Mall Crawl

Until this weekend, I had not been to a shopping mall for more than 3 years.

It’s not that I was ever such a big-time mall shopper, but there were regular visits; you could say we were well-acquainted. In addition to rainy-day retail therapy, there was birthday/wedding/new baby shopping, sales and all the other usual reasons one goes to the mall. I always had a secret-squirrel parking spot that I parked at that magically put me close to a little-used mall entrance (just outside the lingerie department at Macys).

Then COVID came along and those field trips to the mall were no more. When the mandatory masks came off (the first time), I barely had enough time to get used to the idea and go to the grocery store without a mask before Omicron and it’s successors had the mask proponents shaking their heads ominously. I chickened out, not daring to brave any sort of crowd without a mask (crowd being newly defined by me as more than 1 masked person standing 6 feet away from me).

This weekend, while the rest of the West is suffering through a 20-year drought and my little corner of Oregon is so wet that the sidewalk squishes when I walk on it, I decided to chance it and go to the mall. I mean, I’m vaccinated four times over and I’ll be masked up with my hand sanitizer handy. Why not?

Gotta say, it’s a big mall, and I hadn’t been there in a long time. There was a lot of traffic. The Nordstroms wasn’t where it was in my memory. Neither was Macys. In fact the place I thought was Macys was closed up and dark, and there’s now a big foodie court in the parking lot where the cars used to park. I figured Macys must have been a pandemic casualty. Such a shame.

I couldn’t exactly remember the location of my secret squirrel parking spot. But having committed to the mission, I wasn’t about to back out. I parked right outside Nordstroms and walked in with my eyes wide with excitement.

I am not saying I expected to be greeted like Norm when he walked into Cheers, but I did expect to feel like you do when you revisit your old high school. A sense of nostalgia, mingled with a bit of ‘oh yeah, I’m back’ and maybe an encouraging smile from the woman behind the cosmetics counter?

But no. Instead it was overwhelmingly busy. Sooo many people! Way more than you’d see even at Safeway on a Friday evening. Salespeople sooo busy. Sooo many products and counters and racks and displays with goods offered in such a profusion, the eye cannot settle on any single thing, but instead flits to the next and the next and the next…leading you deeper into the bustling hive.

And the noise. Somehow, after three years of online shopping, I’d forgotten how loud everything is at the mall. Virtually everyone on their phone or calling to their kids or significant other from the escalator. Children screaming incessant bloody murder louder than a car alarm at 4am. And I must confess, stepping onto an escalator for the first time in three years was a bit intimidating.

After about twenty minutes, all I wanted to do was leave, but I wouldn’t let myself. I had all this pent-up desire to be OUT, and I wasn’t going leave. My accustomed hermitry would  just have to adjust. I was determined to follow through and at least walk the length of the mall.

I exited Nordstroms and merged in to a sea humanity, like salmon, fighting their way upstream, with rapid changes in direction to enter or exit the stores lining the mall. I also changed lanes, as I kept thinking I was going in the wrong direction. In my memory, you always walk to the right, but on this day everyone seemed to be walking and running every which way and stopping and turning around at random. Oy.

I took refuge beside the mall map, and scanned the directory. So many of the stores I was accustomed to seeing there were gone. Where was Mrs. Fields? Where was the Cheesecake Factory? The Disney Store? I caught sight of a familiar name and did a double take. Macys was still there!

But not where I thought it was. I must’ve driven in from a different direction. Apparently, Nordstrom is on the opposite side of the mall from Macys. I tried to tell myself that maybe Macys had moved to the other side of the mall during the pandemic. But that didn’t seem likely. The Cheesecake Factory was still right next door, where it always had been.

With my bearings now firmly set, I gathered my resolve to get to Macys. Whatever else happened, Macys would be my grail-inspired destination for the day. I would do it. I set out with fresh determination and vigor.

Rush hour traffic on the freeway is less mind-numbing than being bumped and jostled repeatedly by people who are all around you and not paying any attention to what they’re doing or where they are.  By the time I got to Macys, I was numb. I toured most of the departments, and managed the escalator like a pro, but the store itself was all a blur. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

I don’t really remember much about the hike back to Nordstroms; only that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find my car. I’d parked on the second level of the parking garage, but after the Macys fiasco, I’d lost confidence in my sense of direction. And memory. But the car was there, and I got home safe and sound. Next time, I’ll start with something smaller, like Target.



I promptly ordered a couple of tee-shirts online and then lay down for a nap with the dog.

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Dancing to the Omicron Jive

Welp, here we are; week 100 of the pandemic, by my count. Friends have gotten sick. Friends have died. In two years, it’s morphed from COVID-19 to Delta, and again to Omicron, which by any other name should have been a bee-bop dance craze. As in, “Doin’ the Omicron jive, man; like everybody’s doing it!”

But no one is dancing.

Instead, I’m socially distancing, and the only high point of my week is dragging my sorry wagon to the grocery store. No need for makeup; I’m wearing a mask, so what’s the point? I’ve been working from home for the last two years and although I am *very* thankful for the job, I don’t really get out of my flannel house pants all that much. These days, it’s too much effort to put on proper shoes, so I pretty much walk the dog in slippers.

I’ve been vaccinated once, twice, three times now (five, if you count the two flu shots) with no end in sight. We are halfway through the second winter of our global discontent and no, we’re not there yet. Sigh.

So there I was last weekend, entertaining myself with a little virtual browsing on Amazon and Etsy (as we do now), when it happened: the cutest pair of shoes on the planet smacked me upside my virtual face and said, “Lookie here, Sista.” In my size, my color. I didn’t even have to think about it.

I clicked the BUY NOW button.

And everything changed.

The agony of anticipation has begun. Those shoes have my name on them and I can’t wait for them to arrive. My feet will dance of their own accord. They will look great with my jeans and I’ve got a favorite shirt that I haven’t worn in a such a long time, that I can’t wait to wear again. The people at the grocery store won’t even recognize me with my hair brushed. They’ll see the undeniable pep in my step, and wonder what my secret is. They’ll notice my shoes and think, ‘dang, those are nice shoes! Been a long time since I bought some new shoes…’

And as I skip out of the checkout line, they’ll nod to themselves and make a mental note to do a little shoe shopping of their own. And as I prance past the customer service desk and out the door, they’ll hear me humming a happy tune.

Get yourself some cute new shoes.  You’ll feel better.

New Shoes by Paolo Nutini

Woke up cold one Tuesday
I’m looking tired and feeling quite sick
I felt like there was something missing in my day to day life
So I quickly opened the wardrobe
Pulled out some jeans and a t-shirt that seemed clean
Topped it off with a pair of old shoes
That were ripped around the seams
And I thought these shoes just don’t suit me

Hey, I put some new shoes on
And suddenly everything is right
I said, hey I put some new shoes on
And everybody’s smiling, it’s so inviting
Oh short on money but long on time
Slowly strolling in the sweet sunshine
And I’m running late and I don’t need an excuse
‘Cause I’m wearing my brand new shoes

Woke up late one Thursday
And I’m seeing stars as I’m rubbing my eyes and I
Felt like there were two days missing
As I focused on the time
And I made my way to the kitchen
But I had to stop from the shock of what
I found a room full of all my friends all are dancing round and round
And I thought hello new shoes
Bye bye blues

Hey, I put some new shoes on
And suddenly everything is right
I said, hey I put some new shoes on
And everybody’s smiling, it’s so inviting
Oh short on money but long on time
Slowly strolling in the sweet sunshine
And I’m running late and I don’t need an excuse
‘Cause I’m wearing my brand new shoes

Take me wandering through these streets
Where bright lights and angels meet
Stone to stone they take me on
I’m walking to the break of dawn
Take me wandering through these streets
Where bright lights and angels meet
Stone to stone they take me on
I’m walking to the break of dawn

Hey, I put some new shoes on
And suddenly everything is right
I said, hey I put some new shoes on
And everybody’s smiling, it’s so inviting
Oh short on money but long on time
Slowly strolling in the sweet sunshine
And I’m running late and I don’t need an excuse
‘Cause I’m wearing my brand new shoes

Oh hey, I put some new shoes on
And suddenly everything is right
I said hey, I put some new shoes on
And everybody’s smiling, it’s so inviting
Oh short on money but long on time
Slowly strolling in the sweet sunshine
And I’m running late and I don’t need an excuse
‘Cause I’m wearing my brand new shoes

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2021: The List & The Lesson

The year is over.   This year (year 2 of COVID), although not as bleak as the year previous, has hardly been memorable in a good way.  Or has it? When I tally up my blessings for the year, I am surprised that my biggest personal blessings are global blessings as well.  Yes, the pandemic is entering it’s fourth wave (expected to be as big or bigger than the first), but we have vaccines A game changer for the world.

And yes, there was an insurrection at the US Capitol; an attempted overthrow of democracy and the United States of America.  Twist it as you may, but the stated intention of the insurrectionists was to hang the vice president and keep the outgoing head of state as overlord. Like much of the nation, I watched the events in horror. Until that day, I had not realized the depth of my own patriotism and pride in my own heart at being an American.  Blessed indeed are We The People for the brave Americans who gave their all (some with their lives) to stop it.

And that was January.

The rest of the year staggered onward as I waited for my turn to get the vaccine, helped neighbors without access to the internet get signed up and enjoyed the banter as we bragged about our vaccination status. And again our boosters.  Masks came down, then went up again, and the omicron cycle kicked in. We hunkered in our bunkers to wait things out.

Meanwhile, I finished the remaining unread books in my ‘to read’ bookcase. Never thought THAT would happen. I have to say, that the books remaining on the ‘to read’ shelves were neither appealing nor memorable.  But the event coincided with the re-opening of my local libraries. Once I was able to get to the library, I had worlds of as-yet unread books by favorite authors at my fingertips, and that was indeed a blessing.

FAVORITE READ BY FAVORITE AUTHOR:  This year’s best read was so good, I went out  and bought it. I had to have it.  The reviews for The Only Good Indians are all over the map, but for me, Stephen Graham Jones consistently captures the most unthinkable thoughts and carries them beyond the most horrifying conclusion possibly imaginable, and then makes me oh so sorry to reach the end. The topics and point of view are so unique, it’s a voice that we need to be exposed to. Shocking is often a word used about his writing, but I find his prose to be both precise and impressionistic.  His stories are fantastic, hefty, meaty (in more ways than one) and resonate far beyond the last word. I always come away in awe, and his tales have a staying power I rarely experience in other writers.

FAVORITE CLASSIC: Every year, I make it a point to read a few classics–this year was no exception. This was a childhood book I bought on impulse in the best book store in Oregon, Bob’s Beach Books. I was in there browsing and stumbled across the exact same edition of a book I’d read some 50 years earlier: Smoky, by Will James. It’s a 1927 edition, with color plates ($45 bucks), but I had to have it. I read it on the very last day of 2021 and am still floored by the power of that story. Just as I had as a 9-year old girl, I cried at the ending. I don’t think it was written as a children’s book, but it won the 1927 Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Looking back, I can see how that story shaped my life-long attitudes about neglect and cruelty to animals. I knew the book had a good ending, but I couldn’t remember it, so there were times, I was sorely tempted to put it down.  Nearly 100 years after it was written, and more than half a century after I last read it, this is a very, very good story, well written.

THE LESSON: As I said last year, even within a pandemic year there are blessings to be found in reading good books. The lesson for me this year is this: the publication date does not determine whether a story is good or not. Classics are time those timeless stories that speak to us whenever we choose to read them.  I doubt that Smoky would be published as it is today (there are some racist characterizations) or that The Only Good Indians would have been published in Smoky’s time; but both are stunning in their own way.

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Trimming the Tree: Solstice

I made a conscious decision this year to step away from December 25th.  It was not a choice made from a place of cynicism or stress any other negative place; I grew up with Christmas morning and shrieking with excitement at the sight of the tree with presents piled high beneath, followed by a cheerful and boisterous holiday breakfast and generally followed by an ‘outing’ of some sort, if the weather was fair. Oftentimes, my dad would pack up my three sisters and I and head off to the beach to ‘get the wigglies out while your mother takes a nap’. If it was raining, he took us up to the local college dairy to pet the new calves and ooh and aah at the size of the big Holsteins. By the time we got back, the wigglies were well and truly spent and we were once again reasonable tolerable children.

This tradition continued for decades. My eldest sister married the boy around the corner; he and his mother joined us; another sister married into a family that celebrated on Christmas Eve, so we postponed morning tree-time long enough to let them make the two-hour drive. A third sister also married someone local and I was there it too, either making the 40-hour drive or flying in from New York or Idaho. Every year. Hectic and jet-lagged, but there and glad to have made it.

The grandkids arrived, and the Christmas morning tradition continued; although as adults we were more excited about the tantalizing smells coming from the kitchen and the champagne brunch to come than the actual gifts. It was all family, all nice, and hardly any shrieking, except for the grandkids.

And then, as it happens, life goes on. Our parents passed away within a few short years of each other. The big house was sold. In the past 20 years, we’ve gotten together as a family just twice, and it was awesome. But impossible to sustain on an annual basis; there are just too many of us now. And we all accept this. We’ve all begin new traditions of our own.

And the thing is, it seems to me we keep trying to follow the hype and be jolly and carry on. We shop feverishly for gifts that have to be mailed weeks ahead and shop for more food than we need because we still have the images in our head about how you can seat 10 adults and 4 kids plus assorted friends and partners at a table for six (that can be extended to seat 8, and with the kid’s table another four), when in actuality, the group that will be having Christmas breakfast at your table will be half that many. And the feeling isn’t really the same. So we’ve each embraced our new traditions with our own families; and those traditions are good. And so it goes.

I don’t miss travel during the busiest travel time of the year. The gifts that do arrive are not Christmas. While I adore my sisters and their families dearly, snuggling on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa and the dog while a storm whistles outside is delightful. Peaceful. A time for reflection and dreaming a little of the future, even if it’s just the year ahead. I’ve come to associate this quiet time with the return of the light on Solstice.

The last few years in particular, I’ve actually looked forward to the day to the day of ME. I dedicate the whole day to setting up my calendar, updating my 5-year plan, and making resolutions and goals for the coming year. I put on my favorite winter music and review all the blessings I’ve received in the past year. I even set up a little altar in front of the window where the first light of the day will appear (if it’s sunny); a couple of candles, a few crystals, and a little carved stone bowl with an offering of wine. I am not sure who it is for, be it the old gods or past lives or the Force, it really doesn’t matter; it just feels right somehow. For me, the solstice has become the best day of the year.

My life is simplified; the tree has been trimmed. And I am thankful.

Happy Solstice.

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‘Tis the Season: Symbols, Sigils, & Alchemy

The pending arrival of the fall Equinox brings to mind all the coming colors of the fall season and reminds even the most tech-savvy among us of the persistent influence of previous ‘before times’ (and yes, there have been many). Dark times, they were indeed; before the current pandemic and all the previous pandemics, going back to even before the Black plague. Times before civilization as we know it, before recorded history, before the even written word, this time of year was characterized by symbols that are still in use today.

Late summer beings the harvest and the time of plenty before the shorter days and long lean nights of winter. We have welcomed the symbols of harvest since the time of first farms: the cornucopia, scarecrows, sheaves of corn and wheat. In neolithic times, sacred bonfires burned (and beginning in the 9th century, the Celtic festival of Samhain) attracting bugs and flying insects which in turn, invited bats to gather.

The sobering momento mori (a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die’) skeleton symbol infers death, sacrifice, danger,  or (in the case of the Jolly Roger) bravery, toughness, ferocity, warning, and victory (it was not until the 1850’s that the skull and crossbones became associated with poison).

In particular, I am fascinated by the Ouroboros, the ancient image of the serpent or dragon eating it’s own tail; depicted in Egypt as early as 1600BC and meant to embody the never-ending cycle of the sun across the skies. The symbol has been been depicted in Norse, Aztec and West African cultures.Alchemists used it as a symbol of magical power by alchemists expressed in the formula, ‘solve at coagula’: an injunction to dissolve and congeal; in other words, loss and restoration of form, a basic rhythm of alchemical transformation. Plato described it as a self-eating, circular being as the first living thing in the universe — an immortal, perfectly constructed animal.  The wheel of time; the relentless march of seasons
– What goes around, comes around.
– The golden rule.
– Karma is a bitch.
– Immortality, whatever. I could go on….

I love this time of year.

On completely different topic, I got myself a new coffee cup to celebrate.

Better days are coming, you pagans.

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How Time Flies…Until it Doesn’t: Counting the Hours

I always celebrate the Solstices, but this year, the Summer Solstice had me thinking about how fast time flies. How quickly the sun fades and the skies dim. Sunset in Oregon on Solstice is after 9pm; not as late as in the Eastern time zones, but no less enjoyable. At this time of year, an hour after sunset, a walk in the gloaming with the dog  brings sights of hatchling garter snakes as they slither from green lawns across the sidewalk into the sheltering forests of parkway ivy. Bats swoop and sing their silent (to me) siren songs to mosquitoes and other winged snacks. With the first stars peeking out of amethyst skies, all is well and good.

Until it wasn’t.  Last week, the sun decided to teach us all a lesson and the full strawberry moon and high pressure in the atmosphere aligned to bring the Pacific Northwest what will forever be known as the three highest temperatures ever  recorded. A week ago, as an Oregon native, I snerked at the thought of plus-100 degree temperatures in June; I scoffed that  “some weather models” were predicting highs of 114 to 117 degrees for this weekend.  This part of Oregon just doesn’t get that hot.  Fake news, right?

Until it wasn’t

Yesterday, the temperature in Beaverton and Portland and the surrounding areas hit 108 degrees, smashing the earliest recorded highs (and highest lows) in history for the area.  Unheard of.

I daresay there were a LOT of folks last night that (like me) who don’t have air conditioning and had three fans going AND a dehumidifier.  That’s right, this is Oregon, not Arizona–no dry heat for us; the humidity has been hovering around 55%. I stayed up until midnight, checking the deck thermometer every hour, waiting for the outside temperature to drop below the 86 degrees I had managed to maintain inside, but finally had to give it up and open all the windows.

When I woke up this morning at 5am, the inside temperature inside had dropped to 83.  Outside temperature at 5am: 79 degrees.  Oy.

The dog is hot. I am hot. All my friends in Oregon are hot.  It’s hot.
So much for day 1 of a predicted 3-day event.

And today, Sunday is expected to be even hotter, with an expected record-smashing high of 114 degrees and and overnight low on the far side of 80 degrees.  And after yesterday, I now believe it.

So here I am, at 11am on Sunday morning, sitting in a tee-shirt and shorts on a sunny summer day, while the windows are locked up and drapes shut tight. Temperature inside: 86 degrees.  Temperature outside: 97 degrees and climbing.  The weather stations have posted hourly forecasts as to how long this extreme heat event will last; On Monday at midnight, the temperatures are supposed to ease off to below 80 degrees.

Only 36 hours to go.

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Reboot: You Can Always Start Over

Spring arrived yesterday. It kind of snuck up on me this time. I know, it comes every year, but after this Year of Pandemic, and being cooped up and careful and socially distanced, I almost missed it.

And I shouldn’t have. I mean, all the signs are there: birds singing so loud in the morning that you can’t sleep in, even on the weekend; the returning geese calling to each other as they fly overhead at night, their voices lifted in a soft and joyous chorus. There’s a bright aura around the daffodil blooms, and the brilliant purple of crocus and dwarf iris peeking up through frost-bitten earth. And in Oregon in particular, the grass has greened up and the drone of lawn mowers once again echoes on sunny afternoons.

The earth is waking up again. As it does every year.  The annual reboot of the planet.
And so must we, in our waning from what will be viewed by historians and generations to come as the terrible year of 2020–the year of plague and fire and insurrection and violence, tyranny, and incredible human cruelty–hopefully never to be repeated. Whether we accept it or not, we are (all of us) changed by the shared experience. Loved ones lost–to virulent virus, anarchy, corruption, and a wrenching of social and cultural convention.  Darwinism is once again invoked, and those most able to adapt have survived.

This round.

But with this dawn of the planet, and the annual waning of darkness, we all have the opportunity to do our own life reboot. Miraculous vaccines are here, soon enough (this very spring) for all to accept the gift of life they offer.  Justice is served through the courts (although the wheel turns slowly), and  murderers and anarchists alike will be apportioned their due.

For the rest of us, the wheel has turned as well. We have re-visited the lessons of our  ancestors and discovered  long-buried genes of fortitude, endurance, patience, and yes, even acceptance. As the planet slowly reawakens with this Spring, we will re-emerge as well: vaccinated, yet cautious. A bit more wary of strangers and crowds, perhaps.  Certainly better at washing our hands and enjoying the delights of being outdoors.

We saved money on gas and entertainment outside the home, and that was good.
We have a much greater appreciation for science, the medical front line professionals that work so hard to keep us well, grocery store workers, small businesses, and online shopping.  And don’t forget restaurants! Or the simple act of embracing a loved one. Personally, I think I’m looking forward to that the most.

It’s never too late to start over.

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