun. We celebrated with donuts at SLODOCO, walks around downtown and conversations about her future as she approached the end of her college education. We never could have imagined what this year would bring. I’m so happy my heart is under my roof this Mother’s Day.

Hugs,

Michele

Creativity, Pandemic Prose

Refresh and Renew at from the pink shed

Joel's Grad Photo
Introducing my new tech consultant, Joel Williams

Dear Reader:

Nothing like a pandemic to re-ignite one’s creativity! You may have noticed that I’ve returned to the page. I can not say why my move to Sacramento silenced me, nor why a pandemic would motivate me, but it feels good to send my letters into the blogosphere again.

From the Pink Shed is three years old now and I decided I’d like to re-commit to it in every possible way. I’ve got the time now. And, I very much need a break from house cleaning.

So, I hired Joel Williams, a 2019 Cal Poly graduate to help me. It was my daughter’s idea! I’d been telling her that I wanted to polish the look of my blog, but I didn’t know how to do it.

“No, mother, you can not do it on your own and I can’t help you!” she told me one day.

Very sad. But, then she surprised me. She asked a friend if he was interested in working with me. He is! I’m so happy!

Joel graduated Magna Cum Laude in the same class as my daughter in December 2019. He’s got a degree in Graphic Communication with a concentration in Web and Digital Media. I know! So, what’s he doing working on my humble site? Nope, pastel pink is not his favorite color!

Unfortunately, he is one of millions of people who have lost their jobs in the past couple of months. He was just beginning his role as an intern in Talent Acquisition Marketing with the Walt Disney Company when the pandemic hit. He left Burbank to return to his family home in Atascadero to wait, as we all are, for things to return to some semblance of normalcy.

I’m really very fortunate to be able to take advantage of his knowledge and expertise. And, it pleases me to think that in some small way, I’m helping him. I figure if he can improve my technical knowledge and abilities, he’s up to the challenges that will await him later in his career.

Please watch for changes to my site and please do let me know what you think!

Michele

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Pandemic Prose

I’m Grateful for My Neighbors!

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Sweet peas, grown by my neighbor and friend Rebecca. I found them when I opened the door this morning and popped them into my favorite vase.

Dear Reader:

It’s been a year and a half,  since we drove our packed cars out of the blanket of fog in Carmel to rendezvous with the moving trucks in sunny Sacramento. The move came as a bit of a surprise to both acquaintances and friends. It was generally received with a puzzled expression that was predictably followed with an adamant query: WHY?!

If you’re not familiar with the geography of my beloved state, I’ll explain. It’s easy to find adjectives to describe Carmel:  picturesque, enchanting, and even inspirational. Carmel sits on the Pacific Coast and it’s known for its stunning natural beauty, mild Mediterranean climate and charming homes and shops. Sacramento is the capital of California and though it has a great deal to offer, there are no ocean views…and it gets very HOT in the summertime.

I remember the day I received an email from Trip Advisor entitled: “Visit the Place of Storybooks!” I eagerly clicked on the link only to find that, according to the author, I was living in storybook land! This was shortly before my husband and I decided to explore the idea of moving.

We had a very good life in our tiny home (there aren’t many big houses in Carmel), but there were good reasons to find another residence. As it goes in marriage, one spouse is usually the driving force for major change and the other agrees to jump on board. It was  my husband’s idea, but I was persuaded out of respect for him, the logic of his arguments and, most significantly, the anticipation of having neighbors again.

When we moved into our home in Carmel Woods, we were blessed to find good friends. We enjoyed their company and felt the comfort of knowing that we could walk across the street or down the block for the proverbial “cup of sugar.” The camaraderie of a close-knit neighborhood is very important to us as we do not have extensive, close family ties. In fact, many of our previous neighbors have become life-long friends. (Cheers to you…Beth and Malcolm, Marietta and Frank and Courtney and Chris!)

But, over time our neighbors moved on. And, unfortunately, a pattern developed. Their homes were purchased, as vacation homes, by mid-westerners seeking to escape the cold and snow. The first thing that each and every one of them did was to embark upon a major house remodel. The week after our closest neighborhood friends left, we woke up to find our driveway blocked by a fleet of contractor’s vehicles and a port a potty. We hadn’t even met the new owners. They came and left without a handshake. We were left to negotiate terms with their hired help who were not always cooperative or considerate. By the time we moved, there were four remodels in progress on non-owner occupied homes in close proximity to ours. This is the reality of living in a tourist town.

During the day it was noisy and at night it was dark. I had the feeling that I was living on a deserted island, despite the fact that I had friends only 5, 10, 15 miles away. It was not the stuff fairy tales are made of!

Our new neighborhood could not be any more different. My husband noticed even before we moved in that the streets were active. Google maps showed people walking dogs, pushing strollers and riding bikes. We met neighbors before we moved. We visited several times to view the property and to walk the street and found a friendly group of people who did not hesitate to tell us how good it is to live in East Sacramento.

It’s practically impossible to step outside our door without seeing someone (and some dog)! The everyday smiles and greetings made me feel welcome from the beginning, but now they have become essential to my mental health.

I am so grateful that we are sheltering in place in a lovely tree-lined neighborhood filled with warm and generous people who are reaching out to one another during this difficult time. I am blessed with neighbors who have become friends. I hope you are, too.

Hugs,

Michele

Flowers, Quotations

Pass it On

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The world is a rose; smell it and pass it to your friends.

– Persian proverb

Dear Reader,

If you have a garden, you always have a gift to give. I’m very fortunate. I enjoy the garden; my husband toils in the garden. I believe it is a fair distribution of labor in light of my domestic duties, which have compounded during these times.

Step outside. Enjoy. And pass it on!

Hugs,

Michele

Pandemic Prose, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

Banana Bread in the Time of Pandemic

 

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Dear Reader:

Indeed, it is quite difficult to be anxious or sad or anything but satisfied while enjoying a piece of banana bread, dotted with melting chocolate chips, warm from the oven and prepared by one’s lovely daughter. Mmmmmmm….sweet… for the moment.

The truth is: I am blessed. My pantry is full. I’m locked down with my husband and only “child.” I’ve got three long haired miniature dachshunds, wonderfully caring and supportive neighbors and a beautiful garden, courtesy my husband. I have every reason to be grateful. And, I am.

And, yet one can juggle many emotions. Blessed, yet stressed.

We have now lost 64,000 people in less than two months. Nearly 2,500 people die every day. The last time I remember viewing death tolls on a daily basis, I was a young teenager and we were involved in a needless conflict in Vietnam. I recall one of my heroes, Walter Cronkite, coming into my family room five nights a week with the grim numbers, pictures and stories.

Now, I can not help but express shock every time I look at the ever increasing numbers. We’ve lost more people in six weeks than the Vietnam War took in 19 years. Those numbers sometimes make sleep difficult. One night I dreamt that Gavin Newsom was not the Governor of California, but instead the President of the United States. Dreams dashed, at 2:30 in the morning, I found myself ordering toilet paper, bleach and a bit of chocolate from Walmart. I try to avoid the temptation to view the latest news on CNN or the New York Times in the dark of night, but most times I can not stay away. There is no good news, it seems.

I am one of the lucky ones.

And, yet, I worry. My 90 year old mother in law called yesterday to say she felt unwell. She was experiencing some of the symptoms of Covid 19. She is residing at a retirement community two and a half hours from my home. (Why mention that? Doesn’t matter. We can’t be there.) The on-site nurse visited her in her apartment and told her that they could not transport her to get a test. She’d have to drive herself or travel by ambulance. The trip was only a mile down the road and so she drove and took a test and was told she’d get the results in a week. The reality is that there is no medical intervention with this disease until you can’t breathe.

From my front porch where I go for a change of scenery, I watch neighbors and passers by. During the early days of the stay at home order, we were all so diligent. But the introverts are now having trouble consistently maintaining six feet in distance. These are the people who are the most fun at parties. We all know them. Some are young and seemingly healthy, others are in high risk groups. I look away.

It is one thing for me to worry, but a far worse thing for me to know that my daughter is worrying. And, of course, she is. I love to chant at her, “you’re trapped with us,” in my sing-songy way. She was two weeks into her first post-college job and just beginning to search for an apartment when the pandemic hit.

She’s been working on a group project with a co-worker in a similar situation. He’s living in his family home after transferring from another city. He’s trapped, too, but his parents are “even more elderly” I’m told. When they aren’t talking work, they’ve shared concerns about the day they’ll return to the office. They are both worried they’ll expose those they love to the virus.

There are so many who are suffering so much now. And, this weighs heavily on me. I’m a doer and so I search for ways to help. And, of course, there are always small things one can do even from one’s home. These are the acts that help me to cope.

And the good moments. There are still so many to enjoy. As I said, I’m one of the lucky ones.

I’ve  actively managed my mental health and well-being in the 20 years since I slipped into depression as a result of my brother’s cancer diagnosis. I am currently drug-free. But as my doctor says, “you’re ahead of the game…you’ve got a drug that you know works for you.” My friend, Prozac. I know it’s there. And, I’m confident I’ll know if I need to turn to it again. I’ll do that without hesitation. Just one more thing to thank the brilliant scientific minds for.

But, in the meantime, I’m reminding myself of the wisdom gained from a special counselor who over several years of weekly visits gave me wise advice to turn to in so many situations.

I can imagine her sitting across the room from me now.

“I really have no reason to feel sad when I am in such a good place compared with so many others,” I’d begin.

“It’s a pandemic, the first in our lifetimes. I’d say your feelings …anxiety, worry, concern, sadness…sound reasonable. And, so you must…”

Make friends with the feelings,” we’d say together.

“And give yourself permission to let in the joy, wonder and beauty that life offers…still.”

She was such a wise woman. Gone but still helping me live my best life. I refer to her as one of my “angels,” the people who have lived in my world for a time and made it better forever.

And so, I’ll begin another day at home appreciating my life and allowing my feelings to  come and go. I’ll get by in the same way I always do…with the love of family and a little help from my friends, sweetened by my daughter’s presence, and of course, her banana bread.

Hugs,

Michele

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Pandemic Prose

Ciao Paisano!

 

Ciao!

 

Dear Reader:

I’m a Californian, born and bred. And, I couldn’t be prouder of that, especially since the 2016 election. But, my blood is half German and half Italian. I am clearly a reflection of the stereotypical attributes of each nationality. I’m stubborn, proud and vocal. However, I look Italian (see the nose and the hips) and, growing up, I spent more time with my mother’s side of the family, the Bartucccis.

My Nonnie, Rose Carmela Bartucci, was so dear to me. She gave me enough wonderful memories to last a lifetime. Visions, undimmed by the years, of her busy kitchen, verdant garden and expressive face. She also taught me a bit of Italian. She’d toss out the occasional word…just here and there. And, so I know a few. A few I cannot repeat!

It is not unusual for me to greet a friend with Ciao! and so it’s not surprising to find that I own the t-shirt. Yesterday, I put on a bra (one of the benefits of self-quarantine is that a bra is optional!) and took a stroll down the street to change my scenery.

 

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At the end of the block, I heard someone yell, “Is that YOU?!”

I looked up to see my dear friend, Cathy, calling out from her upstairs window.

“Ciao!” I answered.

And so began our impromptu conversation. Cathy is one of my favorite people in the neighborhood. We bonded early over shared interests and a common view of the world. And, we’ve done our best to make time to nurture our friendship over the past year and a half, but life is busy. And, so I don’t see or talk to her as much as I would really like.

We had a fairly long conversation with many people walking by and either pretending not to hear us or chiming into the conversation. It was so satisfying to just stand in her yard and chat. The funny thing is that we actually had a visit on the calendar already. We had scheduled a FaceTime cocktail hour for the next day.

As it turned out, I spent more time with my friend this week than I have in a long time. Life continues to offer beautiful moments.

Arrivederci,

Michele