How’s Your Heart?

A friend of mine asked, “how’s your heart?”
It’s many things: tender, grief stricken, achy, touched, forever hopeful, strong and beating. My heart and mind are gaining radical acceptance. It is what it is, and I will move forward. 

I was fortunate to have alone quiet time this week in my home, no pet sitting. Our house cat, Brenda, has not left my side sensing her comfort is needed. I left the house and found water to sit by. 

The outpouring of love, phone calls, texts, cards, invitations to dinner, flowers, someone brought me coffee, has wrapped me in comfort. I feel very loved. Thank you all!

It felt serendipitous, to have a conversation with Lee Rizzo about my idea of connecting the older generation with the younger generation. She has a CD release concert coming up on June 11th at the Dennison Theater here in Missoula. Part of the proceeds from the concert will go to Mother Moon Project, supporting mothers and babies in birth and postpartum. She encouraged me to reach out to them about the possibility of creating a network of “grandmothers” to help during infant hood. I’m waiting to hear back.

If you live in Missoula, I highly recommend Lee’s concert. Last year, she gave me one of the early release CDs. It’s a driving companion and I find myself singing her songs in my head. CD’s available at local record stores with a digital download available soon on her website.

Eye drops, pet sitting and a new room

It’s been a week since I’ve had to do Robert’s eye drops four times a day. My last day of dog sitting for two very sweet Aussies is today. It has felt like a vacation, in a house on the south side of Missoula overlooking the valley, waking to springtime songbirds.
After Robert’s cataract surgery that’s been the routine, eye drops 4X/day. At his post op appointment they discovered an infection in the other eye, so more drops. Once that’s cleared up, then surgery on that eye. After two weeks of this routine, I realized I needed a break. That’s the beauty of pet sitting.
On the other hand, I’ve become somewhat attached to Robert, who I sometimes refer to as my pretend grandfather. Thankfully, our newest housemate, has the same caretaking gene I do and jumped on the eye drop routine.
Tonight when I go home, I’ll be sleeping in new room. Yep, moved again. This time into truly the best room in the hotel. The person before me moved away. Robert asked me to move in as it is above his room and he wants someone quiet, above him. You may remember me writing about the system he and the previous occupant had, if Robert had a emergency and needed help, he would bang on the pipes. The room was remodeled back when Robert’s brother moved in for a bit. It’s large, at the back of the building. There is a shower, larger closet, but no toilet.
I’ll also get back to helping with eye drops for a week before pet sitting again.
In the writing world, I’ve got a few essays submitted. I like writing essays. It’s the waiting game and very competitive. But you keep trying just as Maurice Ruffin, a now established writer did. His submission spreadsheet revealed 291 rejections and 3 acceptances.

Thanks for following and reading. Happy spring.

Reading Brian Doyle is a Spiritual Experience

The hotel smelled of perfume when I came home after a week of pet sitting. On tables, kitchen counters, bathroom counters, and window sills, purple hyacinths sat bringing the hope of spring. This same scent and color came to the hotel last year at this time. Robert is dutch. He loves flowers. Throughout the year, he brings home bouquets. We are lucky to have a farmer’s market across the street in the spring and summer. Each Saturday, he brings us fresh flowers for the community dining area. Otherwise, he picks up a bunch at the grocery store. But he goes all out with the hyacinths. Once we have enjoyed the blooms, Robert gathers all the bulbs to take to a friend who plants them in his garden.
Thankfully, I don’t have any pet sitting for a couple of weeks. Robert will have cataract surgery on Friday. Thursday I’ll make sure he gets the eye drops that have to administered four times that day, then drops each day for a week. He will be seeing the world through a new lens.
I woke up at 6:00 AM to the sound of wind pushing at my windows, the dumpster being pushed with it’s force in the alley and Brenda the cat meowing to be fed. My 3rd floor windows are practically at the mouth of the Hellgate Canyon, which is notorious for its winds that blow into Missoula from the northeast. An arctic front has blown in with temperatures in the teens. Thank goodness we have hyacinths to remind us this will pass. So Brenda and I are snuggled up under my down comforter going nowhere. At least not until 2:00 this afternoon for a physical therapy appointment.
Before I turned on my computer to write, check email and before I went to social media land for all it’s good and bad, I opened Brian Doyle‘s book of essays, One Long River of Song, Notes on Wonder. Reading his words are a spiritual experience. We lost him too soon to cancer.
I am making it a habit to not turn on my computer until I have done some reading each morning. As always I grabble with social media. Twitter has become my media of choice as of late as I follow and connect with writers. However, it can feel a bit overwhelming in the pressure to keep up with tweets.


For now I will leave you with the last paragraph of Brian Doyle’s essay,
The Greatest Nature Essay Ever:
“And finally the last paragraph. It turns out that the perfect nature essay is quite short, it’s a lean taut thing, an arrow and not a cannon, and here at the end there’s a flash of humor and hint or tone or subtext of sadness, a touch of rue, you can’t quite put your finger on it but it’s there, a dark thread in the fabric, and there’s also a shot of expresso hope, hope against all odds and sense, but riveting there’s no call to arms, no clarion brassy trumpet blast, no website to which you are directed, no hint that you, yes you, should be ashamed of how much water you use or the car you drive or the fact that you just turned the thermostat up to seventy, or that you actually have not voted in the past two elections despite what you told the kids and the goat. Nor is there a rimshot ending, a bang, a last twist of the dagger. Oddly, sweetly, the essay just ends with a feeling eerily like a warm hand brushed against your cheek, and you sit there, near tears, smiling, and then you stand up. Changed.” Brian Doyle

It’s Good to be Home

Last night I was back in my cozy, sweet room at the hotel. For the past month I’ve been pet sitting up near the local ski area, falling asleep and waking to the quiet of the mountains. The first sound I heard each morning was the trickling creek below as I opened the door for the dog to go see his neighbor friend.
This morning I wanted to give Buzz, the dog, a morning pat on the head as we ran upstairs, me opening the door for him then turning on the kettle for coffee. He’d come back in by the time my coffee was made, then we’d head back downstairs for writing time. We didn’t leave each other’s side much.
Yes, I’ll miss my furry friend, but I’ll be headed to care for a couple of labradors soon enough.
This past summer, I moved into a bigger room at the hotel. It has a sink, three windows that face east, a beautiful view of Hellgate Canyon, and one window that faces south and down at the alley below. I love the windows, but I don’t love the noise at night.
Lying in bed last night, as the sounds of the train, glass being thrown into the dumpster and a drunken couple arguing in the alley filled my room, I started a google search: how much to replace windows? These windows are probably the originals, sometimes hard to open and shut, single pane with no insulation. It would be a financial endeavor for sure. Next search: how to sound proof windows. Of course there are sound absorbing curtains. One search suggested quilted moving blankets. I already have curtains up. But, I have a vision now that I might try. Starting with one window, the one over the alley, using velcro I’ll attach a quilt at the top and inner frame of the window, sew ties at the top. It can be let down at night, rolled up during the day, like a window shade. I’ll let you know it goes.
The hotel is quiet in the mornings. Robert and I are the only early risers. I tiptoed downstairs to get oatmeal going for the two of us.
Sleepy eyed, Robert shuffled from his room, “oh, what a surprise to see you, it’s good to have you home.” My sleepy eyes smiled back at him, “it’s good to be home.”

View of Hellgate Canyon

Stories Help Us to Understand

Robert came to Missoula in 1979, and shortly after bought the hotel. I mentioned in an earlier blog, that recently I have had the opportunity to get to know him, learn his habits and some of the reasons behind them.
At the end of this summer, he was walking downtown and was hit be a car. We learned about it when he was brought back home after a visit to the emergency room, showing us stitches along one calf.
As several of us circled around him, checking for other injuries, he insisted he was fine. In fact, after he was hit, he told the policeman he would just walk home. Thankfully, the policeman insisted that ambulance take him to the hospital.
They gave him a strong pain killer and I believe he was full of adrenaline. He insisted on climbing up the ladder to his loft bed in spite of our conclave presenting our best arguments. I in turn, insisted on sleeping in the room across the hall from him as it is kept as a guest room. One of the guys brought him something to pee into. As Robert raised a hammer, he reminded us that he and John who lives in the room directly above him, have a system. If Robert has an emergency, needs help in the middle of the night, he bangs on the radiator with the hammer. That was the signal for John to come running.
Sure’nuf around four in the morning, the banging started. John and I flew into his room. Robert, blurry eyed, stared down at us asking for help in getting down from the loft.
After he came back from the restroom, John and I stepped into the hall as Robert changed his clothes. But he hollered for help. He fell as he was changing pants and couldn’t get up. “That’s it.” I said, “you are sleeping in the room across the hall from now on.” It has a twin bed that is not a loft. He didn’t argue this time.
Thankfully, I had a break in my house/pet sitting jobs for a few weeks and could give Robert the attention he needed. I mean it’s something for anyone to be hit by a car, but even more so when you are 82 years old.
During the first week, the ankle on the leg that didn’t have stitches continued to swell up and it was painful for him to walk. After carefully nudging, I took him back to the ER. Yep, he had a fracture and needed to wear an orthopedic boot.
We spent quiet mornings visiting, drinking coffee and getting some food in him. Robert is a very independent person and has his routine. He is used to getting out everyday for a walk and his card game with friends. He appreciated my company.
I got to hear stories of his childhood in Holland during World War II. How his father buried a car, I suppose to keep the enemy from confiscating it, then unearthing it after the war. How they went without water. “That’s why I have bottles of water stored up, it’s terrible to not have water” he told me. Now, I understood, why his empty juice bottles were filled with water and tucked away.

I love that stories, listening help us to understand each other and our ways. Stories bring us closer, they open our hearts.

Robert is well on the mend. He and a fellow house mate took off yesterday for a trip to Spokane. I miss our quiet story telling mornings. However, we do go out for lunch, take a walk and I still make him oatmeal in the morning every now and then.

Thanks for reading.

It Was a Damn Good Turkey

I did it again, roasted a damn good turkey. The recipe I followed is so simple. Maybe it’s the lemon, apple and onion on the inside that helps keep it so moist. The herb butter sure helps too. Compliments were abound and a toast was made.
We had a full house at the hotel. Only two of the residents were away. Everyone cooked. Jen made the green been casserole with fresh beans and mushrooms, made the cream of mushroom from scratch and real fried onions on the top. She made real cranberry sauce and apple pie. No messing around there.
Don made homemade biscuits and shared his secret. OK, I’ll tell you what it is. Grate frozen butter into the flour mix. Don’s girlfriend joined us, who I had never met. She was a delight.
Jennifer and her boyfriend, John made me smile watching how much they love each other. Jennifer looking at him saying, “your face is so cute, I’m going to eat it.”
We had lots of good conversations and laughs. Most of the residents are young adults. Robert is the oldest, and me next to oldest. Robert went to bed shortly after his two full plates. The others were just gearing up for the night. I was close to pj time but they begged me to come to Charlie B’s with them. Touched, I agreed to come do a walk through, it’s just kiddy corner to the hotel. Charlie B’s like the hotel has not changed much since I frequented it back in the 80’s. It was previously Eddie’s Bar until 1981, where Lee Nye bartended and photographed his regular customers. His black and white portraits line the walls. Tucked in the back is the Dinosaur Cafe serving up pretty authentic cajun dishes, po’boys, jambalaya and gumbo.
My stay at Charlie’s was short and sweet. It was time for bed and back to the very sweet dog, Buzz, I am staying with for a month. He was our guest of honor for Thanksgiving. He is a committed companion, up for most anything. The past four days he has even joined me in cleaning my friend, Ann’s airbnb, taking breaks for a walk along the Clark Fork river.
If you ever need a place to stay in Missoula, check out Ann’s airbnb. She’s a thrifter and lover of antiques. I love caring for her place.
Buzz and I are headed out to clean for the last time on this stint. I have much preferred taking Buzz for walks closer to town. A mama grizzly bear and her two cubs have been spotted up where I am pet sitting Buzz. She’s been getting into garbage and the like. I am hoping she moves along so she and her cubs have a good long life.
Thanks for reading. More hotel adventures to come.

Meet Some of My Unexpected Family

My new room with a silver ceiling had a loft bed that I decided to use for storage, not wanting to go up and down the ladder each time I had to use the bathroom.  I bought a twin bed, hung twinkle lights and my star light from the ceiling, arranged books on the shelves, set up a writing desk, put my half & half in the frig and I was home.

Winter was coming in Montana, and I couldn’t wait. Eugene held my dear friends, but it didn’t hold my heart, Montana has since I came to visit my brother in the 80’s. 

My cocoon of a room had all I needed. Covid times have not been social times. But for me, social times began to slip away in 2017 as I began to grieve the loss of my relationship with my daughter and grandchildren. Now that the rest of the world had joined me in isolation, I felt a comfort that felt unfair because the rest of the world was now grieving. 

Slowly but surely, I meet the other residents of this historic hotel. With Covid protocol, residents mainly kept to themselves in their rooms, a twist from its history.  Back when Robert acquired the building some forty years ago, bohemians inhabited the rooms, art was created, and parties thrown. Friends who are long time Missoula residents have said to me with a laugh, “oh yea, I remember the parties at the hotel.” Surprisingly, I didn’t attend parties at the hotel during the 80’s but I was certainly at other parties, after waiting tables then out dancing. 

Completed in 1902, it was bustling with a restaurant, and saloon on the main floor. Rooms were rented for 75 cents by railroad passengers and workers. It’s been said it was a brothel at one time. With travelers and a saloon downstairs makes sense. 

The extend of socializing when I moved in was meeting in the kitchen while preparing a meal. Jennifer, lived in the room next to me. We’d chat as hot water ran through the cone for morning coffee. Sleepy eyed, she told me about her work at a peach orchard, her love for plants and her boyfriend. Eventually, she shared about her conflictual relationship with her mother, but how she was committed to loving her. Of course, I commended her for this commitment. On her 30th birthday, Jennifer, proudly showed me the presents her boyfriend had given her; a plant and an apron he had sewn himself. 

John, lives at the far end of the hall in the biggest room at the hotel. It even has its own bathroom. He’s around 30 years old, works for the forest service Bless his heart, he tries to keep everyone in line, leaving notes on the white board, reminding everyone to lock the doors, shared stats on daily Covid deaths. He’s a sweetheart but I wish for his sake he didn’t worry so much. 

Sam, what a sweetie. He’s early twenties, in school and works for the forest service. He’s from Virginia. His room is small, and he is a growing boy, so we’d end up together in the kitchen mornings and evenings. We talk food, the South, it’s history, the why of it all and how can we bring justice to this world. As I cooked pancakes for the two of us, he said, “man you remind me of my grandmother” Well shit, he had won my heart! 

The common areas weren’t and aren’t as clean as I care for. It doesn’t seem to bother the others too much. They are young, in school, working, and keeping a social life such as it is. After a few weeks, I was able to rally Jennifer, John and Sam to deep clean the 3rd floor kitchen. Jennifer tackled the refrigerator, pine soled the ceiling light fixtures that had years of dirt of them, Sam scrubbed the oven, John and I threw out items in the cupboard that were, yes, years expired, plastic lids with no bottoms. Counters were scrubbed and the floor swept and mopped it. It felt good and I got to know my fellow roomies a little more. I learned that Jennifer and John had never heard of Walt Whitman nor Leaves of Grass. I remedied that at my next visit to the 2nd hand bookstore. 

 Charles, who doesn’t leave his room much, stopped me in hall one day, “hey, would you roast us a turkey for Thanksgiving? My work is giving me a free turkey.” “Sure” I replied. I started my internet search for how to roast a turkey, it had been a few years. I asked Robert what he would like to have served at our Thanksgiving meal? He put in his request and meal planning began. 

Unexpected Family, how it came to be

It’s been a year since I moved in with my unexpected family. The end of summer 2020, I was back in Missoula to get more of my things and live in Eugene. But at an outside concert in my friend’s yard, I met Chris Sand, aka Sandman, the Rappin Cowboy. He mentioned there was room in the “hotel” he lived at in downtown Missoula. As Chris shared more with me about where he lived, I became more and more interested, almost certain I wanted to live there. He offered to show the place to me, introduce me to the man who owns the building and lives there. 

Coming through the front door, a fairly large plastic spider moved up as the door swung open, back down as it shut. The carpeted stairway leaned to the left a bit and a sculptured gnome like being meet me at the top. I felt the adrenaline of being in a fun house. Chris and I walked past the community kitchen with an artful colorful titled floor, gas stove/oven from probably the forties. Across the way, the wooden floored dining area held a round table and chairs, an old couch (that needed to go in my opinion) shelves with a turntable, album collection, books and plants that reached from floor to ceiling. 

We walked past three of four rooms, and a fish aquarium before coming to Robert’s room at the end. The globe outside his room was not lit up, meaning he probably wasn’t around. We knocked anyway. Chris letting me know Robert can’t hear well so it’s best to speak loud and clear. We yelled his name a few times but got no answer.

As we walked back down the hall, Chris pointed out the twinkle lights above. The high ceiling had concrete with circular clear glass sections that supposedly came from the old Missoula underground. (I started to research Missoula underground, there is much to read, and I will eventually).

He pointed out the two bathrooms on the 2nd floor before we made our way up the next very slanted set of stairs. (the 1stfloor houses a store) The 3rd floor’s full bath was a full mural of fish, octopus and other ocean creatures on all walls, giving me the feeling, I was swimming in the ocean. The smaller bath was fully collaged with pictures and sayings from magazines, so you are never bored in this bathroom.

The kitchen is stocked with dishware, silverware, microwave, stove and all the necessities with a sitting area across from it with more floor to ceiling plants. The twinkle lights from below shone through the glass in the concrete. The 3rd floor also had a fish aquarium. At the front end of the 3rd floor is the “yoga” room that has become the tv room with an extensive library of VCR tapes and dvds. Above is a large loft with several beds. Before Covid times, Chris mentioned that a traveling band may stay in the loft. For payment, they would buy the house a large box of toilet paper from Costco or find some way to make a contribution. I was liking this place more and more. 

The 3rd floor has 9 rooms, each is furnished with a bed, desk, chest of drawers and a mini frig. Some are larger with a sleeping area as well as a sitting area and sink. He showed me the available room, small but with a loft bed and built-in bookshelf across one wall. Looking up at the silver painted ceiling, I knew this place was my silver lining. The affordability made it a no brainer. Once my house/pet sitting picked up, I wouldn’t be paying an arm and a leg for a place I was not at very much. 

I left a note for Robert to let him know I would like to rent the room. A day later I came by early in the morning as Chris said that was the best time to catch him. He was happy to meet me, laughing, he had assumed I was a male because he has a male friend by the name of Francis. Many people don’t realize that males spell it with a “i” and the female version is Frances. He likes to have an equal mix of males and females living at the hotel. 

As we spoke loudly to each so he could hear me, he asked if I had any crazy boyfriends or a large dog. My answer was no. 

Chris phoned later to say I got the room! On a handshake and $100 deposit, I told Robert I would be back in a few weeks with my things from Oregon. 

*The fist of my writings on my unexpected family. More to come. Some names have and will be changed. Real names will be used when permission is granted. Chris Sand has granted permission. Be sure to check out his music at the above link.

Chris Sand

Enjoying the view, getting infused

The sun is shining. I have view of Mount Sentinel which sits east of Missoula just up from the University of Montana. A few years ago, I would have been able to see the “M” which is about 3/4 of the way up the mountain. Residents and visitors alike enjoy hiking the zigzag trail for exercise with the grand view of Missoula valley as the reward once you reach the “M”. However, growth is blocking that view today. Stockman’s Bank built a six story building in 2015 obscuring many views in Missoula. I don’t know what the height restrictions are in this city. I began to research and there is much to read, so I’ll continue that later. Missoula is growing and it saddens me. The rising cost of housing, increased traffic and the slick expensive boutiques that sell a a polished cosmopolitan look are taking away some of the Missoula magic that I discovered back in the eighties when I first moved here. But I still love it and it is where I feel most at home, always have.
Mount Sentinel jutes up and serves as a guard, one I have often looked to for grounding, helping me find my way, even as I run errands and need to know what direction I am going. On clear warm days, hang gliders, that look like fairies, fly off the mountain, floating through the air. It’s that kind of day and just spotted the first one of the day.
Some of the folks sitting in the same room as I are getting their chemo. I am here to get an iron transfusion. My ferritin levels continue to be low. That explains lack of energy. Some days I physically don’t feel like lifting a pen to paper or click at the keyboard. When you wake up after a ten, sometimes twelve hours sleep and your tired, something is off.
Why are my ferritin levels low? That is the unknown. My hematologist would like me to get a colonoscopy sooner than later to rule out the dreaded but she said it so it’s somewhere in the back of brain sometimes, colon cancer. Yea I don’t want to go there, but I will get it checked out. The gastro doctors are backed up so the appointment to consult with the gastro doc isn’t until the end of May, then schedule the colonoscopy.
For today, I’ll sit back and enjoy the view, feel the protection of Mount Sentinel and delight in the fairies flying off of it.

Love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us. Anne Lamott

“Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.” ~@ANNELAMOTT

This holiday season, I’m believing it Anne. Holidays have become so different from what I was brought up to believe they are all about. Lots of decorations, lots of presents, parties, food, family and sometimes drunk daddies. All of that did feel magical at times, the anticipation of Santa and what he would bring was real and exciting. No matter how old I get, I can feel that on Christmas Eve, as ridiculous of an idea that it is. Maybe I kinda like that feeling for a moment though. Is it possible that there is magic, is it possible a gift will be left tomorrow, even if it is a phone call from a loved one?
Even though we did have a pile of presents before us as we entered the living room on Christmas morning, I don’t remember what the presents were, except for the sting ray bike. I still have a picture of me on it. We did some miles together and made some memories. A few fond Christmas memories stick with me: the year we had children from the orphanage over to make cookies and the times we visited the orphanage after that. Our time with orphans was a project my mama was involved in through the Junior League or church. I’m not sure which one, but it was her duty to society none the less. I loved it. I also love the memory of running around Christmas eve day delivering presents of baked goods or the like to friends and neighbors. And Christmas Eve service at church was always calming with the candles lit and carols being sung.
Aside from those memories, it all felt like a lot of show. Once I moved to Montana in the 80’s, my older brother lived here in Missoula as well. Christmas Eve, we shared a meal then geared up for a cross country ski at the neighborhood golf course. Silently sliding across the glistening moonlit snow ❄️ I felt warmth, peace and love.
I have a little bit of Christmas in me this year for whatever reason. I won’t be buying any presents. I will be hiking with friends, gathering greenery to decorate with. Some baking will happen. Baked goods will be delivered to dear friends. There will be warmth, peace and love. Wishing you the same.