30 Sep

West Virginia

I’m having my first parking lot overnight.

It’s sort of surreal. A little scary, honestly. I don’t want it to be. I want it to be something that I take for granted, just an occasional night camping for free in an oasis of asphalt. And this parking lot is really quite nice. It’s at an art center in West Virginia, and even though I didn’t ask anyone if I could park here, I’m fairly sure (from online reviews) that it’s fine to be here overnight.

But it’s been a really rainy day, so the ground is wet and the windows are wet and everything is sort of black and reflective and kaleidoscope-ish. It would be extremely pretty if I could chat about it with someone other than the dogs. As it is… yeah, it’s a little surreal and a whole lot spooky. R told me to put the curtains up and the blinds down and make myself a cozy little nest and I really ought to follow his advice. I could then pretend that I’m parked in a driveway, were it not for the highway noise. And I could pretend that the highway noise was ocean noise. But I’m sure I will be fine. And if you’re reading this, of course I am, because ha, I have no internet, so can’t post it until I escape from the parking lot anyway.

So, yes, West Virginia. I’m having, in general, a very surreal West Virginia experience. Most of that is internal. I’m swinging back and forth mentally from a very serene, very joyful, very peaceful happiness — the kind of place where a gray and rainy day makes you think about how beautiful flowers are in the rain, with the contrast of their colors against the gray, and how being inside with rivulets of water running down the windows is like living inside a Jackson Pollack painting — to an OMG, WTF? state that I really can’t describe. Except to say that life is weird and so am I.

But this afternoon a monarch butterfly smashed against my windshield and got stuck on the wiper blade. Ugh, it was awful. For the next twenty minutes, its wings fluttered in the wind and I couldn’t tell if it was alive or dying or dead. I finally managed to pull over at a spectacularly beautiful scenic overlook and get it off. Dead, unfortunately. But then there I was at a spectacularly beautiful scenic overlook which I certainly wouldn’t have stopped at had it not been for the butterfly. I kept thinking about chaos theory and what change might exist in the world because a butterfly crashed into Serenity.

But it also felt like a bad omen. Not that I really believe in bad omens. And I do think it’s unfair of me to consider the death of a Monarch a bad omen when at least a dozen uglier bugs die every time I drive on the highway and I don’t even notice, much less mourn their deaths. Unfair or not, though, there it was: I continued on my path with my mood noticeably darkened.

Until, that is, I was crossing over a bridge and I saw a rainbow in my rearview mirror. A serious rainbow, all the colors, down so low — presumably because I was up so high in the mountains — that it felt like it was practically right overhead. It’s impossible to think that bad things are coming your way when you’re looking at a rainbow. Or at least it’s a sign that if bad things are on their way, beautiful things will follow.

So, yeah, West Virginia, surreal place of rainbows and dead butterflies.

Updated to add: and the night was fine, of course! I didn’t sleep well, but I hardly ever do, so that wasn’t a problem. And I actually had a really lovely walk around the art garden in the morning with Zelda, alternately admiring and being critical of the outdoor sculptures. And then a largely beautiful drive through West Virginia and Virginia and a largely seriously boring drive through North Carolina and into South Carolina. The day was alternately cloudy and clear: I’d break through the clouds into sunshine at the top of the mountain and then descend into clouds and then back out again. Some of it was breathtaking. But it was my second day in the row of hours and hours and hours of driving so by the time I got to my campground in South Carolina, I was sort of fed-up with the whole thing. I can’t believe I’m going to do it again tomorrow. *sigh.

Profound thought for the day (not really): men sing a lot of songs yearning for women and women sing a lot of songs about taking care of men. I suspect those two things are not unrelated.

26 Sep

Status update on Grace & life & stuff

I wrote eight drafts of a letter yesterday. Eventually, totally annoyed at myself, I went back to the very first version I’d written and decided it was the best. I would really like that not to be a metaphor for Grace, but it probably is.

That said, I love where Grace is going right now. Noah is getting a little snarky and a lot more decisive. I’m really seeing where and how I let reading about writing ruin my voice. All that stuff about showing, not telling… it just did not serve me well. Showing is good, yeah, but turning “Noah was annoyed” (telling) into “Noah clenched his fists” (showing) was terrible for my personal style. Maybe I can do better than “Noah was annoyed” — and really, I probably can, I’m already thinking of better options than that — but I’m much better off with the simple telling than the forced showing.

So, yes, Grace — I love how it’s going, but damn, it’s going slow. I’m still on Chapter 7 and when I think about how far I have to go, how much I have to write, how many decisions I need to make, before it’s finished, I’m inclined to go back to bed instead of writing. So I’m trying not to think about that and just enjoy the words I’m in. A little progress that I feel cheerful about is better than thousands of words that I loathe and in the end, it all comes down to one word at a time.

In general, I’m feeling excessively cheerful. I think I’m probably annoyingly cheerful, so I try to restrain my exuberance except when I’m alone with the dogs, but back in March, when I made the decision to let go of the house, I was the happiest I’d ever been in my entire life. I’m even happier now. Of course, because I’m bi-polar*, I have to be a little paranoid about whether spiraling up too high is just a symptom — am I delusional yet? — but I’m pretty sure I’m just really enjoying my life. And knowing that the crash is probably inevitable makes me appreciate the moment even more.

So this moment is in Pennsylvania. I’m back in my brother’s street, headed to visit an aunt and uncle tomorrow. Over the weekend, I visited another aunt and uncle and got to see/meet a cousin who I haven’t seen since she was a kid. She turned out to be another Jack Russell terrier owner, so we had great bonding over dogs. And I fell in love with their neighborhood. Sometime after I finish the next three or four books that I have planned, I am totally writing about a magical MA town. Not pseudo-scientific magic, like Tassamara, but flat-out spells and enchantments. My uncle looked at the floor of Serenity, at the top of a tiny storage compartment where I mostly keep things that can get dirty, i.e. cleaning supplies, plastic bags, etc. and said, “Where does this lead? The wine cellar?” and the inspirations just burst into life. I want to write about a town with an uneasy mix of styles (Maynard) and outdoor stairways (Rockport) that lead to unexpected places. It’ll be so fun! But not until I’ve finished so many other things. So much to write, so slow to write it!

Speaking of which, I’m going to get to it. I’ve got a day of minor errands ahead of me — air in the tires, getting a prescription filled — and then for the next several days, I’m going to be visiting family, then driving, driving, and more driving. By this time next week, I’ll be in Florida, I think. None of that is conducive to good writing, so I’d like to at least finish up Chapter 7 today and get into Chapter 8.

And I am not, NOT, going to pull the letter I wrote yesterday out of the mailbox and give it another few tries. It is what it is and it says what it says and whatever tomorrow brings, today is a beautiful day. Literally as well as figuratively!

*It’s polite, when referring to a person with a condition, to refer to them as having the condition, not being the condition: i.e., “I have bi-polar disorder” not “I’m bi-polar.” I would do that if I was referring to someone else. But for me, it’s easier to accept my diagnosis when I treat it as part of my identity, not some illness that I suffer from. YMMV.

22 Sep

When I get home…

Gluten-sensitivity 101: soy sauce has gluten in it. I’m used to thinking of soy sauce as a problem, only to be used in limited amounts, because of the soy in it. In my kitchen, the soy sauce is gluten-free and the rare times I’ve gone out for sushi, it’s been to a sushi place that has a gluten-free soy sauce available. Even my grocery store used gluten-free soy sauce. I stopped thinking about soy sauce as a gluten problem.


But so it goes. My days in Maine have been very quiet and much more unproductive then intended, but I remind myself that I’m living in a tiny house, not a vacation home. It’s okay if sometimes my life in my tiny house mirrors what my life in a real house would be. A gluten screw-up always does result in quiet days.

It’s strange how often I think, “when I get home,” though. Example: I think I should cut off my hair. Taking care of long hair is always a pain, but even more so when water is limited. I’ve managed to overflow the gray drainage tank before, which means water around my ankles in the bathroom until I can dump it. Short hair would rinse more quickly. So I think, “when I get home, I should cut my hair.” But… this is home. Wherever I am is home. For some things — the doctor’s appointment, the dentist appointment — it makes sense to stick with the people I know in Florida, but hair cuts, vet appointments, buying birthday presents for relatives, looking for a rug for the door area, picking up some better twin sheets… these are all things that can be done wherever I am (more or less). And yet, I think, “when I am home…” I wonder how long it will take for that to wear off or if it ever does?

But it won’t be long now before I am home. A week from today I start the long drive south. In between will be many quick relative visits. It will not, I suspect, be my most productive week, but that’s okay. When I am home, I will get lots of writing done. 🙂 (I suspect “home” is going to turn out to be an unrealistic daydream destination that I never quite get to, but I hope I get lots of writing done soon anyway.)

This morning, a flock of wild turkeys wandered through the campground. B was enraged, barking and growling and choking himself on the end of his tie-out cord in his determination to kill them all. I can definitely say, as a result, that he just wanted to make friends with the cat this weekend, because B in a “drive these creatures away” mode was very different. Also kind of ridiculous, since the turkeys outnumbered and outweighed him. He did scare them off, though, to my regret. I would have liked to watch them for a while. They had that elegant bird stalk, long necks bobbing as long legs delicately picked their way along the gravel path. Not pretty birds, but surprisingly graceful. Much, much skinnier than your average Thanksgiving bird. And I am sort of guessing that they were wild turkeys, because that’s the only slot in my head for birds of that size, that color, that shape, living in Maine.

Two months ago, I was almost moved into Serenity. Tomorrow will be two months since I’ve been sleeping in her. I’m trying not to let myself get settled into solutions that aren’t perfect. Example: I left a folded blanket by the door about ten days ago because it was dirty and damp and I didn’t want to put it away. It turned out to be a huge help with keeping the dogs from tracking in dirt, so it’s been there ever since. But it’s not a rug, and it gets in the way of the fridge door opening, and now that I have an idea for a potentially helpful addition, I’d like to find a real rug. I don’t want to wake up six months from now with that blanket still on the floor, still being occasionally annoying and more often useful. As a home, Serenity is still a work in progress, I guess.

As a life, though… well, two thumbs up. It hasn’t always been easy — change is hard and this is a seriously big change. But it has often been glorious.

19 Sep

Making memories

Outside Serenity lies an ocean. An ocean of RVs, that is. From every window, front, back, both sides, all I can see are RVs and more RVs. Well, I suppose technically some of them are trailers. I wonder if there’s an actual distinction between a motorhome and a trailer in the definition of RV? Answer: not according to wikipedia. So, yeah, I am surrounded by an ocean of RVs.

I’m not as dismayed as it probably sounds, although I am feeling nostalgic about my lovely spot at the Onion River campground in Vermont. And the terrific walks around Frances Slocum State Park in PA, with its gorgeous lake views. This place? Eh. It’s in Maine, but it’s really just a parking lot with amenities. Still, I’m not complaining. I have electricity, water, even a sewer hook-up, plus a fridge full of interesting and delightful food possibilities, although the store was mostly just your average grocery store. But I bought pumpkin bisque soup (gluten-free, of course, which was exciting to find), and some pecan-based crackers, and organic mixed greens with herbs, so delicious food is in my future.

I even got a steamed lobster at the store. Somewhat sadly on the lobster, the store guy vastly over-rated the strength of my hands. Note to self: when coming to Maine, bring nutcrackers. By the time I managed to wedge the lobster meat out of its shell, it was quite cold and I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I wanted to. But I’ve got four more days in Maine, so maybe I’ll try again on one of those other days. I’m actually ridiculously tempted to drive back up to Freeport to go to the Bow Street Market again. The gluten-free chocolate cupcakes were seriously delicious and there was some greek yogurt that was out of this world amazing. Of course, for optimum health, I should not be eating either of those things — sugar and dairy, not the best foods for me — but so, so good.

Around twelve years ago — if I had access to my scrapbooks I could come up with exact dates, but it was sometime in the summer — R and I went to Louisville, KY and spent a week with Michelle and her son, F. I have a great picture of R at the airport, giving F a disgusted look. He thought toddler F was just too cute, too good, too charming. Teenager F has actually not changed all that much. He had a couple tiny moments of teenager-ness with his dad, but he was so personable, so fun. I hadn’t seen him in over four years, which is basically infinity in kid terms, but he treated me as if I’d been there the previous day. I felt the same with C — as if we’d somehow dialed time back a decade or so to the last time we hung out together, before Michelle got sick, before… well, before so much.

I got there early on Friday, having had an entirely successful and only moderately terrifying drive to get there. Yes, I drove Serenity on city streets and in Boston traffic. And I am sooo patting myself on the back for it. Yay, me! I even parked her by myself, although admittedly, C had a fine driveway, with plenty of room.

And also a nice backyard, where the dogs and their cat debated whether they were going to come to blows or not. Supercat and Z would have been fine together but B was a bit of an obnoxious brat. I think he was trying to be friendly — his tail was wagging and he was acting playful — but he barked and growled, while Supercat stared in offended reproach. If Supercat had lost his patience, B would have been in trouble. Super is bigger and undoubtedly tougher, so Super vs. B would have ended quickly, with B the clear loser. Super vs. Z might have been another story — I think there would have been two losers if that had happened. But apart from the rare moment of interest when they got a little too close, they navigated the weekend together well enough.

On Friday night, we went off to Harvard Square, Newbury Comics, the Coop, and eventually a sushi dinner. It felt strange and wonderful to be in a city again, a real one, with sidewalks and people rushing from one place to another. I bought things, too — the complete season of Firefly for C and F, who had never seen it — and a pair of socks that are my favorite, perhaps now and perhaps forever. And I feel like the socks make a good story, but it would be too long for this post, so maybe someday I’ll write a post about socks. With pictures! And emotional revelations and thoughts about friendship and yeah, whatever, I’m not writing that story now. But maybe later.

Saturday was a morning of miscellaneous errands, in the way that Saturday mornings are, for people with jobs and school and schedules, but in the afternoon, we went up to Gloucester, to the beach. It was a beautiful day for it, perfect end of summer weather. C said he thought the dogs were allowed off-leash, so even though I secretly believe that they are never allowed off-leash on that beach, we let them run free as we walked. Z got momentarily lost — a small white dog joined us for a while, so when I was checking on the dogs with casual glances they both seemed to be there, until I realized that MY white dog was missing. It wasn’t all that scary. It was a big beach and I spotted Z right away. She was clearly confused and searching for me, albeit headed in the wrong direction, but it was an adrenaline surge followed by huge bursts of gratitude when she was safely back with me. Especially because by the end of our walk, she was pretty tired and clearly dragging. I can see so much how she’s getting older — well, we all are — but it reminds me to appreciate every one of our healthy days.

For dinner Saturday night, C made coho salmon with dill and delicious lemony crunchy fennel, and I made salad. It was very companionable. I don’t remember ever cooking with C before, although it feels like I must have… but nope, I don’t remember any occasion when he and I would have cooked together. And wow, that just led me down a long and winding trail of memories. We’ve spent time together in kitchens in England, in Chicago, in Gloucester, in Connecticut… maybe even in Kentucky, although I think mostly when I visited Michelle in Kentucky, C was traveling. Even in Massachusetts before. Many, many kitchens, over a lot of years.

It has officially taken me all day to write this blog post. Sort of ridiculous. But every little story feels like it has layers of depth and meaning and memories and… I should just TL;DR this whole thing: I had a good weekend. A good week, in fact.

And to finish the stories: we watched Firefly (the first three episodes). We ate ice cream. Sunday, we visited C’s friend B and her son and had arepas on their rooftop deck, with sardines and a scrambled egg mixture named after parrots and some spicy stuff that I think was Armenian, all of it delicious. It rained, the tiniest bit, and we ignored it, and talked and talked and talked. And finally, about 3PM, I headed out, up to Maine, which is how I come to be sitting in my parking lot, listening to the rain on my roof.

I really wasn’t sure about visiting Michelle’s family. I worried that we would be mutual reminders of pain. But I spent so much of the weekend remembering the good stuff, not the bad, even as I made new good memories. Ten years from now I will remember talking video games with Finn on the beach while we waded through the waves. I will remember B bouncing around on the grass trying to convince Supercat to play with him. I will remember watching C and F talking about art at the kitchen counter, their bond so evident while they tried to describe an exhibit they’d seen and finished each other’s sentences. And I’m really glad I get to add these memories to my others.

15 Sep

Rockport, MA

Rockport, MA is the kind of town where you can be pretty sure magic is being practiced just outside your line of sight. Seriously, the little downtown area of shops and cafes and art galleries makes a better Diagon Alley than Diagon Alley does. I looked at one building this morning while I walked Zelda down yet another different little winding street on the dock. It was part stone, part wood shingles, and could have been transplanted to Universal Studios absolutely seamlessly. Except Rockport is better, because there are also flowers growing everywhere, gorgeous… well, I would have called them zinnias, but google tells me that they’re actually dahlias… so dahlias and sunflowers and all sorts of other flowers, in buckets and barrels and window baskets.

The shops are maybe mostly old waterfront cottages. Lots of wood-shingle siding and narrow alleyways. But it’s also right on the water, so around every corner is a view of ocean and boats. You can hear seagulls steadily, that whee-whee-whee shriek they make. This morning I watched one drifting on the air currents the way they do and it was gorgeous — which is funny, because sea gulls definitely fall into the rats-with-wings category of birds for me. I prefer sparrows and there are flocks of them right down the street from me. Truly, flocks. I don’t think I’d ever seen so many sparrows all in one place before.

The right time to be here, though, is definitely 7AM on a Thursday in September. I went looking for images online, because my descriptive abilities seem sadly lacking when it comes to explaining just how damn cute it is, and… No. Most of the images I found are either of the ocean (lovely) or of the town while it’s filled with tourists. I’ve been wandering around with Zelda in the early, early morning and that’s when it’s magical.

I’m staying with a friend here, Serenity parked in her driveway. It’s been weirdly emotional for me, because this area is where my friend Michelle lived. All of my trips to Cape Ann in the past have been to Gloucester, to her family’s house there, either with her or for her. My last trip here was for her memorial service. Yesterday I went back to that same beach and wandered there with the dogs. I’m getting tearful remembering, much to B.’s dismay — he’s starting to whimper at my feet — so I’ll stop there. But I had a lovely dinner with her parents, and a nice chance to catch up with them. I tried really hard to keep my brain focused on the good, not the bad — not how much I miss her (so much!), but how fortunate I was to have her in my life when I did.

A while ago a friend told me that I was sensitive, which sounded like an insult to me, although she didn’t think it was. I’ve thought about it since, and I think mainstream public school pretty much tries to beat the curiosity and the passion and the sensitivity out of all of us. Growing up, I was tough because I had to be. I made it through adolescence by growing a thick shell and rarely, if ever, revealing those elemental parts of me. Michelle, on the other hand, kept those qualities and didn’t try to hide them, not at all. When I met her, she created a safe space for me where I could let those parts of me be free, too. She made it okay for me to be sensitive and imaginative and curious and… me. I could be my real self with her. Huh, and now I’m upsetting both dogs, so… onward.

I don’t know what today will bring: based on previous days’ experiences with my friend B, I expect that it will include some excellent food. Today is also the first day of the season where dogs are allowed on the beach in Rockport, so I hope it will include some beach time. And Grace is still progressing, albeit slowly, so hopefully, it will include some good words on Grace. I’ve been stuck on this one character, Avery, who I really like, and their introduction, and this week I decided to just go for it, full on, nothing subtle about it.

“Avery doesn’t believe in the gender binary,” Dillon told them. “They think it’s limiting.”
“They’re a they,” Rose added helpfully. “But they don’t get mad if you get it wrong.”

Ta-da! I don’t know how many hours of agony have gone into whether Avery is male or female and what it means if they’re neither, but apparently they’re neither and that’s the way they like it. My latest approach to Grace seems to be “if there’s a problem, fix it.” I’ve got another paragraph that I’m definitely writing today on an issue that has bugged me for two years — do the ghosts think Noah hears them and if not, why do they bother talking to him? I’ve never had the answer to that question but I’m just going to go ahead and answer it in today’s words. Yay!

Tomorrow I’m headed into Boston to visit Michelle’s husband and son. I suspect it will be both a pleasant and an emotionally wrenching weekend. I should come up with a plan that includes yoga and meditation because both of them would be better for me than coffee and sugar, which seem to be angling to be my current forms of comfort. But hey, even coffee and sugar aren’t all that bad. And on Sunday, I head back to Maine for a few more days before starting the long trip south, so maybe there’ll still be a lobster dinner in my future.

12 Sep

Morning Rambling

ocean image

Not the view from my campsite, but it would have been the view from my cousin’s campsite, if she’d been able to come

Last night, as I was going to sleep, I was thinking about all the things I wanted to blog about. I wish I remembered any of them this morning.

Today’s my last day at the Recompence Campground in Freeport, Maine. In about 33 minutes, I’m going to finish packing up Serenity, dump the tanks, and head into town to do a tiny bit of shopping. I’m not much of a shopper, but a) I’m at the town famous for its LL Bean store, and b) I really don’t own enough clothes suitable for a life of camping.

When I started this adventure, I don’t think I was thinking of it as a camping adventure so much as a traveling adventure. When I pictured myself doing things, it was some hiking in forests, sure, but plenty of rambling around pleasant sidewalks and parks, visiting friends. I imagined myself parked in a Seattle city street, taking the dogs out for coffee, and camped at my brother’s garden house, wandering around his blueberry patch. I’m sure there will be plenty of those things, but there is also lots of traditional camping, which means waking up into chilly weather and late evening campfires. In other words, I have a desperate need for fewer pretty tank tops and more practical layering items.

I found a pair of really great shoes with toes (hiking boots, actually) in PA after a bit of a search. I kept dragging my SIL out to shoe stores and rejecting everything in them. I’m sure she thinks I’m the pickiest shoe shopper that has ever lived. And I also found a lightweight jacket at a thrift store there. But I own nothing waterproof. Like, nothing. A cute umbrella, but not a single item of waterproof clothing. Also, for that matter, not much in the way of warm clothes. I have a soft jacket that I bought right before leaving Florida, but my conclusion today — when it was 50 degrees and sunny while I was walking the dog — is that it is perfect for 50 and up. Any chillier and I would have been shivering.

So, yes, LL Bean is on my agenda. I also want to stop at a really good grocery store, the Bow Street Market, that I found last week. I have been regretting skipping the chocolate cupcakes ever since. It was a four pack and I really don’t need four gluten-free cupcakes, but on the other hand, four gluten-free desserts is better than none.

And then I’m off to Rockport, MA — auto-correct made me try four times to get that name, right! — for a few days.

Mostly I didn’t do the things in Maine that I wanted to do. I need to get better and faster about packing up Serenity so that it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming job when I want to make a quick run somewhere. I had always intended to get a good lobster meal here — it’s Maine, it’s practically mandatory! — and I’d even picked out the restaurant, but every time four o’clock rolled around and I thought about packing up to get moving, it was so much easier to just stay where I was. I also need to find some better solution for bringing B with us. We never touched the ocean! But he can’t walk as far as Zelda can. He gets tired and he has bad joints and… yeah. We took many nice strolls around the campground loop, but we never made it to the water.

That said, however, Maine was pretty lovely. The weather has been extremely obliging: enough of a chill in the air that I can pretend I felt fall, a little bit of rain, which is always enjoyable when I’m cozy inside Serenity, and a lot of beautiful blue sky. And my writing time is up, so on to the road I go!

08 Sep

The grays

On Tuesday, as I set off from Vermont, I thought, “I have the grays.” Not the blues, which would be too deep, too sad, too close to the core, but just the grays. And not even a dark gray, just a little translucent pearly gray. But it was hard leaving Vermont, both figuratively in the sense that I was sorry to say good-bye and literally, because I had errands to run before I did and none of them worked out easily.

My cousin had taken me to a great grocery store when we’d had very little time, so the first thing on my agenda was to go back there and stock up on food for the week. But around and around in circles I went. I thought I knew right where it was but I couldn’t find it and my GPS couldn’t find it under the name that I knew it by (the co-op) and I just kept going in circles. Eventually I gave up.

But the whole day felt like that kind of day. My propane tank was reading at 1/4 full and I didn’t want to chance running out if the weather got colder, so I really wanted to fill it. Three stops for propane before the end of the day and all I accomplished was to learn that apparently the propane tank is hard to fill. I’d run out of dog food a few days earlier and bought a new fancy-schmancy kind at the great grocery store, but the dogs hated it. Even B wouldn’t eat it after the first time and he eats anything. Z seemed perfectly willing to starve herself rather than touch any of her food and B seemed lethargic and unhappy. He didn’t even want kibble. So I wanted the right dog food for them, one they were used to. At one point, I passed a PetSmart sign and I was so happy — I actually thanked God for helping me find dog food. And then it turned out that the PetSmart was coming soon, not actually there. Argh. Finally, I still needed groceries but I didn’t have a list or a plan (except to select from the great options at the cool healthy store) and my impulse purchases in a mainstream supermarket, once I was already frustrated by not finding dog food or propane, weren’t the best.

By the time I got to the campground in Maine — with dog food, without propane, and with some not-very-well-chosen groceries, I was tired and cranky and I didn’t even want to explore. I fed the dogs and ate some of the not-very-good stew that I’d made over the weekend and went to bed. (For my own future reference: the insta-pot, when pressure-cooking, intensifies flavors, so it’s better to go easy on the balsamic vinegar in stew — a little goes a long way.)

Then yesterday turned out to be the kind of day where the ground beef that I shouldn’t have bought (because I don’t have a grill and I don’t like fried burgers) dripped all over the refrigerator and in the process of cleaning it up, I spilled the dog treats everywhere.

No, that doesn’t adequately explain the day. It was the kind of day where I walked a long, long way to get to the beach, only to immediately slip on wet rocks and wrench my knee. And get lost on the way home, so that it was an even longer walk home.

No, that still doesn’t explain it.

It was a grey day. The kind where you keep thinking optimistically that maybe the fog will burn off soon, but instead it settles in deeper and heavier the longer the day goes on.

I’m in Freeport, Maine. The campground is lovely, but the crowds on Tuesday — post-Labor Day! — made driving through the town to get to the campground unpleasant, especially since I’d already been driving for hours. I thought I’d be a little bit of a tourist in Maine — finding myself some great seafood to eat, wandering around cute little towns — but even after spending all of yesterday (after my long morning walk) holed up in the van, I’m finding myself seriously disinclined to move. The weather is supposed to remain gray, all day long. Tomorrow will have some sun, but it’s going to go up to 84, which means no leaving the dogs alone in the van. Then Saturday will be a perfect day — weather-wise, anyway. Sunny and 72. But also Saturday, which I suspect in Freeport, means crowds and crowds of people.

And one thing that I’m discovering about living in Serenity is that it’s hard to do anything by impulse. Maybe that’s good news? But playing it by ear, for example, planning to go someplace on the spur of the moment, just doesn’t work. Before I can drive somewhere, I have to pack up. Everything has to get stowed away — dishes, the coffeemaker, electronics, the dogs’ tie-out lines, the outside rug, the chair, the screen from the back doors, the shower curtain, the curtains, the power line, the water hose. All the cabinets’ locks have to be checked. The fridge lock, the medicine cabinet, the bathroom doors, all checked. The seats in the proper position, the window covers stowed, the rearview mirror repositioned. It’s not a trivial process. I’m getting faster at it, I think — on Tuesday, I was ready to go by 8AM when my cousin left for work — but I can’t just decide, for example, to make a quick run to a restaurant for some seafood. There’s no such thing as a quick run anywhere.

And that’s okay, I think. My aunt, on Sunday, said to me that it sounded like I was living intentionally. I hadn’t thought about it in that way before, but it resonated. Yes, I’m trying to live intentionally. And my intentions today, on a gray day, are to appreciate my dogs, both of whom happily gobbled down their dog food this morning; to appreciate the coziness of my home; to maybe make myself many cups of tea and to hopefully write some good words. And if all I ever see of Maine is gray sky and the green trees around this campsite, that’s okay.

05 Sep

Montpelier Weekend

My cousin, C, knows half the people in Montpelier, Vermont. Maybe more. We went out to dinner on Saturday night and she knew the people behind us in line. And then the guy sitting next to us at the bar. And then the guy who took his place, and the people on the other side of us, and the people on the other side of them.

Yesterday we went to Blueberry Lake, about an hour away from where she lives in Worcester, VT, and she ran into one person that she knew from college, another that she’d worked with, a third that she’d met once via a mutual friend.

It makes Vermont feel like a very small, very friendly place.

We’ve had an idyllic weekend. I met up with her on Friday night, after a sort of frustrating Friday. (Note to self: a little more flexibility when it comes to meeting goals like finding decent internet and propane would go a long way to a happier life.) We had crepes at The Skinny Pancake then wandered around Montpelier. It’s a lovely little city — cute shops, cafes, interesting restaurants. Multiple bookstores! That might be a sign of the long winters, but still, any town that can keep two independent bookstores thriving has a lot going for it. They had an art walk going on, with artists showing their work at local cafes so we checked out some interesting photography while we wandered and C said hello to every other person.

On Saturday, we went to the farmer’s market and then ran some errands in Montpelier. The farmer’s market was pretty much a television stereotype of a farmer’s market, something I had never run into in real life before. There were vegetables, meats, cheeses, jams and pickles, interesting food, some crafts, music, people, dogs… if Stars Hollow from The Gilmore Girls had had a farmer’s market, it would have looked a lot like the Montpelier farmer’s market. Z and B came with me and were pretty well-behaved and much admired. B loves this traveling business. People want to pet him and he soaks it up like a sponge.

In the afternoon, we took the kayak to… drat. A nearby lake. I’ve forgotten the name. I so wish — so, so, so wish! — that I’d brought my camera so that I could take pictures of Z. She wore her doggie life jacket, which mystified her, but which worked exactly as advertised. When she went in the water (by her choice), she swam back to the kayak and I pulled her in using the handle on the life vest. It was perfect. She seemed somewhat confused by the boat business but after C and I had finally gotten it all figured out (we had it backwards for a while and it didn’t work so well backwards) she settled into the prow of the boat and took a little nap while we paddled. And it was perfect. The weather was exactly right for it — bright and clear, the water was cool but not freezing, and it worked. The kayak was reasonably easy to set up — I could definitely do it by myself — and almost as easy to put away. On Sunday morning, I spent a while rearranging things in Serenity to make better room for the kayak because it is definitely, without question, a keeper.

I feel like I have so much more to write about — meeting up with relatives in Warren, our hike to Blueberry Lake, hanging out at a log cabin — but it’s already after 11 and C and I are taking the dogs for a walk and then going kayaking again before barbecuing this evening — and so life is winning out over writing.

But while I was sitting on C’s porch this morning, in her comfortable Adirondack chairs with cushions, surrounded by flowers, hummingbirds zooming by, eating blueberry pancakes and spicy scrambled eggs with sausage, I told her that the only problem with my travel plans is that there doesn’t feel like enough time, not nearly enough to do all the things I want to do. I want to stay longer, to see the leaves change color, to be here when the air gets a little crisp, and to savor the last days of sunshine. But tomorrow I head east. Maybe even by evening, I will be seeing the ocean, feeling sand underfoot and smelling salt. And even though more Vermont would be wonderful, I’m really excited to watch my dogs run on the beach.

02 Sep

Life without internet

I am pretty sure that September 1st will be the first Thursday in all of 2016 on which I didn’t post to my blog. I am writing a post, though, which ought to count for something. But for the past couple of days I’ve had no internet. Not slow internet, not bad internet. None, zip, nada.

Not even a phone connection.

It was sort of glorious.

Today didn’t start out that way, though. This morning, I walked Z up to a high field and spent too much of the walk trying to get a cell phone connection, trying to check my email, annoyed at the bugs. I tried to appreciate the subtle beauties of a grey day, the quiet colors of the late summer wildflowers, more subdued than spring flowers, but still shades of purple and gold and amber. I tried to find the forest lovely in its dark depths.

But you know what? I didn’t. Not much, anyway.

Mostly I tried to find a connection and shooed off bugs and got annoyed at Zelda for continually getting her leash tangled in stuff. And when I finally decided that the bugs outweighed the merits of a one-bar internet connection that wasn’t successfully managing to pick up my email anyway, I headed back down following a path that disappeared. We wound up shoving our way through tall, tall weeds, getting tangled up with burrs and nasty sticky plants, Z’s leash tangling on every other strong stem, and me worrying steadily about ticks.

I kept trying to tell myself that it was an adventure. But it was grey and wet and chilly — my jeans were soaked through from the knees down by the time I made it out of the field and back to the bathhouse which is where the sign had claimed the path led — and it mostly just felt annoying.

On the other hand, when we got back to Serenity and I dried us off and searched, I found no ticks. So hey, there’s a blessing in disguise. But when a lack of ticks is the good news, you’re definitely setting the bar low. It did remind me to reapply the dog’s anti-bug stuff — good news — but that means that they sort of stink and I need to remind myself not to pet them too much and that’s not so good.

But the day improved steadily from that point. I don’t know why exactly. I did make a conscious effort to change my mood, but I’ve done that plenty of times with less success. I meditated, highly disrupted by the dogs, but still good. I wrote a lot. I took the dog for good walks. (Dog, singular, because B has very little interest in good walks. He’s a fan of short walks.) I did some organizational tasks, including sorting through all the CDs I brought with me. I even cleaned the bathroom and did a little yoga.

I ate pretty good food: a spicy omelette with sausage for breakfast; a salad with a kitchen sink’s worth of vegetables in it for lunch. (Not size-wise, just a little of this, a little of that, a little of the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. I was finishing up odds and ends, but it was good.) And for dinner, a plate of snacks: peach slices, crackers, Vermont summer sausage, cucumber, olives, two types of cheese.

So maybe it was all those things. Or maybe it was just that the sky cleared and it got sunny. But it wound up being another truly lovely day.

This campground, Onion River Campground, near Montpelier, Vermont, technically has some strikes against it. No internet, no cell service, near a busy road, so traffic noises… but I have loved it. I got here by about 4PM on Tuesday, planning to spend Tuesday and Wednesday nights, but by early afternoon on Wed, I knew I wanted another day. Mostly because the writing was going so well.

But the days here have been blissful. I know I probably make it sound like all my days are blissful, but honestly, not so much: I work on it, sure, but I’ve spent a lot of my past five weeks trying to adjust to constant change, a new bed, and a much higher level of dirt than I am used to. With sick and stressed dogs; strangers living twenty feet away from my windows, sometimes less; no dishwasher, washing machine, or bathtub… yeah.

But these past days have been what I hoped to find: Serenity feeling like a cozy home rather than an overstuffed vehicle; the dogs relaxed and enjoying themselves; the writing going beautifully (except for the part where I’m back in the beginning again, oops); and my days filled with moments of appreciation.

The spot I’m parked in is in the tent zone, under a tree, so instead of being in a parking lot of RVs, I’m off in a field and it feels like I’m by myself. There have actually been two tents here, but somehow people with tents feel more peaceful than people with big trailers. By the time I walked the dogs in the early evening, I could look at the field of wildflowers and the apples in the orchard and the green hills, and think, wow, how lucky, how incredibly lucky, I am to be here.

Tomorrow — well, today or maybe even yesterday by the time I find an internet connection to post this — I’m back on the road again, spending the weekend with my cousin. I’m hoping to get some useful stuff done: laundry and finding a place to get propane and dog food (probably not the same place, but maybe!) But I’m also hoping that the weather will stay nice enough that we can try out my kayak. I’ve been on the road for over a month, with my kayak taking up precious space and I have yet to use it. Mostly because there’s been so much else to learn that adding one more thing to figure out just felt like too much. But I’m ready. Fingers crossed that all goes well!

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