Author: Michele LaFollette

Pandemic Prose

Thor and I Are Socially Distancing

THOR
Those eyes!

Dear Reader:

Meet Thor, a five pound Yorkshire Terrier, and one of the most popular residents here in East Sacramento. (Shhhh…I like him even more than I like some of my neighbors who walk on two feet!) It simply must be said, even though it is completely unnecessary since I’ve included a photo, that he’s darling! He’s also quite friendly.

I’m lucky that he lives only two doors down with his dads, Hector and Ralph. We met him shortly after we moved in. Ralph stopped by one night to welcome us to the neighborhood and to ask if he could spend some time on our porch and in our front yard so that he could acclimate his dog to our dog statuary. Seems Thor felt a bit intimidated on his daily walks past our pack of metal and terra cotta dachshunds. Funny that he had no problems with our real dogs. It didn’t take long for all of us, the people and the dogs, to become best of friends.

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One of many dachshund shaped garden statuary in our front yard

This is where my story becomes sad. You see, for a year and a half now, I’ve looked forward to running into Thor on his daily walks. Sometimes I would encounter him by chance, but often I’d spy him from one of my windows and rush outside for a quick visit.  I’d call out to him just after greeting his dad and he’d pull at his leash, sometimes so hard that he’d be standing up on his back feet straining to get to me.

Then came the pandemic. I’m not sure exactly how long it took for Thor to understand that I’d no longer run to greet him. But, I can remember the site of him trying to get close to me in the early days of the shelter in place order. I wanted to pet him and hug him and talk to him just as I’d always done. (I talk to dogs.)

Thor has been trained to social distance. Now he continues walking with his master as they pass and are met with quick hellos. Or, he stands by waiting while the humans speak to each other from a safe distance. I miss him.

Hector and Thor
Hector and Thor

Of course I miss his dads even more. I miss the 5 p.m. cocktail hours that always stretched to 8 p.m. because the conversation was so good. I miss the hugs and the fashion advice. I miss the every day exchanges that make life interesting and pleasant.

Someday, we’ll party again and hug again. Dogs don’t hold grudges so I’ll anticipate a warm greeting from my four-legged friend, too.

Michele

Creativity, Family, Friends and Neighbors, Inspirational Women

Bloggers Make the Best Friends!

 

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Art by Tamara Jare

 

Dear Reader:

I made the decision to start my blog after reading Joy Cho’s book, Blog Inc., on vacation over three years ago. One of the many things the author promised I’d discover as a blogger was a thriving, creative, supportive community. The thought of that warmed my heart.

I have been blessed to find many friends in the blogosphere. My first friend, Tamara Jare of My Botanical Garden, visited my site when it was only two days old and became one of my first subscribers and a loyal reader.

But, beyond that, we became pen pals. I’ve never met Tamara, but I’m sure I’d recognize her if she came walking into my living room right now. We’d hug and I’d ask her to sit down in my incredibly comfy velvet club chair while I poured her a glass of champagne. And, then you’d know what would happen? We’d talk for hours.

First, I’d thank her for the incredibly generous gift she sent to my home. It was just another day, until I heard the dogs announce a delivery truck and then my daughter called upstairs to me.

“Mom, you’ve got an envelope from your friend in Slovenia!”

I have a friend who lives 6,000 miles away! That delights me so much!

Thank you Tamara for the lovely gift. The watercolor is simply exquisite. It will be a delight to take it to the frame shop…someday. I’ll frame it in gold to complement my first piece of your art. You’ve made my life and my space fuller and more beautiful.

Michele

Politics

Quit Facebook…NOW!

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There’s never been a better time to quit Facebook.

Dear Reader:

With a bit of assistance from my in-house tech support person, my daughter, I quit* Facebook last night and I’d like you to consider doing the same. I should have done this immediately following the 2016 election. Why would I want to remain on a platform that allowed Russian agents to buy ads designed to subvert American democracy? Why would I associate with any entity that demonstrably helped to elect a man clearly devoid of any qualifications to be president?

I’m new to all social media. I opened my Facebook account only three years ago when I started my blog. My tech consultant suggested that it would be a good way to let people know that I was blogging and that I might enjoy the experience of connecting with old friends. I didn’t find the site inherently appealing or pleasing, but it was a novelty. I received generous support from friends who used it to connect to my blog posts. I loved the baby photos and the puppy photos. I liked to “like” my friends posts and support their causes through birthday fundraisers. And, speaking of birthdays, I loved getting reminders so I could extend best wishes to my friends.

With every negative story about Facebook (and there have been so many) I thought about leaving.  But I have friends who love Facebook and use it as their primary communication tool. I haven’t wanted to desert them. Not without good reason. I now believe there are many good reasons to leave:

Despite being the largest media company in the world, Facebook refuses to fact check political ads or regulate its content.

Just think POTUS here! Beyond that think of the risks associated for thousands or millions of followers given false information about vaccinations or coronavirus. False information can be deadly.

CEO Mark Zucherburg has sided with our belligerent, ignorant, cowardly president to allow his site to be used to incite further violence.

He’s allowed a post to remain untouched that Twitter marked with a disclaimer for “glorifying violence.” Zuckerberg has come down on the wrong side of history. His employees are protesting his inaction with some resigning this week.

We have the ability to make a difference even if we are not part of the protests rocking America and the world.

I’m staying at home to protect myself and my family from the risk of contracting corona-virus. I disabled my account from my couch. I’m no longer contributing to a business that generates billions of dollars for a few and political opportunities for others at the expense of truth.

Finally, Facebook isn’t even sexy anymore!

In a 2018 US survey , 9% of respondents said that they had recently deleted their Facebook account, while a further 35% reported that they were using the social media platform less. Young people shun Facebook. There are so many other platforms available to connect with people. Sheltering in place has led me to discover ZOOM and, indeed, to re-discover the telephone. I’ve been emailing more and putting pen to paper so my friends can discover that they’ve got mail. TikTok has provided me with some comic relief and WordPress is overflowing with beautiful and meaningful content. The list goes on…challenge yourself to discover and master another platform.

If you’re unconvinced and can’t imagine a life without Facebook, you might want to consider the results of a recent study that showed that people who left the platform were overall happier. They saved time and then put that time to better use. They even reported that their moods had improved.

Leave Facebook. It’s just one small way to make a difference in 2020.

Michele

* They don’t make it easy to opt-out and they apply a 30 day waiting period before you’re officially removed (in case you reconsider)!

Eat, Drink and Be Merry, Inspirational Women

Spaghetti… Yes, Please!

 

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“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”

Sophia Loren

Dear Reader:

Last night, we had spaghetti, again. I like to think of Sophia Loren when I eat spaghetti. With each bite, I can imagine myself becoming more desirably curvaceous. We should all be so lucky!

Pasta has always been my preferred comfort food. It sustains me on two levels:

  • it’s yummy and filling
  • it reminds me of my Nonnie, Rose Carmela Bartucci

If there was ever a time when, as a nation, we needed the warmth and satisfaction of a large bowl of al dente spaghetti, this is certainly it!

Michele

Pandemic Prose

Surprise Guests!

Mother and two babies visiting my neighbor’s front yard.

Dear Reader:

On the first day of Spring, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered 40M Californians to shelter in place. And, you know what, we’ve done just that for 70 odd days now. The days running one into another. Nobody’s cars moving. Amazon and FedEX trucks screeching down the street.

We emailed our neighbors. We called, even though we hated the telephone. We sat on our porches…waiting. Walked our dogs. Took the trash out and brought the cans in. Placed our Drizly and Instacart orders and waited for them to come. Unpacked them.

Forced ourselves to finish an entire book. Discussed the book on Zoom. Occasionally showed up for a virtual training session from the garage. Made pasta. Baked the official food of the pandemic…banana bread. Washed our sweatpants so that we could wear them again.

What day is it? Wait, I know this! Today’s the day the turkeys came!

Just as my husband and I sat down on our front porch to enjoy the cocktail hour, we spied them across the street. A mother and two babies crossed the road and stopped for a visit in our next door neighbor’s yard. I called into the house for my daughter to come out as three other families joined us on the street to OOH and AH. Granted, we are easily entertained at this point in time, but it was an event.

Michele

For inquiring minds: wild turkeys can be found in about 18% of my home state in deserts, forests and cities. Two major rivers – the Sacramento and American – run through the landscape of my home town. So it’s not unusual to see varied wildlife on our trails and in our parks, but this is the first time they’ve come to roost in our neighborhood. Incidentally, baby turkeys are called “poults.”

Politics

I Stand With Peaceful Protestors

Washington-HoustonGeorgeFloydProtest

Dear Reader:

For the past couple of months, my favorite trip has been to my backyard. Today the weather is cooler and cloudy. The skies are alternatively dark and light and I’ve been pursuing the sun.

Having found a patch of light and warmth, I sat listening to the water run in the fountain, smelling the jasmine in bloom and hoping to clear my mind. Nature has always been a reliable comfort to me. But, I couldn’t erase the images I saw on CNN last night. I couldn’t forget the president’s tweet this morning threatening protestors with “vicious dogs and ominous weapons.”

“You okay, ” my husband asked as he handed me a cup of coffee he’d brought from the kitchen. “What’s on your mind?”

“Ah, all of it,” I answered. “The burning buildings. Our cowardly, ignorant, incompetent president. The crowds. The masks. The lack of masks.”

People are taking to the streets in mass in the middle of a pandemic to protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police. And, as is the case always, there are those who are perverting the expression of free speech by using it as a license to destroy property, endanger others and create false narratives.

We sat last night watching the images of our country in pain as did so many others. Suddenly, it became familiar.

“I recognize that neighborhood ,” my daughter said.

CNN was showing images of protests from cities across the country. Suddenly we were in San Jose, California where my husband and I lived for 30 years and my daughter grew up. It’s the place my daughter still calls home…just 120 miles down the road. The protestors were gathering in the downtown district. We knew it well. My husband’s first post-college job had been in that neighborhood. We dined in the restaurants and celebrated in the hotels that make up the business center. We recognized storefronts and landmarks. It made the news feel more real.

Blacks make up about 14% of the U.S. population with only 6% living in my home state. I can not count a single black person as a friend. I have one black acquaintance, a close friend of my personal trainer, who I met at the gym. There was one black student in my high school. I’ve never had a black neighbor. My experience isn’t unusual. I grew up in an upper middle-class neighborhood in the suburbs. That’s where I’ve spent most of my life. The suburbs aren’t integrated.

I am a privileged white woman and I am ashamed of my country’s treatment and attitude toward people of color. I am saddened by the dehumanization of an entire group of people based solely upon their skin color. I am angered and deeply embarrassed by a president who exploits racial division for his own political gain.

I feel so incredibly powerless in moments like this. It’s a small thing, one voice, but that’s all I have. And, I will use it now to say that I recognize racism. I support equality. And, though I will not be literally standing with the peaceful protesters, I stand with them figuratively.

And, I will vote. Nasty women vote.

Michele

Pandemic Prose

The Kindness of Strangers

eggs

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 explained to me later in a text that she is very close to her mother, who lives in another state.  She is dependent on other people to lend a hand to keep her mom safe and so she wanted to return the kindness by helping other people keep their parents safe. 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