Making plans

I was feeling gloriously happy this morning — the medical escalator came to a screeching halt yesterday, and I was ever so ready to get off and get moving! — and then I got an email from my doctor’s office with a new appointment for March 13th. Three weeks away! sigh But I am not going to fuss about it. It is what it is. I did consider calling and canceling — I’m not sure why that appointment needs to be in person, except for the general medical need to follow-up face-to-face when firm cautions are involved — but I’m not going to worry about it.

I’ve realized a couple things about my next couple of months, anyway. The first is that without B, I don’t have such an imperative need to get out of Florida. He was miserable when it was too hot. Even without the congestive heart failure, he was a pudgy little guy with a thick coat of black fur, and the heat was hard on him. Even in 70 degree weather, he’d be panting. Zelda — white dog, thinner coat, skinny and energetic — doesn’t mind the heat nearly as much. And one of the big issues about the heat was that I needed to be able to leave B in the van while I walked Zelda, so I always needed to be able to have the AC running. That’s no longer a problem. I wish it was. I’d much rather be worrying about B and trying to make him comfortable than living without him. But again, it is what it is.

The second thing isn’t a realization as much as it is a hard look at my timeline: I need to be back in Florida in the middle of May for R’s graduation. That gives me two months. And I don’t want to spend them driving. Long driving days are exhausting and time-consuming. There are places I wanted to go — I’d rather be spending spring in the northeast than the south — but I don’t want to be rushing around, spending hours on the road and worrying about getting to my destinations on a schedule that doesn’t give me enough time to enjoy them (and to write a book along the way!)

So my current plan, such as it is, is to relax and enjoy the south. I’ll have a few more weeks in Florida and then I’ll do some exploring in Georgia and maybe South Carolina, maybe even back to Arkansas, and then I’ll swing back into Florida for the first part of May. And then May 20th or so, I will head north, taking my time about it.

And after a stressful couple of weeks, I am relaxing and enjoying my day today. I’m in Lake Griffin State Park, which is a place I’ve stayed before, but I like it more every time I’m here, I think. It’s a small park, close enough to a busy road that you never stop hearing road noise, but I don’t mind that. This morning I took Zelda on a walk down a path that we’ve never gone on before, because of warnings about mud. I could hear the traffic, but being surrounded by nature, breathing fresh air, seeing greenery and giant palmettos and pretty yellow flowers scattered across dead brown leaves on the ground felt magical. Like I’d discovered a primeval swamp in the backyard of a strip mall. And then we reached a place on the trail where the mud was thick and black and goopy and Zelda decided she wanted no part of it. She dragged me back the way we came. Now I’m sitting in the van, windows open, listening to traffic but also birds and breezes in the leaves and a far distant barking dog, and watching a yellow butterfly. It’s a beautiful day for writing many words. Here’s hoping lots of them are on Grace!

A crescent moon through trees

Last night’s sliver of moon

I would rather not

About eighteen or nineteen years ago, the director of Rory’s preschool caught me on the day they distributed school pictures, and as I opened the envelope, said, sort of apologetically, a little anxiously, “I hope you don’t mind his picture, it’s sort of… well, it’s not really… we usually try… but…”

And I interrupted her with my mouth dropping open, clutching the photos to my chest, and saying, “Oh, it’s so him! I love it!” He looked both disheveled and mildly exasperated, with his hand against his head, like he was just about to roll his eyes and tell the photographer what he thought about the whole business.

Oh, I bet I have the picture on my computer. Yep, it was this one:

It was so him. And the director knew it, too, so she gave me a big smile and we admired it together and discussed what a fantastic photo it was and also probably a little of what a fantastic kid he was, because that was one of our favorite topics of discussion. Well, one of my favorite topics of discussion, and she was usually willing to join in.

I was reminded of this story today, because I picked up B’s ashes, and… well, some background first.

When B showed up in my backyard, I called him Mystery Dog. For a while, it looked like that would become his name but it never felt quite right. My nephew suggested Bartlebee, after a character in a book he was reading, which in turn reminded me of a Melville short story, “Bartleby the Scrivener.”

I didn’t remember the story all that well, but I knew the character came and stayed. And that he had a line, his response to all requests, which I thought was, “I would rather not.” (It’s actually “I would prefer not to” but I’ve had it wrong all along.) Mystery Dog promptly became Bartleby. It fit so well. When B was dying, the vet asked about his name and I told her that story. And, of course, she also heard everything else I said to him as he was going. So I hope she knew how much I would love this:

photo of box of ashes with engraved plate that says "I would rather not"

“I would rather not”

When I saw it, I burst into tears. But they weren’t bad tears, and I will treasure it. Not the ashes, which I will scatter somewhere appropriate, because carrying ashes around indefinitely feels unhealthily obsessive to me, but definitely the box and always the reminder.

Life without B… well, I’m getting used to it. Slowly. It’s strange to discover how much he dictated our schedule and routine. More than once, I’ve forgotten to feed Z her dinner until quite late, because she doesn’t remind me. B usually spent the half hour from 5 to 5:30 staring at me intently, trying to psychically convey how nice it would be if I got up and got him his dinner right away. He was a very precise timekeeper in general. At 11, it was time to be outside. At 3:30, time for a chicken strip. And he needed to be lifted on and off the bed, so was often my motivation for getting up and moving. Without him… well, my life is easier, I suppose, but so much emptier. He was a very big presence for such a little dog.

In other news, I’m still hanging out in Florida. I’m caught in what a friend described as a medical escalator, where one thing leads to another thing leads to another thing. At this point, I am very much hoping that the last step on the escalator will be a doctor’s appointment in early March. Google actually managed to reassure me today, when I finally gave in to the impulse to do some research, so that was nice. Doesn’t usually work that way!

And I am definitely counting my blessings. Yesterday I sat in a waiting room with my dad for an almost absurdly long time — I think he probably wound up in there for about four hours. And the television was playing infomercials! Hell. Except a young couple in the waiting room had time pressures. And also, they were young, which, in context, probably meant they were not there for routine care. And, of course, when a doctor is running hours behind schedule for a minor procedure, it’s probably because someone else’s minor procedure has turned major. All in all, it reminded me of how very lucky I am, to be reasonably healthy, to have such a flexible life, to have people who love me taking care of me.

Bartleby

I hate the euphemisms — put down, put to sleep, even euthanize. The reality was, I would have stayed forever with his warm head cuddled against my shoulder, stroking his soft fur, whispering love into his goofy ears. But he was slowly suffocating, fighting the fluid that was filling his lungs and heart, and I couldn’t bring myself to be so cruel. So I let him go. Helped him go.

When the vet was injecting him with the sedative, I was stroking him and telling him what a good dog he was and then I stopped myself and I told him the truth. “Actually, B,” I said, “You peed in places you shouldn’t, and sometimes you snapped and snarled at people, and you were very stubborn about refusing to learn any commands, even the easy ones. So I’m not sure I can say you were a good dog exactly. But you were very good at loving me.” I think that’s probably the only skill a good dog really needs.

Today is the sixth anniversary of my friend Michelle’s death. As his gasping breaths finally slowed down, I told him to find Michelle and take her to a beach. I would like to think that they are there right now, and that B’s knees don’t hurt and he doesn’t get tired after three minutes of running and he isn’t scared to play with toys and sticks. And if he wants to go swimming, that she has a warm towel waiting for him.

I will miss him so. I already do.

The beginning of a roll in the sand…

A too familiar parking lot

I called the vet at 7:07 AM this morning and much to my surprise, someone answered. Remarkably cheerfully, too, considering how early it was. He gave me — well, not quite an appointment. But the information that the vet would be in at 9.

By 9:05, maybe even a little earlier, they had Bartleby in the back on oxygen and an IV. Oxygen is remarkably expensive considering how readily available you’d think it would be. By 9:15, they’d upped the time that they thought he’d need to be on it from an hour (billed in 15-minute increments) to an open-ended “let’s see how it goes,” also adding a slew of other charges to his bill. I don’t even care.

I really thought I was going to be all grown-up and responsible about the economics of having a dying dog and an uncertain income, but nope. If they said, “It’s going to cost $1000 and give him another month of good life,” I’d hand them my credit card without another word. Emphasis on the good life, though. Another month where he struggles to breathe and turns away from his food will break my heart on an hourly basis.

And, of course, they really can’t know what that $1000 would buy and neither can I. But two days ago, B was still wagging his tail and kissing my face, and last night, he was willing to gobble down some chicken even if his regular food didn’t interest him, so today, it’s oxygen and x-rays and medication and whatever $$s it takes to give me a chance of some more snuggles and tail wags.

The other day I looked up the difference between worry and fear. It sounds like something I should know, right? It sounds like the difference ought to be obvious. But I wasn’t sure it was. Because I’m not worried — I already know the outcome, how can I worry about something that is inevitable? — but I am afraid. Afraid that I will make the wrong choices, that he will suffer more than he should or live less than he should. The internet let me know that fear is involuntary, but worry is a choice. So I am choosing not to worry, to trust that I will make the right decisions, that I will know what to do when the time comes. But I am still afraid.

And very, very sad.

In 90% of my pictures of B, he is sleeping adorably. This morning, they all just looked a little too… peaceful.

Best of January 2018

January of 2018 included three campgrounds — one local, one state, and one Thousand Trails — and four driveways/streets.

I love staying in people’s driveways because it’s so nice to visit with them, but it is seriously terrible for my workflow. No driveway day ever includes good writing. And now I’m thinking back over all of the driveway days of the past year and I’ve found one exception: my friend J’s driveway. But that’s probably because I’m not actually writing in her driveway, I’m writing in her comfortable living room, in her perfect writing chairs, and she’s writing with me and then occasionally bringing me snacks and beverages. Writer paradise!

I’m currently in my friend L’s kitchen, sitting at her kitchen counter, obviously writing. L’s driveway ought to be a good driveway for writing, but we talk too much. I love the talking — we spent a good long while this morning on post-apocalypse books and movies, pandemics vs disasters, the death penalty, human nature, the ability to kill and the consequences of killing — but in terms of actual words on the page, I’ve been here for most of two days and not made a word of progress on Grace. Actually, worse than that, I deleted a bunch last night. So no points for writing at L’s house, although I suspect if I were ever to stay here for an extended period, I’d get onto a schedule and get loads done, because she’s an encouraging fellow writer.

Traveling, in general, is disruptive to writing. My fantasies of living on the road and producing novels like clockwork are just never going to pan out. I made great resolutions in the beginning of the year, of course. But I’ve already broken them, because my brain is always too busy with thoughts of where I’ll be spending the night and how I’m meeting basic life needs. (Is a shower a basic life need? It feels like one to me, but that’s probably evidence of what a privileged life I still lead. But I definitely find feeling dirty to be an incredible distraction, and a major obstacle to being able to live in my imagination.)

Despite the lack of good writing progress, it was a productive month. I didn’t earn much money, but I spent tons of it — on dental work, on vet bills, on van maintenance. In other words, it was not a terribly memorable month. My adventures were mostly mundane, the sights I saw the same daily things that life offers all of us.

This morning’s super moon — a once in a lifetime experience! — looked pretty much like the moon to me. If I hadn’t known that I was having a once in a lifetime experience, I would have thought that there was a weird shadow from the nearby palm tree or some dirt on the window, and either way, the moon dropped below the horizon before there was actually much to see. Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate it, but last week, I built a campfire and I admired the moon in the trees above my campfire just as much as I did this morning’s moon.

Still, even in a mostly mundane month, I had some beautiful moments.

The moon at sunrise over Sarasota bay. Not once-in-a-lifetime — I hope not once-in-a-lifetime! — but beautiful.

Sunrise in Lake Griffith State Park. No moon, but a lovely stillness.

Trimble Park

I had a perfectly lovely day yesterday. It feels like there ought to be an ingredient list for lovely days: take 70 degree weather, add sunshine and a light breeze, mix in some good food, a sprinkle of pleasant surroundings, and voila, you’ve got a lovely day. But I don’t think it generally works like that. The right ingredients don’t mean a thing if you’re in the wrong mood. And if you’re in the right mood, the ingredients can be all wrong and the day can still be perfectly lovely.

Plus, some of the ingredients change. Most of the time, I truly appreciate having music be a part of my day, but yesterday, I never bothered to turn any on, because the silence felt so peaceful and pleasant. Well, and not very silent. There are a ton of birds in Trimble Park, the campground I’m staying in, and it’s never silent. Peaceful and pleasant and lovely, though, definitely.

Today, alas, was not nearly so lovely. Mostly because I spent a good chunk of the day dealing with health insurance stuff. I think I will not use my blog to vent about that, because it’s not anything I’m going to want to re-read a decade from now — I suppose someday I might feel nostalgic for my current health insurance, but I sincerely hope that doesn’t come to pass. But it was enough to… well, not ruin my day. But take it down from “perfectly lovely” to more of the “count your blessings” level.

Fortunately, one of my blessings is that I am surrounded by beauty. Florida has its flaws — the mosquitoes seem to be thriving and quite happy right now — but it sure can deliver on the sunsets.

sunset at Trimble Park

Radio Silence

This is the longest I’ve gone without posting to my blog in at least two years. I’m hitting the point where staying silent is easier than breaking my silence, which is sort of silly. I have no real reason for not posting, I just decided to give myself a break. And continuing my break is easier than connecting my phone and looking at the pictures I’ve taken or thinking about what I had to share.

Realistically, too, it’s been sort of a boring couple of weeks. Not uneventful, but the events have been things like taking Serenity in for service and discovering that she had a leak in the transmission; taking the dogs to the vet and finding out that yes, B is dying, and yes, said death is getting closer every day; taking myself to the dentist and getting a cap replaced. (Was it a cap or a crown, I wonder? I don’t actually know the difference.)

Not exactly the most scintillating or joyful of events, none of them, although the first was fixed under warranty, the second was not a surprise, and the third is actually kind of a relief. The cap (or crown) was loose on a front tooth and I was getting tired of feeling like a six-year-old, poking it with my tongue and wondering when it would fall out.

On the other hand, I also had a lovely dinner with my brother, dad and stepmom in Sarasota; went to the Ringling Museum for the first time; enjoyed dinner and writing time with some of my local writing friends; cooked sous vide honey mustard chicken and quinoa for some other friends; and worked on my writing, my taxes, and some book translations.

Life, in other words, has been happening. Some good, some bad, some fun, some sad. And that was an entirely unintentional Dr. Seuss imitation. I haven’t started writing with long streams of semi-colons mixed with sentence fragments in my fiction, just in case you’re worried about this trend!

Actually, probably the most interesting thing that has been going on — at least to me — is that I’m re-working how I use the space in the van. Shortly after New Year’s, I got myself a queen-size memory foam mattress topper. I’d hit the point where I felt like I had to do something about how horribly I was sleeping, and the something was not going to be using sleeping pills. I’ve spent the days since experimenting with how to most conveniently fit it into my limited space and the answer is, it doesn’t conveniently fit into my limited space. Period.

On the other hand, I’ve actually slept several hours in a row since it entered my life and so it is staying in my life. But my “office” and my “bed” — aka the positions in which I sat when I was writing/not writing — just don’t work the same way. You’d think that it wouldn’t be a big deal to just sit in a different way/place, but in fact, figuring out how to get comfortable writing with an unwieldy memory foam mattress topper taking up a ton of room has been difficult. Figuring out how to snuggle down into reading comfort has been much easier.

As a result, in the past ten days, I’ve read:

The Dark Days Club (A Lady Helen Novel) – Slow going and not one where I have any interest in reading the sequels, even though the story felt like set-up for the series more than it did a stand-alone.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are – Interesting reading, although I suspect it would have been far more useful for me about ten years ago. Still, I do still struggle with perfectionism, so I’ll probably be trying to follow some of her advice.

Shatter Me – Not for me, but it had a great cover.

Ink and Bone (The Great Library) – Pulled me in, didn’t let me go. The moment I finished, I went looking for the sequels. I’m on the library waitlist for both of them. I thought at first it was going to be a Harry Potter knock-off, but a) I have no real objection to that, as long as it’s done well, and b) I was totally wrong, with the exception of the characters meeting in a school-type setting. Totally wrong. If you like fantasy, this one is engrossing, interesting, suspenseful, and maybe a little on the dark side, in a late Harry Potter kind of way.

Steel’s Edge (The Edge, Book 4) Also read Fate’s Edge, which means I have now officially read everything Ilona Andrews has published. These two aren’t my favorites (I like the Innkeeper series best, I think) but I enjoyed them while reading. And the fact that I’ve read all of the authors’ books — four or five series, at least twenty books — says something.

Neogenesis (Liaden Universe┬«) – The classic example, for me, of a series that I keep reading because I know the characters too well to stop. If you haven’t read the first 20-some books in the series, you definitely don’t want to start here. If you have read the first 20-some books, you’re probably wondering why nothing much ever seems to happen in these books anymore, even in the one where huge ongoing plot threads get tied up. Or at least I was.

Wild Horses – Modern Dick Francis but also classic Dick Francis. I’m not sure how I missed reading it when it first came out, but I enjoyed it.

I feel like I’m missing something in this list, but if I can’t remember it, it probably isn’t worth recommending. Not that I’m recommending all of these! But if you need something to read, Ink and Bone (The Great Library) is worth a try. If you’re not caught by the end of the first chapter, in which a truly grievous crime is committed, I’ll be surprised. Well, not if you’re not a fantasy reader. But if you liked Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, Ink and Bones is worth adding to your TBR pile.

And now I think I’ll get back to my TBW pile (To Be Written). It gets longer all the time, but I am definitely writing! In between reading, anyway.

A new year begins…

Sunflower honey from the Ukraine

Sunflower honey from the Ukraine

Today’s honey was sunflower honey from the Ukraine. I wasn’t sure about it on my first taste — it was definitely less sweet than the clover honey I’ve been eating — but I was sold by the end of my oatmeal.

In my head, before I took this picture and realized what the real name was, I was calling it “sunshine honey.” And it’s a good day for sunshine honey, because, wow, it is cold and gray and wet and bleak outside.

I love the sound of rain on the roof of the van, but taking the dogs for their walks in cold, gray drizzle and returning to the van means wet clothes, wet jackets, wet towels everywhere. The van isn’t big enough for rainy days. And it’s actually cold enough today that I’ve closed off the cab and the bathroom to try to keep it warmer, making it feel even smaller.

An interesting irony: tea is an obvious pleasure of a cold, rainy day. Mmm, nice warm beverage to cuddle between my hands. But I usually heat water on the propane burner and I don’t use the propane without opening up the overhead vent and running the fan. Today is not the day for that. I don’t actually know what the risk is — explosion? carbon monoxide poisoning? — but I take my warning labels seriously. Fortunately, I have an induction cooktop and electricity, so tea remains an option.

I’m currently at Lake Griffin State Park, in central Florida. I’ve stayed here before, so don’t have a lot to say about it — it’s a small park, but cozy and pleasant. The sites feel more cramped and close together than the average Florida park, but there’s loads of greenery. My view right now is all palmettos, although if I turn my head, I can also see the trailer in the site next to mine. If the weather was nicer, I could rent a kayak and go out on the river for a while, which would be lovely but is totally not going to happen today. I’m not adding any more wet clothes to the pile already slowly steaming up the front.

Some of the RV blogs that I read have done end of 2017, beginning of 2018 posts: miles traveled, places stayed, money spent. Plus plans for the new year. I’m not going to do that, except to say that I came pretty close to 20,000 miles in 2017. I think I drove through 38 states, and I know I visited four different coasts — Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf, and Caribbean. Can I count the Caribbean as a coast? I think so.

As for my plans for 2018 — I’m going to watch my son graduate from college in May. I’m going to celebrate my stepmom’s birthday sometime around July, somewhere unknown, but maybe Ohio. And I’m going to write a lot of words. Apart from that, I honestly have no idea what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go. Adventures await!

Photo Review of 2017: July – December

dog on beach

Bartleby on the beach in North Carolina, July 2017.

deer on rocky beach

A very different animal on a very different beach: deer on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington, August 2017.

dog hiding under bush

A windswept desert dog in Arizona, September 2017. Not sure why I loved this picture — September had plenty of beach shots! — but I do.

sunrise with tree silhouette

Sunrise on a city street in Albuquerque, New Mexico, October 2017.

fog in trees

A misty morning in Wekiwa Springs State Park, Florida, November 2017.

three tall birds, one short bird

Sea birds on the Sarastota bay, Florida, December 2017.

I think I probably took more photographs this year than I had in my entire previous life, so looking back over them was remarkably time-consuming. But it was really fun to pick one image for each month. I tried not to use images that I’d already posted, so I can’t say these are the best photos of the year, but I tried to pick the photograph based on the quality of the image, not on what I remember of the month.

If I was selecting based on highlights, September’s photo would have been a beach in Arcata; August’s photo would have been a truly horrible snapshot of P & R laughing by the campfire; June would have been blueberries. December would have been photos I didn’t even take, of Christmas socks and flaming Bananas Foster and a sweet dog face peering out of the perfectly-sized hole she created in the window blinds. May would have been an entire album of the Best. Vacation. Ever.

And if I wanted to do a single photo of the year, it would be a crowd shot that never existed: of friends and family and relatives, all of the people I’ve visited this year, from blog acquaintances and writing buddies, to my oldest and dearest friends, to the extended family that I treasure beyond words, and the nuclear family that keeps me anchored when I worry that I’m drifting just a little too much. Of all the places I have been and the things that I have seen, I am most grateful to have had the chance to spend so very much time with the people that I love.

And now I’m going to get back to writing Grace. Well, no, first I am going to try to resolve my email troubles — I haven’t been able to make my main account work since before Christmas and I’m feeling guilty about the things that are probably in there that I should be responding to. My apologies if I’ve ignored any emails! It’s definitely time to figure out what’s wrong and fix it. And then I’m going to get back to Grace!

Happy New Year and may 2018 bring you much joy!

A Photo Review of 2017: Jan – June

moon at sunrise

The moon at sunrise in January 2017, Grayson Beach, Florida

ocean

The ocean in February 2017, the Gulf Coast

a jellyfish washed up on the beach

A jellyfish washed up on the beach, March 2017, Texas

a bird on a branch

A bird on a branch at sunrise in April 2017 at Trimble Park, Florida

sailboats at sunset

Sailboats at sunset in May 2017, in the British Virgin Islands

New York City

New York City seen through a window, June 2017